Bubble Watch 2/20/08
After a one-week hiatus, we’re back with the weekly Bubble Watch. A quick rundown of the teams featured last time around:
Big 10: Indiana Hoosiers. IU is now officially a lock. After two wins over Big Ten leaders Purdue and Michigan State, Indiana will be in the Tournament. The bigger question is whether Kelvin Sampson will be around to coach them.
Pac 10: California Golden Bears. Let’s see…Cal gets BLOWN OUT at home by the Oregon Ducks, making me count them out, and then get a critical road win at Arizona State to stay very much alive. The Bears’ non-conference schedule can only hurt them, but a 10-10 overall Pac-10 record might just do it…
SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks. The Razorbacks are probably in, but lost a key tilt at Mississippi State over the weekend.
Big XII: Baylor Bears. Baylor passed my “eye test” in a loss against Texas over the weekend, but now they need to clean up on lesser Big XII competition the rest of the way.
Big East: Seton Hall Pirates. The Hall may have peaked too early. Still, a potentially dangerous team at Madison Square Garden.
ACC: Clemson Tigers. Clemson could very well be a great sleeper in your bracket pool…at 7-4 in the ACC, it would take a colossal collapse for them to miss the Big Dance again.
A-10: Duquesne. The Dukes are just too far back in the A-10 standings to be considered a real Bubble threat, but look out for them in Atlantic City.
Other: UNLV. To parahprase Joe Lunardi in his column this week, marginal Western Bubble teams are looked upon very favorably by the Committee. I fear for the Rebels’ sake, though, that an 8th Pac-10 team might be the marginal entrant in the ’08 bracket.
Now to the new ones:
Big Ten: Ohio State. There are four locks and one Bubble team in this league. The rest of the league might struggle to make the NIT. So for the rest of the year, we’ll focus on the Ohio State Buckeyes. Thad Matta’s team is only 1-7 against the RPI top 50, and their own ranking has slipped to #46 after a weekend loss to Michigan. They’re in the bracket this week, but I just sense the Buckeyes sliding to the bad side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.
Pac 10: Arizona Wildcats. I just want to reiterate here what I’ve said many times in the comments on several articles in the last few weeks: Arizona could finish 8-10 in the Pac-10 regular season and still make the NCAA Tournament. The ‘Cats have the #1 SOS, and are the #5 non-conference RPI team. They have good road wins at Cal, USC, UNLV, and Houston, and would probably still get a top-half seed with a .500 record the rest of the way.
SEC: Mississippi State Bulldogs. One cannot overemphasize the importance of the Bulldogs’ win in Starkville over the weekend vs. their SEC West rival Arkansas. Rick Stansbury has done a terrific job turning this team’s fortunes around, and its RPI is rising steadily (currently in the mid-40′s). Picking off either Vandy or Florida away from home during the week of March 1 would seal MSU’s bid.
Big XII: Oklahoma Sooners. Like the Big Ten, we’re repeating ourselves here in the Big XII. Though not as strong as Arizona’s, Oklahoma’s non-conference profile is awfully good for a Bubble team, with neutral-court wins over West Virginia, Gonzaga, and at home over Arkansas. Now the task is simply to prove to the Committee that they can beat good teams with Blake Griffin healthy. Other than a game in Austin this weekend, the schedule is favorable the rest of the way, and I don’t expect the Sooners to finish worse than 9-7.
Big East: West Virginia Mountaineers. Speaking of Bob Huggins’ team, let’s take a closer look at 17-7 (7-5) WVU. Unfortunately for West Virginia, its Big East schedule looks at lot like Syracuse’s did in 2007. A monumental Bubble game is approaching on Wednesday, at Villanova. Beyond that, the only game the ‘Eers won’t be favored in is a trip to Storrs on March 1. Will 10-6 in the Big East be good enough? Probably so. 9-7? Maybe not. A home win over Duquesne is the only decent scalp on their non-conference resume.
ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Somehow, the ACC is the #1 RPI conference in the country. That’s why, at this point in the season, it’s hard for me to leave out a team that is a game over .500 and only a game out of third place. Dino Gaudio’s team has two big home wins (BYU, and of course Duke). The question remains whether they can get one in Chapel Hill this weekend. A loss there would necessitate a road sweep of Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to feel good about their chances.
A-10: Massachusetts Minutemen. Talk about a tough team to figure out! 4-2 against the Top 50, 7-6 against the Top 100, but only 5-6 in the Atlantic-10. Luckily for the Minutemen, they’ve got a creampuff schedule to close out the regular season, except for a game at rival URI this week. So even with a loss, Travis Ford’s team should finish above .500. But 10-6 would look SO much better than 9-7, especially if the Minutemen were to suffer an early exit in the A-10 Tournament…
Other: South Alabama. John Pelphrey’s former team has been getting a LOT of buzz in the blogosphere. First things first, the Jaguars need to complete a regular-season sweep of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Thursday. Then, they’ll need to make the Sun Belt Final. In that scenario, they’d have a 50-50 chance at an at-large bid. But I’ve just seen too many examples in my eight years of projecting the bracket where the Bubble shrinks on teams like USA once Selection Sunday arrives. Power conference teams just have a tremendous advantage in their opportunity to accrue late-season, marquee, neutral-court victories in their conference tournaments, whereas mid-major teams can only try to avoid bad losses.
I look forward to reading the comments of BracketNation again this week!