College Basketball Bubble Watch
Sunday slipups could spell trouble for bubble teams
A day like Sunday is why the bubble always contracts leading into Selection Sunday, and why teams that are on the edge right now can't rest on their laurels.
The two biggest developments for bubble teams were VCU losing to William & Mary in the CAA semis, and Saint Mary's collapsing late in the WCC semis and losing at San Diego in double-overtime. The Rams are smack in the middle of the bubble discussion as the winner (by three games) of a top-10 league, but will have a very long week watching what goes on around them. The Gaels should be able to survive their loss, which means Bubble Nation is now rooting like mad for Gonzaga to handle San Diego in Monday night's WCC final (ESPN, 9 ET) and stop the Toreros from poaching an automatic bid.
One potentially positive development for bubblers was Illinois State getting blasted by Drake in the Valley final. On paper, a top-40 RPI, a second-place Valley finish and a berth in the league final looks solid, but the Redbirds' profile is pretty thin when you pick it apart. Any doubt created by yesterday's rout could help bubble teams trying to displace ISU.
Other movers to the good: Kentucky (beat Florida), Ohio State (beat Michigan State), Kent State (won at Akron), South Alabama (won Sun Belt quarterfinal)
Other movers to the bad: Maryland (lost at Virginia), Virginia Tech (edged at Clemson), Florida (lost at Kentucky)
Monday's "Who to root for": In addition to Gonzaga, bubblers want Davidson to beat Elon in the SoCon final (ESPN2, 9 ET) so the Wildcats stay out of the at-large pool. They also are rooting against Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt semifinals.
As always, the records listed are Division I only, per NCAA Tournament selection guidelines. If you have a legitimate grievance or just like talking bubble, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One more bit of good news: Bubble Watch is now daily, so every day from now through Selection Sunday, you'll get a fresh look at the at-large picture.
Next update: Tuesday, March 11.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Dayton, Temple, Saint Joseph's, Massachusetts|
Rhode Island bit the dust after yet another home loss, this time to Charlotte, left it at 7-9. UMass is in strong position as the league's second team right now, even though the Minutemen finished behind surging Temple for second place. Can Dayton make it all the way back? The Flyers could get a big shot at Xavier in the league quarterfinals.
Work left to do:
Dayton [22-5 (14-2), RPI: 23, SOS: 75] Dayton took out Saint Joseph's on Saturday to get to .500; the Flyers wounded the Hawks' chances in the process. Now it's on to the conference tourney, where the Flyers must handle Saint Louis to get a shot at league kingpin Xavier in the quarters. If they win that one, we'll talk. Dayton has two outstanding nonconference wins -- at Louisville and versus Pitt -- which others in their position don't, and several other solid nonleague wins. If Chris Wright makes it back and the Flyers look good with him, they could get some consideration there, too.
Temple [15-15 (6-11), RPI: 119, SOS: 59] The Owls locked up second place in the league, which has to mean something, regardless of unbalanced schedules. The early nonconference losses put them behind the eight ball, and not much in nonleague play can help them. Still, they beat Xavier, have a bunch of road wins and are on a big roll entering the league tourney. They have a workable first game and then would get UMass, Charlotte or Rhode Island next.
Saint Joseph's [10-18 (3-13), RPI: 179, SOS: 63] The Hawks are in a good deal of trouble now after they lost at Dayton to close the regular season. The good news is that they play 12-seed Fordham and then Richmond in the first two rounds of the conference tourney, which provides them with as manageable a path as you could get in this league. The season sweep of UMass could still be a chip, but the Minutemen are clearly ahead of Saint Joe's now. The Hawks' tough collection of nonleague losses doesn't help, either. Two were in overtime (Gonzaga, at Creighton), and two were close defeats (at Syracuse, Holy Cross). One problem: From that group, only the Zags look like they will be an NCAA team.
Massachusetts [13-15 (3-12), RPI: 184, SOS: 130] The Minutemen slipped past shorthanded GW and got their last six games in league play to make it to 10-6. They clearly are the No. 2 team in the league pecking order right now but don't have an easy first A-10 tourney game against the Charlotte/Rhode Island winner. Losing that game might be a crushing blow. UMass was swept by Saint Joseph's and lost to Xavier, but swept Rhode Island and beat Dayton and Charlotte in its only meetings with those teams. Like Rhode Island, it beat Syracuse. The Minutemen also beat Houston in nonconference play.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Miami|
Work left to do: Maryland, Virginia Tech
Oh, boy. Sunday was not a good day for the ACC, as Maryland and Virginia Tech both suffered damaging losses. Three are in. Who else will join North Carolina, Duke and Clemson? Miami is best positioned, but isn't there yet. It could be just a four-bid year for the ACC.
Should be in:
Miami [20-8 (10-6), RPI: 34, SOS: 55] Miami definitely benefits from Maryland's and Virginia Tech's pratfalls, as it continues to look like team No. 4 from the ACC. While the overtime loss at Florida State on Saturday was disappointing, the Canes still look to be in pretty good shape. If they can avoid a loss in their first ACC tourney game, they should land safely in to the field. Miami had a few credible wins in nonconference play, including victories over Mississippi State and VCU, which is more than a number of other bubble teams have to offer. The Canes' .500 record in ACC play should be enough, barring unforeseen developments, but they would be wise to take care of Virginia Tech in the ACC quarters.
Work left to do:
Maryland [21-7 (10-6), RPI: 29, SOS: 47] The Terps' at-large hopes are now on life support after they were handled at league minnow Virginia on Sunday. It now may very well take a trip to the ACC final -- or more -- for at-large consideration. Maryland was swept by Virginia Tech, lost to Miami and also lost to VCU, which now is in trouble after the Rams dropped into the at-large pool Sunday. Maryland gets BC in the opening round of the ACC tourney and then would draw Clemson in a revenge chance after Sunday's collapse.
Virginia Tech [20-8 (9-7), RPI: 38, SOS: 86] The Hokies suffered a brutal one-point loss at Clemson in which the Tigers actually made clutch free throws. A win Sunday really, really would have enhanced Va. Tech's at-large hopes. Now the Hokies likely need multiple (three?) wins in the ACC tournament because of a fairly soft profile, even at 9-7 in the ACC. Their nonconference schedule has next to nothing in it, other than losses to very good (and a couple of OK) teams, and their nine conference wins are not overly impressive (sweeps of Maryland, BC and Virginia, and single wins over FSU, Ga. Tech and Wake). The RPI is very questionable, too. The work starts in the quarterfinals with a likely meeting with fellow bubbler Miami. After that, it's probably a date with North Carolina.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Baylor, Kansas State|
Work left to do: Texas A&M
The Big 12 picture cleared up a good amount in the past few days. OK State and Texas Tech drop out while Oklahoma makes its way into lockdom as the third conference team in. Baylor and Kansas State's huge Saturday wins also really help their cause. Texas A&M got a big win midweek at Baylor, but then got pounded at home by Kansas and now needs to do some work in the conference tourney.
Should be in:
Baylor [22-6 (10-6), RPI: 8, SOS: 4] The Bears got a very big road win at Texas Tech on Saturday after missing out on a chance to hurt Texas A&M midweek. The Bears will play the last-place team in the opening round of the conference tourney, then would get a crack at Oklahoma in the quarters. They probably can survive a loss there, but we'll see. In nonconference play, Baylor beat Notre Dame and Winthrop on its way to the Paradise Jam title in the Virgin Islands, and it also won at South Carolina. The Bears' nonconference losses were by three points to Washington State at home and to Arkansas in Dallas.
Kansas State [17-12 (6-10), RPI: 69, SOS: 56] K-State slipped past Iowa State to get to 10-6 in the league and clinch third place. The unbalanced league schedule makes that finish a bit less definitive, but it's still a very nice chip for the Wildcats. K-State would do well to win its quarterfinal game against fellow bubbler Texas A&M. Having a win over Kansas never hurts, but a win over Cal is the best thing on a nonconference résumé that includes losses to George Mason, Notre Dame, Oregon and Xavier.
Work left to do:
Texas A&M [15-13 (7-9), RPI: 83, SOS: 37] The Aggies' inconsistency has been staggering. Though Kansas routed them to close the regular season, winning in Waco might be a season-saver -- but they very well might have to win their quarterfinal game against No. 3 Kansas State. The Aggies have a win over Texas in league play, but their best nonconference win, over Ohio State, might supplant the victory over the state rival. The other wins -- over UTEP, Washington, Alabama and LSU -- were decent but not great.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: West Virginia|
Work left to do: Villanova, Syracuse
The league looks pretty solid for seven teams right now. It won't be nine because Syracuse and Villanova play in the opening round of the conference tournament. Can the winner of that game make it? Probably only if it can beat Georgetown, too.
Should be in:
West Virginia [23-6 (11-5), RPI: 26, SOS: 90] The Mountaineers got past St. John's in overtime and move ever closer to the field of 65. Beating Pitt earlier in the week should amount to something big, as most of the Eers' league wins are over the bottom half of the league. Still, winning six of their past eight is a nice push toward the dance. As long as WVU doesn't stub its toe against the No. 12 seed in the opening round of the Big East tourney, it looks to be in solid shape. The best thing WVU did in nonconference play was probably the two-point loss to Tennessee.
Work left to do:
Villanova [27-3 (14-3), RPI: 2, SOS: 29] The Cats also won their past two to keep their hopes alive. Now they have an elimination game against Syracuse on tap in the 8-9 game of the Big East Tournament. Will any weight be given to the questionable last-second foul calls against NC State and Georgetown that helped decide those games? Nova's nonconference strength of schedule is a problem. The Cats' best nonconference win was over George Mason, but they were routed by city rival Saint Joseph's.
Syracuse [17-12 (9-7), RPI: 75, SOS: 57] The Orange got the two wins they needed to close the regular season, including a big win over Marquette at home on Saturday. It still looks reasonable to assume Syracuse needs two more wins, which would include one over bubble buddy Villanova and then another over Big East champ Georgetown, a team it has split with in two well-played meetings. The Orange are still only 2-7 against the RPI Top 50, which is a mark against the team's profile. The schedule strength is a plus, though, and Syracuse's ability to hang in there after losing Eric Devendorf for the season reflects well.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Ohio State|
Surprise, surprise. Ohio State has arisen from the at-large dead to notch two big home wins to close out the regular season. If the Buckeyes can handle Michigan State again in the Big Ten quarters, they will have a very viable case for admission into the field of 65. If they don't get there, this is a four-bid league.
Work left to do:
Ohio State [16-13 (6-10), RPI: 70, SOS: 28] Two down, one to go for the Buckeyes, who followed up their win over Purdue by beating Michigan State on Sunday. Next up is a rematch in the Big Ten quarterfinals, which if the Buckeyes win, they could find their way into the Dance. The Buckeyes' RPI Top 50 record is still very suspect, but the committee would look favorably on a team that won three straight games against ranked opponents down the stretch. Nonconference wins over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and against Florida were the bright spots, but both of those teams may miss the dance. OSU also lost to Tennessee, Texas A&M, North Carolina and Butler.
|Work left to do: Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State|
USC swept its way into the lock category impressively. Arizona State probably needs another win. Things are a lot more interesting now that Oregon took out both Arizona schools and finished at 9-9 while dumping Arizona to 8-10. Interestingly, Arizona State got the No. 5 seed and draws USC in the quarters, while Oregon gets Washington State. The Ducks lost twice by nine to the Cougars, while ASU split with the Trojans.
Work left to do:
Oregon [25-4 (15-2), RPI: 6, SOS: 33] The Ducks did what they needed to do, sweeping the Arizona schools to get to .500 in the league and finish ahead of Arizona after sweeping the Wildcats. The Ducks remain 1-7 against the top four teams in the league, which isn't a great indicator of any upside, but the profile is improving. They will get another chance at an "up" win in league play against Washington State in the Pac-10 quarters and must win that game. Kansas State and Utah were their best nonconference wins, but the Ducks also lost at Saint Mary's, Nebraska and Oakland.
Arizona [26-4 (15-2), RPI: 9, SOS: 30] The Wildcats went 3-7 down the stretch of Pac-10 play to finish under .500, which is not a great place to be. They got Nic Wise back this week but still couldn't handle Oregon on the road. The Cats went 0-6 against the RPI Top 25, but were 10-5 against the rest of the Top 100, a huge number of games -- and wins -- in that category. Assuming they beat the Beavers in the 7-10 game in the Pac-10 tourney, they probably will be fine, even at 8-10, but beating Stanford would really make things a lot easier on everyone. The Wildcats also should get some consideration for injuries. Nonetheless, let's drop them down a level until things clear up. Arizona's best nonconference win looked like it was over Texas A&M, but that win is looking dicier by the day. It might be better to focus on the road wins at UNLV and Houston.
Arizona State [13-16 (6-10), RPI: 139, SOS: 70] The Sun Devils missed a chance to KO Oregon, but got the back end of the trip against the bottom-feeding Beavers to finish at .500 in league play. They have amassed several very good wins over Xavier, Stanford and USC; they also swept Arizona. But the RPI/SOS combo suggests that the Sun Devils need a quarterfinal win over USC in the Pac-10 tourney to feel good about their chances.
|Work left to do: Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss|
Three teams are in, and others have decent chances to get there. Kentucky is in very solid shape now with its 12-4 SEC mark. Arkansas has some more more to do, it seems. Ole Miss probably needs multiple SEC tourney wins despite a decent nonconference profile. Florida may have run out of chances at Rupp on Sunday and could need the auto bid.
Work left to do:
Florida [23-6 (13-3), RPI: 5, SOS: 10] Florida couldn't complete a big rally against Kentucky on Sunday, and now very well might have to win the SEC tournament to get into the NCAAs. Florida's best nonconference win is over surging Temple, and there's very little anywhere in the Gators' profile that says this should be an NCAA team at this point.
Kentucky [24-5 (14-2), RPI: 7, SOS: 15] Kentucky got past Florida at home on Sunday and now looks to be in very good shape to make the NCAAs. If they can beat Ole Miss in the SEC quarters, the Cats look like they'll be dancing. That would be an incredible recovery from their early-season injuries, performance woes and late loss of Patrick Patterson for the season.
Arkansas [22-7 (11-5), RPI: 30, SOS: 69] The Hogs closed out with a win over Auburn to stay above .500 in league play, but can't feel completely comfortable at this point. The Hogs beat Vandy in league play and now should get another crack at the Dores in the SEC quarters. Their nonconference win over Baylor still looks good. The win over VCU is decent, too. They are 5-4 against the RPI Top 50, which is solid.
Ole Miss [18-11 (9-7), RPI: 72, SOS: 68] This year's Arkansas is still alive; the Rebels won their last three games to get to 7-9 and set themselves up for an SEC quarterfinal throwdown against Kentucky, a game that will be huge for bubble implications. Finishing third in the SEC West also means the team will avoid Tennessee until the final. The Rebels did some decent work in nonconference play and are 5-4 against the RPI Top 50, which is a lot better than most bubble candidates. A win over ACC lock Clemson in Puerto Rico was the out-of-league highlight, but their victory over Sun Belt co-champ South Alabama was quality, too.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Saint Mary's, Illinois State, Kent State, South Alabama, UNLV|
Work left to do: VCU, Houston, New Mexico, Davidson, UAB, Western Kentucky
Sunday was a very bad day for VCU (semifinal exit in the CAA) and Illinois State (a national TV pounding by Drake). Both teams will now have very long waits until Selection Sunday. Is Saint Mary's also in that group? Maybe, but the Gaels look to have enough in their profile to weather a late collapse at San Diego in the WCC semis. South Alabama and Western Kentucky are still on a Sun Belt collision course. Kent State may now have done enough in the MAC after offing Akron on the road.
Should be in:
Saint Mary's [26-3 (16-2), RPI: 19, SOS: 89] The Gaels let their WCC semifinal at San Diego get away, blowing a late 13-point lead and losing in double-OT. Can their profile survive it? It looks pretty good that they can. SMC should be in better position than a team like Illinois State. At least the Gaels have something in their nonconference profile to fall back on. The best wins are over Drake and Oregon at home, but they also picked up OK wins over Seton Hall, San Diego State and Ohio. They also don't have a really bad loss, which helps. Besides two at San Diego and one at Gonzaga, the Gaels lost at Southern Illinois and Texas and at home to Kent State in BracketBusters.
Illinois State [24-5 (17-1), RPI: 36, SOS: 162] The disaster the Redbirds wanted to avoid occurred in the form of a 30-point beatdown by Drake in the nationally televised Valley final. Sure, it only counts as one loss to an elite team, but sometimes perception matters, too, and that was not a good last statement for Illinois State to make. The computer numbers look decent, but there's not a ton of heft in the actual profile. Their best nonconference win was over Cincinnati. Finishing second by multiple games in a top-10 league and getting to that conference's final is a pretty solid statement, though. It will be a long week for Illinois State, but the Birds still have a pretty decent chance.
Kent State [16-12 (9-7), RPI: 190, SOS: 270] The Golden Flashes ambushed Akron early and then held on for the win that most likely puts them into the field of 65. It would be wise to avoid a flameout in the MAC quarters. Anything beyond that should be good enough. A win over Illinois State out of conference could come in handy, especially after the Redbirds' MVC final fiasco.
South Alabama [11-15 (6-9), RPI: 221, SOS: 169] Whew. South Alabama slipped past New Orleans in the Sun Belt quarters to avoid what would have been a damaging loss. Now the Jags remain in very solid shape for an at-large bid. A finals appearance in the Sun Belt tourney should be enough, even though they'll play the event at home. Can they afford to lose the semifinal? Maybe. South Alabama's three nonconference losses were at Ole Miss by three, at Vandy by three in double overtime and by five to Miami (Ohio) in Anaheim. Its best nonleague win was at home over Mississippi State.
UNLV [10-19 (3-13), RPI: 234, SOS: 126] The Rebels held on to second place in the league, which could be very important. They get the conference tourney on their home court, which is good and bad. It will be easier to win, but a loss would be more damaging. Their three-point loss to Arizona at home was a big missed opportunity in nonconference play. They also lost to Louisville by 20 and don't have a really good nonconference win, so league positioning and overall record will be important chips.
Work left to do:
VCU [23-6 (13-3), RPI: 25, SOS: 71] Uh oh. The Rams were beaten in the final seconds by William & Mary in the CAA semis and now will have a very, very long week to wait. They closed out the regular season in style, winning eight of their last nine to take the CAA by three games over George Mason and UNC-Wilmington. VCU beat Akron, Houston and Maryland in nonconference play, so there's some good stuff there, too. The committee seems to value conference regular-season championships, especially by multiple games in good leagues, so this bodes well, too. It also can't hurt to have George Mason AD Tom O'Connor as the selection committee chair. He won't be in the room when VCU is discussed, but he certainly can make sure that the other committee members are well briefed on the Rams.
Houston [19-8 (10-5), RPI: 57, SOS: 77] A regular-season-ending loss to UTEP may well have condemned Houston to automatic bid-or-bust territory. The team is still in line to have a rematch with UAB in the league semis, but that might not be enough now. Houston's nonconference losses were to VCU, UMass and Arizona, so there's no shame in any of those. The Cougars also beat Kentucky.
New Mexico [16-13 (9-8), RPI: 86, SOS: 48] The Lobos finished third in a conference that might get only two teams in. They might have to beat UNLV on the road in the conference tourney semis to be that team. Not much in their nonconference profile will help. You can see that just by looking at the SOS.
Davidson [14-13 (7-9), RPI: 118, SOS: 92] The Wildcats are into the SoCon final after destroying UNC-Greensboro on Sunday. The problem now is two-fold -- they probably can't afford a loss here because the opponent is 14-18 Elon, the 7-seed. The other issue is that Elon actually has played the Wildcats very tough this season. The Phoenix lost by two at home and were within three with under four minutes left at Davidson before losing by 10. The Wildcats should be heavily favored, regardless, but can they survive if they lose? They showed in close early losses to North Carolina, Duke, NC State and UCLA how good they are, but can a SoCon team really overcome a 2-6 record in D-I nonconference games? For the Wildcats' sake, let's hope they don't have to find out.
UAB [14-13 (8-7), RPI: 178, SOS: 170] The Blazers were shredded at Memphis on Saturday -- not exactly the statement they were looking to make. They still finished second in the conference and are on track to meet Houston in an elimination game in the league semis. The Blazers beat Kentucky for their best nonconference win.
Western Kentucky [13-16 (7-9), RPI: 222, SOS: 252] WKU cruised past North Texas to advance to the Sun Belt semis. The Hilltoppers very well still need two more wins and the automatic bid, despite finishing tied with South Alabama atop the conference. Their best nonconference win was over Nebraska. The Toppers did come close against Gonzaga and Tennessee, but won no cigar.