NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: 1/29/08
First, an update on the teams featured in this space last week:
Big Ten – Purdue Boilermakers. Perhaps no team answered the bell last week as well as the Boilers. Purdue is now 6-1 in the Big Ten and 3-2 against the RPI top 50 after defeating Penn State and Wisconsin. Avoiding a trap game at Illinois on Saturday will be important, but Matt Painter’s team looks like it’s on its way to the Dance.
Pac-10 – USC Trojans. Having seen the Trojans in person at Oregon’s Mac Court on Saturday (more on this later in the week), there’s no doubt in my mind this is an NCAA team. Taj Gibson finally seems to be rounding into form, Daniel Hackett is turning into a great floor leader for Tim Floyd. Oh, and there’s a guy named O.J. who also plays in the USC backcourt.
SEC – Florida Gators. Great week for the Baby Gators, with a road win at South Carolina that was just as important as a home blowout of Vanderbilt. At 5-1 in the SEC, they’re looking good right now, but the fact remains their non-conference schedule allows no margin for error.
Big XII – Oklahoma Sooners. One cannot underestimate the importance of beating Baylor in Waco. Road wins are at a tremendous premium in the Big XII this year, and that one will have shelf life. If OU gets another at College Station this week, it’d be awfully tough to deny them a bid on Selection Sunday. Plus, Blake Griffin looks like he’ll make a comeback quicker than anyone expected.
Big East – Providence Friars. Um, what happened against Seton Hall, guys? The loss at the Carrier Dome hurts, but not as badly as the one at home to the Pirates, in which SHU put itself in a 15-point hole to start the game. The BC and Arkansas non-conference gems are also losing some luster…
ACC – Boston College Eagles. See above. BC’s dropped four of six, and things don’t get any easier with trips to Chapel Hill and Clemson upcoming.
Atlantic-10 – Rhode Island Rams. Rebounded nicely after losing to SLU. Next week is HUGE with a home game against slumping Dayton and a trip to UMass looming.
Wild Card – MVC – Illinois State Redbirds. The loss to Bradley hurts. Bigtime. The Valley is not necessarily a two-bid league, despite the objections of other bracket analysts (ahem. Joe Lunardi.). Right now the best scenario for the conference is for Drake to go undefeated the rest of the way but lose to ISU in the Arch Madness final.
AND NOW ONTO THIS WEEK’S TEAMS:
Big Ten – Ohio State Buckeyes. No, the Buckeyes aren’t exactly on the Bubble, but with three near-locks (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana) and the only other bubble team looking good, OSU is here by default. N-Syracuse and H-Florida are looking better and better every day, and two road wins against Big Ten disappointments Penn State and Iowa this week would put Thad Matta’s club at 7-2 in conference and in terrific shape for an at-large bid. The only worry is the closing stretch: H-Wisconsin, @Indiana, @Minnesota, H-Purdue, H-Michigan State. Better get those wins in now, guys…
Pac-10 – Oregon Ducks. The Ducks played one of their best games of the year against UCLA & came up empty, then laid an egg for 35 minutes against USC before mounting an unbelievable comeback to send the game to OT, where they fell short thanks to SC’s blistering outside shooting. My eyes tell me this is a Tournament team, but a four-game losing streak and the loss to Oakland Michigan still bother me. The Ducks have a breather with rival Oregon State coming to Eugene on Saturday, but would do well to sweep the Bay Area schools next week. Closing at home against the Arizona schools will also help a ton.
SEC – Mississippi State Bulldogs. Yes, this team is 5-0 in the SEC right now, and probably deserved a spot in this week’s bracket. But there isn’t a single game on the non-conference slate that gets me the least bit excited. Both marquee SEC wins, if one can call them that, were in Starkville against Mississippi and Kentucky. A massive bubble-bursting showdown at Arkansas looms tonight. Win that one & you’ll be in the field next week. Lose it & my doubt will continue…
Big XII – Texas A&M Aggies. Concerns over the Aggies’ post-season fate are a bit overblown right now, in my opinion. Mark Turgeon’s team has played arguably one of the toughest early-season Big XII schedules, and the wins over Ohio State and Washington in New York City are looking better and better all the time. It sure would have been nice to suppress the Arizona comeback in Tucson during the Big XII-Pac-10 challenge, but the Wildcats are a terrific team @ McKale. It’d be great to see DeAndre Jordan step up his production to pre-conference levels, especially against the ‘Horns and Sooners this week.
Big East – Villanova Wildcats. Joe Lunardi seems to have had it out for Jay Wright’s team this year, and I don’t quite understand why. The ‘Cats may have been overrated early, but they’re not necessarily destined for the NIT yet. A home win against Pittsburgh and an even better road win at Syracuse will keep them in the discussion with a .500 conference record. The upcoming slate is brutal – @Pitt, H-Cuse, @St Joe’s, H-Seton Hall, @Georgetown – and we’ll know a lot more about the Wildcats’ postseason fate in two weeks. I’ll reserve my final judgment until then, but as of now, they’re hanging in.
ACC – Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are looking like this year’s Clemson. After losing to Wake last night, they’re now 2-4 in conference, with a trip to Cameron Indoor looming. The tail end of the ACC schedule is favorable, but Frank Haith’s team can’t afford to dip too far below .500 where it’s impossible to return.
Atlantic-10 – St Joseph’s Hawks. A sweep of UMass is the only thing impressive about Phil Martelli’s team right now, but for a team that wasn’t even in the picture in December, to be this close to an NCAA bid is somewhat impressive. Saint Joe’s still has a ton of marquee games left in conference (two against Xavier, at Rhode Island, at Dayton) and a non-conference tilt with Villanova. Translation: still plenty of opportunity for big-time scalps.
Wild Card – MAC – Kent State Golden Flashes. Kent’s been hanging around the bad side of the bubble for several weeks now, and my inkling is that they’ll end up there on Selection Sunday, too. It’s safe to say that the Committee will probably ignore the season-opening loss to Detroit, but will wins over quality mid-majors Illinois State, George Mason, Cleveland State, and Akron be enough compared to power conference teams? KSU fans should be PRAYING for a trip to Moraga, CA on BracketBuster weekend to get one more chance to prove their worthiness to the Committee.
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: