Twenty five years ago, along a lonely stretch of baseline on a court in Salt Lake City, a pathetic phantom foul was called on Beavers guard Will Brantley in the closing seconds of the 1990 NCAA opening round tournament game. This egregious, botched call gifted Ball State two unearned but crucial free throws to take the lead and knock the Beavs out of the tournament by a single, solitary point... and into a quarter century of tournament oblivion. It is long past time that this travesty was erased, my friends, and this could finally be the year it happens.
The road to redemption is a long and arduous one, however, fraught with peril and a schedule that is (of course) stacked against the brave men from Corvallis. Having followed the NCAA tournament for the last 30 years with roughly the degree of attentiveness of a lion watching antelope babies frolic, I am fairly certain i know what it will take for them to make the tournament. This is it:
The benchmark for the Beavs will be to finish the regular season with 20 wins and an RPI between 37 and 43. Given that the season opener against NW Christian won't be counted as a win by the RPI computers, this would mean a record of 20-8 heading into the Pac 12 tournament. The only realistic way for this to happen would be (1) a 9-1 preseason record, coupled with (2) a 11-7 conference mark. Each of these will be quite difficult, yet each is possible with this team.
Non-conference, the game with Kansas (currently ranked 4th in the nation) on the road at Kansas City looms large, and is almost certainly going to be a loss. This means there is no margin for error for the Beavers in the rest of their non-conference schedule, as they must finish 9-1. Every (non-Kansas) game the Beavers lose will mean a game over 11 conference wins they need to get to reach the magical mark of 20... tall order. Better to beat Valparaiso at Gill than to have to beat Utah away.
If the Beavers can go 9-1 non-conference, then the conference schedule is still quite unkind. Due to the unbalanced Pac-12 schedule, the Beavs only play the Arizona schools and the Washington schools once each this year. This really stinks, because ASU, WSU, and Washington are all picked to be in the bottom third of the conference, and we only get one crack at each of them. So the bulk of the conference schedule is a meat grinder of upper-echelon teams, from which the beavers somehow have to grind out 11 wins in 18 games. This is a very tall order, but if they can defend home court like they did last year and perhaps go 7-2, then steal four road games against the middling teams, it is possible. Again, there is very little margin for error. What, you thought this would be easy after 25 years?
A 20-8 record going into the Pac 12, given strength of schedule, ranked teams played, etc. should work out to an RPI in the area of 40, which would pretty much guarantee a bid on selection Sunday, regardless of the Pac 12 tournament outcome. Should the Beavs have 19 wins at that point, they would likely need at least two tournament wins to get in. Less than 19, and they likely aren't going without running the table for the automatic bid.
So maybe, just maybe, after a quarter century we might finally catch a break and go dancing again.
And for the record, Brantley didn't touch the guy.