Bracketography’s 2009 NCAA Tournament Bubble Breakdown

by David Mihm | March 15th, 2009

FINAL Update: Selection Sunday, 1:00 pm PT.

Without a doubt, this is the most confusing year to try to project the bracket since I started doing this in 2001. I would have no argument with the Selection Committee on selecting ANY of the 9 teams on the “true bubble.”

Locks (38):

ACC: North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Boston College
Big East: UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Marquette, Villanova, West Virginia, Syracuse
Big Ten: Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State
Big 12: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State
Pac-10: Washington, Arizona State, California, UCLA, USC
SEC: LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State
Atlantic-10: Xavier, Temple
Mountain West: Utah, BYU
Other: Memphis, Butler, Gonzaga

Pretty Solid (2):

Texas A&M (70%), Minnesota (60%)

Automatic Bids (21) — see bottom of page

Possible At-Large Bids (9 teams for 4 slots):

Dayton (Odds: 56.5%)

The Flyers sport a gaudy record in an underrated Atlantic 10, and own a neutral-court win over a healthy Marquette in the non-conference season AS WELL AS OVER AUBURN in the same tournament. The recent losses at Charlotte, Rhode Island, and Xavier put the Flyers squarely on the Bubble. The loss to Duquesne means a slip to the “bad side” is possible. The Flyers are lucky that power-conference Bubble teams also faltered.

Maryland (55%)

Mission #1 accomplished (beating UNC at home), #2 failed (losing to Duke at home), as did #3 (losing to Wake at home). Losing to Virginia was inexcusable. The Terps’ neutral-court win over Michigan State early in the year is as good as any, but their margin for error is extremely slim. Got the win against Wake Forest; now the Terps need to root for Mississippi State to take care of business.

Wisconsin (53%)

Fans in Madison are breathing a little easier now than they were a month ago. The Badgers own some nice road wins (@VaTech, @Michigan, @Penn State), which should separate them from other teams on the Bubble next month, and help the Committee forget about a six-game losing streak in January. The Badgers lost a chance to lock up a bid @Minnesota this week, and another against Ohio State.


Arizona (50.5%)

Russ Pennell has done an amazing job keeping this team together, and the chemistry on display against the Southern California schools on their visit to Tucson in mid-February bodes extremely well for the NCAA Tournament. Arizona’s solid non-conference schedule includes wins over San Diego State, Gonzaga, and Kansas. But yikes. Losing at home to Cal for a fourth-straight loss is not the message you want to send the Committee. Another missed opportunity to win away from home in the Pac-10 Tournament first-round…but at least their profile looks better than New Mexico’s and Auburn’s.


St Mary’s (49.5%)

Non-conference wins over Providence and San Diego State look pretty good right now, and a quasi-victory at Gonzaga before Patty Mills’ injury will no doubt be taken into consideration by the Selection Committee. But Patty’s shooting touch did not return for either WCC Tournament game. Although they got a win against an underrated Portland team (the Pilots beat Washington and Nevada in the non-confererence) thanks to their defense, getting blown out, and I mean BLOWN OUT, by Gonzaga on national television does not bode well.

I have a feeling the Committee watched Randy Bennett’s brilliantly-scheduled mid-week game against Eastern Washington. Mills played pretty well, but not phenomenally well. This team will get some sympathy from the Committee and the fact that they won their Bracketbuster matchup over Utah State–now the WAC Champion–withOUT Patty Mills will come in huge.

Honestly, this is the single most interesting team in Bracketography history for me.

Creighton (49.5%)

Could the Committee really snub a 14-4 Valley regular-season champion/co-champion with a solid non-conference resume? Oh wait, they’ve done it before…they’re in a bit of a role reversal after being blown out by Illinois State (it was Drake’s blowout win over ISU in last year’s Valley tournament that knocked the Redbirds out of consideration for an at-large bid). Creighton has to hope for the Flyers and Lobos to make deep runs in their conference tournaments, and literally NO upsets anywhere else. Their margin for error is extremely slim, although they WERE helped by St. Mary’s losing in the same fashion they did…though Gonzaga is a team superior to Illinois State.

San Diego State (49.5%)

FINALLY a Bubble team that helped its own cause. Beating BYU on a truly neutral floor was huge, as was its road win over UNLV the night before. SDSU did what I said they had to do a week ago: make the MWC Final. Steve Fisher’s team SHOULD be Dancing (i.e. if I had a vote on the Committee, I’d put them in), but there have been so many upsets across the rest of the bubble that it may not happen. Interesting: SDSU lost to both St. Mary’s and Arizona in the non-conference season, and UNLV is no longer considered a Top 50 RPI win…giving the Aztecs only one Top 50 win away from home, and four losses in their last 10 games.

Penn State (48%)

It’s been a long time since Penn State was in the NCAA Tournament discussion this late in the season, but that’s what wins at the Breslin Center and Assembly Hall (the one in Champaign) will do for you. Penn State’s non-conference resume is abysmal, though (I can’t even list a single team as a good win here). After sweeping the Illini on Talor Battle’s last-second shot last night, winning at Iowa last week would have gotten the Nittany Lions to 11-7 in conference and into lock status…but they lost that game AND were embarrassed by Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. Oh, and it’s Selection Sunday morning and their RPI is 70. Which would be in New Mexico 1999 range…historic…

Auburn (47%)

OK Tiger fans, the win over LSU got my attention. Auburn still doesn’t have a darn thing on its non-conference schedule to brag about, and lost all its games against the top of the SEC East, with the exception of Tennessee. The odds aren’t great, but this team IS the hottest in the dreadful SEC and a trip to the Final would probably be good enough. Won a play-out game with Florida, lost their play-in game with Tennessee.

Long Shots:

UNLV (43%)

@Louisville, @BYU–two wins that will counteract a lot of bad losses, including a bad stretch in the middle of the season at TCU and at Colorado State. Lon Kruger’s Rebels also beat Arizona at home in the non-conference season. ENORMOUS home win over BYU last week, but the Rebs missed a chance to lock up a bid by falling at San Diego State, and then losing at home to the Aztecs in the MWC Tournament. Is a 9-8 team from the Mountain West really going to make it? UNLV’s margin for error is extremely slim.

New Mexico (44%)

Safe to say that life has returned to The Pit under Steve Alford–UNM has some excellent home wins, but has missed every opportunity to pick up a decent road or neutral-court win. Home blowout of SDSU and squeaker over Utah late in the season look nice, though. They shared a three-way MWC regular-season title and finished three whole games ahead of UNLV. Pretty much the only thing UNM couldn’t afford was a loss to Wyoming in the first round of the MWC Tournament. Oops.

Virginia Tech (41%)

The Hokies’ non-conference schedule was darn near disastrous, including losses to Seton Hall and Georgia. But their ACC performance has been impressive, including road wins at Wake Forest, at Miami, and at Clemson. Right now, the Hokies’ two big road wins (at Wake and at Clemson) keep them in the field, but they’ll need to win two in the ACC Tournament to get in for sure. North Carolina, without Ty Lawson, probably was a must-win game for them.

Providence (35%)

One of the two surprise teams in the Big East; Keno Davis has done a terrific job keeping this team in contention in his first year at the helm. Providence has benefitted from the league’s weakest schedule, but a season sweep of Cincinnati looks really nice. The loss at home to Notre Dame was a major blow, however, and PC needed to beat Louisville yesterday to make it.

Florida (35%)

Make no mistake, the Gators are in serious trouble. The only moderately impressive win on a #244 non-conference schedule is against Washington by two points. Barely .500 in the SEC is not going to cut it this year, and regardless of conspiracy theorists’ assertions, there are no bonus points given for recent Tournament performance. Lost a play-out game to Auburn.

South Carolina (30%)

The Gamecocks had done some nice winning away from home this year (@Baylor, @Kentucky). But neither of those wins looks as good now as it did a month ago. Lost a play-out game to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament…likely NIT for Darrin Horn & Co.

Northwestern (30%)

How about a salute to Bill Carmody for making this team competitive in an “up” year for the Big Ten?! Wins over Florida State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and AT Michigan State and AT Purdue have kept this team in the discussion well beyond any year in team history. Somewhere Evan Eschmeyer is smiling. Needed one more against Minnesota to be a legit threat, though.

Rhode Island (20%)

Ended any hopes by losing to Duquesne yesterday. Even though Duquesne is probably a better team than most fans realize, it’s not a loss that a Bubble team can afford.

Davidson (20%)

My hunch is that without a win over Butler in the Bracketbuster, Davidson needed to win the Southern Conference’s automatic bid. Too many power-conference teams still have chances to pick up a late-season marquee win. So far the only truly impressive win on the ‘Cats’ schedule came over West Virginia at MSG. Safe to say, though, that every NCAA Tournament fan, Bubble team, and probably some Committee members will be rooting for Stephen Curry to make it back to the NCAA’s. But there’d be an outcry from all kinds of power-conference teams if Davidson were included.

Utah State (20%)

Stew Morrill needs a promotion. The Aggies have consistently been among the winningest programs in the West, and this year is no exception, as USU is obliterating the WAC. The only thing Morrill hasn’t figured out yet is how to set up a more strenuous non-conference schedule (at home to Utah is the only real scalp) so that his team won’t have to rely on a conference tournament victory in order to make the NCAA’s.

Tulsa (15%)

The Golden Hurricane made the CUSA Final. They also beat Texas A&M on a neutral floor. But the only way they’re getting in is via an automatic bid.

Notre Dame (10%)

Blowout over Louisville notwithstanding, the Irish are in serious trouble. The only other quality win on their resume came way back on November 25 against Texas. This fact is reflected in their abysmal sub-70 RPI (despite a steady helping of Top 50 opponents in the Big East). Losing to West Virginia means NIT.

Cincinnati (10%)

The Bearcats were in decent shape for an NCAA Tournament bid, having won @UNLV, and against fellow bubble dwellers UAB and Mississippi State. But with no real Big East scalps, save for West Virginia at home, the Bearcats could not afford a disastrous loss at South Florida and another at home to Seton Hall, and another to winless DePaul in the Big East Tournament.

Miami-FL (5%)

Georgia Tech? In a must-win game? Really?

Kansas State (5%)

North Carolina Central? In the middle of conference season? Clearly Frank Martin does not understand the RPI formula. KSU was lucky to squeak by Iowa State last weekend, and lost a must-win game at Missouri, and another against Texas in the first round of the B12T.

Kentucky (1%)

Early-season neutral-court wins over West Virginia and Kansas State have held up nicely, and sweeping Tennessee (the first in Knoxville behind Jodie Meeks’ 54 points) will clearly be on the Committee’s minds. But their RPI is 79 right now (!) which would mean a historic low if they somehow made the field…

Automatic Bids:

Akron (MAC)
Alabama St (SWAC)
American (Patriot)
Binghamton (AmEast)
Cornell (Ivy)
Chattanooga (SoCon)
Cleveland State (Horizon)
CSU-Northridge (Big West)
ETSU (A-Sun)
Morehead State (OVC)
Morgan State (MEAC)
North Dakota State (Summit)
Northern Iowa (MVC)
Portland State (Big Sky)
Radford (Big South)
Robert Morris (NEC)
Siena (MAAC)
Utah St (WAC)
Western Kentucky (Sun Belt)
Stephen F Austin (Southland)

Bubble Math:

1) A team is only a “lock” if its chance of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large is better than 95%. I really don’t like moving teams out of “lock” status because they’ve lost four games in a row.

2) 31 teams earn automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.

3) 34 teams earn at-large slots to the NCAA Tournament.

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