Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 9th

Championship Week began to really get started on Tuesday. The Big East tournament got under way, as did the Atlantic Ten tournament. If you're a fan of a bubble team you were happy to see Butler pick up the automatic bid in the Horizon, and you were also happy to see Villanova embarrass themselves against USF. You weren't pleased, however, to see Marquette win over Providence.

One interesting wrinkle over the last few days has been a ridiculous run of upsets in the smaller conferences. Charleston, Florida Atlantic and Coastal Carolina are among the teams that dominated their conferences and went down. UNC-Asheville, St. Peter's and Arkansas-Little Rock are among the weak teams that have snuck into the Field of 68. Coming into the conference tournaments it looked like we had a really strong crop of small conference leaders which, combined with the fact that two 16 seeds will be weeded out during the play-in round, made me expect the strongest group of 14/15/16 seeds we've seen in a long time. But now? There are going to be too many terrible teams for them to be confined to the 16 seed line. Among the winners are teams like LIU, Montana and Long Beach State - teams that, should they win their conference tournaments, will slide up from 15/16 seeds to possibly 14 seeds, giving them a much more manageable first round game. This also means that the 1 and 2 seeds should give us many more first round blowouts than we were otherwise going to see.

Three automatic bids were handed out on Tuesday and we now have 34 teams locked into the bracket. We are now halfway done filling out the bracket! Here is where the bubble stands heading into the March 9th games:

Tournament locks (34 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, Butler, St. Peter's, Indiana State, BYU, San Diego State, Morehead State, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Wofford, Oakland, Arkansas-LR, Gonzaga

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (20, of which 14 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, Ivy, MAC, MEAC, MWC, NEC, Pac-10, Patriot, SEC, Southland, SWAC, WAC)

Teams that look safe (8):
Xavier, Marquette, Villanova, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, UNLV, Vanderbilt

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (7):
Florida State, Richmond, Illinois, UCLA, Tennessee, Saint Mary's, Utah State

The Bubble (14 teams for 8 bids):
Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Colorado, VCU, UAB, Memphis, 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 will continue to pick up on Wednesday, with a more impressive slate of Big East tournament games, as well as the start of the Big 12, Pac-10, Mountain West, WAC and Conference USA tournaments. We'll also have quite a few games with bubble implications. Key bubble games for March 9th are listed below:

Nebraska vs Oklahoma State (12:30PM, ESPN3): This is an elimination game. Whichever team loses will be heading to the NIT. Nebraska is a team right near the bubble right now, and with a win here they'll have a shot on Selection Sunday no matter what happens in the Big 12 quarterfinals against Kansas. OSU, on the other hand, is a real bubble long shot. In my opinion they've got to make the Big 12 tournament finals to have any shot on Selection Sunday, and even then will likely come up short. That 6-10 Big 12 record is a killer.
Colorado vs Iowa State (3PM, ESPN3): Colorado is right on the bubble right now, and might even be in the Tournament if the season ended now. But this would be a bad loss, and I expect the bubble to tighten over the next few days anyway. So in my opinion, this is a game Colorado needs to win. The winner of this game will play Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. If Colorado can win this game and then beat Kansas State, they'll probably punch their Tournament ticket.
Baylor vs Oklahoma (7PM, ESPN3):
The third Big 12 tournament game of the day will be another must-win game. The only way Baylor can earn an at-large bid will be if they win this game and then beat Texas in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. They have to be very careful of not overlooking Oklahoma, though. The Sooners have been a really pesky team the past few weeks.
Marshall vs Houston (7:30PM): Marshall is a team that isn't getting a lot of attention, but they could work their way onto the bubble with a couple of wins in the Conference USA tournament. Certainly this game against Houston is a must-win. A win here will set up a quarterfinal game against UTEP which will likely be an elimination game.
Marquette vs West Virginia (9PM, ESPN):
Marquette has put themselves in a good position with their win over Providence, but they haven't quite locked up an NCAA Tournament bid. They can effectively do that if they can upset West Virginia here. This would be their fifth win of the season against the RPI Top 50 and would likely push their Sagarin ELO_CHESS inside the Top 30. Even if the bubble gets a lot stronger, I don't see it getting strong enough to make Marquette fans have to sweat out Selection Sunday with that resume.
Missouri vs Texas Tech (9:30PM, ESPN3): Missouri seems like a team that is safe - you aren't seeing anybody call them a bubble team. But take a look at their resume... it's a lot softer than you'd think. If they were to trip up here against a horrible Texas Tech team that is being coached by an already-fired Pat Knight, Mizzou would start seeing their name on some Last Few Teams In lists, and that's never a place that teams are comfortable being when they have no more chances to improve their resume.


Chris said...

If Richmond loses to URI, do you think they still make it to the big dance?

Jeff said...

They should still be in the bracket if they lose to URI, but they'll have to spend a nervous few days watching to see if the bubble tightens up a lot.