Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 12th

Friday was a packed day of wall-to-wall games, and we saw a tightening of the bubble, which is now smaller and stronger. The bubble is still a little weaker than average, but that has to do with the three added teams to the field more than anything else.

Two new teams joined the Field of 68 on Friday. Bucknell earned an automatic bid and Vanderbilt locked up an at-large bid. That brings the field to 40 teams. A whole bunch of automatic bids (13) will be handed out on Saturday, although I'll talk about that later on in this post.

As far as the bubble, we saw Michigan State just about punch their ticket with a big win over Purdue. Michigan and Washington also moved firmly into the field. Only seven spots are available on the bubble, and by the end of play on Saturday I expect that to be down to four or five. Usually by the time we get to Selection Sunday there are only two or three spots that are really up for grabs (which is why I laugh when ESPN talks about how Joe Lunardi is 97% accurate, since it's almost impossible for even a mediocre bracketologist to miss more than three teams, which would be 95% accuracy).

Anyway, here is where the bubble stands heading into the March 12th games:

Tournament locks (40 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, Bucknell, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Wofford, Oakland, Arkansas-LR, Gonzaga

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (17, of which 10 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, SEC, Southland, SWAC, WAC)

Teams that look safe (6):
Xavier, Marquette, Michigan State, Villanova, Kansas State, Missouri

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (9):
Florida State, Richmond, Illinois, Michigan, UCLA, Washington, Tennessee, Saint Mary's, Utah State

The Bubble (11 teams for 7 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Memphis, Harvard, Alabama, Georgia

Best of the rest (3):
Missouri State, New Mexico, USC

Longshots (3):
UTEP, Cleveland State, Princeton

A full 13 automatic bids will be handed out on Saturday, with 9 or 10 of those going to teams that are not yet locked into the Field of 68 (the winner of the Big East, Big 12 and Mountain West will already be in the field, as will Arizona if they win the Pac-10 title). Saturday will also be the last big day of games impacting the bubble. Here is the full list of key bubble games to be played on March 12th:

Memphis vs UTEP (11:30AM, CBS): This is the Conference USA championship game. Both of these teams are in the bubble picture above, but Memphis is the only one of the two teams with a realistic shot at an at-large bid. So if you're a fan of a bubble team you're rooting for Memphis to win this. Memphis is the slight favorite and has the better overall team, but UTEP probably has the best player (Randy Culpepper). I've picked Memphis, but it could go either way.
#7 North Carolina vs Clemson (1PM, ESPN): Clemson would likely be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they'll still have to sweat out Selection Sunday if they lose here. A win here would basically be the clincher. Clemson players need to treat this as a must-win. They have a dearth of big wins and don't want to leave it in the hands of the Selection Committee. North Carolina needs to win to keep their hopes of a 1 seed alive.
#16 Kentucky vs Alabama (1PM, ABC): Alabama got a season-saving victory over Georgia, but the bubble tightened up and you can argue that even with the win yesterday Alabama is still not in the Field of 68. Considering that the bubble should improve even more over the final two days of games, Alabama's chances are going to be precarious if they fall here. They need to treat this as a must-win.
#1 Ohio State vs Michigan (1:40PM, CBS): Michigan got a big win over Illinois, but they need one more win to really lock themselves into the field. A win over rival Ohio State would do that. Although even with a loss here I think it's more likely than not that they'd make the Tournament. Ohio State has locked up a 1 seed, so they don't really have anything to play for. The overall #1 seed may be at stake, but that really is irrelevant.
#5 Duke vs Virginia Tech (3PM, ESPN):
Virginia Tech is most likely in the Field of 68 right now. But if there's one team that doesn't want to put their fate in the hands of the Selection Committee it's Virginia Tech. A win here would basically lock them in the field. Nolan Smith is questionable, and if he doesn't play then Virginia Tech will have an excellent chance. Duke is playing for a 1 seed. If they win the ACC tournament they'll have a great shot at a 1 seed. If they fail to win the ACC tournament they'll be a 2 seed.
#25 Temple vs Richmond (3:30PM, CBS College Sports):
Temple is in the Tournament already. Richmond would definitely be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but haven't locked up their bid. A win here would do that. Not to mention that the winner of this game will be a heavy favorite in the A-10 championship game on Sunday. In fact, it's worth noting that if you're a fan of a bubble team you need to root for whoever wins this game to win the A-10 title game. The other semifinal is St. Joe's vs Dayton. If either of those teams win the auto bid they'll steal a spot in the Tournament from a bubble team.
Michigan State vs Penn State (4PM, CBS): If the season ended now I think both of these teams would be in the Tournament. But Michigan State is pretty safe whether they win here or not, while Penn State would likely fall out of the Tournament if they lose here. So Penn State needs this win a whole lot more.
Harvard vs Princeton (4PM, ESPN3): This game is for the Ivy League automatic bid. And yes, that's right: one day before Selection Sunday we've got an Ivy League game in the bubble watch. It's because Harvard could realistically earn an at-large bid if they lose here. If you think I'm kidding, go look up their resume and compare it to the resume of a team like Memphis, Clemson or Alabama. Princeton, realistically, is not getting an at-large bid. So if you're a fan of a bubble team, you need to root for Harvard to earn the Ivy automatic bid.
#15 Arizona vs Washington (6PM, CBS):
This is the Pac-10 title game. Arizona is locked into the Tournament but Washington is not. In fact, Washington could be right back on the bubble if they lose here and a couple of other results go the wrong way during the day. So Washington needs to forget about the at-large bid and needs to just go grab the automatic bid. Washington has been my pick all season, even with all of their problems and slumps, so I'm staying with them. But it should be a close game and a good game.
#17 Utah State vs Boise State (10PM, ESPN2): This is the WAC tournament title game. Utah State would be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they're not locked in. With a loss here they could easily fall to the NIT. Boise State, meanwhile, has zero chance of an at-large bid. If you're a fan of a bubble team you're rooting for Utah State to win the WAC's automatic bid.


zach said...

Excited for another year of the madness!

So most of my comments on this blog have been about Kentucky, but I actually attend Akron, and I'm just wondering what kind of seed you think we'd get if we pulled the upset today. As bizarre as it might sound, I'm hoping for a 16, since I'd rather get killed by the big boys than a team like Syracuse. I don't know much about the bottom of Division 1, hence my asking you, but my assumption is the MAC is still too highly considered for that.

As for Kentucky, I just flat don't like watching freshman style basketball. Because of the strong NBA year, I'm less knowledgeable/opinionated than I should be at this point.

Jeff said...

The Selection Committee is not going to save Akron from the 16 seed just because of what conference they're in, and if you asked me a few weeks ago I might have said that Akron was in line for a 16 seed, but now I'd give them a 15. The fact is that we've had some terrible teams pull upsets and win automatic bids (UALR, UNC-Asheville, McNeese State) and Akron will definitely be ahead of all of those teams.

They could get a 14 if they get some help, but at the moment I'd project a 15.

zach said...

Alright, cool, thanks for the response dude!

I didn't really mean that the committee would say. 'its a mac team so we have give them seed x,' but just that the mac is high enough that even a relatively decent team has enough chances to build its resume compared to teams in the low-low conferences. Your response implies that's false too, but that's what I meant.

Jeff said...

Well, that's true - a better conference will lead to a team having better wins and better losses. So Akron doesn't have the horrible set of losses that a team like McNeese State has. So yes, that's part of it.

Of course, I don't think the MAC is particularly good right now. Remember how good that conference was in the late 1990s and early 2000s? What happened to that? The conference hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game in about 8 years...

zach said...

I miss those days. Given that they are my supposed rival now, its weird to look back at how much I enjoyed the Kent run in 02 or 03.

Morehead State makes a good example of what I was trying to say. (I'm clearly not a writer). I was just assuming .500 in the MAC was better than .700 in the Ohio Valley. I know there's a lot more than record, but, honestly, that's about as far as my analysis goes. I come here when I want expertise.

Jeff said...

I'd say that a 9-7 in the MAC is about equivalent to a 13-5 in the Ohio Valley. But in the particular case with Akron vs Morehead State, the difference is the non-conference.

Akron's only decent win out-of-conference was over Creighton. In another year that would mean something, but Creighton stinks. Morehead State beat Indiana State, Charleston and Kent State. They played Kent State at home and whipped them by 17.

So in that particular case, I'd put Morehead State ahead of Arkon. I still need to go through all of my seeds again to re-do all of the math, but right now I'd put Akron behind LIU and Long Beach State as well. I'd leave them ahead of BU, though, so that gives them two full teams between them and a 16 seed, even if we have no more crazy upsets.

Of course, I'm picking Kent State to win that game today. So we'll see if I get proven wrong.

zach said...

Well, that was not the most well-played game, but I'm kinda psyched. I hope the fan rules let me like Kentucky and my school.

Anonymous said...

What are the odds of harvard actually grabbing a at-large spot? Will the selection committee actually be swayed slightly to give the ivy league for the 1st time two places in the tourney?

Jeff said...

Zach: congrats on that win for Akron. It shouldn't be a problem since there's almost no way those two teams will play. Kentucky is most likely going to be a 4 or 5 seed and Akron looks to be a 15 seed. The odds of Kentucky nabbing a 3, Akron moving up to a 14, and the two teams getting matched up are something like 10,000-to-1.

Anonymous: I'm working on a long post on Harvard's at-large chances right now, including the always fun resume comparison. I'll have it posted in less than 10 minutes, so stay tuned.