Things didn’t really get any more clear Friday, as a pair of teams needing one win to feel comfortable lost, and a few of the lower-tier bubble teams picked up big wins to make up ground on the field.
Going back to Friday morning’s bubble list, among the 10 teams still playing, who helped and who hurt themselves on Friday?
- Miami (Fla.). It wasn’t just that they lost, but the way they lost, scoring 49 points and collapsing down the stretch against a team that is a marginal tournament team. Their stats and a couple of big wins should leave them in decent shape.
- Oklahoma. The Sooners had one of the least impressive wins of the season, narrowly avoiding a bad loss to Colorado. Given everything around them, it’s enough. They’re in.
- Kansas State. Lost a nailbiter to Texas A&M. Will stay on the bubble for now, but in good shape barring a lot of chaos among the remaining autobids.
- St. Joseph’s. A bid was there for the taking, and St. Joseph’s took it, dominating Xavier at the defensive end to pick up their second win over X in nine days. I’m leaving them on the bubble for tonight, but assuming nothing weird shows up in the numbers, they’ll be in win or lose Saturday night.
- Arkansas. Took their must-win game against Vanderbilt, giving them 10 SEC wins and a fifth RPI top-50 victory. They should be in.
- Texas A&M. The win over Kansas State should be enough to finally erase the 2-5 close to their regular season. They’re likely playing Kansas for seeding rather than selection.
- UNLV. Advancing to the Mountain West final, on the heels of a second-place finish in the conference, should put UNLV in the field regardless of what happens tonight in Las Vegas. The Rebels haven’t looked impressive this week; they’ve just done enough to win.
- Temple. They’re into the A14 finals, and they’re not playing Xavier. I have a hard time not considering them in at this point: clear second-place team and conference finalist in a top-10 is a tough thing to keep out. Like Virginia Tech below, they had very little out of conference, including a blown 25-point lead to College of Charleston. More or less the opposite of Arizona, both will be difficult at-large cases should Temple lose tomorrow.
- Ohio State. With just two wins over teams in the field—none away from Columbus—and mediocre stats, the fifth-place team in the Big 11 is no longer a candidate following their loss to Michigan State. Neither team from last year’s title game will go back to the tournament.
- Virginia Tech. They did what they needed to do, beating Miami to get to 10-7 in the ACC and reach the league semis. The win was their first over an RPI Top 50 team, which sums up the problem with their candidacy. They probably need to beat North Carolina to get in.
I’ll have an overview of where everyone stands in the morning.
Terrible Thursday. That’s what we’re going to call it. Bubble teams around the country, given winnable games to boost their resumes and either lock up tournament spots or advance to a critical resume-boosting game, spit the bit in record numbers.
When I posted yesterday morning’s piece, 27 teams were listed on the bubble. Of those, 12 lost yesterday, nearly half of the category. Among those 12 losses were defeats at the hands of Boston College (14-16, RPI 124), Charlotte (20-12, 65), Colorado (11-19, 157), Tulsa (19-12, 109), Utah (16-13, 94), Georgia (13-16, 139) and Alabama (17-15, 102). Way to play your way out of the field, everybody.
The effect of these losses is a smaller bubble, and the ability to just about put some more teams in the field. Then again, it also creates confusion, as no matter what happens over the next couple of days, there are going to be teams in the discussion for the final spots who ended their season with a terrible loss, some of whom have other problems with their resumes, as well.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. Losses by Oregon (to Washington State, again), Maryland (to BC) and Florida (to Alabama) push those teams off of the bubble. Kent State’s win over Toledo in the MAC quarters, coupled with the thinning of the ranks, pushes them into the “In” bin. Throw Louisville and Notre Dame, losers in the Big East quarterfinals, onto the board.
Here’s how the spreadsheet looks as of 9:30 a.m. Friday morning:
On the Board (5): St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame.
Remember, these are teams that I have as locks for the field, who cannot take an automatic bid.
In (25): North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Xavier, Kansas, Texas, Georgetown, Marquette, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State, Memphis, Kent State, Brigham Young, UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky.
Those 25 teams represent 10 conferences, which means that group has to take 15 at-large bids at minimum. Because two of these teams must take auto bids in the Big East and Pac-10 (all survivors in those leagues are listed above) there’s a maximum of 23 at-large bids here. Realistically, the group will take 21 to 23. For now, we’ll keep calling it 23. That number drops today and tomorrow as major-conference teams get eliminated from conference tournaments and move to the big board.
Automatic Bids (14): Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Winthrop (Big South), Cornell (Ivy League), Drake (Missouri Valley), Austin Peay (Ohio Valley), Siena (MAAC), George Mason (Colonial), Davidson (Southern), San Diego (WCC), Oral Roberts (Summit), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Butler (Horizon), Mount St. Mary’s (Northeast), Portland State (Big Sky). Remaining certain one-bid leagues include the America East, Big West, MEAC, Patriot, SWAC, Southland and WAC.
Bubble (23): Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s, Temple, Dayton, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Villanova, Ohio State, VCU, UAB, Illinois State, UNLV, New Mexico, Arizona State, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Alabama.
Somewhere between six and 14 at-large bids remain for this crowd, which I currently order as such:
- Miami (Fla.). In with a win today, probably in without it, but given that it’s against low-bubble Virginia Tech, they stay on the list for now.
- Oklahoma. Like Miami, probably regardless of today’s result, but let’s let them avoid the terrible loss to Colorado before we put them in. Remember the cardinal rule: Once you’re in, you don’t come out, so I tend to be hyperconservative.
- South Alabama. The regular-season title and sweep of Western Kentucky look good here, especially with few BCS schools moving past them.
- Illinois State. See above. The catch is the complete lack of nonconference pop, and three losses to Drake. Still, the second-best team in the Valley should be good for a bid in this environment.
- Kansas State. The winner of their game with Texas A&M goes in, the loser stays in this list. Neither team played well down the stretch, and while both do better subjectively than objectively, Kansas State has slightly better wins, a head-to-head victory, and finished two games up in the conference.
- St. Joseph’s. As mentioned, the committee almost never skips over teams in the A14, and takes 9-7 teams from the conference at the same rate. St. Joseph’s, however, has good markers: nine road wins and 12-6 away from home, a win over Xavier, a sweep of UMass and an obliteration of Villanova. A win over Xavier today puts them in, and they might get in with a loss.
- Villanova. That evisceration by St. Joe’s is not helping their case, because they’re almost dead even otherwise. ‘Nova has good home wins over Connecticut, West Virginia and Pittsburgh, and probably gets a subjective bump for their tough losses in which questionable calls were made at high-leverage spots. They’re probably in.
- Arkansas. In with a win today against Vanderbilt. Doesn’t anyone in the NCAA want to make this easy on us?
- Texas A&M. If they lose today to Kansas State, you could argue that they haven’t beaten a tournament team since February 2. They’d close with six losses in nine games. They might still get in; oddly connected to Ohio State, which is their only top 50 win out of conference. If TOSU beats Michigan State today, Texas A&M’s resume will be stronger.
- UNLV. Tried to play their way out of the field by letting TCU put up 88 points last night. Fortunately, they scored 89. A win tonight over Utah should put them in.
- Arizona. The Wildcats will be controversial one way or another. I just don’t think you can give a team all of these passes for injuries when on the court, in various conditions, they’re 4-8 since the end of January, and the only team they’ve beaten since February 23 is Oregon State, which is essentially meaningless. They’ve lost to Arizona State, Washington and Oregon in that span, and none of those teams are going to the tournament. Despite their strength of schedule, and the likelihood that this is one of the 34 best “collections of talent” in the pool, putting them in would be a mistake.
- Virginia Commonwealth. The outright winner of a good conference, VCU had a better-looking case before Houston and Maryland fell apart. The loss to William and Mary in the Colonial semifinal will probably cost them a spot, unless all the chalk wins in the remaining multi-bid leagues.
- Baylor. That was a hideous loss, and now stamps Baylor as the #6 team in the Big 12. A win over Kansas State, and a neutral-court win over Notre Dame, are keeping them in the discussion, but this feels like a last four out situation.
- Temple. The #2 team in a top ten conference that reaches the semis of its tournament is an awfully strong candidate. Temple was hurt by Charlotte’s upset of Massachusetts, as they could have used a shot at UMass to burnish their credentials. A win today over Charlotte is going to make them a very complicated case.
- Ohio State. It’s pretty simple: beat Michigan State, and get into the tournament. It should be interesting to see how this one is called. Fair or no, it’s clear that the Big 11 has a lot invested in the outcome of that game.
- Massachusetts. The six-game winning streak disappeared in the second half of last night’s A14 quarterfinal, as the Minutemen gave up 50 second-half points to lose a game they might have needed. Like VCU, UMass’ nonconference wins (Syracuse, Houston) don’t look nearly as good as they did six weeks ago, and their 10-6 mark in the A14 is good, not great. They’re right on the line.
- UAB. The loss to Tulsa isn’t terrible, but should seal their fate, regardless. They simply couldn’t afford to lose before the final.
- Virginia Tech. If they beat Miami today, they become a viable at-large candidate.
- Syracuse. They’ll stay on the bubble, but it’s hard to see a 9-10 team with no nonconference pop and losses to teams above them on this list making the dance.
- New Mexico. The committee has made some generous Mountain West selections in the past, so the Lobos stay on the bubble even after last night’s loss to Utah. They’re almost certainly done.
- Dayton. They needed to beat Xavier. Unless you grant them an even bigger pass for injuries than you do Arizona, they’re out.
- Mississippi. Hard to see a 7-10 SEC team get a bid, although the Rebels have enough nonconference work to stay on the list.
- Arizona State. RPI isn’t everything. However, the Sun Devils’ mark of 82 would be the lowest ever for an at-large team. They’re 5-10 since January 17, and they laid an egg yesterday in a game that would have probably put them in. Yes, we get it: they hammered Xavier at home three months ago. It’s not enough.
Back later today as events warrant.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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