BracketBusters cause trouble for mid-majors, more Bubble Watch
My biggest annual complaint with BracketBusters is that the games between the best teams are set for TV purposes and/or geography rather than what most helps the teams in their quest for NCAA tournament bids. Generally speaking, the games become net losses for the mid-majors, with the losing team often being hurt (or completely KO'd) more than the winning team gains in profile cred.
To ESPN's credit, it nailed the two best matchups this season. Both Saint Mary's at Murray State and Long Beach State at Creighton will be incredibly compelling and also provide strong, fair opportunities for all four teams to impress. Murray State is at some risk of a dip if it loses at home, but that's the risk the Racers need to take on for potential validation of their weak conference schedule.
Unfortunately, a few other possible at-large contenders didn't get treated nearly as favorably. Wichita State gets a complete no-win trip to Davidson, a very good team that probably won't garner an at-large even with a win while a loss will ding the Shockers. Teams like Nevada and Iona needed a bigger opponent than each other, especially considering the cross-country trips involved in this matchup and next season's return game in Reno. Elsewhere, George Mason got a truly curious (and useless) matchup with Lamar, and VCU brings in Northern Iowa, which has faded badly in the Valley. No help at all.
So while there will be some additional eye candy -- Drexel-Cleveland State should be a fascinating fight and non-TV matchups like UNC-Asheville-Ohio features tasty guard matchups -- the overall effect will be the same as always. Two teams will be greatly helped, at least two will be hurt by what happens, and a whole bunch of teams are assigned random nonleague games that double as schedule-filler for next season.
I'm all for mid-majors getting national showcases and I think the overarching premise of BracketBusters is a good one. But until teams aren't hurt for losing games to good teams and the pairings beyond the first game or two make sense for more teams involved, the event will remain BracketEliminators to me.
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Order is being restored to the top of the ACC, at least if you believed the preseason polls. Duke, North Carolina and Florida State share the lead at 5-1, although with the Seminoles already having beaten the other two teams, they have the inside track at the moment for the league title. Virginia had an important week to remain settled in the top four, which should amount to an NCAA bid if it holds.
If the Seminoles have truly found themselves, they should seriously threaten to win the ACC. They don't return the game to North Carolina and they get Duke at home, where they usually bedevil the Blue Devils. The next five are four home games (starting with Georgia Tech and Virginia this week) wrapped around a trip to Boston College. The 'Noles should be at least 9-2 heading to N.C. State on Feb. 18.
The Cavaliers held off N.C. State last Saturday to bounce back with a 2-0 week that stabilizes their bracket position. Virginia still has home-and-homes left with Florida State and North Carolina, plus some other sticky games, so this profile could move a lot either way before March. There isn't a ton of meat behind the gaudy record at the moment.
When your week is most notable for a player asking a reporter if his
The Canes get to stay around after picking up two needed road wins. Now they need to beat someone good. That can start this week. They get Maryland at home and then head to Duke.
The top three remain clear locks for high seeds in the NCAAs, even with Missouri's midweek slip-up at Oklahoma State and Kansas' loss to Iowa State last weekend. What happens below? One or more teams need to separate from the morass in the middle. Still a good chance to get five bids.
The Wildcats lost at home to Oklahoma, giving the Sooners a sweep of the season series. Now the game in Ames Tuesday night is huge for both teams. If the Wildcats lose that one, they will have to do some credible work to get to 9-9 in the league. The schedule in mid-February gets much tougher.
The Cyclones picked up a huge marquee win, taking down Kansas in Ames last Saturday. Things would look a lot better had they not lost at Texas earlier in the week, but this was the desirable split if they couldn't get both. Now Kansas State arrives tonight in what's now a very important bubble game. Road games with Baylor, K-State and Missouri still remain, so all wins down the stretch will be at a premium.
The Sooners have a lot of work left to do, but finishing off a sweep of Kansas State with a win at the OOD is a nice start. Of course, beating K-State three times last season didn't save Colorado. The Sooners have a huge opportunity at Kansas Wednesday night and still have home-and-home with Iowa State plus games against Missouri and at Baylor, so the path to at-large consideration remains in their hands.
I tried to keep faith in Seton Hall last week and the Pirates paid it back with two home losses that substantially dented their profile. They're still very much in the bracket for now. Elsewhere, Marquette bumps into this category. I know, it feels so wrong to anoint #TBW a lock. But they should be one. Beyond these three? There's a pretty sizable profile gap at this point.
A three-loss week included controversy as a clear goaltend on what should have been the tying basket late at Syracuse was missed. That said, the Mountaineers had several chances to tie/win the game after that, and even if the basket was ruled good, would have needed a stop and then win in overtime, so it's a bit much to say it cost them the game. That said, it's a loss. The 16-point setback at St. John's and Monday's home loss to resurgent Pitt are much less palatable.
Things are starting to get worrisome in Storrs (and Hartford) after the Huskies lost at home by a bucket to Notre Dame on Sunday. The offense is completely out of kilter and the lingering leadership concerns don't seem to have been addressed. Now trips to Georgetown, Louisville and Syracuse await around a visit from increasingly desperate Seton Hall.
Uh oh. What was a stunning feel-good story two weeks ago is in a bit of free fall after four straight league losses, with home defeats this week to Louisville and Notre Dame dampening the profile. It doesn't get any easier now with three in a row on the road at Marquette, UConn and Rutgers.
Well, this is unexpected. The Irish, more or less left for dead after Tim Abromaitis' season-ending injury, have ripped off three straight big wins -- over Syracuse and then at Seton Hall and UConn -- to force their way into the bubble picture. The Irish still have DePaul, Rutgers and Providence at home, so getting to at least 10 wins seems very reasonable. With their quality wins, that may be enough.
Losing at Rutgers is another demerit on the Bearcats' increasingly dicey profile. They have several solid wins, but the computer numbers are horrible and there are some disappointing losses scattered in, as well. Home to DePaul is an absolute must-win ahead of road games at St. John's and Marquette.
The Bulls are 6-3 in the Beast, but their profile is not nearly as good as Notre Dame's. They need to keep winning games, and will have a number of chances coming up. There are home-and-homes with (resurgent) Pitt and Providence, plus a home date with Villanova, all in the next six games.
The Buckeyes have emerged as the
It's rare to see a team double its score from its previous game, but that's what happens when you play at Wisconsin (57-50 loss) and then host Iowa (103-89 win). This week -- at Michigan and at Purdue -- will determine just how comfortable the stretch run will be for the Hoosiers.
The Wolverines pinched a tight win at Purdue and played pretty well at Ohio State before fading late. A home game on Wednesday against Indiana is a chance to start to create some real separation from the chase pack, which would be good for seeding. This is a team no top seed wants to draw in March.
Amazing that the Badgers are perceived as having a bit of a down year, and they're 17-5 and right in the thick of the Big Ten race. They can't look past a trip to spunky Penn State ahead of a shot at the Buckeyes on the weekend.
Was it a foul? I thought the call was fine, or at least understandable. Others disagreed. Regardless, Meyers Leonard never should have been anywhere near the Minnesota drive that ended in a game-tying and-1 with .04 seconds left in what became a damaging OT loss. This is now a huge week for the Illini, with Michigan State and then Northwestern coming to Champaign. Road games remain at Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The Boilers split a pair of two-point games last week, but in the wrong order for RPI purposes, dropping the home game with Michigan before edging Northwestern in Evanston. This week's home bout with Indiana is huge. There are three other relatively winnable home games left and the road slate is brutal.
The Gophers' impressive resilience continued as they stole a game from Illinois at home. The next seven feature winnable road games at Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern plus big home chances against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana. This profile could move a ton in either direction quickly.
Cal's continuing to play like the best team in the league. A league title should see the Golden Bears into the dance. After that? With no one in the RPI top 70, this is getting very dicey for a second team in, let alone more than that, as teams elsewhere continue to add quality wins.
It wasn't beautiful, but the Golden Bears pushed past rival Stanford to stay atop the league and put a dent in the Cardinal's at-large hopes. Their profile, despite no top-50 wins, isn't terrible. They've beaten a lot of OK teams and only have two league road losses as demerits. Another bucket in that one-point loss at San Diego State could have made things look much better.
Other than the Rams themselves, no one was happier with Colorado State's upset of San Diego State than the Cardinal, who continue to ride that nonconference win as the anchor of a ho-hum profile. They missed on a big chance at Cal last weekend. Now they probably have to go 7-2, at worst, to have any kind of legitimate at-large claim.
This one's going to sting. With a chance to remain tied for the league lead, the Ducks let archrival Oregon State come into the Matt and leave with a profile-denting upset. Now they need to do some work on the Utah/Colorado road trip. Margin for error is extremely small at this point.
The Huskies are the poster children for the underachieving league this season. Now 7-2 in a "major" conference, Washington barely has one top-75 win (Oregon) for the season, let alone a top-50. And only two of their remaining nine games are against top-100 teams. How do you even value this potential profile? That said, winning at Arizona and sweeping the road trip was huge. Now the L.A. schools come calling in what needs to be two more wins.
Losing at home to Washington moves the Wildcats to the brink. They have no good wins and are lagging behind the league leaders. Now they travel to the Bay Area for two this week, which could end things. Or revive them.
Losing at UCLA was not a good idea. A home sweep of the Arizona schools is now mandatory with five of their final seven on the road. The "good" news: They actually play five top-100 teams down the stretch.
Vanderbilt and Florida continue to consolidate their positions and the league looks good for five bids ... at least. Can someone else sneak in as other leagues lag?
Vandy is not going to get nearly enough credit for a good home win over Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders are going to be trouble for some No. 4 seed in March. Now it's time to reestablish road chops with trips to Arkansas Tuesday night and then Florida on the weekend.
Good week for the Gators, who handled Ole Miss on the road and then Mississippi State at home. This is a fun five-game stretch coming up to give us a sanity check on whether Florida's a legit March threat. After South Carolina comes on Thursday, Vandy arrives followed by a trip to Rupp.
The Bulldogs couldn't get it done at Florida after besting LSU at home, but now the schedule turns megasoft for the next five games: Home for Auburn, Ole Miss and Georgia, then at LSU and Auburn. They already have a sneakily decent profile and the win total could be about to swell.
Losing at South Carolina is disappointing. The Tide should be better than that at this stage. What's more, we may not find out all that much about them until tourney time. Florida and Mississippi State come to Tuscaloosa and the Tide don't face Kentucky again.
Probably should have had the Hogs last week. They're still sitting on the periphery of contention, but the home win over Michigan should continue to look good. They have a huge chance against Vanderbilt at home tonight to beef up the profile. They also get Florida at home in mid-February.
Up is down, right is left and the Atlantic 10 standings make no sense at all. Will this upheaval mean more teams sneak in? Or will it correct and limit a really solid, deep league to just two or three?
The Owls have found their groove as Michael Eric gets back into the lineup. Make it four wins on the trot now, with strong computer numbers and some solid wins backing this profile. The Owls look like the league favorite at this point, but that designation changes weekly around these parts. This week is as easy (on paper) as it gets, with Fordham at home and then at Rhode Island.
Just when you thought the Flyers had grown out of their old ways, they do the Daytonest thing ever and lose at home to then 3-18 Rhode Island. Combo that with getting routed at Saint Joe's and this was a very rough week on the ol' profile. This week's no bargain, either, with Duquesne coming in before a tough trip to Saint Louis. The schedule's lighter down the stretch, but that assumes the Flyers can handle their business, which is always a questionable assumption. That said, the profile remains quite solid.
The Billikens got the win they needed at Xavier. Then they flopped at surprising UMass to take a bit of joy away from the result. The Billikens get Dayton and Xavier at home, so they still maintain pretty good control over their own fate.
The Musketeers are at George Washington before a very big bubble showdown at Memphis on Saturday. The tail end of the A-10 schedule is very tough, so the Musketeers are not out of the woods yet.
When will it be time to really take the young Minutemen seriously? Beating Saint Louis like a drum is a good hint that the time may be soon. This week will be a good barometer of the team's maturity. A true contender should win at Rhode Island and George Washington.
The Explorers are one of the surprise co-leaders and have won nine of 11 overall. They also have a fairly favorable schedule the rest of the way, so if they nick one or two of the toughest games left, they could wind up with a fairly impressive A-10 mark. Would that be enough?
Splitting the week, including getting a home win over Dayton, keeps the Hawks on the edge of the watch, but time is running short. The Hawk may never die, but it could miss the NCAAs again.
As mentioned last week, San Diego State was due for a loss, even one that's travel and altitude enhanced. That win helps Colorado State's profile immensely. Can half of this league make it into the real bracket in March? Not impossible at all.
OK, computer profile monster. That's the kind of win you needed. After getting crushed at New Mexico, the Rams butted San Diego State to pick up a marquee win and now head to UNLV on Wednesday for some more big-game hunting. Air Force at home won't be a huge bargain, either.
The Lobos dusted themselves off and waxed Colorado State and TCU at home. They remain behind the eight-ball as far as the league title race, but tucking in third and getting another big win down the stretch may be enough to squeeze them in. This is a TCOB week at Air Force and Boise State. That won't be an easy sweep.
The Cowboys missed on a home chance against San Diego State, which means they have lost two of their three home games already played against the teams ahead of them. That also means pain may be coming on the back end of the schedule, as all four of the toughest road games remain.
The Shockers lost in 3OT at Drake, so they stay below, but their profile should be good enough to ensure two bids for the Valley, just looking around at the landscape. If they drop another game or two soon, we can re-evaluate. The Shockers may be a game behind the Bluejays in the standings, but they're well ahead in points per possession margin in league play, thanks to a much better defense.
A tough 3OT loss at Drake pushes the Shockers a game behind Creighton atop the conference, but they're still three games clear of third place and clearly on their way to an NCAA bid. Wednesday brings a stout test at Missouri State.
OK, Southern Miss. This is where you have to draw the line in the sand. Go beat Memphis at home ... or spend Selection Sunday really nervous if you don't capture the auto bid in Memphis.
Larry Eustachy is 0-17 against Memphis since he took over at Southern Miss. Wednesday's home shot at the Tigers is as good a place as any to end that run. USM missed a three that would have won at Memphis, so a win here is very possible. It also could be very necessary, as losing twice to the Tigers could mean missing out on a league title (or share) and then facing a conference tourney at Memphis.
If not for the generous and-1 given UCF, the Tigers may be unbeaten. Now they face a battle for first place in Hattiesburg on Wednesday in what could be a crucial game for both teams. Then they host Xavier to cap off an enormous week. The Tigers have the home conference tournament to fall back on, if needed.
The Gaels answered many questions as to their designs on the WCC crown by poleaxing BYU at the Marriott Center. Saint Mary's has a cachet of solid wins, all by double figures. Impressive team.
The Zags will be next up at the Marriott Center, and now they have to match the Gaels' result there or risk the home game with Saint Mary's being far less meaningful. Regardless, a top-two finish in the league should be enough to lock up a bid.
Beating (just about) everyone else but Saint Mary's and Gonzaga probably won't be enough for the Cougars. They still have a home-and-home with the Zags, and probably need to split that
This batch of teams keeps winning and now that we know the BracketBusters pairings, we can start to assess things a bit more completely. Murray State should have a couple losses worth of wiggle room, you'd think. Long Beach State has a huge chance now to add a third big win. Even Harvard is seeing the roots of a possible escape hatch if Penn can continue to win as well.
All the Racers can do is keep winning league games. Now they will get a national TV shot at something more with a BracketBusters showdown with Saint Mary's at home. Stylistically, it should be a great watch and it will go a long way toward determining what kind of seed the Racers can land.
Harvard destroyed Yale on the road as part of a weekend sweep to stay perfect in the Ivy. Any at-large scenario would require at least two more losses, and the Crimson don't have a BracketBusters game to juice things up. It remains a fairly remote chance, but if Penn can stay unbeaten besides when it plays Harvard, losing 2-of-3 to a top-100 Quakers team (including a one-game playoff) probably would see the Crimson remain on the right side of the cutline. Maybe.
The 49ers keep cruising through the Big West and now have been handed an at-large lifeline with a BracketBusters game at Creighton. That should be a thrilling, up-tempo pointsfest, and one that could give the 49ers a crucial third quality road/neutral win of the season.
The Blue Raiders missed on what effectively was their BracketBusters game, falling just short at Vanderbilt last weekend. They really will miss not having another shot at a marquee win. This is a very solid team that belongs in the NCAAs, but now they may be playing with auto-bid fire.
The downside to life in a small conference is one loss can be enough to DQ you from legit at-large talk. The Wildcats suffered a dreadful loss at RPI No. 290 Samford last week. They got a really favorable BracketBusters draw, getting a home date with Wichita State, but even a win there, paired with the win "at" Kansas (in Kansas City, Mo.) may not be enough without any other top-100 wins.
The Golden Eagles drew a classic no-win BracketBusters scenario with a home game against a very solid Akron team that will do very little for ORU should it win. The loss to UTSA in the first round of the preseason NIT, potentially costing ORU several higher profile games, may end up undermining this whole profile.
I don't think beating Nevada is going to do enough for the Gaels. Wish they had gotten Wichita State.
The Wolf Pack have surged since some early season struggles. The problem: Two of their early losses to solid teams were blowouts and the third (at UNLV) was a late rally that turned a blowout into an unexpectedly close finish. Would running the table until the WAC final be enough? With Iona as the BracketBusters foe, the guess is no, but a four-loss Pack may look pretty decent come mid-March.
All the CAA teams got hosed in BracketBusters, which won't help them dig out from its nonconference hole.