Texas Tech coach Bob Knight sounds resigned to what once was unthinkable: Anything short of a surprising run through the Big 12 tournament will mean the NIT for his team.
"I think a team in a position that we're in would have to win the (conference) tournament to get into the NCAA," he said Monday.
But Coach. A clock problem cost you a win against Oklahoma, which would have made your record 17-10 and 7-9. Surely that will come up when the Division I committee convenes this weekend to pick the 34 most deserving at-large teams for the 65-team field.
"I don't think at this point, in the way things have gone for us throughout the entire league season," Knight said, "that the committee will even take the time to talk about us."
If that is true, that will do little to reduce the workload for the 10-person group.
Most pundits project that at least 27 of the at-large spots are accounted for from the strongest nine leagues _ the SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-10, C-USA and Atlantic 10 _ regardless of how they fare in their conference tournaments.
Southern Illinois and Creighton should be locks from the Missouri Valley, and the Horizon, West Coast, Mid-American and even Big Sky could send a second team if their top teams (Butler, Gonzaga, Central Michigan and Weber State, respectively) were to be upset in their tournaments.
That could leave as few as two, though more likely six, spots left, and there will be no shortage of big-name teams to discuss, teams precariously poised on the bubble.
Minnesota (16-11) is 8-8 in the Big Ten and has a big win against Georgia, but it has lost its past four and has a Ratings Percentage Index of 63, NIT territory.
"Honestly, no, we don't feel like we're in good shape," coach Dan Monson said. "We've had an opportunity on national TV three straight games (Wisconsin, at Indiana and at Illinois) and lost those three straight games to kind of put a stamp on our season. We're in the danger area or, and I hate to say it because it's such a media term, but on the bubble. We're certainly there."
North Carolina State (16-11) is 9-7 in the powerful ACC. Since the NCAA Tournament field expanded in 1985, only one ACC team with a winning record _ Virginia was 9-7 in 2000 _ failed to receive an at-large bid. But the Wolfpack's RPI is 62. Yikes.
Oregon (20-9) has eye-catching wins against Kansas, Stanford and Arizona State, but it lost its last two games and was a mediocre 5-5 down the stretch. The Ducks' RPI is No. 53.
Tennessee (17-10) seemed like a NCAA lock during a six-game winning streak in late January to mid-February that included Florida and Georgia. That brought a cascade of national attention followed by a drought.
"I'm always going to wonder, "Did we handle it well?' " coach Buzz Peterson said. "We kind of went up a little bit on everybody's totem pole, but we didn't raise our focus and our concentration up where it needed to be."
The Volunteers lost their next four before closing with a pair of wins. Their RPI now? No. 50.
Saint Louis (15-12) beat Louisville and won at Cincinnati as it finished the regular season on a seven-game roll. But with an RPI of 47 and four other Conference USA teams seemingly locks, it probably must extend its streak.
"If we win the tournament, we're in, and we've set a goal to win the Conference USA tournament," coach Brad Soderberg said. "If we get to the finals are we in? I would hope if we got to the finals, with the toughness of our schedule, at that point we would have won nine in a row, so I would hope they would take a look at that."
Knight's former team, Indiana (18-11), looked like a team poised to make a second straight Final Four run six weeks ago. It had a brilliant resume with wins against Gonzaga, Maryland, Purdue and Illinois and a narrow loss to Kentucky. But the Hoosiers closed 4-8, including a lackluster 74-68 loss Saturday at Penn State, the worst team in the league. It has an RPI of 43.
"I felt so good about this basketball team in November because we were playing well, we had some enthusiasm," coach Mike Davis said. "But the more success we had, it just seems like the quieter they got and it was like, "Okay. We played for a national championship. We know what it takes. All we have to do is show up.' We did not show any signs on Saturday of being a really good team and that's what's so disappointing to me. But we have a chance to redeem ourselves Thursday (against Penn State). If we come in Thursday and play well and have a chance (to win), then we'll see."
_ Times staff writer Pete Young contributed to this report.
Who's a lock
Xavier, Dayton, St. Joseph's Atlantic 10
Wake Forest, Maryland, Duke ACC
Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Connecticut, Notre Big East
Dame, Boston College Big East
Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State Big Ten
Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri Big 12
Marquette, Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati C-USA
Southern Illinois, Creighton Missouri Valley
Utah, BYU Mountain West
Arizona, Stanford, California, Arizona State Pac-10
Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi, SEC
State, LSU, Alabama, Auburn SEC
The Horizon, West Coast, Mid-American and even Big Sky conferences could send a second team if their top team were to be upset in their tournaments. The America East, Atlantic Sun (Troy State), Big South (UNC-Asheville), Big Sky, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association (UNC-Wilmington), Ivy League (Penn), Metro Atlantic Athletic (Manhattan), Mid-Continent, MEAC, Northeast, Ohio Valley (Austin Peay), Patriot League, Southern (East Tennessee State), Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC will have one team.