Sunday, March 04, 2012

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 4th

Alright, here we go. With a week to go until Selection Sunday, here is my first full bubble watch. I'll have these daily the rest of the way.

There are two things about this list that will be familiar to my regular readers. First, I am putting teams into groups, rather than pretending that any of us know who the "first team out" or "second team out" is. People want to know if their team is on the bubble, and that's what I have here. Second, within the groups the teams are ordered the way I always do it (first alphabetized by conference, and then teams within each conference are alphabetized).

One change is that, unlike my bracket projections, the bubble watch is a list of where teams are now, rather than where I project they'll end up.

For now, the bubble is awfully big. That's pretty typical for this point of the year, particularly since I have a bunch of teams there that are hoping to win their conference tournaments and will shrink the bubble if they do (i.e. Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee). Right now I have 24 teams that are complete no-way-they-can-possibly-miss-the-Tournament locks. That, again, is pretty typical with a week to go.

At the bottom of this post I have key bubble games to watch on Sunday. It's not an exhaustive list of every game with any possible Tournament implications. I'm simply picking the games that I think will have the strongest impact on the bubble.

Without further ado:

Tournament locks (24 teams):
Duke, North Carolina, Belmont, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, UNC-Asheville, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Baylor, Kansas, Missouri, Wichita State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Murray State, Kentucky, Gonzaga, St. Mary's

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (28, of which 21 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, MVC, MWC, NEC, Pac-12, Patriot, SEC, SoCon, Southland, Summit, Sun Belt, SWAC, WCC, WAC)

Teams that look safe (6):
Temple, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Kansas State, Memphis, Florida

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (10):
Florida State, Virginia, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Purdue, Creighton, BYU, California, Alabama, Vanderbilt

The Bubble (20 teams for 16 bids):
Miami (Fl), Xavier, UConn, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia, Northwestern, Texas, Long Beach State, Drexel, VCU, Southern Miss, Harvard, Iona, Colorado State, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Mississippi State, Middle Tennessee

Best of the rest (6):
NC State, St. Joseph's, Central Florida, Tennessee, Oral Roberts, Nevada

Longshots (17):
Maryland, Dayton, UMass, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Marshall, Akron, Ohio, Wyoming, Wagner, Colorado, Stanford, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, South Dakota State,

Key Bubble games to be played on March 4th (all times are ET):

Illinois State vs Creighton
(2PM, CBS): Creighton looks to be pretty safe for an at-large bid, so Illinois State is trying to play the role of bid stealer. Fans of bubble teams all need to root for Creighton.
Virginia at Maryland (2PM, ESPN3): Virginia is in the NCAA Tournament for the moment, but a loss to Maryland would drop them to 8-8 in ACC play without a win over a likely NCAA Tournament team since November. That would drop them flush onto the bubble.
Old Dominion vs Drexel (2PM, ESPN3): Drexel, like VCU, is on the bubble right now. But like VCU, the odds are against them earning an at-large bid. They cannot afford to get upset in the Colonial tournament semifinals, which is what would happen if they lost here. They need to win this game and then (at least) play their opponent tight in the CAA tournament finals.
Arizona at Arizona State (3:30PM, Fox Sports): Arizona State has been mired in a brutal rebuilding season, but they can find a bright spot if they can win here. Winning this game would deal a devastating blow to the at-large hopes of their big in-state rival.
George Mason vs VCU (4:30PM, ESPN3): Everything I said about Drexel a few lines up is true here about VCU. An upset loss here to George Mason would send VCU to the NIT.
NC State at Virginia Tech (6PM, ESPNU): NC State would be NIT-bound if the season ended now, but they're close enough to the Tournament that a road win here over Virginia Tech (which would get them to 9-7 in ACC play) might be enough to put them on the bubble.

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