Posted March 15, 2013

Bubble Watch: Are Upset Hopes Slipping Away?

Bracket Watch, Bubble Watch, March Madness, NCAA Tournament
If New Mexico State doesn't hold on to its WAC bid, two weak teams could be introduced into the bracket. (David Becker/AP)

If New Mexico State doesn’t hold on to its WAC bid, two weak teams could sneak into the bracket. (David Becker/AP)

Finally, we’re at the point where we get games that are going to shake things up. The movement of more conference tournaments to Sunday finals has pushed back the impactful games of championship week to what feels like much later in the process.

Thursday’s bracket implosions in the WAC and MEAC mean, unless New Mexico State holds on to the WAC bid, that we’re introducing two more very weak teams into the bottom of the bracket. The continued filling in of the 16-seed line with weaker and weaker options is killing any narrative about this being the year a 16 beats a 1, and it’s also pushing teams that normally would be a 15 or 16 one line higher. The impact of that is the first weekend may be devoid of major upsets.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key bubble games on tap for Friday:

Biggest bubble games to watch (all times ET)
2 p.m.: NC State-Virginia: The Cavaliers need to win it to have serious at-large hopes.
3 p.m.:Tennessee-Alabama: Loser is anywhere from “in a lot of trouble” to “done”.
7 p.m.: Maryland-Duke: Terps need the win, and likely two more. Let’s start with this one.
7:30 p.m.: Vanderbilt-Kentucky: A win doesn’t improve the Cats’ resume, but it doesn’t hurt it.
9 p.m. Iowa-Michigan State: The Hawkeyes are creeping toward the cutline; have to get this one.
9 p.m.: UMass-Temple: Minutemen need this one, at least, to think about an at-large.
10 p.m.:Missouri-Mississippi: Absolutely mandatory for the Rebels to get this one.
11:30 p.m.: Utah-Oregon: Someone needs to stop the Runnin’ Bid Thieves in the Pac-12.

** RPI information is from RealTimeRPI.com’s Tuesday’s report. Questions/comments go to @AndyGlockner on Twitter or bubblewatch@gmail.com.**

ACC

Locks: Duke, Miami
Miami won the outright title by a game, but Duke is better positioned for a 1-seed in the NCAAs thanks to the Hurricanes’ late swoon and Duke’s unbeaten and impressive track record when Ryan Kelly is available. A step down in the pecking order, North Carolina likely has passed NC State in terms of seed.

Time is Ticking: Sign up for SI’s 2013 NCAA Bracket Challenge

SHOULD BE IN
North Carolina
(21-9, 12-6; RPI: 19, SOS: 7)
The smallball Heels couldn’t handle Duke at home in the regular-season finale, but a nice road win at Maryland capped off a solid stretch run that has them comfortably in the field of 68.
GW: UNLV, NC State, at Florida State?, at Maryland?
BL: at Texas

North Carolina State (22-9, 11-7; RPI: 30, SOS: 35)
The Wolfpack are going to make the NCAAs, but this really was about as tepid a regular season as they could have put together. Finishing tied for fourth in the league with seven losses isn’t flattering their talent level. After beating Virginia Tech, NC State now faces Virginia in a quarterfinal.
GW: UConn (N), Duke, North Carolina, UMass?
BL: at Wake Forest

IN THE MIX
Virginia (21-11, 11-7; RPI: 68, SOS: 123)
The Cavaliers bailed themselves out of a huge hole and edged Maryland. Now they probably will need to beat NC State to get in.
GW: Duke, at Wisconsin, NC State, North Carolina, at Maryland?
BL: Delaware, Old Dominion (N), at Wake Forest, at Clemson, at Georgia Tech, at George Mason, at Boston College

Maryland (21-11, 8-10; RPI: 83, SOS: 104)
The Terps beat Wake Forest to stay alive in the hunt. Now they have to beat Duke in the quarters. Maryland fans should also keep an eye on the SEC developments if this game is going well for the Terps.
GW: Duke, NC State
BL: At Boston College

Big East

Locks: Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
Cincinnati looks likely to be in the dance after the Bearcats dispatched Providence in the second round of the Big East tournament. Villanova appears ready to join them. This league looks pretty likely to get eight bids. Not a bad farewell to the conference.

**Reminder: Connecticut is ineligible for postseason play this season.**

IN THE MIX
Villanova
(19-13, 10-8; RPI: 51, SOS: 26)
The Wildcats couldn’t handle Louisville in the quarterfinals, but with four big home wins and a victory at UConn, it’s hard to see the Wildcats getting passed by enough teams to threaten their spot in the field.
GW: Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, at Connecticut
BL: Columbia, Swept by Providence, at Seton Hall

Cincinnati (22-11, 9-9; RPI: 47, SOS: 23)
The Bearcats were thumped by Georgetown in the quarterfinals and now play the waiting game. Oregon’s and Iowa State’s wins on Thursday help the good wins category. Thank you, Vegas tournament!
GW: Oregon (N), Marquette, at Pitt, Iowa State (N)?, Xavier (N)?, UConn?
BL: at Providence, St. John’s?

Big Ten

Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State
Indiana’s stirring win at Michigan on Sunday gave the Hoosiers the solo crown and the inside path to the 1-seed in the Midwest regional. Michigan still has a chance at a 1-seed if it wins the Big Ten tournament. The league should get seven teams in, with an eighth not impossible depending on this week’s results.

SHOULD BE IN

Illinois (21-11, 8-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 9)
The Illini beat Minnesota at the buzzer to get the confirming win they needed. Now they get to free roll a semifinal game knowing they’re almost certainly playing for seed.
GW: Butler (N), at Gonzaga, Indiana, Ohio State, at Minnesota
BL: at Purdue?, Northwestern?

IN THE MIX

Minnesota (20-12, 8-10; RPI: 33, SOS: 2)
A peek at the good wins line and the SOS total above explains why Minnesota will be in the field of 68, despite losing 11 of its final 16 games. It feels icky, but all games count the same and the Golden Gophers did a lot of work in the first 16 games to offset the last 16. Seed won’t be good, though.
GW: Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Memphis (N), at Illinois, at Florida State?
BL: at Northwestern, at Iowa (by 21)?, at Purdue?, at Nebraska

Iowa (21-11, 9-9; RPI: 71, SOS: 104)
The Hawkeyes beat Northwestern and now need to beat Michigan State in the quarterfinals. If they get that done, we can reevaluate. Nonconference schedule weakness is really hurting them at the moment.
GW: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa State?
BL: At Virginia Tech, at Purdue?, at Nebraska

Big 12

Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Kansas and Kansas State ended up tied for the league’s regular-season title when both lost on the final Saturday. Kansas is the 1-seed in the conference tournament and still in the discussion for a 1-seed in the NCAAs with three more wins. Did Baylor’s win over the Jayhawks propel them back into the discussion?

SHOULD BE IN
Iowa State (22-10, 11-7; RPI: 43; SOS: 55)
The Cyclones likely locked up their dance spot after winning a rubber match with Oklahoma. And hey, now they get another shot at Kansas, with significant karma possibly in play.
GW: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Sweep of Baylor?, BYU?
BL: at Texas Tech, at Texa

IN THE MIX
Oklahoma
(20-11, 11-7; RPI: 39, SOS: 16)
Every year, there’s a team that ends up as a surprise snub. Could the Sooners be that team this season, despite a couple of very good wins? The loss at TCU opened the door a bit wider, for sure. The overall resume isn’t as good as the computer numbers suggested most of the season. The Sooners are right on the cusp of automatic entry based on historic RPI standards for major-conference teams.
GW: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Sweep of Baylor?
BL: Stephen F. Austin, at TCU

Baylor (17-13, 9-9; RPI: 64, SOS: 25)
The Bears got hosed when Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte was put on the line after what looked like a perfectly clean blocked shot in the lane. Baylor has no one but itself to blame for this over all position, though. They look pretty certain to be headed to the NIT.
GW: Kansas, Oklahoma State, at Kentucky (with Noel), BYU?
BL: Northwestern, College of Charleston, at Texas

Pac-12

Locks: Arizona, UCLA
It should be an exciting semifinal day in the Pac-12 with UCLA-Arizona as the headline matchup. The second game features Oregon and upstart Utah, which is scaring bubble teams nationwide. Colorado and Cal now have to sit and wait.

SHOULD BE IN
Colorado
(21-10, 10-8; RPI: 36, SOS: 24)
The Buffaloes really could have used a win over Arizona to 100 percent book their spot, but their series of good wins should be enough to have them in. You’d think. The 2010 snub still lingers.
GW: Arizona, Baylor (N), Sweep of Oregon, Colorado State, Cal?, Murray State (N)?
BL: at Utah, Oregon State

California (20-10, 12-6; RPI: 49, SOS: 32)
Whoops. The Golden Bears were stunned by Utah in overtime. Do they have reason to be nervous? There are some very good wins on the ledger, but all in conference. This is similar to a mid-tier Mountain West profile. Does the committee believe these are all quality wins?
GW: At Arizona, UCLA, Sweep of Oregon, Colorado?
BL: Harvard, Washington?, Utah (N)

Oregon (23-8, 12-6; RPI: 54, SOS: 109)
The Ducks really are happy they held off Washington in overtime in the Pac-12 quarters. In part because of Dominic Artis’ injury, this profile is really not that good. Artis still doesn’t look 100 percent, so the committee may have a weird time seeding this team.
GW: at UNLV, Arizona, at UCLA
BL: At Utah

SEC

Locks: Florida
Friday is an enormous bubble day in the SEC and for teams nationwide. Several games will be watched very closely to see which teams advance.

SHOULD BE IN
Missouri
(23-9, 11-7; RPI: 29, SOS: 48)
The Tigers avoided losing to Texas A&M and now get a chance at a quarterfinal against Mississippi. They should be fine even with a loss to the desperate Rebels.
GW: Florida, VCU (N), Illinois (N), Mississippi?
BL: at LSU

IN THE MIX
Tennessee
(20-11, 11-7; RPI: 55, SOS: 57)
After beating Mississippi State, Tennessee and Alabama will meet up what appears to be an at-large elimination bout in the quarterfinals.
GW: Florida, Missouri, Wichita State, UMass (N)?, Kentucky?
BL: Georgia

Kentucky (21-10, 12-6; RPI: 48, SOS: 61)
The Cats get Vanderbilt in a quarterfinal game in Nashville, but should enjoy a nice crowd anyway. They have to win this one, you’d think.
GW: Florida, Missouri, Maryland (N)?, at Ole Miss
BL: at Georgia; (also lost at Tennessee by 30 w/o Noel, in case of bubble tiebreaker)

Mississippi (23-8, 12-6; RPI: 56, SOS: 130)
The Rebels are still probably behind Tennessee and Kentucky in the pecking order, and those two are barely in at the moment. Their record earned them a 3-seed in the SEC tournament, and they face Missouri in the quarterfinals. Will doubling up on the Tigers be enough? Kentucky is the more likely semifinal opponent, which could provide a leapfrog opportunity for the Rebels.
GW: Missouri
BL: at South Carolina, at Mississippi State

Alabama (18-10, 11-5; RPI: 62, SOS: 84)
The Tide absolutely have to beat Tennessee in the quarters and then would have a potential shot at Florida in the semis. Would getting to the final be enough? Probably not, but we’ll see.
GW: Kentucky?
BL: Mercer, Tulane, at Auburn, at LSU

Mountain West

Locks: New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State
The league looks like it will get its four semifinalists in. Can Boise State get in as well after losing the late quarterfinal?

SHOULD BE IN
San Diego State
(20-9, 9-7; RPI: 25, SOS: 20)
The Aztecs can cement things with a win over top-seeded New Mexico in what should be a raucous semifinal. Both teams are well-represented in Las Vegas this week.
GW: UCLA (N), Indiana State (N), Colorado State, New Mexico
BL: None

IN THE MIX
Boise State (19-10, 9-7; RPI: 44, SOS 40)
The Broncos have to wait and see after losing to San Diego State. It feels like 9-7 in this league with four top-50 and eight top-100 wins should be enough, but there are no guarantees.
GW: at Creighton, San Diego State, UNLV, Colorado State, sweep of Wyoming?
BL: at Utah?, at Nevada

Atlantic 10

Locks: Saint Louis
La Salle may have to beat Butler in the quarterfinals to hold on to their bubble spot. Can UMass push its way into the mix and give the A-10 a record six bids?

SHOULD BE IN
VCU
(24-7, 12-4; RPI: 27, SOS: 60)
With 10 top-100 wins and no bad losses, they should be fine, even without any marquee wins. The Rams draw Saint Joseph’s in the quarterfinals.
GW: Memphis (N), Butler, Belmont?, Alabama?
BL: None, really

Butler (24-7, 11-5; RPI: 21, SOS: 43)
Butler edged Dayton and now faces La Salle in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs and VCU are more than fine.
GW: Indiana (N), Marquette (N), North Carolina (N), Gonzaga
BL: None

Temple (23-8, 11-5; RPI: 36, SOS: 64)
The Owls won their last seven to seemingly push their way into the field of 68. They get a desperate UMass team in the quarterfinals.
GW: Syracuse (N), Saint Louis, VCU, La Salle?, at UMass?, at Charlotte?
BL: Canisius, St. Bonaventure

IN THE MIX
La Salle
(21-8, 11-5; RPI: 41, SOS: 83)
It appears likely that the Explorers will have to beat Butler in the quarters in order to dance.
GW: Butler, at VCU
BL: Central Connecticut State

Massachusetts (20-10, 9-7; RPI: 58, SOS: 85)
The Minutemen stayed alive and now need to handle Temple, at bare minimum, then see what the landscape looks like. The quality wins just aren’t here right now.
GW: at La Salle?
BL: George Washington, at St. Bonaventure

Xavier (17-13, 9-7; RPI: 84, SOS: 53)
The Musketeers appear to be done after getting edged by St. Joe’s. They have a lot of good wins, but not enough overall to offset a lot of bad losses and weakness in the computer numbers.
GW: Butler, Memphis, Temple, La Salle, Saint Louis
BL: Wofford, Vanderbilt, Pacific (N), At Wake Forest, At Dayton

Missouri Valley

Auto bid: Creighton
Other locks: None

Creighton finished off a double in the Valley by holding off Wichita State in the conference tournament final. They’re in and the Shockers look like they’ll make it, too. That should be that in this league.

SHOULD BE IN
Wichita State
(26-8, 12-6; RPI: 39, SOS: 92)
The Shockers fell for the second time in a week to Creighton, but should have enough in the resume to make the field as an at-large. Several quality road wins are a big plus.
GW: at VCU, Creighton, at Air Force?, Southern Miss, at Indiana State?
BL: at Evansville, at Southern Illinois

IN THE MIX
None

West Coast

Auto bid: Gonzaga
The Zags won the West Coast Conference tournament decisively over Saint Mary’s Monday night. Now the waits begin. Will the Zags be a 1-seed? Probably. Is Saint Mary’s safe? We’ll see.

SHOULD BE IN
Saint Mary’s
(26-6, 14-2; RPI: 32, SOS: 95)
The Gaels were outclassed in the WCC final and now have to wait to find out their at-large fate. They’re rooting very hard for teams from the middle of the Big 12 and SEC to clank their conference tournaments. A few teams making runs could make this really uncomfortable.
GW: Creighton, sweep of BYU
BL: Pacific (N), Georgia Tech (N)

IN THE MIX
None

Best of the Rest

Auto bids: Belmont, Harvard, Florida Gulf Coast, Liberty, Iona, Davidson, Western Kentucky, James Madison, LIU Brooklyn, South Dakota State, Valparaiso, Bucknell
Other locks: Memphis

Memphis is a lock regardless of whether the Tigers win the auto-bid or not. Bubble teams are rooting hard for the Tigers to keep Conference USA a one-bid league.

IN THE MIX
Middle Tennessee State
(28-5, 19-1; RPI: 29, SOS: 128)
Disaster struck the Blue Raiders, who were upset in the Sun Belt semifinals after rampaging through the conference. Now what? They have (barely) two top-100 wins. Their one “decent” win is over Ole Miss, who may not make the NCAAs. They were handled by Florida and lost at Belmont and Akron. On paper, they don’t deserve an at-large, but the resume feels close enough to a couple recent surprise inclusions, so we’ll see.
GW: Mississippi
BL: at Arkansas State, Florida International (N)

Akron (23-6, 14-2; RPI: 53, SOS: 140)
It’s never a good time to have your starting point guard arrested for felony drug trafficking, but right before the conference tournament is a really bad time. I don’t see how Akron will have much of a chance to “impress” without its lead guard while still losing in the conference tournament.
GW: Middle Tennessee State?
BL: at Coastal Carolina, at Buffalo, Kent State

1 comments
BradSams
BradSams

Iowa is the Hawkeye State for a reason.  We are not the Cyclones.