College Basketball Bubble Watch
Updating the NCAA tournament picture after a busy Friday on the bubble
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Friday. RPI and SOS numbers will update in the morning.
The Friday of conference tournament weekend doesn't mark the official start of bubble crunch time -- that happened a week ago, maybe two -- but it is almost always the most intense bubble day of the year. Why? Because high-major bubble teams are typically not facing really good squads on the first day of their respective tournaments, but after they dispense with the low seeds on Thursday, they advance to Friday quarterfinals or semis, and that's where things start to get a little more real.
That was certainly the case today. There were detrimental losses (Virginia), life-saving victories (Maryland), missed opportunities (La Salle, Iowa), placeholder wins (Southern Miss) and a league that is fully engaged in the process of beating itself up -- the SEC, which produed two bubble winners (Alabama, Ole Miss) and two bubble losers (Tennessee, Kentucky).
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Temple|
Work left to do: La Salle, Massachusetts
Temple [23-9 (11-5), RPI: 41, SOS: 58] Temple lost to UMass in the A-10 tourney Friday night. That means we can't put Temple up on the lock line. But we can also look at Temple's profile and recognize that, save some surprise from the NCAA, the Owls are probably around a No. 11 seed at worst right now. Indeed, this result did more for the Minutemen than the Owls.
La Salle [21-9 (11-5), RPI: 40, SOS: 79] As of Friday evening, the Explorers are in a weird position. They haven't done anything drastic -- suffered a bad loss or notched a marquee win -- to their profile in months. They've lost understandable games (at Temple, at Saint Louis, to Butler in the A-10 tournament Friday) and have beaten pretty much everyone they should have beaten. And yet, thanks to a lack of truly elite wins, especially outside the league, and thanks to a Nov. 18 loss to Central Connecticut State that continues to haunt them to this day, the Explorers have ended their pre-Dance season hanging in the bubble balance.
Massachusetts [21-10 (9-7), RPI: 53, SOS: 85] Massachusetts has been living in bubble exile for weeks, but it has returned, revived, and not a moment too soon. The win over Temple gave UMass a second top-50 win, but that's not the metric of major concern here. The Minutemen have solid computer numbers in tow because they largely restrained themselves from playing many sub-150 RPI nonconference opponents (and four of the 10 they played weren't their choice -- those came in conference). There is nothing spectacular at work here, but on a soft bubble, the solid build of the schedule helps. And the chance to knock off VCU on Saturday is big.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Maryland, Virginia|
Maryland [22-11 (8-10), RPI: 62, SOS: 111] Question No. 1: What would the Terrapins do without Duke? Question No. 2: What would Maryland do without Dez Wells? On a day when just about everyone with a big bubble opportunity fell short (save Ole Miss, more on which below), the Terps upset Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament thanks in large part to Wells' 30 points on 13 shots. He went 9-of-13 from the field, 2-of-2 from 3 and 10-of-10 from the free throw line, with six rebounds and three assists thrown in for good measure. That is the insanely efficient performance of a player, and a team, who apparently does want to go to the tournament after all. Then again, maybe the Terps just really like to beat Duke. Of Maryland's mere five top-100 RPI wins, two have come against the Blue Devils, and considering how well Duke was playing post-Ryan Kelly's return, Friday's win was even more surprising than the first. Anyway: Another win over Duke! Maryland's in, right? Well, not so fast. Seventeen of its 22 wins are still against teams ranked below the 100 line, they're still 4-9 against the top 100, the nonconference schedule is still ranked No. 296, and so on. A win over Duke at this stage of the season should get you into the tournament, but because Maryland was so far out on the bubble fringe, it still might not. It remains up in the air. A win over North Carolina in the semis would sure be nice.
Virginia [21-11 (11-7), RPI: 74, SOS: 127] For the past few weeks, opinion on Virginia has been split. The Cavaliers got a huge boost from their impressive Feb. 28 home win over Duke, but undid it almost immediately with losses at Boston College and Florida State. They have a collection of quality victories and an even bigger collection of atrocious losses (some of which were suffered at injury-induced partial strength, admittedly, but there's only so much explaining when Old Dominion is involved). Their adjusted efficiency and BPI numbers point to an underrated, tough defensive team. Their RPI and strength of schedule numbers scream NIT. After Friday's 75-56 ACC tourney loss to NC State, it looks more likely than ever that the Cavs are going to fall short. Historically, few teams with Virginia's profile get in the NCAA tournament. The only saving grace is that November win at Wisconsin, but will that be enough to tip the scales in their favor, even with all that other ugliness? I doubt it.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Oklahoma, Iowa State|
Work left to do: Baylor
Oklahoma [20-11 (11-7), RPI: 42, SOS: 17] The Sooners haven't collapsed of late to the same degree as Minnesota -- that's almost impossible -- but they are somewhat similar to the Gophers in that their impressive computer numbers should help offset an unflattering finish. The Sooners fell asleep in their final Big 12 game, a 70-67 loss at TCU, and would have obviously benefited (maybe with a lock spot) had they been able to stop Iowa State's dangerous offensive attack in Kansas City on Thursday. Instead, OU picked up another L. Somewhat like Minnesota, at this point there's still a chance the committee could surprise us all and bypass the Sooners, which is why they aren't a lock here. But by the end of the week, as things settle down, they should retain solid position.
Iowa State [22-11 (11-7), RPI: 45, SOS: 41] The Cyclones had a chance to drop Kansas once and for all Friday, and after two heartbreaking overtime losses -- the one at home a highly questionable, ref-influenced ordeal -- Fred Hoiberg and his team wanted this one bad. Unfortunately, Kansas remains very good at basketball, and the Jayhawks managed to contain ISU's top-10-efficiency offense and pour in points on the other end. Where does that leave the Clones? Exactly where they were before. I don't feel quite so good as to completely guarantee their position with lock status, because the committee is always capable of anything. But I feel good enough to tell you, just between us, that I'm, like, 98 percent sure Iowa State is going to get in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Baylor [18-14 (9-9), RPI: 68, SOS: 19] Say this for the Bears: They've never given up. Despite all of the ups and downs of their past few weeks -- from five losses in six games from Feb. 16 to March 4, including a brutal last-second loss to Kansas State and an ugly performance at Texas to a mysteriously blowout win over Kansas last weekend -- the Bears have always at the very least kept plugging. That was the case again Thursday night, when they fell behind Oklahoma State 26-11 in the first half, but clawed all the way back to make a real game in the second. Unfortunately, they still lost 74-72 when a Pierre Jackson 3 clanked off the rim. Make no mistake: A win over the Pokes would have helped in a major way. As of now, even after the KU win, Baylor is still probably on the outside of the field looking in; their 3-10 record against the RPI top 50 reeks of a team that had a lot of opportunities to get the job done and ultimately just couldn't.
|Big East Conference|
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Minnesota|
Work left to do: Iowa
Minnesota [20-12 (8-10), RPI: 31, SOS: 2] In case you were thinking single-elimination postseason play would free Minnesota from the shackles of inconsistency, forget it: The Gophers were their same baffling selves in Thursday's first-round Big Ten tournament loss to Illinois, even within the course of one game. They played one of the worst halves of a season that has featured plenty of them, ending with five more turnovers (11) than made buckets (six). So: Minnesota is out, right? No. True, the Gophers are no lock; the selection committee could still decide that recency matters above all else. But let's be real: It is almost impossible to compare the Gophers' resume to the eight or 10 bubble teams hovering around the cutline and conclude that Minnesota has had a worse season than almost any of them. Their RPI and SOS numbers are such that they should have wrapped this bid up a month ago. They didn't, and they've given the committee plenty of recent excuses to ditch them entirely. But if history is any indication, they're in. It's just that simple.
Iowa [21-12 (9-9), RPI: 78, SOS: 124] Just a brutal loss for Iowa on Friday night. For the second time, the Hawkeyes lost a close game this season -- another of a string of close losses (Indiana, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin), any of which could would have made the Hawks less desperate to beat Michigan State at the United Center. As it stands, Iowa will go down as a very solid young team that lacked the wins (and the schedule) to make a realistic push for an NCAA tournament spot. I'll keep these guys on the page as an homage, and for the minuscule chance the NCAA pulls a reverse Minnesota on them, but yeah -- not happening.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Work left to do: Boise State|
Boise State [21-10 (9-7), RPI: 44, SOS: 66] Talk about a missed opportunity. Boise began the game as cold as possible, mostly because lead guard Derrick Marks suffered an off night against a particularly stifling defensive team; Marks went 0-for-9 in the first half and rattled off 12 straight misses before he finally found some production in the second half. It was right around that time that San Diego State started doing everything in its power -- mostly in the form of some just downright inexplicable turnovers -- to let Boise back in the game. That?s exactly what happened: BSU got a few easy fast break buckets, started knocking down a few shots, and even took a second-half lead, before Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley calmed things down and pulled away in the two-and-a-half minutes. So, where does Wednesday night?s loss leave the Broncos? About where they were before. From a sheer resume standpoint, it?s hard to imagine the committee punishing Boise for losing to a good SDSU team on a neutral court, particularly on an obviously off night. The loss adds another top-30s-ish defeat to the ledger, leaving Boise just 4-7 against the top 50. The good news is the Broncos still have that nonconference road win over Creighton as the ace up their sleeves, as well as a top-40 RPI figure and three other quality conference wins (UNLV, Colorado State, SDSU, all at home). But they?re also 100 percent on the bubble, a No. 11 seed at the absolute best, and not only did they not show their best in Vegas, they now have to sit around and wait while their SEC bubble competition hashes things out in the days to come. It?s hardly an enviable position.
|Work left to do: Arizona State|
Arizona State [21-12 (9-9), RPI: 85, SOS: 113] The Sun Devils had their chance. After Wednesday's thrilling overtime win over Stanford, they got out in front of UCLA Thursday, leading by as many as 15 in the second half. But the Bruins fought back to claim the win, and as such, Arizona State is almost certain to find themselves on the outside of the tournament looking in. I'm keeping them on the page because a) pixels are free, and b) there's a tiny, tiny chance the committee does something unusual and sneaks the Sun Devils in. But at just 6-8 against the top 100 and with an RPI in the 80s, it's not looking good.
|Work left to do: Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama|
Ole Miss [24-8 (12-6), RPI: 50, SOS: 143] Who said the Rebels lacked a flair for the dramatic? There have been exciting finishes this weekend, but none so exciting as the Rebels' last-second win over Missouri in which a totally scrambled final possession suddenly turned into a bid-saving, last-second Derrick Millinghaus floater with 1.1 seconds left. When the dust settled, was Ole Miss a tournament team? Well -- maybe. I know that's not a very satisfying answer, but it should be noted that that was only Ole Miss' second top-50 win, and thanks to Vanderbilt's upset of Kentucky, the Rebs could still suffer a bad loss (or at the very least won't be helped much by a win). So, yes, great win. Thrilling stuff. But there is still, even at this late date, work to do.
Kentucky [21-11 (12-6), RPI: 56, SOS: 73] "We had an opportunity," John Calipari said. "It was in our hands to take it out of everybody's hands, and we didn't take care of business. We laid an egg." For someone whose teams rarely trouble themselves with the NCAA tournament bubble, the man knows the score. Kentucky entered Friday squarely on the tournament bubble and its goal was to avoid a bad loss to Vanderbilt en route to the semifinals. Instead, Ryan Harrow went 2-of-15 ("And missed 12 layups," Calipari said) and the Wildcats laid said proverbial egg. As with Maryland, it's important not to overstate the importance of one conference tournament game; it is still just a small fraction of the overall season. But UK is now 4-4 with losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt and home wins over Missouri and Florida since Nerlens Noel's knee injury, and Kentucky's resume was never impressive in the first place. If the committee members decide to pass, could you really blame them?
Tennessee [20-12 (11-7), RPI: 57, SOS: 47] The Volunteers did well to avoid a bad loss to Mississippi State Thursday night, but that was the end of the positive SEC tournament news. On Friday, the Vols reverted to their early-season offensive selves, shooting 32 percent en route to a 58-48 loss to fellow bubbler Alabama. Indeed, the loss may have hurt Tennessee more than it helped the Crimson Tide -- Joe Lunardi, for one, moved Tennessee out of his field after the defeat. Whatever the Vols' exact position (and it may be so close here that distinctions between specific teams are almost beside the point), the fact of the matter is that UT is 100 percent at the mercy of the committee, with a thoroughly so-so profile and no games left, two days before Selection Sunday. It's not a comforting place to be.
Alabama [21-11 (12-6), RPI: 60, SOS: 92] Unfortunately, the SEC's non-Florida, non-Missouri bubble teams are all so bubblicious (translation: mediocre) that beating a team like Tennessee, important as it may feel in the immediate aftermath, probably isn't enough to elevate a team like Alabama into the field. Never mind feeling safe; you could argue the Crimson Tide have to beat Florida Saturday to really get this done. A loss wouldn't damage their resume, obviously, but it wouldn't help -- and Anthony Grant's team still needs help it seems.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Work left to do: Middle Tennessee, Saint Mary's|
Middle Tennessee [28-5 (19-1), RPI: 29, SOS: 134] As I mentioned in the introduction, after its loss to FIU (Richard Pitino strikes!) in the semifinals of the Sun Belt conference tournament Sunday, Middle Tennessee now becomes one of the most interesting bubble cases in recent memory. On the one hand, MTSU is obviously a good basketball team. You can watch them play -- YouTube is a wonderful thing -- or you can delve into their efficiency statistics; as of this writing, Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ranks hold Middle up as the 31st-best team in the country. The Blue Raiders went 19-1 in their league, which is admittedly a very bad league, but still -- 19-1. And they pushed themselves, Long Beach State-style, in their scheduling, ending up with a top-10 nonconference SOS and a top 25 RPI for their troubles. Oh, also, one more thing: It would be a real bummer to see this team miss the tournament for the second year in a row. It deserves to go, and conference tournament automatic qualifiers are profoundly stupid. (Why the Sun Belt would prefer to send the winner of a weekend-long crapshoot as opposed to its 19-1 regular-season champ, I'll never know.) But the unfortunate "having said that" part of all this is as follows: Middle has beaten zero top-50 opponents and just two teams in the top 100. All of their other 26 wins came against teams ranked outside the top 100. Yes, you read that right: Of Middle Tennessee's 28 wins, 26 came against teams ranked below the RPI top 100. I utterly loathe the chorus of "who have they beaten, they'd be the 10th-worst team in BCS Conference X herp derp" bleating that comes from fans of high-major bubble schools this time of year. It's gross. But if a Kentucky fan were to ask that about Middle Tennessee, could you really form a cohesive defense? A 3-point home win over Ole Miss is your best shot, and I have no idea whether that will be enough to convince the committee.
Saint Mary's [27-6 (14-2), RPI: 33, SOS: 102] The Gaels had a shot to make this thing academic -- and serve as a possible, if not probable, automatic bid thief -- Monday night in the WCC final against hated rival Gonzaga. Instead, as they have all season, the Bulldogs rolled, winning 65-51. What does that mean for Saint Mary's? Not a whole lot, honestly. The Gaels still have just one top-50 win -- at home over Creighton -- and their only other top-50 opportunities were the three games they lost to the Zags (by a combined 36 points). Fortunately Matthew Dellevadova's buzzer-beater at BYU fell, because a sweep over BYU is probably the most complimentary part of this resume, and it almost didn't happen. And now the Gaels will be forced to sweat out the rest of the week, hoping the bubble doesn't tighten, and their high-major counterparts on the No. 11 and No. 12 lines don't do a bunch of damage in the conference tournaments this weekend.