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Can UCF Men's Basketball Make the NCAA Tournament?

NCAA Tournament

Senior forward AJ Davis currently leads the AAC with 8.8 rebounds per game. (Photo: Derek Warden)
Senior forward AJ Davis currently leads the AAC with 8.8 rebounds per game. (Photo: Derek Warden)

We are down to just three weeks until Selection Sunday for the Men's NCAA Tournament. The UCF Knights are currently at 17-9 overall and 8-6 in the American Athletic Conference, which is good enough for 5th place, one game behind Tulsa who UCF plays on Wednesday night. But the question is: Can the Knights make the NCAA Tournament?

In Monday's RPI release, the Knights came in at #65, which will not get it done. But the Knights are not as far off some may think.

Below is the consensus of teams in the field of 68 from conferences that will be multiple-bid leagues according to many of the Bracketologists, assuming there are no upsets in C-USA (Middle Tennessee is #23 RPI), someone other than Nevada or Boise State wins Mountain West, or someone other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary's wins the WCC.

These are the conferences that will be multi-bid leagues. The teams in bold should be considered locks for the field of 68 while the teams not in bold are teams in the mix to get into NCAA Tournament and teams UCF is potentially in a battle against. Teams not listed here means the only chance they have of making the NCAA Tournament is to win the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. ( ) means RPI number for that team from Monday

ACC - Virginia (1), Duke (4), North Carolina (5), Clemson (10), Florida State (45), Miami (37), Virginia Tech (55), Louisville (51), Syracuse (38), North Carolina State (59).

SEC - Auburn (8), Tennessee (15), Kentucky (18), Texas AM (21), Alabama (33), Missouri (24), Arkansas (25), Florida (63)

Big 12 - Kansas (6), Texas Tech (13), West Virginia (31), TCU (22), Kansas State (56), Oklahoma (34), Baylor (46), Texas (52)

Big East - Villanova (2), Xavier (3), Creighton (35), Seton Hall (26), Providence (36), Butler (39)

Big Ten - Michigan State (14), Purdue (12), Ohio State (20), Michigan (28), Nebraska (60)

Pac 12 - Arizona (17), Arizona State (29), USC (41), UCLA (48), Washington (49), Utah (50)

American - Cincinnati (11), Wichita State (16), Houston (19), UCF (65)

WCC - Gonzaga (43), Saint Mary's (32)

Atlantic 10 - Rhode Island (7), Saint Bonaventure (27)

Mountain West - Nevada (9), Boise State (53)

I determined that UCF is part of the 16 teams that are not in BOLD, and are fighting for 9 potential spots in the NCAA Tournament. Now this season the committee is using the term "quadrants" to determin the quality of wins. For example, a Quadrant 1 quality win is a win against a Top-30 RPI team at home, a Top-50 RPI win on neutral court, or Top-75 RPI win on the road.

Here is a breakdown of UCF's record in Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 games, which are games at home against RPI Teams ranked 31-75, neutral games vs. RPI Teams ranked 51-100 and road games against RPI Teams ranked 76-135.

Team Quadrant 1 Quadrant 2 Total
UCF 1-6 3-3 4-9
Louisville 2-7 1-2 3-9
USC 2-5 3-3 5-8
St. Bonaventure 3-2 4-2 7-4
UCLA 2-4 3-2 5-6
Washington 4-3 1-4 5-7
Boise St. 0-2 5-3 5-5
Nebraska 1-6 3-2 4-8
Syracuse 3-5 4-3 7-8

So UCF is not that far off from some of the other bubble teams that some of the bracketologists have in the field of 68, including Louisville, who ESPN's Joe Lunardi has in the field as a 10 seed, despite the fact that UCF's win at Alabama is better than Louisville's best non-conference win which is a home game against Southern Illinois.

Want to guess Syracuse's best non-conference win? A home victory against Buffalo. The Orange's best win overall was this past weekend at Miami.

Now while UCF and Florida are very similar in RPI (the Gators at 63, UCF is 65), the Gators have six Quadrant 1 wins and five Quadrant 2 wins, and are 11-9 total vs. top 2 quadrants. I do not see the committee leaving the Gators out despite the RPI number.

St. Bonaventure has three Quadrant 1 wins (at Syracuse, vs. Rhode Island and vs. Buffalo, which at this moment counts as a Quadrant 1 with RPI of 29), which shows one of the flaws of the quadrant system. UCF needs to boost its Quadrant 1 and 2 wins in the next few weeks. The Knights' 2nd and 3rd best wins currently are a home win over Temple and a win at the Advocare Tournament on Thanksgiving night against Nebraska. That will not be enough to get into NCAA Tournament.

So UCF has no shot, right?

No! They have a chance. There two ways the Knights could get in.

The easy scenario is just winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament at Amway Center from March 8-11, which earns you an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.


Now if the Knights do not win the AAC Tournament, what can UCF do?

Well, here iis a breakdown of the remaining schedule for the Knights:

Wednesday at Tulsa (87) - Quadrant 2 game

Sunday at Temple (44) - Quadrant 1 game

Thursday, March 1 vs. Wichita State (16) - Quadrant 1 game

Sunday, March 4 vs Tulane (166) - Quadrant 4 game

The Knights have potentially two Quadrant 1 games and a Quadrant 2 game left. If UCF could win out going into the conference tournament, the Knights would lock up a top-4 seed and a bye into AAC Quarterfinals at Amway Center.

Keep in mind UCF potentially will have another marquee game in the AAC Tournament if they were to make the semifinals against Cincinnati, Wichita State or Houston.

Then, let's say the Knights get to the AAC Final. That means they could have in theory pick up 2 or 3 Quadrant 1 wins in the last couple of weeks to go along with a resume win over Alabama and win over bubble team Nebraska. That would be better then what Boise State or St. Bonaventure could get in their conference tournaments, and the Knights would go deeper than some of the bubble teams in power five conferences will.

Let's say UCF wins 3 of its last 4 in the regular season. That would put them at 20-10 and 11-7 in the AAC. In a normal year that would get you into the field of 68. But this is a year where there's more depth than usual. So making the AAC Final would have to be part of resume. That means it would be another two wins if the Knights get a top-4 seed with the bye or three wins if they do not get a bye. It would also include at least one quality win to get to the final and finishing the season winning 8 of the last 10 games, which would make them one of hottest teams in the country.

That could be enough to sneak the Knights into field of 68 with with 22 or 23 wins and a strong possibility of it least making the play-in game in Dayton on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday, with the right to be an 11 or 12 seed to advance to the round of 64.

Is that a lot to ask? Maybe. Impossible? No, not at all.

After all, this team should not to be counted out just when you have been ready to do so, with all the injuries the team has suffered, from losing Aubrey Dawkins for the season, to losing B.J. Taylor for first half of the season, to losing Tacko Fall and Chance McSpadden for remainder of the season.

Despite all that happening, head coach Johnny Dawkins has gotten his Knights in a position to do something it has not done since 2005: Dance in the NCAA Tournament.