Automatic bid safest route for Belmont, others
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 8
On the hot seat: Belmont
The Bruins are a game away from their third consecutive NCAA appearance and their sixth in eight years. Rather than fret about dicey at-large possibilities, Belmont can wrap up the Ohio Valley tournament tonight against a dangerous Murray State team led by NBA-bound point guard Isaiah Canaan.
The Bruins will be a bear of a round of 64 opponent, no pun intended, but their path there has always appeared to come through the Ohio Valley tournament. Why risk living on the edge with anxiety on Selection Sunday? The stout non-conference schedule and impressive top-100 performance would help Belmont, but there’s just a few too many losses (particularly against middle-of-the-road teams) to make the NCAA committee second guess a snub.
Most painful loss: Akron
The Zips picked a bad time to have their worst week. Akron has sandwiched its first two conference losses around the arrest of point guard Alex Abreu for trafficking and possession of marijuana. Abreu pleaded not guilty Friday; the Zips, who suspended the junior indefinitely, fell 68-64 at home to Kent State to see their slim at-large hopes evaporate.
The big picture:
Now, the cool part begins.
Weeks and weeks of endless discussion, hypotheticals and parsing of resumes will start to wind down in the coming days.
More importantly, schools will start securing their places in the field of 68, and not just power conference behemoths who find their way into the tournament nearly every year.
Take the Atlantic Sun tournament, which will allocate the first of the 31 automatic bids on Saturday and is certain to produce one of the coolest stories of the month.
Mercer, the top seed and host for the event, hasn’t received an NCAA invite since 1985 (the year the tournament expanded to 64 teams). The Bears will face Florida Gulf Coast, a school that didn’t even sponsor a basketball program until 2002-03.
One of those schools is a day away from receiving its largest athletic spotlight in a long time, if ever. One of those rosters will experience tremendous glee within only a handful of hours.
Neither Mercer nor Florida Gulf Coast is … [For more on Bubble Watch: Automatic bid the safest route for Belmont, others, click here.]