The Ever Shrinking Bubble

8 Mar

Seemingly for the past month there have been 100+ teams on the bubble, and we have been hearing how eventually the bubble will shrink.    Well the next two days should bring a lot of shrinking.  Picture a constantly rolling ball with teams trying to stay on like log rollers all while the ball expands and contracts by the game.  That is essentially what life will be like for teams over the next couple of days, mainly those bubble teams in the power-6 conferences.

Here’s a look at some of the games with potentially big bubble ramifications:

ACC: Both North Carolina State and Miami have 1st round games on Thursday with Boston College and Georgia Tech respectively.  Any slip up there and they can forget about any at large consideration.  If the Pack and Canes move on to Friday’s quarterfinals NC State would face Virginia while Miami would draw Florida State.  NC State lost a tough 61-60 decision to Virginia in Raleigh during the regular season and Miami split with Florida State with each team protecting their home floor.  A quarterfinal win for Miami and/or NC State should solidify their spots in the NCAA Tournament.

Big East: Connecticut’s first round win over DePaul and 2nd round overtime triumph over West Virginia should leave the Huskies feeling pretty safe as Selection Sunday approaches.  Their opponents however, the West Virginia Mountaineers better get their feet moving fast to stay on that bubble as they are now 9-10 in conference, are 4-8 in their last 12 and have just 1 win vs. the RPI top 50 since Jan. 8th (at South Florida).  All Bob Huggins’ crew can do now is sit, wait and hope.

The Seton Hall Pirates got a 1st round win over Providence, a win they really needed to stay in the at large conversation.  However, many feel they also need to win tonight’s 2nd round match up with Louisville and force a quarterfinal date with #2 Marquette in order to have more secure footing on the bubble.  Seton Hall fell to the Cardinals in their only meeting this season.

Big Ten: In the Big Ten on Thursday there is a pair of must-win games.   Iowa faces Illinois in one game and the Hawkeyes have a chance to really get their foot in the at-large door with a win.  A win gets them to 9-10 in the Big Ten and gives them another shot at top seed Michigan State in the quarterfinals on Friday, a loss and it is nail biting time for the Hawkeyes,  who do have a sweep of Wisconsin as well as wins over Michigan and Indiana to hang their hats on. The question is, will that be enough if they can’t get by Illinois on Thursday.

In the 3rd game on Thursday Minnesota faces Northwestern in a “win or head to the NIT game” for Northwestern.  All season the Wildcats have been a sentimental pick to make the tournament, the last of the power-6 schools never to make the tournament.  Is this the year?  If Northwestern isn’t facing Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday, the answer would be no.  As much as watching John Shurna try and will his team to the tournament, a loss to Minnesota grouped with blown chances for good wins against Purdue, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State over the last three weeks would leave the Wildcats on NCAA life support.

Big 12: Texas has been teetering on the edge of the bubble for a couple weeks, but a second win over Iowa State in the quarterfinals on Friday would get them to 10-9 in conference and 7-5 in their last 12 games.  But with just four wins over the RPI top 100, all at home and an RPI rank in the 50s, a win over Iowa State may be a must if the Longhorns want even a chance of hearing their name called on Sunday.

PAC 12: Oh the Pac-12, the power conference whipping boy all season, and for good reason.  This one is pretty easy to dissect, if the semifinals on Friday don’t involve the top 4 seeds; Washington, California, Oregon and Arizona then the only team that should be a lock to receive a bid is the tournament champion.  The four top teams are a combined 1-17 against the RPI top 50 this season, with Arizona’s win over Cal as the only check in the win column.  The best RPI in the bunch is Cal’s 37 but they have strength of schedule rank at 94.  It seems as though every time one of these teams has had the chance to get a big win, they have failed.  If seeds do not hold in the PAC 12 quarterfinals, there is a good chance this becomes a 1-bid league.

SEC:  In the Kentucky Invitational, I mean the SEC, Mississippi State has a must-win game against South Carolina on Thursday, a hiccup there would leave the Bulldogs under .500 in conference and 5-7 in their last 12 games, forcing them to play a long waiting game until Selection Sunday.

The stars aligned just right for the Tennessee Volunteers allowing them to snag the #2 seed in the tournament.  Despite the high seed some feel Cuonzo Martin’s guys need a Friday quarterfinal win over either Auburn or Mississippi to feel more comfortable about their NCAA spot.  A big black eye for the Vols is the fact they have won just 3 games on the road all season, all of which have come in the last for games (at florida, South Carolina and LSU).  A semifinal meeting with Vanderbilt, a team they just defeated would go a long way in the eyes of the committee.

*Honorable Mention*

Big West: In the Big West Long Beach State was undefeated before falling to Cal State Fullerton in the regular season finale.  The 49ers played the top non-conference slate in the country, and even though they didn’t win many of those games, a depleted Xavier team and a down Pittsburgh squad among the top 100. With a current RPI rank of 35, a loss in the Big West title game would leave LBSU 24-9 and 17-3 in their last 20 games, certainly chief among those to be debated among committee members.

These are just a few of the scenarios that teams like Iona, Oral Roberts, Middle Tennessee State and Drexel will be watching with baited breathe, hoping the bubble shrinks so quickly teams aren’t fast enough to stay on.

College Hoop Haven


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