RTC Official Bubble Watch: 01.28.10Posted by zhayes9 on January 28th, 2010
RTC contributor and official bracketologist Zach Hayes will update the bubble scene every week until Madness ensues.
Another week down, another Bubble Watch update, this time a day early…
Locks: Duke has rebounded nicely from their slip-up in Raleigh last Wednesday with two quality wins at Clemson and vs. Florida State. The Blue Devils appear destined to run the table at home and only have two difficult, yet winnable, road dates remaining at North Carolina and at Maryland. 11-5 in the ACC seems like a worse-case scenario for Duke, and even that record may be enough to win the league and garner a top-three seed in March.
Should be in: Wake Forest’s RPI has slowly but surely climbed into the 20-range heading into tonight’s important game at Georgia Tech. Even with a loss tonight, the Deacons next six ACC games (three road trips are at Virginia, Virginia Tech and NC State) are all very winnable. I wouldn’t completely eliminate Wake from the ACC title race if Ish Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu continue to play so well. Georgia Tech sits at a pedestrian 3-3 in the ACC but did defeat Duke and the Yellow Jackets have a chance to pick up another quality in-conference win tonight against Wake. Paul Hewitt’s team shouldn’t get too comfortable, though, with a challenging road slate still ahead. Florida State plays a crucial game at Boston College on Saturday. It’s a team that Noles should beat, but judging from their loss earlier in ACC play to NC State in Tallahassee and over the course of Leonard Hamilton’s coaching tenure, that doesn’t always equal victory. Lose to the Eagles and Florida State begins to trend towards the bubble.
On the bubble: Clemson still finds themselves on the right side of the bubble picture, but the Tigers are moving closer to the 9/10 seed line than 4/5 with their recent three-game losing skid. Luckily for Clemson, four of their next five are inside the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum with their only road game at Virginia Tech. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tigers reel off five consecutive in the win column here and firmly establish their bid. Maryland leads the ACC with a 4-1 mark but have benefited from a hospitable schedule. It becomes much more challenging right away for the Terps with two on the road at Clemson and Florida State. Split those two and the Terrapins remain in the field. The most crucial win of the week may have been North Carolina dispatching rival NC State in what could have been a disastrous outcome for the psyche of that basketball team. The Heels welcome Virginia to the Dean Dome next, but check out the next three: @Virginia Tech, @Maryland and vs. Duke. Frankly, neither 3-0 nor 0-3 would totally shock me.
On the fringe: Virginia Tech is going to have to win a lot of basketball games to overcome their #76 RPI and #270 SOS, two stats currently acting as a firm anchor on Tech’s NCAA hopes. Their next two roadies at Virginia and Miami both need to be won for the Hokies to squirm their way back into the field. It won’t be easy, though, as Virginia has knocked off Georgia Tech and Miami has beaten Wake Forest in their respective home buildings. Much like Virginia Tech, those teams desperately need wins and quickly.
Locks: The five locks at the top of the premiere conference in the land remain firmly entrenched in the field. This pack is led by Villanova at a sparkling 8-0 in the Big East. The reason why I favor Syracuse to win the league in the end is the clear scheduling advantage for the Orange. While the Wildcats have to travel to Georgetown, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the Orange only must go to D.C. and their next most challenging road games are at fringe-NCAA teams Cincinnati and Louisville. Regardless, both are clearly locks and #1-seed contenders. West Virginia picked up a bounce-back win Saturday over Ohio State and, despite their point guard woes, appear destined for a top-three seed. They have two great opportunities ahead with Pitt and Villanova coming to Morgantown. Despite a two-loss week, Pittsburgh remains safe. After a game at rival West Virginia on February 3, Pitt doesn’t play another NCAA team on the road the rest of the way unless Notre Dame makes it, plus they have that win at Syracuse in their back pocket. Georgetown was thumped at Syracuse Monday, but they’re more than fine. Beating Duke on Saturday would be enormous as far as seeding and portfolios are concerned.
Should be in: Just when you think Connecticut is back, they have the ultimate letdown performance at Providence yesterday where shooting and turnovers woes re-emerged. Still, the Huskies have an RPI in the 20-range and have played the most difficult schedule in the nation. Connecticut also doesn’t have a true road win in their portfolio this season with their next opportunity coming February 1 at Louisville.
On the bubble: Louisville beat Cincinnati in an important bubble duel Sunday, but the Bearcats were in my bracket that same night while the Cardinals were left out because Cincy has a better overall resume. In fact, that very win might have been the best to date for Louisville this season. They absolutely must beat Connecticut at home and avoid an upset bid at St. John’s to re-emerge in the bracket. It’s fair to pontificate that Cincinnati peaked at Maui and their collapse at St. John’s certainly stings, but the Bearcats still have a decent chance with a #49 RPI and a #29 SOS. Their rematch at Notre Dame on February 4 looms large. Seton Hall carried home wins over Pitt, Louisville and Cincinnati into the back end of my last bracket. If they can go 1-2 on their upcoming three-game swing through USF, Villanova and Pitt, the Pirates may be able to earn a bid with a favorable schedule the rest of the way.
On the fringe: Could Notre Dame be staring at 9-4 in the Big East when they travel to Louisville on February 17? It’s entirely possible with their next five games at Rutgers, vs. Cincinnati, vs. South Florida, at Seton Hall and vs. St. John’s. Even if they just stand at 8-5, that’s still 8-5 in the #1 RPI conference. Still, they finish with a difficult last five and the quality wins are not there, meaning it’ll be difficult for the Irish to make the tournament.
Locks: If Kansas can continue their dominance in Manhattan Saturday night, they’ll be back where they started: #1 in the polls and the #1 overall seed in most brackets. The Jayhawks are joined by Texas and Kansas State in the lock category out of the Big 12. All three teams have RPI’s in the single digits and quality wins to back up their lofty status. Kansas State slipped up badly at home to Oklahoma State after the monumental Texas win, but their response going into Baylor and winning showed serious mettle.
Should be in: Missouri welcomes Texas A&M and Oklahoma State into their raucous building this week. Win both games and the Tigers start to move into lock territory at 17-5 (5-2) in the #2 RPI conference. With their next games after this stretch at Colorado and home vs. Iowa State, Missouri could be in a really nice position for a top-six seed. Baylor sits at just 2-3 in the Big 12 and whiffed on a golden opportunity at home against Kansas State earlier this week, but the Bears should be there in the end. Putting up a decent showing at Texas Saturday, much like they did at Kansas on January 20, would aid the process. Oklahoma State has moved up a category with two vital wins this week, first shocking Kansas State in Manhattan then taking care of business at home against Texas A&M. The Cowboys are granted no reprieve, though, with a trip to Missouri on Saturday and a Big Monday duel with Texas in a three-day stretch. All Oklahoma State really needs to do is split those two to feel comfortable with a #25 RPI.
On the bubble: Texas A&M has the resume of a perfect bubble team: 14-6 (3-3) and a #35 RPI. The Aggies have plenty of chances in the upcoming weeks to knock off big-time opponents in College Station. Baylor comes to town on February 6, Kansas a week later, and Texas in late February. Mark Turgeon’s team cannot afford to look ahead, though, with a pesky Texas Tech club that nearly knocked off Texas last night ready on Saturday.
On the fringe: Texas Tech has surprisingly solid computer numbers with a #31 RPI and #12 SOS. The OT loss at home to Missouri is devastating at this point. Plus, the Red Raiders frankly have no out-of-conference wins to tout with Washington completely biting the dust. We’ll figure out quickly if Pat Knight’s team has the ammo to remain in the NCAA conversation with a trip to A&M then Oklahoma State at home in two crucial contests.
Locks: Kalin Lucas is turning into the Scottie Reynolds of the Midwest with clutch shot after clutch shot for the 18-3 (8-0) Michigan State Spartans. Take care of business at home vs. Northwestern Saturday (no lock if you remember last season) and State will be 9-0 in the disappointing Big Ten heading into Madison next week. Purdue has responded from their three game losing skid with decisive wins at Illinois and vs. a Manny Harris-less Michigan (they’d have won comfortably anyway). They look strong to win their next three before the first of two showdowns with Michigan State on February 9. Wisconsin has done exactly what they needed to do while Jon Leuer’s wrist heals- tread water. They stand at 16-4 (6-2) after surviving Penn State and with a #10 RPI and #11 SOS move into lock status. I don’t expect them to win at Purdue, but sending Michigan State to their first Big Ten loss would do wonders.
Should be in: Ohio State could have secured their bid if they held onto their lead at West Virginia, but the Buckeyes weren’t expected to win that game. The Buckeyes have survived the challenging portion of their Big Ten schedule and may be favored in their next six contests. They face three average to below average teams at home in Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa before traveling to Indiana and Illinois then back to Columbus for a rematch with Purdue. 6-0 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
On the bubble: Minnesota at 13-7 (4-4) and a #54 RPI is probably on the outside looking in if the season ended today. They blew a golden chance against Michigan State last weekend, but did stay alive by grinding out a win against fellow bubble team Northwestern on Tuesday. With Al Nolen’s status in serious question, the Gophers may be an NIT team, but they have plenty of chances for quality wins ahead with Ohio State (road), Wisconsin and Purdue on the schedule.
On the fringe: It’s looking slightly more bleak for Northwestern at 14-6 (3-5) and a trip to Michigan State this weekend. As I mentioned in my Scribbles column, though, the Wildcats shouldn’t be counted out. Check out their remaining schedule after Saturday and, other than Wisconsin, show me one game that Northwestern doesn’t have an excellent chance to win. The dream isn’t dead.
On the bubble: There’s only one team right now with any at-large hopes out of the Pac-10 and that’s California. If any other team wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll have to win the Pac-10 Tournament in mid-March. Cal has an impressive #27 RPI and #2 SOS, but they have zero wins vs. the RPI top-50 and, judging from the unpredictability of this entire conference, could collapse at any moment. Astonishingly, their next four games are on the road through Arizona and Los Angeles. Cal could either sink back into the Pac-10 mess after this stretch or emerge as the clear conference favorite.
Locks: Kentucky’s campaign for an unblemished record ended Tuesday at South Carolina, but nobody truly expected the feat was possible with this much youth and an improved SEC overall. Kentucky is still a #1 seed heading into their showdown with Vanderbilt this weekend. Could we see two straight teams earn the #1 ranking then lose two games in the very next week? If you saw Vanderbilt walk out of Knoxville with a victory last night, you’d know there’s absolutely a chance. I thought about dropping Tennessee from lock status, but truly the worst-case scenario for them is a 9-7 SEC record if they lose every road game other than LSU. Even then, they’d likely receive a bid with strong computer numbers and the Kansas win. Vanderbilt’s win over the Vols vaulted them into this category. They have out-of-conference wins at St. Mary’s, vs. Arizona and vs. Missouri on a neutral floor. They have nothing to lose at Kentucky- win and the Commodores are looking at a top-three seed, lose and they earned the much-needed split and are still sitting pretty with a favorable schedule ahead. A relaxed Vandy team is a scary proposition for UK.
Should be in: Mississippi’s top four scorers are all guards- meaning they’ll likely have trouble with any team that features scoring big men- but at 15-4 (3-2), a #30 RPI and a win over Kansas State back in November, the Rebels appear destined to be dancing come March. Their loss at home to Mississippi State hurts. Miss. State is a team with a gaudy record based on a weak early SEC schedule and an easy non-conference slate. With their best out-of-conference win vs. Old Dominion and three of their next four on the road, the Bulldogs are trending closer and closer to bubble territory.
On the bubble: Without Chandler Parsons’ heroics, the Gators wouldn’t be in the NCAA discussion. Instead, they stand at 15-5 (4-2) rather than 13-7 (3-3), but Florida still has plenty of work to do with a #61 RPI and #102 SOS. Three of their next four are on the road against Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina. Somehow win two of those and the Gators may be inching closer to a bid. They can also fall back on a win over Michigan State back in November.
Locks: There’s absolutely no shame in BYU losing at New Mexico last night. The Pit is one of the toughest places in the country to play and win. The Cougars are still a legitimate top-15 team. On the flip side, knocking off BYU means New Mexico at 19-3 (5-2) and a #11 RPI is a lock to make the field. Steve Alford should be at least mentioned in National COY discussions taking a Lobos team expected to be competing in the NIT to lock status in January. I’ll be stunned if Northern Iowa loses another game in the Missouri Valley all season. Even if they’re shocked in the conference tournament, the Panthers have earned enough wins and have an impressive RPI. I also mentioned this in my Scribbles column, but Gonzaga may not lose again this year and could play the first two rounds in Spokane depending on their seed. I was a bit surprised Temple lost to Charlotte, but the Owls remain my A-10 favorite and have three wins against the RPI top 25.
Should be in: Xavier sports a pedestrian 13-6 overall mark but 5-1 in a competitive A-10, a top-20 RPI and three wins against the RPI top-50. Their next three games are all extremely winnable with Duquesne and Fordham at home then a trip to Massachusetts. UAB just continues to win. As I mentioned last week, the Blazers were entering a decisive four-game stretch against C-USA contenders with trips to Marshall and Memphis and home dates with Tulsa and UTEP. They’ve completed half that stretch and won both games. Next is UTEP in Birmingham this Saturday. UNLV looks pretty solid, as well. They have a respectable RPI and three wins over the top-50 including at New Mexico.
On the bubble: Rhode Island earned their much-desired split with a road win at Dayton. This win moves the Rams from Last Four In territory to more comfortably in the field while Dayton is trending towards the bubble with a 3-3 conference record and a #45 RPI. A February 6 home date with Xavier looms large. Old Dominion is taking care of their CAA competition and may have a shot at an at-large berth if their numbers are impressive enough. They did knock off Georgetown in December. Beating Gonzaga in their rematch would put St. Mary’s firmly into the field. Siena would be a curious at-large case if they’re upset in the MAAC Tournament. Their RPI continues to climb but the Saints blew all their chances out-of-conference to pick up quality wins. Wichita State’s blowout loss at Drake was positively crippling. A tough two-game road swing at Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa could severely hurt their hopes.
On the fringe: That was an enormous win for Charlotte last night over Temple. Looking at their schedule ahead, the 49ers have a legitimate shot to make the field, especially if Louisville plays better (Charlotte killed the injury-plagued Cardinals back in December). The games at Dayton and Rhode Island will be tough, but they do get Xavier and Richmond at their place. I wouldn’t be stunned if five A-10 teams to make the tournament: Temple, Xavier, Dayton, Rhode Island and one of Charlotte/Richmond. Tulsa and Memphis have awful computer numbers, so they’ll need to keep winning before garnering serious consideration for an at-large berth. UAB has emerged as the team to beat. Cornell, Harvard and Louisiana Tech will need to win their conference tournaments to make the NCAA Tournament unless they win out.