Prior to Wednesday night, I could think of exactly zero times in my life when Wake Forest beat Louisville in, well, anything and I had a reason to be unhappy about this development. The Bracket Matrix tells us that because the Demon Deacons could beat a team from Kentucky this week and Vanderbilt couldn’t, Wake is now in the tournament and we’re not.
But that’s life on the bubble in March. Rooting interests get weird. Some madness is fine; Rutgers beating Illinois is fine. Most madness is not fine. We want fellow bubble teams to take dumb losses, not beat teams they’re not supposed to. We want sanity to hold in mid-major conference tournaments.
This weekend, we’re rooting like hell for Gregg Marshall to kick the shit out of our old pal Dan Muller because we’d much rather our at-large case be compared to Muller’s Illinois State team than Marshall’s Wichita State team. That’s March.
Next week, we’ll be rooting like hell for Middle to win the C-USA Tournament, because do you really want Middle’s 71-48 win over Vanderbilt being brought up in the committee room when they’re debating the merits of Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt for the last at-large spot?
We want VCU or Dayton to claim the A-10’s automatic bid. We want Cincinnati or SMU to win the AAC’s automatic bid. We want TCU to get bounced early in the Big 12 Tournament. We sure as hell don’t want Kevin Stallings doing anything in the ACC Tournament.
This is where March feels weird. You’re not a neutral fan. When you’re fighting for one of the last few spots in the tournament, just about every game that’s played between now and Selection Sunday means something for your team, right down to Chattanooga cutting down the nets in the SoCon Tournament so we can say we beat another tournament team. There are some things Vanderbilt can control, but unless we beat Florida on Saturday and then make a run to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament (or, hell, win the damn thing), we probably won’t feel great when we turn on the Selection Show on the 12th.
The next ten days are going to involve a lot of scoreboard watching, and you may want to see your doctor about adjusting your blood pressure meds. But if you want to save yourself some of that, here’s one thing I can tell you: if somebody says that Vanderbilt can’t get in because they have 15 losses (which they will if they don’t win the SEC Tournament), you can safely disregard everything else this person says.
Why? Yes, it’s true that no team has ever gotten an at-large bid with 15 or more losses. It’s also true that until a few years ago, the regular season was 26 games long and the now-ubiquitous exempt tournaments were comparatively rare. There’s never been a 15-loss team getting an at-large bid because for most of the history of college basketball, having 15 losses in the regular season meant that you probably had a sub-.500 record. For instance, in its entire history, Vanderbilt has finished the regular season with 15 or more losses fifteen times. In exactly one of those 15 seasons (1986-87) did the Commodores have a winning record. The fact that the NCAA rightly left out a bunch of 13-15 teams in 1994 has no bearing on whether an 18-15 team in 2017 will get in the tournament. Save yourself that particular nonsense, and the next week and a half will go a lot smoother for you.