Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bubble Watch

Welcome to the first complete Bubble Watch of the season. As the name would suggest, it will look at every team in the at-large mix hoping to grab one of the last spots for the NCAA Tournament. As the season enters its final couple of weeks, it is time for teams on the fence to distinguish themselves from each other with impressive stretch runs. This week has seen plenty of bubble teams help out their resumes with statement-making wins, while other teams have hurt their status with tough losses. However, with the constant bubble fluctuation on a nightly basis, many teams are failing to separate themselves from the pack, meaning we might be in store for another difficult Selection Sunday for the Committee. Of course, conference tournaments haven't even started yet, so there is still lots of basketball left to be played. According to the numbers, there are 13 bids still up for grabs, with 27 teams seriously vying for them, as of now.

Here is the breakdown:

Locks: 24
Automatic bids from the other conferences: 19
43 Locks Overall

ACC (2): North Carolina, Duke
Big East (4): Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame
Big Ten (4): Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State
Big 12 (3): Kansas, Texas, Kansas State
Pac-10 (3): UCLA, Stanford, Washington State
SEC (1): Tennessee
Atlantic-10 (1): Xavier
Conference-USA (1): Memphis
Horizon (1): Butler
Missouri Valley (1): Drake
Mountain West (1): BYU
West Coast (2): Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga

One-Bid Conferences (19): America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit, Sun Belt, WAC

Teams that need to keep winning to avoid the bubble – these bids are not up-for-grabs yet (9):
Texas A&M

Here are the teams that still have a chance to get an at-large bid (Note: Teams like Kent State, South Alabama, Davidson, VCU are not in this category, as they are the current leaders in their respective conferences):

Maryland (17-10 (7-5), RPI: 62, SOS: 22, vs. Top 50: 1-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 4-5): The Terrapins were looking pretty good -- until their home loss to Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Interestingly enough, it was the second time Maryland had lost to Tech this season, making the Terps' only losses in the past two and a half months to Duke and the Hokies. Overall, Maryland's resume isn't all that impressive, but its win at North Carolina has carried -- and will continue to carry -- the profile. In the next two games, Maryland goes on the road against bubble-dwellers Miami and Wake Forest. That will tell us a lot.

Miami (Fl.) (17-7 (5-6), RPI: 28, SOS: 33, vs. Top 50: 3-2, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 7-5): Like Maryland and Wake Forest, the Hurricanes came from the dead to on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament with a big ACC win. In Miami's case, it was over Duke. It was the Hurricanes' third win in a row, and pushes their RPI into the top-30. Three of Miami's last five games are at home, but a road win at Clemson next week would be enormous in terms of their NCAA hopes. The 'Canes have won two straight road games, which bodes well.

Wake Forest (16-8 (6-5), RPI: 64, SOS: 93, vs. Top 50: 3-2, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 2-7): The Demon Deacons have flown below the radar for most of the season, but they essentially blew their cover when they knocked off Duke last weekend. It was Wake's second huge win of the season, as they had defeated BYU earlier in the year at home. The SOS is poor, but the RPI has a chance to rise in the next couple of weeks, starting with a road game at North Carolina on Sunday.

Syracuse (17-10 (7-7), RPI: 48, SOS: 10, vs. Top 50: 1-7, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 4-6): The Orange are once against destined to sweat it out on Selection Sunday, but for a different reason this year. Last season, Syracuse didn’t play a tough non-conference schedule. This year, the Orange simply haven’t beaten enough good teams. Prior to their win over Georgetown last week, Syracuse’s best win was over Saint Joseph’s. Losses in three of their final four games won’t help their profile, either. The Orange have four games left: at Notre Dame and Seton Hall, home vs. Pittsburgh and Marquette. A split is absolutely necessary; 3-1 would be great.

West Virginia (17-8 (7-6), RPI: 39, SOS: 44, vs. Top 50: 2-6, Last 10: 6-4, Road/Neutral: 7-6): The Mountaineers have been in the same sentence with Syracuse regarding Big East bubble teams for several weeks ago, and continue to remain there after their 22-point loss at the hands of Villanova on Wednesday night. WVU is just 2-6 against the top-50, although one of those victories was a 20-point defeat of the Orange. An extremely nondescript non-conference profile where the best win is a home victory of Duquesne could come back to hurt them if they are one of the final teams in discussion. Three of their last five are on the road.

Villanova (16-9 (6-7), RPI: 53, SOS: 63, vs. Top 50: 3-4, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 6-7): Look who’s back in the mix. The Wildcats get some love here after their dominating performance of West Virginia on Wednesday night. The win was ‘Nova’s third in four games, with the lone loss coming at Georgetown when the Hoyas won via a near-phantom foul call with 0.1 seconds left. The recent stretch came after a five-game losing streak in which Villanova was considered to be done. With a rising RPI and three top-50 wins, the ‘Cats can’t be ignored anymore. Home games against Connecticut and Marquette and a road game at Louisville in the next three will tell us all we need to know about them.

Ohio State (17-9 (8-5), RPI: 47, SOS: 48, vs. Top 50: 1-7, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 5-7): The Buckeyes are still getting at-large nods from many other Bracketologists throughout the country, but I'm just not seeing it right now, especially after their loss to Michigan on Sunday. The 8-5 record in the Big Ten looks good, but they are 0-3 against the top-four in the league -- and face each of those teams in the last five games. Unless Ohio State grabs a couple of those wins (three are at home, so there's certainly a chance), I don't see OSU getting in.

Baylor (16-8 (5-6), RPI: 42, SOS: 36, vs. Top 50: 2-7, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 7-5): If you had asked me a few weeks ago regarding the Bears' at-large candidacy, I likely wouldn't have said they would be on the outside looking in. They have lost six of their last seven, including four in a row, to drop to 5-6 in the Big 12. Baylor has just one really good non-conference win, a neutral-court victory over Notre Dame in November. They face Kansas State on Saturday at home -- it's a must-win.

Arizona State (16-9 (6-7), RPI: 75, SOS: 71, vs. Top 50: 5-5, Last 10: 3-7, Road/Neutral: 5-8): The Pac-10 bubble scene is a mess right now. None of the three teams -- ASU, Cal and Oregon -- are really separating themselves, and they continue to miss out on wins that could put them over the top. The Sun Devils were looking good last week, but they then lost at home to California and then fell at Washington State tonight. Four of their last six are on the road, which could spell trouble.

California (15-9 (6-7), RPI: 79, SOS: 59, vs. Top 50: 2-7, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 5-3): The Golden Bears have the worst RPI of any of the bubble teams with a legit shot at an at-large bid, but the road win over Arizona State last week keeps them in the mix. They have a chance to really make a move this Sunday, when they travel to Stanford. A win there, and Cal will be in the field next week. After that, Cal still faces UCLA, USC and Washington State in three of its last four games, which will give them plenty of shots at big victories.

Oregon (15-11 (6-8), RPI: 53, SOS: 18, vs. Top 50: 3-7, Last 10: 3-7, Road/Neutral: 4-5): The Ducks are falling almost as fast as they were rising in early January. They blew a 15-point lead tonight at USC, which would have given them plenty of momentum heading down the stretch. They are just 3-7 in their last 10 games, and still have two more games left on their road trip. Key wins over Arizona, Stanford and Kansas State might be the only thing keeping them around right now.

Mississippi State (17-8 (8-3), RPI: 46, SOS: 49, vs. Top 50: 2-6, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 7-5): The Bulldogs are still in the at-large field as of tonight, but they have to be sure to take care of business down the stretch. A double-digit loss on Wednesday at fading Mississippi was their third loss in six games, and with road trips to Florida and Vanderbilt still remaining, MSU can't afford any bad losses. An SEC West division title would be another nice trump card to have in case they are a question mark come Selection Sunday.

Florida (20-7 (7-5), RPI: 57, SOS: 114, vs. Top 50: 1-5, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 5-5): Could the two-time defending national champions really miss out on the NCAA Tournament this season? The way things are going, it certainly seems that way. The 20-win record looks gaudy and attractive, but look a little deeper. The Gators are just 1-5 against the top-50, and their best non-conference win is over Temple. They have lost four of their last six, and their final stretch is tough: road games at Georgia and Kentucky, and home contests vs. Tennessee and Mississippi State.

Mississippi (18-7 (4-7), RPI: 43, SOS: 64, vs. Top 50: 4-3, Last 10: 4-6, Road/Neutral: 6-5): The Rebels have a little life in them after beating SEC West leader Mississippi State on Wednesday night by 11. Prior to that victory, Ole Miss had lost four consecutive SEC games and six of its last seven conference contests. Unfortunately for the Rebels, which got off to a great start earlier this year, it might be too little, too late. Three of their last five games are on the road -- where the Rebels are 0-5 in SEC play.

Rhode Island (20-7 (6-6), RPI: 43, SOS: 98, vs. Top 50: 2-4, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 9-5): The Rams could have taken several steps back in the past couple of weeks after looking great only a few games ago. They took another hit on their resume tonight, when they lost at home to Massachusetts. They have now lost four of their last five games, and are now just .500 in the Atlantic-10. Wins over Syracuse and UAB are somewhat impressive, but they won't be nearly enough if URI doesn't go at least 3-1 in its last four games.

Dayton (17-8 (5-7), RPI: 33, SOS: 31, vs. Top 50: 3-4, Last 10: 3-7, Road/Neutral: 4-6): What a tough profile to figure out -- this is one team I wouldn't want to be on the committee for. The Flyers are just 3-7 in their last ten games and 5-7 in the A-10. Furthermore, they host Xavier on Sunday -- a loss there, and Dayton might have to kiss its at-large hopes goodbye. There is one thing to watch out for: if star freshman Chris Wright comes back and Dayton starts to turn things around, the committee could give them the benefit of the doubt because of wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh with Wright.

Massachusetts (17-9 (6-6), RPI: 31, SOS: 21, vs. Top 50: 5-2, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 8-6): The Minutemen seem to go in-and-out of the field every week -- this week, they might be moving towards the "in" category. They went into Rhode Island tonight and knocked off the Rams, which gave UMass yet another top-50 win. They have arguably the best collection of wins of any of the bubble teams, including a sweep of URI and a road win at Syracuse. They have a fairly easy remaining schedule -- going 4-0 down the stretch would be huge.

Saint Joseph’s (16-8 (7-4), RPI: 54, SOS: 95, vs. Top 50: 2-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 9-5): The Hawks were rising very quickly in the field over the past several weeks, but might have shot themselves in the foot with a home loss to lowly La Salle. It was their third loss in four games, and takes them out of the conference race. However, St. Joe's has a very difficult stretch to finish the season -- which could eventually help them if they can go 4-1 in those final five games, which include contests against Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island.

Houston (19-6 (8-3), RPI: 49, SOS: 111, vs. Top 50: 0-4, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 6-4): The Cougars' at-large hopes are likely gone, after they lost a classic at UAB on Wednesday night. All of their losses this season have been against good teams, but they had to pick-up a couple of wins in those contests. Their two best wins this year were against Kentucky and UTEP -- victories that won't exactly jump out at the committee when evaluating the Cougars. An undefeated finish would give them a gaudy record, but it wil be tough to get a bid.

UAB (18-8 (8-3), RPI: 67, SOS: 115, vs. Top 50: 1-2, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 6-7): The Blazers might have taken the lead in the race for a potential second bid out of Conference-USA with their two-point victory over Houston on Wednesday night. They are now 16-5 since a rough 2-3 start to the season, including victories over Cincinnati, Kentucky and the Cougars. If they had knocked off Memphis last weekend, we would be talking about a completely different profile -- an NCAA-worthy profile. Instead, they still have a lot of work to do.

UNLV (18-6 (8-3), RPI: 33, SOS: 72, vs. Top 50: 1-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 5-4): The Rebels might be in some of the best shape of any of the teams on this list -- mainly because of their RPI and second-place standing in the Mountain West. The overall profile is pretty empty outside of conference wins over BYU and New Mexico; their best non-league win was over Nevada or Minnesota. If they finish second in the MWC and reach the league title game, the Rebels will get in. A loss in the regular season and again before conference final will spell doom.

New Mexico (21-6 (8-4), RPI: 51, SOS: 156, vs. Top 50: 0-3, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 6-5): The Lobos are almost like the Houston of the Mountain West. They are riding an extremely gaudy record without much substance to the cusp of the bubble. Their RPI is rising although the SOS is still horrendous. They have no top-50 wins, but did beat Texas Tech earlier this season. UNM gets both BYU and UNLV at home in the final four games, which will give the Lobos a chance to make a move in the at-large discussion.

Wright State (20-6 (12-4), RPI: 70, SOS: 164, vs. Top 50: 1-0, Last 10: 10-0, Road/Neutral: 8-3): The Raiders were in the bubble discussion as conference play was starting, but they then disappeared by losing three of their first four games after the New Year. Since then, though, they have won 11 in a row to move back into the hunt. Their last three games will tell us everything we need to know about their candidacy: at Illinois State, at Butler, at Valparaiso. A win over Butler or Illinois State could give them a chance heading into March.

George Mason (19-8 (11-5), RPI: 66, SOS: 129, vs. Top 50: 2-1, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 7-7): The Patriots looked like one of the last teams in the field a few weeks ago, but they then lost at Old Dominion and then at home to UNC-Wilmington, which was really the crushing loss for their at-large campaign. GMU has six sub-100 losses and are now a full two games back of VCU in the CAA standings. Wins over Kansas State, Dayton and VCU will help them if they are in the final discussion, but it remains to be seen if they will even get there.

Illinois State (18-8 (11-5), RPI: 52, SOS: 100, vs. Top 50: 0-4, Last 10: 5-5, Road/Neutral: 6-7): The Redbirds are arguably the best bet to get a second bid out of the Missouri Valley if an invitation is out there to grab. They are 0-4 against the top-50, but 4-1 against teams ranked in the rest of the top-100. They own a non-conference victory over Cincinnati, but they have a few bad losses, including a horrible defeat at the hands of Eastern Michigan. They face Wright State, Creighton and Southern Illinois down the stretch -- they need to sweep.

Southern Illinois (15-12 (10-6), RPI: 56, SOS: 17, vs. Top 50: 4-4, Last 10: 7-3, Road/Neutral: 4-10): The Salukis were left for dead after their disappointing 5-6 non-conference campaign. However, with three straight victories and wins in eight of their last 11 games, SIU is back in the mix. They own wins over Drake, Saint Mary's, Mississippi State and Western Kentucky -- an outstanding group of victories that gives them an edge over most teams. They have a potential bubble-buster game in the season finale against Illinois State; a 3-0 finish would put them near the field.

Western Kentucky (19-6 (13-2), RPI: 51, SOS: 134, vs. Top 50: 0-4, Last 10: 9-1, Road/Neutral: 8-5): The Hilltoppers missed a huge chance tonight when they lost at home to South Alabama, their second defeat to the Jaguars. WKU is now back in second-place in the Sun Belt standings, and their lack of quality victories -- their best win is a home win over Nebraska -- will keep them out of the legitimate at-large discussion. Unless they win the Sun Belt Tournament, the 0-5 record against the top-100 will be tough to overcome.


  1. are you high? you consider vandy on the bubble? and you have notre dame a lock? where do i send your " I hate the SEC because they have dominated football and basketball for the last two years"?

  2. Terrific breakdown of those 27 teams. Some of the numbers really surprised me.

  3. I didn't say Vandy was on the bubble -- I said they have to keep winning to stay off the bubble. There's an enormous difference.

  4. What about UK? They are on ESPN's bubble.

  5. Does URI have to win out in the a_10 tourney. Or if they win the rest of there games and make it lets say to the semis will they still have a shot?

    Thanks Davit