The men’s basketball team used to enter the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament knowing it had played well enough in the regular season to secure an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
That has not been the case in recent years. Instead, the Owls have entered the conference tournament needing a strong showing to reach the Big Dance.
The Owls, at 15-11 overall and 8-6 in the A-10, find themselves in that predicament, again. Despite two wins over nationally-ranked opponents, they have lost too many conference games this season to be in serious contention for an at-large bid.
The Owls, who have not reached the NCAA Tournament since advancing to the Elite 8 in 2001, were ranked 62d in the RPI last week, according to the NCAA.
It seems as if the Owls will need to win the A-10 tournament next week to secure a March Madness berth. But that doesn’t have them discouraged.
“We took on our fate like pitbull dogs,” sophomore guard Mark Tyndale said last week. “We just go out there and we fight. We have a great chance to win the A-10 tournament. I think, honestly, that we’re the best team in the A-10 and we have to go out and prove it.”
Senior point guard Mardy Collins agreed. After all, Collins has been in this situation in each of his four seasons here.
“We know we still have a chance [to make the NCAAs],” Collins said. “We just want to finish these two games out and try so we can at least get a bye in the Atlantic Ten tournament. And just go in there; take it one game at time. I think we can do it.”
The Owls will most likely have to make their A-10 title attempt without the luxury of a first-round bye. To earn a bye, the Owls will need to solidify fourth place, their highest-attainable seed.
The Owls are currently tied with Xavier for fifth place in the standings, but hold the tiebreaker over the Musketeers. Big 5 rival La Salle looms one game above the Owls in the standings.
To receive a bye, the Owls must win their final two regular season games, which are at Rhode Island on Wednesday and at home against Fordham. They will need the Explorers to lose at Fordham and at home against Saint Louis. The Billikens (10-4 A-10) have been hot, winning seven of their last eight games, including a difficult game in Charlotte on Saturday.
If the Owls receive a bye, they will play the winner of the tournament’s game between the fifth- and 12th-seeded teams.
If the Owls miss out on a bye and receive the fifth seed, it would mark the first time since 1997 that they have failed to automatically advance to the second round. As the fifth seed, the Owls would begin the tournament against the 12th seed, which at this point would be Richmond.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.