Here's how UC will miss (or make) NCAA tourney

Posted at 7:32 AM, Mar 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-13 17:36:08-04

CINCINNATI – I'm not a bracketologist and I don't play one on TV. But I'm going out on a bubble and predict that UC will join fifth-ranked Xavier in the NCAA Tournament now that Memphis lost to UConn Sunday afternoon.

Before that, Memphis had a very real chance to steal UC's spot.

Here's how that might have happened.

If you didn't follow Saturday's games, you might not know that UConn knocked off top-seeded Temple and Memphis beat Tulane in the American Athletic Conference semifinals.  That left UC and Temple,  the regular-season league champion, with their fingers crossed watching 19-14 Memphis play 23-10 UConn for the conference title and its automatic NCAA bid.

The cheers you just heard from Clifton were the Bearcats and UC fans celebrating UConn's 72-58 victory.

When the AAC Tournament started, nobody had sixth-seeded Memphis in their bracket. For that matter, fifth-seeded UConn was on the bubble. But that's why they call it March Madness. Upsets, shockers and stunners  - like UConn's four-overtime win over UC Friday – are almost the rule rather than the exception.

After Saturday's  games, Memphis – despite 14 losses – was one win away from taking somebody's spot in the NCAA Tournament – and it could have been UC's. Or Temple's. Or Syracuse's or Michigan's or another bubble team's.

RELATED: UC was robbed, Cronin says, and video shows it

Although Memphis' loss knocks them out of tournament consideration, it still doesn't guarantee that UC wlll get in, but it helps.

Coach Mick Cronin and UC fans have to be worrying and  wondering - how many NCAA berths will their conference get? The NCAA Selection Committee denies that it rations bids by conference and insists that it awards at-large bids to the best teams regardless. But unless you're in a major conference like the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 or SEC, nobody buys it.

Lobbying for his team, Cronin lashed out in his last two post-game press conferences, claiming the committee and national TV are biased against the AAC. The league, just 3 years old, got three NCAA berths in its first two seasons.

So let's look at what might happen when the field is announced today (5:30 p.m., EDT on CBS).

First, understand this: There are 68 berths and 32 go to conference tournament champions (plus the Ivy League champ, because they claim they're too busy studying to have a conference tournament). Everybody else fights over the other 36 and the college basketball experts say they can't remember when there were so many good teams to choose from. The 10-person committee met Saturday and chose the field, contingent on Sunday's games. The head of the committee told that when they got down to choosing the last seven at-large teams, there were still 22 schools on the board.

That means 15 pretty good ones will be left out.

RELATED: NCAA explains how teams are picked, seeded, bracketed.

Also worth noting, the committee says it chooses the best at-large teams, not the most deserving. So UC gets no credit or sympathy for losing to UConn because the clockkeeper was asleep at the end of the third overtime.

The AAC could argue that it has three NCAA-eligible teams worthy of at-large bids:  UC (22-10, 47 RPI), Tulsa (20-11, 58 RPI), and Temple (21-11, 59 RPI). 

So is UC in or out?

Bottom line:

> In the best-case scenario, the selection committee takes four AAC teams and UC is in no matter what.

> If it takes three, as ESPN's Joe Lunardi predicts, UC and Temple probably get the at-large berths and UConn gets the automatic bid.

> But if the NCAA takes only two, either UC or Temple would be out.

Lunardi likes UC in that scenario, even though Temple swept UC and UConn during the season. UC has a better NCAA RPI and a better record.

COMPARE UC and Temple at

As of Sunday morning, ESPN's Lunardi and Jerry Palm of were hedging their bets on UC. Both had the Bearcats "on the bubble."  Palm had Temple in a play-in game. But if Cronin is right about bias, it wouldn't be a shock if the AAC has to settle for two spots and UC gets locked out – or if the Bearcats have to go to a play-in game like Xavier did in 2014.

That would still be better than the NIT, though. And UC fans should thank SMU that their scandal-ridden conference fellows are ineligible this year, or the Bearcats' bubble might have burst by now.

RELATED: Upsets to pick on your bracket.