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March 13, 2009
From 344 to 65
Friday Update

by Joe Sheehan

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I can't possibly do that game justice with words, so I won't try. I just hope you saw it, because it will be a long, long time before something like that happens again.

Yesterday was a net negative for the bubble pool as a whole. Although Dayton, San Diego State, Temple and the Big 11's contingent all won, no teams moved off of the bubble into "lock" status. Call it stubborness, but I just hate having to take a team off the board, so I wait until the case is completely made for me. With all of those same teams playing today, it's worth waiting to see if they make the decision for me by winning.

That's the theme for today: winning your way in. Yesterday was about elimination games, teams needing to win to stay alive in the discussion. Today, more than a dozen teams can put to rest any lingering questions about their candidacy for at-large slots by coming up with quality wins. In fact, the only bubble teams for which a win wouldn't lock up a spot are Utah State, Alabama-Birmingham, Tulsa and the SEC contingent. It's actually possible that no team in the SEC tournament will pick up a top-50 RPI win until the championship game, which makes it hard to evaluate the bubble teams.

Let's go through yesterday's action by conference.

ACC: Maryland and Boston College took must-win games against sub-100 foes, which didn't change their profiles much. BC's profile is a bit better across the board and includes a win at College Park, which is a huge game in the grand scheme of things right now. Both teams would become locks with wins today (over Wake Forest and Duke, respectively); however, BC has a better chance to make the dance with a loss.

Virginia Tech won their showdown with Miami (Fla.) to stay on the board. With just a 6-11 mark against the RPI Top 100, however, they very much need today's game against North Carolina to stay in the discussion. Road wins over Wake and Clemson are carrying this profile right now. The buzzer-beating loss to Wisconsin back in November looms large.

Miami lost eight of their last 12 games to see their ACC record fall to 7-10 and their RPI slide under 60. Even their sweep of BC can't keep them in the hunt. They have been removed from the bubble.

Atlantic 14: Rhode Island completed their collapse by losing to Duquesne, exiting the discussion. Dayton beat Richmond, and now has an RPI, 22, that would nearly preclude their being left out of the tournament. They are the top team on the bubble, and would lock up a spot by winning tonight. Even a loss to an unheralded Duquesne team likely wouldn't be enough to keep them out, although the degenerate case of Duquesne beating Temple in the A14 final would possibly make Dayton fourth in line in the conference, so let's see what happens today.

Temple is becoming an interesting case, but they need to beat Xavier tonight to become viable. Short of that, they have just four top-100 wins, a couple of bad losses, and an RPI that doesn't carry the rest of it.

Big 12: The biggest stories of the day, prior to midnight, came out of Tulsa (Ed. Note: Oklahoma City.--JSS), where Kansas and Oklahoma were both beaten, ending any chance those teams had at #1 seeds. Baylor's RPI is up to 60, but with a 5-11 record in conference during the regular season, even beating Texas won't get them into the tournament. However, they have the talent to win two more games and get in through automatic bid.

Kansas State put up a great fight in their loss to Texas, but they needed that win, and without it, they're no longer an at-large candidate. Their RPI, 81, would be the lowest ever for a team getting an at-large bid. Their strong road wins at Texas, Texas A&M and Cleveland State are their entire case: half of their wins are against teams above 200 in the RPI. I think they're a strong candidate to win the NIT, but no more than that.

Big East: For a conference that seemed to have so many interesting issues just a week ago, there isn't anything to talk about. Providence may have played in the Big East, but their schedule didn't reflect that, and they didn't have enough quality wins. They fall off the bubble with their loss to Louisville, leaving the Big East with seven teams in and no bubble teams.

It will be interesting to see if Connecticut keeps a #1 seed after losing to Syracuse in six overtimes. That strikes me as the ultimate good loss, and Syracuse could end up a protected seed, so losing to them on a neutral court isn't bad. It may depend on whether Michigan State wins the Big 11, in which case the two could end up 1-2 in the West. Pittsburgh's loss to West Virginia shouldn't cost them a #1, as the two wins they have over Connecticut will go a long, long way.

Big 11: We learned that Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State are better than Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana. I don't think that adds much to the discussion. The conference could well get eight bids if all three of those teams were to win today, and at this point, they'll probably get seven regardless. Some teams have to make this tournament, and the profiles of Michigan and Minnesota look better compared to the field each day.

Conference USA: UAB and Tulsa won-the former just barely-to advance to their elimination game in the semis. Winner gets to try and beat Memphis at FedEx Forum for the automatic bid. UAB has a slighttly stronger profile, so if you're a fan of the conference, you'd like to see them win today, for the somewhat greater shot at an at-large bid.

Mountain West: The biggest losers on the day, the Mountain West moved from a shot at five bids to a possibility of two, and likely just three. UNLV stays on the bubble thanks to four top-25 wins, but with an RPI of 66 and a quarterfinals exit, they're now fifth in the conference pecking order. It would be a surprise to see them picked. San Diego State, however, doesn't become a lock with their win. They still have just one top-50 win, and half of their victories are outside the top 200. A win over Brigham Young tonight would put them in, but a loss leaves them right on the line.

The other bad news came in the late game, where Wyoming continued their late-season surge with a 75-67 over New Mexico. The Lobos' resume wasn't so strong as to be able to suffer a quarterfinals loss, and they now sit, with San Diego State, on the line. They have a real lack of nonconference pop (NC RPI: 150) that will now hurt them as they get evaluated next to teams that did more to challenge themselves. My sense is that New Mexico is behind San Diego State, if just barely. This will be a very interesting discussion over the weekend.

Pac-10: Arizona needed a quality win outside the state. They didn't get it, and having lost five of six to end the year, exit the bubble discussion. My best friend insists that USC should be in the mix with their upset of Cal, which moved them up to 52 in the RPI. I can't see a team whose road wins came at Washington State and Oregon making the field, although if USC can beat UCLA tonight for another good one, they can get back onto the bubble. Their schedule was sneaky strong: just three games outside the top 200.

SEC: As in the Big 11, the three opening-round wins by Kentucky, Mississippi State and Florida added nothing to the discussion. The real SEC tournament starts today. The Florida/Auburn winner is probably into the NCAAs, and South Carolina will be in very good shape with a win. Kentucky becomes an interesting case if they beat LSU, but they can't make the tournament without a win.

WAC: Utah State won. If they beat New Mexico State today, they're probably in, even with a loss to Nevada in the final. There are just too many teams losing around them to keep out a team that won its conference by three games, made its final and has a good RPI. If the Aggies…um, if Utah State…loses today, all bets are off.

All the RPI data in my pieces come from the fantastic CollegeRPI.com helmed by the talented Jerry Palm.

Here's how my spreadsheet lays out at 12:30 p.m. on March 13:

Automatic Bids (14): East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Portland State (Big Sky), Radford (Big South), Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), Cleveland State (Horizon), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (Metro-Atlantic), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Robert Morris (Northeast), Morehead State (Ohio Valley), Chattanooga (Southern), North Dakota State (Summit), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Gonzaga (West Coast).

One-Bid Conferences (7): The following conferences have no chance at all of getting a team other than their conference champion into the NCAA tournament: America East, Big West, Mid-American, MEAC, Patriot League, SWAC, Southland.

On The Board (7): Butler, Oklahoma, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Marquette, California.

Locks (24): The following teams could lose the rest of their games and still get an at-large bid:

ACC: North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State
Atlantic 14: Xavier
Big 12: Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State
Big East: Louisville, Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia
Big 11: Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue
Conference USA: Memphis
Mountain West: Utah, Brigham Young
Pac-10: Washington, UCLA, Arizona State
SEC: LSU, Tennessee

The above teams will take at least 14 and no more than 23 at-large bids, leaving from four to 13 bids for:

The Bubble (25)

In rough order:

Dayton
Ohio State
Wisconsin
Michigan
Texas A&M
Boston College
Creighton
Minnesota
Auburn
Temple
South Carolina
Florida
Penn State
Utah State
San Diego State
New Mexico
UNLV
Maryland
Alabama-Birmingham
Tulsa
Niagara
Virginia Tech
Kentucky
Mississippi State
St. Mary's

Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Joe by clicking here or click here to see Joe's other articles.

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