As you’d expect with just over 60 hours until the selection show, the bubble picture is start to become somewhat clearer. Not in terms of which bubble teams will dance, but in terms of who the bubble teams are, at least.
Today’s big headline is that Syracuse stunned UConn, basically assuring themselves of a bid. But they weren’t the only ones locking up a trip to the Big Dance. Kentucky, Arkansas and Arizona avoided ugly early losses in the SEC and Pac-10, and by so doing, moved from “near lock” to “lock” status. Cal beat USC to move from “bubble” to “near-lock.” UAB beat SMU to remain a “near lock.” On the flip side, Michigan suffered an ugly early loss in the Big Ten, falling to Minnesota, and thus dropped from “near lock” to “bubble.” And Florida State suffered an even uglier loss, to Wake Forest, which drops them from “bubble” to “NIT.” Maryland, Colorado, San Diego State and Utah State stayed alive by winning early-round tourney games, while BYU and Air Force did not stay alive, losing in the MWC quarters. And mortal lock George Washington lost in the Atlantic 10 quarters, turning a one-bid league into a two-bid league and thus shrinking the bubble by one.
The end result is this: the “locks”/automatic bid category, which previously included 49 teams (UConn, Villanova, Pitt, West Virginia, Georgetown and Marquette from the Big East; Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin from the Big Ten; Duke, North Carolina, Boston College and NC State from the ACC; LSU, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama from the SEC; UCLA and Washington from the Pac-10; Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma from the Big 12; Wichita State and auto-bid winner Southern Illinois from the MVC; auto-bid winner UNC-Wilmington from the Colonial; Memphis from Conference USA; Nevada from the WAC; and 20 auto bids from expected one-bid conferences), now includes 54 teams (adding Syracuse, Arkansas, Kentucky, Arizona, and an extra team from the A-10). That leaves just 11 spots in the field of 65 up for grabs.
Moreover, five of those 11 spots are pretty solidly claimed. Indiana, UAB and Cal are probably in even if they lose tomorrow, barring massive movement below them; wins would make them absolute locks. And Northern Iowa and Bradley from the MVC are almost certainly in, barring, again, a huge slew of last-minute bubble-busting events below them.
So, really, in all likelihood, we’re looking at a bubble of six. And with Florida State, Air Force and BYU now out of the picture, there are 12 teams competing for those six spots. Exactly half of these teams will be disappointed on Sunday:
* Seton Hall
* Texas A&M
* Missouri State
* George Mason
* San Diego State
* Utah State
Of those teams, only Maryland, Texas A&M, Colorado, San Diego State and Utah State have conference tourney games yet to play; the rest just have to sit and wait. Texas A&M plays Colorado in a huge bubble game tomorrow in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Colorado is certainly out with a loss; A&M might not be, but they’d certainly be in deep trouble. A win moves A&M into “near lock” or “lock” territory, whereas Colorado probably needs to win this game and one more. As for Maryland, they need to beat Boston College tomorrow and maybe North Carolina (or Virginia) on Saturday. Utah State has a realistic shot at an automatic bid; they’re in the WAC semis, and could face mortal lock Nevada in the title game. Win and they’re in; lose a close one, and they might still be in, but it’s chancy. As for San Diego State, with #2 and #3 seeds Air Force and BYU losing, I can’t see how they can get an at-large bid now, since any loss in the title game would be to an inferior team (either the #6 or #7 seed, Utah or Wyoming)… but I’ll keep them on the bubble for the moment, since Lunardi thinks they’re an #11 seed. I’m thinking they need the auto bid now, though, because it is no longer possible for them to end their season on a “good loss.”
The remaining possibilities for bubble-shrinking, bid-stealing upsets are:
* Holy Cross beating Bucknell in the Patriot League title game (tomorrow at 4:30)
* Anybody but Nevada winning the WAC tournament (Utah State is one of the competitors)
* Oregon winning the Pac-10 tournament
* Penn State or Minnesota winning the Big Ten tournament
* South Carolina or Vanderbilt winning the SEC tournament
* Houston or UTEP winning the Conference USA tournament
* Nebraska, Oklahoma State or Texas Tech winning the Big 12 tournament
* Wake Forest, Virginia or Maryland winning the ACC Tournament
Unless one or more of those things happen, the bubble will remain its current size, and it’ll simply come down to some tough decisions among worthy teams by the committee. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated two or three weeks ago that the bubble would look this strong, but it does. There are going to be some good teams going to the NIT.
P.S. In an attempt to simplify this just a little bit further… unless the bubble shrinks and the still-playing bubble teams go on a tear, I’m thinking that Michigan and Cincinnati are both fairly safe. I also think San Diego State and Utah State don’t have a realistic chance of an at-large bid (the latter because their profile is too weak, the former because of the Air Force and BYU upsets). If I’m right about that, we have essentially eight teams competing for four spots:
* Seton Hall
* Texas A&M
* Missouri State
* George Mason
It’s too early to definitively sort these teams out, because three of them still have games yet to play. But if A&M beats Colorado, I think they’re in and the Buffaloes are out; I think Maryland is in if they beat BC, out if they don’t; and I think Missouri State and George Mason are in no matter what. If Maryland loses, and/or if Colorado beats A&M but then loses its next game, I think that opens the door for Hofstra, Creighton, or Seton Hall to potentially snag a bid; otherwise I don’t think those teams are dancing. But that’s just my opinion, and I’m no Joe Lunardi. :) I look forward to his morning update, to see how well his last teams in and out match up with mine.
UPDATE: Lunardi’s new bracket is out. His “last four in,” “last four out” (pet peeve: it should be first four out), and “next four out” match up pretty well with my bubble. He’s got Cincinnati and San Diego State “in” (as #10 and #11 seeds, respectively); the rest of my bubble teams are all in his last/first/next categories. (The “last four in” are one #11 seed and three #12 seeds.) Lunardi thinks Michigan is in a little bit more trouble than I do, putting them behind San Diego State. (But Lunardi makes no attempt to project future results, whereas I do with regard to SDSU, which is why I think they’re behind Michigan and most other bubble teams in the realistic at-large pecking order. After all, they don’t need an at-large unless they lose. And if they lose, it’s going to be to a bad team, seriously hurting their at-large profile.) The other major difference is that Lunardi thinks Florida State is still in the mix. In fact, he has them as one of his first teams out — ahead of George Mason! I think that’s ridiculous, and outrageous if the committee does it that way.