Saturday, March 05, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 5th

As we head Saturday I am posting below my first bubble watch of the season. I will post these daily through Selection Sunday. Teams are grouped in categories - I won't pretend to know exactly which team is the "last in" or "first out" right now. The bubble I list will be made of the teams that the Selection Committee would be seriously debating if the season were over.

Listed is every conference that has yet to award an automatic bid, but I will also note how many of those conference bids I am projecting to go to a team that is already a lock for the Tournament.

Unlike my bracket projections, the bubble watch is a list of where teams are , rather than any projection of where they'll end up. Like the bracket projections, teams are listed within each category in alphabetical order, first by conference and then within each conference.

Without further ado:

Tournament locks (20 teams):
Duke, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Syracuse, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, BYU, San Diego State, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (31, of which 25 are not projected to be won by teams currently locked into the Tournament):
America East, ACC, A-10, Atlantic Sun, Big East, Big Sky, Big South, Big Ten, Big 12, Big West, Colonial, CUSA, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, MVC, MWC, NEC, OVC, Pac-10, Patriot, SEC, SoCon, Southland, Summit, Sun Belt, SWAC, WCC, WAC)

Teams that look safe (10):
Temple, Xavier, Villanova, West Virginia, Missouri, Texas A&M, George Mason, Old Dominion, UNLV, Vanderbilt

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (11):
Richmond, Virginia Tech, Marquette, Illinois, Michigan State, Kansas State, UCLA, Washington, Georgia, Tennessee, Utah State

The Bubble (13 teams for 6 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Belmont, Michigan, Colorado, Nebraska, UAB, Memphis, Butler, Cleveland State, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's

Best of the rest (15):
Maryland, Penn State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, VCU, Marshall, Southern Miss, UTEP, Harvard, Missouri State, Wichita State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Washington State, Alabama

Longshots (17):
Miami (Fl), Virginia, Dayton, Duquesne, Minnesota, Northwestern, Drexel, Hofstra, James Madison, Tulsa, Valparaiso, Princeton, California, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State

Key Bubble games to be played on March 5th (all times are ET):

Virginia Tech at Clemson (Noon, ESPN2): Both of these teams are on the bubble. Virginia Tech might be able to earn a Tournament bid with a win here, although a win in the ACC tournament will help Virginia Tech fans finally have a relaxing Selection Sunday. Clemson can't clinch anything here, but a win here and a win in the ACC tournament will give them a great shot at making the Tournament.
Duquesne at Richmond (Noon, CBS College Sports): Richmond will just about lock up a Tournament bid if they win here. A win here and a win in the A-10 tournament will clinch things for sure. Duquesne really doesn't have a plausible path to an at-large bid, but they can seal a bye through the first round of the A-10 tournament with a win here.
Georgia at Alabama (1:30PM, ESPN3): Both of these teams are fighting for an at-large bid. Georgia is in the Field of 68 right now and can move closer to locking up a bid with a win. Alabama is out of the Field of 68 now, but might be able to get back onto the bubble with a win. With a loss they'll be in big, big trouble.
Michigan State at Michigan (2PM, CBS): Along with the Texas/Baylor game, this is probably the premier bubble-related game of the weekend. Michigan needs to have this game to stay in a good position for an at-large bid. With a loss here they'll need to upset one of the big boys in the Big Ten tournament to go Dancing. Michigan State is in the Tournament for now, but with a loss they'll be thrust back onto the bubble in time for the start of the Big Ten tournament.
Virginia at Maryland (2PM, ESPN3): A must-win for Maryland. Even with a win they will likely need to get to the ACC tournament semifinals to make the NCAA Tournament. Virginia is just playing for a better seed in the first round of the ACC tournament.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (4PM, ESPN3): Oklahoma State needs a win here, and Oklahoma is going to be very driven to prevent that from happening. They've been pretty good at home this season, and would love to celebrate Senior Night by doing major damage to Oklahoma State's at-large chances.
UCLA at Washington State (5:30PM, Fox Sports): UCLA will effectively lock up a Tournament bid with a win here, and will also clinch second place in the Pac-10. For Washington State this is basically a must-win, and it's hard to see them earning an at-large bid without a win here.
Butler vs Cleveland State (6PM, ESPNU): I'm very excited for this game, which happens to be a semifinal match-up in the Horizon tournament. Both teams are on the bubble, but neither is likely to earn an at-large bid with a loss here. So this is basically an elimination game. The winner will face the winner of UW-Milwaukee/Valparaiso in the championship game.
Princeton at Harvard (7PM, ESPN3): I can't recall the last time an Ivy League game had so much at stake. A Princeton win will lock up the Ivy automatic bid for them. A Harvard win will send these two teams into a one-game playoff to determine the Ivy champion. And there's still a possibility that this will be a two-bid conference. The best shot for it is probably a Princeton win here, since Harvard has the better at-large resume.
#8 Texas at Baylor (8PM, ESPN): With a win here, Baylor probably moves themselves back into the Field of 68. With a loss they're going to have a lot of work to do in the Big 12 tournament, and might actually need to get all the way to the championship game to make the NCAA Tournament. This and Michigan/MSU are probably the two premier bubble-related games of the weekend.
Nebraska at Colorado (9PM): The last ever Big 12 regular season game for both of these teams. And I think you could have gotten about 1,000,000-to-1 odds a few months ago that this game would have massive bubble implications for both teams. Both teams have finished strong, including a recent win over Texas, and both are on the bubble right now. The winner will likely move into the Field of 68, at least temporarily. The loser is going to have a lot of work to do in the Big 12 tournament.
USC at Washington (10:30PM, Fox Sports): Washington is probably in the Field of 68 at the moment, but a loss here could knock them right back out. With a win here and a win in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals they should lock up a Tournament bid. USC doesn't really have a realistic path to an at-large bid, but they could earn a first round bye in the Pac-10 tournament with a win here.

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