Liberty will be in the NCAA tournament despite a 15-20 record and a No. 288 RPI (USA Today Sports Images)
Don't count on that changing next week.
As a result of conference tournament carnage in the lowest-rated one-bid leagues, this year's crop of likely No. 16 seeds looks especially weak. Instead of the teams who finished at the top of those conferences making the NCAA tournament, middle-tier teams from some of the nation's weakest leagues have pushed their way into the field of 68.
The most egregious example is Liberty, which improbably rebounded from a 20-loss regular season to stun Big South favorites High Point, Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern in the conference tournament. The Flames, only the second team ever to make the NCAA tournament with as many as 20 losses, are almost certainly bound for a First Four game in Dayton.
A good bet to join them in Dayton is whichever team comes out of the MEAC this year. With first-place Norfolk State and second-place NC Central going out in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, that league will produce an NCAA tournament team with at least 13 losses – possibly more if third-seeded Savannah State also falls.
Also potential candidates for No. 16 seeds are Western Kentucky, which went 10-10 in the Sun Belt but caught fire last week, and James Madison, which finished fourth in the weakest CAA in recent memory. Throw in NEC conference tournament champ LIU Brooklyn and whoever comes out of the SWAC, and the NCAA tournament is guaranteed at least six teams with RPIs of 150 or worse.
By contrast, the only 2012 NCAA tournament team whose RPI was below 150 was Western Kentucky, which made a similar miracle run in the Sun Belt. The other five No. 16 seeds were Mississippi Valley State (144), Lamar (108), Vermont (135), Long Island (80) and UNC Asheville (104).
Just because this year's No. 16 seeds will be weaker on paper doesn't mean an upset is impossible. After all, this season has produced Cal Poly over UCLA, TCU over Kansas and Chaminade over Texas.
Still, No. 16 seeds have a long history of futility. And it doesn't seem promising that this is the year that's going to change.
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