A month ago, Pittsburgh was a no-doubt NCAA Tournament team. The Panthers had battled Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Virginia to the final seconds in close losses. Their efficiency numbers suggested a team that could win in March. All they needed was a couple of notable victories to validate their position. The problem: those victories have yet to materialize.
Bubble Banter – Update
Instead, less than two weeks before Selection Sunday, we find a Pittsburgh resume with only one victory against a projected NCAA team: Stanford (in November). Since then, the Panthers have managed four Top 100 RPI wins: Maryland (twice), Clemson, and NC State. And Monday night, the Wolfpack returned the favor by beating Pitt on its home floor. So where does this leave the Panthers? As a team with some work to do between now and March 16. The one thing helping Pitt beyond those close losses is the absence of any bad losses (to sub-100 RPI teams). Will that hold up if the Panthers take an early exit from the ACC Tournament? Read more…
It’s not a surprise to say the current NCAA Tournament bubble is soft. While we most often focus on the cutline (last teams in, first teams out), a few notable programs may not be as secure as it seems. With Selection Sunday only three weeks away, the stretch run could make a huge difference. Here are a four teams (of several) that could be on that list …
Memphis – The Tigers needed overtime at home to survive Temple on Saturday night which kept a truly bad loss off of their resume. Here’s the concerning part: a 4-6 record against Top 100 RPI teams – which actually extends to the Top 150. This could be one of those years when a team with a losing record against the top half of Division I earns an at-large bid, but it certainly leaves some doubt about the Tigers’ overall standing. Part of that is due to a weak bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Part of it is losses against league leaders – save victory at Louisville in early January. Memphis is 1-4 against American contenders (Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, SMU). Three of their remaining games are against those same squads. If the Tigers were to finish 1-7 (or 2-6) against that target, it could bring some stressful moments come league tournament time.
Kansas State – While it’s hard to envision a team with eight Top 100 wins missing the NCAA Tournament right now, it’s worth nothing that the Wildcats are 1-6 in true road games (their only win was at TCU). K-State has remaining road trips to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, neither of which will be easy. If they were to lose both and drop a home game to either Baylor or Iowa State down the stretch, an early exit from the Big 12 tourney could create some few tense moments in Manhattan. Read more…
It’s going to be a long wait for Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee. The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a third time Monday night, and the Blue Raiders fell in the semifinals of the Sun Belt. Which leaves both in agonizing limbo until the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday. An already tough job for members of the NCAA Selection Committee in Indianapolis just became that much tougher.
March 12 Bubble Banter | 12:30 p.m. ET
Overall, the bubble remains very fluid with only a few days to go. At the very least we have five or six spots up for grabs. Right now, it looks like as many as 11 spots have yet to be confirmed. Some teams in those spots are better positioned than others. Conference tournament results are going to matter, probably more than usual.
Pending results in the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are particularly intriguing. While California and Oregon remains as teams that “Should Be In” today, neither can be considered locks. Colorado opens with Oregon State, a team that just beat the Buffaloes. Another loss to the Beavers could make things a bit more interesting. Not that Colorado won’t make it, but there would certainly be a few anxious moments ahead. In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State square off in the quarterfinals. And while it’s probable that both make the Field of 68 regardless, the loser won’t be quite as certain - especially if we have an upset winner or two elsewhere.
Enjoy the week of Madness!
Riding a six-game conference winning streak, the Tennessee Volunteers find themselves in the thick of the at-large conversation. Since losing at home to Georgia in early February, the Vols have won three league road games and beaten Kentucky and Florida in Knoxville. And while one could argue (correctly) that the SEC isn’t particularly strong or deep, Tennessee has given itself a chance to participate in March Madness. Such a scenario would have been considered a stretch a month ago.
A similar streak helped Illinois overcome a 2-7 mark in the Big Ten. Without a major slip, the Illini are now a likely NCAA participant. A lot can change in two weeks.
Which brings us to Selection Sunday – now just over two weeks away.
Our latest bubble update finds teams moving both toward and away from the cutline. Besides the aforementioned Volunteers, here are some teams climbing the at-large ladder: Temple, Saint Mary’s, and California. Akron should be included too. The Zips beat Ohio for a second time Wednesday and have a clear path toward an outright Mid-American Conference title. That will add credibility to the Zips’ profile if they were to fall short in the MAC tournament.
Teams moving in the opposite direction include Arkansas, Charlotte, and Indiana State. The Sycamores have lost any momentum they once had and probably need to win the MVC tournament in St. Louis to reach the NCAA tournament. For now, they’ve been removed from the bubble.
One other Missouri Valley note: Both Creighton and Wichita State remain as “Should Be In” teams at the time of this update. However, both have slipped a bit of late and certainly aren’t locks. Saturday, they battle for the MVC title. The winner takes a significant step toward an NCAA bid as it’s hard to imagine the outright MVC champion being left out of the Field.
With just over a month until Selection Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the current NCAA bubble. It’s a bit crazy – especially with teams like Kentucky and North Carolina missing from “lock” status. We also have teams like Virginia - whose resume features quality wins, head-scratching losses, and a weak strength of schedule. How will the Selection Committee view the Cavaliers? Those are just three of many challenges within the current landscape of college hoops.
For what it’s worth, the Atlantic 10, Pac-12, SEC, and Mountain West have a variety of bubble teams. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.
Bubble Banter will ebb and flow over the next month. Teams will be added and teams will fall away. Others will move off the bubble and confirm their place in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. While we could stretch the bubble even further, we’ve limited teams to those with realistic at-large hopes at this point in time. Ask Villanova how quickly things can change, however. Beating Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games can do that.
It’s going to be a fun ride. Here’s to some great hoops and a stronger-than-usual bubble down the stretch.