Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 8th

Monday is always the slowest day of Championship Week. Unless you were a fan of the specific teams or conferences playing, there were only two games that mattered. Old Dominion did the bubble a favor by defeating VCU in the Colonial tournament final. Gonzaga knocked off Saint Mary's in the WCC tournament final, in a result that shouldn't impact the bubble too much. Saint Mary's had a slightly better resume coming in, but the difference was minor, and Gonzaga had a good shot at winning an at-large bid even if they'd lost.

Interestingly enough, Saint Mary's has scheduled a game later this week against Weber State, which was scheduled as a way to keep the team from having to go a full two weeks without a competitive game before playing in the NCAA Tournament or NIT. Now that game has turned into a match-up against a dangerous team, where a loss could potentially knock Saint Mary's out of the Tournament altogether. So stay tuned for that one, on Friday night.

In all, four teams locked up automatic bids on Monday, although one was already in the bracket (Old Dominion). That raises the number of teams locked into the NCAA Tournament to 31. Here is where the bubble stands now:

Tournament locks (31 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, St. Peter's, Indiana State, BYU, San Diego State, Morehead State, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Wofford, Gonzaga

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (23, of which 17 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, CUSA, Horizon, Ivy, MAC, MEAC, MWC, NEC, Pac-10, Patriot, SEC, Southland, Summit, Sun Belt, SWAC, 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 (15 teams for 9 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Memphis, Butler, Harvard, Washington, Alabama, Georgia

Best of the rest (13):
Maryland, Baylor, Nebraska, Marshall, Southern Miss, UTEP, Cleveland State, 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

Championship Week picks up a little bit on Tuesday with the Big East tournament getting under way. Things really get going on Wednesday, but there are still a couple of important bubble games worth paying attention to on March 8th:

Princeton at Pennsylvania (7PM): Princeton is very unlikely to earn an at-large bid, but if they win this game then they'll force a one game playoff with Harvard for the Ivy League automatic bid. With a loss here, the automatic bid will go to Harvard. If you look at Harvard's resume and look at the rest of the bubble, they can't be ignored. Why is Harvard any worse than Missouri State or VCU? What this means is, fans of teams on the bubble should be rooting for a UPenn upset here. They want Harvard to get that automatic bid to get them off of the bubble.
Butler at Milwaukee (9PM, ESPN): This is the Horizon League championship. Butler is on the bubble and UW-Milwaukee isn't, so fans of teams on the bubble will be rooting for Butler to win. Milwaukee swept the regular season series and has this game at home, but I've picked Butler as the favorite. They're the better team, and all season long they've played their best in the biggest moments.
Marquette vs Providence (9PM, ESPNU): There are still at least 8-10 teams between Marquette and the NIT right now, but I expect the bubble to tighten up over the next six days. And what that means is that Marquette cannot afford a loss here. A win here won't clinch an at-large bid for Marquette, but they'll be in very good shape, even if they lose to West Virginia in the second round. Providence has nothing to play for but pride, but they have two things going for them. First, this is a very young team that has improved leaps and bounds throughout the season, and they'd love to make some noise in the Big East tournament to set the tone for next season. Second, Marshon Brooks is the one key senior on the roster, and he's been a superstar. If he goes off for 40+ points, does Marquette have the offense to hang with that? So don't sleep on a potential upset here.

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