Friday, February 25, 2005

Bubble Watch: Weekend Edition

At times, it seems that there aren't enough spots in the NCAA Tournament to fit every deserving team. However, this season is the other way around. Every time I look, I see bubble teams losing games they should win or getting blown out in statement-making games. Right now, there is simply not enough teams that belong in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, there is still plenty of basketball left to play for teams to move in or out of at-large contention. According to the numbers, they are 13 bids still up for grabs, with 19 teams seriously vying for them, as of now.

Here is the breakdown:

Locks from the power conferences (7): 28
Locks from the mid-major conferences (24): 24
52 Locks Overall

ACC: North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke
Big East: Boston College, Connecticut, Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown
Big Ten: Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Big 12: Oklahoma State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
Conference USA: Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati, DePaul
Pac-10: Arizona, Washington
SEC: Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Mississippi State

One-Bid Conferences: America East, Atlantic-10, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, Mid-Continent, Missouri Valley, MEAC, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt, West Coast, WAC

Here are the teams that still have a chance to get an at-large bid and what they can do this weekend to improve their status:

Maryland (RPI: 33; SOS: 11; vs. Top 50: 3-4; Last 10: 5-5): After being swept by Clemson, their sweep of Duke is essentially negated, which would have been helpful come selection time. Saturday at home against North Carolina would be their ticket to the Big Dance. If they win, they can rest easy as they are most likely going to the Tournament. If they lose, however, they are going to have win their season finale at Virginia Tech as well as win one or two games in the ACC Tournament.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 49; SOS: 29; vs. Top 50: 2-6; Last 10: 4-6): For the past few weeks, the Yellow Jackets have been a lock in nearly everyone's bracket. After they continue to lose, though, people began taking a closer look at their resume and the numbers. They began to realize that Georgia Tech is below .500 in the ACC and have an RPI hovering around 50. They have three regular season contests left, including Saturday at Miami (Fl.), another bubble hopeful. If Tech wins, they are back on the good side of the bubble, while if they lose, they can basically forget about making the NCAA Tournament, unless they make a huge run the rest of the season.

Virginia Tech (RPI: 111; SOS: 101; vs. Top 50: 4-5; Last 10: 6-4): One of the most interesting cases in the country, next to Memphis. They are coming off of two huge wins against Duke and Miami (Fl.) and have the best chance of any ACC bubble team to finish above .500 in league play. They head into NC State on Saturday in a must-win game for both teams. A win would boost their RPI and put them in great positon to grab an at-large bid. If they lose, they can still sweep their final two games, and win a game in the ACC Tournament and get in.

Miami (Fl.) (RPI: 47; SOS: 25; vs. Top 50: 2-5; Last 10: 4-6): Yet another ACC team that still has lots of work to do to get in the Tournament. It seems that if one of these clubs can finish .500 in ACC play, they are a lock to get in. The Hurricanes need one win, and face fellow bubble team Georgia Tech on Saturday with a bid at stake. A win would clinch a berth as of now. If they lose to the Yellow Jackets, they face a must-win on the road at Duke. No matter what, they could use a win in the ACC Tournament as well.

West Virginia (RPI: 45; SOS: 70; vs. Top 50: 1-6; Last 10: 6-4): Were not really a contender for an at-large bid until they won on the road at Pitt on Wednesday to finish off a sweep of the Panthers. Those two wins, coupled with victories at LSU and vs. George Washington, got the Mountaineers in the conversation. They finish off the season with two games that should be wins--vs. Rutgers and at Seton Hall. If they win those two, as they should, WVU would move to 9-7 in the Big East and 19-8 overall. That should be enough to get them in, and possibly give the Big East an unprecedented eight bids.

Minnesota (RPI: 48; SOS: 37; vs. Top 50: 2-5; Last 10: 5-5): Looking like a mortal lock after their win over Wisconsin three weeks ago, they lost three in a row to move back onto the bubble. The Golden Gophers have won two in a row at home to get back into decent shape. They have two road games to finish the season, both winnable games, however. At Purdue on Saturday should be a win, as should Wednesday's game at Penn State. If they win both, Minnesota would get to 20 wins, and 10-6 in the Big Ten. They would be in. However, if they lose one, they will still need some work in the Big Ten Tournament.

Texas (RPI: 36; SOS: 55; vs. Top 50: 2-4; Last 10: 5-5): Another very interesting case for the committee, although this one is as a result of injuries and suspensions. PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge are both out for the year, due to various reasons, and the Longhorns have had trouble getting used to life without them. As of now, they are in, but they finish with a tough schedule. Winning at home against Missouri on Saturday would guarantee them a .500 finish in the Big 12, which might be enough to get them in, thanks to wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. If they lose that, they will have to win one of their final two: vs. Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State.

Iowa State (RPI: 60; SOS: 58; vs. Top 50: 4-3; Last 10: 7-3): After winning seven in a row, the Cyclones moved into the NCAA Tournament. They took a step back with a blowout loss to Texas A&M, but they are still very much in the discussion. I broke their resume down last week after a win over Kansas, and it is still basically the same. With wins over Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Kansas, Iowa State should just win the games they should the rest of the way, and they will be fine. Unfortunately for them, that means winning out. A home date vs. Nebraska on Sunday followed by games vs. Missouri and at Colorado would get them to 10 conference wins should they win out. They would probably end up with a 9 or 10 seed should that happen.

Memphis (RPI: 115; SOS: 110; vs. Top 50: 3-4; Last 10: 7-3): A case very similar to Virginia Tech. Because of their low RPI, they need to get a couple of statement wins, like the won they had at Louisville a few weeks ago. Their first chance, coincidentally, is Saturday night against Louisville. They missed an opportunity on Wednesday at Charlotte, but people will forget about that should they sweep the Cardinals. If they lose, the Tigers need to win at St. Louis and at home against Cincinnati, in addition to grabbing a couple of victories in the Conference USA Tournament. Luckily for Memphis, they host the conference tourney.

Houston (RPI: 65; SOS: 90; vs. Top 50: 2-4; Last 10: 6-4): Probably pushing it a little bit here, although I think if one puts Memphis on the bubble, Houston has to be included in the mix as well. They are 8-5 in Conference USA, one game back of Memphis, with a schedule down the stretch that is very friendly. On Saturday, they head to East Carolina in a game that should be an easy win. Next week, they have Travis Diener-less Marquette on the road, and a home date vs. UAB. If they run the table, they will be 11-5 in the conference, which would probably be good enough for third in the conference. Add a win or two in the conference tournament, and I do not see how you can leave Houston out.

UCLA (RPI: 40; SOS: 19; vs. Top 50: 1-7; Last 10: 5-5): Probably in the best shape of any team on this list, as a result of their RPI and SOS. Their record against the top 50 is terrible, but if they can handle their business the rest of the way, the Bruins will be in. The problem with UCLA this season in conference play is their inability to win consecutive games. If they can win one of two next week at home against Oregon State and Oregon, the Bruins will probably be safe if they can get a win in the Pac-10 Tournament. However, a non-conference game Sunday at Notre Dame would boost their resume tremendously and could get them over the hump and into the tourney.

Stanford (RPI: 44; SOS; 32; vs. Top 50: 3-4; Last 10: 7-3): A six-game winning streak in January got the Cardinal onto the bubble, and they have not left it since. A loss on the road to Oregon State on Thursday did not cost them a bid, but it definitely hurt their chances. However, with solid numbers and a sweep of UCLA, Stanford is still in good shape. A win at Oregon on Saturday would be huge, though. If they can win two of their final three at Oregon, and at home vs. Washington State and Washington, the Cardinal should be in, because of 11 conference wins. Of course, it wouldn't hurt to grab a win in the Pac-10 Tournament.

UTEP (RPI: 55; SOS: 145; vs. Top 50: 1-4; Last 10: 6-4): Their loss at Pacific last weekend probably cost them a bid, but they still have a few chances to get into the Tournament. They won on the road at Hawaii and home vs. Lousiana Tech this week already to get back into contention. On Sunday, they face SMU at home. If they win out, including Sunday's game and next Saturday vs. Boise State, the Miners will still most likely need to get to the WAC Tournament championship to have a good opportunity to get an at-large nod. They simply can't lose.

George Washington (RPI: 77; SOS; 190; vs. Top 50: 2-2; Last 10: 6-4): After winning five in a row and looking solid for an at-large bid, the Colonials got blown out of the gym at Xavier to move back down to bubble status. Their numbers are very weak for an at-large team, but wins over Maryland and Michigan State are still carrying them. The finish to the season is not a cakewalk for GW, either. At Dayton on Saturday is a huge game in terms of the Atlantic 10 standings, as the winner will most likely win the West Division. If they win that game, and Tuesday's game vs. A-10 leading St. Joseph's, the Colonials will look much better than they do today. At Rhode Island is an easy game to end the season going into the conference tournament. A championship berth in the A-10 tourney would lock up a bid. If they lose any of these games, they are going to have to make a huge run the rest of the season.

Buffalo (RPI: 42; SOS; 115; vs. Top 50: 1-3; Last 10: 8-2): With Kent State collapsing over the past few weeks, Buffalo and Akron have moved into contention for a second team from the MAC. At 10-6 in the conference, they definitely deserve a look. They only have one quality win--at home against Miami (Ohio)-- but no bad losses. They have off this weekend, but next week, Buffalo has games at Ohio, which is never an easy contest, and vs. Akron, in what could be an elimination game in terms of at-large hopes. They need to win out, and get to the conference championship game in order to get a bid. A loss anywhere would knock them out.

Akron (RPI: 37; SOS; 87; vs. Top 50: 2-1; Last 10: 8-2): Some may be surprised to see Akron on this list, but after winning 10 of 12, capped by a home victory over Miami (Ohio), they make a great case for an at-large bid. The second best record in the MAC, one game ahead of Buffalo and one back of Miami (Ohio), combined with their run recently, give the Zips consideration. Decent power numbers are only going to increase with a game at Kent State on Saturday, and at Buffalo next Saturday, sandwiching a home game vs. Marshall. Although not impossible, it is going to be very hard to go 3-0 the rest of the way. However, if they do, and pick up two or three wins in the conference tournament, don't be shocked if you see Akron come Selection Sunday.

Wichita State (RPI: 38; SOS: 125; vs. Top 50: 2-1; Last 10: 6-4): Three consecutive losses prior to a win vs. Southwest Missouri State, may have cost the Shockers a bid. Their final two games will make or break their season. On Saturday at conference leader Southern Illinois is huge. If they win, they will have completed the sweep of the Salukis, which could be enough to get them a bid. Monday vs. Northern Iowa is just as important, though. It is going to be an at-large elimination game if both teams can win on Saturday. More importantly, however, is that if Wichita State were to win these two games, they would win the conference championship. That could go a long way in the committee's eyes.

Northern Iowa (RPI: 43; SOS: 78; vs. Top 50: 1-3; Last 10: 6-4): Even after a loss on Wednesday at Southern Illinois, they are still in consideration for a bid out of the Missouri Valley Conference. With better overall numbers than Wichita State, they have to be in the discussion, especially if they were to win out. They face a must-win at home on Saturday vs. Bradley. If they lose, they can kiss an at-large bid goodbye. If they win, they face an elimination game at Wichita State on Tuesday. Win out, and get to the conference tournament finals would cement a bid.

St. Mary's (RPI: 32; SOS: 99; vs. Top 50: 1-2; Last 10: 8-2): After a potentially costly loss at Santa Clara last week, the Gaels have bounced back with three consecutive wins heading into their season finale on Saturday. Their last game will be at San Diego, definitely not a gimme. If they win that, they will finish 11-3 in conference play, second to Gonzaga, and 22-7 overall. That should be good enough for an NCAA Tournament berth, providing they don't get upset in the West Coast Conference tournament.

Teams looking to play their way onto the bubble: North Carolina State (a win over Virginia Tech would do the trick); Texas A&M (a win vs. Texas Tech would be huge); TCU (needs win vs. Cincinnati); UAB (winning out is all they can do); Arizona State (needs to win their final two games, and two games in the Pac-10 tournament); South Carolina (.500 record in SEC gets them consideration); Indiana (victories vs. Michigan State and Northwestern/Wisconsin would give them 10 wins in Big Ten play); Vanderbilt (Sweeping their final three games would put them in contention)

Teams that need to keep winning to avoid the bubble: Georgetown, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

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