By Brendan Loy
If “March Madness” hadn’t officially arrived yet, it definitely made its presence felt yesterday. ‘Twas a crazy day of hoops, capped off by a buzzer-beating bank-shot 3 for West Virginia, beating Cincinnati and ending the Bearcats’ longshot NCAA hopes:
The day’s theme was bubble teams doing their damndest to play themselves out of the conversation, as SI’s Andy Glockner explains:
Ugh. What a day of bubble carnage. At-large contenders nationwide spit the bit, leaving a gaping hole in the bottom of the bracket and a plethora of uninspiring options for the committee to sift through.
Hey, who wants a 96-team tournament? ( … chirping crickets … )
Most notably, Memphis, UAB and Arizona State all likely killed their at-large chances with quarterfinal losses to 6- or 7-seeds, and in the process rekindled the hopes of teams like Seton Hall, which had very slim aspirations 24 hours earlier. Florida and Georgia Tech took steps forward by not losing. Washington may nail down an NCAA bid merely by beating Oregon State and Stanford. Teams like William & Mary have every right to raise their hand at this point.
Latter in the Bubble Watch, here’s what Glockner says about William & Mary:
William & Mary (21-10, 12-6, RPI: 58, SOS: 104) suddenly looks a lot more viable after so many others lost on Thursday. The quality nonleague and road wins are there, but so are three bad league losses (two at home) and a terrible national TV showing at Iona in BracketBusters. The Tribe are now rooting really hard against teams like Mississippi, Mississippi State, Illinois, Rhode Island and Washington, and pulling for UTEP and Utah State to win their auto bids.
Good Wins: at Wake, at Maryland, Richmond (also beat CAA No. 2 Northeastern twice)
Bad Losses: UNC Wilmington, at James Madison, Towson, routed at Iona
Let the record show that I’m rooting for those outcomes, too — sorry, David K. and Dmytro — both because I love chaos and because I’d love to see the Tribe get their first-ever NCAA bid. Up the underdogs! Down with major-conference mediocrities!
Meanwhile, here’s how ESPN’s Mark Schlabach summarizes yesterday’s events:
Who were the biggest winners on a day when so many NCAA tournament bubble teams went one-and-done in their conference tournaments?
How about the teams that didn’t play on Thursday? Teams like Illinois and Ole Miss, which don’t open conference tourney play until Friday. Surely, A-10 teams like Dayton, Rhode Island and Saint Louis were feeling better about their NCAA at-large odds while watching bubbles pop around the country from their hotel rooms in Atlantic City, N.J.
The carnage was almost even worse: Colorado State very nearly knocked off San Diego State, Georgia Tech struggled against North Carolina, and Washington looked dead in the water early against Oregon State before rallying for a 7-point win. But SDSU, GT and UW stay alive, for now.
Schlabach says Cal, UNLV and Utah State are now “locks,” thanks to wins yesterday and the attrition around them. (Notre Dame is also now a “lock,” incidentally.) He moves Georgia Tech to the “should be in” category, but I’m not sure I agree with that one — and, unlike Schlabach, I’m going to assume ASU, UAB and Memphis are done. (They really ought to be behind William & Mary in the pecking order, at any rate.) That leaves 12 bubble teams battling for the final 6 at-large spots: in no particular order, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota, Washington, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, San Diego State, Rhode Island, Dayton and Saint Louis. If more than half of those teams flame out (well, Seton Hall already has), then maybe William & Mary — and Wichita State?!? — gets a second look.
Glockner, incidentally, has a somewhat wider bubble: he thinks Virginia Tech isn’t necessarily safe if they lose today, and he’s got a question mark next to Louisville (but acknowledges they’re probably OK given all the other bubble teams falling off). Anyway, here’s Glockner’s summary of today’s meaningful bubble games:
Illinois-Wisconsin (2 p.m. ET): Illini probably need to win this game to hang on to an at-large spot.
Miami-Virginia Tech (2 p.m.): Hokies would be smart not to lose this game and risk it.
Rhode Island-Saint Louis (2 p.m.): Huge bubble game for both teams, especially the Rams.
Tennessee-Mississippi (3:15 p.m.): Rebels have to get this one to have realistic at-large hopes.
Tulsa-UTEP (4:15): Golden Hurricane could make C-USA two-bid league with a home win.
Dayton-Xavier (6:30 p.m.): Flyers’ last stand begins here. They probably need two wins to have a claim.
Georgia Tech-Maryland (7 p.m.): Jackets likely need to win this one or get squeezed out.
Florida-Miss. State (7:30 p.m.): Gators are in with a win; Bulldogs may need another, too.
San Diego State-New Mexico (9 p.m.): Aztecs can lock up a bid with a win; may not need it.
Louisiana Tech-Utah State (9 p.m.): Aggies probably will get in, but a loss means two-bid WAC.
Of course, next season, many of the losers of these games may just have to be content with their 18-seed. Doesn’t that sound fantastic?
Heh. Indeed. If this were next season, we’d be debating whether Georgia Tech’s win over North Carolina knocked the Tar Heels (5-12 ACC) off the NCAA bubble and into the NIT, not whether it secured a dance ticket for Georgia Tech.
Anyway… Go Wisconsin, Miami, Saint Louis, Tennessee, UTEP, Xavier, Maryland (preferably in a blowout), Mississippi State, New Mexico and Utah State! And of course GO IRISH!!! BEAT
INBREDS MOUNTAINEERS!!! (Sorry, any West Virginian readers… just a little joke…)