Love it or hate it, college basketball’s conference tournament system is designed to give every team in the land a chance to win an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament — no matter how dismal their regular season performance.
You can’t blame St. Bonaventure for winning the Atlantic 10 tournament to give the league four representatives, and you can’t fault Colorado for taking advantage of a dreadful league to capture the Pac-12 tournament title.
But for fans of Drexel, Mississippi State and poor Northwestern looking for targets for their ire, here’s the short list of bid stealers in the 2012 field.
3 St. Bonaventure (20-11) — A-10 — RPI: 74, BPI: 65
After UMass took out top-seeded Temple in the quarterfinals, the Bonnies managed to march to their first Atlantic 10 tournament title without facing either of the top two seeds. Sunday’s 67-56 win over Xavier ensured the conference four bids and gives conference player of the year Andrew Nicholson (18.2 points per game, 8.3 rebounds) a chance to make one final impression on the national stage.
Second-round matchup: Florida State
11 Colorado (23-11) — Pac-12 — RPI: 65, BPI: 87
Many considered the Pac-12 to be a one-bid league this season with regular season champs Washington the front-runners to claim it if they could win the league tournament. Fittingly, the Huskies were bounced in the second round by ninth-seeded Oregon State, setting the table for No. 10 seed Colorado to capture the title in its first year in the conference.
Second-round matchup: UNLV
16 Western Kentucky (15-18) — Sun Belt — RPI: 189, BPI: 191
The Hilltoppers are just the 16th team in tournament history to make the field with a losing record — ah, the beauty of the automatic bid system. They began the season 5-14, but took out the No. 10, 2, 3 and 5 seeds en route to the Sun Belt tournament title. Top-seeded Middle Tennessee fell in the quarterfinals and failed to make the NCAA field.
First-round matchup: Mississippi Valley State
15 Loyola, Md. (24-8) — MAAC — RPI: 80, BPI: 115
Former Maryland assistant coach Jimmy Patsos leads the Greyhounds back to the tournament for the first time since 1994. Loyola, which finished just behind Iona (a first-four at-large bid recipient) in the regular season, is one win away from tying the school record for wins in a season — but will face a tall task against the Buckeyes.
Second-round matchup: Ohio State
14 South Dakota State (27-7) — Summit League — RPI: 52, BPI: 78
A shoe-in for best nickname and logo in this year’s field, the Jackrabbits leaped to the conference tournament title after regular season champion Oral Roberts fell in the semifinals. This is the school’s first tournament berth since moving up to Division I four years ago. The sharpshooting Jackrabbits (8.1 three-pointers per game), won on the road at Pac-12 champions Washington earlier this season — which would have held more weight had the Huskies made the tournament themselves.
Second-round matchup: Baylor
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