Thought exercise for your Selection Sunday: just how many games away was Boston College from landing a berth in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT)?
Boston College finished the year 13-19, 4-14 ACC ... clearly well below .500 and post-season ineligible. And while that's no longer a hard-and-fast .500 or greater overall record requirement for entry into the NIT, since the NCAA revamped the selection process in 2006, all teams receiving invitations have had .500 or greater records.
The other big change in recent years has been auto-qualifying regular-season conference champions, should that team fail to earn an NCAA Tournament bid through winning their conference tournament championship. Now, any mid-major conference champ that wins the regular season is guaranteed a place in the NIT.
To start, the following teams have auto-qualified for the 2015 NIT field by virtue of winning their conference's regular season championship (21): Virginia, SMU, Davidson, Kansas, Montana, Charleston Southern, Wisconsin, UC Davis, William & Mary, Louisiana Tech, Iona, North Carolina Central, Central Michigan, Wichita State, Boise State, St. Francis (NY), Murray State, Bucknell, Kentucky, South Dakota State and Georgia State.
Clearly, many of these schools (e.g. Virginia, Kentucky) are dancing. Once you remove the teams that will definitely or very likely make the NCAA Tournament field, you are left with just 10-11 NIT auto-qualifiers:
1. Big Sky: Montana (20-12, 14-4)
2. Big South: Charleston Southern (19-11, 13-5)
3. Colonial: William & Mary (20-12, 12-6)
4. MAAC: Iona (26-8, 17-3)
5. MEAC: North Carolina Central (25-7, 16-0)
6. MAC: Central Michigan (23-8, 12-6)
7. Northeast: St. Francis (NY) (23-11, 15-3)
8. Ohio Valley: Murray State (27-5, 16-0)
9. Patriot: Bucknell (19-14, 13-5)
10. Summit: South Dakota State (23-10, 12-4)
11. Sun Belt: Georgia State (23-9, 15-5) -- with a loss to Georgia Southern on Sunday
After removing those 10-11 auto-qualifiers from the equation, we are left with 21-22 at-large spots.
According to The NIT Bracket Project and nycbuckets.com, the superset of teams vying for those 21-22 at-large spots stands at roughly 25. Alphabetically, Alabama, Arizona State, Florida, George Washington, Green Bay, Illinois, Illinois State, Memphis, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Minnesota, Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Mary's, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Toledo, Tulsa, UCLA, UConn (would auto-qualify for NCAA Tournament with a win on Sunday), UTEP and Vanderbilt.
Many of those programs are definitely IN, should they accept: UCLA, Florida, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Texas A&M chief among them. But if we get down towards the bottom of the at-larges -- the so-called "NIT bubble" -- the resumes start to look a bit less impressive.
Using Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which is not how the NCAA/NIT selects teams but is a decent proxy nonetheless, here would be the last four IN the NIT field:
29. Tulsa (22-10, kenpom 72)
30. George Washington (21-12, 75)
31. Michigan (16-16, 77)
32. Pittsburgh (19-14, 80)
Here are the first four out:
33. Memphis (18-14, 85)
34. Toledo (20-13, 87)
35. Tennessee (16-16, 88)
36. UTEP (22-10, 96)
Which gets us back to 13-19 BC. Now both Clemson (16-15, kenpom 86) and Florida State (17-16, 103) finished just one game over .500 and will likely not make the NIT. While BC has a stronger strength of schedule than either Clemson or Florida State, the NIT bar is likely at least 2-3 games over .500 for the Eagles.
BC has some decent victories over likely NCAA Tournament-bound teams (Providence, Harvard, N.C. State) but also a few relatively "bad" losses (USC, UMass). We'd have to start with flipping both those losses to Ws, which would make BC 15-17 overall. The home overtime losses to Miami and Pitt, where BC had a victory all but gift-wrapped, are also low-hanging fruit. Flip those, and BC is now 17-15 overall.
From there, you're probably only looking at 1-2 more wins. The road games at Clemson and Florida State seem like the next most likely candidates, especially considering BC would be right there in the mix with those 1-2 games over .500 ACC schools for an NIT at-large bid. But let's just grab the Florida State loss and put BC at 18-14 overall.
Would that be enough? I think it would. Granted, there are only a few signature wins on there -- the same ones that BC actually notched during the season (PC, Harvard, N.C. State). But I think there would be enough wins, and a strong enough strength of schedule, to get the Eagles over the hump.
I maintain we are only looking at a five game swing. Granted, that's a LOT when you are talking about just a 32-game season. At the same time, BC closes out those home games at Pitt and Miami and we're only talking about eliminating both bad losses earlier in the year (UMass and USC) and flipping one more game against an NIT bubble team. Certainly doable.