March 10, 11:30 p.m.: When Cleveland State Coach Gary Waters raised two fists in the air for a victory salute inside Hinkle Fieldhouse, you could almost hear Maryland’s Gary Williams and Virginia Tech Seth Greenberg pound their fists in frustration.
Cleveland State – of all teams – has just made it more difficult for Maryland and Virginia Tech to earn at-large berths in the NCAA tournament.
Cleveland State’s 57-54 upset of Butler in the Horizon League title game means that the Horizon will get two teams into the NCAAs. Cleveland State earned the conference’s automatic berth. Butler, a team with a sound resume, high RPI (17) and 11 road wins, is expected to earn an at-large berth.
Cleveland State had lost two games to Butler by a total of four points earlier this season. Waters’s team played with more desperation than the Bulldogs in the Horizon final because claiming the automatic berth was his team’s only route to the NCAAs. Butler is all but guaranteed to play on next week in the NCAAs as well.
That means one fewer bubble team will get an invite.
If Maryland beats North Carolina State and Wake Forest in the first two rounds of the ACC tournament this week, the Terrapins will have a strong argument. And if the Hokies beat Miami and North Carolina in the conference tournament, they also will have a strong case.
But there are a finite number of at-large slots, 34 to be exact. And there are only three or four that are probably open at this point. Fans of Maryland and Virginia Tech need to root for the favorites in all the conference tournaments. They also need to root against some teams in danger of falling back, namely Arizona, Minnesota and Penn State.
In a way, Cleveland State’s win helps the tournament selection committee because it has to make one less decision about teams with mediocre resumes. It’s gotten to the point where the teams that will earn the final at-large berths will be the ones that damage their resumes the least this week.
And after the Horizon final, the margin for error for Maryland and Virginia Tech is even smaller than it was earlier in the day. They can thank Cleveland State.
After reviewing the field again, the final four slots still appear open. Arizona could solidify one slot with a win in the Pac-10 tournament. UNLV or San Diego State will probably get another slot. A third SEC team -- likely Florida or South Carolina -- will likely do enough in the league tournament to get one. That leaves one open slot. (Yes, things are bound to change daily, and everything remains fluid.)
LAST FOUR IN
Arizona (19-12, 9-9)
Pros: Beat Kansas, Washington and Gonzaga
Cons: 2-9 road record, 9-11 vs. top 100
Nevada-Las Vegas (21-9, 9-7)
Pros: won at Louisville, swept BYU
Cons: Got swept by San Diego State, 9-7 MWC record
Florida (22-9, 9-7)
Pros: Beat Washington, 22 overall wins
Cons: 2-6 vs. top 50, 2-7 on road
Miami (17-11, 7-9)
Pros: Beat Wake Forest, Florida State
Cons: 7-9 ACC record, 2-7 vs. top 50
LAST TEAMS OUT
Saint Mary’s (23-6, 10-4)
Pros: Mills is back, 8-3 road record
Cons: 145 SOS, 0-0 vs. top 25
San Diego State (19-8, 11-5)
Pros: Swept UNLV
Cons: 1-5 vs. top 50
South Carolina (21-8, 10-6)
Pros: 21 overall wins
Cons: 281 non-conference SOS, 1-5 vs. top 50
Providence (18-12, 10-8)
Pros: Win vs. Pittsburgh, winning BE record
Cons: 70 RPI, 2-8 vs. top 50
Maryland (18-12, 7-9)
Pros: two top five victories
Cons: 2-6 on road, 11-12 vs. top 200
Virginia Tech (17-13, 7-9)
Pros: two top 25 road wins
Cons: 2-8 vs. top 50, 1-6 down the stretch
Creighton (26-7, 14-4)
Pros: three top 25 wins, 26 overall wins
Cons: 10-0 vs. 200 or worse, 107 SOS
March 10, 2009; 11:34 PM ET
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