Barring an improbable Pac-10 tournament title, Jeremy Green and the Stanford men's basketball team won't be doing the Dougie in the NCAA tournament next month. We've known this for some time, as the only mention of the Cardinal in bracket projections this season has been in the context of Washington's bad losses. (After its surprising win against the Huskies, Stanford may have cracked some bracketologists' Next Next Next Four Out lists.)
With four regular season games remaining, including a nonconference tilt with woeful Seattle, let's take a look at the Cardinal's second-tier postseason prospects. (Speculating as to whether the Cardinal will play in the Fiesta Bowl or the Orange Bowl this is not.)
First, let's examine the Cardinal's resume:
Good (RPI < 50) Wins: Washington
Bad (RPI > 100) Losses: Murray State, Oregon
For the most part, Stanford has beaten the teams it was supposed to beat and lost to the teams it was expected to lose to. Besides its win against Washington, Stanford's only other wins against teams with RPIs of less than 100 were against Cal (73) and Washington State (81). Closing the regular season with a 3-1 record would put Stanford at 16-14 heading into the Pac-10 tournament. (If Stanford loses to Oregon State or Seattle, it should be banned from postseason play. I don't care that the Beavers beat Washington.) One or two wins in Los Angeles might put Stanford in the postseason discussion. Here's where the Cardinal could end up:
Regular season conference champions that do not receive a bid to the NCAA tournament (i.e., conference champs that lose in their conference tournaments) receive an automatic bid to the 32-team NIT, which is a pipe dream for Stanford at this point. The Bracket Project, one of the few sites that projects the NIT field, had California as a 7-seed last Friday. The Golden Bears' win against UCLA could bump them up a notch, but Mike Montgomery's squad is probably still on the NIT bubble. While Stanford won the first head-to-head meeting and the rivals have similar records, Cal's resume (RPI: 73, SOS: 11) is stronger. In addition to Cal, Pac-10 foes USC, Oregon, and Washington State are all stronger candidates than Stanford. It will likely take 18 wins, including a regular season sweep of Cal and a win against Washington, UCLA, or Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament, for the Cardinal to even be considered. The NIT didn't invite any teams with an RPI greater than 100 in 2009. Northwestern made the field last year with an RPI of 115, but the Wildcats also won 20 games and went 5-9 against the top-100 RPI. In other words, an NIT bid isn't likely.
The 16-team CBI is another potential destination for the Cardinal, but they have some work to do. According to the Bracket Project, the 2010 CBI field featured five teams with RPIs greater than 140, including Oregon State. The CBI has featured at least one Pac-10 team in each of its first three seasons. Stanford won two games in the tournament in 2009. Given the turnout for that game, Stanford might think twice about bidding to host a game should it be in contention for an invite.
The only one of the three second-tier tournaments that requires its participants to have a .500 record or better is geared toward mid-majors, so Stanford won't be considered. I just wanted to mention that the CIT's selection committee includes Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates.
One can debate the merits of whether playing in the NIT or CBI can build confidence that carries over to the following season, but I think the Cardinal could benefit from additional game action. It's a shame Stanford hasn't developed more of an identity at this point in the season. We still don't really know whether this group of players, and this coaching staff, can make the Cardinal a contender in the Pac-12. A two- or three-game run in a mostly meaningless postseason tournament would be encouraging, but Stanford has to get there first.
(The No. 2 Stanford women's basketball team's postseason prospects are much clearer. The Cardinal is in line to receive one of the four No. 1 seeds and to play the first two rounds at Maples Pavilion.)