Yes, it is officially that time. Many have proclaimed it to start weeks or even a month ago, but it is now the appropriate time to start obsessing about the dreaded bubble.
It IS March. Spring is approaching, never mind the fact that it was still freezing when I stepped out of my house in Brooklyn this morning.
Conference play has entered its final week and one conference – the Big South – has even started its tournament (the Horizon Tournament kicks off tonight as well).
Most importantly, this is the time I have decided to put my two cents into the mix and let you know exactly what’s what in and within the immediate vicinity of the bubble.
So, without wasting anymore of your time, let’s get it started.
POP THE BUBBLY
Over the weekend, as has become the case in recent years, many of the bubble teams acted as if the NCAA Tournament was the school library and wanted no parts of it. An interesting side effect of the major conference bubble troubles has been the increased likelihood that mid-major teams, such as Belmont, Middle Tennessee and maybe even Akron, could claim at-large bids if they are tripped up in their respective conference tournaments.
Belmont finished their Ohio Valley regular season with their fourth straight victory and now head into the conference tournament as the top seed. As is the case with all mid-major bubble teams, a loss in the tournament will inevitably be a bad loss (a loss to a non-tournament team), however, with Belmont’s sky high RPI (23) and overall solid resume, they should be able to sneak into the big dance without the automatic bid, stealing a bid from an underachieving major, of which there are plenty.
Middle Tennessee also benefitted from Big 6 misfortune last week, though their resume is not quite as strong as Belmont’s, who beat the Blue Raiders in December. MTSU also has a high RPI (25), to go along with 16 straight victories as they head into the Sun Belt tournament as the top seed. Other bubble occupants will be praying for MTSU and Belmont to take care of their conference tournament business.
The Mountain West’s Boise State got a huge win Saturday versus Colorado State to put them in my bracket as of today. The Broncos have another big opportunity tonight as they travel to Vegas to play UNLV. A loss likely would not hurt much, but a win would pretty much cement them into the field. Boise will have a similar opportunity Saturday when they host San Diego State in their regular season finale.
Despite a Sunday loss to Pittsburgh, Villanova gained ground in large part thanks to the struggles of others. Wins over Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette put the Wildcats in a less precarious position than many believe. Nova finishes their Big East regular season at home versus Georgetown on Wednesday. Obviously, a win would do wonders for their Selection Sunday nerves.
La Salle, from the Atlantic 10, crushed Duquesne Saturday to hold on to that last at-large spot in my bracket, on the strength of wins versus Butler and at VCU this season. The Explorers have a must-win game versus George Washington on Wednesday and finish the regular season with a huge opportunity game at tournament bound Saint Louis on Saturday.
As discussed earlier, there is plenty of bubble trouble to go around.
No team ran from opportunity faster over the past few days than the poor Baylor Bears. Squarely in or attached to the bubble, the Bears proceeded to inexplicably lose a heartbreaker to Kansas State and then followed that up with a listless loss to a Texas team they could not afford to lose to. The result? Baylor is out of the bubble periphery and needs a minor miracle to go dancing.
The team that tried its hardest to beat Baylor in the race to nowhere, but narrowly lost, was Ole Miss. Mississippi lost at in-state rival Mississippi State Saturday. Yes, that Mississippi State that is 8-20, 3-13 in the SEC and has an RPI of 226. Yes, that one. Of course, this is no recipe for getting a bid to the dance if you are already hanging by a thread. The Rebels have no choice now but to make major noise in the SEC Tournament which starts next week.
The MAC’s Akron, looked to be in good shape for an automatic bid should they lose in their conference tournament until they had their 19-game winning streak snapped at Buffalo. Now, the Zips would be wise to win the MAC tourney starting next week.
Maryland did itself no favors last week when they lost at lowly Georgia Tech. At least they regrouped and won at equally lowly Wake Forest Saturday. But, they will need a big victory or two, either Wednesday versus North Carolina, Sunday at Virginia, or next week in the ACC Tournament.
Alabama had a chance to beef up its surprisingly emaciated resume with a win at Florida Saturday. That, however, did not come to fruition. Roll Tide will need to win out, starting tonight at Ole Miss, and get to the SEC Championship Game to give itself any real shot at dancing.
Temple struggled, but narrowly beat Rhode Island Saturday. They are currently my first team out of the bracket and will have to play much better to get in the field. The Owls have a big home match-up versus VCU on Sunday and will likely have to do damage in the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn next week.
Iowa State, Tennessee and Kentucky remain narrowly in my field despite shaky losses for all three over the weekend. All three have opportunities for big wins and bad losses this week and all three will have more work to do regardless in their conference tournaments next week.
The fun continues…