Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heading Into Sunday: Where The Bubble Stands

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.


csuramsfan said...

why is UTEP safe if USU isn't? I think USU has an equal profile. (P.S., I still think NMSU is a dangerous team that has a good shot at pulling a firstround upset. Glad to see they made it in.

Jeff said...

Well right now I think both teams are in the Tournament. But UTEP's resume is better because of the way that they ran through clearly superior conference. Going 15-1 in Conference USA is just far more impressive than 14-2 in the WAC. Utah State has that win over BYU, but I can't throw them ahead just because of one game.

Entering today's games UTEP has a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 28th, and Utah State's was 45th. Utah State lost to a slightly stronger opponent, but there's still going to be a huge gap. It's very, very rare for a team with an ELO_CHESS higher than 35th (which UTEP should end up) to miss the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I can't recall the last time it happened. Utah State is going to be dangerously close to 50th, and we average only about one team per year outside the ELO_CHESS Top 50 getting in (a big reason why I'm not putting Illinois in my bracket right now is because their ELO_CHESS is near 60th, which would be a pretty unprecedented position for an at-large bid).

New Mexico State is a good team, but they could end up with a very tough first round opponent. They will probably be a 13 seed, and that could mean an opponent like Georgetown or Wisconsin that will eat NMSU alive. If they can draw Butler, though, then that would be a potential upset.

DMoore said...

"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."

Well, yes, but not in the way that you mean it. Duke has 4 big men playing fairly equal minutes, so fouls aren't an issue at all for them up front. I actually can't recall any other Duke team since the 80s with this much front court depth. Their front line hasn't had a problem with foul trouble yet this season.

Duke is very thin in their back court, so foul trouble there could be a real problem. Again, though, it hasn't happened all season.

Jeff said...

Yeah, I didn't say it is likely, just possible. Depth has been much less of a problem for Duke since Brian Zoubek has figured out how to stay on the floor for 20 minutes without fouling out.

But yes, as you said, it's foul trouble in the front court that makes them thin just because they don't have extra guards. Other teams go with three guard lineups when a big man or two gets in foul trouble, but Duke can't do that.

But of the three BCS championship games I think Duke is the least likely to get upset. Ohio State is most likely, followed by Kentucky.