Friday, February 28, 2014

Bubble Watch: Hello, March

Tonight the calendar turns to the most wonderful month of the year, and the Tournament picture is becoming clearer with every result. While the number of teams solidly in the field has grown by only two--30 locks and 9 near-locks, up from 29 and 8 last week--the number of teams with serious hopes for those last 9 spots has been shaved down from 25 to 17.

The last four teams with byes in this week's bracket are BYU, George Washington, Minnesota, and Xavier. The four teams in Dayton are California, Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida State. The first six teams left out of the bracket are St. Joseph's, Tennessee, St. John's, Dayton, Southern Miss, and LSU.

Locks (30):

Arizona, Kansas, Florida, Villanova, Wisconsin, Duke, Virginia, Wichita St., Creighton, Michigan, Syracuse, Iowa St., Michigan St., Kentucky, Louisville, Cincinnati, UCLA, North Carolina, New Mexico, Saint Louis, Ohio St., Texas, Gonzaga, San Diego St., Connecticut, Oklahoma, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon (yes, Oregon is a lock; they're going to finish with an RPI in the 30s, and their only questionable loss came in a rivalry game on the road at Oregon State), SMU

Near-Locks (9):

Colorado (99%), VCU (99%), Arizona St. (97%), Memphis (97%), Kansas St. (95%), Oklahoma St. (95%), Stanford (94%), Pittsburgh (93%), George Washington (92%)

Good Shape (3):

BYU (90%) - Assuming that they have a decent showing in the WCC Tournament, the Cougars should finish with a top-35 RPI. In some--maybe even in most--years a resume with this many close calls would be questionable at best, but in 2014 there will be far worse teams given bids into the Tournament than BYU.

Baylor (83%) - If the Bears win two out of their remaining three games and get to 8-10 in the Big 12, they should be okay. Unfortunately for them, a likely matchup with TCU in the opening round of the conference tournament could drag their RPI down several spots in the rankings even with a win--possibly even enough do drop them outside the RPI top 50. It's a prime example of the insanity of the RPI, but if you're a Baylor fan prone to worry, it's fuel for your fire.

Minnesota (82%) - A win at Michigan tomorrow would remove all doubt, but the Gophers should receive a bid so long as they manage to avoid getting upset on their home floor by Penn State on the final day of the regular season.

On The Bubble (9):

Tennessee (78%) - The Vols' chances are artificially high because the computers love them. It's hard for me to see any human or group of humans putting this team into the Dance unless a whole lot of teams further down this list crash and burn.

Xavier (70%) - The Musketeers will be significant underdogs in their home games against Creighton tomorrow and next Thursday agains Villanova. They'll probably need to win at least one of them  to lock up a bid. Failing that, a win at Seton Hall and a win in the first round of the Big East Tournament should at least earn the Musketeers a trip  to Dayton.

California (66%) - The Bears are in a race with Colorado, Stanford, and Arizona State in which the top two finishers will receive byes in the Pac-12 Tournament while the other two will have to face USC and Washington State in the first round. Cal is the most vulnerable of that group in terms of its NCAA Tournament aspirations, and would do themselves a big favor to avoid that potential drag.

Missouri (60%) - Back-to-back losses at Alabama and at Georgia have completely erased whatever margin of error Missouri may have had. They absolutely cannot lose either of their remaining home games against Mississippi State and Texas A&M, and they'll probably need another couple wins after that.

Arkansas (47%) - Congratulations on your back-to-back road wins, Razorbacks. That makes three in one month. Win these next two home games and you may very well be rewarded with a trip to beautiful Dayton, Ohio.

Florida St. (46%) - The Seminoles picked up a very good win on the road at Pittsburgh on Sunday to move themselves back to the right side of the bubble, but they still need to win two more regular season games to hold on to that spot.

St. Joseph's (35%) - Every year it seems like at least one team bubbles up to a Tournament-worthy record without actually going to the trouble of being very good. St. Joe's fits that bill this year. The Hawks are 20-7 overall and 10-3 in the A-10 despite outscoring their opponents by less than 4½ points per game on the season. They're 8-2 in close games, which means they're either very clutch or very lucky. Whichever side of that debate you come down on, the Hawks are still 3 wins away from an NCAA Tournament bid.

Southern Miss (28%) - The Golden Eagles are being discussed as a bubble team thanks to their high RPI ranking, but with a schedule strength in the 150s and two losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (maybe a third depending on how Tulsa closes out the season), this should not be a team that earns an at-large bid.

Dayton (20%) - With three regular season games left, the Flyers need to win four more times to merit an at-large bid. Lucky for them, there's an A-10 Tournament.

Work To Do (2):

LSU (10%) - The questionable call that cost the Tigers a win in Rupp Arena also cost them all their wiggle room They've got to win all three regular season games, including tomorrow's contest at Florida, to merit an at-large bid. 

St. John's (10%) - When we checked in last week, the Johnnies needed to win two of their remaining four games in order to secure a bid. They then went out and lost two in a row. Now they have to beat DePaul at home and win at Marquette on the last day of the season.

Long Shots (3):

Nebraska (9%) - The Huskers made a nice push, but after their loss at Illinois on Wednesday night they're now in a position where they probably have to win all three of their remaining regular season games, plus a game in the Big Ten Tournament.

Georgetown (4%) - The loss at Marquette last night means that the Hoyas now likely need to win both of their remaining regular season games. The only problem is, those games are against Creighton and at Villanova.

Providence (4%) - The Friars need to win out in the regular season, which would give them a season sweep of Creighton, and hope that a whole bunch of teams above them on this list falter down the stretch.

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