Whether it was 15-loss Houston winning the Conference USA tournament last year or last-place Georgia storming through the SEC tournament in 2008, an off-the-radar team or two annually manages to steal a bid from an at-large hopeful.
Here's a look at five potential bid thieves this season that fans of potential bubble teams should watch out for the next 10 days:
1. Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5): In a league with two at-large locks in Gonzaga and Saint Mary's and a third contender in BYU, Loyola Marymount lurks as a dangerous party crasher. The Lions have no at-large hopes due to a smattering of bad losses, but they have also shown the capability to beat quality teams, defeating Saint Mary's, Saint Louis, BYU, UCLA and Valparaiso already this season. Assuming LMU survives a quarterfinal against either San Francisco or Portland on Friday night, the Lions will draw a Saint Mary's team they've already beaten two weeks earlier by 15 points. The combination of point guard Anthony Ireland and forward Drew Viney gives LMU a real chance.
2. Tennessee State (19-11, 11-5): Every bubble team in the nation should be pulling for Murray State to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament as expected because the Racers will make the NCAA tournament field regardless. Murray State will be a heavy favorite, but the team with the best chance to capitalize if the Racers falter is probably Tennessee State, the only team to beat them this season. In addition to splitting a pair of games with Murray State this season, Tennessee State finished second in the OVC and would not have to play the Racers again until the title game. The Tigers won nine of 10 to end the regular season and boast perhaps the league's best big man in 6-foot-9 junior Robert Covington.
3. Arizona (21-9, 12-5): Although Arizona harbors at-large hopes if it wins its regular season finale against Arizona State and reaches the Pac-12 title game, the only way the Wildcats can feel safe on Selection Sunday is by winning the conference tournament. The good news for Arizona is that's hardly an unattainable goal in a year in which the Wildcats have closed strong and the Pac-12 has only two teams projected to earn at-large bids. As long as Arizona doesn't lose to the Sun Devils on Sunday, it will be guaranteed a top-four Pac-12 tournament seed, meaning it will only have to win three games in three days instead of four in four. Either Washington or Cal would likely await in the semifinals, but the Wildcats already won in Berkeley and played the Huskies close in two meetings.
4. Penn (17-11, 9-2): Penn is hardly a traditional bid thief since the Ivy League doesn't have a conference tournament, but the Quakers are in position to potential take a bid from a bubble team. Thanks to its 55-54 upset victory over first-place Harvard, Penn can force a one-game playoff with the Crimson for the Ivy League's automatic bid if both teams win out the rest of the regular season. There's no guarantee Harvard would land an at-large bid if it lost that one-game playoff to the Quakers the way it did to Princeton last year, but the Crimson would definitely have a realistic shot. They would have a 26-5 record in that scenario with wins over Florida State, St. Joseph's, Central Florida and LMU.
5. Evansville (15-14, 9-9): Since Wichita State and Creighton are NCAA tournament locks even if they lose during Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley could land a third team if someone besides the Shockers and Bluejays wins the conference tournament. Picking among the five teams who finished in a third-place tie at 9-9 isn't easy, but the most dangerous in that group may be Evansville, which boasts the league's best player not named Doug McDermott in Colt Ryan. By landing the No. 3 seed through a series of tie breakers, the Purple Aces would avoid surging Wichita State until the title game. If Evansville can get past Missouri State in the quarterfinals — no easy task considering both their regular season games went to overtime — the semifinal opponent would likely be a Creighton team the Purple Aces beat once and lost to in overtime the second time.
- Murray State
- Loyola Marymount