Your Bubble Has Burst: 02.12.09

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2009

Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist.   He’ll be regularly out-scooping, out-thinking and out-shining Lunardi over the next three months.

bubble-burst

Welcome to the first edition of Your Bubble Has Burst here on the new and improved RTC. I’m your resident bracketologist Zach Hayes here to give you a midweek update on the state of the all-important bubble, my favorite topic of conversation this time of year. I’ve classified every team in NCAA contention under four categories: locks (certainly in the field), comfortably in (they can pretty much depend on their name being called barring an epic collapse), work left to do (teams that need to win games to ensure their spot or risk being left out) and on the brink (teams not quite on the bubble that need to win and win often immediately). Let’s get right into it:

Note: all computer numbers prior to Thursday’s games.

Atlantic Coast

Locks: The three ACC locks- Duke, North Carolina and Clemson- are all likely top-four seeds in the NCAA Tournament. They boast RPIs in the top 15, with Duke landing at #4 and North Carolina at #5. The Tar Heels victory Wednesday in Durham drops Duke to a likely #2 seed with Clemson in the 3-4 range. These three teams should stay around this spot and are all Final Four threats in the top-heavy ACC.

Comfortably in: Wake Forest’s loss to their fourth unranked ACC team pushes them down a level. We’d still bet on them being a top-four seed on Selection Sunday, but you never know with this amount of youth, inexperience and inconsistency. Wins over Duke and Carolina help tremendously. Florida State has established themselves as a likely top-6 seed in the field by nearly defeating #1 seeds Pitt and North Carolina at home along with a huge comeback win at Clemson on Saturday. They also have excellent computer totals (20 RPI, 32 SOS) and 4 wins against the RPI top 50. The Seminoles need to stay focused due to a challenging schedule down the stretch, with vengeful Clemson and desperate-for-wins Miami and Virginia Tech visiting Tallahassee and trips to Wake, Duke, BC and Virginia Tech. There are no softies down the stretch.

Work left to do: Boston College could have used a win over Clemson Tuesday at home; instead, they risk going 0-4 (Duke and @ Miami) during a crucial ACC stretch. Luckily, they finish with Florida State and Georgia Tech at home with a visit to NC State, so they should be able to end strong and feel fairly good. Virginia Tech is aided by Duke and North Carolina visiting Blacksburg down the stretch, but let’s not forget those are games against Duke and North Carolina. They must take advantage of games at home vs. Georgia Tech and Florida State, along with a road contest at ACC punching bag Virginia. Miami is only 4-6 in the conference but seems to be improving with a beatdown of Wake Forest and near win at Cameron. They sit squarely on the bubble but end the campaign with BC, @Virginia, @Georgia Tech and NC State, four very winnable games. It could come down to the ACC Tournament for these four teams.

On the brink: Believe it or not, 15-8 (4-5) Maryland is still alive. They absolutely MUST beat Virginia Tech at home on Valentine’s Day to have a chance. Then they’d hope to win at NC State and Georgia Tech while stealing a home game against the top 3- Wake, Duke and North Carolina. This is a very high hill to climb for Gary Williams who I’m sure wishes he could have another shot at Miami and Florida State (two last second losses). They really hope to get to 8-8 and make an ACC Tournament run.

Big East

Locks: The Big East currently boasts two projected #1 seeds- RPI #1 Pittsburgh and #3 Connecticut. It’s extremely likely the Big East will garner two #1 seeds on Selection Sunday, and I’d be shocked if Pitt and Connecticut weren’t the two represented at the top of the bracket given their non-conference performance (as opposed to Louisville) and overall talent level. Louisville has rebounded nicely to a #2 seed in the projected field and have a favorable yet dangerous schedule down the stretch with road games against Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Georgetown and West Virginia (combined: 18-25). Villanova made tremendous progress towards moving to a 2-seed with their convincing win against Marquette last night. They hold a 10 RPI and 22 SOS down the stretch, while Marquette is trending the other way with a horrifying schedule (UConn, @Pittsburgh, @Louisville, Syracuse, @Georgetown remaining).

Comfortably in: Syracuse has hit a rough patch lately, but still should feel pretty good about where they stand. A 22 RPI and 21 SOS are solid numbers. They still have home games vs. Cincinnati, Rutgers and Georgetown with a visit to St. John’s on the slate.

Work left to do: West Virginia didn’t qualify for the comfortably in category because of their 5-6 conference record, but I’ll be shocked if they don’t make the field. They have a great chance in every single game the rest of the way with road contests at Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida and Louisville posing the toughest home threat. Their 15 RPI and 6 SOS are excellent totals. Bob Huggins’ former school, Cincinnati, still needs more wins to make up for a lacking non-conference resume. The win at Georgetown on Saturday was huge as are home games vs. West Virginia and Louisville near the end of February. Providence holds a 7-5 record in the conference with word before the season that 10-8 should be enough. Considering they have two games vs. Rutgers and Notre Dame at home, it may happen. Georgetown is also lurking as a team that probably needs to get to 9-9 and win twice in New York. They’ll have to sweep Marquette, Louisville and DePaul at home and steal a game on the road, a daunting task.

On the brink: Seton Hall has won five in a row to creep within bubble territory, fattening up against inferior competition. With their next three vs. Connecticut and at Marquette and pesky St. John’s, it could end soon. Much like Georgetown, the goal is to find a way to get to 9-9 and make a Big East Tournament run. Notre Dame is 3-7 and needs a miracle to find themselves in the field with a 79 RPI and weak non-conference SOS. They also play road games against Connecticut, West Virginia and Providence.

Big Ten

Locks: The winner of the Big Ten should receive a #2 seed in the field and Michigan State appears comfortably ahead barring more Northwestern-at-home performances. They racked up a huge win at Michigan and can basically finish off the conference with a win at Purdue next Tuesday.

Comfortably in: Four Big Ten teams fit under this category that all appear around the 4-7 seed range. Illinois holds a sexy 14 RPI, 27 SOS and 19 overall wins, but their schedule is a bit tricky. They have difficult road games at Ohio State and Penn State, along with a home contest vs. Michigan State. Purdue has to face the Spartans twice here in the final month or so. Luckily, they have Northwestern and Indiana at home with a trip to Iowa mixed in. Ohio State has a crucial game at desperate Wisconsin on Saturday- a win would basically put them near lock status with a 21 RPI and non-conference wins over Butler and Miami. Minnesota has fallen to 7-5 in the Big Ten with road games at Penn State and Michigan to follow. Lose both and the Gophers fall into bubble-in territory, even with their perfect non-conference record. Bottom line: all four of these teams should make the field.

Work left to do: Penn State and Wisconsin met Sunday in a crucial bubble game with the Badgers winning in Happy Valley. All of a sudden, Wisconsin’s position doesn’t look so terrible despite the 6-game losing streak with two vs. Indiana and Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan at home. Win those and Bo Ryan’s team is at 10-8 in the conference with one win in the tournament wrapping it up.

On the brink: Michigan laid an egg in their chance to claim their fourth RPI top-25 win of the season by faltering to Michigan State at home on Tuesday. John Beilein is probably telling his team they need to win the next four games: @Northwestern, Minnesota, @Iowa, Purdue. With their quality wins and strong SOS, Michigan needs to get to 9-9 in the conference and win a couple in Indianapolis to have a shot. Penn State has lost three in a row since their win in East Lansing. With an 81 RPI and 128 SOS, they probably need to reach 11-7 in the Big Ten. I’d put those odds at about 70/30 they won’t at this point, especially with road games at Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois on the way. Northwestern is at 13-8 (4-6) and almost certainly will fall short once again, but they’re not completely out of the running. These next three at home against Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State are crucial.

Big 12

Locks: Oklahoma remains in a very strong position to claim a #1 seed with the Big East and ACC death marches that their competitors are experiencing. They also hold a very helpful #2 RPI and a nation-leading 15 wins against the RPI top 100. Kansas faltered on a last second shot Monday at Missouri but have 6 wins against the RPI top 50 and both Missouri and Texas in Lawrence. Missouri is now at 21-4 (8-2) with a 16 RPI and looks like a potential top-3 seed overall.

Work left to do: The Big 12 features six teams that have plenty of work to do in order to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. Texas, once thought of as a top ten team, had lost three games in a row before pounding Oklahoma State on Tuesday. A win over rival Oklahoma in Austin in late February would heal some wounds. They have decent computer numbers and enough pure talent to get in. Kansas State and Nebraska have nearly identical resumes meaning their rematch on February 28 should mean plenty. As will the Wildcats meeting with rival Kansas on Saturday, a win likely putting them on the right side of the bubble. Nebraska should have a much more difficult time getting in with road games at Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor down the stretch. They’ll need to sweep at home and steal one of those with a relatively weak 69 RPI.

On the brink: Baylor (3-7) and Texas A&M (3-6) both need a huge run. We should be able to eliminate one of these teams after their meeting on Saturday. Oklahoma State just needed a decent showing at Texas Tuesday night; instead, they lost by 25 and did not look like a tournament team. Their 36 RPI and 5 SOS means they should be in contention if they get to .500 in the conference. A road game at Oklahoma still lurks.

Pac-10

Locks: UCLA sits at the top of the conference with a 26 RPI and 19-4 (8-2) record. The game tonight at Arizona State is crucial for seeding when you consider the Bruins’ best win on the season is California at home. Washington has also emerged as a potential top-five seed and can tout a higher RPI and SOS than rival UCLA, including a win in Seattle. These two battle once again on February 19, and you have to assume the Pac-10 champion garners at least a 3 seed.

Work left to do: Arizona State entered the season as a sleeper to win the Pac-10. 18-5 (7-4) with a 41 RPI and 101 SOS is okay and James Harden won’t let this team miss the tournament, but they really need a win tonight at home against UCLA. Five of their last seven conference games are at home with the Washington swing as the lone road games. California holds a more impressive 27 RPI and should win their next four games: Stanford, @Oregon, @Oregon State and USC (of course, they lost to the Beavers at home). USC is making up for a disappointing non-conference performance with a respectable Pac-10 run; a 40 RPI and 23 SOS helps, but the Trojans need to survive the Arizona trip upcoming. Arizona has snuck back into contention with a five-game winning streak, but the schedule ahead is daunting with UCLA, USC and Cal at home with Washington, Washington State and Arizona State on the road.

On the brink: Stanford had a nice undefeated non-conference run with the help of an easy schedule. Since then, they’re 4-7 in the Pac-10 and probably need to win out to have a chance with an 86 RPI and 137 SOS. I’m thinking it’s not going to happen with trips to the Arizona schools and Cal.

SEC

Comfortably in: LSU now has a 2-game lead over the rest of their SEC competition after an exhilarating double-OT win at Mississippi State on Wednesday. I won’t put them into lock status with a 46 RPI and 113 SOS quite yet, but this team should be ashamed if they don’t win this weak conference considering their current status. The only road games remaining are Arkansas, Kentucky and Auburn. They have not defeated a team in the field or even on the bubble outside of the SEC. Tennessee has underachieved at 15-8 on the year, but they still boast a 24 RPI and 3 SOS. They’ll likely be a middle seed barring a collapse or SEC tournament run.

Work left to do: Florida should win their next three games before meeting LSU on the road and returning home to face Tennessee. Those two games will be crucial for a Florida team with a 35 RPI and 103 SOS, their non-conference slate only slightly less embarrassing than LSU. Their win over Washington is looking better and better. South Carolina has been a pleasant surprise at 17-5 (6-3) in Darrin Horn’s first season at the helm. They cannot afford to slip up at a reeling Alabama team on Saturday. People are saying Kentucky saved their season with the dramatic win over Florida at home. That’s certainly not the case if you look at the state of the SEC, but it surely helps. Home games against Tennessee and LSU with visits to South Carolina and Florida still remain. With a weak 62 RPI, Kentucky needs to keep winning to stay in the projected field.

On the brink: Mississippi State may have a 6-3 conference record, but it’s far-fetched to see them near the bracket at this time. They still haven’t beaten a team in the RPI top 50 and their best win is at Kentucky. The loss to LSU last night stings badly because this team needs quality wins. The next real chance is 2/25 @ Tennessee.

Non-BCS schools

Locks: Xavier, Memphis, Gonzaga and Butler should feel very safe they’re in the field. Xavier was hoping for a sweep or split on their hardest road swing of the year at Duquesne and Dayton. Instead, they lost both and are now in jeopardy of not winning the Atlantic 10. Still, with a 7 RPI and 16 SOS, they shouldn’t have much trouble locking up a top-5 seed. Memphis can now go on Conference USA cruise control and possibly climb to a #2 seed for the tournament with a 9 RPI. Gonzaga was thrashed by said Memphis team, but should go undefeated in the WCC and easily make the field. Butler is threatened a bit by Green Bay in the Horizon, but they’re in with a 13 RPI and some quality wins.

Comfortably in: Dayton’s huge win over Xavier vaults their RPI to 25 and projected seed around 7-10. They have 22 wins under their belt and could win the Atlantic 10 regular season title. It looks like they’ll avoid being a one-bid league this season. Utah has an 11 RPI and 11 SOS while looking like the best team in the crazy Mountain West. Their seed continues to climb to around 7-10, as well. Utah State might not lose a game the rest of the season in the WAC. It’ll be interesting to see where the committee seeds the Aggies with their 190 SOS.

Work left to do: Davidson finally lost to Charleston to end their conference winning streak. Say they slip up and lose in the Southern conference final, will they still receive an at-large? It’s likely, but not necessarily a given with a 50 RPI and 144 SOS. While it shouldn’t be this way, their Elite 8 run a year ago and Stephen Curry helps greatly. Siena has a more impressive 30 RPI and, like Davidson, ended a long conference streak with their loss last Saturday. With no non-conference wins to fall back on, Siena might have to win their conference tournament regardless of the RPI. BYU holds a 39 RPI, but the upcoming road trip to San Diego State and UNLV could knock them down a few notches. Or boost them into a more comfortable seed status. It’s likely that San Diego State, UNLV and BYU will be fighting for two bids with Utah winning the conference. Northern Iowa is comfortably leading the MVC despite their loss to Creighton at home on Sunday. With a 79 RPI and 139 SOS, they’ll have to win the MVC tournament. With nothing out of conference, Saint Mary’s can join the club.

On the brink: Is UAB fighting back into at-large contention? No, not really. The top 40 RPI is nice and all, but they’re currently in fourth in Conference USA and will have to knock off Memphis on 2/26 to gain any real attention. Saint Joseph’s is leading to Atlantic 10 with a 7-1 record, but they fell seven times in non-conference play and need to win the conference tournament to make the field. Buffalo is at 16-5 (8-1), but given the strength of the MAC this season, it’ll be a one-bid league. They can’t afford to lose in the conference tournament, either. Creighton is in the same boat.

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