Bubble Watch: 02.20.12Posted by zhayes9 on February 20th, 2012
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
Locks: Temple, North Carolina, Florida State, Duke, Missouri, Kansas, Baylor, Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Wichita State, Creighton, New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State, Murray State, Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga.
Saint Louis (22-5, 10-3)- The Billikens tournament hopes could ride on how much the committee factors in their attractive computer numbers (21 RPI, 11 KenPom, 17 Sagarin) and discards a void in the quality win department. Their only decent wins came over bubble teams Xavier (road) and Washington (home) while missed opportunities at New Mexico and home vs. Temple loom large. A 10-3 conference record, stellar RPI and another win over Xavier when the Musketeers return to SLU on February 28 should be sufficient for a bid.
Xavier (17-9, 8-4)- The unpredictable Musketeers stayed on the right side of the bubble by dispatching Dayton in overtime on Saturday and their only opportunity for a resume-building win is the aforementioned meeting with Saint Louis. Avoiding a defeat at Massachusetts on Tuesday is paramount given Xavier’s already questionable losses against Hawaii, La Salle and Oral Roberts when their team was depleted by suspensions. Xavier does have impressive wins at Vanderbilt and home vs. Purdue, but both of those came before December 3. Their #54 RPI and #54 SOS screams bubble team.
Virginia (20-6, 7-5)- The Cavaliers have long been considered NCAA worthy but their overall portfolio is actually quite lacking. Their only two RPI top-50 wins came over Michigan back in November and a one-point home win over Miami, while regrettable losses to TCU, Clemson and home vs. Virginia Tech loom. The #231 non-conference strength of schedule is another anchor. The remaining schedule isn’t forgiving – revenge game at Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, at Maryland– but on the flip side there are two RPI top-20 scalps coming to Charlottesville. Win just one and Tony Bennett can breathe easier.
NC State (18-9, 7-5)- The Wolfpack just concluded a devastating week, blowing a huge second half lead at Duke and 48 hours later getting blown out of the water at home against Florida State. With only one RPI top-50 win after Texas fell out following their own crushing loss, State is barely our last team in. The only chance for resuscitation is by beating North Carolina at home on Tuesday and finishing off a sweep of Miami on February 29. They also face a tricky road game at Clemson sandwiched in between. The computer numbers (57 RPI, 38 SOS, 29 non-conference SOS) are respectable.
Miami (16-9, 7-5)- At the moment, the Canes are pinning their tournament hopes on that crucial road win against Duke on Super Bowl Sunday because they have absolutely nothing else. Their next best wins by RPI is UMass at home, largely because all their important non-conference games – at West Virginia, at Purdue, Memphis– were played without star center Reggie Johnson. The Canes were also swept by North Carolina, lost at Virginia and Florida State and fell to NC State at home. The Seminoles return date on February 26 is a must win or the resume will be too empty to deserve serious consideration.
Iowa State (19-8, 7-5)- The most difficult portion of the Cyclones schedule is yet to come with games at Kansas State, at Missouri and home vs. Baylor to wrap up the regular season. Winning either road game would solidify their bid, but even downing Baylor in Ames would give them home wins over Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State, likely enough to punch a ticket in this bubble climate. Iowa State has average numbers (42 RPI, 35 KenPom, 36 Sagarin) and bad losses at Drake, home vs. Northern Iowa and at Oklahoma State. They beat fellow bubble team Texas 77-71 at home in their only meeting.
Kansas State (18-8, 7-7)- The #59 RPI, #250 non-conference SOS and sweep at the hands of Oklahoma are setbacks, but their overall profile appears solid after Saturday’s enormous win at Baylor coupled with wins vs. Missouri, Texas and in the non-conference vs. Long Beach State and Alabama. Both KenPom and Sagarin like the Wildcats more than the flawed RPI, ranking Kansas Stateat #25 in the country. Tuesday’s trip to Missouri is basically house money with three winnable games vs. Iowa State, at Texas A&M and vs.Oklahoma State remaining on the Big 12 slate. Take care of business in those three and Frank Martin’s squad is in the field.
Texas (17-10, 7-7)- Tonight’s clash with Baylor in Austin is just as enormous to their tournament chances as Saturday’s bad loss at Oklahoma State. The young Horns don’t stand a chance at Kansas; with Texas Tech and Oklahoma their only other remaining games before the Big 12 Tournament, this is their golden opportunity to stay viable for the selection committee. The losses to Kansas and Missouri by a combined five points loom large. Their best wins to date are all at home vs.Temple, Iowa State and Kansas State. Texas has yet to beat a team in the RPI top 100 on the road.
South Florida (17-10, 10-4)- The Bulls tantalizing conference record, other than a home win over Seton Hall, was achieved by beating up on the sisters of the poor. With inopportune non-conference losses to Auburn, Penn State and Old Dominion, USF is on the outside looking in. Their final four games are all challenging with road dates at Syracuse and Louisville while Cincinnati and West Virginia visit Tampa. With only four wins vs. the RPI top-100, the Bulls need to win three of those games to compile a feasible resume and boost their computer numbers (59 RPI, 81 KenPom, 86 Sagarin).
Cincinnati (19-8, 7-5)- The Bearcats seed is going to plummet due to their lackluster #75 RPI and #324 non-conference SOS coupled with losses to St. John’s, Rutgers and Presbyterian (#262 RPI). Still, I expect them to earn a bid merely by splitting their home games with Louisville and Marquette while avoiding a slip-up at either USF or Villanova. An 11-7 record in the Big East should be sufficient. Cincinnati has four wins over the RPI top-40 including a huge win at Georgetown and over intra-conference bubble squads Connecticut (road) and Seton Hall (home).
West Virginia (17-10, 7-7)- Bob Huggins’ squad appeared comfortably in the field a few weeks ago before losing five of seven including at St. John’s and home vs. Pittsburgh. I still think their name will be called on Selection Sunday as long as they beat DePaul and USF in their final two games at climb to 9-9 at the very minimum. WVU has a stellar #34 RPI, #7 SOS, #15 non-conference SOS and six wins over current projected NCAA Tournament teams Georgetown, Miami Kansas State, Cincinnati, Akron and Oral Roberts. Two winnable opportunities at Notre Dame and home vs. Marquette are next on the docket.
Seton Hall (18-9, 7-8)- The Pirates sit squarely on the bubble with a gigantic game vs. Georgetown coming up on Tuesday. The schedule finishes with winnable games vs. Rutgersand at DePaul and it would be difficult for the committee to snub a 10-8 Big East team barring a really bad loss in their first conference tournament game. Hall is basically riding on home wins over West Virginia and Connecticut early in the Big East slate and respectable non-conference victories over St. Joe’s, VCU and Dayton. Their #33 RPI and #32 SOS are stronger than Sagarin (45) or KenPom (46).
Connecticut (16-10, 6-8)- First glance at that record and you’d think NIT for Connecticut, but dig deeper and the disappointing Huskies are still in the projected field. Their win at Notre Dame on January 14 is suddenly huge, as is a non-conference win back in November over Florida State. Not many other bubble squads can boast five top-50 wins even if the losses to Tennessee and Rutgers are concerning. UConn also has played the toughest schedule in the nation, boosting their RPI up to #25 in the country. Needless to say, Syracuse’s visit to Storrs next Saturday night is massive.
Purdue (17-10, 7-7)- The Boilers looked like they might break through with a signature win over Michigan State on Sunday but fell into another shooting slump for the final 20 minutes. Three missed opportunities against Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana all in West Lafayette really hurt, as does a November defeat at the hands of Alabama and a bad loss at Penn State. Their computer numbers (48 RPI, 43 SOS, 177 non-conference SOS, 32 KenPom, 33 Sagarin) are prototypical bubble. Unless Matt Painter’s team can somehow win at Michigan or Indiana, they’ll likely head to Indy still on the fringe.
Northwestern (16-10, 6-8)- All the Wildcats need to do to stay in contention for their first ever NCAA Tournament bid is get to 9-9 in the best conference in America by splitting with Michigan and Ohio State at home and taking care of business at bottom-feeders Penn State and Iowa. Right now they’re hanging their hats on a win over Michigan State in Evanston. It’s worth noting they did beat fellow bubble squad Seton Hall back in November in Charleston. Northwestern is just 2-8 vs. the RPI top-50 but they also have zero bad losses and the #7 SOS.
Minnesota (17-10, 5-9)- The only reason Minnesota is even mentioned here is their next three games are all against RPI top-25 opponents, so there’s still ample opportunity to grab the committee’s attention. After blowing golden opportunities vs. Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Gophers now welcome Michigan State and Indiana to The Barn for two more. That’s the beauty of the Big Ten this season. At 5-9 in the conference with a #62 RPI and a top non-conference scalp being Bucknell, it’s certainly an uphill climb.
Illinois (16-11, 5-9)- Prior to Saturday’s catastrophe at Nebraska,Illinois still had a chance to salvage their NCAA chances and save their coaches job. There’s no way a team four games under .500 in league play would garner a spot in the field regardless of two RPI top-10 wins over Michigan State and Ohio State. With difficult tests still remaining at Ohio State and at Wisconsin, Illinois will need a miracle run in the Big Ten Tournament to stand a chance. They’ve won one game since January 10.
Long Beach State (19-7, 12-0)- The committee always preach to low-majors to take advantage of the part of their schedule they control and test themselves in the non-conference. The 49ers obliged, scheduling Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville and San Diego State while also facing Kansas State in Hawaii and going to Creighton in Bracket Busters. They lost all six of those games but did beat a then-depleted Xavier by 10 and, more impressively, won at Pittsburgh on November 16 when Tray Woodall was healthy. This is mostly conjecture, but I tend to believe the committee will reward Don Monson for compiling the #1 non-conference schedule in the nation even if they slip up in a Big West Tournament they’ll likely win anyway.
Southern Miss (20-5, 9-3)- The Golden Eagles are this year’s prime example for RPI detractors. They point out that Southern Miss has only beaten Memphis, Colorado State and UCF twice, yet somehow boasts the #12 RPI in the nation. Here’s to hoping committee members looks deeper into the resume and also factor in both KenPom (#54) and Sagarin (#48) for seeding purposes. Even if Southern Miss only splits at UTEP and Marshall while dispatching of Rice and SMU at home, 23 overall wins and a 12-4 mark in C-USA play should be adequate for a double-digit seed.
Memphis (19-8, 9-3)- Memphis has been pretty consistent during C-USA play before Saturday’s head-scratching loss to UTEP, losing only excusable games at Southern Miss by three and at Central Florida by one. The setback against the Miners was by far their worst setback of the season, but decent wins at Miami and home vs. Southern Miss and Xavier is far from a captivating resume. Difficult remaining road games at Tulsa and Marshall remain. The numbers (#24 RPI, #15 SOS, #6 non-conference SOS, #19 KenPom, #23 Sagarin) aid their cause.
Central Florida (19-7, 8-4)- UCF has crept back into the bubble picture even if a bid is still a long shot. Their #53 RPI and #183 non-conference SOS is difficult to overcome while wins over UConn and Memphis would have looked a lot stronger if we based resumes on the preseason top 25. UCF only has three top-100 wins and lost to UL-Lafayette. The fact we’re even discussing the Knights is a product of this year’s historically weak bubble (I know we seem to say that every year, but it’s true…again). Winning at Memphis on February 28 would keep them on the periphery.
Harvard (23-3, 9-1)- The Crimson are a tricky case. Since the Ivy doesn’t have a conference tournament, Harvard would need to lose twice to sub RPI top-100 opponents to slip into the at-large pool. It’s overwhelmingly likely Harvard just wins out and we can discard this discussion. Just in case they collapse, I don’t envision an at-large spot in the future. The #32 RPI is more than respectable, but a November 25 neutral court win over Florida State by five is really the extent of their resume at this point.
Colorado State (16-9, 5-5)- The Rams are in a similar boat with Southern Miss in that their #29 RPI and #6 SOS is boosting an otherwise lackluster portfolio. The only current win over a projected NCAA Tournament team is over San Diego Stateand the 5-5 MWC record is a product of dropping road games to Wyoming, TCU and Boise State. The Rams will need to win two out their next three vs. New Mexico, at SDSU and home vs. UNLV to stand a chance.
California (22-6, 12-3)- Just like the rest of their Pac-12 brethren, the Bears squandered their opportunities out of conference by dropping games to Missouri, UNLV and San Diego State. They boast the most impressive resume within league play courtesy of road wins at Washington and Oregon and they currently control their own destiny for a Pac-12 regular season title. Three road games remain: an easy win at Utah followed by tricky contests at Colorado and Stanford. As long as they avoid dropping the last two games, Cal appears to be in good shape. Cal lacks a single win over the top-50 but Washington is close at #56 in the RPI.
Washington(19-8, 12-3)- Losses to Duke, Marquette, at Saint Louis and at Nevada put the Huskies in the same boat as Cal. Their tournament chances are even more precarious because the only halfway decent win away from Hec-Ed is at Arizona and their usual mediocre road record (4-4) won’t please the committee. Like Cal, three road games remain: at rival Washington State and the LA swing. Winning two of those three at a minimum is a must. The Huskies are firmly on the bubble with just a #56 RPI and #74 SOS. KenPom (#65) and Sagarin (#61) don’t help either.
Colorado (18-8, 10-4)- The Buffaloes need to get to 13-5 to stand a chance at a bid with games remaining vs. Stanford, Cal and at the Oregon schools. Colorado continued their normal home dominance by downing Washington,Arizona and Oregon in Boulder, but they haven’t beaten a team with an RPI in the top 150 on the road (their top road win is over an Air Force team that fired their coach). Colorado currently has an RPI of 74 and SOS of 127.
Arizona (19-9, 10-5)- Continuing the trend of Pac-12 teams faltering prior to league play, Arizona fell to Florida, Gonzaga, San Diego State and Mississippi State all before the new year. The good news: the efficiency gurus like the Wildcats more than their #66 RPI and they should easily win their last three vs. UCLA, USC and at Arizona State. What separates Arizona ever so slightly is a rare RPI top-50 win at California, but the rest of the resume is bleak. They should probably win the Pac-12 Tournament just to be safe.
Oregon (19-8, 10-5)- The Ducks picked up a huge comeback victory over Stanford last night to stay in the bubble discussion. The Ducks are neck-and-neck with Washington and Arizona in today’s S-Curve. With three winnable games remaining at Oregon State, vs. Colorado and Utah, the Ducks could move into the projected field just by not losing. Oregon has a #51 RPI, #71 SOS and zero wins against the RPI top-50, so they’ll need to win out to stay within striking distance.
Mississippi State (19-8, 6-6)- The Bulldogs are starting to perform closer to their Sagarin (#60) and KenPom (#79) rankings would indicate after three alarming setbacks to Georgia, LSU and (gasp) Auburn. A #55 RPI, #86 SOS and #192 non-conference SOS offer even more red flags. Luckily Mississippi State still boasts solid wins at Vanderbilt, vs. West Virginia and vs. an Alabama team at full strength back on January 14. A victory Tuesday at Kentucky would result in lock status, but the Bulldogs could also very easily drop that game and at Alabama next Saturday to fall to a precarious 6-8 in the SEC.
Alabama (17-9, 6-6)- The Tide have the computer numbers (35 RPI, 20 SOS) and the talent to qualify for the field of 68, but mass suspensions have created an atmosphere of uncertainty around the program. November wins over Wichita State and Purdue on a neutral floor is currently the bulk of their resume and three of their remaining games (at Arkansas, Auburn, at Ole Miss) doesn’t help them in that regard. The date with Mississippi State next Saturday is gigantic for their chances.
BYU (23-6, 11-3)- The Cougars sit squarely on the bubble and, if they lose at Gonzaga on Thursday, will likely need to beat either the Zags or St. Mary’s in the WCC semifinals to feel good about their chances. BYU did take care of Gonzaga at home and also beat Nevada, Oregon and split with LMU while a three-point loss to Baylor in Provo stings. With a #44 RPI, #84 SOS and #33 KenPom, it could be a nervous Selection Sunday for Dave Rose.