Monday, March 4, 2013

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

With two weeks left until Selection Sunday, mid major conference tournaments start this week. Often these tournaments throw a crimp in the at large hopes of both Power Six conference teams and non Power Six conference teams. There are some teams that really have locked at large bids; Butler, VCU, Saint Louis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and now North Carolina are just a few that come to mind. There are over thirty teams that are probably in bubble consideration. A few teams have already played their way out of bubble consideration - St John's, Charlotte, Indiana State, Massachusetts, Iowa and BYU are examples. Let's see who is still bubblicious.

LaSalle (20-7, 10-4 A-10, 39 RPI , 48 BPI, 47 KenPom ) - The Explorers are solidly in the top four of the Atlantic 10. They have good wins over Villanova, Butler and at VCU. Their only bad loss was at the beginning of the year to Central Connecticut State. With two remaining regular season games left vs. George Washington and at St Louis, LaSalle looks likely to be an NCAA at large team even if they lose to the Bilikens. The Explorers though need to avoid a loss to the Colonials and an early A-10 tournament exit.

Temple (21-8, 9-5 A-10, 42 RPI, 57 BPI, 76 KenPom) - The Owls, tied for fourth in the A-10, have a very unusual resume. They have some very good wins; Villanova, neutral site over Syracuse, Saint Louis and LaSalle. But Temple also has some very bad losses; home losses to St. Bonaventure and Duquesne (home loss to Canisius didn't help either). The Owls need to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament by beating some Rams; Fordham and especially VCU, plus make sure to get to the A-10 semifinals. Otherwise, they could be seriously sweating Selection Sunday.

North Carolina State (21-8, 10-6 ACC, 23 RPI, 19 BPI, KenPom) - With their road win at Georgia Tech combined with Virginia blowing a late lead at Boston College, the Wolfpack have probably done enough to make the NCAA Tournament. They have a neutral site win over UConn, a big win at home over then #1 ranked Duke, and a home win over North Carolina. Their only bad loss is at Wake Forest, which compared to many other bubble teams isn't bad at all. They have two games left in conference; home to Wake and at Florida State. Win those two games, get to the ACC tournament semifinals and the Wolfpack will be fine. Any slips, well it then gets a little interesting.

Virginia (20-9, 10-6 ACC, 62 RPI, 40 BPI, 18 KenPom) - Here is a serious Jekyll and Hyde profile. Good wins over Tennessee, North Carolina, NC State, at Maryland and recently Duke. Really bad neutral site loss to ODU, home loss to Delaware, losses on the road at Wake Forest, Clemson and most recently, today to Boston College. They need to win at Florida State and then win the battle of the ACC bubble teams when they face Maryland at home. A trip to the ACC Tournament semifinals could definitely help. Here's a team that is truly on the bubble on Selection Sunday.

Maryland (20-9, 8-8 ACC, 68 RPI, 52 BPI, 62 KenPom) - The Terps are on the wrong side of the bubble at the moment. Their only good wins are home to NC State and of course Duke. The bad losses are getting swept by Florida State and road losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College. If they want any chance of making the tournament they have to win at home vs. North Carolina and win at Virginia, so that they are at least above .500 in conference. Also, Maryland really needs to make the ACC Tournament semifinals as well. The game against Virginia very well will decide their fate.

Villanova (18-12, 9-8 Big East, 55 RPI, 62 BPI, 55 KenPom) - All the Wildcats had to do was hold on and win in regulation against Pittsburgh and their ticket to the big dance would have been punched. Alas, Nova couldn't hold on and lost to the Panthers in overtime. Thus another team sits squarely on the bubble. The good; wins over Louisville, Syracuse, at UConn and Marquette. The bad; home loss to Columbia (?), at Seton Hall and home to Providence. Nova needs to beat Georgetown, no easy task, and win at least one game in the Big East Tournament. Otherwise, there will be a home game in the NIT awaiting the Wildcats.

Cincinnati (20-9, 8-8 Big East, 48 RPI, 30 BPI, 34 KenPom) - A lot of people have the Bearcats on the bubble, due in large part to their .500 record in the Big East. I don't see that. I think they are solidly in at this moment. They have solid neutral site non conference wins over Iowa State and Oregon. They also have a win over Alabama, a road win at Pittsburgh and Marquette. The only possibly considered bad loss is a home loss to St John's. But there are teams on the bubble with far, far worse losses. Bearcats could use a win over Louisville, definitely a win over South Florida, plus at least one Big East Tourney win to end the bubble discussion.

Illinois (21-9, 8-8 Big Ten, 34 RPI, 60 BPI, 39 KenPom) - Another team that has only merited bubble discussion due to their .500 record in the Big Ten. They have a lot of good wins; Butler, at Gonzaga, Indiana, at Minnesota and Ohio State. Their only bad losses are at Purdue and home to Northwestern. They should be in good shape but they can't afford a loss at Iowa. Another road game with Ohio State will be difficult to win. The Fighting Illini should at least win one Big Ten Tourney game just to make sure. But they should be quite fine for an at large at the moment.

Minnesota (20-9, 8-8 Big Ten, 16 RPI, 20 BPI, 14 KenPom) - Again, another Big Ten team that is only getting bubble talk due to their .500 conference record. A lot of good wins; Memphis, Michigan State, at Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. The only bad loss is at Northwestern. Still, the Gophers could make things really interesting for themselves since they have two conference road games left at Nebraska and at Purdue. Lose one or heaven forbid, both and Minnesota will need to make a serious run in the Big Ten Tournament to make up for those losses. If the Gophers win both road games, they will have twenty two wins plus an above .500 conference record. That should easily do the trick.

Baylor (17-12, 8-8 Big 12, 60 RPI, 46 BPI, 51 KenPom) - The Bears are looking at the wrong side of the at large tracks right now. They only have two good wins; at Kentucky and home over Oklahoma State. Other than that, a win over BYU, which looked better earlier in the season. The bad - home losses to Charleston and Northwestern. Baylor must win at Texas, then must, must, MUST beat Kansas at home, plus make a run in the Big 12 Tournament. Otherwise, hello NIT.

Iowa State (19-9, 9-7 Big 12, 53 RPI, 42 BPI, 44 KenPom) - Unlike their Big 12 brethren Baylor, Iowa State looks to be on the right side of the bubble at the moment. They have a wins over Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Plus, they swept the season series vs. Baylor, which will definitely be a measuring stick of comparison between the two teams on Selection Sunday. What makes Iowa State a bubble team is a glaring lack of a good non conference win. Best was vs. BYU, but see Baylor. They also have road losses at Texas Tech and Texas. They could use wins at Oklahoma State and West Virgina, plus one Big 12 Tournament win.

Southern Miss (22-7, 11-3 CUSA, 36 RPI, 59 BPI, 56 KenPom) - The Golden Eagles are on this list, well, I guess just based on their record and their RPI.  Southern Miss is definitely on the wrong side of the bubble right now. There are really no bad losses, except maybe at UCF. However, there are no good wins, they lost to every good non conference team they played and most importantly were swept by Memphis. The Golden Eagles have to win the CUSA Tournament. Otherwise, it's NIT for them.

Akron (23-5, 13-1 MAC, 47 RPI, 50 BPI, 54 KenPom) - Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2012-13 version of the Drexel Dragons. After the Zips won their eighteenth straight conference game, Dan Dakich pronounced that Akron was "a lock" for an at large bid. As much as I like the Zips, especially Zeke Marshall, they haven't done enough to warrant being "a lock" for an at large bid. Their profile screams last season's Drexel team. They have one good non conference win over Middle Tennessee State, plus they swept the season series from last year's Sweet Sixteen Cinderella, Ohio (who again is good this season). But they have a bad loss to Coastal Carolina and now their MAC streak has ended with a really bad loss to Buffalo. Sorry, Akron, but you need to win the MAC Tournament now to make the dance. Otherwise, you will have the same fate of Drexel, a ton of wins in a row, but a trip to the NIT after not winning the conference tournament. I would like to be wrong otherwise, but I don't think so.

Creighton (24-7, 13-5 MVC, 35 RPI, 17 BPI, 20 KenPom) - After losing to St Mary's and likely staring at a second place finish in the Missouri Valley, the Bluejays found themselves a part of bubble talk. But they rallied to take the regular season MVC championship and their non conference resume is very strong. They have good non conference wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Akron, California, plus a win over Wichita State. The bad include road losses at Drake and Illinois State. The good far outweighs the bad. The Bluejays are in the dance.

Wichita State (24-7, 12-6 MVC, 40 RPI, 29 BPI, 35 KenPom) - The Shockers now find themselves a part of bubble talk, in large part to their own doing. Had they taken care of business at home in conference, Wichita State would have the regular season MVC championship and an at large bid sewn up. However, home losses to Evansville and Indiana State, along with a bad loss at Southern Illinois resulted in a second place finish in the Valley. However, the Shockers have a solid non conference resume; a huge road win at VCU, a neutral site win vs. Iowa, a road win at Air Force, plus a home win vs. Southern Miss. Add a win over Creighton and as long as Wichita State makes the MVC Tournament final, they should be fine. If the Shockers get upset along the way, then the bubble talk only intensifies.

Colorado State ( 22-7, 9-5 MWC, 17 RPI, 33 BPI, 28 KenPom) - The Rams are in pretty solid shape. The Mountain West has been a very strong conference and will likely have at least four teams in the tournament. In fact, the Rams really aren't part of the bubble talk at the moment, but things could change should they lose at Wyoming or home to Nevada. Colorado State has a strong resume with wins over Montana, Denver, Air Force, UNLV, Boise State and San Diego State. Their only bad loss was at UIC. Rams are pretty safe...for now.

UNLV (22-7, 9-5 MWC, 15 RPI, 25 BPI, 30 KenPom) - Again, the only reason UNLV, like Colorado State, is on here is that the Mountain West is unusually deep in teams this season and for a non Power Six conference, if you're not in first, you tend to be bubblicious. The Rebels should be just fine with wins at California, Iowa State, Colorado State, New Mexico and they swept San Diego State. Their only bad loss is at Fresno State. Even if they lose to Boise State (and they won't lose again to Fresno State), the Rebels are in the big dance. Book it.

San Diego State (20-8, 8-6 MWC, 33 RPI, 27 BPI, 26 KenPom) - This is where things start getting tricky in the Mountain West. Three teams based on their record should be in; New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV. Then there are two teams that might be battling for one spot, but likely two at large spots, San Diego State and Boise State The Aztecs have a solid resume, especially from a non conference stand point with neutral site wins over UCLA and Indiana State (don't laugh, the Sycamores have some pretty strong non conference scalps this season). Plus wins over Colorado State, New Mexico and Boise State. Their only bad loss is at Wyoming. Still they need to win against Air Force, then the huge showdown at Boise State, which could likely lock an at large berth. Also, don't get upset in the first round of the Mountain West Tourney.

Boise State (20-8, 8-6 MWC, 44 RPI, 49 BPI, 52 KenPom) - With help from some other bubble teams imploding, the Broncos have made their way into bubble talk discussion. What helps is an impressive non conference road win at Creighton, coupled with conference wins over UNLV and Colorado State. The bad are losses at Utah and at Nevada. The Broncos have a tough conference schedule remaining; at UNLV and home to San Diego State. A win over the Rebels would be HUGE, but the game against San Diego State is probably most important. A nice run in the Mountain West Tourney could help too. Unless they win the MWC Tournament, the Broncos will definitely be sweating out Selection Sunday.

Belmont (24-6, 14-2 OVC, 25 RPI, 51 BPI, 40 KenPom) - The Bruins have been an especially solid team all season.  The problem is their resume includes only a couple of good wins - Middle Tennessee State and Ohio are their best wins.  Their worst losses aren't terrible - Northeastern, the CAA regular season champ, at neutral site, at UCF and probably their worst, at Tennessee State.  But Belmont probably needs to win the Ohio Valley Tournament to get to the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky (20-9, 11-5 SEC, 51 RPI, 43 BPI, 33 KenPom) -  When Nerlens Noel went down for the season, many basketball experts said the Wildcats' at large bid was at risk.  Then those experts sounded the alarm when in their next game, Kentucky lost by thirty at Tennessee.   The Cats won their next three including an overtime win vs. Missouri before losing to Arkansas.  As of this moment, Joe Lunardi has them as one of the last four in.  I am here to tell you, it's not that bad.  The good - The Wildcats have a neutral site win over Maryland and wins at Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee.  You could probably say their worst loss was at Texas A&M.  There are a lot of teams with worst losses (hello, Virginia).  Kentucky needs to win at Georgia, then muster all their might to beat Florida and then win a few games in the SEC Tournament.  If they can accomplish two of those three goals, the Cats are in the big dance.

Alabama (19-10, 11-5 SEC, 59 RPI, 68 BPI, KenPom) -  The Crimson Tide are right there tied for second with Kentucky in the SEC.  They are only one game behind Kentucky's record.  Yet Bama is on the outside looking in.  Yes, they have a neutral site win over Villanova and a win over Kentucky.  But Alabama has some bad home losses to Mercer and Tulane.  The Tide need to win at Ole Miss, a likely bubble buster game and defeat Georgia, plus they need to make the SEC Tournament final for any hope of making the tournament on Selection Sunday.

Missouri (21-8, 10-6 SEC, 32 RPI, 26 BPI, 70 KenPom)  - The Tigers are probably on this list for the sole reason that they are tied for fourth in the SEC.  But Missouri has little to worry about at the moment.  They have a very good non conference resjme with neutral site wins over VCU and Illinois, along with a win over Bucknell and conference wins over Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida.  Their lone bad loss is at LSU.  Unless the Tigers implode by losing to Arkansas, then Tennessee and a quick exit in the SEC tournament, they are safely in the NCAA Tournament.

Ole Miss (21-8, 10-6 SEC, 58 RPI, 45 BPI, 50 KenPom) - Unlike the Tigers, the Rebels are in serious, serious trouble.  A few weeks ago, they were a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.  Now, they are on the outside looking in.  You can't lose to both South Carolina and Mississippi State, two teams that are in the 200's in RPI.  Their best wins are over Tennessee (twice), Arkansas and Missouri.  Other than that, no signature non conference wins to hang their hat on.   The Rebels are in the same spot as the Crimson Tide.  They need to beat Alabama in the bubble buster game, then win at LSU, then win at least two games in the SEC Tournament. Anything less and it's an NIT bid.

Tennessee (17-11, 9-7 SEC, 56 RPI, 63 BPI, 63 KenPom) - Unlike the Rebels, the Volunteers have a good non conference win in defeating Wichita State.  But other than home wins vs. Alabama and Kentucky, the Vols have little on their resume.  The bad outweighs the good as Tennessee has lost twice to Georgia, who are below them in the standings. The Volunteers basically need to win the SEC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas (18-11, 9-7 SEC, 75 RPI, 74 BPI, 68 KenPom) -  I guess if you have to have Tennessee, you have to have Arkansas.  They do have a non conference win over Oklahoma and wins over Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.  The bad are losses at Vandy, at Texas A&M, at South Carolina and at LSU.  For them to have any chance for an at large bid, they need to win at Missouri, then beat Texas A&M and then win at least two games in the SEC Tournament.  Sound familiar?  See the two SEC teams prior to them.

Middle Tennessee State (27-4, 19-1 Sun Belt, 24 RPI, 41 BPI, 27 KenPom) - The Blue Raiders have dominated the Sun Belt.  They have a good win over Ole Miss that might come in handy if they are an at large contender on Selection Sunday.  Their only bad loss is at Arkansas State.  They have done everything they can, sans beat good teams on the road like Belmont, Akron (overtime) and Florida.  They will be an interesting case should they not win the Sun Belt.  Here's hoping they win the Sun Belt and make the question moot.

California (20-9, 12-5 PAC 12, 46 RPI, 47 BPI, KenPom) - After losing at Arizona State on February 7, the Golden Bears were 13-9, 7-5 in the PAC 12.  They looked done.  Now less than one month and seven straight wins later, Cal looks to be solidly in the tournament. They have swept Oregon, beat UCLA, Arizona and Colorado.  Their bad losses are to Harvard at home, Washington at home and at Stanford.  There are teams with a lot worse losses.  Cal could sew things up with a win over Stanford plus a trip to the PAC 12 semifinals.

Colorado (19-9, 9-7 PAC 12, 29 RPI, 37 BPI, 49 KenPom) - The Buffaloes are starting to tread a little water having split their last four games.  Still Colorado has a nice neutral site win over Baylor, plus wins over Air Force, Colorado State, California, Oregon and Arizona.  The bad losses are road losses to Washington and Utah.  The Buffs need to close out with a few wins at home vs. Oregon and Oregon State to make sure they punch their ticket to the tournament.

Arizona State (20-10, 9-8 PAC 12, 92 RPI, 67 BPI, 78 KenPom)  - After defeating Cal on February 7, the Sun Devils were 18-5 and 7-3 in the PAC 12. Since then, Arizona State is 2-5.  The good, a neutral site win over Arkansas, two wins over Colorado and a win over UCLA.  The bad is bad; RPI is 92 (!), lost to DePaul at home, lost to Washington twice, home loss to Stanford and a road loss to Utah.  Plus their final regular season game is at Arizona, a team they lost to at home by seventeen.  Unless they shock the Wildcats and make it to the PAC 12 Tournament final, no at large for the Sun Devils.

Louisiana Tech (26-3, 16-0 WAC, 50 RPI, 64 BPI, 64 KenPom) - The Bulldogs have been terrific in a pretty decent WAC (Denver and New Mexico State each have nineteen wins).  To be undefeated in conference this late in the season is impressive. They also have a home win over Southern Miss. Their only bad loss was at McNeese State.   If they can win their last two conference games at Denver and at New Mexico State, plus make it to the WAC tournament finals, the NCAA Tournament committee will be hard pressed to turn away a thirty win team.  Hope it doesn't come to that and that the Bulldogs win the WAC. We'll see.

St Mary's (26-5, 14-2 WCC, 41 RPI, 35 BPI, 19 KenPom) - Another season where the Gaels have done almost everything but beat Gonzaga.  There were a couple of slip ups in non conference with losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech in the Anaheim Classic.  And yes, the Zags beat them twice in conference.  But St Mary's does have an impressive win over Creighton.  If I were Randy Bennett, I better hope my team makes the WCC Tournament final.  Anything less could make things interesting.

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