The Colorado State Rams are playing their best basketball in eight or ten years. Just imagine where you were ten years ago and it gets a little sad to think the Green and Gold haven't finished in just the top half of the MWC since 1999-2000. In 1999-2000 they were 18-12 but a one and done in the MWC tournament and so missed the NCAA Tournament. Eight years ago in the 2002-03 season they swept through the MWC tourney to grab a #14 seed in the NCAA tournament. They were ranked 6th in conference and had a record of 16-13 that year. The Rams should be shooting for a NIT berth in a year where preseason polls had the Rams finishing 8th in the conference. Let's see if they match up to the NIT.
The NIT invites 32 teams, the NCAA invites 65. The Rams need to be a top 97 team theoretically to make the NIT. Barring them winning the MWC tournament or getting a few surprise wins before the season is over lets count them at 5th in the conference and a 17-13, 8-8 overall record.
As of today CSU sits at number 91 in the RPI, that's top 97 story over, right? Not so fast. The NCAA takes conference winners outside the best 65 teams and doesn't take directly from the RPI as their next pick. We all know how big the bubble debate can be, ask SDSU players and fans. SDSU was a #34 RPI last year and missed the NCAA and took their NIT berth instead.
So CSU is screwed? Nope, here is a list of teams that were higher then #91 in RPI last year in the NIT; Bowling Green #157, Jacksonville #143, Tennessee-Martin #140, Weber St. #107, and Washington St was at #92. That is only 5 out of 32 but the precedent is there that you don't need to be a very high seeded team. The Rams results are favorable to any of those teams right now. This isn't the best news for CSU but they could still improve with wins down the stretch, their SOS will jump with playing 4 of 6 against top 45 RPI teams. If they get a win against one of them then I say they jump up easily.
Here are some of the official NIT rules for selection. Go to the NIT website for full rules on selection.
The regular-season champion of any NCAA Division I conference (as determined by the conference's tie-break protocol) not otherwise selected to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship will secure an automatic qualification to the National Invitation Tournament.
The Rams won't win the conference and if they did they are going to the NCAA so forget that rule. However it could come into play and take a few of the "top 97" spots away.
There is no limit on the number of teams the committee may select from one conference.
Even if SDSU gets selected by the NIT that has no effect on the Rams.
Among the resources available to the committee are various computer rankings, head-to-head results, chronological results, Division I results, non-conference results, home and away results, rankings, polls and the NABC regional advisory committee rankings.
Let's break this down for the Rams. I don't know the computer rankings that the NIT uses but if its similar to RPI put them in the 85-95 range. Head to Head against top 45 RPI teams is 0-4 with 4 games remaining. Chronological results we obviously don't have but two wins in the MWC tournament would seem enough to get them on some voter radars. D-I results has them at 15-9 now and I predict 2-3 more wins, a little low especially if they get no wins in the MWC tournament. Home results are great for the Rams at 11-2 so far. The road results could hurt at 3-7 because they would travel for the NIT. Their road losses early at Northern Colorado, UCLA, Fresno St, Oregon are the ones really keeping them from this conversation almost being moot. If those are wins the Rams are a borderline NCAA team like SDSU. The Rams have no votes in any polls yet so no official ranking. All in all the Rams have a lot up against them with a few things going for them.
So it would appear the Rams are on the outside looking in but you could call them a NIT bubble team. Here is what they can do to hop in to the NIT. In order of necessity from my perspective.
1. Beat Utah at home, TCU on the road. They can't afford to lose to teams below them right now.
2. Advance in the MWC tournament, if the season records stay the same they face off against SDSU in a #5 #4 match up. They could beat SDSU on neutral grounds. SDSU is a .500 road team so not impossible but not easy as SDSU is a good team. Best case scenario the Rams beat two teams, I think getting to the MWC tournament final game gets them a NIT berth.
3. Beat 1-2 of the big four coming up. The schedule gets brutal for the Rams with BYU, @UNLV, UNM, then @SDSU later in the year. The Rams took UNLV to the wire at home if they can take BYU or UNM to the wire and get one or two big plays they could get a huge win. That could jump them high enough in the voters minds that they scrape out a NIT berth. They really need to have a big win to show voters they could make noise in the NIT. A win on the road against UNLV or SDSU would be better but less likely. This wouldn't matter to much with MWC tournament seeding because if they hop to #4 they probably still play SDSU as the #5.
It might be to the point where all three are necessary. Let's say they steal one game against the big four and win one tournament game. It puts the Rams at 19-14 with a 9-7 conference record at seasons end and two good wins against top 40 RPI teams at the end of the year. I can see the NIT going for the best or two best teams in the MWC left out of the NCAA tournament.
Colorado State Rams, you have your mission. Moby Maniacs will self destruct in 6 games if you choose to accept.