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Potential Cinderella’s that can be bid thieves on Selection Sunday

We take a look at the mid-majors who could build up strong enough resumes to steal NCAA Tournament bids this March.

Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic - Day Two Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The month of January is winding down in men’s college basketball and this is a good time to remind you that we sit just over seven weeks out from Selection Sunday. There’s still plenty of ball to be played and we’re still a ways away from determining the full 68-team field for the 2024 NCAA Tournament. However, we do have enough data to start looking at which teams could be bid thieves for The Big Dance.

A bid thief situation takes place when a mid-major conference places more teams in the NCAA Tournament than expected. This usually happens when the league favorite loses in its conference tournament final, opening the door for an unexpected team to grab the automatic bid. In some cases, that fallen favorite will still receive an at-large bid to the tourney based on its resume, thus “stealing” an at-large bid from another league. That’s not to say you can’t have bid thieves from power leagues like the Big Ten and SEC, but it’s more noteworthy when lower-level programs are able to jam their way in.

Below, we’ll take a look at teams who have built up enough equity to secure a bid regardless of what happens in their respective league tournaments.

Potential at-large teams from mid-major conferences

Dayton - 16-2, 6-0 Atlantic 10 (15 NET, 24 KenPom)

Quad 1: 3-2 (2 remaining)
Quad 2: 3-0 (3 remaining)
Quad 3: 5-0
Quad 4: 4-0

Currently ranked No. 16 in the AP poll, Dayton has a case for being the strongest mid-major in the country this season and currently has the nation’s longest win-streak at 13. The Flyers have put together an impressive resume with Q1 victories over St. John’s. SMU, and Cincinnati, as well as hanging with Houston for a half at the Charleston Classic in November.

It can pick up even more Q1/Q2 victories with the likes of Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, and St. Bonaventure still left on its A-10 slate. If Dayton can handle business in those matchups, it should be a lock for the NCAA’s regardless of what happens at the league tourney in Brooklyn.

Drake - 16-4, 7-2 MVC (51 NET, 55 KenPom)

Quad 1: 1-0 (2 remaining)
Quad 2: 3-0 (2 remaining)
Quad 3: 4-4
Quad 4: 7-0

Drake is vying for a third NCAA Tournament bid in four seasons and has some tough competition with Indiana State and Bradley also occupying sports at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bulldogs’ victory over the Sycamores a few weeks ago is the only Quad 1 game they’ve played all season long and they’ll get another crack at one in an upcoming rematch, as well as a road game at Bradley on February 10.

Drake is the epitome of a bubble team right now given its relatively easy slate and it’s going probably going to have to win its remaining Q1/Q2 games to be a potential bid thief. Otherwise, the Bulldogs are going to have to outright win Arch Madness in St. Louis to make the big dance.

Grand Canyon - 18-2, 8-1 WAC (48 NET, 63 KenPom)

Quad 1: 1-1 (0 remaining)
Quad 2: 2-1 (0 remaining)
Quad 3: 2-0
Quad 4: 12-0

Grand Canyon has carved through most of its competition throughout the season and its rankings in both NET and KenPom has it as one of the top 68 teams in the country. The Antelopes have a victory over reigning national runner-up San Diego State in their back pocket and a strong losing effort against South Carolina helps them as well.

Unfortunately for GC, the WAC is incredibly weak and its nothing but Q3/Q4 games from here on out. If the Antelopes continue to crush their opponents and at least make the conference tournament final, the metrics could be enough to allow them to steal a bid. But I’d go ahead and erase any doubt by winning the WAC tourney if I was them.

Indiana State - 17-3, 8-1 MVC (25 NET, 44 KenPom)

Quad 1: 1-3 (0 remaining)
Quad 2: 1-0 (3 remaining)
Quad 3: 5-0
Quad 4: 9-0

As just mentioned, Indiana State is in a three-team race with Bradley and Drake for the MVC crown and it’s shaping up to be an exciting tournament in St. Louis come March. Unfortunately for the Sycamores, they haven’t acquitted themselves all that well against the top teams on their schedule. Their Q1 games have been double-digit losses to Alabama, Michigan State, and Drake, along with a road victory over Bradley.

The good news is that they’re ranked highly metrics-wise, so they could be a bid thief if they take care of business in their remaining Q2 games on the slate. Still, they’d be better served cutting down the nets in St. Louis and not leaving their fate in the hands of the committee.

James Madison - 18-2, 6-2 Sun Belt (61 NET, 74 KenPom)

Quad 1: 1-0 (0 remaining)
Quad 2: 1-0 (1 remaining)
Quad 3: 2-2
Quad 4: 13-0

JMU is vying for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013 and stands next to Appalachian State as the two teams with the strongest chances of making the big dance out of the Sun Belt. However, the Dukes’ schedule is incredibly weak as their season-opening win over Michigan State is their only Q1 game on the slate period. And a pair of Quad 3 losses to Southern Miss and the aforementioned App State doesn’t help their cause at all.

It’s a stretch, but JMU can possibly get into bid thief territory if it: 1. Annihilates everyone the rest of the way in the regular season and 2. Makes the Sun Belt championship game and has a strong showing in a loss (preferably to App. State). It’s a stretch, but it could happen.

Princeton - 15-1, 3-0 Ivy (31 NET, 53 KenPom)

Quad 1: 0-1 (0 remaining)
Quad 2: 3-0 (2 remaining)
Quad 3: 5-0
Quad 4: 5-0

Coming off last year’s surprise run to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed, Princeton is in the driver’s seat to get into the big dance yet again. While the Tigers have played just one Q1 game this year (a 74-70 loss to Saint Joseph’s), they are backed up by strong metric rankings in NET and KenPom.

As long as they continue to power through the Ivy League and at least make the conference tournament title game, the equity they built up through last year’s Sweet 16 run could be enough to get them a bid this year.

Saint Mary’s - 15-6, 6-0 WCC (18 NET, 25 KenPom)

Quad 1: 3-3 (2 remaining)
Quad 2: 1-1 (1 remaining)
Quad 3: 3-2
Quad 4: 7-0

Saint Mary’s is in an interesting spot as it currently sits atop the West Coast Conference in a year where Gonzaga hasn’t been as dominant as its been in year’s past. The Gaels have held their own through a challenging schedule and are 3-3 in Q1 games with victories over New Mexico, Colorado State, and San Francisco as the highlights of their schedule so far. They can bolster that even further with two games against the aforementioned Zags coming up.

Barring a total face plant down the stretch and in the WCC tournament, Saint Mary’s should be a lock to steal a bid in March.