Monday, March 9, 2009
Bubble watch is on in Bracketology
By Charlie Creme Special to ESPN.com
The fence is not a fun place to be right now. Especially for teams who have no games between now and Selection Monday, which is still a week away.
South Florida was one of the last four teams included in Charlie Creme's latest Bracketology. But the Bulls' fate depends on what happens in other conference tourneys.
There's nothing to do but go to class, practice and overanalyze. The latter is what bracketology is for, so for those teams on the bubble, here is a short guide to what the committee might be pouring over and what other games might be important to keep an eye on over the next seven days.
The last team included in this week's bracket, the Bulls have plenty to worry about. This spot is hardly secure. The difference at this point is that South Florida has actually beaten a few decent teams away from home -- Iowa on a neutral floor, at Rutgers, at DePaul and at Villanova. Four wins against tournament teams is good in itself. To have those wins come away from home really looks good to the committee since this is a tournament in which most of the games are not played at home.
However, South Florida will need to keep a close eye on the goings on in Colonial, Sun Belt and Summit conference tournaments. If VCU makes a run to the CAA finals but then loses, the Rams might be able to leap frog the competition for an at-large bid.
Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) and South Dakota State (Summit) have both reached the semifinals of those tournaments. Those teams are going to get bids regardless, so if one of them loses, South Florida will not receive an at-large bid. Unfortunately, as nicely as the Bulls finished the season, the last image we saw was them being turned into road kill by Connecticut.
The next team on the right side of the bubble at the moment, Minnesota has the same worries as South Florida. The Golden Gophers don't have the Bulls' number of quality road wins, but they have the highest quality, beating Ohio State in Columbus.
Minnesota didn't finish the season well and that could come back to hurt should more comparisons need to be made. One win in the Big Ten tournament really would have been beneficial. What helps the Gophers is that they have the advantage, albeit slight, over Indiana in their own league, and teams like South Florida and Georgia can no longer help themselves.
What do the Lady Bulldogs have going in their favor? Finishing above .500 in the SEC usually leads to a ticket to the dance. A win over LSU in the conference tournament probably would have wrapped things up. Nonetheless, Mississippi State has less to worry about. The cushion of the two above is one reason for optimism. USF and Minnesota will be bounced first.
The Owls should feel safe, even though an extra bid is going to come out of the Atlantic 10 from right under their noses. Once Xavier was upset and bounced in the quarterfinals, Temple might have set their sights on the prize too soon. Charlotte, a team Temple beat two weeks ago, overwhelmed the Owls by 23. Just like South Florida, that will be the final image of Temple the committee members take into the room. However, it's hard to imagine a team with an RPI and a strength of schedule inside 30, with four top-50 wins, missing the tournament.
Those are the last four teams that made it into the latest projection. What about those on the outside looking in?
The Lady Bulldogs are close, but with the SEC tournament already in the rearview mirror, they have no more chance to help themselves. Georgia, probably more than any other team on this list, could really use a few more games. Georgia did rally after a tough beginning to the season (a loss at Detroit?), but the Lady Dogs just didn't win enough.
With no more games to play, Georgia can only hope the committee really looks upon its wins over tournament-bound Vanderbilt, Florida and Auburn -- though none of those victories were on the road, where Georgia failed to impress all season long. That is the best collection of wins of any of the bubble teams, but Andy Landers' crew won only four road contests all season and had two losing streaks of three and five games.
What could really help Georgia is a one-and-done scenario for Utah in the Mountain West tournament. As the top seed, the Utes do get a bye all the way to the semifinals. However, if for the second straight year they fail to win a game, they go into the at-large pool, and Utah's credentials are a bit shaky. Having a regular-season championship goes a long way, but Georgia's collection of wins is much better (TCU and San Diego State at home are Utah's only top-50 victories). With Utah out, a spot would open up.
The Hoosiers also can no longer help themselves after bowing out of the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. But Indiana has other issues keeping it out, starting with the obvious comparison to fellow Big Ten team Minnesota. While it's close, the Gophers win out. That pair of losses to sub-100 Illinois hang over Bloomington like a dark cloud. No one ahead of the Hoosiers on the list has two bad losses. And an overtime victory at Wisconsin was Indiana's only remotely decent win since January.
The Rams can just take care of business by winning the CAA tournament, which would remove them from this list altogether. But should VCU reach the finals but fail to win the CAA's automatic bid, the Rams' at-large chances are shaky. Under that scenario, the Rams would have a gaudy 27 wins, but the diminished quality of the Colonial hurts them. Last season, the league had three top-50 teams. Two seasons ago that number was four. This season, VCU is the only one. Subsequently, the Rams have no top-50 wins. Georgetown is VCU's best nonconference victory. Most seasons, 27 wins in the CAA is enough. In 2009, it probably isn't.
This was not the Atlantic 10 final most could have anticipated, but if Temple does remain safely in, then it gives the conference another bid. However, this is likely a winner-take-all scenario. The loser probably won't receive an at-large bid. Right now, the 49ers are in by virtue of their higher seed, but both carry shaky at-large résumés. It begins with multiple bad losses for each. Charlotte didn't even have a really good win until beating Temple in the A-10 semifinals. Richmond did knock off the aforementioned VCU in early December. That sits as the best win for either team. So while the win totals are good, there isn't much meat to them. Winning the title game erases any question. Losing puts them too far back on the list.
No. 1 seeds
Three of the four have been sorted out. Connecticut never left the top line. Oklahoma has been there virtually all season. Now Maryland is a lock with ACC regular-season and tournament titles, plus a 12-game winning streak. The identity of the fourth No. 1 seed, however, has been perplexing all season and has continued to change from week to week. The choice now is Duke.
Why? The reason is pretty simple. Auburn would have been the final No. 1 seed had the Tigers not lost and played so uninspired in the SEC championship game Sunday. The other contenders include Stanford, Louisville and perhaps Baylor.
Within that group, Duke has the best collection of wins. The Blue Devils have beaten Maryland, Florida State, Virginia (twice), North Carolina and Stanford.
An argument could be made about Baylor, but the Lady Bears playing without Danielle Wilson are still something of an unknown. The season-ending win over Texas A&M was impressive, but let's not forget the 23-point loss to Kansas three days earlier.
The Cardinal have been there all season and have just three losses. However, they don't have a huge win all season.
And for comparison's sake, watching Duke's performance on Sunday against Maryland versus Louisville's game against Rutgers in the Big East quarterfinals, it's hard to come away thinking Duke is not the better team.
The good news is that Stanford, Baylor and Louisville still have an opportunity to impact this. Any of them running to a conference tournament title might change this scenario, Stanford in particular. But right now the choice is Duke and it might actually be as clear as it has been all season.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.