College Basketball Bubble Watch
Collective wisdom leads to better bubbling
Now a confession: This feature wouldn't be the same without you.
When this year's version of the Drive to 65 kicked off in January, it included a request that your questions and comments be polite and fact-based. So far, you all have delivered. Big time.
As such, this feature really is more of a living trust that's being shared by its multitude of readers. As much as any writer strives to be perfect in interpretation, the truth is that no person can analyze nearly 100 teams (including those not quite on the watch) as well as each of you knows the individual team you root for. It's truly 1 vs. 100.
Much of the e-mail has been extremely interesting (like the suggestions to look closer at VCU's schedule and the Purdue/Illinois comparison). Some of it has been a little less useful (like the Florida State fan who wondered why High Point wasn't mentioned as a quality win for the Noles, or the occasional person who doesn't read the disclaimer on non-DI wins and writes that a team's record is incorrect).
Either way, the point is that it's you, the reader, who is empowered to make the piece even better, providing clarification and refinement and added detail that makes the bubble picture all that much crisper.
If you watch the somewhat-goofy game show, you know that the mob's collective intellect eventually overcomes the sole competitor (or the player realizes it is going to and takes the cash). In this venue, the one and the (almost) 100 are working toward the same goal, and we are all the better for that.
Here's the latest bubble picture:
|The Bubble Breakdown|
|CONFERENCE||LOCKS||SHOULD BE INS||AT-LARGES TAKEN (OUT OF 34)
(assuming no auto bid outlier)
As always, I've tried to be as inclusive as possible while only including teams that would have a reasonable chance of at least being discussed if this were Selection Sunday. If your team's not on here, there's probably a good reason (or three) -- start with the RPI and SOS numbers and work your way down.
(Please remember, per selection committee criteria, that records displayed are Division I only. Next update: Mar. 1)
If you have a legitimate grievance, or just like talking bubble, send an e-mail. Polite ones with fact-based arguments have a much better chance of receiving a response. I apologize in advance if I can't get back to all of you.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson|
Six ACC teams look locked up at this point. The bigger question is: Can the league get (at least) seven? It's not looking great for any of the three, but Georgia Tech might have the best chance to pull something out.
Work left to do:
Florida State [18-15 (9-9), RPI: 84, SOS: 41] It's worth noting that the Noles' recent skid came without PG Toney Douglas, who should be back for the ACC tournament. That should be taken into account in a bubble situation. It's also worth noting that FSU was swept by both Clemson and Georgia Tech, which could be very damaging. The game at Miami on Saturday is basically an elimination game for FSU. You can make a case for the Seminoles at 7-9 in ACC play (and some work in the ACC tourney), but 6-10 is not going to cut it. Wins at Duke and over Florida will resonate, but the computer numbers remain questionable. Beyond Florida, FSU thrashed bubble buddy Providence, but there's not a ton beyond that in the nonconference schedule that will help. They didn't show well in big-time opportunities against Pitt and Wisconsin (before the Florida win).
Georgia Tech [16-15 (6-12), RPI: 148, SOS: 128] Well, Tech will have its chances Thursday (vs. UNC) and Sunday (vs. BC) to play its way in, but it won't be easy. It's hard to see 7-9 leaving the Jackets in good shape, barring a long ACC tournament run, but 8-8 the hard way would resonate with the committee. The Jackets swept FSU and split with Clemson, losing by a point on the road. A nonconference win over Memphis helps, but the RPI and SOS are not at-large quality right now; if you combine those with a sub-.500 ACC mark, that could spell NIT for GT.
Clemson [13-18 (5-13), RPI: 181, SOS: 123] The Tigers' season very well could come down to the game at Virginia Tech on Sunday. As with FSU, I can't see 6-10 getting it done, especially with the huge fade from 17-0. Clemson's been very competitive, but there's no really positive way you can spin nine losses in its past 11 games. Unless the Tigers beat Miami, then beat the Hokies, who are in play for a league title, they very well could be left out. There are no great nonconference wins, but ODU, App State, Miss. State, South Carolina and Georgia are all respectable W's.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Syracuse|
Work left to do: Villanova, Providence, West Virginia, DePaul
Syracuse is the big mover after the double-digit home win over Georgetown. The Orange look ready to go, probably just needing to avoid losing both at Villanova and in the first round of the Big East tournament to be safe. Will anyone else get there? Villanova is still in decent shape. West Virginia isn't after losing at Pitt.
Should be in:
Syracuse [26-9 (11-7), RPI: 13, SOS: 5] The Orange get a bump up after the big home win over Georgetown got them to 10 league wins, but they probably need one more W to feel completely safe. They end at desperate Villanova, so it might have to wait until the first round of the Big East tournament. The relative lack of nonconference heft and the weakish computer numbers are still concerns, but the Orange have won five in a row and have a legit go-to player in Demetris Nichols.
Work left to do:
Villanova [19-13 (10-8), RPI: 51, SOS: 22] Pounded Rutgers to get back to .500. If Cats can get their last two (at UConn, vs. Syracuse), that should be enough with strong computer numbers and a host of wins away from The Pavilion. The Cats have beaten Texas and swept the Big 5 (never easy in Philly), but have a couple of losses to bubble teams (Xavier, Drexel), too. I still think they'll be OK, possibly even at 8-8.
Providence [17-14 (9-9), RPI: 89, SOS: 61] The Friars likely saw their at-large hopes die at home in the four-point loss to Syracuse, barring an unexpected run to the Big East semis or beyond. The RPI, bad already, won't be helped by playing St. John's and South Florida in the final two league games.
West Virginia [13-19 (6-12), RPI: 145, SOS: 50] The Mountaineers came up short at Pitt and may very well need to win three games in a row to make it. They can still get to 9-7 in the Big East by beating Cincinnati, but the nine wins would be against UConn, Villanova, St. John's, South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall twice and the Bearcats. Beating bubble foes and minnows is fine, but where's the beef? Outside of beating PG-less UCLA in nonconference play (still a top-quality win), there's not a lot to fall back on (besides maybe NC State). WVU is now probably (at best) eighth in the pecking order in a conference that might get only seven NCAA bids.
DePaul [11-21 (2-16), RPI: 202, SOS: 108] The Blue Demons should get past South Florida to get to 9-7, but then what? They have beaten Kansas and Cal (right after the DeVon Hardin injury) earlier this season, but also have lost to Bradley and Purdue, among others. They'll likely need a couple of BE tourney wins, too, but we'll see ...
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Indiana, Michigan State|
Work left to do: Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue
Michigan State might have really hurt itself Tuesday night by losing at Michigan. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have a pulse. They still have some ground to make up, but a win over Ohio State would be a wonderful start. Indiana also had best be careful with an "easy" final two games. Illinois or Purdue? Might need the Big Ten tournament to decide that one.
Should be in:
Indiana [27-6 (14-4), RPI: 7, SOS: 11] Hmm ... good thing the last two are at Northwestern and home to Penn State because IU might want to get both to feel completely safe after dropping its third in the past four, fading after halftime at Michigan State. Who knew the best nonconference win would be over Southern Illinois, which is a gift that keeps on giving for the Hoosiers. The win over Wisconsin also looks good on the mantel.
Michigan State [24-8 (13-5), RPI: 8, SOS: 4] The lack of any road performance is why Michigan State was not considered a lock after its recent four-game home sweep, and Tuesday night proved that again in spades. The Spartans dented their own at-large hopes and might have resuscitated in-state rival Michigan's with the loss in Ann Arbor. MSU is now only 1-7 on the road, which is a big red flag for the committee. What's more, the Spartans close at Wisconsin, which will be looking to lick some wounds of its own. Beating Texas early will hold up well, as will the rout of Bradley and the win over BYU -- which now has at least a share of the MWC crown -- but will 8-8 be enough? It very well could be, as the computer numbers are good, but it's far from a lock heading into the conference tournament, should that be the case.
Work left to do:
Michigan [25-7 (12-6), RPI: 17, SOS: 68] Kudos to the Wolverines, who won an elimination game Tuesday night, handling Michigan State. Now they get the chance for a marquee win against an already-wrapped-up-the-league Ohio State squad. Win that one and we can start talking about what they would need in Chicago. There is no marquee win yet in the profile, and the Wolverines were splattered in several games against name opponents. A mediocre computer profile fueled by a lack of road wins isn't helping, either, but things look significantly better than they did two games ago.
Illinois [21-12 (8-10), RPI: 39, SOS: 9] A closer examination of the Illini's slate necessitates a mention that they did not have to play at either Ohio State or Wisconsin and that five of their nine Big Ten wins are over Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota. As such, they really need to go to Iowa and take care of business. If they end up in a cluster of teams at 9-7, it's likely that they won't have the best profile. In nonconference play, Illinois beat Bradley and Missouri but lost to Xavier. A 9-7 mark and a semifinals trip in Chicago could be enough with the computer profile hanging in there, but it would be better not to mess around.
Iowa [21-12 (9-9), RPI: 78, SOS: 129] For the sake of being complete, we'll add Iowa, this season's Stanford. It's plausible that the Hawkeyes could get to 10-6 (at Penn State, vs. Illinois left), but where does that leave them after a gruesome nonconference performance where the best win was over ... Toledo? Iowa State? Cornell?? If they get to 10-6, we can start to look at what they need to do in the B10 tourney, although my gut sense is that they would need to make the final and have knocked off Ohio State or Wisconsin on the way to have any real claim.
Purdue [15-17 (8-10), RPI: 132, SOS: 80] Conversely, Purdue played at both Ohio State and Wisconsin, so the Boilers get a little more slack if they get to 9-7. First things first, they <i>have</i> to beat Minnesota and Northwestern at home. A loss to either likely dooms them. After that? We'll see where the bubble pool sits. They have solid nonconference wins over Virginia, DePaul and Oklahoma, which is more than Illinois has, and Purdue thrashed the Illini in the only meeting (in West Lafayette). The Boilers very well might need an upset in the B10 quarters to have a legit claim, but the slugfest with the Illini is very interesting.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech|
Tuesday's biggest winner might have been Texas Tech, which saw Kansas State lose to Oklahoma State, weakening the Wildcats' position relative to the Red Raiders. Will the Big 12 be stuck at four bids?
Work left to do:
Kansas State [26-7 (14-4), RPI: 21, SOS: 58] The Wildcats were beaten soundly at Oklahoma State on Tuesday night, which was a very bad impression to make. Yes, they could beat Oklahoma at home to get to 10-6 in the Big 12, but the league wins would be over Colorado (twice), Missouri (twice), Iowa State (twice), Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma and (a good one against) Texas. Look, conference wins are always good, but that crew and a middling nonconference schedule helps explain the weak computer profile. The win over USC is nice, but there's not a lot else there. If they don't do much in the Big 12 tournament, the Cats could become the third Big 12 North team to get to 10 wins and miss the NCAAs.
Oklahoma State [24-8 (13-5), RPI: 26, SOS: 52] The Cowboys thumped K-State at home Tuesday to stay alive. Now they need to go get road wins at Baylor and Nebraska. Getting both would increase OK State's season road win total to two, which is a lot of the problem (although it has won five neutral-site games). Can the Cowboys save their season? It's hard to recall a team (OK, other than Clemson) falling so precipitously from lock status to out of the NCAAs. There are some good nonconference performances to lean on, specifically beating Missouri State and Syracuse on neutral floors and Pitt in OK City, but it might not be enough.
Texas Tech [11-20 (3-15), RPI: 213, SOS: 91] A critical two-point win over OK State leaves the Red Raiders with Baylor and at Iowa State left. Get both and the Red Raiders likely are good to go, fueled by the strength of the three wins over Texas A&M and Kansas. Get one and it could be interesting, as TT would have finished 5-8 against the rest of the conference. There's not a lot in nonconference play (against Arkansas in Little Rock being the best win, by far) to lean on, either, so getting two wins to close things out might be key.
|Teams that should be in: Stanford|
Oregon and USC get their tickets punched after taking care of business this weekend. Yes, the Trojans' computer numbers aren't great, but there's no way the third-place team in this league is getting nixed. Grudgingly, I added Arizona after consultation with our Bracketologist. I don't know that Arizona will lose its last three (including a Pac-10 quarterfinal game), and even if the Cats do, I still can't see how they'd be left out, given the overall profile. That said, it bears watching, as three more L's would leave them at 18-12 (9-9) and on a 6-11 skid entering the Dance. It would be nice to see the Wildcats get at least one W in the Bay Area next week, as Cincinnati (albeit without Armein Kirkland and with a worse profile) was axed after a similar slide last season. I just couldn't rationalize having some of the other teams as locks and not having Arizona in that category -- there just aren't enough good teams behind the Cats to threaten their spot, it seems. Stanford has its fate in its own hands with the Arizona schools coming to the Farm tbis weekend to close out the regular season.
Should be in:
Stanford [18-14 (9-9), RPI: 75, SOS: 45] No shame in not getting a win in L.A., but that makes the home game against Arizona State a must-win ahead of what could be an intriguing meeting with Arizona should the Cats lose at Cal. Getting to 11 Pac-10 wins would make Selection Sunday much more comfortable, but 10's probably enough this season. The Cardinal have nonconference wins over Texas Tech and at Virginia to lean on, although they also lost badly to Air Force and Santa Clara at home.
|Work left to do: Ole Miss, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State|
It looks more and more possible that no one from the SEC West will make the NCAAs. How weird is that? Tennessee and Vandy move into the locks category after more good work this weekend. Kentucky stays there, although it would be smart for the Cats to handle Georgia at home Wednesday ahead of a trip to the Swamp. Could a disaster scenario (two more L's and a first-round SEC tourney exit) somehow dislodge the Cats despite their incredible computer numbers? Still unlikely, but not worth chancing it.
Work left to do:
Ole Miss [26-8 (12-6), RPI: 48, SOS: 136] Like everyone else in this division, Ole Miss gacked up a chance to stake a claim, losing by double figures at South Carolina. Even 9-7 likely is not nearly enough with a nonconference profile devoid of anything notable.
Alabama [20-12 (12-6), RPI: 60, SOS: 84] The tough L at Tennessee was understandable, and even created some hope. Unfortunately, that hope was dashed by a home loss to Auburn, which leaves the Tide in some real trouble. There's still no signature win on the profile (no, Kentucky doesn't count), and the computer profile is weakening rapidly. The Tide conceivably could beat Ole Miss and win at Miss. State to get to 8-8 and clinch at least a share of the West crown, but that's probably not enough right now. The Tide will need to do some work in the SEC tourney.
Georgia [15-17 (9-9), RPI: 141, SOS: 69] Right now, this is the team with the best chance to make it from this section. The Bulldogs rebounded from a terrible performance at Ole Miss to beat down Miss. State. Now they are at Kentucky (king of the RPI 51-100 win) and home to Tennessee. That would be worth a lot of computer points to get both (which is doable), as both teams are in the top 11 in RPI. Finishing at least 9-7 is an absolute must, and I would feel much better about the Dawgs' chances if they got both to get to 10 SEC wins. They also beat Gonzaga, but lost to ACC bubblers Georgia Tech and Clemson.
Mississippi State [10-22 (4-14), RPI: 232, SOS: 112] With a chance to get in the mix, these Bulldogs were leashed by their Georgia counterparts. Could they get to 9-7? I guess -- although winning at Arkansas, then beating Alabama is no lock -- but would that mean all that much for a team with this overall profile? Probably not. There's nothing of note (on the good side) in the nonconference profile.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Air Force|
Work left to do: Gonzaga, Virginia Commonwealth, San Diego State, Massachusetts, Davidson, Xavier, Wright State, Drexel, Appalachian State, Winthrop, Old Dominion, Hofstra
BYU joins the list of locks after clinching at least a share of the Mountain West regular-season title with an impressive win at Air Force, ending the Falcons' 30-game home winning streak. It's now fair to wonder what would happen to AFA should it lose its MWC quarterfinal. Memphis, Butler, UNLV and Nevada remain locks.
Beyond that, here's the best approximation of the teams that have a reasonable shot at an at-large bid at this point.
Worth noting: There's no reasonable at-large candidate in the MAC or C-USA (outside of Memphis). Can Gonzaga get out of the WCC without the auto bid? That's a very tough question at this point and would be hotly debated (and might be dependent upon Josh Heytvelt's status). The CAA has some sort of a legit claim to at least two bids, although it's hard to parse among the regular-season champ (VCU), which has a light nonconference slate; second-place Old Dominion, which won at Georgetown and finished a game back with a much harder conference schedule; and Drexel, which has the best nonconference performance but finished fourth. Beyond that? It could be a big year for the middling high-majors; this field is not terribly inspiring.
Should be in:
Air Force [15-13 (8-8), RPI: 79, SOS: 57] Air Force's third straight loss, this time at home to BYU, puts the Falcons definitively third in the MWC pecking order and puts a huge amount of pressure on its quarterfinal game in the conference tournament. Losing at TCU might be crippling if the Falcons end their season on a four-game skid. The RPI is getting worse, and the nonconference schedule, though littered with routs of "name" opponents, doesn't have a ton of significant heft. Rolling at Stanford and beating Texas Tech in KC definitely will help. I still think Air Force will be OK, but the Falcons had better not test the committee too badly.
Work left to do:
Gonzaga [30-2 (16-0), RPI: 6, SOS: 96] Incredibly, Gonzaga claimed sole possession of the WCC title when Santa Clara lost both ends of its season-ending road trip to the league's two bottom teams. The crown never can hurt, although its still unclear whether the Zags can survive a conference tournament loss. The OT loss to Memphis showed the Zags could be competitive with elite-level teams without Josh Heytvelt, but that still might not be enough now. The Zags have beaten UNC and Texas on neutral courts and won at Stanford in OT, but if Heytvelt isn't allowed back, the committee will have to evaluate them on the basis on these latest performances, which aren't great. The computer numbers are terrible for an at-large and won't get better with more WCC games.
Virginia Commonwealth [26-8 (12-4), RPI: 24, SOS: 33] The Rams will be a very interesting at-large case. The computer numbers are extremely questionable, but how do you neg the regular-season champion of the CAA? I think that would be wrong. Then again, it's fair to note that VCU only played four games against the CAA's other big three (going 2-2) while second-place ODU had to play home-and-home with the three other heavyweights (going 4-2). The home loss to Bradley in BracketBusters could really hurt, as there's no real heft anywhere in the nonconference win column. Should they make it to the CAA finals, I think they should get in, but we'll see how the entire picture unfolds.
San Diego State [20-10 (9-7), RPI: 29, SOS: 25] The Aztecs suffered a loss at Utah that very well could have ended reasonable at-large hopes. That will hit the RPI pretty hard, too. They still could win the MWC Tournament and possibly steal a bid, but that might be their most reasonable path now.
Massachusetts [21-11 (9-7), RPI: 55, SOS: 73] UMass fans have asked -- fairly -- why I am so much more bullish on VCU than on the A-10 co-leaders (who also have a win at Louisville). Part of it is that I might have moderately oversold VCU. The perception that the CAA is better doesn't really hold up in the conference RPI comparison, but I think the top four in the CAA are better than the same in the A-10. Would be an interesting challenge, though. For now, the Minutemen need to keep winning games. The last two (La Salle and at Saint Joe's) are gettable, and that would give them a share of the regular-season crown. Beyond the win at the 'Ville, the Minutemen don't have much else to push as evidence from their nonconference slate.
Davidson [25-7 (17-1), RPI: 62, SOS: 203] The Wildcats trucked through their last two games to finish at 17-1 and a league champ by two games over App State. You could have a conference final between Davidson and App State in which the two teams have a combined 54 wins. That would be incredible. Davidson has two non-DI wins itself, but if the Cats lose in the SoCon final, could the committee really not take a long look at a team that would have 26 D-I wins? The Wildcats won Arizona State's Christmas event (also beating Ohio from the MAC) and beat the MAC's Western Michigan and pasted disappointing Charlotte by 28 in their best nonconference moments. They did lose by 28 at Duke, but have won 22 of their last 23 games.
Xavier [17-14 (9-7), RPI: 90, SOS: 60] Now here's a team that's still under the radar but has a rapidly improving profile that could help the A-10 get two bids. Still co-leader in the A-10, X has beaten VCU, Villanova, Illinois and K-State in nonconference play, so there's some solid heft there. If it wins the league's regular-season title and shows well in the tourney, it could happen.
Wright State [20-12 (10-6), RPI: 134, SOS: 237] The Raiders gaveth (lost to Youngstown State) and gotteth back (Butler losing to Loyola-Chi) and now have home-court advantage for a possible rubber match with the Bulldogs. It doesn't look as if the Raiders have any real at-large hopes, but their getting HCA in the conference tournament might make things harder on the at-large pool, as Butler definitely will get in either way.
Drexel [13-18 (9-9), RPI: 206, SOS: 172] The kings of the road are still alive, but with a fourth-place finish in the CAA, they have some work to do in the conference tourney. The good news is that they get league kingpin VCU in the semis, so they can make a statement there. The Dragons have a number of very good wins (including at Syracuse, at Villanova, vs. Saint Joe's) and several curious losses (at Penn by 19, at Rider) in nonconference play. They also have 13 road wins, which is a huge number. A very interesting at-large case, especially as they have a much better profile than Hofstra despite finishing a game behind the Pride for third in the CAA.
Appalachian State [13-16 (10-8), RPI: 267, SOS: 325] The Mountaineers got their last two to finish the regular season with 24 wins (including three non-DI victories) and need to be taken seriously as an at-large candidate. They got a very big win at Wichita State in BracketBusters to provide another quality W to go along with VCU, Virginia and Vanderbilt. It's also very worth noting that the Mountaineers are 19-3 (one non-DI win included) since Virginia transfer Donte Minter became eligible. That makes it easier to ignore the thrashings Va Tech and Clemson put on them early in the season. If the SoCon final is Davidson vs. App State, that's must-watch TV for any good basketball fan -- and could mean both teams make it to the NCAAs, which would be amazing.
Winthrop [11-17 (6-10), RPI: 269, SOS: 243] Winthrop took the first of three steps to an auto bid by smoking Charleston Southern in the Big South quarters Tuesday night. Part of me, though, is dying to see High Point take out the Eagles in the final just to see what the committee would do. I would hope it could look past the numbers and acknowledge that Winthrop is a legitimate team worthy of an at-large bid. Torching MO State in the Friday night BracketBusters main event was very big for a team that lacks a real marquee win. The four non-DI wins might haunt the Eagles, although no one in his right mind would come and play in Rock Hill this season. Missing on all four marquee nonconference chances also didn't help matters, although two (UNC and Wisconsin) were extremely close and a third (Maryland) was competitive.
Old Dominion [5-25 (3-15), RPI: 318, SOS: 157] The Monarchs did win out but finished second behind VCU in the CAA, which leaves them in an interesting position. None of the nonconference losses is bad, and the win at Georgetown (on campus) was very nice. A trip to the CAA finals should get this team a bid, in my opinion, but anything short of that could see the dream end.
Hofstra [6-25 (4-14), RPI: 325, SOS: 195] Ended up third in the CAA, and with the fourth-place team having a much better at-large profile, it looks like auto bid or bust for the Pride.