Friday, March 13, 2009

The State of the Bubble(s) Nation, Friday the 13th Edition


After an unbelievably wild Thursday, on the Bubble and off it, it’s time to take stock again.

The Locks

The following teams are locks or near-locks (i.e., the only thing that would keep them out is a crazy scenario involving multiple surprise conference champions) for at-large bids if they don't win their conference tournaments (listed by conference):

  • ACC (6): UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Boston College
  • Big East (7): Louisville, Pitt, UConn, Villanova, Marquette, West Virginia, Syracuse
  • Big Ten (6): Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota
  • Big 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M
  • PAC-10 (4): Washington, UCLA, Arizona State, California
  • SEC (2): LSU, Tennessee
  • Mountain West (2): BYU, Utah
  • Atlantic 10 (2): Xavier, Dayton
  • C-USA (1): Memphis
  • Horizon (1): Butler

Texas A&M and Cal make the list despite disappointing first-round losses in their respective conference tourneys. Their seeds will take a hit, but they’ll be there.

The Bubble

There are 34 at-large bids. Assuming that each of the above conference tournaments (except the already-decided Horizon) is won by one of the locks listed above, 9 will win automatic bids, and 28 will win at-large bids. That leaves 6 at-large bids up for grabs. Who's in contention to grab these remaining 6 bids? I've identified 17 bubble teams, listed below by conference:

ACC (2):

  • Virginia Tech (RPI 57, SOS 26, 2-8 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) - Virginia Tech beat Miami in an elimination game to stay alive, but that won’t clinch a bid for them. A win against UNC on Friday would lock down a bid, but barring that, they’ll be twisting in the wind come Sunday evening. They will be hurt by their 1-6 regular season finish, even though it was against a brutal schedule, and the one win was a big one against Clemson. But their two big wins (Wake, Clemson) were on the road. The committee has to be impressed by that. Even odds.


  • Maryland (RPI 63, SOS 30, 3-8 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) - Maryland took care of NC State Thursday in a must-win game. If they beat Wake on Friday, they’re probably in, but if they lose, they’re probably out. Even Odds.

Big East (1):

  • Providence (RPI 65, SOS 49, 2-7 vs. top 50, 0 losses vs RPI 100+) – The 11-point win against lowly Depaul and the 22 point drubbing at the hands of Louisville didn’t help Providence’s chances. The Friars are now on the outside looking in. Lean OUT.

Big Ten (2):

  • Wisconsin (RPI 41, SOS 14, 4-9 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) - Wisconsin's RPI has dropped nine spots since Monday despite not playing a game. That shows you that other bubble teams are taking advantage of their opportunities. The Badgers get their chance on Friday, as a win over Ohio State will clinch a bid. Even if they lose, they’ll probably make it, but it will depend on what happens elsewhere. They shouldn’t leave it to chance. Strong lean IN.


  • Penn State (RPI 68, SOS 96, 6-8 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) – After the disappointing loss to Iowa, Penn State took care of business against Indiana. A win against Purdue would definitely get them in, but a loss would leave them teetering on the very edge of the bubble. They’ve got a low RPI, but 6 wins against RPI top 50 in a power conference is usually enough to boost a low RPI team into the Tourney. Even Odds.

Pac-10 (1):

  • Arizona (RPI 56, SOS 27, 6-10 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) – They blew their chance to lock up a bid by losing to Arizona State on Thursday, but that’s hardly a bad loss. As with Penn State, despite the low RPI, 6 wins against top 50 RPI teams is usually enough to bootstrap your way into the Tournament. Plus Arizona has some very nice wins non-conference wins against Kansas and Gonzaga. The big problem here is the 1-4 regular season finish and the atrocious road record. These are important factors for the selection committee. This thing could go either way. Even odds.

SEC (4):

  • Florida (RPI 47, SOS 87, 2-6 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) – Florida stayed alive with a win over Arkansas, but they’re hardly in the clear. A win over a not-completely-terrible Auburn team would help their chances, but still not be enough by itself. Just two top 50 wins is going to be tough to overcome. I think they need to get to the SEC Championship to Dance. Even odds.


  • South Carolina (RPI 50, SOS 90, 1-5 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) – I remain firm in my belief that South Carolina does not deserve to Dance. When your only top 50 win is against fellow bubble denizen Florida, you just don’t have much to crow about. A win against Mississippi State isn’t going to change that. They have to beat LSU in the semis. As I mentioned before, though, I can't shake the feeling that the SEC isn't going to get the punishment they deserve this year. Lean OUT.


  • Auburn (RPI 64, SOS 69, 2-5 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) - Auburn wants to be considered. Fine. Beat Florida and Tennessee, and then we'll talk. Lean OUT.


  • Kentucky (RPI 75, SOS 68, 4-6 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) – I’m just too afraid of reverse-jinxing them to take them off the list until it’s official. Seriously, a run to the conference championship could give them 6 top 50 wins and boost their RPI to the point where they’d have an outside shot. Lean OUT.

Mountain West (3):

  • San Diego State (RPI 37, 1-5 vs. top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) - The Aztecs stayed alive and significantly boosted their RPI with the win over UNLV. A win over Utah in the semis would send them through, but if they lose Friday, they’ll be right on the Bubble’s edge. The problem remains just 1 top 50 win. Even Odds.


  • New Mexico (RPI 67, SOS 79, 3-4 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) – The loss to Wyoming late Thursday probably ended their chances. They had made a strong case with an 8-1 record to close the regular season, including wins against Utah, UNLV, and San Diego State. But the loss to Wyoming reinforces the biggest fear about them – they can’t win away from home. I leave them on here because of the late-season form, but if it were up to me, they’d be definitely NIT-bound. Lean OUT.


  • UNLV (RPI 66, SOS 81, 4-5 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) – A devastating loss to San Diego State, their third of the season, probably ended their chances. Despite strong non-con wins against Louisville (on the road) and Arizona and a season sweep of BYU, the 8-8 finish to the season – including losses to TCU and Colorado State – will almost certainly keep them out. Lean OUT.

Atlantic-10 (1):

  • Temple (RPI 40, SOS 50, 1-5 vs. top 50, 4 losses vs. RPI 100+) – Temple stayed alive with the win over Big 5 rival, St. Joe’s. The RPI is decent (they played a good non-con schedule), but the lack of quality wins and the number of bad losses is a major obstacle. They need to beat Xavier on Friday to have a chance. Lean OUT.

West Coast (1):

  • St. Mary's (RPI 44, SOS 142, 2-3 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) – The Gaels remaining the most interesting Bubble case. The drubbing at Gonzaga’s hands in the WCC championship game put a big damper on their at-large hopes. Patty Mills hasn’t been very good since his return. In a feat of scheduling magic, Coach Bennett managed to get a game against Eastern Washington Friday night for one last chance to show the committee what kind of team they can be with Mills. In the end, I feel it’ll be hard to overlook the fact that 4 of their 6 losses came with him sidelined, but this is a really tough call. Even Odds.

Missouri Valley (1):

  • Creighton (RPI 42, SOS 108, 3-2 vs. top 50, 2 losses vs. RPI 100+) – I devoted one long post to Creighton yesterday. For the reasons stated therein: Even Odds.

WAC (1):

  • Utah State (RPI 28, SOS 138, 1-2 vs. RPI top 50, 1 loss vs. RPI 100+) - They will only need an at-large bid IF they win fail to win their conference tournament (their fellow bubble teams will be rooting hard for them). Along with Davidson's loss to Butler, Utah State's loss at St. Mary's may have been the most consequential Bracket Buster result. The event was started precisely to give squads like Utah State an opportunity to prove themselves against other top mid-major squads. But the Aggies blew their chance, losing 74-65 to a Mills-less St. Mary's squad. That, coupled with the generally weak schedule and road losses at Boise State and Nevada late in the year, could have them on the outside looking in. While they have a win over Utah, a really strong RPI, and a gaudy 26-4 record, precedent isn't on their side. In 2002, they went 25-2 in the regular season, but then lost in their conference tourney, and were denied an at large bid. Close, but I go with: Lean OUT.

The Bottom Line

If Wisconsin takes one of the 6 remaining bids, that leaves 5, with the following 8 teams best-positioned (for now) to snatch them up - Virginia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Arizona, Florida, San Diego State, St. Mary’s, and Creighton (if they don't win their conference championship). If I had to pick right now, I'd take Penn State, Arizona, St. Mary’s, San Diego State, and Creighton. So my final count, as of this morning, is as follows:

  • ACC (6): UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Boston College
  • Big East (7): Louisville, Pitt, UConn, Villanova, Marquette, West Virginia, Syracuse
  • Big Ten (8): Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State
  • Big 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M
  • PAC-10 (5): Washington, UCLA, Arizona State, California, Arizona
  • SEC (2): LSU, Tennessee
  • Mountain West (3): BYU, Utah, San Diego State
  • Atlantic 10 (2): Xavier, Dayton
  • C-USA (1): Memphis

  • Horizon (1): Butler
  • West Coast (1): St. Mary's
  • Missouri Valley (1): Creighton

Big caveat: The assumption above that all the above conference tourneys that haven’t been decided will be won by at-large locks is a critical one. If Baylor manages to win the Big 12 or Temple the A-10 or Auburn the SEC or etc, those last few teams (currently Creighton, San Diego State, St. Mary’s) could get squeezed out.

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