Georgetown and Baylor both boost bubble chances while Tennessee falters
Georgetown 74, Xavier 52
Markel Starks scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor as Georgetown jumped all over Xavier early, coasting to a 22-point victory. The win broke a short two-game losing streak for the Hoyas and moved them to 7-8 in the Big East.
As it stands, Georgetown is a very interesting bubble case. The Hoyas are 3-4 against the RPI top 50 and 6-8 against the top 100. They beat Michigan State, Kansas State and VCU all on neutral courts, but do not have an impressive true road victory. Of course, they still have two huge games that will go a long way to determining their postseason fate. Georgetown ends the season by hosting Creighton and visiting Villanova. A win in either game would stand as the Hoyas’ biggest of the year, and would potentially give them the final push they need to get over the hump and into the 68-team NCAA tournament field. Losing both would likely put them at the mercy of the committee, unless they can make some noise in the Big East conference tournament.
Xavier, too, finds itself on the bubble after losing for the fifth time in its last eight games. While the Musketeers are 18-9 overall and 8-6 in conference, they have just one win over a top-50 RPI team, Cincinnati. Their resume looks quite similar to Georgetown’s, and may actually be worse despite a better record. Xavier is 1-3 against the RPI top 50 and 6-7 against the top 100, and also lacks a needle-moving road victory. While the Musketeers don’t have a chance to get one the rest of the season, they, too, still have games left with Creighton and Villanova. Like Georgetown, a win in either of those games could very well stamp their ticket to the tournament. Their defense, however, has been absolutely dreadful against tourney-bound and bubble teams. The Musketeers rank 96th in adjusted defensive efficiency on kenpom.com, and have allowed 71 points per game to teams with a shot to make the big dance. If they don’t tighten up, they can forget about beating Creighton or Villanova.
Baylor 88, West Virginia 75
Just two weeks ago, Baylor lost for the seventh time in eight games by falling to Oklahoma. At the time, the Bears were comfortably on the wrong side of the bubble. What a difference a fortnight can make.
Baylor ripped off its fourth consecutive win Saturday, scoring 52 second-half points to pull away from West Virginia for an 88-75 victory. Five Bears scored in double-figures, led by Royce O’Neale’s 22.
The Bears aren’t simply beating up on the also-rans of the Big 12. The streak also includes wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State, both of whom are in the top 40 in RPI. While the Bears are still just 6-8 in the conference, their overall body of work certainly looks like that of a tourney team. They have five wins against top-40 RPI teams, and seven of their nine losses are to teams inside the RPI top 25. They also boast the fifth-best strength of schedule in the country. Their bid is not safe by any stretch of the imagination, and things could always turn given that they still have to play Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State in the regular season, but this looks like a squad that will be happy on Selection Sunday.
Bubble teams need every win they can get this time of year, and that’s why this one has to hurt for the Mountaineers. They had already taken care of Baylor in Waco earlier this year, and led this game by six at halftime. Baylor took the lead less than 10 minutes into the second half and didn’t relinquish it the rest of the way.
That West Virginia gave up 88 points isn’t a huge surprise. The Mountaineers rank 189th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. What was a surprise, though, was the way their offense disappeared in the second half, especially since Baylor is just KenPom’s 81st-ranked team by defensive efficiency. They shot just 32.1 percent from the floor in the second half, and made only five of their 13 attempts from behind the arc after going 6-8 before halftime. While they’ll likely be on the outside looking in at next week’s Bracket Watch, there’s still plenty of time for them to pretty up the resume enough to earn a bid. It starts for them next Wednesday when they visit Iowa State, and their final week of the regular season features games against Oklahoma and Kansas.
The Big 12 is likely the country’s most volatile conference, at least in terms of bubble teams that can still easily go end up in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. These two teams, along with Oklahoma State, are safely among that class.
Texas A&M 68, Tennessee 65
Tennessee’s last chance to really impress the selection committee came two weeks ago when it lost to Florida. While that didn’t damage its tourney hopes — Florida might be the No. 1 team in the country on Monday — the Volunteers could at least hold serve and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. Those hopes took a serious hit in College Station on Saturday.
The Volunteers fell in overtime to Texas A&M, 68-65, the second time this year they lost to the Aggies. While they, like Baylor, may get a boost thanks to having the ninth-best strength of schedule, they don’t have the same level of success against a similarly tough schedule. Tennessee is just 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and 6-9 against the top 100. Texas A&M, meanwhile, ranks 128th in RPI and 136th on KenPom. Those are two very bad losses for a team that really can’t afford to give the committee reasons to exclude them from the 68-team field.
Again, Tennessee doesn’t have any remaining games in the regular season that can help them cancel out this loss. They do host Missouri to end the season, but it’s hard to imagine a win in that game being the difference between the big dance and the NIT. Instead, they’ll probably have to make some noise in the SEC Tournament, which means beating Florida or Kentucky. They’ll have to win at least two games just to get that opportunity. Tennessee certainly isn’t already bound for the NIT, as they’ve been in every single SI.com Bracket Watch this season. However, it now finds itself in a precarious position, and might need a couple fellow bubble teams to falter to earn a spot in the field.