Where's the bubble beef?
People moan about how soft the bubble is every year, but this year it may be true
If Chris Singleton isn't back by Selection Sunday, FSU could be a difficult case
UCLA still looks like an at-large, giving the Pac-10 three viable NCAA teams
Every year at this time, there's moaning about how soft the bubble is. This year, though, those gripes may have merit.
Beyond this being the first season with three extra spots in the at-large pool, making the bubble seem more forgiving, there are two other major themes worth watching:
1) There are clear drop-offs between the last at-large holders and the next group of teams in many of the top conferences.
2) There are very few mid-major conferences in which the regular-season winner will be assured a spot if it doesn't claim the auto bid.
The result of these trends is that there are very few potential bid thieves at the moment. Ordinarily, the bubble constricts down the stretch because major-conference teams make late runs and/or sure things in the smaller leagues lose in their conference tournaments and snag bonus bids. As things currently stand, there are far fewer possibilities for that kind of shrinkage this season. Basically, everyone who looks deserving to be in is already getting in and there are many spots beyond that still open.
So, when you look at today's bracket, you'll notice some of the final at-larges have truly terrible profiles. While they may not look like NCAA teams, we have to find 37 of them somehow. There aren't very many other legitimate options at this point -- and, more important for a month from now, there's a chance that predicament may not change.
Records listed are Division I only, per NCAA tournament selection guidelines. All RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and SOS (Strength of Schedule) data are from Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.
GW = good wins
BL = bad losses
(N) = neutral-site game
Locks: Duke, North Carolina
Duke's strong rally past North Carolina midweek and then a win at Miami keeps the Blue Devils very much in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, but no one ahead of them is losing much, either. Right now, it looks like five teams for four spots on the top line, so one region will have a very compelling 1-2 punch. The Tar Heels join Duke in this category after nabbing a tight road win at Clemson to get to 8-2 in the league. It would be almost impossible for them to miss and they're peaking at a good time.
SHOULD BE IN
Florida State (18-7, 8-3; RPI: 49, SOS: 86)
Getting two wins over non-contenders was heavily tempered by the news that star Chris Singleton broke his foot and could be lost for the rest of the season. If he's not back before Selection Sunday, this will make FSU a very interesting selection discussion (akin to Saint Mary's in 2009 when Patty Mills was hurt and the Gaels were bypassed). This team, with Singleton, already really struggled to score. Now, FSU really will be hurting for offense. The 'Noles need to buckle down and take care of a few winnable games down the stretch or they could expose themselves to an injury-related snub. They have five regular-season games and the ACC tournament to make a case for this version.
GW: Duke, Baylor (N)?
BL: at Auburn
IN THE MIX
Boston College (16-9, 6-5; RPI: 41, SOS: 21)
BC held on for a crucial home win over Maryland to split the week after a hard-fought loss at Clemson. The Eagles still have tough trips to North Carolina (on Saturday) and Virginia Tech, so they may need to get the other three (Miami, at UVa, Wake Forest) to finish above .500 in the league. That could be very important as they may only have one nonleague win over an NCAA team.
GW: Texas A&M (N), plus a so-so collection of Cal (N) and at Maryland and South Carolina
BL: Yale, Harvard?
Virginia Tech (16-7, 6-4; RPI: 66, SOS: 97)
The Hokies only played once, but crushed GT on Sunday. Now home to Maryland before a trip to Virginia and Wake, they could get to 9-4 before hosting Duke and BC. The profile is not great, so wins remain at an immediate premium. Then they can worry about getting a marquee one.
GW: OK State (N)?, Penn State?
BL: Virginia, at Georgia Tech
Clemson (17-8, 6-5; RPI: 73, SOS: 87)
After taking down BC, Clemson lost a tough two-point decision to North Carolina in what could loom as a huge missed opportunity. Brad Brownell is doing an excellent job in his debut season, but the Tigers are lacking the quality wins that would make them desirable as an at-large candidate. Home Ws over BC and FSU aren't significant enough at this point.
GW: at College of Charleston?
BL: at Virginia
Maryland (16-9, 5-5; RPI: 86, SOS: 80)
The Terps are in a lot of trouble after losing by four at Boston College. They're now 0-8 vs. the RPI top 50 and just 3-9 vs. the top 100. That's not going to do it. A 5-1 stretch run probably is the least they'll need, as only two of those games are against top-50 teams and one, against FSU, is now marginalized by Chris Singleton's injury. First things first, they need to win in Blacksburg Tuesday night.
GW: at Penn State (by 23)?
BL: None in a vacuum, but way too many of them -- VT and BC at home are hurting badly
Locks: Kansas, Texas
KU and Texas are still tracking toward No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs. Can we get a rematch in the Big 12 title game (and then maybe one more in Houston)? I'm down for that. Once again, the league is sitting at four very likely bids and then it's a question whether anyone will make it after that. Someone(s) probably will, but who?
SHOULD BE IN
Texas A&M (18-5, 6-4; RPI: 30, SOS: 53)
Important stabilizing week for the Aggies, who stole a game at Colorado in OT and then escaped Texas Tech in Lubbock. With home games remaining against Iowa State, Oklahoma and the Red Raiders, an over-.500 league mark looks likely, even with trips to Kansas, Baylor and OK State left. They're in good shape. Just need to win the games they should win.
GW: Temple (N), Washington, Missouri, Kansas State?
BL: None, really
Missouri (18-6, 5-5; RPI: 27, SOS: 54)
The Tigers got shredded at Kansas and are 0-5 on the road in league play, though none of the stops (Colorado, A&M, Texas, OK State, Kansas) are very hospitable. Fortunately, they're 5-0 at home and now the schedule flips, with some winnable road games and a shot at Kansas in Columbia. They'd be wise to maximize the next three (Texas Tech, at Iowa State, Baylor).
GW: Vanderbilt, Old Dominion, vs. Illinois?, K-State?
BL: None, really
IN THE MIX
Baylor (16-8, 6-5; RPI: 64, SOS: 64)
Winning only the games they're supposed to down the stretch may not be enough, so getting down big at Texas before a late rally fell short was disappointing. Now they have a curious non-D-I game against Wayland Baptist before a must-win game at home with Texas Tech. The last four (at Mizzou, A&M, at OK State, Texas) will make or break any NCAA hopes.
GW: at Texas A&M
BL: at Iowa State (by 15), at Oklahoma
Colorado (15-10, 5-6; RPI: 93, SOS: 81)
Crazy week for the Buffs, who were burned by not fouling Texas A&M when up three late and then were nearly burned by K-State after they did foul when up three late. Saved by a tenth of a second from a heartbreaking loss Saturday, they now have a sweep of the Wildcats and stay alive in the discussion. They travel to Lawrence on Saturday, but have three winnable games and Texas at home after that. Would 8-8 be enough?
GW: Missouri, Colorado State (for bubble)?, sweep of Kansas State
BL: at San Francisco, at Oklahoma
Kansas State (15-9, 4-6; RPI: 40, SOS: 19)
If you've followed K-State's season, Saturday night's buzzer-beater-that-wasn't at Colorado makes perfect sense. That said, the Wildcats are like that Monty Python scene: they're not dead yet. They get Kansas at home tonight and also host Missouri and go to Texas, so they'll have chances.
GW: Gonzaga (N)?, at Washington State?
BL: None, really. Swept by Colorado for bubble comparison purposes.
Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-6; RPI: 55, SOS: 67)
OSU had a week to ready for a trip to Nebraska and flopped. The Pokes are looking more and more like an NIT team, which could be confirmed in their next three games: at Texas, vs. A&M, at Kansas.
GW: Missouri, Shorthanded K-State?, Missouri State?
BL: at Texas Tech
Locks: Pittsburgh, Villanova, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Georgetown
The Big East is going to create a bracketing quandary for the committee if this keeps up and all five of these teams hang in the first two or three seed lines. It might be better for the bracket as a whole if UConn (and/or someone else) slips a bit to lessen the logjam and allow the committee to place teams geographically more easily.
SHOULD BE IN
Louisville (19-6, 8-4; RPI: 24, SOS: 33)
Credit to the Cards, who keep finding ways to win close games at home and who played Notre Dame very tough in South Bend before fading in OT. There's not much easy left on the schedule, but the Cards are playing for seeding at this point, barring a truly unexpected collapse. One of the bigger surprises of the season, at least for me.
GW: at UConn, West Virginia, Syracuse, UNLV?, Butler?
West Virginia (16-8, 7-5; RPI: 19, SOS: 4)
The 'Eers are the computer-profile monsters this season. Regardless of how many weeks in a row they go 1-1, their RPI/SOS remain rock solid. It's good to be in the Big East. They have a very difficult home stretch, with their next three seeing trips to Syracuse (tonight) and Pitt wrapped around a visit from ND.
GW: Vandy (N), at Georgetown, Purdue, Cleveland State?
BL: None, really
St. John's (15-9, 7-5; RPI: 18, SOS: 1)
Huge week for the Red Storm, who crushed UConn and then held off Cincinnati on the road in a game with big bubble considerations. With home games against DePaul and South Florida remaining, the Johnnies should at least get to .500 in the league, which should be plenty with their quality wins.
GW: Duke, at West Virginia, Notre Dame, Georgetown, UConn
BL: St. Bonaventure, at Fordham
Syracuse (20-6, 7-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 24)
If the season had ended on Saturday, the Orange would have been in the 11-14 first-round game against Providence in the Big East tourney. That's not exactly what anyone was thinking when they were 18-0. They have home games left vs. Rutgers and DePaul, so at least .500 looks likely, but West Virginia visits tonight and they still travel to Villanova and Georgetown, too. Is there a disaster scenario where the Orange completely cave in?
GW: at UConn, Notre Dame, at St. John's, Michigan State (N)?
BL: Seton Hall (by 22)
IN THE MIX
Marquette (15-10, 6-6; RPI: 59, SOS: 36)
OK, now the fun begins. After escaping at USF in one of the ugliest final minutes of basketball in the game's history, Team Bubble Watch got shut down after the half at G'town. The final six games: SJU, Seton Hall, Providence and Cincy at home and UConn and SHU away. I'm still saying 4-2 minimum and I'm still saying they will dance.
GW: A trio of good home league wins (WV, ND, Syracuse)
BL: None, but now they have a quorum
Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6; RPI: 44, SOS: 116)
The Bearcats lost a crucial home game Sunday, falling to St. John's by three and missing a chance to sweep the Red Storm. With their six remaining games (home to Louisville/UConn/G'town; at Provy/G'town/Marquette), Cincy is on the at-large ropes. The chances to impress will be there, but their terrible nonleague schedule could end up as a deciding factor.
GW: Xavier, at St. John's, Dayton (by 34)?