Your Bubble Has Burst: 02.19.09

Posted by zhayes9 on February 19th, 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

Selection Sunday is sneaking up on us, folks. The conversations around college basketball are focused squarely on the bubble as we crawl closer and closer to March 15th and the unveiling of the new bracket. Whose schedule is looking favorable down the stretch? Which teams need to win out? Is the ACC approaching the Big East in terms of expected bids? Here’s your latest bubble update on Your Bubble Has Burst here at Rush the Court:

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

Atlantic Coast

Locks: North Carolina built a hefty lead in the ACC this week with their wins over Duke and Miami, while their rival Blue Devils have fallen in 4 out of 6 to drop 2.5 games behind the Tar Heels. Both Duke and Carolina, along with 7-4 Clemson and 7-4 Wake Forest, appear to be locks at this point. Despite Wake’s slip-ups to unranked ACC opposition, their home wins against Duke and North Carolina and road wins at BYU, Clemson and Boston College should be enough.

Comfortably in:
Sure, they laid an egg in Winston-Salem, but Florida State still sits in a nice position. A 21 RPI and 32 SOS with 2 wins against the RPI top 25 in the #1 RPI conference means Leonard Hamilton will finally lead his Seminoles to tournament action. The schedule down the stretch does provide room for a collapse, though, with a home-and-home against Virginia Tech, trips to BC and Duke and home contests vs. Clemson and Miami. No gimmes on that schedule.

Work left to do:
Those buzzer-beater losses to Xavier and Wisconsin would look very good as wins on Seth Greenberg’s resume right about now. Virginia Tech has done a nice job turning it around in ACC play to compile a 51 RPI, 49 SOS and wins at Wake and Miami. Still, the loss to Virginia hurts big and their non-conference wins are less than impressive. With @Clemson, Duke, North Carolina and two games vs. Florida State left on the slate, they are far from a sure thing. Boston College will probably hear their name called on Selection Sunday after the win against Duke on Sunday. They really only need to go 2-2 down the stretch and 9-7 should be enough. Their last three games are favorable: FSU, @NCST, GT. At 4-8 in the ACC, Miami needs to win out to get to 8-8. Period.

On the brink: Maryland’s throttling at the hands of halfway decent opponents in seemingly every game save Michigan State can’t impress the tournament committee. At 5-6, they’re still alive. They absolutely need to steal one of their three remaining home games with Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest while also knocking off NC State and Virginia on the road. It’s a tall task for coach Williams.

Big 12

Locks: Oklahoma just keeps on winning. At 25-1 (11-0) and in a much easier conference than the ACC or Big East, they could be on their way to a #1 overall seed. Difficult road games at struggling Texas and red hot Missouri still remain. Speaking of Missouri, both the Tigers and fellow lock, Kansas, seem to be making late pushes for a #2 seed in the field. They both have RPI’s in the top 15 and meet March 1 in Lawrence. The winner will be still alive for the #2 seed.

Work left to do: Texas
has been one of the seasons biggest mysteries. They were able to dodge poor point guard play for wins against Villanova, UCLA and Wisconsin during non-conference action, three wins that should give Longhorns fan comfort despite the shaky 6-5 record in the Big 12. The loss to reeling Texas A&M by 15 was very disappointing. The huge matchup this Saturday against Oklahoma in Austin may be just what Texas needs to get back on track and avoid slipping into real bubble territory. Kansas State at 18-8 (6-5) is your perfect definition of a bubble team, seemingly on the Last Four In/Out every week in my bracket. They lost a huge opportunity by falling to rival Kansas at home. With a weak 82 RPI and 115 SOS, they need to win often down the stretch. 3-2 is a must.

On the brink: Nebraska will have a difficult time making the field. Their January win against Missouri is looking better and better, but trips to Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor remain on the slate. They hope to beat Texas A&M at home while stealing one of those difficult road games to have a chance. Oklahoma State is staying alive because of their 37 RPI and 6 SOS. Their win at Texas Tech kept their slim tournament chances alive. Baylor and Texas A&M are sitting at 4-7 in the Big 12, meaning they need to win the rest of their conference games just to reach 9-7. The more realistic goal is 4-1 and a run in the Big 12 tournament with their RPI’s in the 45-55 range.

Big East

Locks: Pittsburgh made a strong statement on Monday winning in Storrs and staying alive in the Big East title race. That win was more important for a #1 seed than anything as both Pittsburgh and Connecticut are locks to be top-2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. There are five other teams with RPIs in the top 25 in the Big East. Three of them are bona fide locks:  Marquette, Louisville and Villanova. Louisville’s 4-1 record vs. the RPI top 25 will likely carry them to a #2 seed. We all know how daunting Marquette’s schedule down the stretch is, but if they can go just 2-3, they still deserve a #3 seed at the very least. Villanova’s wins against Pittsburgh, Marquette and Syracuse at home will be very important come Selection Sunday.

Comfortably in: Syracuse
sits at just 7-6 in the Big East, but one must look deeper: 19 RPI, 18 SOS, wins over Memphis, Kansas and Florida and a very favorable schedule the rest of the way, including a three-game stretch of St. John’s, Rutgers and Cincinnati. They also welcome Villanova to the Carrier Dome. A win would push Syracuse to lock status.

Work left to do: West Virginia
looks to be in a pretty good spot. Their three remaining Big East roads game are Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida = all winnable. Their three remaining home games are Louisville and DePaul = both winnable. If they can go 4-1 in those six games, a 16 RPI and 5 SOS should boost the Mountaineers to a respectable seed. Providence is making up for a mediocre non-conference performance with a quality 8-6 Big East record including a huge sweep against bubble rival Cincinnati. The next two games are make-or-break against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh at home. Steal two of the last four and you have to think 10-8 in the Big East may be enough for an 11 or 12 seed. Cincinnati sits in bubble land at 7-6 in the conference with a decent 48 RPI. The rest of Cincy’s season could go either way with home visits from Louisville, West Virginia and improving Seton Hall, along with road games at Syracuse and South Florida.

On the brink: Notre Dame kept their season alive by pounding Louisville last week. It’s still a long shot they make the tournament, though, with road games at Connecticut and Providence left to play. It’d be different if they had West Virginia’s computer numbers, but a 75 RPI is seriously lacking. Georgetown can probably get in at 9-9 with their 39 RPI and 3 SOS and wins against Connecticut, Memphis and Tennessee. That would mean going 4-1 the rest of the way during a stretch where they play Marquette, Louisville and at Villanova. Seton Hall needs to go 4-1 to get to 9-9 and win at least one Big East tournament game, meaning their home game against Pittsburgh is enormous on February 28.

Big Ten

Locks: Despite the blowout loss to Purdue, Michigan State still looks primed for a #2 or #3 seed, depending on their Big Ten Tournament performance. They stand one game ahead of Purdue in the standings with a tough road contest in Champaign on March 1 looming. Purdue finally got their first win against an RPI top 25 opponent against the Spartans, while Illinois holds three in their back pocket. 33 points at home to Penn State was unbelievably pathetic, but it’s just one loss for an Illini team that should feel comfortable. The seed takes a hit, though.

Work left to do: Ohio State should also be comfortable with a 30 RPI, 38 SOS and wins against Butler, Purdue and Miami. The loss at Northwestern stings, but they can rebound at home by taking care of Illinois and Penn State. Minnesota went undefeated in non-conference play to boost their record to 19-6. They need to start playing better basketball sooner than later, though. They still have a home-and-home with desperate Michigan remaining, along with games at Illinois and a home visit from Wisconsin, a team that needs wins. They have the #222 non-conference SOS in the nation, and you have to bet the committee will look at that should the Gophers sit on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Penn State sits at 8-6 in the Big Ten after their huge win at Illinois. Still, their RPI/SOS is 72/105 (before the Illinois game) and they played the #327 non-conference SOS in the country.  A win at Ohio State would put the Nittany Lions back in the projected field at 9-6 in the Big Ten and give them serious hope. Wisconsin kept their season alive by taking care of Ohio State at home on Saturday. With a 28 RPI and 4 SOS, they should make the tournament by sweeping Indiana and beating Michigan at home, along with a first round Big Ten tournament victory. That would put them at 11-8 with strong computer numbers.

On the brink: Michigan
kept their NCAA hopes alive and ended Northwestern’s with their OT win in Evanston on Sunday. At 6-7 in the Big Ten, they still have plenty of work to do. With trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with a home visit from Purdue and that same Minnesota team, they may be one of the last teams out on Selection Sunday. The wins against UCLA and Duke are losing some luster, too.

Pacific 10

Locks:
The Pac-10 is the most muddled of any major conference, so it was especially difficult ranking these teams into the four categories. For now, I’ll put Washington, Arizona State and UCLA into lock status. Washington has opened up a full game lead in the Pac-10 standings and have cemented themselves as one of the surprise teams in the nation. A critical road swing through the LA schools could put a damper on their joy, especially if they lose both and relinquish the conference lead. Arizona State has won four in a row and have a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way with home games against rival Arizona, California and Stanford with a swing through the Washington schools. The game at Washington will be difficult, but they’ll be favored in the remaining four. With a 26 RPI, the Sun Devils look primed for a top-5 seed. UCLA’s ranking last week wildly overrated a team whose best win is Cal at home. Finishing with the two Oregon schools at home should be a nice confidence boost heading into the Pac-10 tournament.

Comfortably in: California
is quietly building a very nice resume with a 19-6 (8-4) record, 25 RPI, 36 SOS and 5 wins against the RPI top 50. They could win their next four games through the Oregon trip and the two LA schools at home, putting them at 23-6 (12-4) and cementing Mike Montgomery as a potential coach of the year candidate. They look good for a bid.

Work left to do:
On January 24, Arizona was losing by double digits in the second half to Houston at home, the season appearing lost and the supportive Wildcat fans tortured in their seats. Since their huge comeback to beat Houston, Arizona has won six straight Pac-10 games to reach 18-8 (8-5) in the conference and their long NCAA Tournament streak looks like it may continue. Their 42 RPI and wins against Gonzaga, UCLA, San Diego State and Kansas certainly help. A difficult three-game swing against Arizona State, Washington State and Washington follows. Southern Cal sits firmly on the bubble at 15-9 (6-6) and nothing to tout out-of-conference other than a 1-point loss to Oklahoma. A win on Saturday against Washington at the Galen Center would go a long way towards claiming a bid.

SEC

Locks:
Sure, LSU has a #119 SOS, plays in the weak SEC and their best non-conference win is Texas A&M in Houston. Still, a 22-4 (10-1) record is damn good and puts LSU in a position for a top-5 or 6 seed in Trent Johnson’s first season on the Bayou. The Tigers could potentially win every game remaining on their schedule. It’s not like there’s that much to fear in the SEC. Their toughest game is at Kentucky, but both Mississippi State and South Carolina won there.

Comfortably in:
It’s tough to tell where the committee will go with Tennessee. They played the #1 non-conference SOS and have the #18 RPI in the country, but 16-9 (7-4) in this conference is a grand disappointment for Bruce Pearl’s team. It’s hard to think they’re on the bubble just yet with those numbers, but road games remaining at Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina means they could end up there.

Work left to do: South Carolina
is trending towards the bubble. The 41 RPI is respectable, but their best non-conference win was Baylor and it’s vital they sweep Arkansas and Kentucky at home this week. Speaking of Kentucky, they’ve lost 4 of 6 games and with a 64/87 RPI/SOS, Billy Gillispie has to be feeling the heat in Lexington. I just don’t know with Kentucky; they could win every game or lose every game. They still have Tennessee and LSU at home and trips to Florida and South Carolina, so the Wildcats could be left out on Selection Sunday unless Patrick Patterson returns and helps this team turn it around. Florida lost two heartbreakers on the road last week to Kentucky and hapless Georgia. With a #106 SOS and their best true road win being Auburn, this is another SEC team with a lot to prove.

On the brink: Mississippi State’s home win over South Carolina Wednesday night kept them alive. They still have a 85 RPI and just last night picked up their first win against the RPI top 50. Save a visit to Tennessee, the schedule, @Alabama, Auburn, Florida, @Mississippi, is fairly favorable if they’d like to make a late run.

Non-BCS Teams

Locks: By defeating Gonzaga, Memphis aced their final season test because we all know Conference USA poses no threat to the powerful Tigers. Their #7 RPI means they’ll likely be a #2 seed, even if they win out as expected. Xavier’s #8 overall RPI and 5 wins over the RPI top 50 are enough for lock status despite the recent losses on the road in the Atlantic 10. Utah State at 25-2 (12-1) has done enough to garner an at-large even if they slip up in the WAC tournament, despite the weak overall SOS. Gonzaga will likely go undefeated in the WCC and have wins against Oklahoma State, Maryland, at Tennessee and at Washington State out-of-conference.

Comfortably in: Dayton should feel very good at 23-3 (9-2) with wins over Xavier and Marquette. Their seed has climbed steadily, reaching the 7-10 range as of late. Winning at Xavier would put them into firm lock status. Butler has now lost three games in the Horizon League, their latest setback occurring last night in Milwaukee. They’ll be an interesting case should the Bulldogs lose at Hinkle during the conference tournament. I doubt that happens and the #22 RPI is still very good. Speaking of RPI, Utah has an 11 RPI and 15 SOS, including wins against Gonzaga and LSU and close losses to California and Utah State.

Work left to do:
Both Siena and Davidson should win their conference tournaments. I would have a hard time including either in the field should they lose, though. Davidson has their win against West Virginia and NC State on a neutral floor to tout, but Siena did nothing out-of-conference. Should Davidson beat Butler on Saturday, they’d likely receive an at-large even with an upset in the SoCon tournament. Northern Iowa has hit a serious funk, losing 3 of 4 to Creighton, Wichita State and Drake, allowing the red hot Bluejays to catch UNI at the top of the MVC. The conference is down and appears to be a one-bid league, but Creighton might have an outside, outside shot at a seed should they lose in the championship game. BYU, San Diego State and UNLV sit squarely on the bubble. It’s probable that 3 out of the 5 Mountain West teams receive bids (counting Utah) with UNLV having the most work to do to reach that point.

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