Sunday, March 15, 2009 Updated: March 16, 7:43 AM ET
Whose bubble burst? Who snuck in?
By Mark Schlabach ESPN.com
Which bubble teams are jumping for joy?
Which teams are spitting mad?
Here's a look at the bubble teams that made the NCAA tournament's 65-team field and which teams were left out. The bubble got much smaller the past few days, with Temple (Atlantic 10), Cleveland State (Horizon League), Southern California (Pac-10) and Mississippi State (SEC) stealing bids that would have gone to bubble teams.
Bubble teams that are in
Arizona can celebrate after it earned a 12-seed.
Certainly, the Wildcats are the most surprising team in the 65-team field. I thought Arizona's 24-year streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances would end after USC won the Pac-10 tournament title and claimed the league's NCAA auto bid.
Arizona lost to Arizona State for the third time this season, 68-56, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament. The Wildcats lost five of their last six games and went 2-9 in road games. But they played 16 games against RPI top-50 foes, winning six of them, and were 8-12 against the top 100.
Obviously, the NCAA selection committee rewarded Arizona for playing a very difficult schedule. And because Arizona beat teams such as Kansas, Washington, UCLA and USC, it's really hard to say there's no reason it shouldn't be in the field.
I moved the Flyers to "lock" status a couple of weeks ago, but I must admit I was a little nervous about their chances going into Selection Sunday. Dayton just didn't play very well down the stretch, losing games at Charlotte, Saint Louis and Rhode Island and getting routed by 17 at Xavier. Then the Flyers lost to Duquesne 77-66 in the Atlantic 10 tournament semis in Atlantic City, N.J.
When Temple won the Atlantic 10 tournament final, the selection committee had to take three A-10 teams. Dayton had a pretty good case because of its No. 29 RPI rating and wins over Xavier (home) and Marquette (neutral court). But the Flyers' No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region suggests they were closer to missing the field than we thought.
The Terrapins obviously helped themselves by winning twice during the ACC tournament, including a big victory over Wake Forest in the quarterfinals in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Maryland beat Michigan State (neutral court), Michigan (home) and North Carolina (home) this season, so it's hard to argue with its inclusion. But the Terrapins' 2-6 road record and losses to Virginia (road) and Morgan State (home) would have made it hard to argue if they'd been left out, too.
With a 4-8 record against RPI top-50 foes and 8-11 record against the top 100, I'm pretty surprised the Terps are seeded No. 10 in the West Region.
I thought the Wolverines would easily make the NCAA field, and their No. 10 seed suggests it wasn't much of a debate for the committee.
Michigan had to win at least once in the Big Ten tournament, and it routed Iowa in the first round. The Wolverines went a long way in earning their at-large bid back in November and December, when they beat Duke and UCLA during the nonconference schedule. When you throw in victories over Illinois, Minnesota (twice) and Purdue, the Wolverines probably weren't a difficult choice for an at-large bid.
I thought the Big Ten might get eight teams into the 65-team field, so I'm not really surprised the Gophers got an at-large bid. They had a much higher RPI rating than fellow Big Ten bubble team Penn State, and they had something else the Nittany Lions didn't have: a nonconference gem over Louisville on a neutral court.
Minnesota's chances seemed to be a little bit in doubt after it lost seven of its last 11 games. The Gophers were 5-8 against RPI top-50 foes and went 3-1 against Big Ten bubble teams Wisconsin and Penn State. Tubby Smith's teams have had good success in the NCAA tournament, so don't be surprised to see the Gophers win a game or two.
The Badgers were left for dead when they lost six games in a row during Big Ten play, but they rallied to finish 10-8 in league play. They swept games against Michigan and Penn State, so the selection committee couldn't take the Wolverines over Wisconsin. Wisconsin also beat RPI top-50 opponents Illinois and Ohio State at home, which probably carried a lot of weight with the committee.
The Badgers played a ton of RPI top-100 opponents, going 4-10 against top-50 foes and 9-11 against the top 100. They were obviously rewarded by the committee for playing a very difficult schedule.
Bubble teams that are out
Despite a strong finish, Auburn will not be in the NCAA tournament.
Auburn and South Carolina became the first teams to finish 10-6 in SEC play and be left out of the NCAA tournament field since the league split into divisions in 1991-92. (The 2002-03 Georgia team went 11-5, but the school withdrew from the postseason because of NCAA rules violations.)
Both the Tigers and Gamecocks can blame their nonconference schedules.
Auburn won 11 games against SEC foes, but that wasn't enough because the league was so mediocre this season. Auburn lost to Mercer in its second game and has only two RPI top-50 victories, beating Tennessee and LSU at home. Auburn's best nonconference victories came against RPI No. 113 Virginia and No. 179 Alabama State. In fact, 16 of the Tigers' 22 victories came against foes ranked outside the RPI top 100.
The Bluejays might have lost their at-large bid when Cleveland State won the Horizon League tournament, USC won the Pac-10 and Temple won the Atlantic 10. There just weren't enough at-large bids to go around for a second team from the Missouri Valley Conference, which wasn't as good as it had been in recent seasons.
Creighton was routed 73-49 by Illinois State in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, not the kind of impression it wanted to leave on the selection committee. The Bluejays had two victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Dayton and Illinois State. The Bluejays also beat New Mexico (home) and MVC champion Northern Iowa (road). But only four games against RPI top-50 opponents apparently wasn't enough for the selection committee.
Penn State finished 10-8 in Big Ten play and had six victories over RPI top-50 opponents, which gave it a chance on Selection Sunday. But don't be surprised to see the Nittany Lions play a much more difficult nonconference schedule next season.
That's what ultimately kept Penn State out of the NCAA field. Its non-Big Ten schedule was ranked No. 313 this season and its best nonleague win came against No. 118 Mount St. Mary's.
Even with victories over Michigan State (road), Illinois (home and road), Purdue (home), Minnesota (home) and Michigan (home), the selection committee apparently couldn't get past Penn State's soft nonleague schedule.
SEC commissioner Michael Slive, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee, told CBS that the committee rewarded teams for playing difficult nonconference schedules, and vice versa.
"We tried to deliver the message this year that it's your entire body of work," Slive told CBS. "It starts in November and December and goes through the conference. One of the things I really tried to find is teams that played teams away and won nonconference games. Those wins were hard to find this year. Those kinds of wins will really make a difference."
The Gaels might have the best argument of the bubble teams that didn't make the NCAA field. Saint Mary's tied a record for having the most victories (26) and not getting an at-large bid (as did Creighton, Niagara and Charleston this season).
Slive told CBS that the committee really struggled in evaluating some teams' injuries, including the case of Gaels point guard Patty Mills. Mills missed nine of his team's last 10 regular-season games after breaking his right hand. He came back to play in the WAC tournament, but wasn't very effective. He looked better in an added game against Eastern Washington, a 12-18 opponent from the Big Sky Conference.
The Gaels lost three times to Gonzaga, including an ugly 83-58 defeat in the finals of the WCC tournament. The Gaels had an RPI rating of No. 48 and beat only three RPI top-100 opponents (Utah State, San Diego State and Providence), so their computer profile obviously hurt them.
San Diego State
The Aztecs had some nice wins during their Mountain West Conference schedule, beating Utah, BYU and UNLV (three times). But San Diego State was hurt by its dearth of quality nonconference wins -- its best non-MWC victories came against RPI No. 127 Cal State Northridge and No. 177 UC Santa Barbara.
San Diego State came close to winning the MWC tournament, losing to Utah 52-50 in Las Vegas. But its lack of high-end victories and so-so nonconference schedule left it out of the NCAA field.