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