Belmont’s chances of getting an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament this season are the best they’ve ever been, yet the odds of it actually happening are still extremely unlikely.
After the Bruins were defeated by Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Final, many outlets and writers called for Belmont to receive an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
But it’s not that simple.
The OVC has always struggled to be a two-bid conference because of how top heavy it has always been. Most teams in the conference are in the bottom 100 of most national rankings, like the KenPom.
To put that in perspective, the last time an OVC team received an at-large bid, Rick Byrd had just finished his second year as Belmont’s head coach. In 1987, Middle Tennessee State University got a bid after losing to Austin Peay in the conference tournament final.
Now, in his 34th season, Byrd doesn’t think his opinion matters, but he is ready to go if the committee gives the Bruins a chance.
“What I think doesn’t matter. The committee will do the best job they can do to pick the teams, and if we’re one of those, we’ll be on the plane to wherever we go,” said Byrd. “I think we have to trust the committee to make the right decisions.”
Only 64 teams in Division I basketball make it to the big dance. Most mid-major programs who get in do so with an automatic bid, earned for winning their conference tournaments.
Since that ship has sailed for the Bruins, they’ve had to wait to see if certain teams will win and others lose, creating the conditions that will give Belmont a shot to play.
The Bruins are considered a bubble team, which means they aren’t in for sure, but they aren’t out either. Some projected brackets have Belmont listed in the First Four In category. These are the last four teams the committee chooses for the tournament. The four last at-large bid teams and the four bottom 16 seed teams play each other for a shot to get into the tournament.
Others have Belmont as one of the First Four Out. This would mean Belmont just missed the cut for the tournament.
A lot has happened over the past five days to put Belmont in the position it’s in now.
Teams like Indiana University, Temple University and North Carolina State University needed to lose for Belmont to get a shot. Indiana lost to Ohio State University on Thursday, and both NC State and Temple lost as well.
But certain teams also needed to win to keep their conferences as one-bid conferences. The Bruins weren’t as lucky in this category.
For example, the Atlantic 10 Conference has had an awful season and was most likely going to be a one-bid conference, with Virginia Commonwealth University being the favorite. When VCU lost to University of Rhode Island on Friday, it almost guaranteed the A10 will be a two-bid conference, which means there’s one less spot in the tournament for teams from other conferences.
A similar situation happened on Tuesday night, when No.1 Gonzaga University fell to St. Mary’s College in the West Coast Conference final. The WCC was a one-bid league before the huge upset.
Even with all of this madness, Belmont still has a solid shot because of its regular season resume.
The Bruins are currently ranked No. 47 in the NET Rankings, higher than any other bubble team.
This is largely because of Belmont’s wins against Murray State, UCLA and Lipscomb.
However, losses to Jacksonville State and Green Bay could be the dagger that kills Belmont’s tournament chances.
A lot is on the line for the Bruins, and they can’t do anything but watch and hope as Selection Sunday approaches.