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NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: 1/22/08

by David Mihm | January 22nd, 2008

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:

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13 Responses to “NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: 1/22/08”  

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  1. John Says:

    Yup I have some thoughts:

    Since Illinois State was mentioned, I took a look at the BracketBusters and see it is not too far away. To me, it is dumb for whoever organizes it to designate home and road teams for the simple fact that it could take away from two conference leaders playing each other( i.e. Akron and Cleveland State.) but be that as it may i was thinking that perhaps Illinois State could host George Mason. other matchups i thought about: Siena at Akron, Creighton at Cleveland State, UC Santa Barbara at Saint Mary’s, etc.

    A MAC team(Ohio, Kent State) on here would be nice as would CAA team(either Mason or VCU).

    I think URI is in despite the loss at Saint Louis. No denying the A-10 this year.

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  2. David Mihm Says:

    @John, I’m intrigued by some of your Bracketbusters; however, I think there’s at least a 50-50 chance that St Mary’s will be hosting Butler. The organizers of the event have typically done a pretty good job at getting the marquee matchup right (see SIU @ Butler last year), and those are clearly the two best teams participating in the event. And we’ve seen they’re not shy about sending teams on a long road trip (Drexel @ Creighton, Albany @ Boise State, to name a few).

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  3. John Says:

    @ David Mihm. I put up the BracketBusters site and it says Butler and Saint Mary’s are both designated as home teams, and I don’t think it is possible to change that at this late stage(match-ups announced February 4.) I think perhaps VCU could be sent to Hinkle Fieldhouse and why is the Mountain West not participating? Do they feel they are ”above” their teams playing in this event? They have 4 teams(BYU, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State) in contention for the NCAA Tournament.

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  4. David Mihm Says:

    Thanks, John, that is great information. Everyone else, the page John is referring to is linked here.

    Interesting that Butler is allowed to host two years in a row…

    So, because Drake and St Mary’s have already played this season, I’d now expect the Gaels to host Kent State or Creighton. It would seem cruel to make Davidson or Siena travel all the way out to the Bay Area…

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  5. Joe Says:

    I don’t get this love for the SEC. Even the CUSA has a winning record against the SEC. Only Vandy and Tennessee are proven teams, yet they are losing to unranked Kentucky. That does not do the SEC very well when San Diego (unranked, #2 in WCC) can go into Rupp and win while the much overhyped and ranked teams (#3 in polls, 1st in SEC East) at the time Tennessee and (#16 in polls, 2nd in SEC East) Vandy cannot. I’m just glad the pollsters don’t seed the tournament.

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  6. Andrew Force Says:

    I tend to agree about the SEC. I think the SEC is way down in the last few years actually. Remember when Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas were top 15 teams?

    UK might get back there soon with their recent run of success, but 4 middle of the pack SEC teams barely mustered 1 win against middle of the pack Big East teams in that odd Big East/SEC Invitational.

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  7. Dex Says:

    As good as the Atlantic 10 has been so far this year, I don’t think that they will get more than three teams in come tournament time. For one, the Big East, Big 12, and Pac 10 are going to take a large portion of the at-large bids and this really hurts the chances for smaller conference bubble teams. Also, there is always the possiblility that teams such as Butler and Memphis may not win their conference tournaments, creating even fewer spots for teams that may be deserving. Butler has already shown its vulnerability twice in conference play and although Memphis has been incredible, there are some quality teams in Conference USA who will be itching to play the part of David come March. In my opinion, the A 10 will get three teams in, and only because of the overall strength of the conference. Teams that have a legitimate chance, such as Rhode Island, Charlotte, Duquesne, and St. Joseph’s will cancel each other out in the end because there will be no teams left with at-large deserving records. I believe that in the end, Xavier is a lock, Dayton is on the good side of the bubble, and UMass slides in because of their overall strength of schedule. Sorry Rams.

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  8. Mark Says:

    The real story on the SEC Big East Challenge is that the dregs of the SEC played. LSU, South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn are four of the worst teams in the conference.

    David, we talked last year about Mississiippi State. In the end they were probably one of the last three or four teams out of the tournament, then made it to the NIT Final Four. After a struggle in the early part of the season, the Bulldogs have won nine straight and have games at Arkansas and vs Tennessee in the upcoming week.

    In the end, I think we will see six SEC teams in the tournament: Tennessee, Vandy, Florida, Mississippi State, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Arkansas will be a near miss.

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  9. Dex Says:

    I am curious why no one is giving Davidson any respect. I actually think that the Wildcats are more qualified for a bid than Vanderbilt. I realize that they did not win one of their games against UNC, Duke, UCLA, or NC State. But it must be considered that every one of those games was on the road and they lost by a combined total of 23 points. I guarantee that Vandy would have done no better. Who have the Commodores beaten? Vanderbilt’s highlight would probably be a home win against UMass, and yet they are considered a lock. It is not unlikely that Davidson will run the table in the SoCon and win the conference tournament, but if they somehow did not, I believe that they should be seriously considered for an at-large bid.

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  10. Joe Says:

    The SEC will get 5 at the most but it will probably end up being 4.

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  11. John Says:

    @ Dex. I am all for the little guy(mid-major.), even though I am a Florida fan. My season begins in the SEC Tournament, so I have time to check out the mid-major scene. There are other teams much more deserving in the mid-major pool then Davidson, and to say they are more deserving then Vanderbilt is outrageous. The following teams warrant more consideration then Davidson: Rhode Island(wins at Syracuse, vs Providence and UAB.), Dayton(wins at home vs Pittsburgh, at Louisville vs Akron and Rhode Island.), Massachusetts(wins at Syracuse, Boston College.) not to mention Akron, Kent State, South Alabama, Western Kentucky, Charlotte, UNLV, BYU, New Mexico, San Diego State etc. I don’t know if you are a Davidson fan or not, but win the conference tournament or else you won’t make the field. And one final note: Davidson will NOT go undefeated in conference play. Watch the NC-Greensboro game on ESPN2 coming up soon. That is the team that will beat Davidson and ultimately win the conference(because of Kyle Hines.) Davidson gets this much attention because they are a name program on the mid-major level and they have a name player(Stephen Curry.)There are other mid-major programs that deserve more attention then the Wildcats.

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  12. Dex Says:

    @ John, thanks for the reply. I may have gone a little far in saying that Davidson is more deserving than Vanderbilt, but I still think that they are at least deserving of consideration. Let me tell you why. Davidson has beaten 13 teams by an average of nearly 23 points a game. They’ve played 3 teams on the road who are ranked in the top 12 of the RPI rankings, and top 5 in the AP and Coaches polls. They’ve averaged losing by 6 points and have lost every game on the road against quality opponents, excluding Western Michigan. Not to mention, the’ve won 9 straight since losing to NC State. Vanderbilt has only won 3 road games and has lost 3 games by an average of 16 points, one of which was to a struggling Kentucky team who has lost to San Diego (by 9) and Gardner Webb (by 16), both at home where they beat Vandy. You can take most teams in the country and they wouldn’t beat UCLA, UNC, or Duke at home, let alone play them as well and Davidson did. All I’m saying is to give them a little credit. I’m not saying that they should be given a bid, I just believe that they should be considered. Also, I agree that all of the Mid-Majors you mentioned are deserving of consideration, but I never said that Davidson was more qualified than any of them. And I am not a Davidson fan. I am a huge Indiana fan and I was happy to see that Florida finally made the polls this week.

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  13. John Says:

    @ Dex. I understand that Davidson played those teams close and I think perhaps the NCAA should mandate a rule stating that those types of games should be played at Davidson or whatever school it is(only 1 of those games I meant to say.) and I understand it is difficult to beat those schools, but is N.C. State that good? Davidson should be able to beat them(Mercer did win at USC as an example.) I think a major problem is that the Big East expanded and squeezed out the mid-majors. The commitee prefers a 8th or 9th place team from the Big East instead of a team like Davidson(or Appalachian State last year.) The Big East should have never been allowed to expand that much. Now teams like Davidson are forced to play neutral site games against multiple top teams with realistically knowing they won’t win all of them. It hurts their overall profile come Selection Sunday because they get no credit for beating their lousy conference opponents. This is a situation that needs to be fixed. And I was stunned that Indiana lost to Connecticut. Worst i’ve seen them shoot all year. They beat Wisconsin they’ll win the Big Ten. And yes, it is about time we(Florida) were ranked, and #19 no less. Not bad for a team supposedly ”rebuilding”(more like reloading.)

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