Friday, January 17, 2014

Bubble Watch: The Halfway Point

With 2,742 of the roughly 5,380 games to be played before Selection Sunday now in the books, the 2013-2014 college basketball season reached its halfway point at a little after 9:00 pm Eastern last night.

This week there are 33 locks or near-locks, with 33 bubble teams (those with between a 10% and 90% chance of reaching the Tournament) vying for the remaining 13 at-large bids. Nine more teams hold out at least a 2% chance of earning a spot in the field, so we're down to just 75 teams with any national relevance.

The first six teams left out of this week's bracket are Arizona State, Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico, Alabama, and Georgetown.

American Athletic (5 projected bids)

Near-Locks: Connecticut (97%), Louisville (97%), Cincinnati (97%), SMU (93%), Memphis (93%)
It'll be interesting to see how the committee treats the American this year. The top half of the league looks like a major conference, while the bottom half doesn't even measure up to the bottom half of some mid-major leagues. I'm presuming that a top-40 RPI will be sufficient to place any of these teams into the dance, but if, say, Southern Methodist finishes at 10-8 in conference with a loss or two against the bottom half they might be a bit more imperiled than that 93% would seem to indicate.

Atlantic 10 (5 projected bids)

Locks: Massachusetts (100%), Saint Louis (99%)
Good Shape: VCU (83%)
On The Bubble: Dayton (67%), George Washington (64%)
Work To Do: St. Joseph's (14%), Richmond (11%), St. Bonaventure (10%)
Long Shots: La Salle (5%)
The A-10 still has nine teams with NCAA Tournament hopes not because it's such a strong league, but because it's a mediocre one. More likely than not, the league will cannibalize itself and wind up with only three or four bids, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that one or more of the not-very-good teams that make up the middle of the A-10 could fluke into enough wins to trick the Committee into including them in the Dance.

Atlantic Coast (6 projected bids)

Locks: Syracuse (100%), Duke (100%), Pittsburgh (99%), Virginia (99%), Florida St. (99%)
On The Bubble: North Carolina (35%), Clemson (28%), Maryland (25%)
Long Shots: Wake Forest (5%), N.C. State (3%)
Don't count Maryland out of this thing. The Terps still have six games, four of them in the Comcast Center, to play against the league's top five teams, and by year's end they will have a RPI strength of schedule that will rank in the top 20 nationally. If they can hold serve against the teams they should beat and sneak out a couple wins against the teams they probably shouldn't, the Terps have a chance to Dance.

Big12 (6 projected bids)

Locks: Kansas (100%), Iowa St. (100%), Oklahoma St. (100%)
Near-Locks: Baylor (96%)
Good Shape: Oklahoma (80%)
On The Bubble: Kansas St. (61%), Texas (43%)
Work To Do: West Virginia (11%)
The Big 12 is sort of a big-boy version of the A-10 in that the middle of the conference isn't all that imposing, but the opportunity exists for those not-so-good teams to rack up a few signature wins and sneak into the tournament.

BigEast (3 projected bids)

Locks: Villanova (100%), Creighton (100%)
On The Bubble: Xavier (74%), Georgetown (47%), Providence (26%)
Long Shots: Marquette (6%)
Xavier seems to be separating themselves from the pack and is well on its way to locking up the Big East's third bid. I doubt they get a fourth.

Big Ten (6 projected bids)

Locks: Wisconsin (100%), Michigan St. (100%), Iowa (100%), Michigan (100%), Ohio St. (99%)
Near-Locks: Minnesota (91%)
Work To Do: Illinois (11%), Indiana (10%)
Long Shots: Purdue (2%)
Indiana is this week's Mediocre Team Who Pulls An Upset And Worms Its Way Into The National Bubble Conversation. They will now lose four of their next six games and be forgotten about by the first week of February.

Conference USA (1 projected bid)

Work To Do: Southern Miss (24%)
This presumes that a 13-3 record in the wretched Conference USA would be enough to earn an at-large bid for the Golden Eagles. I don't even think that would be enough.

Horizon League (1 projected bid)

Long Shots: Wis. Green Bay (5%)
After squeaking out an overtime win at Milwaukee on Sunday, Green Bay now has about a 1-in-19 chance of going undefeated in Horizon League play. With their win over Virginia looking better and better, that would probably buy the Phoenix some peace of mind even if they were to lose in the Horizon League tournament.

Ivy League (1 projected bid)

Work To Do: Harvard (14%)
With no Ivy League tournament, Harvard doesn't have to worry about their bid being stolen, and with nearly a two-game cushion in the projections over the rest of the Ivy League, they don't have much to worry about when it comes to winning the conference crown.

Mid-American (1 projected bid)

Work To Do: East. Michigan (10%)
Long Shots: Toledo (7%)

Missouri Valley (1 projected bid)

Locks: Wichita St. (100%)
Lucky will be the 7-, 8-, 9-, or 10-seed who gets to face Wichita State in the round of 32. They'll have the luxury of facing a 5-seed disguised as a 1- or 2-seed.

Mountain West (2 projected bids)

Locks: San Diego St. (99%)
On The Bubble: New Mexico (55%), Boise St. (49%)
Work To Do: Utah St. (19%)
Even after once again masterfully gaming the RPI to their advantage, New Mexico still finds themselves needing to win eight of their remaining fourteen games just to finish in the RPI top 40. For a team that's not nearly as good as its 12-4 record, that will be a big challenge.

Pacific 12 (6 projected bids)

Locks: Arizona (100%), UCLA (99%)
Near-Locks: Oregon (97%), California (94%), Colorado (92%)
Good Shape: Stanford (76%)
On The Bubble: Arizona St. (59%)
Long Shots: Utah (2%)
That 59% for Arizona State presumes that an 8-10 conference record would be good enough in the eyes of the committee to place the Sun Devils into the field. The Pac-12 is strong, but I don't think it'll be perceived to be that strong, so the chances for ASU are probably closer to 36%.

Southeastern (5 projected bids)

Locks: Florida (100%), Kentucky (100%)
On The Bubble: Tennessee (71%), Arkansas (65%), Missouri (50%)
Work To Do: Alabama (17%)
Long Shots: LSU (5%)
A home loss to Texas A&M was a setback for Tennessee that dropped them from near-lock status back to the bubble, but unless the Volunteers lose another game they shouldn't they're still looking good for the Dance. The much bigger missed opportunity for an SEC team came when Arkansas was unable to sweep Florida and Kentucky at home this week. For a team that hasn't been able to win on the road and who now faces a week with two road games, that really puts the Razorbacks behind the 8 ball.

West Coast (2 projected bids)

Good Shape: Gonzaga (83%)
On The Bubble: BYU (34%)
Work To Do: St. Mary's (10%)
BYU seems destined to be this year's WCC Team Who The Computers Love But Doesn't Pass The Eye Test.

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