Saturday, March 15, 2014
Bubble Watch: Updating the 'others'
By Eamonn Brennan
Things are bubbling here on Selection Sunday Eve. What’s going on? Here’s what’s happening in “others” world …
The Watch was always a little more bullish on Louisiana Tech than most. The Bulldogs' Dec. 30 road win at Oklahoma kept looking better and better as the season rolled along -- rare was the bubble team with that good a nonconference road win. After Friday's convincing C-USA semifinal win over Southern Miss, we didn't want to count the Bulldogs out. But even the most optimistic La. Tech touter couldn't overlook its brutal schedule numbers -- an overall schedule in 220s and a nonconference schedule in the 280s -- or its loss at awful East Carolina on Feb. 20. By Saturday's conference tourney final against Tulsa, La. Tech still lagged behind most realistic bubble teams. After its loss to the Golden Hurricane in El Paso, Texas, it's hard to imagine the committee finding a way to wedge them in among a crowded bubble group. The Bulldogs have a bright future under coach Mike White, but the immediate future holds a trip to the NIT.
And so the "others" bubble action comes to a close. This year's NCAA tournament is going to contain a wealth of dangerous mid-majors, but nearly all of them had to win their conference tournaments to get in. For a variety of reasons -- conference realignment chief among them -- the lack of relevant mid-major tournament resumes was noticeable throughout the past two months. We're left with just BYU and Green Bay. The Cougars are right on the cut line and Green Bay seems in need of a minor committee miracle. Both have been sidelined all week, sweating things out, helpless to change their Selection Sunday fate.
BYU: Earlier in the week, we wrote that BYU "had some sweating to do" after its WCC final loss to Gonzaga, but we assumed the Cougars would probably be OK. We're far less sure now. On Wednesday, BYU learned that guard Kyle Collinsworth tore his ACL in the WCC finale, and will (obviously) be unavailable for the tournament. There are plenty of examples of the selection committee considering key injuries and seeding accordingly. But what about the actual selection? Does Collinsworth's injury invalidate the things the committee would have favored about its resume (wins at Stanford and vs. Texas on a neutral court, mainly). Does it downgrade BYU from one side of the bubble to the other? We weren't totally sure the Cougars were going to get in in the first place, which makes isolating any given selection variable even trickier. There's no good template here. Anything could happen.
Green Bay: We offered a warm Bubble Watch welcome back to the Green Bay Phoenix on Thursday, who had become something of a mid-major cause célèbre since their semifinal loss to Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament last week. That's not why they came back, of course, it's merely worth noting as the committee gets down to business in Indianapolis this weekend. No, Green Bay is back on the page because it's not clear there are that many bubble teams with better resumes. Yeah, the Horizon League was rough, and yeah, Green Bay's major claim to fame -- its win over Virginia -- came at home, in December, back when UVa wasn't playing nearly as well as in the two months since. But it does have a reasonable RPI (high-50s) and a reasonable nonconference SOS number (also high-50s). And if the committee takes a long look and thinks the Phoenix are worthy, some of the usual considerations and comparisons could fall away. This one might come down to subjective preferences, to the strength of argument between committee members, maybe all the way up until the final few hours of selection on Sunday afternoon.
And over in the SEC …
The Volunteers' loss to Florida in Saturday's SEC tourney semifinal officially closes the SEC bubble books. Where does the league stand? Tennessee looks like a solid inclusion right now, even if we can't go all the way and lock the Volunteers up. But Arkansas' loss to South Carolina on Thursday might well have been a killer, and Missouri hasn't looked like a tournament team -- either on the court or on its nitty-gritty sheet -- in weeks. This looks like a three-bid league.
Tennessee: Tennessee could have locked its bid up if it had managed to hold on Saturday against Florida. The Vols nearly did. They led the Gators by 10 late in the first half, after all, and were in winning position until forward Jeronne Maymon fouled out with less than five minutes to play. As he walked off the court, Maymon said something to official Pat Adams that Adams didn't like and hit Maymon with a technical. Adams stared the player down for a few seconds afterward. Maymon's foul was bad, and his decision to question it was, too, but the technical looked like textbook officiating bluster. Florida gradually ground the Vols out from there. But even without the win, Tennessee should get in the NCAA tournament. The Volunteers have a top-25 schedule figure, bolstering their otherwise solid RPI and overall SOS numbers, plus a neutral-court win over fellow bubbler Xavier and that 30-point blowout of Virginia earlier in the year. What's more, the committee should like what they've seen in recent weeks: The Vols have played their best basketball of the season down the stretch. It's a big, talented, dangerous team with a totally impeachable resume. But we think they'll get in.
Check out full details on teams on the bubble here.