Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Post-Season Invites? What Might Have Been

Just one more week before we will all be sick to death of the term "on the bubble," but here's why you have to love college basketball: according to the web site RealTime RPI, Idaho State's men's basketball team has beaten the No. 11 team in the country this year in Utah -- and lost to the No. 341 team in Sacramento State. Pretty wild.

The Bengals get a chance to atone for that Sac State loss Thursday night at Reed Gym, when they host the Hornets in a game that means absolutely nothing to Sac, and a whole bunch to ISU. If the Bengals win, they will clinch a Big Sky Conference post-season tournament berth, and go a long way toward locking up the No. 4 seed and a host role in the first round of the tournament.

As far as Idaho State, with its 10-18 overall record, is concerned the only way the Bengals are going to a post-season tournament (other than the conference tourney) this year is if they sweep through the Big Sky tournament and win the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. But there are at least 13 teams that the Bengals have played this year who could be in the running for post-season play. This year, there are four post-season tournaments: the NCAA, the NIT, the CBI and a new tournament sponsored by College Insider. That means 129 teams will get post-season invitations out of the nation's 343 Division I programs.

Here's a look at Idaho State's opponents, where they are ranked by RealRPI, and their post-season prospects.

Heading to the Big Dance

Utah (11), Arizona State (22), Utah State (27), Wisconsin (28) and BYU (30) all have good to excellent shots at at-large berths in the NCAA tournament if they fail to win their conference tournaments. Weber State (82), of course, will be the favorite to win the Big Sky's automatic berth.

NIT Bound

The NIT is required to take any regular season conference champion that fails to get invited to the NCAA tournament. So if Weber should happen to stumble in the conference tourney, the Wildcats would get an automatic berth in the NIT. If the Wildcats do win the tournament, Portland State (134) and Montana (159) have shots at an NIT berth. PSU's wins over Boise State and Gonzaga would seem to set them up for an NIT bid, if they finish out the regular season strong and get to the Big Sky title game. Montana is much more of a long shot.

Among ISU's non-conference opponents, Wisconsin is probably more likely to go to the NIT than the NCAA; Kansas State (75), Boise State (89) and Washington State (102) have outside shots, although I see BSU and Wazzu more likely to go to one of the other tournaments.

CBI or College Insider

Believe it or not, Idaho (132) is talking post-season this year, but the Vandals would probably need to win all three of their final regular season games and a first-round game in the WAC tournament to do it. Nevada (91) is also a likely post-season invitee.

And what of the Bengals? Even though they played a brutal non-conference schedule, Idaho State still could have made a post-season case for itself if the Bengals had won the "winnable" games on that schedule: Hawaii, Long Beach State, Boise State, Sacramento State, and the first Weber State game. That's four games the Bengals lost in overtime and a loss to the third worst team in the nation.

Had the Bengals won those five games, swept their final two regular season games against Sac and NAU, and won a first-round game in the Big Sky tournament, they would have finished with an 18-14 mark and wins over six other potential post-season tournament teams in Utah, BSU, Weber, Idaho, Montana and Portland State. That might have been enough to land them in the CBI or College Insider. Instead, the Bengals will have to put together a "perfect finish" reminiscent of the last ISU team to make the post-season -- the 1987 team that rose from a No. 7 seed to sweep through the Big Sky Tournament and into the NCAA tournament.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

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