Could Wofford’s Victory Against North Carolina Earn the Terriers an At-Large Bid to the NCAA Tournament?

The Southern Conference has never received two bids to the NCAAs. Could times be changing?

Marky Billson, Host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

On Tri-Cities Sports NOW, I often talk about the Southern Conference maybe one day getting two bids to the NCAA Tournament.

This might be the year.

Your turn, Clemson.

Wofford beating North Carolina was the sort of non-conference victory that makes one take notice during the point of college basketball season where nobody is watching. The Terriers are only 8–4, but their losses aren’t bad losses; South Carolina, California, Texas Tech, and North Carolina-Asheville.

Let’s say Wofford wins the Southern Conference outright and loses only two more games this season. That’s a 26–6 record, with victories against the Tar Heels and Georgia Tech.

One would figure the Terriers would be nationally ranked. But the SoCon figures to be strong, so let’s just say they would lose in the conference tournament final.

With a 28–7 record, how would Wofford not be a legitimate at-large contender?

They would, but the NCAAs always favor the major conferences. Only nine leagues received multiple bids last year, down from 13 only five years before. And with the automatic bid for regular season conference champions to go to the National Invitational Tournament, it’s easy to forget about the Southern Conference champion, right?

Maybe, but maybe not this year.

In 2007 when Appalachian State was still a part of the Southern Conference, the 25–8 Mountaineers went on a major push in an attempt to gain an at large berth to the NCAAs. They took out a full page ad in the USA Today to plead their case, and head coach Houston Fancher went on national talk shows to do the same.

It didn’t work, but while the Mountaineers enjoyed victories against Virginia and Vanderbilt that season, neither team was nationally ranked, as the Tar Heels are. And perhaps the campaigning did help the Mountaineers’ athletic program to grow to the Sun Belt Conference.

Other teams that may have had cases for at large berths to the NCAAs from the SoCon, for instance Davidson in 2009 and 1995, did not have a signature out-of-conference victory like Wofford earned last night.

True, the SoCon’s RPI this year is just 19th, compared to 15th last season. Which frankly I find shocking. I believe it will improve as the season goes on. How could it not?

There’s the notion that even the 1991 ETSU Buccaneers, who finished with a 28–4 record after the Southern Conference Tournament and were ranked 15th nationally, would not have received an at large bid if they fell to Appalachian State in the conference tournament final. The Bucs’ 10th seed in the NCAAs that year reinforces this notion.

But even they didn’t beat a ranked team that year. Wofford just did.

The best seed the SoCon has ever received in modern times was the eighth seed nationally ranked College of Charleston received in 1999. That team beat North Carolina, too, and the eighth seed seems to indicate the Cougars could have gotten in if they stumbled in the conference tournament final.

And for whatever it’s worth there are four more teams in the NCAA Tournament now as compared to then.

It’s still not probable, but it now is possible this could be the year the SoCon puts two teams into the NCAAs thanks to Wofford.

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