We are now down to Selection Sunday, with only four games remaining before the Selection Committee makes its final decisions. And Saturday was a great day for games, with two big bubble story lines:
1) The bubble improved rapidly. As I warned when we were all being told that this was "the weakest bubble ever", the bubble quality is now basically average.
2) The bubble shrunk. We have more than halved the number of Tournament spots available since last night. By my count there are really only two or three spots up for grabs.
At the moment, here's where I see the bubble:
Teams definitely in the bracket... for now:
Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Utah State
The Bubble: 7 teams playing for 2 spots:
Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, Seton Hall
The best of the rest:
Wichita State, Arizona State, Ole Miss, Dayton, Memphis, South Florida
Georgia Tech, Minnesota and Mississippi State will all get the chance to win an automatic bid on Sunday, which is why Utah State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest all have the ability of being dragged back onto the bubble.
The big winners on Saturday were clearly Washington, Houston, San Diego State, New Mexico State, Georgia Tech, Minnesota and Mississippi State. The first four of those teams locked up automatic bids, while the latter three got big resume building wins. We haven't seen a day like this all season, where seven teams all dramatically improved their resumes or locked up automatic bids when their at-large fate was at best uncertain. The losers on Saturday? Utah State, Illinois and Rhode Island. Although the Houston win in the C-USA title game and the strong wins by a bunch of bubble teams meant that the other losers were all of the bubble teams sitting at home with their fate in the hands of the Selection Committee (Florida, Seton Hall, Wichita State, et cetera).
We've only got four games being played on Sunday, so I might as well go through what's at stake in all of them:
1 PM ET (CBS): Duke vs Georgia Tech: Both teams have something at stake here. Duke is playing for a 1 seed, which they can lock up with a win. Georgia Tech is still playing for the NCAA Tournament, as there's a small chance that they could end up in the NIT if they lose this game badly. Even if they don't win the game, a close and competitive game would probably be enough to keep them in the field. You have to figure that Duke is the heavy favorite, although Georgia Tech is athletic enough that they can potentially get the Duke big men in foul trouble, and Duke can become a very thin team when they get into foul trouble.
1 PM (ABC): Kentucky vs Mississippi State: Kentucky really doesn't have anything to play for here. No matter what happens in this game they'll be a 1 seed, and they have no chance of passing up Kansas for the #1 overall seed. Mississippi State, on the other hand, has a lot to play for. They're right on the bubble right now, and will be in serious danger of being NIT bound if they don't win. They'll be a pretty big underdog, but they're certainly better than the team that shocked the nation last season when they stole the SEC automatic bid. Like the Georgia Tech game this game will be about appearances, as Mississippi State can still make the NCAA Tournament if they at least keep this one competitive.
1 PM (CBS): Temple vs Richmond: Neither of these teams really have much to play for. Both are just playing for seed. Temple is holding out hope for a 3 seed if they win the A-10 tournament, although a 4 or 5 are more likely. With a loss they could fall to a 6. Richmond can potentially get as high as a 5 seed if they win here, but will likely be only a 7 or 8 if they lose. Temple has the better resume but Richmond has been better down the stretch, so this game is a toss up.
3:30 PM (CBS): Ohio State vs Minnesota: There continue to be debates about whether the Selection Committee takes the Big Ten title game into consideration every season. But we know that they will make two brackets this season because Minnesota could end up out of the bracket if they lose this game. I continue to wonder why they won't move the Selection Show back an hour or two to avoid the possibility of a 3-OT Big Ten title game ruining everything (I'm shocked it hasn't happened already). What's the rush to do the show so early in the day? Anyway, Ohio State can hope for a 1 seed if they win this game, but they're most likely looking at a 2 seed no matter what happens. This game will be much more important for a Minnesota team still trying to play itself into the field. One final point to bring up is that Ohio State has one of the shortest benches in the nation, with only a seven man rotation and with three players who regularly go for 40 minutes a night - and with so many close games and two overtimes in the semifinals you have to figure that they've got almost nothing left in the tank. Minnesota, on the other hand, is arguably the deepest team in the Big Ten, and should have fresh bodies to bring in all game. This is a toss up.