Notre Dame beat Kansas State in the Jimmy V Classic this week, but the Irish will be rooting for K-State to boost its NCAA chances.
One of the biggest misconceptions about college basketball -- usually perpetrated by college football fans -- is that the regular season means nothing. Maybe in late February and early March there are some important games as teams vie for the last few NCAA tournament bids. But November? December? Meaningless.
Try telling that to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. I've often said that there are three certainties in life -- death, taxes and Notre Dame on the bubble. I can't remember a season when the Irish were either definitely in the tournament or definitely out. Given the landscape of the Big East, it's quite possible the Irish will find themselves on the bubble once again. So after his boys defeated Kansas State 68-59 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, Brey said of K-State, "We're gonna be rooting like heck for them the rest of the year."
Why? Because the more K-State wins, the stronger the Irish's RPI profile will be heading into Selection Sunday. Notre Dame's victory was big for two reasons: It came against another team that looks destined to finish in the middle of the pack in a major conference. And it came away from home. Consider as well that if Notre Dame and Kansas State are among the teams vying for the last spot or two in the field of 65, then Tuesday's win will likely at least have earned the Irish a spot ahead of the Wildcats.
In other words, it meant a lot.
So as we head down the stretch of the pre-conference season, let's take Brey's thought and give it some more meaning. What other likely bubble teams will be rooting for other likely bubble teams once conference play gets underway? Here are 11 answers for you:
Rooting for: Notre Dame
Why: The Bears blew a golden opportunity last week when they blew a double-digit lead against Washington State at home before losing by three, but at least they have the 68-64 win over Notre Dame at the Paradise Jam going for them. Aside from a home date with Arkansas on Jan. 5, Baylor does not have any non-conference games remaining against possible NCAA tournament teams. By the transitive property, Baylor is also rooting for Kansas State, because the better K-State does, the better Baylor's win over Notre Dame looks.
Rooting for: Mississippi State
Why: The Tigers were the last unbeaten team in the nation last year and still wound up in the NIT. They're much more legit this season, but if they are on the bubble, that two-point win in Starkville on Nov. 15 will really look good. The SEC is more wide open than it has been in years and Mississippi State has a chance to win the SEC West. But the Bulldogs dropped road games at Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio), so perhaps they need to give Clemson more help. Clemson also gets extra credit for beating Purdue at home because they played without their second-leading scorer, James Mays.
Team: Florida State
Rooting for: Florida
Why: Florida State beat the Gators last year in Tallahassee, but faded down the stretch and missed out on the NCAAs. Florida is obviously not nearly the same club as it was last year, but at least this time Florida State won in Gainesville. With Kentucky having problems and Tennessee not looking as strong as expected in the early going, perhaps Florida can help their intra-state rivals out and make a run at the SEC East title. The Seminoles have two more tough road games -- at Butler Dec. 15 and at Providence Dec. 22 -- before league play starts. They need to at least split those two.
Team: N.C. State
Rooting for: Villanova
Why: The Wolfpack could have virtually cemented an NCAA bid if they could have beaten Michigan State in East Lansing (instead they got waxed by 23). So it looks like the one-point win over Villanova at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando will be their best non-league, non-home win. If N.C. State does end up on the bubble, I wonder if the committee will consider that the win over Villanova came on a controversial call that allowed N.C. State's Gavin Grant to convert the winning free throws with less than a second remaining.
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