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.
Booker vital for the Tigers NCAA chances
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.
Jerome Dyson's maddening inconsistency has drawn the ire of his coach
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.
Read the rest of this entry »