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…
The latest edition of Bubble Banter projects 32 teams as either “locks” or teams that “should be in” with a month of action remaining until Selection Sunday. With 68 total spots available (including 31 automatic qualifiers), there are roughly 14 spots available and 37 teams on the bubble. As clarification, several teams listed as bubble teams could win automatic bids; so the number is still somewhat fluid.
This is especially true for teams like Harvard, Oral Roberts, Long Beach State, and Nevada. Harvard can lock up a bid within a couple of weeks because the Ivy League doesn’t have a conference tournament. ORU, Long Beach State, and Nevada will all be favorites to win their league tournaments. The real test for the Selection Committee begins when (or if) these teams fall short of being an automatic qualifier. How do their resumes compare against fellow bubble dwellers – such as Minnesota, Northwestern, Mississippi, Arizona, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Xavier, Central Florida, and a host of others. Hopefully, we’ll sort a few things out in the next three weeks.
Until then, we’ll note these changes from last week: La Salle, Stanford, Oklahoma, and Marshall have been removed from the bubble. Any or all could potentially return, but for now, their profiles are too far down the at-large board. Teams joining the bubble include Illinois, Pittsburgh, and Wyoming. Wyoming moves up to join Colorado State and New Mexico in the Mountain West. Illinois drops down thanks to an ongoing slide and projected tough finish in the Big Ten. Pitt joins largely due to the return of Tray Woodall.
Enjoy a great weekend of hoops.
We often talk about teams playing their way in or out of the NCAA Tournament during the final month of the regular season. With a very large – and weak – bubble in front of the us, comparing various teams becomes even more tedious. Basketball minds can differ on what’s most important to a team’s resume; that’s why there is an extensive voting process used by the actual NCAA Selection Committee.
Ultimately, the Committee has to answer one of two questions … 1) Why should we invite Team A? … 2) Why should we leave Team A out?
Plenty of teams on the current bubble have a least one reason to potentially leave them out: non-conference strength of schedule. In a given season, teams have no control over who they play within their conference. But teams do have a choice when building their non-conference schedule. We acknowledge certain mid-major difficulties with regard to home-and-home games, but we’ve seen programs such as Gonzaga and Butler work through these issues. As the Selection Committee pours over data in Indianapolis, here is a look at some potential bubble teams whose non-conference SOS might give the Committee a reason to leave them out – we credit CollegeRPI with the SOS data …
- Non-conference SOS | 150-200 … Maryland (153), UAB (159), Washington State (162), Utah State (170), Missouri State (191), Richmond (192)
- Non-conference SOS | 200-250 … Marquette (210), New Mexico (221), Florida State (228), Clemson (236), Southern Mississippi (243)
- Non-conference SOS | 250-plus … Baylor (251), Alabama (263), Cincinnati (280), Colorado (307)
Certainly, a team’s overall performance, including conference record, quality wins, and road success can override taking a month or two off in November and December. Then again, we’ve seen how that choice ended for Virginia Tech last year. Something to keep in mind between now and Championship Week. If teams give the Committee a reason to leave them out, it might just happen.
Crunch the numbers, consider teams that appear to be NCAA tournament locks, throw in handful of those that should be in, and we’re left with 37 teams on the bubble in our latest Bubble Banter. Those 37 teams are competing for 15 spots. The race toward Selection Sunday is in high gear.
For now, Butler, Rhode Island, California, and Northern Iowa leave the bubble. Minnesota, Washington, and Alabama join. The difference is that Minnesota and Washington are falling, while Alabama is climbing. Given matchups and schedules, the next two weeks should be telling for many of those with uncertain NCAA status.
Some quick notes …
- The Big Ten could end up with as few as four bids or as many as seven. Best guess is somewhere in between, most likely five. Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Penn State are all question marks. Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin are the only solid candidates as of this update.
- Arizona leads the Pac-10 but has a resume light on quality wins. Washington’s resume is very similar, but the Huskies are now two games back in the league standings. Depending on Washington, Washington State, and UCLA, the Pac-10 could be a two to four-bid league. Five if something weird happens in the conference tournament.
- The SEC East is strong, the SEC West is not. Alabama is taking full advantage and also has wins over Kentucky and at Tennessee. The Crimson Tide will be worth watching the next couple of weeks. Read more…
Bubble Banter will officially launch on Tuesday, February 1. In preparation and ahead of our newest bracket projection on Monday (Jan. 24), here is an overview of how Bubble Banter is shaping up …
ATLANTIC 10 – With Temple falling behind the pace of early leaders Duquesne and Xavier, there are no secure spots in the A-10. Xavier has a history of winning the regular-season title, with the Owls grabbing the tourney title and automatic bid. It might be the only way the A-10 earns multiple bids.
- Locks: None
- Should Be In: Temple
- Bubble: Xavier, Richmond, Dayton, Duquesne
ACC – It’s pretty much Duke and everyone else. Now, the ACC will earn more than two bids, but exactly who fills those spots is a long way from being determined.
- Locks: Duke
- Should Be In: North Carolina
- Bubble: Florida State, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland Read more…
While a number of teams are trying to play their way onto or off the NCAA bubble, let’s give a quick congrats to the following schools who’ve put themselves into the Dance … Xavier, Richmond, Baylor, Texas A&M and Tennessee are now Locks. We also recognize … Maryland, Oklahoma State, Clemson and Marquette for vaulting forward as part of those who Should Be In. In all, 33 teams are now securely in the Field of 65. A lot more will be added during Championship Week.
Overall, there are 31 automatic bids and 34 at-large spots available. A quick break down of our Bubble Math reveals that 54 spots in the Field of 65 are taken. That leaves 11 remaining spots for 29 bubble teams. We may lose a few more bubble teams by this weekend. We might also add one or two in the coming week as conference tournments gain momentum.
The Big East (5) and Atlantic 10 (4) have the most bubble representatives. Several play each other this week and upcoming weekend. I will try and update the Bubble picture again Friday night into Saturday. You can follow conference tournament action under Conference Tourneys. Previews of larger conference tournaments will be posted early next week once the brackets are finalized. Rebounds are always welcome.