March Madness: Tournament Watch 2/22/17

By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut

Connecticut (CBS) – Now is the time when every game matters. If you’re on the outside looking in, you’re making that desperate push to accumulate all the good wins your remaining schedule will allow for. If you’re right on the cut line, you’re desperately trying to avoid that resume damaging loss that is sticking out like a sore thumb. If you won’t sweat out Selection Sunday in terms of whether or not you will get in, you might be jockeying for position with other well established teams. Maybe you want to move up to the 4 seed to avoid the dreaded 5/12 match up that is always one of the toughest match ups to gauge in the tournament’s first weekend. Or maybe you just want to make sure that you are putting your team in the best position to make a deep run in the tournament and thus maybe have some geographical advantages in your match ups. Whatever the case may be, these next 12 regular season days, plus the next 7 days of conference tournament games, will go a long way in determining where, or if, your team gets seeded this March.

Below I will take a look at the teams in each conference who have a chance at hearing their name called on March 12th. I will start with the top 6 conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) and then proceed alphabetically with the remaining conferences.

In = The team could lose all of the rest of their games between now and March 12th and they would still be in the tournament. Obviously their seeding would take a hit, but it would be a complete shock if they weren’t in the tournament.

Almost In = These are the teams who are not quite there yet, but only need a win or two more, or to avoid any devastating losses between now and the end of the season.

Bubble = Teams that might be in if the field was announced today, but are in direct competition with many other teams.

ACC

In (5) – Louisville, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia, Duke
Almost In (2) – Notre Dame, Miami
Bubble In (1) – Virginia Tech
Bubble Out (3) – Pitt, Wake Forest, Syracuse

 

Miami has done a good job of separating themselves from the pack, which is why they have been moved up to “Almost In”. They have won 4 out of their last 5, including wins over fellow bubble teams Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson and a big win at Virginia. The rest of their schedule is tough, one more win against either Duke, Florida State or Virginia Tech and they might find themselves in the “In” category not too long from now.

Virginia Tech climbed back over the .500 mark in conference play with a home win over Clemson last night and got their 13th win over the RPI top 100 in the process. They are definitely taking care of business right now. The only thing holding Virginia Tech back is their poor out of conference strength of schedule which currently sits at 289th in the country. They have a few “nice” wins against Nebraska, Ole Miss and New Mexico with their best win being against Michigan. They also lost to Texas A&M. Their worst in conference loss is at NC State which was back on January 4th and they’ve also beaten Duke and Virginia along with a sweep of Clemson and a win against Syracuse. If they avoid a bad loss at Boston College on Saturday, which will get them their 20th win and also assure that they will finish no worse than .500 in conference play, they should be in good shape before finishing at home against Miami and Wake Forest.

Wake Forest has lost two straight road games to Clemson and Duke. The latter of which was a very entertaining 5 point loss to one of the hottest teams in the country. Definitely forgivable. They have a big game tonight at home against Pittsburgh that they would be best to win that one. After that they are at home vs Louisville and at Virginia Tech. You really don’t want to take your chances needing to win those games. Beating Pitt provides two benefits. It not only helps you, but it hurts them. As they are now one of those teams on the far outside, but still lingering.

Syracuse has now lost three in a row including two to fellow bubblers Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, both on the road. It is clear that Syracuse is a much better home team having gone 6-1 at home in conference and 2-6 on the road in conference (including a loss at BC). What’s tough is that their next two games are home vs. Duke and at Louisville. They do finish up at home against Georgia Tech, but it’s starting to feel like Syracuse needs to split the games with Duke and Louisville and win against Georgia Tech to have an at large shot. That would put them at 10 conference wins. The win against Miami is looking better and better, but the win against Virginia is looking worse as they have started to slip. They played a few good teams out of conference (South Carolina, Wisconsin, Uconn, Georgetown) but they lost to them all. Combing the conference loss to Boston College with the loss out of conference at home to St. John’s (by 33!) and Syracuse might not get as lucky as they did last year without a deeper run in the ACC tournament.

Pittsburgh really shouldn’t have any business being considered right now. They are 4-10 in the ACC and 15-12 overall. But if you take a deeper look at their profile, you’ll see some very good things. First is that they currently have an RPI of 59 and a strength of schedule ranked 11th in the country. Playing North Carolina twice, Virginia twice, Louisville twice, and Syracuse twice will do that. They have arguably the hardest conference schedule of anyone in the ACC. They’ve lost to Clemson, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame at home by a combined 11 points. They’ve lost at the two North Carolina schools by a combined 7 points. Yes close losses don’t help you any. But they still have 4 games left against teams that are either in the tournament, or right on the bubble if it started today (WF, UNC, GT and UVA). The problem is that 3 of those 4 games are on the road and the one home game is against projected #1 seed UNC. Going 6-12 in conference play probably won’t get you in to the tournament. The committee might be sympathetic to 7-11 given how brutal their conference schedule has been. They would be wise to make a deep run in the ACC tournament though.

Georgia Tech and Clemson fall out due to their losses to NC State at home and at Virginia Tech respectfully. Georgia Tech still has the ability to climb back in to the thick of things due to their remaining schedule. They still have some nice winnable games left. Clemson on the other hand finishes the season with home games against NC State and Boston College. Neither of those wins will do anything to help the Tigers chances.

Big East

In (4) – Villanova, Butler, Creighton, Xavier
Bubble In (3) – Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette

 

Seton Hall followed up their big home win vs. Creighton last week with a stinker against Villanova at home. That game says more about Villanova in my opinion. They are playing at an unreal level right now. Would it have been a great win for the Pirates? Sure. Would it have looked better if they were a little more competitive? Of course. But the loss won’t hurt them at all. Being 6-8 in conference is a little more worrisome though. They play the last of three straight home games tonight against a reeling Xavier team. Xavier is not even close to the team it once was, but their numbers are still very good and a win would boost Seton Hall’s resume. Clearly this is one of the faults of the RPI and why it is nowhere near perfect. But as long as RPI is one of the credentials that the committee uses, we can’t just ignore it. DePaul, Georgetown and Butler follow and a 3-1 finish is definitely within reach. This would get the Pirates to 9-9 in the conference and into the tournament.

Marquette is playing very well right now and if the committee favored that over what they did at the beginning of the season (they don’t), they would probably be considered safely in right now. The problem, is that Marquette didn’t have the hardest of all out of conference schedules and the best win they can point to would be a win at Georgia in the beginning of December. They also lost to Pitt on a neutral court and Pitt is making their way towards the bubble as well. Marquette does have some really nice conference wins though. They have home wins over Villanova (huge), Seton Hall, Xavier and Creighton (also huge) on the road. After avoiding a bad loss to St. John’s at home last night, they finish up with 3 very tough, but winnable conference games at Providence, at Xavier and at home against Creighton. Plenty of opportunities to boost their resume.

Providence hasn’t played since last Wednesday so not much has changed for the Friars. They’ve watched as teams like Pittsburgh, Miami and Marquette improved their stock. But they’ve also seen teams like Clemson, Syracuse, Georgetown, Ohio State, and Michigan State lose games and fall back to the pack or out of the conversation completely. Their last 3 wins came against Xavier, Butler and at Marquette. They also swept Georgetown. If only they hadn’t lost to St. John’s and DePaul they’d probably be looking pretty good right about now. They have a big opportunity at Creighton tonight. A win there and they might start to separate themselves. What they really need to do is avoid losing to DePaul and St. John’s again while beating Marquette at home, giving them a sweep of another fellow bubble team. A lot is still up in the air for the Friars.

Big 12

In (3) – Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia
Probably In (2) – Oklahoma State, Iowa State
Bubble In (1) – TCU, Kansas State

 

Oklahoma State is on a roll right now and the only thing keeping me from moving them to the “In” category is their conference record. They are currently 7-7 with some tough games ahead. Say worst case scenario happens and OK ST loses all 4, a 7-11 conference record isn’t what you want to hitch your wagon to. I do think 8-10 would work. Their next two games are very winnable at Kansas State and Texas Tech at home. If they win just one of those games, I’d be willing to say they will get in. Chances are, with the way they have been playing lately, 4-0 (also at Iowa State and vs. Kansas) is just as likely.

Iowa State is also starting to round into form. They have taken care of other bubble teams such as Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU and now have 3 great opportunities ahead of them to finish off their schedule. If they win one of those 3 (vs. Baylor, vs. Oklahoma State, @West Virginia), they’ll be in.

TCU was looking pretty good last week and they’ve only played and lost one game since my last update. A 13 point road loss to Iowa State. That shouldn’t be that damaging, but it was enough to make me give their profile a much closer look. They don’t have any bad conference losses, but they only have 2 wins that can be considered any good. At home against Iowa State and at Kansas State. There was also a home loss to Auburn sandwiched in the middle of the conference schedule in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at the end of January. That certainly does not help. They are currently 6-8 in conference with Kansas and West Virginia coming up. 6-10 is looking like a realistic possibility. If they lose those two they will be 3-9 in their last 12 and 17-12. They would most certainly need to beat Kansas State and Oklahoma to finish the season in that case.

Kansas State avoided a resume crushing road loss to Texas over the weekend. They too have a loss in the SEC/Big 12 challenge (to Tennessee) sandwiched into their conference woes just like TCU. A home win tonight against a very hot Oklahoma State team would be a big step forward. Their schedule is on the lighter side compared to some other teams on the bubble, so getting one more very good win could separate help to separate themselves from the rest down the stretch.

Big 10

In (3) – Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland
Probably In (2) – Minnesota, Northwestern
Bubble In (2) – Michigan, Michigan State

 

 Minnesota has wiped out a 5 game losing streak with a current 5 game winning streak that has gotten them to the 20 win plateau. Their latest victory was against Michigan which was on the heels of a win against Indiana. Minnesota is currently taking care of business. Their last loss was at home to Maryland, and tonight they get a chance at revenge in College Park. After that are two winnable home games to Penn State and Nebraska before finishing the season at Wisconsin. Even winning the home games and losing the road games should get the Gophers into the tournament.

Northwestern survived a home scare to Rutgers this past weekend that had everyone on the edge of their seat, but followed that up with a road loss at Illinois last night that resulted in a season sweep for the Illini. Northwestern’s wins against Iowa, Ohio State and Indiana don’t look nearly as good as they once did. Their only conference win of significance was at Wisconsin. Wins against Dayton and Wake Forest out of conference help the overall resume though. Northwestern’s last 3 games are pretty tough. They play at Indiana, and at home verses Michigan and Purdue. Winning one of the remaining three will result in Northwestern being over .500 in conference play. Would 21-10 and 10-8 be enough heading in to conference tournament play? Probably. But the Wildcats should strive for more and try to build some momentum heading in to the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan has a big game at Rutgers tonight. Not a big game in the sense where a win improves their resume. More in the sense that they need to avoid a bad loss. Rutgers has the ability to surprise, as evidenced by their OT loss to Wisconsin earlier in the season and their near defeat of Northwestern this past weekend. Michigan knows they can’t take any conference road game lightly. After Rutgers they have Purdue at home and then at Northwestern and at Nebraska which is a tough place to play in it’s own right. Michigan has a very unbalanced profile. Out of conference they beat Marquette and SMU on a neutral court, but also lost to fellow bubbler Virginia Tech at home by 3. In conference they’ve lost questionable games to Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State. They’ve also swept Indiana and beat Wisconsin at home last week. They are a very curious case and it’ll be interesting to see how the remainder of their schedule plays out.

Michigan State suffered two losses in one game this past weekend at Purdue. They lost the game by 17, but they also lost 3rd leading scorer Eron Harris for the remainder of the season to a gruesome knee injury. Michigan State has played the 18th hardest schedule in the country to date. A lot of this is due to their crazy out of conference schedule that included Kentucky, Baylor, Arizona, Duke and Wichita State. Unfortunately for the Spartans they went 1-4 in those games. They also lost to Northeastern at home. They swept Minnesota which looks better and better as the days go on, and they won their only meeting with Northwestern to date. Their next two games are at home against Nebraska and Wisconsin before they head out on the road for the last two regular season games against Illinois and Maryland. Any combination that results in a 2-2 record in those games should probably be enough for the Spartans.

Pac-12

In (3) – Oregon, Arizona, UCLA
Bubble In (2) – California, USC

 

USC started the season 14-0 with wins over SMU, Texas A&M and BYU. Unfortunately the latter two have had down seasons this year. Since that start they’ve gone 7-6 which puts them at 8-6 in conference overall. They’re only real good conference win came against UCLA at home. They also don’t have any losses that could be considered bad either. They play at Arizona tomorrow night before they finish up with possible landmines at Arizona State, and home to the Washington’s. They’ve done a good job of avoiding bad losses to this point, they’d be best to continue that through the end of the regular season.

– After I completed my initial field of 68 last week I started to compare where some of the bubble teams ranked on other sites in comparison to my own. I figured out pretty quickly that I was higher on CAL than most other writers. I wrote on Friday that Cal had a tough road game at Stanford on Friday night, one that Cal would lose 73-68. Stanford isn’t a bad team, so it wasn’t an awful loss, but it is one that you should avoid if you’re sitting right on the cut line which Cal is. They have 9 conference wins, but their only one that stands out is a 1 point win at USC. Their best out of conference win is against Princeton and they lost to Seton Hall who is in direct bubble competition with them. They can change their resume for the better with a win at home against Oregon tonight.

SEC

In (2) – Florida, Kentucky
Almost In (1) – South Carolina
Bubble In (1) – Arkansas
Bubble Out – Tennessee

 

– I was a little too quick to declare that South Carolina was safely in the field. I’ll admit that. The Gamecocks have now lost 3 in a row and have fallen back a little bit. None of the 3 losses were to bad teams, so their resume wasn’t hurt too bad by the losses. But what is concerning is how they looked in those losses. They lost by a combined 31 points to Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Florida and have lost 4 out of their last 5 total.  Their out of conference wins against Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont and Monmouth help, but they also lost to Seton Hall, Clemson and Memphis out of conference. They don’t have any bad losses, but their only great win is a 4 point home win against Florida back in the middle of January. A big home game against Tennessee is up next on Saturday.

– On February 7th Arkansas had lost 3 out of their last 4 to fall to 17-7. All 3 of those losses came in different fashions. They got absolutely pasted at Oklahoma State by 28, they lost to the worst team in the conference at the time in Missouri and then they lost by 13 to a bottom tier team in Vanderbilt. Since then they have won 3 straight games to get to 20 wins, and they have looked pretty good doing it. Their schedule isn’t too tough the rest of the way, but they need to win at home against Texas A&M first.

Tennessee is currently 15-12 and 7-7 in the SEC. So why are they here? Easy, their numbers are boosted by having played the 10th toughest schedule in the country aided by the 9th toughest out of conference schedule in the country. They had to play Wisconsin, Oregon and Gonzaga on a neutral court, North Carolina on the road and Kansas State at home. Their one questionable loss is at Mississippi State in conference and they have back to back wins against Kentucky and Kansas State at the end of January. All 4 of their remaining games are not only winnable, but they will improve their overall numbers as well. 19-12 and 11-7 in the conference with already solid numbers before the 4 game winning streak would put Tennessee right there with all of the others. Beating Vanderbilt tonight at home is what has to happen first.

American

In (2) – Cincinnati, SMU
Bubble Out – Houston

 

Houston’s only game in the past 10 days was a home loss to SMU. Not a damaging loss, but one Houston definitely would have wanted to have. Tonight they host a red hot Uconn Husky team that is peaking at the right time and could be very dangerous down the stretch and in to the conference tournament. It won’t be easy.

Atlantic 10

In (2) – VCU, Dayton
Bubble Out – Rhode Island

 

Rhode Island followed up their tough home loss to Fordham with respectable road wins at George Mason and LaSalle. A good start for the Rams. Next up is a home game against VCU. If the Rams from URI win that one, and follow it up with wins at St. Joseph’s and home to Davidson, they might find themselves on the right side of the line depending on what all the teams in front of them do. They really need the win against VCU though. Their overall resume just does not hold up to the rest of the field as of now. Their best win came against Cincinnati on a neutral court back in November and they’ve also lost to their direct competition in Providence and Houston. They lost both of their match ups with Dayton and have that bad home loss to Fordham now. Did I mention they really need the win against VCU?

Missouri Valley

Bubble In (2) – Wichita State, Illinois State

 

Wichita State met with conference rival Northern Iowa this past weekend. Northern Iowa/Wichita State is without a doubt one of the best non-power conference rivalry games of the past few years. Northern Iowa is having a bit of a down year, but they came in to this past weekend’s game having won 9 of their last 10 games. Most wouldn’t have been that surprised if the game was a close one. Was it? Absolutely not. Wichita State won by 29. They followed that up by scoring 109 points in a win against Evansville. Their last regular season game is at Missouri State on Saturday.

Illinois State barely got by Loyola-Chicago at home by 2 points on Sunday and barely beat Missouri State on the road by 1 point the game before that. It seems as though Illinois State is ripe for the picking right now. Good thing for them is that their overall numbers remain strong, and they keep winning while other teams are losing. They finish up the regular season conference schedule with Southern Illinois at home before heading out to Northern Iowa which could be a scary game. I feel like if Illinois State wins their remaining two games and gets to the conference championship game and loses to Wichita State they should be safe. But I also felt like Monmouth was safe last year and we all know how that ended up. Of course Illinois State is just as good of a bet as Wichita to win the conference as well.

 

Bracket Projection

East

1. Villanova
16. Mount St. Mary’s/NC Central
8. Iowa State
9. Northwestern
5. Virginia
12. Marquette/California
4. West Virginia
13. Monmouth
6. Wisconsin
11. Middle Tennessee State
3. Duke
14. UNC Ashville
7. Minnesota
10. USC
2. Baylor
15. Furman

 

South

1. North Carolina
16. Texas Southern
8. South Carolina
9. Wichita State
5. SMU
12. Kansas State/Providence
4. Florida State
13. Princeton
6. Notre Dame
11. TCU
3. Florida
14. Belmont
7. Xavier
10. Michigan State
2. Arizona
15. Florida Gulf Coast

 

Midwest

1. Kansas
16. New Orleans/North Dakota
8. Dayton
9. Virginia Tech
5. Maryland
12. UNC Wilmington
4. Butler
13. Akron
6. Creighton
11. Illinois State
3. UCLA
14. Valparaiso
7. Oklahoma State
10. Arkansas
2. Louisville
15. North Dakota State

 

West

1. Gonzaga
16. UC Irvine
8. Miami
9. Michigan
5. Cincinnati
12. UT-Arlington
4. Purdue
13. Vermont
6. St. Mary’s
11. Nevada
3. Kentucky
14. Bucknell
7. VCU
10. Seton Hall
2. Oregon
15. Cal State Bakersfield

 

Last 4 In – Kansas State, Marquette, California, Providence

First 4 Out – Wake Forest, Syracuse, Tennessee, Rhode Island

Next 4 Out – Pittsburgh, Mississippi, Alabama, Vanderbilt

Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini

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