College Basketball Bubble Watch
And on Selection Sunday, the bubble rests
Editor's note: This file will be updated regularly.
Fourteen tournament titles and the automatic bids that accompany them were decided Saturday. Five more leagues set up their Sunday finales with semifinals. There were 24 total games spanning 14 hours. By the time we caught our breath for the first time Saturday night, we realized it wasn't Saturday anymore.
It wasn't Saturday anymore. It was ... wait ... Sunday? Sunday! Selection Sunday!
Cue the tape of George Bailey running through the streets of Bedford Falls. Hello, you beautiful old pod system! Hello, needlessly large stack of paper brackets! Hello, awkward selection committee chair interview! It's the third best day of the year -- third only to the first two days of the NCAA tournament, obviously -- and we were so focused on predicting its particulars we almost overlooked its arrival.
Fortuntaely, the bubble drama is just about over. The last bubble team standing is St. Joe's -- and make no mistake, the Hawks are on the bubble -- but whatever the committee thinks of them won't be drastically affected by what they do against VCU in the A-10 final on Sunday. And if they do win, of course, they'll punch their proverbial ticket.
Maybe the Hawks' Sunday will reverberate outward, but more likely than not, the rest of the bubble is settled. Heck: By the time you read this, the committee may have already decided the bubble. It might spend most of its Sunday figuring out its four No. 1 seeds instead.
In any case, our work here is done. See you all next year. And remember: No man is a failure who has friends ... who sign up for his bracket pool.
Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through March 15.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Dayton|
Dayton [23-10 (10-6), RPI: 42, SOS: 55] Dayton's loss to the Hawks didn't hurt it much along Lunardi's S-Curve on Saturday morning, a conclusion with which we agree: Dayton's overall resume is strong, it played well in Maui in November, its spate of January losses came during a series of injuries, and it closed the season playing good basketball (and barely lost to St. Joe's anyway). It looks a strong possibility that the Flyers will play in the First Four in Dayton early next week, a prospect to which we can only say: yes, please.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Florida State|
NC State had a chance to do something special this weekend and who were we to doubt the Wolfpack? They brought ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren to Greensboro, N.C., an efficient offensive force averaging 25 points and seven rebounds per game this season, who finished the regular season with back-to-back 41- and 42-point outbursts against Pitt and Clemson. On Friday, NC State upended Syracuse, setting up a chance to knock off Duke and force themselves back into the bubble discussion in a very real way. (Or, even better, a chance to win the outright bid in Sunday's tourney final.) The Wolfpack's offense scored 1.22 points per trip against Duke on Saturday; Warren finished with 21 and eight. But they allowed 1.41 points per trip. Four Blue Devils (Jabari Parker, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook) finished in double figures. And so it was that NC State's utterly nonexistent defense fittingly bit Mark Gottfried's team one final time. NC State will go to the NIT; NC State fans will hope Warren ignores the NBA for one more season. That leaves the ACC with just five sure bids. The sixth, Florida State, is likely out of the NCAA tournament as of Saturday night. The Seminoles can only hope the committee sees things differently.
Florida State [19-13 (9-9), RPI: 53, SOS: 33] Metaphorically speaking, Florida State's quarterfinal matchup with top ACC seed Virginia was always going to be an uphill battle -- but few teams can make that metaphor feel as tangible as the Cavaliers. UVa's 64-51 win wasn't a blowout, but it also wasn't as close as the score; the Cavaliers gradually and methodically ground FSU out of the game. Where does that leave the Seminoles? Smack-dab on the bubble. FSU is likely to be the subject of countless resume comparisons with Providence, BYU, Dayton, Minnesota, and other teams near the cut line in these last few pre-selection hours. The margins between all of these resumes are tight, and in some cases indistinguishable, and so Florida State's at-large odds are a total toss-up.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Xavier|
On the final Saturday of the regular season, Providence had a chance to firm up its at-large resume against Creighton. That game, seven days ago in Omaha, Neb., also happened to be Doug McDermott's senior night, as well as his last chance to pass the 3,000-point mark in front of his home fans, and, well, you can probably guess how that one went. (In case you can't: McDermott scored 45 points on 25 shots. Creighton won 88-73.) It was fair to expect a similar result in Madison Square Garden a week later, but the Providence team that showed up for the Big East tournament finale Saturday night came with a plan. The Friars smothered Creighton's offense -- McDermott scored 27, but every other Bluejay struggled -- holding the nation's best unit to an atypically low 1.03 points per trip. Despite a furious Creighton run, the Friars iced the game in the closing moments -- earning them a Big East title that guarantees their automatic NCAA tournament bid. After the game, Providence coach Ed Cooley told Fox's Erin Andrews that his team deserved to be in the tournament win or lose. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Fortunately for Providence, that question no longer matters.
Xavier [21-12 (10-8), RPI: 46, SOS: 30] We figured the Musketeers would be in slightly safer shape by now; we figured we'd lock them in eventually. They were trending that way, and then they weren't. As-is, we think they'll get in and avoid the First Four ... provided the committee doesn't get greedy and put Dayton and Xavier on the same line in the "opening" rounds. Actually, who are we kidding?! We totally want that to happen! Get greedy, selection committee!
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Nebraska, Minnesota|
Nebraska [19-12 (11-7), RPI: 45, SOS: 19] By our admittedly dim lights, the Cornhuskers entered the day with a little space between themselves and the cut line -- one of the last four byes, maybe higher. After the loss? It's hard to say. Resume-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 may 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 in the final 10 games. But if the committee pays as much attention to the loss at Illinois, 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 the Cornhuskers will get in, but we're not positive about it.
Minnesota [20-13 (8-10), RPI: 49, SOS: 5] On the one hand, losing to Wisconsin on a neutral court is not a bad thing. Wisconsin is really good; odds are they'll 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 they 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 may override that preference after all.
|Work left to do: California|
California [19-13 (10-8), RPI: 59, SOS: 36] Cal's heartbreaking loss to Colorado on Thursday -- a 59-56 near-miss that wasn't over until Justin Cobbs' last-second 3-pointer came up short -- turns them into just one more example of a team (discussed in the intro) with "work to do" and no games left with which to do it. The Bears are on the bubble, big-time, with wins over Arizona and at Stanford and Oregon to buttress their case and a whole mess of top-50 losses (10 total) to weaken it. There's also a loss to USC, but the Bears' top-30 strength of schedule might help them out. It's going to come down to the rest of the bubble and, to some extent, the committee's preferences. We'll find out Sunday.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee|
Work left to do: Missouri, Arkansas
The Volunteers' loss to Florida in Saturday's 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 may 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 [21-12 (11-7), RPI: 40, SOS: 25] Tennessee could have locked itself up if it had managed to hold on against Florida on Saturday. 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 5 minutes to play. As he walked off the court, Maymon said something to official Pat Adams that Adams didn't like; he hit Maymon with a technical and then 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 a 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.
Missouri [22-11 (9-9), RPI: 47, SOS: 66] 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 their NIT fate.
Arkansas [21-11 (10-8), RPI: 69, SOS: 96] Arkansas played itself onto the bubble when it completed a sweep of Kentucky in Lexington in late February. In the last game of its season, and the first of the SEC tournament, it may have played itself off. On Saturday, Arkansas lost at Alabama. On Thursday, it fell in Atlanta to South Carolina, a 14-19 team with an RPI hovering around the 150s. The loss may end up being one (or two) too many for Arkansas, which is now just 12-10 against the RPI top 150 and still just 8-8 against the top 100, with thoroughly uninspiring RPI and SOS numbers to boot. It's hard to see a way back.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Work left to do: BYU, Green Bay|
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 semis 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 cutline; 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 [23-11 (13-5), RPI: 34, SOS: 17] 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 selection? Does Collinsworth's injury invalidate the things the committee would have favored about its resume (wins at Stanford and versus 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 [24-6 (14-2), RPI: 57, SOS: 158] We offered a warm Bubble Watch welcome back to the Green Bay Phoenix on Thursday, who had become something of a mid-major cause celebre 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 may 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.