Bubble Watch: March 3

In the grand scheme of things, the late games shouldn’t mean more than the early games. Each game has an equal percentage of weight on a Win-Loss record, and the quality of teams does not always uptick with conference play. Of course, that’s why we look at more than numbers, and trends mean everything. That’s why even though they have the same record, no one wants to play Oklahoma State, while teams are more than happy to play Wisconsin. As the old saying goes: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Let’s take a look at how some teams are finishing.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Locks: North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech

Work left to do: Syracuse, Wake Forest

Hanging on for dear life: Georgia Tech

These past two days were pretty quiet except for that whole Wake Forest-Louisville game (more on that below). But for a conference who already has their 1 seed locked up (North Carolina), this weekend offers up plenty of excitement, featuring the locks, the bubble teams, and the dregs. No surprise from a conference that features the most parity of any conference.

Syracuse (17-13, 9-8) RPI: 78 SOS: 55 KP: 51

Sorry for the same words over and over, but that’s what happens when a team hasn’t played in a week: A post-Duke hangover was inevitable for the Orange, and fortunately they didn’t lose to anyone embarrassing as a result. An 88-68 loss to Louisville isn’t pretty, but it’s far from the worst loss that could’ve happened. The bad losses haven’t gone away, but the great wins still shine bright, and in a week where some bubble teams lost some mind boggling games (see below) the Orange retained their standing. They don’t play again until Saturday against Georgia Tech. The loser of that game probably gets knocked off the bubble, so having a week to prepare will be huge for the Orange.

Wake Forest (17-12, 8-9) RPI: 38 SOS: 13 KP: 31

All season it had been said: Wake Forest has so many great opportunities, shame about the losses. On Wednesday, Wake Forest finally got its marquee win, an 88-81 stunner over Louisville. This win gives Wake a better win than 90% of the bubble, and is an example of how games at the end are weighted more than the beginning. The Deacons are not safe yet, and winning at Virginia Tech tomorrow is very much advised. But things are certainly looking up.

Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9) RPI: 89 SOS: 55 KP: 76

Part one of two is complete for the Yellow Jackets. Against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the Yellow Jackets hung tough and played excellent defense to win 61-52. The high 80s RPI is still very concerning, as no team has received an at-large berth with an RPI that high. The big wins over UNC, Florida State, Notre Dame, and VCU are still there though, and that’s more than a lot of bubble teams can say. But a loss on Saturday to Syracuse will probably end their bubble hopes.

 

Big Ten Conference

Locks: Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern

Should be in: Michigan State

Work left to do: Michigan, Illinois

I thought about it long and hard. I went over every possible scenario. I thought about the Big 10 tournament, what could happen there. I concluded that, with only a home game against Purdue remaining, there is no loss damaging enough to knock this team down 15 spots and off the bracket. Without further ado, in one of the best finishes to a game all season, the words I never thought I would hear for a while: Northwestern is a lock. A team that has never been dancing will go. And in a season where Richard Pitino has engineered an amazing turnaround of his own, Chris Collins is by pick for Big 10 coach of the year. (Also real quick, Iowa hasn’t played their way onto the sheet yet, but win against Penn State on Sunday and that will change).

Michigan State (18-12, 10-7) RPI: 46 SOS: 11 KP: 50

It was an unfortunate inconvenience for the Spartans that they had to play a desperate bubble team on their Senior Day. And fortunately, a 73-70 loss at Illinois is now far from embarrassing. The tremendous schedule numbers are still there, as this team has shown they can win without Eron Harris. A win on Saturday against Maryland would be enough to lock them in. If not, they’ll have to avoid a loss in the Big 10 tournament.

Michigan (19-11, 9-8) RPI: 48 SOS: 34 KP: 27

As Michigan learned Wednesday, playing bubble teams on the road leads to crazy things. Michigan looked like it had a great chance to knock off Northwestern in overtime, only to see the Wildcats score at the buzzer and lose 67-65 in regulation. Michigan still owns tremendous wins over SMU and Purdue, and have rebounded well from their two-year slump. A win over Nebraska on Sunday will put them on the edge of a lock, and winning their first Big 10 tournament game will lock them in.

Illinois (18-12, 8-9) RPI: 55 SOS: 15 KP: 66

It’s a shame that not every game can be Senior Day for Illinois. In a tremendous game, Illinois took down Michigan State 73-70 in front of a rousing crowd, a completely different scene than even last month. Malcolm Hill provided the highlight with an amazing postgame interview. Illinois now has a legit chance, with four straight wins. A loss to Rutgers on Saturday will end it, but if they win, the Illini will go into the Big 10 tournament with something to fight for.

Big 12 Conference

Locks: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Iowa State

Should be in: None

Work left to do: Kansas State, TCU

It was a bubble showdown on Wednesday, and it did not disappoint, as Kansas State outlasted TCU 75-74. The loss did, unfortunately, knock the Horned Frogs off the bubble. Jamie Dixon has done a tremendous job this season, and has given hope for a competitive future for TCU basketball. But the Big 12 proved to be too much to handle, and for now, they will have to settle for an NIT berth.

Kansas State (18-12, 7-10) RPI: 58 SOS: 53 KP: 35

There’s still life for these Wildcats. Their 75-74 win over TCU won’t set the world on fire, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. Unfortunately, their only game left is against Texas Tech. A win would put them in solid position, but to get in, a win in the Big 12 tournament is likely needed.

Pac-12 Conference

Locks: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA

Should be in: None

Work left to do: California, USC

This week was quite something for the Pac 12 bubble, and not in a good way. It’s a bummer, because they’re top 3 teams are legit contenders, but will be penalized in the seeding because of the weakness of the conference.

USC (22-8, 9-8) RPI: 35 SOS: 70 KP: 63

Part one of the operation is complete. An 87-64 win stopped the 4 game losing streak for the Trojans. Unlike Cal, they did beat a Top 3 team (UCLA), and that win continues to look great. Winning against Washington and their first round opponent in the Pac 12 tournament is a necessity, but if they do, they are in.

California (19-10, 10-7) RPI: 53 SOS: 37 KP: 54

Losing against Utah is understandable. Losing by 30 is not. 74-44. To a team that lost to Oregon State. This game would be used as an example of what not to do as a bubble team. And now the deficiencies of the resume (1 Top 50 win, losing to San Diego State) are on full display. Winning against Colorado on Saturday is no longer a suggestion, it’s a necessity. If they lose, they’ll have to beat one of the big three in the Pac 12 tournament. And that’s not going to happen.

 

Southeastern Conference

Locks: Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas

Hanging on for dear life: Georgia

Nothing has changed here for the most part. But let’s talk about this new team.

Georgia (18-12, 9-8) RPI: 49 SOS: 14 KP: 52

Georgia? Is this how soft the bubble has gotten. A team with 8 losses in the SEC can be talked about? Yes, it has. To Georgia’s credit, it has won its last three games to get on this page. And they do have 9 Top 100 wins. But only 1 of those is a Top 50, and they did lose to Oakland. This stay will probably be a short one, as a loss to Arkansas tomorrow will do that. But hey, in a season this crazy, why not?

 

Big East Conference

Locks: Villanova, Butler, Creighton

Should be in: Seton Hall

Work left to do: Xavier, Marquette, Providence

There was only one game involving bubble teams the past two days, but boy was it a doozy. This weekend showcases more bubble games, and who knows what will survive the wreckage.

Seton Hall (19-10, 9-8) RPI: 50 SOS: 60 KP: 57

It was once again a bit too close for comfort, but Seton Hall hung on to beat Georgetown 62-59. The way they’ve been winning hasn’t been dominant, but in a bubble where losses happen frequently, winning is all that matters. A win at Butler wouldn’t lock the Pirates in, but as long as they get a bye in the Big East tournament, the Pirates will be fine.

Xavier (18-12, 8-9) RPI: 31 SOS: 8 KP: 46

For those wondering why locks are not handed out easily, Xavier is why. Everyone knew this team would struggle without Edmond Sumner, but six straight losses was beyond anyone’s comprehension. The latest loss, a 95-84 home loss on Senior Day to Marquette, showcases an inability to defend in addition to offensive struggles. The strong start should help, but the committee has shown that they will evaluate a team as they are, not how they were, which does not help the Musketeers out in the slightest. A win at DePaul on Saturday is now a necessity.

Marquette (18-11, 9-8) RPI: 59 SOS: 68 KP: 30

This team still can’t defend much, but when a team shoots 61%, they don’t really have to. Marquette’s win over Xavier is not a great win anymore, but it certainly helps a team out when they need any win they can get. More importantly, it’s unlikely that Marquette will have to play as a 7 seed, meaning a game against DePaul. Instead, it looks like they’ll get Creighton, offering no downside. Beating the Bluejays on Saturday would be a great way to get momentum.

Providence (19-11, 9-8) RPI: 54 SOS: 41 KP: 55

Well that’s one bottom feeder gone. Providence dispatched DePaul 73-64, earning redemption from being stunned earlier this year. Providence has improved so much that losing to St. John’s on Saturday wouldn’t completely kill their bubble chances. And a win would likely result in the Friars finishing in the top half of the conference. They’re not safe by any definition, but wow what a turnaround.

 

American Athletic Conference

Locks: Cincinnati, SMU

Alas, it is time to say au revoir to Houston. If they had put up more of a fight they’d still be on the bubble, but losing 65-47 in a game that was not that close ultimately does the Cougars in. If they upset one of the top two teams in the AAC tournament they could get back on the page, but for now they are gone.

Atlantic-10 Conference

Locks: VCU, Dayton

Work left to do: Rhode Island

Major props to Dayton for taking down VCU 79-72 to win the A-10. Considering all the adversary they have been through, that’s amazing. If you’re the 1 seed that draws them as an 8, look out (and please let it be UNC that gets that).

Rhode Island (19-9, 11-5) RPI: 42 SOS: 42 KP: 53

The necessary win was taken. Saturday’s win over VCU gives Rhode Island some much needed life on the bubble. The win over Cincinnati still looks really good, and this team is looking like the A-10 contenders they were expected to be. Any loss not to VCU or Dayton will end those chances. But there is life for the Rams.

Mid-Majors

Locks: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s

Should be in: Wichita State

Work left to do: Middle Tennessee, Illinois State

Hanging on for dear life: Texas-Arlington, Nevada

Nothing new here, but if you’re wondering why Monmouth and Vermont, winners of 34 straight games combined, aren’t on here, unfortunately it relies entirely on schedule. Monmouth owns one Top-100 win (Princeton), and KenPom has them at 79. Vermont has no Top-100 wins, and a KenPom rating of 69. Those numbers just aren’t enough for a resume. It’s a bummer because there should be more variety, and these teams have won the games they’re supposed to. But instead, we have to root for these teams in their conference tournaments.

Wichita State (27-4, 17-1) RPI: 41 SOS: 193 KP: 10

This is when metrics really come in handy. Wichita State has an awful schedule, with only 5 Top 150 wins. But the metrics show that they have dominated everyone, and there is not a single bad loss on the resume. Beating Missouri State was old hat for the Shockers. One win in the MVC tournament and they are in.

Middle Tennessee (26-4, 16-1) RPI: 39 SOS: 153 KP: 53

Middle Tennessee flirted with disaster on Thursday, trailing by double digits in the second half against 6-23 Florida International at home. Fortunately, disaster put the Blue Raiders in the friend-zone, and they survived 70-67. The resume still looks solid, but make no mistake, a loss before the conference final and the Blue Raiders are in deep dodo.

Illinois State (25-5, 17-1) RPI: 35 SOS: 161 KP: 45

Illinois State has done a similar job to Wichita State avoiding losses like the plague. But they haven’t done that resoundingly, with their past four wins being by a combined sixteen points. The ugly losses to Tulsa and Murray State considerably reduce the margin of error for the Redbirds. A trip to the Missouri Valley Championship game will probably have to happen for the Redbirds’ at-large hopes.

Texas-Arlington (24-6, 14-3) RPI: 39 SOS: 155 KP: 71

The difficult part of being a mid-major is not losing to your conference opponents. The three losses for UTA include losses to Texas State and Troy, both hovering around the 200 mark. The only reason the Mavericks have at-large hopes is a nice road win over St. Mary’s. But one loss will knock them off the bubble.

Nevada (24-6, 13-4) RPI: 40 SOS: 159 KP: 60

Nevada has a chance on Saturday to clinch the Mountain West title outright by taking out Colorado State on Saturday. It still won’t help their bubble chances much, but it would look good in a trophy case. The fact that a Mountain West team with 6 losses is on the outer edge of the bubble say everything about how much this conference has fallen.

 

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I am amazed at your reading skills and patience. I’ll be doing this article every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until Selection Sunday.

Mark Stouffer
Senior at Purdue studying Statistics. Also a life long Duke fan.

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