College Basketball Nation: bubblewatch2014

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.
The Big Ten’s bubble teams are officially in wait-and-see mode after Friday’s quarterfinals while one Conference USA bubbler moved past another:

Big Ten
Illinois: The Illini needed at the very least a win over Michigan on Friday (and then probably a win against Ohio State on Saturday) to get anywhere near the bubble conversation. The Illini gave it a real run, but Michigan held on down the stretch to win 64-63. And with that, the Illini's sudden long-shot hopes vanished just as quickly.

Nebraska: In the second game of the afternoon session, Nebraska gave one away against Ohio State. The Cornhuskers led by 18 at one point in the second half. They were better than Ohio State for all but the first five and final 10 minutes of the game. Where do the Cornhuskers stand? That answer could be affected slightly by the egg Minnesota laid against Wisconsin on Friday night. Both teams will spend the rest of the weekend uncertain of where -- or whether -- they'll end up in the bracket come Sunday.

Minnesota: On the one hand, losing to Wisconsin on a neutral court is not a bad thing. Wisconsin is really good and the Badgers will likely beat plenty of good teams on neutral courts in the next three weeks. But losing the way Minnesota lost on Friday night, in a game it desperately needed, is hardly the kind of final impression you want to leave with the committee. The Gophers got trucked by 26 in Indianapolis, a loss that made them 20-13 overall. Minnesota finished 8-10 in the Big Ten in the regular season and just 2-7 against the RPI top 50, with those only two wins (Ohio State, Wisconsin) coming on their own floor. The lone redeeming data point here is the Gophers' schedule, which is top-10 overall and includes a top-30 nonconference mark. That has kept Minnesota clinging to the cut line for weeks. The committee typically prefers to reward teams with good schedules, but Friday's letdown might override that preference after all.

Other at-large contenders
Southern Miss: Opinions have differed on Southern Miss-as-at-large for weeks now. Some thought the Golden Eagles were worthy. Some thought they needed the auto bid to have any chance. As debates go, that's a pretty mild one, but it was a matter of some confusion. Consensus should be easier to reach now. The Golden Eagles were thoroughly mediocre in their 88-70 C-USA semifinal loss to Louisiana Tech, giving up 1.30 points per possession and looking athletically outmatched in just about every regard. La. Tech should go ahead and win the C-USA tournament just to be safe. But if the committee does reach for a C-USA at-large, it won't be Southern Miss.

Louisiana Tech: As we wrote said, the chances for La. Tech to earn an at-large bid are probably small. The Bulldogs were small for Southern Miss, too. But if the committee is going to take one or the other, we know who that one will be. Besides, pending the rest of the weekend, perhaps the committee will feel better about taking a team whose best win came at Oklahoma as opposed to North Dakota State. And Southern Miss's top-30-ish RPI is a decent top-50 win addition for the Bulldogs, too. We'll see.

Check out full details on teams on the bubble here.
Here’s what’s bubbling now. First the ACC, where Pitt is now a lock.

At this point, any team with a cat-related mascot and a couple of close games in their rearview gets slapped with the "Cardiac Cats" nickname. Pittsburgh actually earned it. All season, the Panthers have played close games. Its losses to good teams have been close, its wins over bad teams closer. And then there's the slow-burn bubble drama: On a per-possession basis, Pittsburgh should have wrapped up its NCAA tournament bid months ago. Instead, its lack of quality wins and a couple of home slugs down the stretch (to Florida State and NC State, respectively) put Pitt and its questionable nonconference schedule into legitimate bubble jeopardy.

Friday was another exercise in self-induced anxiety. Leading 50-31 with 11:43 to play, Pitt should have put North Carolina away with room to spare in the second half. Then, of course, the Panthers gradually let UNC close the lead, and when Talib Zanna -- who put together a brilliant 19-point, 21-rebound game -- fouled out with 1:03 left, and Marcus Paige's free throws cut the lead to four, things looked grim. But Pitt regrouped and survived, thanks to free throws and careful ballhandling down the stretch (and maybe one or two missed calls, which were legion in this game), and as such we can officially lock the Panthers into a tourney slot. Adding another noteworthy top-50 win was really all this team needed to do to make sure the committee didn't look askance at its unspectacular profile. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, over in the Atlantic 10 …

Alongside Providence-St. John's and La. Tech-Southern Miss, Friday's Saint Joseph's-Dayton clash in the A-10 quarterfinals was the best example the weekend had to offer of two bubble teams, both in need of wins, clashing in the conference tournament. The result was a thriller. Thanks to a Langston Galloway 3, Saint Joe's escaped victorious, and now the question is what it all means.

St. Joseph’s: Notching a win over a fellow bubble team on a neutral floor is the kind of thing that just might make the difference -- a tiny difference, but a difference -- between getting in the tournament and getting snubbed on Selection Sunday. The Hawks got what they needed Friday, thanks to Galloway's 31 points and a clutch 3 with 20 seconds to play in Friday's 70-67 win over the Flyers. It was the Hawks' third win over Dayton, which helps, because it looks like both teams are in a dead-heat on the cut line. The question is what might happen Saturday when the Hawks play St. Bonaventure. What should have been a crack at Saint Louis has suddenly turned into a bad-loss opportunity. Would St. Joe's take a hit if it lost? We're honestly not sure. But Friday's win was major regardless.

Dayton: On Friday morning, before broadcasting St. Joe's-Dayton -- he is a man of many talents, after all -- ESPN's own Joe Lunardi offered up his latest last four in update: St. Joe's, Dayton, BYU, Providence. That squared with our own reckoning starting the day, and it's not clear Dayton should be downgraded much along the cut line after the loss. The next four teams on Joe's S-Curve are Minnesota, FSU, Southern Miss, and Arkansas, followed by Cal, Missouri, St. John's, and Green Bay. Both in the short-term movement and overall resume sense -- FSU, Arkansas, Cal, and St. John's have all lost in the past 24 hours -- Dayton rates well against most of those teams. And again: what happens if St. Joe's loses to the Bonnies? Don't tear up your season programs just yet, Flyers fans. If anything, a #daytonindayton play-in game looks likelier than ever.

And let’s not leave out the Big Ten …

Illinois needed, at the very least, a win over Michigan on Friday (and then probably another against Ohio State on Saturday) to get anywhere near the bubble conversation, and the Illini gave it a real run. (And inspired the Watch's Illinois-based friends to send a flurry of second-half texts. Hey guys!) But Michigan held on to a 64-63 lead down the stretch, and the Illini's sudden long-shot hopes vanished just as quickly.

By our admittedly dim lights, Nebraska entered the day with a little space between itself and the cut line -- one of the last four byes, maybe higher. After the loss to Ohio State? It's hard to say. Résumé-wise, Nebraska has a solid-enough RPI (41) and an even better overall schedule (26), plus an 11-7 record in the Big Ten, which might count for something. The committee should see a good, hot team that knocked off Wisconsin five days ago, that outplayed Ohio State for much of Friday's game, that won at Michigan State in mid-February, and that finished the Big Ten season 8-2 over the final 10 games. But if the committee pays as much attention to the sweep vs. Penn State, or the neutral-court loss to UAB -- and if it doesn't like the sight of a good team crumbling under the postseason glare -- maybe Nebraska's case won't be cut and dry. We think they'll get in, but we're not positive about it.

Off in the SEC ...

Missouri: The Tigers played Florida to a draw in the first half and completely crumbled in the second; that's what happens when you let Texas A&M take your nonexistent defense to double-overtime a day before playing the best team in the country. Barring a major surprise, the Tigers' punishment will take the form of a Selection Sunday snub. Arkansas isn't in much better shape after Thursday's loss to South Carolina. In the end, it looks like the SEC is going to be a three-bid league. Finally, Tennessee finally has emerged as a willing third wheel.

Tennessee: No team in the country enjoyed a wider gap all season between what advanced metrics said about them -- that they were one of the best 15 or 20 teams in the country -- and what their wins and losses, and their resulting RPI, indicated. A lot of that had to do with an uncharacteristic-for-all-parties 30-point blowout of Virginia in late December, but still: Tennessee has been one of the nation's best offensive rebounding teams in the country with the returning SEC player of the year (Jordan McRae) roaming the perimeter. But losses to Vanderbilt, Missouri and Texas A&M in February put Cuonzo Martin's team on the bubble and kept it there since. But after avoiding a bad loss on Friday to South Carolina, the Vols are 20-11 overall with a top-15 strength of schedule number by their name and an all-upside matchup against Florida on deck for Saturday.

Check out full details on teams on the bubble here.

Bubble Watch update: SEC

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
3:30
PM ET
The bubble does not rest. Here’s what’s happening in the SEC:

With Arkansas eliminated by South Carolina on Thursday, the Razorbacks are stuck in front of the TV like the rest of us, waiting to see if the bubble shakes out in their favor. Some early good news arrived on Friday, when Missouri was blown out by Florida -- a loss that, in both form and function, should officially end the Tigers’ at-large hopes.

Missouri [22-11 (9-9), RPI: 48, SOS: 83]: Frequent Watchers will know we're not big fans of the eye test 'round these parts. Too often, the term is used as a rhetorical catch-all; a vague way of hammering home any point, positive or negative. For Missouri, though, we'll make an exception. On paper, Missouri's win over Texas A&M and loss to Florida looks like a relatively unremarkable trip to the SEC tourney. On the court, the Tigers needed two overtimes to get past A&M and then got drilled by the Gators, 72-49, just a few days after Saturday's absolute demolition at Tennessee. Of course, the committee probably doesn't need the eye test to keep Missouri out; the Tigers' resume looks weak enough to do the trick. But a cursory tape review of this team's abysmal recent outings should seal its NIT fate.

Check out the full details of teams on the bubble here.

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