Friday, February 7, 2014

Bubble Watch: February 7

We're back this week with a full bracket and a fully annotated bubble list. The field of potential NCAA Tournament at-large teams is shrinking rapidly. Thirty-five teams are now classified as locks or near-locks, leaving just a dozen bids for the 25 or so teams with realistic bubble hopes.

Starting with this week's bracket I'm going to beging making some educated guesses about where the Committee might seed teams rather than relying solely on the fair seeding model I've developed. Where teams' seeds in the bracket differ from their fair seed, the fair seed will appear in parentheses next to the team name. Wichita State, for example, is a 2-seed here, but in a just world would probably be a 5.

The first six teams left out of this week's bracket are Arkansas, Baylor, St. John's, West Virginia, Clemson, and Georgetown.

American Athletic (5 projected bids)

Locks: Cincinnati (100%), Louisville (99%), Memphis (99%), Connecticut (99%)
Good Shape: SMU (82%)
SMU is rating closer to the cut-line in other places that track such things than they do here. The Mustangs are currently just barely inside the RPI top 50, but that should track up into the mid-30s over the next month. Five more wins will net them a single-digit seed.

Atlantic 10 (4 projected bids)

Locks: Saint Louis (100%), Massachusetts (100%), VCU (98%)
Near-Locks: George Washington (92%)
Work To Do: Richmond (21%)
Long Shots: St. Joseph's (9%), Dayton (9%)
The Atlantic 10 is a lava lamp. Teams get hot, bubble up to the top, then fall rapidly to the bottom. 

Atlantic Coast (6 projected bids)

Locks: Duke (100%), Syracuse (100%), Virginia (100%), Pittsburgh (99%)
Good Shape: North Carolina (87%), Florida St. (84%)
On The Bubble: Clemson (26%)
Work To Do: N.C. State (15%), Maryland (14%)
Pittsburgh's seeding might suffer if their inability to beat a quality opponent persists through the remainder of the season, but their selection won't be in jeopardy. Florida State has lost four of its last six to slide back into bubble territory, but the Seminoles should still be in the field as long as they can manage to win at least half of their remaining games.

Big 12 (6 projected bids)

Locks: Kansas (100%), Iowa St. (100%), Texas (99%), Oklahoma (99%), Oklahoma St. (99%)
Good Shape: Kansas St. (81%)
On The Bubble: Baylor (35%)
Long Shots: West Virginia (7%)
Baylor had a strong November and December, but that 35% presumes that the committee would be okay with giving a bid to a team that finishes 7-11 in its conference. While that might be a purely justifiable decision based purely on the facts at hand, I don't see any way they would actually do that. Realistically, West Virginia has a better shot at a bid than Baylor does right now.

Big East (3 projected bids)

Locks: Villanova (100%), Creighton (100%)
On The Bubble: Xavier (50%)
Work To Do: Georgetown (23%), St. John's (22%), Providence (21%)
Georgetown beat Michigan State on a neutral floor. Good for them! Unfortunately for the Hoyas, losing six of the seven games preceding that contest dug such a deep hole that the big win over the Spartans couldn't give them enough of a boost to climb out. 

Big Ten (6 projected bids)

Locks: Michigan St. (100%), Michigan (100%), Wisconsin (100%), Ohio St. (100%), Iowa (99%)
On The Bubble: Minnesota (65%)
Long Shots: Indiana (4%), Nebraska (2%)
You know what's wrong with teams that lose three or four games in a row? Nothing, other than they have the misfortune of playing in a ridiculously competitive league in a media environment in which every win or loss is treated as a Great Event. There's just nowhere to hide in the Big Ten, where eleven of the twelve teams rate among the 100 best in the nation, and the one team who isn't in the top 100 has won half of their conference games.

Missouri Valley (1 projected bid)

Locks: Wichita St. (100%)
The second best team in the Missouri Valley conference would be the worst team in the Big Ten. Going unbeaten would still be impressive--winning 30 consecutive games is a great feat, no matter who you do it against--but should a team that does so against a slate of opponents that weak really be considered one of the nation's elite? I sure don't think so.

MWC (2 projected bids)

Locks: San Diego St. (100%)
Near-Locks: New Mexico (97%)
Work To Do: Boise St. (14%)
San Diego State is very good. They're also very lucky: they're 6-0 in games that went to overtime or were decided by six or fewer points.

Pacific 12 (7 projected bids)

Locks: Arizona (100%), UCLA (100%)
Near-Locks: Colorado (97%), Stanford (96%), Oregon (92%)
Good Shape: California (80%), Arizona St. (78%)
Long Shots: Oregon St. (9%)
Arizona State under Herb Sendek and Stanford under Johnny Dawkins have been fixtures in the NIT. It looks like both of those programs are finally going to get over the hump and land in the Big Dance this year. While Oregon State isn't likely to do the same, the Beavers look like they'll be exiting CBI purgatory and at least get a crack at the NIT this year. Progress!

Southeastern (5 projected bids)

Locks: Florida (100%), Kentucky (100%)
Good Shape: Tennessee (89%)
On The Bubble: Missouri (70%), LSU (38%)
Work To Do: Mississippi (10%)
Long Shots: Arkansas (8%)
LSU hasn't been able to win away from Baton Rouge, but home wins against Missouri and Kentucky and a decent enough non-conference schedule have the Tigers still hanging onto a bid even after their loss at Georgia last night. With five of their remaining nine games away from the Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers are going to have to solve their road issues if they're to dance.

West Coast (2 projected bids)

Locks: Gonzaga (98%)
On The Bubble: BYU (30%)
Long Shots: St. Mary's (3%)
Every year it's said that there's a soft bubble, but the fact that BYU is still in serious play for a bid makes me think that this year's bubble must be especially forgiving. The Cougars went 2-5 in December and already have four losses in WCC play, but they've also got wins over Texas on a neutral floor and at Stanford, and they were highly competitive in losses to Iowa State, UMass, Wichita State, and Oregon.

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