Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bubble Watch: Heading Into March 11th

It's Selection Sunday. Today's the big day for bubble teams... and we sure do have a lot of them this year. Every year the media tells us we have the "weakest bubble ever", and obviously that's always hyperbole. Bubble teams are always going to have a lot of losses. Sports is a zero-sum game - for one team to win requires another to lose.

What's different this year is the size of the bubble, and how eclectic it is. There are so many resumes that are just so different from each other in style. How much do you weight schedule strength, or winning percentage, or best wins, or ability to avoid bad losses, or winning a conference outright, or finishing strong? Depending on how you subjectively weigh those different factors, you can end up with a very different set of 68 teams.

In a normal year, we head into the Selection Show with only around four open bubble spots. That's why it's always amusing when ESPN announcers try to argue that Joe Lunardi is a guru because he only gets two teams wrong most years... congrats on the 50% accuracy rate, Joe. The reality is that, in most years, anybody who has paid even slight attention can pick all but four or five teams. This year? That's not the case at all.

We had 12 auto-bids handed out on Saturday. Four of them were handed out to teams that were already locked into the NCAA Tournament: Louisville (Big East), Memphis (Conference USA), Missouri (Big 12) and New Mexico (MWC). Eight of them were handed out to teams that weren't previously Tournament locks: Colorado (Pac-12), Lamar (Southland), Long Beach State (Big West), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC), New Mexico State (WAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Ohio (MAC) and Vermont (America East).

With 40 teams already locked into the NCAA Tournament coming into Saturday, those 8 teams pushed the number up to 48. On top of that, five teams locked up at-large bids either because they won games or because other results in other conference tournaments worked in their benefit. Those five teams are Iowa State, Kansas State, Purdue, Temple and Vanderbilt.

Add that in and we now have 53 teams locked into the NCAA Tournament. I believe that two other teams, while not "locks", are pretty safe: St. Louis and Alabama. On top of that, the Atlantic Ten will pick up another bid tomorrow. That takes us up to 56 teams. From there I'm able to pull out four more teams that I'm pretty certain will make the NCAA Tournament: BYU, UConn, Southern Miss and Texas.

But even squeezing out as many teams as I can, that still only takes me up to 60 teams. That leaves eight spots that will be available for the bubble on Selection Sunday. For those 8 spots, I see 15 bubble teams (though it will be only 14 if Xavier wins the A-10 tournament). Although I'm sure there are some people who would argue that I could expand the bubble even further by including teams like Iona or Oregon.

But whoever you want to include on the bubble, I really don't think you can shrink it beyond 8 open spots. It's going to be a difficult decision for the Selection Committee, and it's going to be difficult for bracketologists. There's just going to be a whole lot of subjectivity this year.

For now, here is where the bubble stands:

Tournament locks (53 teams):
Vermont, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Temple, Belmont, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Montana, UNC-Asheville, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Long Beach State, VCU, Memphis, Detroit, Harvard, Loyola-Maryland, Ohio, Norfolk State, Creighton, Wichita State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, LIU, Murray State, Colorado, Lehigh, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Davidson, Lamar, Mississippi Valley State, South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, New Mexico State

Automatic bids yet to be awarded (4, of which 1 is not projected to be won by a team currently locked into the Tournament):
ACC, A-10, Big Ten, SEC

Teams that look safe (2):
Alabama, St. Louis

Teams definitely in the Tournament... for now (4):
UConn, Texas, Southern Miss, BYU

The Bubble (15 teams for 9 bids):
Miami (Fl), NC State, Virginia, Xavier, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia, Northwestern, Drexel, Colorado State, California, Washington, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee

Best of the rest (6):
Iona, Arizona, Oregon, Ole Miss, Oral Roberts, Nevada

Longshots (6):
Dayton, St. Joseph's, UMass, Central Florida, Marshall, Akron


Phil said...

I'm curious about something - Assume the 60 teams you have listed as locks/safe/in for now are in. Forget about the committee and predicting for a minute.

If you had the final say, who would YOU select for the last eight spots, and why?

Jeff said...

Sorry, I had to get some beauty sleep to get ready for what will be a very busy day. Going to do a lot of posting tonight.

Anyway, assuming Xavier wins the Atlantic Ten (since they deserve an at-large bid), I'd want to see the smaller conference teams get a chance, so I'd want to put in Iona, Middle Tennessee, Drexel and Oral Roberts. Of the major-conference teams, I think Virginia, West Virginia and California are the three that are clearly most deserving.

That leaves one final spot, which I'd put between Colorado State and NC State. I'm not sure who I'd choose if it came down to those two, honestly... flip a coin.

Anonymous said...

Always enjoy the bubble watches. Looks like you're pretty confident New Mexico State will beat Louisiana Tech today for the WAC title.

Anonymous said...

Never mind, New Mexico State already won! Whoops!

Sean Finley said...

I can't see NC State not getting in solely because of the blown call against UNC. I think the committee will reward them by giving them a play-in game because of it. It's very bad for a huge decision to be made based on that, but I think that's what they will do, leaving a potentially more deserving team out in the cold. I think Xavier, Virginia, Miami, West Virginia, California, South Florida, Drexel, NC State, Colorado State will be the teams put into the tournament. They are snubbing many of the mid majors, but media darling Drexel will get in and it will be talked about that four teams from the A-10 made the tourney, so it will seem like the mid majors weren't snubbed. Seton Hall would be the first team out, followed by Tennessee. Hopefully the committee doesn't let Northwestern into the tournament because of the excitement of it being their first time ever. They don't deserve it and we have Harvard to talk about since they haven't been in it since the 1940s. Plus, I'll make the call that every analyst has been making of late and Jeff has pointed out; I believe that Memphis is a very good team and could make the final four based on the path they are given. I hope that they are given a 6 seed because I believe they are better than Baylor, Marquette, Louisville, Wisconsin, and Michigan who are all potential 3 seeds. I think if they are in the same bracket as Duke, they will demolish them if they meet in the sweet 16. Matched up with a 1 seed in the elite 8 (assuming Memphis isn't given a gift and the 1 seed falls) should give Memphis at least a 50/50 shot at making the final four. They can hang with the best of them, and I hope you guys fill out your brackets with this in mind. My only worry is that Memphis will be screwed and given a 7 seed and then forced to play michigan state in the 2nd round, which would be a very tough test for them in my opinion.