By: Ryan Token
The sun has officially set on the 2019-2020 regular season for Tulsa basketball. The Golden Hurricane finished 21-10 in an up-and-down season filled with incredibly high highs, and disappointingly low lows. When all was said and done, TU tied for first place in the conference, and will soon be hanging a banner that reads American Athletic Conference Champions.
But how do things look for Tulsa’s chances at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid? Read on as I dive into how things went this season, the NCAA selection committee, and what Tulsa needs to do in the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68.
After rounding out a very weak non-conference schedule at 8-5, things looked bleak. Tulsa responded in a big way, though, losing only five more the rest of the year while winning thirteen games in an always-difficult American Athletic Conference schedule.
Unfortunately, it’s that non-conference schedule that is still the achilles heel for TU basketball. According to CBS Sports, Tulsa’s overall strength of schedule was 135th. Not great, but honestly not terrible. However, that’s bolstered by the strength of the AAC.
Our non-conference schedule, according to that same CBS Sports article, ranks as 330th in the country. Reminder: there are only 353 Division I basketball programs. NOT ideal. Most other sites don’t have us quite that low, but there’s no denying that TU had more than their fair share of “easy” non-conference games.
There’s ALSO no denying, though, that Tulsa tied with Houston and Cincinnati for first place in the AAC. That has to be worth a close look from the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Who makes up this committee? If you don't care, I don't blame you - feel free to skip this section and move on. I had no idea, though, and was glad to learn more about it.
There are ten members on the selection committee, and they all serve five-year terms. These people are either athletic directors or conference commissioners, and they come from conferences around the country. The current committee members include athletic directors from Duke, Toledo, Kentucky, Northwestern, Bradley, and Iowa State; and conference commissioners from the Mountain West Conference, the Southland Conference, the Atlantic 10 Conference, and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Notably, there are none from the American Athletic Conference in which Tulsa resides, but hypothetically that doesn’t matter. ADs and commissioners must leave the room when their school(s) are being discussed. ADs are allowed to stay when other schools from their conference are being discussed, but they can only speak if asked a question.
So where does Tulsa currently stand in the minds of bracketologists?
As of Monday night, Tulsa had a 4.0% chance of making the tournament according to TeamRankings.com. That’s a 3.9% chance of receiving the AAC’s auto-bid, plus a 0.1% chance of making it as an at-large. Those numbers are awfully low, but that’s just one site.
TU's loss on Sunday evening dropped them from #1 in the AAC to #3, and that, as you'll see, had a significant effect on Tulsa’s bracketology projections. By default, many sites give the conference’s auto-bid to whoever is currently in first place. That was Tulsa before 5:00pm on Sunday, but that is not the case anymore.
As of Sunday night, before many brackets had been updated with Tulsa’s loss to Wichita State, Bracket Matrix still had us IN 32 out of 100 brackets. All but one of those put us in as the twelve seed, and all 32 of those had us in there as the American's auto-bid.
As of Monday night, now that Tulsa is no longer projected as the auto-bid, NONE of the brackets that had been updated on March 9th had Tulsa in the tournament. Something to note, though, is that we are considered part of the "Next Four Out" according to Joe Lunardi over at ESPN.
So do we think Tulsa can earn an at-large bid?
Of course, Tulsa will get into the NCAA Tournament as the American’s auto-bid if they can manage to win the conference tournament next weekend. For the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that we don’t do that.
Should Tulsa not win the conference tournament, the only somewhat feasible way we make the NCAA Tournament is to win our way to the championship game (ideally in dominant fashion), and lose a close game to Cincinnati or Wichita State.
For reference, the conference tournament field is officially set. Here’s the full bracket:
Tulsa is the #3 seed, which means we get a first-round bye. The Golden Hurricane will play the winner of (11) ECU and (6) Memphis on Friday, March 13th. Another 40-point win over Memphis in the quarterfinals would certainly help the cause.
Both (7) SMU and (10) Temple have honestly looked terrible recently. SMU has dropped 5 of their last 6, and Temple has lost 6 of their last 7. Houston should have no trouble beating either of those teams. So assuming Tulsa beats Memphis in the quarterfinals, they’ll get the best team in the conference (Houston) in the semifinals. That’s an ideal setup for a couple high-quality wins before going to the championship game and losing (in this scenario).
By that path, Tulsa would have beaten Memphis, who is #58 in KenPom, and then Houston, who is all the way up to #14 in KenPom. The championship game would likely be against either Cincinnati or Wichita State, both of whom are top-50 KenPom teams.
All things considered, I do think there is still a path, albeit a small one, for Tulsa to carve out an at-large bid for themselves. It will take significantly better guard play than we’ve had recently to get there, but it’s possible.
We here at the Hurricast will be in Fort Worth for the conference tournament, and we can’t wait. Regardless of what happens, the American has a ton of fun, undervalued, basketball teams.
The last-place team in the conference, Tulane, very nearly beat a UConn team yesterday (March 8th) that’s been playing its best basketball of the year. Who knows what will happen? All Tulsa needs is for one or two of its guards to step up for 3 days, and the conference championship is very much in play. Personally, I'm incredibly excited to see how this plays out. The only thing I specifically DON’T want is for UConn to somehow win the conference tournament. Please God do not let this nightmare become reality.
Best case scenario: UConn loses to Tulane in the first round, Tulsa beats Cincinnati by 30 in the championship game to exact revenge on the Bearcats, and the AAC gets 3 or more teams into the NCAA Tournament field. Reign Cane baby.
Do you think Tulsa has a realistic shot at securing an at-large bid and making the NCAA Tournament? Send us your thoughts on Twitter @GoldenHurricast or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, and remember, Stay Golden!