Bubble Watch: All hope not lost for UConn on road to NCAA tournament
It's about this time every year when public overreaction becomes the rule rather than the exception when it comes to the bubble. Experts and viewers alike are certain teams are in or out -- "They're not an NCAA team!", they state authoritatively -- without actually going through a process of selecting 37 at-large teams and comparing the resume of that specific team with other realistic options.
For example, after witnessing another aimless, toothless performance from UConn Monday night (one that had a decent amount of quit in it, too, but that's a looming issue, not a current evaluation one), it's easy to say the Huskies (15-8, 5-6 Big East) should be an NIT team. They have a losing league mark. They looked terrible at Louisville, as they did at Georgetown and in parts of the losses against Notre Dame and Tennessee. They've lost seven of their last 10 after a so-so nonconference run.
And then you start to look around and count out the at-large slots. And pretty quickly you realize that you are picking teams with zero top-50 wins (Washington and Cal). You are slotting other teams with losing conference records (Dayton and Northwestern). That two of the last teams not to make it are fellow Big East schools Cincinnati (with an RPI of almost 100 thanks to an awful nonleague slate) and Seton Hall (which is sliding worse than UConn and was routed by the Huskies last week).
Suddenly, UConn's four top-50 and eight top-100 wins don't look so bad, and from a perception of maybe being an NIT team rises the reality of a 10-seed in today's new bracket. Because that's how it works. It doesn't matter one bit what you look like. It just matters that there aren't 37 who look better.
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No change in status this week, although Duke's second home loss in league play, this one to Miami in overtime, is really costly from a seed standpoint. The Tar Heels host the Blue Devils on Wednesday in the first of two regular-season meetings. Florida State continues to shore up its position below here and would move in with another 2-0 week.
It's hard to see the Seminoles missing at this point the tournament despite their sluggish nonconference performance. Two marquee wins, strong computer numbers and what looks fairly certain to be a top-three finish in the ACC should be more than enough for an NCAA bid. Edging Virginia on Saturday created solid separation from the pack and the schedule is relatively benign from here on in.
After a really poor first 30 minutes, the Cavaliers almost stole one in Tallahassee, but fell a three-pointer short. This is still a fairly soft profile, even with Drexel's surge in the CAA helping matters. The schedule is fairly stiff the rest of the way, so the Hoos will have to take the clear wins they can get and nick one or two more to feel comfortable in five weeks.
Under the shadow of the Super Bowl, the Hurricanes blew into Durham and snagged a monster win. They still have numerous chances to impress with a home-and-home with Florida State and a visit from North Carolina left.
The Wolfpack got the first two in a must-win trio of games. Now they need to win at Georgia Tech before a crack at Duke for a profile-enhancing monster road win. If they can't get that one, Florida State and North Carolina then come to Raleigh, so two weeks from now, you'll likely know your NCAA answer.
Missouri continues to be perhaps the nation's biggest upside surprise, taking down Kansas with a game-ending 11-0 run to topple the Jayhawks in Columbia. (Yes, KU fans, the charge on Robinson was terrible and changed the endgame significantly. Yes, MU fans, KU still had chances to win and couldn't). Then the Tigers scrambled back and beat Oklahoma Monday night. Baylor remains tied for first in the loss column and strongly in the mix for the league crown ... as is Iowa State? The table-toppers continue their round-robin this week with Baylor hosting KU and then playing at Mizzou.
The Cyclones added a K-State pelt to their profile in a sweep of the week that leaves them a game behind the league tri-leaders. Road games with Baylor, K-State and Missouri remain before the Bears come to Ames in the season finale, so the Cyclones certainly will have their chances to ice things.
A tough loss at Iowa State leaves the EcoKats in a somewhat sticky spot. They have to handle Texas Tech at home tonight and then embark on a five-game run that will decide their fate: at Texas, Kansas, at Baylor, at Missouri, Iowa State. Alabama's slide is hurting one of the good wins. Would 9-9 in the conference be enough without another big win?
The Longhorns are creeping back toward the bubble periphery, although their league wins are pretty meat-free with the exception of the Iowa State conquest. The schedule is pretty favorable now down the stretch, though. Wins are there to be had.
The second-best-team-in-the-league title belt continues to change hands. Is it Georgetown? Is it still Marquette? Is it ... gasp ... Abromaitis-less Notre Dame???? What?? #Breylieve!
Good job by the Cards, now with five straight wins. With only two apparent "soft spots" left on the schedule, these victories(especially the two on the road) will come in handy. Let's see what happens at hungry West Virginia this weekend. The Ville's good wins continue to look pretty good and the Notre Dame loss now clearly looks OK.
The Mountaineers found a way to beat Providence in overtime to end a worrisome losing streak. The next four are not easy: Notre Dame and Louisville at home and then at Pittsburgh and Louisville on the road. They close with DePaul and at South Florida, so if they need a couple wins late, they are relatively available.
Amazing. The Irish unleashed a three-point avalanche to pound Marquette into submission and move to 7-3 in the league. They may already be "over" their expected Big East win total and they still have home games remaining with DePaul, Rutgers and Providence. First up, a trip to a needy West Virginia team.
The Bearcats beat DePaul in their only game of a "Let's not murder our chances" week. This week, at St. John's and at Marquette -- is huge, because the last six after that have wins available in them.
The news of last week clearly was Jim Calhoun's latest medical leave of absence -- I had
Look out below. The Pirates have now dropped six in a row after getting waxed in a bubbly showdown at UConn and things are suddenly looking very bad for an NCAA bid just a couple weeks after being considered a lock here. The silver lining is that the Pirates' remaining schedule is very soft by Big East standards. Can they get five of the last seven to get to .500? Could 8-10 possibly be enough? Stay tuned.
A 30-point loss at Georgetown was not the best statement. I don't know that even 11-7 would be enough for the Bulls if they can't win at Pitt, Syracuse or Louisville down the stretch.
If Pitt gets to 9-9, which is not impossible with the schedule and the way they're playing, how much will the committee ignore what happened this season when Travon Woodall was sidelined?
Michigan State enacted some revenge on its in-state rival. Ohio State got a sweet win at Wisconsin. The two continue to tower over the remainder of the Big Ten field, but there's some action going on below them that's worth monitoring.
The Hoosiers picked up a really valuable road win at Purdue to get back to .500 in the league. Now the remaining schedule turns favorable, with four league home games and trips to Iowa and Minnesota (and a massive nonconference tilt with North Carolina Central coming on Feb. 22!). Showing a bit more away from Assembly Hall will ease any rising doubts, if there really were any. Only game this week: vs. Illinois.
After beating Indiana, the Wolverines couldn't handle the Breslin Center and fell by 10 to the Spartans. For this league, the remaining slate is quite manageable, although a number of mid-tier teams will be gunning for inclusion and/or seeding, so nothing will come easily. I still expect the Wolverines to garner a very solid seed and immediately be tagged as a team a 1 or 2-seed doesn't want in their region.
The Badgers couldn't handle the league's best, falling to Ohio State at home by six on Saturday. This week is a tricky road pairing at Minnesota and then at Michigan State. With trips still to Iowa and Ohio State to come, the Badgers' seeding could take a hit down the stretch if they can't conjure up some wins.
If the Illini had to split this home week, they did it the right way, eking out a 42-41 decision over Michigan State for a marquee win before losing at home to Northwestern. The indecision in the GW/BL section below, though, pretty much says it all about that defeat, which could prove pivotal. Now four of the next five are away, starting with Indiana and Michigan this week. Is this going to be the test of an 8-10 Big Ten profile?
After dropping a tough decision at Iowa, the Gophers got a crucial road split by winning at Nebraska. Now five of their last seven are at home, including shots at Wisconsin (Thursday), Ohio State, Michigan and Indiana. Big, big opportunities to turn this profile into a legit NCAA one.
The Boilers suffered a harmful home loss to Indiana to drop back to .500 and now margin of error is pretty slim. Either Purdue needs to grab a big road win at Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan or Indiana, or sweep the home slate (Northwestern, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State) just to finish .500. First up: The Buckeyes in Columbus tonight.
The Wildcats got a must-have sweep last week, including a win at Illinois, to bounce back into the picture. After a home game with Iowa (no gimme), the Cats will pretty much have their season on the line at Purdue and Indiana. Without at least a split there, things will look very questionable.
There's not much more to say at this point. Teams keep beating each other, and whether you think that helps or hurts a multi-bid claim is in the voice of the arguer. This league will be
Thanks in part to Cal's inconsistency, the Huskies take over first place despite having lost to the Golden Bears at home in the only meeting of the season. The Huskies' best plan: Keep winning. There are only two top-100 games left on the schedule, and UW is currently 3-7 in that category. At best, they could have a paper profile that mimics past years' champs from the MAC. A true test of subjective vs. paper.
If your profile is based on bulk wins over decent teams, you can't be losing at home to Arizona. Now the Bears aren't in first place and five of their last seven league games are on the road.
Their best road win is No. 171 Air Force and they have earned 3-6 away/neutral. That said, they have beaten Arizona and Washington already and have a chance to sweep the Wildcats Thursday in Tucson. Huge game.
Sweeping the Cal/Stanford road trip was huge for the Wildcats. A lot of tough losses against good teams litter the resume. This week's home tilt with Colorado is enormous now. They need to be as close to the league title as possible.
They're 2-6 against the top 100 and two games behind Washington? Better sweep the Huskies and Wazzu this weekend at home.
The Cardinal have the best nonleague wins in the league, but they're burying themselves so far down the table, it appears that they won't matter. A home loss to Arizona deepened their hole.
Did I say five bids last week? Yeah, about that Alabama thing ... In other news, tonight's Florida-Kentucky showdown has been on my "I want to see this matchup" list for months. The Gators join the Cats in lockdom this week.
Right when it looked like Vandy was contender No. 1 for Kentucky's throne, the Commodores ate an 0-2 road week. No shame in losing at either Arkansas or Florida, but not to get either is a touch disappointing. Now it's back to Memorial Gym for LSU and ... Kentucky.
In their only game, the Bulldogs slipped past Auburn at home. It's a win. Move on to home matchups with Ole Miss and Georgia. Then they're at LSU and Auburn. In other words, load up the win truck!
Good news: The Tide held off Ole Miss in 2OT to win their only game. Bad news: the team announced Monday that Tony Mitchell was suspended indefinitely. They don't have a huge margin for error right now, and road trips to LSU and Auburn could trip up a short-handed team.
The Rebels are more of a computer monster as they only played two bad nonleague games. Not a ton of legit heft at the top of the resume yet, but the win over Miami (Fla.) suddenly looks better.
After beating Vanderbilt, the Hogs gave up a big chance to move up by losing at LSU. The two this week -- at Georgia and home to South Carolina -- constitute virtual must-wins.
Another week and more A10-on-A10 crime as the league standings should be outlined in chalk. Crazy league this season. Very competitive and maybe eating its own, with the exception of Temple's surge.
At least one team is rounding into decisive form, as the Owls steamrolled two more lower-division foes to stay in first place. Now they host GW and then an increasingly desperate Xavier in what is a big game Saturday night.
The Billikens took care of business at home, trucking St. Bonaventure and Dayton. Now they face a very big Philly road trip, with games at La Salle and Saint Joseph's. If they can get a split here, things look good with a softish schedule down the stretch.
X barely got past George Washington in an ugly road affair before caving in down the stretch and dropping a really big bubble game at Memphis. Given the #ZipEmUp suspensions, this profile is all over the map, and who knows how the committee will interpret it. They have to handle Rhode Island at home this week before focusing on Saturday's showdown at Xavier.
Despite some really solid wins, the Flyers are now in a good deal of trouble after losing at home to Duquesne and then at Saint Louis. This week features got-to-haves at Fordham and home to Charlotte before the crucial return matchup with Xavier in Cincinnati.
The loss at Rhode Island is a killer for a young team that's about to play six straight top-100 teams. First up: St. Bonaventure at home and then at Saint Joe's.
Losing at Saint Joe's puts a damper on the Explorers' at-large hopes, but there are still plenty of chances in the next two weeks to impress, starting with a home game against Saint Louis after a trip to Richmond.
Big sweep for the Hawks, including a tough win over city rival La Salle. Now Saint Louis and UMass come to Hawk Hill, the start of a very favorable stretch run. All of the biggest games are at home.
UNLV lost its second tough league game, giving the league lead back to the Aztecs and helping New Mexico creep right back into the picture. This league looks quite likely for three bids. Do I hear four?
The Lobos crushed it on a road swing through Colorado Springs and Boise and now they have a three-game gauntlet that will decide just how much work they need to do in Vegas at the conference tourney. Upstart Wyoming comes to The Pit before a trip to San Diego State and then a visit from UNLV.
The computer stays favorable even after the Rams got stuffed at UNLV before a home win over Air Force. Beating San Diego State remains very strong, but the Rams are 0-for-3 in big road shots now. That's probably not going to be good enough. They need a couple more big wins.
Just when you thought they were out, the Cowboys pulled themselves back in with a home upset of UNLV. Lots of work left to do, though, as all four upper-division road games remain to be played.
The Bluejays ate a buzzer-beating three at Northern Iowa to drop back into a tie with Wichita State atop the league. Both teams look very set to make the NCAAs and likely are playing for seed, both in Arch Madness and the big bracket when they face off in Omaha this weekend.
Tied for first in the league, the Shockers look all but set to dance, but the remaining schedule is very difficult, so let's hold off for now. A sweep of this week (Northern Iowa and then at Creighton) surely will be enough, though.
Larry Eustachy and Southern Miss finally did it, bringing the personal 0-17 streak against Memphis to an end. Huge win for the Golden Eagles, while Memphis bounced back in timely fashion.
And there it is ... the first win over Memphis, first place in the conference, and first dibs on locking up the league crown and an NCAA bid thanks to a 75-72 victory. If USM can just hold steady and even get a share of the league crown, they should be more than fine. Computer numbers look great.
If you're going to lose a league thriller and drop into second place, you might as well use a late surge to top Xavier in a big nonconference/bubble throwdown. Other than a trip to Marshall, the schedule is fairly straight forward. The conference tourney also is at Memphis, for a nice safety net.
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' loss at BYU dings them a little but does more to reinvigorate the Cougars' hopes of being the third team in. Done with the two big road games in league (both losses), now the Zags get the Gaels and Cougars at home, starting with Saint Mary's arrival on Thursday.
After whiffing twice against Saint Mary's, the Cougars handled Gonzaga at home for a very important win. While at San Francisco isn't a walkover, only the Gonzaga return trip looks fraught with danger in the remaining league slate. If they can somehow get the sweep, they also could lock up the double-bye.
Even if the unbeaten Racers lose to Saint Mary's and lose once in league play and lose in the conference tourney, they'd probably still make the bracket with wins over Memphis, USM and Dayton, so let's put them here for now.
It's a shame Harvard couldn't cobble together a better nonconference slate. To have that SOS in a year where the Ivy's actually pretty solid and deep is disappointing and will hurt their NCAA seeding, should they advance as expected. First, though, they need to navigate the league's historically toughest trip, at Penn and Princeton. A Friday win over the Quakers puts Harvard in great shape, as the only other challenger with one loss (Yale) has all three tough road games still to play.
The 49ers have been storm troopers in the Big West this season, and this is an "At-At" weekend with trips to league minnows Pacific and D-I winless UC Davis. Have to keep winning and hope that Pitt and Xavier do the same. The BracketBusters game at Creighton is a huge chance to enhance.
The Blue Raiders got worked in a 15-point loss at Denver that ends their Sun Belt unbeaten run. Without a BracketBusters game to potentially help, margin for error now is very slim. Very solid team, so-so profile.
Three league wins, move up one spot in the RPI. They're going to have to run the table until the SoCon final, including a home win over Wichita State, to have a legit claim.
The Golden Eagles got jackhammered by the Jackrabbits in Brookings and now is just one loss ahead of South Dakota State in the standings. This is likely not an at-large team, but a rematch in the Summit final would be a ton of fun.
Big win at Manhattan now makes it a two-way tie atop the league with Loyola (Md.). Still lamenting the Nevada BracketBusters draw which will leave both teams likely needing too much for serious at-large consideration.
Are the Wolf Pack really at-large contenders? The answer rhymes with Idaho (the team Nevada just lost to at home).
The CAA continues to confound. It's like a lesser version of the Pac-12: three or four fairly competent teams with no one having done a stitch of real work in nonconference play. If VCU or Drexel continues to win, we'll take a closer look at them. VCU has a far tougher schedule, Drexel has tiebreaker for the 1-seed and a more valuable BracketBusters opponent (Cleveland State vs. Northern Iowa).