Bubble Watch: Power leagues have fingers crossed for tourney week
This part of the season's final week is always fun, as major-conference bubble teams sit and watch and hope smaller-conference teams don't hose them. There are fewer bid thieves than usual this season, but the next couple of days will have some tournament results worth watching:
• The most obvious one is VCU's quest to make the Colonial Athletic Association a three-bid league Monday night, playing in its hometown against Old Dominion. It's unlikely the Rams can get an at-large after a four-game skid to close CAA play, so bubblers are praying the already-locked-up Monarchs take care of business and use the auto bid as entry rather than burn an at-large.
• With St. Mary's and Gonzaga set for the WCC final Monday night, it's not impossible to think both teams could make it. A Gonzaga win would likely create a two-team scenario.
• Indiana State's win over regular-season champ Missouri State on Sunday drops the Bears into the at-large pool. It's unlikely they can nab one with a resume that lacks top-end quality, but they have more than the nil chance ISU did, so it muddles the picture a bit more.
• Butler will play at Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Tuesday for the Horizon auto bid, with a modest chance of landing an at-large if they lose. Bubblers are rooting hard for the Bulldogs.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Buckle in. It should be a blast. Bubble Watch and Bracket Watch will be daily through Selection Sunday. Enjoy!
Records listed are Division I only, per NCAA Tournament selection guidelines. All RPI and SOS data are from Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.
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North Carolina stormed past Duke Saturday night to claim the outright ACC title, boosting its own surging seed aspirations while putting a crimp in Duke's push for a No. 1. Florida State will likely be the third team in. The real question is: Will that be all?
Harrison Barnes cashiered the 'Noles in the final seconds last week, but FSU looked pretty good without Chris Singleton, so they should be OK in a year of bubble weakness. Beating N.C. State moves FSU to 11-5 and a solid third-place league finish. The Seminoles haven't done a ton, but they've also done more than enough.
The Eagles came up huge, crushing Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to get a sweep and then taking care of Wake Forest. Now, they have to beat the league minnow again to get a crack at Clemson in a possible win-and-in quarterfinal for both teams.
What's left to say? The Hokies are inexorably -- and squarely -- on the bubble again after a dispiriting 0-2 week that let BC and Clemson tighten things up. Now they have to win a useless first-round game against Georgia Tech before a meeting with Florida State in the quarters. I don't think their profile will hold up if they lose that game.
Clemson gave it a decent go at Cameron but lost, but then handled Virginia Tech to get to 9-7 and avoid having to play a first-round ACC tourney game. It may not be enough simply to beat Boston College (or, especially Wake, with a big upset), but North Carolina would await in the semis for the marquee victory Clemson lacks.
With the help of Texas losing three of its last five games, Kansas remarkably claimed a seventh straight Big 12 crown and seems headed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. The 'Horns better figure things out quickly, as this team looks nothing like it did three weeks ago, when people were touting Texas as a national title favorite. The other team in the Sunflower State continues to surge, as well, and joins the lock party. K-State is suddenly looking like a team no one wants to see in their bracket.
With the talent on this roster, this is pretty much the absolute minimum this team could have accomplished. They'll make the NCAAs, but with one top-75 Big 12 win and 1-7 road mark, this has been anything but impressive.
The Buffaloes elbowed Nebraska aside to get to .500, but they could really end up lamenting the loss at Iowa State earlier in the week (and their atrocious nonleague schedule). They have a decent set of quality Ws, including a sweep of Kansas State and a win over Texas -- but more work is needed. Beating Iowa State this week won't help, but what would beating K-State for a third time in the quarters mean?
The Bears' NCAA hopes are on life support. Too many losses everywhere -- in the league, on the road, against the top 50. If they beat Oklahoma, they'll get another shot against Texas after wasting one on Saturday. It'll likely take a run to the tourney final to get in. Best nonleague win: Lipscomb
The Bearcats locked up their spot with a really impressive two-win week. In the process, they may have edged the league closer to 10 bids than 11. Notre Dame's résumé is begging for No. 1 seed consideration in a week. Georgetown is begging for Chris Wright to get healthy. Jay Wright is begging for his team to stop a staggering free fall.
All the goodness of the OT win at UConn was washed away with a home loss to Cincy, compounded by a poor effort in a loss at Seton Hall. Now, Team Bubble Watch is vulnerable to a snub and would have no right to complain if it happens. If they get past Providence, they get a manageable second-round game vs. West Virginia Wednesday night. I think they'll need to win that one to feel on solid NCAA footing.
Purdue's stunning loss at Iowa dings the Boilermakers' hopes for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, but the most compelling news comes from the bubble, where Michigan's second win over MSU has created a mess in the middle.
Another expected split, another week where the Illini spurned the chance to impress. They seem like the prototype 8/9-seed right now. They'll joust with Michigan in a game the Illini probably don't need to win, but could put the Wolverines into the dance.
A loss at Michigan on Saturday, giving the Wolverines a season sweep, has more or less eliminated any wiggle room and puts the Spartans in a sticky situation. With Penn State's win over Minnesota, the Spartans are now the 7-seed and staring at a quarterfinal matchup with Purdue. If they don't win that game, this could end badly.
The Wolverines got the critical sweep of Michigan State and now let the debates begin. Whichever team ends up ahead in the pecking order will come down to Big Ten tourney performance. Right now, I think the Spartans are barely ahead on the basis of better top-quality wins (although two of MSU's three top-50 wins came with Korie Lucious on the roster).
The Nittany Lions are 9-9 like three others, but have a weaker profile that's fueled mostly by schedule strength. They probably need to make the tournament final to have a truly legit claim.
Arizona won the league. The Bruins remain safe. Washington most likely will be OK. Is there a bid thief lurking in USC with the conference tournament in Los Angeles? This league is the most likely major conference to generate an extra bid out of nowhere.
The Huskies got a second win over UCLA, which looms even larger after they lost to USC Saturday night. Third place in a weak Pac-10, with the three best wins over the two teams ahead of them? Not terribly compelling, but very likely enough this season to dance. Danger lurks in the Pac-10 tourney: A third meeting with cross-state rival Wazzu, which has beaten UW twice already.
Is a road split enough? The Trojans got the "good" one with a win at Washington and they have a pretty sizable stash of quality wins, but the overall résumé is still heavily specked with warts. The Trojans get Cal (season split with road teams winning both) and then probably would see top-seeded Arizona.
Tennessee moves up a category simply because the field overall is too weak. The Vols have nine top-50 and 11 top-100 wins. Congrats to Florida for winning the SEC title. The league tourney should be interesting, starting with a possible eliminator quarterfinal between Georgia and Alabama.
The Vols must be thrilled not to have to play at home again this season. They are a poor 10-7 at home and a very solid 8-5 road/neutral, with their three best wins coming away from Knoxville. They have too many good wins to miss the NCAAs this year, so the SEC tourney is really just for seeding.
The Bulldogs could have firmed things up but lost at Alabama and now will face the Tide again if they can handle Auburn in a first-round SEC tourney affair. The Bulldogs lack quality wins, but all but the loss at Bama are inside the top 35. They're just 5-10 vs. the RPI top 100, though. Not good. Can they survive with an early SEC tourney loss?
After beating Georgia at home, the Tide likely will get another chance at the Bulldogs in the SEC quarters. Lose there and they're done. Win there, it very well could be a chance at Kentucky and a possible golden ticket into the NCAAs. The middle ground (loss in SEC semis) means a debate, with the computer numbers not at all favorable. Bama's RPI would be way higher than the worst team picked as an at-large since the adjustments to the formula a number of years ago.
Xavier won the league. Temple kept pace. Both will dance. Richmond continues to win the games it needs to win, but probably needs more to survive. No one else has a chance other than an automatic bid. Pretty clean picture heading to Atlantic City
The Rebels finished strong and make it three teams in for the MWC. The biggest story will be BYU's continued play without Brandon Davies. If they crash out before the MWC final and San Diego State wins it, the Aztecs could swipe the West region away. It doesn't appear that either Colorado State or New Mexico is a realistic at-large candidate at this point, but one will be done after they meet on Friday. The other will most likely get a third shot at BYU.
No dice for the Rams at San Diego State, and now they're probably auto bid or bust.
The Lobos would have a better case if they had done better overall in league play once Drew Gordon became eligible. The two wins over BYU are great, but there's not much more to look at. The MWC is good, but not that good to think .500 is enough.
Mason was dumped by VCU in the CAA semis, but still is safely in the field of 68. Now bubble teams are rooting really hard for ODU to handle the Rams in the final and most likely save an at-large for someone else. Elsewhere, Butler has a shot at Milwaukee for the Horizon auto bid and another at-large spot (possibly) saved. Missouri State's loss in the Valley final probably condemns the Bears to the NIT.
The bubble's likely too weak to see USU dinged at this point, but I hope they win the auto bid so some thoroughly undeserving team doesn't litter the bracket. This league is Exhibit A for the ridiculousness of smaller conferences holding tournaments. Just send your best team.
OK, the table's set. Win and obviously in. Lose and try to become the first team ever to get an at-large after losing three times to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It's unclear at this stage whether Butler's profile could hold up for five more days as major-conference teams play their events.
The Gaels are better positioned to eat a loss in the final, but aren't a lock to get an at-large, so they very much want to win their rubber match with the Zags. If SMC does need an at-large, it'll still play Weber State after the WCC tourney in a classic no-good-can-come-of-this game.
The Zags have better wins than SMC, but their overall computer numbers are much weaker, so it seems they'll likely need the automatic bid to go dancing. An at-large isn't impossible, but I wouldn't put anything of significance on it happening.
It's a bit unfair to say the Blazers lack top-50 wins, since they have seven Ws from 49-58 in Sunday's RPI. The issue is the (perceived) quality of those wins, so they better hope the committee thinks Marshall and Central Florida are decent teams. UAB has won some legit road games and only one truly questionable loss. In this bubble year, the Blazers are a consideration.
The Tigers still have the best collection of wins in C-USA as far as an at-large profile, but they finished in third (even with the balanced schedule), two games behind UAB (even after beating the Blazers twice).
The Bears fell to Indiana State in the Valley final and probably don't have the quality of profile to be a serious at-large consideration, despite the Valley's title. Nothing to do now but wait.
The Rams are trying to butt their way into the dance the auto-bid way after taking out George Mason in an impressive semifinal win in their hometown. If they can't upset Old Dominion to win it, have they done enough? That four-loss skid to end the league season likely killed them.
The Crimson clinched at least a share of the Ivy crown by beating Princeton on Saturday, but if they need an at-large, it will be because they lost to the Tigers in a one-game playoff this week (forced if Princeton wins at Penn on Tuesday). Despite solid RPI numbers, it seems unlikely they could make it that way. That three-point loss at Michigan suddenly looks pretty meaningful, though.