The Countdown

Down from 358

Feb 28 10 am EST

Today is a momentous day for college basketball fans but it as an even bigger deal for fans of dreams. Statheads like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi make a living each spring by telling us, in advance of the NCAA tournament, who’s in and who’s out and who’s on “the bubble.” But today, nearly every team with a uniform and a dream is IN. The NCAA basketball tournament known as March Madness is still a bit more than two weeks away but the tourney behind the tourney starts tonight.

With 68 teams destined to be in the field when the NCAA tournament selection committee announces which teams will play for the national championship, the NCAA tourney is the most wide open major sports tournament in the country. But by the time we reach Selection Sunday in 13 days, that field will have already been winnowed significantly.

As the sun came up on this last day of February 2022, 337 teams are still in the running to win the national championship and all but five of them control their own destiny. All they have to do is win games, about 10 of them in most cases, and they will be cutting down the nets in New Orleans on the night of April 4.

The naysayers among you are probably already pointing out the difficulties with this. The vast majority of those teams will have to win those 10 games consecutively, there is no room to veer from the path with a loss and no team can lose once the final 68 have been announced. However, as the Northeast Conference begins its post season tournament tonight in Hackensack, New Jersey, nearly every team in college basketball will have a chance to win its conference tournament and claim a spot in the “Big Dance” where, as UMBC showed us with a win against #1 seed Virginia four years ago, anything can happen.

A bit about the math. There are 358 teams that have competed in NCAA Division One basketball this season but 21 of them will not have this opportunity. Eight are in the process of transitioning from a lower level of basketball into NCAA Division One and are thus ineligible.

Another, Oklahoma State, is on probation. Two more, Stony Brook and James Madison have been penalized by their respective conferences for declaring their intention to move to new leagues. Neither of those teams will be allowed to play in their conference tournaments and thus would need one of the 36 at large bids the NCAA will dole out on March 13th. Those invites will not be forthcoming, though, since neither team is ranked in the top 200 in the net rankings the NCAA uses as a key metric.

Beyond those 11 teams, another ten have been eliminated from consideration in league play. A handful of leagues, most notably the Ivy League, Mid American Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, each eliminate four teams in the regular season and, in all 16 teams will be eliminated in this way. So, to recap, here’s the formula:

  • 358 D1 Teams
    • 8 Transitioning
    • 1 On Probation
    • 2 Ineligible for league title
    • 10 of 16 (so far) eliminated in league play
  • 21 Eliminated
  • 337 D1 Teams with a Dream as of start of play on 2/28/22

Over the course of the next two weeks I plan to update this page with the latest numbers, starting tonight. I have already seen the 21 teams that have been eliminated and hope to see all 337 of the others by Selection Sunday. I’ve organized them into four groups: Extinct, Endangered, Thin Ice and Good Shape. Beginning on March 5th when the first tournament champion is crowned, I’ll add a 5th category -In the Field. Extinct are the teams that have been eliminated per the above. Endangered are teams that will need to win and others to lose in order to escape their current place in the standings. Thin Ice teams are, conversely, teams that control their own fate but, if they slip up with a loss, could switch positions with a team on the Endangered list. Good Shape teams are still in their respective conference tournaments or, if they have lost, are virtually assured of an at large bid. The breakdown this morning

  • 21 Extinct
  • 6 Endangered
  • 4 Thin Ice
  • 327 Good Shape

See Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm? You say SMU and Michigan are the first teams out, I say they are both still in good shape. Your dream is safe with me Mustangs and Wolverines.

Tonight’s games include the very first conference tournament game in the aforementioned Northeast Conference. 9th-seeded Central Connecticut State will be traveling to the Rothman Center in Hackensack, NJ to play the 8th-seed, the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson. The winner will continue to dream and take on #1 seed Bryant later this week, the loser will join the eliminated list above. Given its status as the first game out of the gate in what is, essentially, a 331 team tournament, you would think this game would be nationally broadcast on ESPN but alas it is not. You can stream it on the Web however through the admirable and free site NEC Front Row.

The loser in the NEC tournament will likely be the only team to join the eliminated list tonight but Bethune-Cookman’s chances of dancing will take take a hit if they lose at Grambling in SWAC play tonight. You can watch that one on the Web too via Grambling’s free streaming site.

More to come tomorrow when a slate of regular season games in the Mid American Conference could spell the end of a few more hopes and conference tournaments begin in the ASUN, Horizon and Patriot leagues.