Monday, March 07, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 7th

There are three certainties in February: Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, and college basketball analysts complaining that we've got the weakest bubble they've ever seen. The reason why that latter complaint gets made is simply because the television talking heads have little perspective and forget that the bubble almost always tightens up a lot over the final week. And I expect that to happen again - I expect the bubble to be much stronger six days from now than it is now.

Sunday was the first time in a few days that the bubble began the tightening process. VCU beating George Mason gives us a new bubble team and also gives us the potential of VCU stealing the CAA's auto bid Monday night. Missouri State's loss to Indiana State also strengthens the bubble because Missouri State is a potential bubble team and Indiana State isn't. Florida State, Penn State and Boston College also picked up wins.

Overall, two more teams locked up a Tournament bid on Sunday. One clinched at least an at-large bid and another collected an automatic bid.

For now, here's where the bubble stands:

Tournament locks (28 teams):
Duke, North Carolina, Belmont, Temple, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Syracuse, West Virginia, UNC-Asheville, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, George Mason, Old Dominion, Indiana State, BYU, San Diego State, Morehead State, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (27, of which 20 are not projected to be won by teams currently locked into the Tournament):
America East, ACC, A-10, Big East, Big Sky, Big Ten, Big 12, Big West, Colonial, CUSA, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, MWC, NEC, Pac-10, Patriot, SEC, SoCon, Southland, Summit, Sun Belt, SWAC, WCC, WAC)

Teams that look safe (7):
Xavier, Villanova, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, UNLV, Vanderbilt

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

The Bubble (17 teams for 9 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Memphis, Butler, Cleveland State, Harvard, Washington, Alabama, Georgia, Gonzaga

Best of the rest (12):
Maryland, Baylor, Nebraska, Marshall, Southern Miss, UTEP, Missouri State, Wichita State, Colorado State, New Mexico, USC, Washington State

Longshots (9):
Miami (Fl), Virginia, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Princeton, California, Mississippi, Mississippi State

Monday is always the weakest day of Championship Week. Four automatic bids will be handed out, but no BCS teams will be in action. Things will pick up on Tuesday when the Big East tournament begins, and the week will build until its climax on Friday and Saturday. There are only two games with real bubble implications being played on March 7th, and they are listed below (all times are ET):

VCU vs Old Dominion (7PM, ESPN): This is the Colonial tournament championship game. Old Dominion will be playing in the NCAA Tournament regardless, and VCU will most likely end up in the NIT if they lose this game. In other words, if you're a fan of a bubble team, you're rooting for ODU to win this one. If you're looking for an aspect of the game to focus on it's rebounding. Old Dominion has been one of the premier rebounding teams in the nation for years now, and are leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage for the second straight season. VCU is 303rd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. VCU is going to have to box out to have a chance.
Saint Mary's vs Gonzaga (9PM, ESPN): It seemed inevitable that these two teams would get a chance at a rubber match for the WCC tournament title. Both of these teams are probably in the Field of 68 at the moment, but both will be in trouble should they lose, so it should be a great game. I believe that St. Mary's has the slightly better overall resume, while Gonzaga has been playing slightly better over the past few weeks. I've picked Saint Mary's to win because I trust Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova to make plays down the stretch more than I trust anybody Gonzaga has. If you're a fan of a bubble team you're probably rooting for St. Mary's because their resume is slightly better. Although you can make the argument that Gonzaga is a glamor team, and therefore will be more likely to get the benefit of the doubt from the Selection Committee. Either way, just watch - it should be a great game.

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