Tomorrow at 1 pm, The Big Lead, Rush The Court, College Hoops Journal, and yours truly will be unveiling our bracket predictions. As I am sure you are all well aware, the writers at these three sites are the far and away the leading college basketball minds on all the intrawebs. Be sure to check out the predictions before the Sunday night's selection show, and then compare ours with the ESPN's, the SI's, and the CBS's of the world.
65 teams. 31 automatic bids. Some simple math tells us that 34 at-large bids are left over. A day before Selection Sunday clears up all this bubble mess, let's take a look at where teams stand (italics indicate they are still alive in their conference tournament).
- ACC: Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State (5)
- Big East: Louisville, UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, Marquette (7)
- Big Ten: Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State (4)
- Big XII: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M (6)
- Pac-10: Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, Cal (4)
- SEC: LSU, Tennessee (2)
- MWC: BYU, Utah (2)
- A-10: Xavier, Dayton (2)
- Others: Memphis, Butler (2)
- ACC: Boston College, Maryland (2)
- Big East: Providence,
- Big Ten: Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota (4)
- Big XII: Baylor (1)*
- Pac-10: USC, Arizona (2)
- SEC: Florida, South Carolina, Auburn (3)
- MWC: San Diego State (1)
- A-10: Temple, Duquense* (2)
- Others: Utah State, Creighton, St. Mary's (3)
So what does all that tell us?
For starters, let's assume that Utah State, Utah, and Memphis all win their conference tournaments, and that five of the six major conference tournaments are won by teams that are "locks" (I think it is a reasonable assumption that one of USC, Baylor, or Auburn/Mississippi State could pull out a conference title). That would free up seven spots for the 16 bubble teams.
Of those sixteen bubble teams, who is in the best shape right now?
The way I see it, these guys are in the best shape:
Boston College: the Eagles are all but in the tournament at this point. As troublesome as the L's to Harvard and St. Louis are, wins over UNC, Duke, and Florida State more than make up for it. Their RPI is 56, they are a repsectable 5-5 on the road (including a win at UNC), and went 4-5/7-8 against the RPI top 50/100.
Michigan: There are four Big Ten teams on the bubble, but methinks the Wolverines are in the best shape. They have an RPI of 43, mainly because they played one of the country's ten toughest schedules. Wins against UCLA highlight a tough non-conference schedule, and the Wolverines also picked up wins against Illinois and Minnesota (sweep) in Big Ten play. All told, Michigan was 6-9 against the top 50 and had nine top 100 wins.
San Diego State: The Aztecs are tough to call. Their RPI is a very respectable 31 after beating UNLV and BYU en route to reaching the WAC final. But they have done zilch out of conference. They have just two top 50 wins (BYU and Utah), and six top 100 wins (three against UNLV). The issue is going to be how the committee evaluates a mediocre non-conference schedule. I think they deserve a bid, but the Aztecs should win the WAC just to be safe.
These next four teams are in pretty good shape:
Wisconsin: The Badgers have an RPI and SOS similar to that of Michigan, but there are two things the Badgers have going against them - they lack out of conference victories with the same oomph. Yes, the Badgers swept Michigan, but they are 4-10 vs. the top 50 RPI. Their best out of conference win is Va. Tech. That said, I still think Wisconsin will be in tomorrow.
Minnesota: The Gophers are another one of those Big Ten teams that look pretty good to get in. They are a bit behind Wisconsin and Michigan at this point because they only played one real team in the non-conference, but it just so happens that team was Louisville, and the Gophers just so happened to beat them. Their RPI is better than either Wisconsin or Michigan, but they also played a weaker schedule. Again I think they are in, but behind the Wolverines and the Badgers.
Maryland: How is this team different from Boston College? They have three very good wins (UNC, Wake, MSU) and two really bad losses (Morgan State, UVA). Yes their RPI is a bit lower, but they also played a tougher schedule. The biggest issue is their road record. But doesn't some of that concern get erased by two wins at a neutral court? As long as they don't lose to Duke by 40 again, the Terps should get in.
St. Mary's: I think St. Mary's gets in if there are no more upsets in the conference tournaments. They are now 20-2 with Patty Mills in the line-up, which includes an ever-improving win over San Diego State. I was also very impressed when they beat Utah State without Mills. Again, their resume isn't going to show it, but the Gaels are one of the top 25-30 teams in the country with a healthy Patty Mills.
Penn State: Penn State played a weak non-conference schedule, I know that. But they beat six top 50 teams in conference play, finished 10-8 in a league that could get 8 teams in, and they won at Illinois and at Michigan State. I think they have a slight advantage over Creighton.
The rest of the bubble:
Creighton: Creighton is tough this year. They have an RPI in the low 40's and shared the MVC regular season crown. What impresses me the most is their 18 point win against Dayton, their 9-5 record against the top 100, and their 8-4 record on the road. They also have two road losses (Arkansas Little-Rock and Nebraska) that came on last second shots early in the season. The Bluejays are my first team out, simply because their resume just doesn't stack up against the Nittany Lions, who went 10-8 in a balanced Big Ten and had 6 top 50 wins, regardless of their non-conference schedule.
Arizona: The Wildcats have a very strong resume. They have beaten Washington, Kansas, Gonzaga, San Diego State and UCLA. But they were 2-9 on the road and lost five of their last six. The Wildcats needed the Arizona State game.
Utah State: My biggest issue with Utah State is that 26 of their 29 wins are against teams outside of the top 100 in the RPI. No team with 27 or more wins has ever been left out of the tournament. But then again, until Thursday, no Big East Tournament game had ever gone four overtimes. Win the WAC.
South Carolina: Winning a share of the SEC East is nice, but it is akin to winning the MVC this year. South Carolina has beaten one top 50 team (#46 Florida) and just lost a game they really needed to win against Mississippi State.
Florida: The Gators were terrible on the road this year, going just 2-7. They were also just 2-6 against the RPI top 50, and they lost a game to an Auburn team that may be the hottest team in the country.
Auburn: No one is playing better than the Tigers right now, but just because they are playing well this month doesn't help them over come a poor season. They've only beaten two top 50 teams and five top 100 teams, and all of those came in the last month. In fact, 15 of their 21 wins are against teams outside the the top 100 and their best non conference wins are Virginia and Tulane. Beat Tennessee and we will talk.
Temple: The Owls have two very good wins this year in Tennessee and Xavier, but three losses to teams that are RPI 100+ is too much to overcome. Win the A-10.
USC: The Trojans have beaten two top 50 teams in teh last two days to advance to the PPac-10 finals, but their resume is not good enough. They have now four top 50 wins (Arizona, Cal x2, UCLA), but they are 2-7 on the road and their best non-conference win is North Dakota State. Win the Pac-10.