Cincinnati is in a very tricky place when you look at what they have done this season and their chances at a bid into the 2016 NCAA tournament. I took a quick look around to see just where the experts have them in their latest projections and also, how many teams the American may be able to land in the NCAA tournament, if any.
Cincinnati completed a season sweep of Connecticut this past Saturday, keeping their tournament bid within reach. Still, Cincinnati has not done themselves any favors this past week, losing to Tulsa. With that loss, Cincinnati must win three of their three remaining games to finish the regular season in order to be in good standing for the tournament. This includes a season finale against SMU.
While SMU themselves cannot join in on the postseason fun due to sanctions, they are more than motivated to play spoiler. A win here and Cincinnati is in, a loss....things could get tricky. If the Bearcats were to drop a game against East Carolina or Houston, they could be in trouble since the American tournament won't exactly be full of teams ranked high in the RPI. Cincinnati is only 5-7 against teams in the RPI Top 75 this season.
With that being said, I took a look around at the local media outlets to see just where UC lands in the latest tournament projections. ESPN currently has them in a battle of the 11 seeds against Gonzaga in Spokane, WA. Although ESPN has faith, not everyone does. Bleacher Report shows them barely in the bubble conversation while CBS Sports has them no where to be found. Being swept by Temple isn't a very good look and the Bearcats' only big win comes against a VCU team that isn't exactly on a roll right now. Cincinnati desperately needed more wins against Top 35 RPI teams and SMU offers them that opportunity on March 6th.
Cincinnati isn't the only team with tournament hopes here. Temple is not too far behind In terms of resume and RPI ranking, but has also swept UC this year. Both teams are however, missing that big win. UC did beat VCU and won their first four games by a combined 169 points, but both instances were very early in the season and VCU hasn't exactly been a giant killer like past seasons.
Connecticut is also in tournament conversation, but are sitting a little more comfortably compared to UC and Temple. UConn has been seeded as high as 7 and as low as 12, but seem to be a lock in the national media's mind. The American Athletic Conference would love to get all three teams into the tournament and really boost the image of this conference, but only getting one team in is very much a possibility. Tulsa is on the outside looking in at this point and may need some help to get into the tournament.
According to Bracket Matrix, which compiles all the major tournament bracketology, Cincinnati is projected as an 11 seed. They average a 10.28 seed, which essentially means they are considered a "last four in" by the general consensus. They are seeded as high as 8 while some still have them not making the Big Dance.
The importance of these next three games cannot be overstated. Win and in. Lose and you leave it up to rankings to make the decision for you. The NIT, or any other invitational tournament, isn't bad. After all, no postseason action is bad, but this is a Cincinnati community that expects a lot from their team and a tournament bid is in their hands.