Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 10th

Championship Week picked up on Wednesday. The Big East tournament got exciting, and some of the other big conferences (Big 12, Pac-10, Mountain West, C-USA, WAC) got under way. The big results of the day came in the Big 12, where Colorado improved their position, and Nebraska and Baylor played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament. The other big bubble-related result was Marquette effectively locking up their own at-large bid.

Two more automatic bids were earned on Wednesday and we now have 36 teams locked into the bracket. Here is where the bubble stands heading into the March 9th games:

Tournament locks (36 teams):
Duke, North Carolina, Belmont, Temple, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Syracuse, West Virginia, Northern Colorado, UNC-Asheville, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, George Mason, Old Dominion, Butler, St. Peter's, Indiana State, BYU, San Diego State, LIU, Morehead State, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Wofford, Oakland, Arkansas-LR, Gonzaga

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (18, of which 12 are not projected to be won by teams currently locked into the Tournament):
America East, ACC, A-10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Big West, CUSA, Ivy, MAC, MEAC, MWC, Pac-10, Patriot, SEC, Southland, SWAC, WAC)

Teams that look safe (8):
Xavier, Marquette, Villanova, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, UNLV, Vanderbilt

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (7):
Florida State, Richmond, Illinois, UCLA, Tennessee, Saint Mary's, Utah State

The Bubble (14 teams for 10 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Memphis, Harvard, Washington, Alabama, Georgia

Best of the rest (11):
Maryland, Marshall, Southern Miss, UTEP, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Wichita State, Colorado State, New Mexico, USC, Washington State

Longshots (8):
Miami (Fl), Virginia, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Princeton, California, Mississippi

The last of the conference tournaments will get under way on Thursday. Those last three tournaments to get under way will be the ACC, Big Ten and SEC. There are always a lot of bubble-related games on Thursday of Championship Week, and this year is no exception. Key bubble games to be played on March 10th are listed below:

UAB vs East Carolina (12PM, CBS College Sports): UAB is on the bubble now, but realistically won't make the NCAA Tournament if they lose this game. If you're a fan of a bubble team you should actually root for UAB to win here. They have the strongest resume of any team in Conference USA, so the best case scenario for your favorite bubble team is for UAB to win the automatic bid so they can be removed from the bubble. The winner of this game will play the winner of Memphis vs Southern Miss on Friday.
Georgia vs Auburn (1PM, ESPN3): Georgia is probably in the Field of 68 at the moment, but the bubble will likely tighten up over the next few days. A loss to Auburn would also be a terrible loss. Beating Auburn won't help Georgia's resume, but it will keep them in the Field of 68 for the time being. If they win this game they'll play Alabama in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, in a game that could potentially be an elimination game.
Boston College vs Wake Forest (2:30PM, ESPN3):
Like Georgia, Boston College is a team very likely in the Field of 68 that cannot afford a horrible loss in their first conference tournament game. A loss here would probably knock Boston College into the NIT. The winner of this game will play Clemson on Friday. If it's a BC/Clemson game, the winner of that game will very likely go Dancing, and the loser very likely won't.
Memphis vs Southern Miss (2:30PM, CBS College Sports): The classic elimination game. Both of these teams are on or close to the bubble, and both have a realistic chance at earning an at-large bid if they win this game. But it's very difficult to see either of these teams having the resume that could survive a loss here. The winner of this game will face the winner of UAB/East Carolina in the CUSA tournament semifinals.
Kansas State vs Colorado (3PM, ESPN3):
Kansas State is in pretty good shape for an at-large bid, even if they lose here. A win here, though, will lock up the Tournament for them. Things aren't quite so rosy for a Colorado team that, in my opinion, is still on the outside looking in. This is a must-win for them. Colorado will fail to make the NCAA Tournament if they lose here. The winner of this game will face the winner of Kansas/OSU on Friday.
Michigan State vs Iowa (4:30PM, ESPN3): Michigan State is very likely in the NCAA Tournament right now, and even with a loss here they might still get in. But a loss here will mean a nervous next few days for Michigan State fans. So they'll really want to collect the win here to firm up their at-large resume. The winner of this game will play Purdue on Friday. Certainly a win for Michigan State over Purdue would lock up their at-large bid for sure.
New Mexico vs Colorado State (5:30PM, The Mtn): This will be another elimination game. I don't see how either of these teams can make the NCAA Tournament with a loss here. Neither team will feel comfortable with a win here either, but both teams will claw at least within shouting distance of the bubble with this win. The winner of this game will face the winner of BYU/TCU in the Mountain West semifinals. Honestly, I think both of these teams would need that win over (presumably) BYU to actually make the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico, at least, will have the confidence to do that, since they slaughtered BYU only about a week ago.
Marshall vs UTEP (6:30PM, CBS College Sports):
Another elimination game. Both teams are close to the bubble, although neither would be in the Tournament if the season ended now. Certainly that means that neither team can make the NCAA Tournament without a win here. Even with a win here both teams will still have work to do. I think both teams will have to win at least one more game. That next game will be against the winner of Tulsa/Rice.
Penn State vs Indiana (7:30PM, Big Ten Network): Penn State has been playing really well over the last couple of weeks and have worked their way all the way to the bubble. I don't think they'd be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they'd at least have to be in the discussion for those last two spots. This game is a must-win for sure. If they win they'll play Wisconsin on Friday, and honestly they've probably got to win that game as well to actually make the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia Tech vs Georgia Tech (9:30PM, ESPN3): Virginia Tech would probably be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but only narrowly. A loss here would probably knock them right back out of the NCAA Tournament for good. So this is a must-win game for them. The winner of this game will play Florida State on Friday. Virginia Tech could lose that game to FSU and still go Dancing, but if you have any friends that are Virginia Tech fans you know that the last thing they want to do is to wait out another tense Selection Sunday. Beating Georgia Tech and then FSU would go a long way toward making Selection Sunday much more pleasant and relaxing for Virginia Tech fans.
Washington vs Washington State (11:30PM, Fox Sports): This isn't quite an elimination game. Washington could lose here and still make the NCAA Tournament, although they'd be relying on a very weak bubble. Washington really needs to take care of business here to firm up their place in the Field of 68. Washington State certainly cannot afford a loss here, or even in their next game. I don't think there's any realistic way for Wazzu to go Dancing without at least a trip to the Pac-10 tournament finals. The winner of this game will face the winner of UCLA/Oregon on Friday.

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