Friday, March 11, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 11th

The last of the conference tournaments opened up on Thursday, and we had action going on all over the place. It's always great to flip on the tv and find games on about 6 different channels at once, all with important NCAA Tournament implications.

No automatic bids were handed out on Thursday, but two teams (Texas A&M and UNLV) did lock their way into the bracket with wins. So we're now up to 38 teams locked into the field. Michigan State also moved off the bubble on Thursday and are certainly in the Field of 68 right now, although they still might have work to do. Colorado and Georgia also improved their situations, although both teams are still on the bubble. Several teams also avoided bad losses on Thursday (Virginia Tech, Boston College, Penn State and Memphis, among others). Bubble teams can't afford those horrible first round conference tournament losses. And not all teams avoided those - UAB in particular did tremendous damage to their chances.

Here is where the bubble stands heading into the March 11th games:

Tournament locks (38 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, Texas A&M, George Mason, Old Dominion, Butler, St. Peter's, Indiana State, BYU, San Diego State, UNLV, LIU, Morehead State, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Wofford, Oakland, Arkansas-LR, Gonzaga

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (18, of which 11 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 (6):
Xavier, Marquette, Villanova, Kansas State, Missouri, Vanderbilt

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (8):
Florida State, Richmond, Illinois, Michigan State, UCLA, Tennessee, Saint Mary's, Utah State

The Bubble (13 teams for 9 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Memphis, Harvard, Washington, Alabama, Georgia

Best of the rest (6):
Maryland, UTEP, Cleveland State, Missouri State, New Mexico, USC

Longshots (6):
Miami (Fl), Northwestern, Tulsa, Princeton, Wichita State, Mississippi

The final few teams from the big conferences that haven't yet played a conference tournament game this season will play their first games on Friday. Only one automatic bid will be handed out (the Patriot League), but I expect the bubble to dramatically shrink. There are a whole bunch of teams that can really firm up their place in the Field of 68 on Friday. Here is the full list of key bubble games to be played on March 11th:

Alabama vs Georgia (1PM, ESPN3): It would be hard to find a more bubblicious game this entire season. Both of these teams are right on the bubble and could easily be the last team in or first team out if the season ended now. The winner of this game will probably make the NCAA Tournament, and the loser probably won't. Neither team can really afford a loss here. The winner of this game will face the winner of Kentucky/Georgia. Whichever team wins this game will be able to just about lock up their spot in the bracket if they can go and knock out Kentucky on Saturday.
Illinois vs Michigan (2PM, ESPN): Illinois has quite a bit of space between them and the NIT at the moment, so even with a loss here they still will have a better-than-50/50 chance of earning an at-large bid. But they won't want to leave it to that, and the Illini can just about lock up an at-large bid with a win here. Michigan would probably be in the Field of 68 if the season ended now, but they're much closer to the bubble than Illinois is, and would be much less likely to be able to survive a loss here. With a win they'll be able to really firm up their chances.
Boston College vs Clemson (2PM, ESPN2): If the season ended now I think that both of these teams would earn an at-large bid, but only narrowly. Neither team can really afford a loss here. Clemson is probably better positioned to handle a loss than BC, but not by much. The winner of this game is probably in the NCAA Tournament, and will get a chance to lock that at-large bid up if they beat North Carolina on Saturday (assuming UNC gets past Miami on Friday).
Memphis vs East Carolina (3PM, CBS College Sports):
I don't think Memphis would be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, and this game is certainly a must-win. There's no realistic shot at an at-large bid for them if they lose here to East Carolina. In fact, I don't particularly like Memphis's chances at an at-large bid no matter what, but with a win here they'll be off to the Conference USA tournament finals where they'll be able to take the decision out of the hands of the Selection Committee.
#5 Purdue vs Michigan State (6:30PM, Big Ten Network):
Michigan State would be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, and obviously their resume would not get hurt with a loss to Purdue. But the bubble has been tightening up, and it's not too unlikely that the bubble could catch back up to Michigan State if they were to fail to win here. Michigan State needs to treat this game like a must-win, because they really can punch their ticket to the Big Dance if they win here.
#2 Kansas vs Colorado (7PM, ESPN3): If the season ended now, I'd be shocked if Colorado wasn't selected for the Field of 68. But they are still on the bubble, and if they fall here then they'll be at the mercy of a bubble that could improve quite a bit over the next few days. Colorado needs to pull the upset here to really firm up their spot in the NCAA Tournament. If they can win here they'll just about lock themselves in. Kansas, by the way, would basically lock up a 1 seed with a win here.
#5 Duke vs Maryland (7PM, ESPN2): Maryland is a good squad that would be a sleeper Sweet 16 team if they can get into the NCAA Tournament. But because of their poor play down the stretch, they almost surely won't be in the NCAA Tournament unless they pull the upset here. Maryland is going to need a huge game from Jordan Williams, who has the ability to dominate Duke's post defenders. They'll also hope to wear down Duke or get them into foul trouble, because depth has become a problem for the Blue Devils.
#12 Florida vs Tennessee (7:30PM, ESPN3):
Because of their tremendous set of scalps, Tennessee is likely going to the NCAA Tournament even if they lose this game, but their computer numbers are still a concern. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 56th right now, and if I were Tennessee I wouldn't feel comfortable unless that ELO_CHESS gets inside the Top 50. If they lose this game against Florida then they could be victimized by a tougher-than-usual bubble. So the Vols could really use a win here to, if nothing else, make their fans more comfortable on Selection Sunday.
#13 Wisconsin vs Penn State (9PM, Big Ten Network): Penn State is on the bubble right now, and a good argument can be made that they would be in the Tournament if the season ended now. But I just don't see them making the Tournament if they fall here. They've already beaten Wisconsin this season, so they can do it again. Talor Battle always has the potential to go nuts offensively. But if they can't pull the upset, it's really hard to see the bubble ending up weak enough for Penn State to avoid the NIT.
#8 BYU vs New Mexico (9PM, CBS College Sports):
I haven't seen a Vegas line on this game yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's close to a pick 'em. In fact, you can make a good argument that New Mexico should be favored here. New Mexico swept the season series, and destroyed BYU just a week ago. And BYU has zero depth right now, and likely will wear down after having to play on consecutive days. In addition, this is a must-win game for New Mexico. There's almost no way that they can earn an at-large bid if they don't win here. A win will push New Mexico all the way up to the bubble.
Florida State vs Virginia Tech (9PM, ESPN2): Florida State is hoping to have Chris Singleton back tomorrow, which would be huge. They have really struggled on both ends of the floor since he went down. FSU should be in okay at-large shape with a loss here, but they could fall onto the bubble. A win here would just about put FSU in the field for good, which is why Singleton is trying hard to get back on the court for the game. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, really can't afford a loss here. I think they've got to have this win or they'll likely be heading to the NIT.
Washington vs Oregon (11:30PM, Fox Sports): Washington would likely be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but Oregon is an RPI 100+ team, so even though this is the Pac-10 tournament semifinals this would be a bad loss for the Huskies. Honestly, if Washington loses this game they're probably at best 50-50 to make the Tournament. So to me, they've got to have this one. There's still a good chance that the bubble will tighten up quite a bit over the next few days, and Washington doesn't want to get left behind. Oregon has no chance at an at-large bid, but they're playing well right now and would have an excellent shot in the Pac-10 tournament finals if they can pull the upset here.


Chris said...

Xavier is still on your "teams that look safe" list? I can't forsee any scenario in which they don't get in.

Jeff said...

I've been waiting for them to win a game in the A-10 tournament. The Selection Committee always frowns on teams that go one-and-done in their conference tournaments, and there's still a chance that the bubble will get a lot tighter. And if Xavier lost they would definitely fall behind teams like Villanova and Missouri, which are on that same list.

If Xavier beats Dayton I'll move them into the locks, though.

Chris said...

Well, Xavier just lost. Another A-10 upset. Personally I am hoping the upsets keep rolling tonight...especially for the Richmond v URI game.

Jeff said...

Xavier dug themselves too large of a hole today. Have to admit I didn't really watch much of the game, though, with those exciting OSU/NU and UNC/UM games on.

Xavier should still be fine for an at-large bid, so even if you're a Xavier fan it should be safe to root for upsets. Particularly since it will prevent teams currently in the 6/7/8 seed range from passing Xavier on the S-Curve.