NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: 1/22/08
In my opinion, it’s still WAY too early to be talking about locks and bubbles, but I know fans are always eager to talk about how the bracket is shaping up at this point in the season. With that in mind, here are a few synopses of what are looking like “controversial” teams on Selection Sunday:
Big Ten – Purdue Boilermakers
Although the RPI is used only as a gauge and not as a qualification, Purdue’s is 90. That gives you an idea of the level of challengers the Boilers faced prior to the start of conference play (read: pretty weak). Purdue’s only top-100 wins to date are against a neutral-courter against a depleted Louisville team and a home win over an over-inflated Ohio State. The 4-1 Big Ten record is nice, but anything less than a fourth-place finish leaves doubt in the minds of Committee members. The meat of Purdue’s schedule comes at the end of the year, with four of their last six games away from Mackey Arena, including @Ohio State and @Indiana. Winning at least ONE of those road games will be essential for the Boilers’ at-large chances.
Pac-10 – USC Trojans
Make no mistake about it, USC has reason for concern, but I sense the Trojans will turn it around, helping give the Pac-10 an amazing seven bids to the NCAA Tournament. The win @ Pauley Pavilion on Saturday was absolutely huge. USC needs to get to .500 & get at least one more good road win (@ Oregon on Saturday would certainly qualify) in the nation’s best conference to feel good about its chances. Speaking of the Ducks, an 0-2 record against the SoCal schools this weekend might put them in this column next week…
SEC – Florida Gators
Billy Donovan’s club has a VERY tenuous grip on an at-large bid right now. The Gators lost both of their marquee non-conference matchups (H-Florida State, @Ohio State) and played an astounding TEN foes with an RPI below 200. Translation: their “real” record right now is about 5-3. Getting Tennessee at home on March 5 is a HUGE opportunity to make a statement to the Committee right before Selection Sunday. The SEC may not be strong enough to earn five bids this year, but the Gators DO have the advantage of playing in the more difficult East.
Big XII – Oklahoma Sooners
I predict that Oklahoma will be the single most difficult team to select / seed on March 16th. The Sooners’ non-conference resume is EXCELLENT, with neutral court wins over Gonzaga and West Virginia, and a home win over Arkansas (and no bad losses). But now that star frosh Blake Griffin is out for a month with a sprained MCL, how many games can the Sooners eke out? @ Baylor on Saturday would be a monumental chance for OU to prove to the Committee that it can still beat good teams without its leader. My sense at this point is that the Committee MIGHT give the Sooners a break if they finish 7-9 in the conference & pick up at least one W at the Big XII Tournament.
Big East – Providence Friars
I actually think the Friars are in pretty good shape; other analysts disagree. They’re 3-3 against the top 50 in the RPI (a very nice feather compared to most bubble teams’ caps) and just got a high-quality road W against UConn. All this has been done without star guard Sharaud Curry, who’s still mending after a broken foot suffered in practice before the season began. The quality of the Friars’ remaining Big East schedule is exceptionally high (the only sub-100 RPI game remaining is @St John’s), and a .500 record against that schedule would DEFINITELY make the Tournament.
ACC – Boston College Eagles
Al Skinner’s team is 3-1 in the ACC, but lost a big game over the weekend at fellow Bubbler Virginia. The only non-conference win BC can hang its hat on is a home W over Rhode Island, and there’s a glaring MID-SEASON home loss to Robert Morris which will certainly give Committee members pause. Similar to PC (whom BC lost to on December 1), there isn’t an opponent ranked worse than 84 on the ACC schedule the rest of the way, but the Eagles have the advantage of a 3-1 ACC record to date…
Atlantic-10 – Rhode Island Rams
UMass is looking very good for the Tournament again after picking up a third marquee scalp away from Amherst last week against Dayton. So that leaves the Rams as the last team out in the A-10′s potential game of musical chairs on Selection Sunday. There’s nothing to say that the league won’t get four bids (I project all four teams as “in” in this week’s bracket), but losing to SLU did not help Jim Baron’s team last week. The Rams only get Xavier once, at home, and winning a rematch with Dayton would do wonders, too.
Wild Card – MVC – Illinois State Redbirds
Regardless of whether or not the Redbirds make the Tournament this year, Tim Jankovic deserves consideration for National Coach of the Year. This is a team that has not even been competitive, let alone in contention for an NCAA bid, since 2001. There’s no shame in losing at Drake over the weekend, but winning the return match in Bloomington would be a good idea. As ‘down’ as The Valley is this year, it would be awfully tough to deny a Dance ticket to a team with a 15-1 or 14-2 regular-season record. Here’s hoping the disastrous Eastern Michigan loss on December 4th doesn’t come back to bite ISU.
That’s it for this week; I’d love to hear your thoughts on who to feature here next week! Please leave them in the comment section below: