The final Saturday of the regular season is upon us. Which means Championship Week is officially here. Were it not for NCAA tournament itself, this would arguably be one of the best weeks in sports. So much rides on every outcome, especially for those teams fighting for dance tickets. Friday night gave us a glimpse of the perils ahead, as Ohio Valley Conference favorite Belmont was bounced in the OVC tournament semifinals. With that, here are the latest updates:
As this is Quick Takes, we won’t go in-depth. But here are a few highlights and questions regarding the next eight days… Read more…
If you’re looking for a quality non-power conference team that could earn an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, Middle Tennessee State should be near the top of your list. If the name sounds familiar, think back to last year’s NCAA tournament. The then 15th-seeded Blue Raiders knocked off No. 2 seed Michigan State in St. Louis before losing to eventual Final Four participant Syracuse in the Round of 32. As we look ahead, Giddy Potts and MTSU are 19-3 with Top 100 RPI wins over UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Belmont. The Blue Raiders are 8-1 on the road and have some pretty solid metric numbers:
Middle Tennessee State … RPI: 37 | BPI: 52 | SOR: 31 | KP: 47
Unfortunately, Conference USA hasn’t provided MTSU with much support; the Blue Raiders are the only team in the RPI’s Top 100, and six of the schools are 300-plus. That’s a recipe for picking up a really bad loss. The good news, MTSU has avoided that issue. If that continues, the Blue Raiders should receive strong consideration were they to lose in the C-USA tournament final.
Here are a few other mid-major hopefuls as we head into February: Read more…
It won’t be long before the Bubble returns. If you’re new to college hoops lingo, the Bubble references teams caught in one of two places: either barely inside the bracket or close enough to be under strong consideration. Either way, February and March become an agonizing adventure. The remedy, of course, is to perform well enough to remove yourself from the aforementioned situation. But as history suggests, that can be much tougher than it appears.
Although Bubble Banter won’t return until February, here’s an early peek at the developing Bubble …
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
- Projected IN: Florida State, North Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke.
- Early Bubble: Virginia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Miami-FL, Pittsburgh, NC State, Georgia Tech
- Notes: It’s possible the league could tie a record for the most teams to make the NCAAs from one league (11). My guess would be that three of the Bubble teams make it (9 total), with a fourth right along the cutline.
It’s fair to say that neither Syracuse nor Pittsburgh is safely in the Field of 68, which makes Wednesday’s early tip at the ACC tournament worth following. Although the Panthers won both regular season meetings against the Orange, the loser will be nervously awaiting their fate on Selection Sunday.
It’s especially timely given what we’ve seen thus far in Championship Week. As potential bubble slots disappear, the value of every win increases.
Additional bubble action on Wednesday (March 9) ..
- Washington (vs. Stanford) – The Huskies need a lengthy stay to get back in the conversation; they may need to win the Pac-12 tourney.
- Georgia Tech (vs. Clemson) – First game of the ACC tourney for the Yellow Jackets who are back in the mix after winning 5 of 6 down the stretch.
- USC (vs. UCLA) – Beating their rival may not be required, but it would certainly help ease the Trojans’ nerves. USC has lost 6 of 8 games, and a poor record away from home could become an issue.
- Oregon State (vs. Arizona State) – While overall power numbers help the Beavers, they have not beaten a tournament team away from home. Losing to ASU a second time might not be the best message to leave the Committee.
Although likely above the bubble, it would still be nice to see Texas Tech beat TCU (Big 12) and Colorado beat Washington State (Pac 12). A lot could still change between now and Saturday night.
Of all the bubble results on Saturday, Florida’s loss at LSU is one of the most notable. And it’s not because losing to a wildly inconsistent group from Baton Rouge is particularly bad. In between their pile of head-wrangling losses to middling teams, this is a Tigers’ team that has won at Vanderbilt and beaten Kentucky and Texas AM. LSU can be pretty good – we just don’t see that team enough. The Gators problem is a serious lack of quality wins, as a 2-9 record against Top 50 RPI teams indicates. And one of those wins is against Saint Joseph’s in November. Since then, Florida has beaten exactly one (1) team – West Virginia at home – that would be an at-large team in the Field today. Their remaining Top 100 wins are Georgia and Ole Miss twice and the aforementioned LSU outfit at home. If there’s a remedy, it’s a visit from Kentucky this coming week before a trip to Missouri. The Gators really need to win both of those ahead of the SEC tournament.
Elsewhere, it was a pretty good day for bubble teams along the cutline. Vanderbilt helped itself the most by beating Kentucky in Nashville. We’ll see if they can keep building on a three-game winning streak. Alabama and Cincinnati won the games they had to (Auburn, East Carolina) …. On the outside looking in … VCU, St. Bonaventure, and Butler all put victories on the slate, with VCU taking down fellow-bubbler George Washington. And Gonzaga won at BYU – keeping their at-large hopes in tact.
Sunday’s Bubble Action
Given this year’s rather unimpressive Bubble, there’s been ample opportunities for so-called “mid-majors” to cash in. But as the calendar turns to March, Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley) is the only one to really take advantage: the Panthers will be Dancing. Old Dominion was in a similar position in mid-January until some unsightly Conference USA losses clouded their horizon. The Monarchs can still make it, but not without a strong finish, and maybe a little help.
Which brings us to the next question: Are there any other potential mid-major teams who could make a late push toward at-large consideration? Here are the leading candidates (records are D1 only) …
Wofford (21-6) | (Southern) – The Terriers might be the leading candidate thanks to a Top 20 non-conference schedule that includes a victory at NC State. Wofford’s other Top 100 wins include Iona and Sam Houston State. The biggest hang-up, and it sticks out like a 300-pound gorilla, is a loss at The Citadel, which stands at No. 310 on the RPI rankings as of this posting. It would also be a bit unusual for a six-loss team in Wofford’s situation to gain momentum on the At-Large Board. Assuming the Terriers would lose only to Chattanooga in the SoCon tourney finale, there’s an outside chance, but it’s just that. Read more…
By now you know that the lower half of the bracket is wide open. The bubble? Well, it’s wide open, too. There are some highly questionable profiles near the cutline, and that may not change. Written off for the NIT at the end of its non-conference season, UCLA is among the teams back in the at-large picture. Same for Boise State, riding an eight-game winning streak in Mountain West play. And what about the ACC … no league is stronger at the top, but there’s a steep decline once you exit the upper tier.
There are some big-time programs currently on the outside looking in – including aforementioned UCLA, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, and Pittsburgh. There are also traditionally strong leagues – such as the Atlantic 10 – that could put just two teams into the field. Read more…