By Mel Greenberg
In a few hours based on the time of this writing the sun will rise (actually daylight is now breaking through) and the last two days of pursuing NCAA automatic bids through conference championships will be under way.
In some places, such as the Big 12, the semifinals and finals will be more about inching up the seed line with a conference title. A runnerup finish, other than not enjoying the glory of a league title, will be academic because a slot as an NCAA at-large team was virtually assured prior to the championship tip-off.
In some other places elimination will mean the WNIT or new WBI tournaments have degrees of interest.
Some No. 1 seeds in conference tourneys have gone by the wayside and as the Guru likes to say, the NCAA committee sees no bonafide reason to get the St. Bernards up the slopes to perform rescue work on victims of an unforeseen deluge.
That's the case in the Big Sky where seed No. 6 Montana State will meet No. 5 Portland State on the campus of Eastern Washington, the No. 1 seed that was knocked off in the semifinals.
The same goes for the Horizon where No. 1 Wis.-Green Bay fell in overtime leaving Cleveland State and Butler contending for the Big Dance or the after-selection show party hop.
However, in the Mountain West, Utah has performed a reversal of fortune in the curse of the weekly Shootaround Pod Cast of Debbie Antonelli and Beth Mowins under the aegis of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
For those who have not followed the season series -- with few exceptions guests who have appeared and received praise soon began experiencing disasterous setbacks.
In fact unlike Antonelli, who campaigned for the Mel Greenberg media award for four seasons minimal until she won, the Guru decided not to seek a guest spot for fear of getting laid off following the show.
The trend in the other direction for Utah comes from this week's podcast.
Antonelli righfully, actually, quickly dismissed Utah as an at-large choice out of the Mountain West.
"They have to win their tournament," she said with an air of not likely to happen. That may still be true but on Friday the Utes took down No. 1 TCU causing the first real wrong winner setup where a conference had only been targeted for one representative -- the league champion.
That puts in TCU in the discussion for one of the 33 at-large picks. But are they really worthy and how do they compare with others in the crowd -- especially on the bubble. Stay tuned and keep reading. We'll return shortly to this topic.
However, in a crazy year of upsets in which teams not named UConn, Stanford and at this moment Nebraska kept taking each other down the wrong-winner syndrome is not plentiful.
The only places left where an at-large hopeful on the bubble will gulp over the disappearance of a potential vacancy will be if Hartford loses in the America East -- we'll expand on that in a bit, and Fresno State loses to Louisiana Tech in the Western Athletic Conference title game.
So, class now the time has come to fill the at-large slots in this space. The Guru radar shows a tight fit where some teams would not have a shot in other years with their current performances -- can you say Rutgers and North Carolina? -- but stay alive because the lack of compelling teams in the "lock" category.
Based on what the data looks like here, a rescue of TCU or Fresno creates an almost perfect fit without leaving a bunch of teams on the table of deliberation. But the committee, depending on how it votes, is very close to a situation where after all the solid picks are made there will still be a need to fill two more slots. That will open the floodgates where suddenly teams such as Syracuse enter the picture. In fact, Delaware could suddenly rear its head off a close loss in the Colonial Athletic Association title game on Sunday.
The Guru will discuss this point about the Blue Hens in a separate category at the bottom.
So let us begin by first identifying the solids and near-solids. Teams such as Duke are not part of this discussion because the Blue Devils won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and are no longer under consideration for an at-large spot. For the purpose of an accurate count, the Guru will award Nebraska the at-large bid because it now makes no difference, other than seed slot, who wins the Big 12 because the same number of six at-large places stay the same even if the names change in the next 48 hours.
So here are the locks with their conferences identified, though conference affiliation is not part of the process, and CollegeRPI listings of two days ago since the update had yet to appear when we went to keyboard.
xxxAtlantic Coast (4 ) -- No of teams
Florida State (15)
Georgia Tech (32)
North Carolina State (36) played their way in.
xxx Atlantic Ten (2)
xxxx Big 12 (6)
Iowa State (24)
Texas A&M (9)
Oklahoma State (12)
xxx Big East (4)
St. John's (20)
West Virginia (10)
Notre Dame (6)
xx Big Ten (2)
Michigan State (16)
Wisconsin (31) -- yeah, I know, a little shaky.
xxxPac-10 (1) interchangeable if Stanford loses
xxx Southeastern (4)
That's a grand total of 23.
So now we go to the building bubble. We are trying to fill 10 more slots.
Here are the strong bubbles through data compared to everyone else
North Carolina (37) -- picked the right year to be bad.
Boston College (50) -- see UNC -- no shock if not taken, though.
DePaul (29) -- Forget for the moment the Guru's longtime friendship with coach Doug Bruno and athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto.
Rutgers (25) -- C. Viv getting a bigger last laugh than 2007?
Iowa (44) -- Won't be a selection without the committee chair's own team invovled.
Southern Cal (35) -- Wonders of a WNBA coaching pedigree with assistants from Dawn Staley Temple era staff.
Mississippi State (49) -- Shaky but somebody has to be picked.
That fills 7 of ten in the advanced group and we still need three more slots.
The next bubble level
Hartford (27) must go to the dance if not the America East champion but Vermont (43), at worst the runnerup, stays in the mix.
James Madison (40) gets considered out of the CAA, especially if becomes the runnerup.
Maybe the loser of Toledo-Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference
Illinois State (45) if it doesn't win the Missouri Valley.
TCU (39) -- knocked out of the Mountain West
Ark.-Little Rock (53) runnerup in the Sun Belt
Fresno State (30) if not the West Coast winner.
That makes seven for three spots or an overall combined 14 for 10.
BUT and we'll revisit after Saturday's action, Hartford, JMU, Illinois State, and Fresno could still go to the automatic side as of this hour. That leaves 3 for 3 but would that truly make it the best 33 availables. If not others come into play like Syracuse, which played a really weak non-league schedule.
What all this does brings us down the hall to a new discussion under the next headline.
Can Delle Donne and Delaware Find Their Way To A At-large Berth?
In another year this would be a worthless discussion. But let's say we need one more team and none of the above fill the bill.
So this calls for a little assumption which, if Delaware doesn't beat Old Dominion Saturday, become moot.
On Friday the Blue Hens in the quarterfinals finally prevailed in a third overtime encounter this season with Drexel, knocking out last season's CAA Cinderella as Elena Delle Donne scored 30 points.
So here we go class.
On Sunday assume that James Madison has made it there -- if not we'll revisit Saturday night -- and edges Delaware in an exciting down-to-the-wire encounter. By the way, the very same JMU Convocation Center was the scene last month where Delle Donne scored 54 points in an overtime loss to the Dukes.
As the Guru once heard during one of the NCAA Mock Bracket Exercises:
Make the case for Delaware.
OK, here we go.
First, yes the RPI is 99 -- a number that never exists among an NCAA paticipant.
BUT that number is skewed. Delle Donne did not play in four games because of injuries, accounting for three losses. Six CAA losses all against the conference powers were decided by minimal points in the closing seconds and Delaware would have erased the Drexel and ODU setbacks.
The weak non-conference schedule was assembled before the knowledge that the 2008 national high school player of the year would return to basketball where she won both the CAA player and rookie award.
In looking for that last team, every star out there is in the field -- Dawn Evans of JMU, Alysha Clark of Middle Tennessee, Andrea Riley of Oklahoma State in terms of the top scorers.
Delaware has suddenly become hot.
Then would it not make sense to make it a complete party at the outset before the tough kids from UConn and Stanford begin doing their stuff?
But let's see what happens first on Saturday.
If Old Dominion wins, consider this section a "never-mind" and we look to Delaware hosting St. Joseph's in a WNIT game next week.
That's it for now. Enjoy Saturday's games and we'll be back afterwards.