It’s March and TCU again finds itself squarely on the Bubble...for the NIT. The TCU Bubble Watch has been dormant this season, as crushing early non-conference losses to Clemson and USC led to frequent lopsided defeats in Big 12 play. The season has still been a thrill with incredible victories, as the team picked unanimously to finish last in the conference enters the Big 12 Tournament as the 7-seed. Given the departures and turmoil surrounding Jamie Dixon and his squad all offseason, the Frogs have certainly exceeded expectations. That said, we all want the excitement of tournament play and our own taste of March Madness. Barring a miracle run through the Big 12 tournament, Greg Gumbel won’t be calling out TCU on Selection Sunday. However, turn the dial over to ESPNU later that night for the NIT bracket reveal where the Horned Frogs will be anxiously watching. What will it take for TCU to secure a spot in the NIT? Winning at least one more game will be critical (Texas got in as a 2-seed last season at 16-16 and went on to win the Tournament), but in any case TCU likely needs some help to be in the locked into an NIT bid. Who are the other teams competing for NIT at-large bids and which teams need big conference tournaments to prevent bid thieves from filling the NIT bracket?
The 32 teams that will make up the NIT bracket will be selected from the Bubble leftovers that the NCAA Tournament selection committee casts aside. The dreaded “First Four Out” will become the 1-seeds in the NIT (as TCU was last season), any conference’s regular season champion that doesn’t reach the NCAA Tournament gets an automatic bid, and beyond that it is fully at the subjective discretion of the selection committee. TCU does not project to be one of the first 8 teams out of the NCAA Tournament, so any team projected as a 2-seed or higher in the NIT by Mid-Major Madness is already assumed to be in the NIT field ahead of the Frogs. As well, some regular season champions (Radford, Northern Iowa, and Wright St.) have already been eliminated from their respective conference tournaments, likely closing the door on three NIT slots, though UNI could sneak into the Big Dance. That leaves a large pool of teams chasing a shrinking at-large field. The blue highlighted below are teams currently in the NIT field according to Mid-Major Madness. How do the Frogs stand up to the other contenders and can they stay above the cut-line?
1. Conference Champs – any regular season conference champion gets an automatic ticket into the NIT if it does not earn a bid to the Big Dance. TCU will need every possible spot available in the NIT field to sneak in, so Frog Fans should be rooting for all of these #1 seeds to cruise through their conference tournaments:
2. NCAA Tournament Locks – If a regular season champion can’t win its conference tournament, then the next best thing for TCU’s NIT hopes would be for another team that is guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance’s field of 68. Any bid thief would knock a team from the top of the Bubble down into the NIT and thus filling one of the slots that could’ve been allocated to the Frogs. We’ll be watching for big conference tournament performances from the below:
The Case For TCU:
The Horned Frogs will be a tough team for the selection committee to evaluate. TCU holds three marquee top-25 NET wins (#5 Baylor, #17 WVU, #22 TTU) and zero Q3 or Q4 loss, but the analytical metrics crush the Frogs for the massive margin in losses (WVU by 32, TTU by 46, OU by 20, etc.). I think the top-line wins should carry the day for the Frogs, and it would be hard to argue that the lower end of the NIT Bubble could’ve accumulated those wins against top-level teams. The scenario as it stands: with two wins in Kansas City (over K-State & Baylor), TCU is an NIT lock; with a loss to the Wildcats TCU is likely left out of the NIT; with just one win in the Big XII Tournament the Frogs will remain on the NIT Bubble. Of the teams noted on the NIT Bubble, TCU is top-10 in Avg. NET Win, with the best Best Win and top-5 best Worst Loss.
TCU sits on the edge: a top-4 seed is in reach, giving us another game of Des Bane and crew in the Schollmaier, however the dominoes could fall the other direction and push the Frogs completely out of the NIT bracket. My purple-colored glasses say TCU should get the invitation, but Saturday’s collapse vs. Oklahoma sets the stage for a snub.
None of this matters, of course, because Mr. Bane is going to go full Kemba Walker and lead the Horned Frogs to four consecutive victories and a Big 12 Title.