By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Today begins conference tournament week for the elite teams. Some mid-major teams (and Michigan) have already punched their ticket to the Big Dance, and some others will join in the next few days. Selection Sunday is only 6 days away and things are for sure starting to heat up for most teams on the bubble.
Before we dive in to where teams stand on March 5th, it’s time to get in to some technical terms that will be used below.
This season, the NCAA Tournament selection committee totally revamped their selection process and what the criteria will be that they will lean heavily on when determining which teams will be included in the field of 68, and which teams will be left out.
In year’s past, big wins were broken down by sections of the RPI. What was your record vs. the RPI top 100? Top 50? Top 25? Should a win vs. a top 50 team at home be weighted more than a top 100 team on the road? Probably not. So this season the committee started to use “Quadrants”. The Quadrants are broken down below.
Quadrant 1 – RPI 1-30 Home, 1-50 Neutral, 1-75 Away
Quadrant 2 – 31-75 H, 51-100 N, 76-135 A
Quadrant 3 – 76-160 H, 101-200 N, 136-240 A
A win at home against the 31st ranked RPI team will basically count the same as a win on the road against the 135th (both quadrant 2 wins). Sure that may seem flawed. Beating Oklahoma at home looks better on paper than beating Iowa State on the road. But this new system basically ensures that more weight is put on games away from home.
If you’re a College Basketball junkie, you’ve probably already read up on this and understand what it means. If you’re not, and you are starting to tune in because the excitement has started, you might want to brief yourself. That’s all you’ll hear the experts reference this week. You’ll be watching the tournament games and the graphics will pop up and the color commentators doing the broadcast will reference it time after time after time. And on Selection Sunday you’ll hear Jay Bilas, Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm and Gary Parrish reference it when referring to seeding and snubs as well. Hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll hear Charles Barkley fumble around with it too.
Until then, read on and soak up all the Madness.
In = The team could lose all of the rest of their games between now and March 11th 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.
In (8) – Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State
Bubble Out (3) – Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Oh what could have been for the Cardinals. Instead of getting a much needed win against Virginia last week, they let a 4-point lead with under 1 second to remain slip away. It’s been that kind of season for Louisville. They have currently lost four out of their last five games and are now 4-12 verses quadrant 1 and 2 teams. One of those wins came against a banged up Notre Dame squad on the road which the committee will take in to account. They’ll need to defeat Florida State for sure, and then probably take down #1 seed Virginia for good measure.
The Orange squeaked one out against Clemson on Saturday which looks great on paper. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Clemson is now 6-5 since losing second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Donte Grantham for the season to an injury. If you start to peel off layers (as the committee does when comparing close resume’s), the win doesn’t look as good. Still – it was better than a loss. Syracuse also has two losses to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest on the road that hurt their profile. They need to avoid a season-crushing loss to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament. North Carolina awaits the winner of that one.
There’s no denying Notre Dame’s ability when they are at full-strength. They went 1-4 without senior PG Matt Farrell and 6-9 without star Bonzie Colson. Unfortunately for the Irish, there’s not much to go off of in terms of resume right now. Even with Colson and Farrell, they lost to Ball State and Indiana. If the Irish play as well as they did at Virginia on Saturday, they might pick up the wins that the committee loves to get them over the hump. They’ll need to beat Pitt and Virginia Tech in their first two ACC tournament games to even enter the bubble conversation however.
In (4) – Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton
Almost In (1) – Butler
Bubble In (2) – Providence, Marquette
Butler is the #6 seed in the Big East tournament. That means their first game will come against Seton Hall. Even though Butler’s resume isn’t nearly as strong as they probably would hope by now, a loss to Seton Hall won’t crush them. They probably won’t like their seed, but they’ll be in the field.
This is familiar territory for the Friars. It seems as though year after year the same thing can be said about them. They have some elite wins (Villanova and Xavier at home) and some extremely bizarre losses (DePaul at home and at Umass). They are 8-9 verses quadrant 1/2 teams and have 6 wins away from home. They will play Creighton on Thursday in the Big East tournament. Win that one and they are a lock. Lose it and they are still probably in, albeit possibly in Dayton for the “First Four”.
Marquette’s resume is awfully similar to Providence’s. They are both 8-9 verses quadrant 1/2 teams and they are just under .500 on the road at 6-7. Marquette doesn’t have the elite wins that Providence has, but they also don’t have any bad losses like the Friars do. Even though the Golden Eagles went 0-6 versus Villanova, Xavier and Butler, they went 5-1 versus Providence, Creighton and Seton Hall. If they avoid a landmine loss to DePaul in the Big East tournament, they should get in regardless of what happens against Villanova in the second round. Right now I have them going to Dayton.
In (5) – Texas Tech, Kansas, West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma
Almost In (1) – Kansas State
Bubble In (1) – Texas
Bubble Out (2) – Baylor, Oklahoma State
Texas won a big game at home against West Virginia without star Freshman Mo Bamba on Saturday. Texas has 5 wins against quadrant 1 teams. A good number to have if you are on the bubble. If they can avoid a terrible loss to Iowa State in their opening game in the Big 12 tournament, they will be in the field. Lose that one and they’ll have to sweat it out.
Baylor is right on the edge of the field right now. Right now I have them as the first team out of the tournament. The reason? They are 4-9 away from home. Two of those four wins were neutral court games as well. 2-9 in true road games just won’t cut it when comparing teams at this point in the season. They are so close however, that a win against West Virginia will probably put them over the edge.
Oklahoma State is a very intriguing team right now. They now are 9-13 versus quadrant 1/2 teams after completing the season sweep of Kansas. Their RPI is very high (88) by bubble standards, but that’s in large part due to their out of conference strength of schedule (283th in the country). That’s what happens when you play 4 teams with RPI’s in the 300’s at home. They beat Florida State on a neutral court back in December and along with sweeping Kansas have won at West Virginia and have avoided any bad losses. If only they had won their SEC/Big 12 matchup at Arkansas (they lost by 1). They open with a reeling Oklahoma team in the Big 12 tournament then will get their 3rd opportunity against Kansas. Win that one and it’ll be awfully tough to omit the Cowboys from the field. I personally don’t have them in the field yet, but I understand why some would. Their big wins are very hard to ignore. They will be a great test to see what the committee places more emphasis on. Big wins or your overall body of work and strength of schedule. The target seems to move each year however.
In (4) – Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan
Bubble Out (2) – Nebraska, Penn State
Penn State played well in the Big 10 tournament, getting all the way to the semifinals. If they did make the tournament, I could see the Nittany Lions winning a game and getting to the second round. The problem is their resume doesn’t stack up against other bubble teams and neither does Nebraska’s. It’ll be a long week for both teams.
In (1) – Arizona
Bubble In (3) – Arizona State, UCLA, USC
Bubble Out (2) – Utah, Washington
The Sun Devils blew right through their out of conference schedule, going 12-0 and beating Kansas, Xavier and Kansas State along the way. All wins were away from home as well. Since then, Arizona State has gone 8-10 in conference play including being swept by Stanford and losing at Oregon State. What is saving them is their 7-6 record away from home. Currently I have them as the last at-large team avoiding a trip to Dayton. They have a very tricky game against Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament and if they lose that one, all bets are off and the doors open up to other bubble teams.
UCLA was on the wrong side of the bubble just a few days ago, but picked up a key win at USC on Saturday night. UCLA’s only blemish is a road loss at Oregon State, but they’ve now swept USC, beat Kentucky on a neutral court and won at Arizona. If they can get by the winner of Stanford/Cal, they should be in.
USC is currently my second-to-last team in the field after their home loss to UCLA on Saturday night. They are 8-9 versus quadrant 1/2 teams but when you peel away their resume, none of those 8 wins really excite you. Those wins consist of a road win at Vanderbilt and neutral court wins against Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State out of conference, a road win at Colorado and sweeps of Oregon and Utah in conference. They don’t nearly have the elite level wins that other bubble teams do. They also lost at home to Princeton. So why are they in the field right now you ask? They are 9-6 away from home. By far the best record of any bubble team. They will play the winner of Washington/Oregon State in what could be an elimination game for both the Trojans and the Huskies.
Utah clinched the #3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and will play the winner of Oregon/Washington State. Utah went on a nice run to end the season, winning 6 of their last 7 games. They only have 5 wins against quadrant 1/2 teams which is nothing in comparison to other bubble teams and are hanging their hat on a home win versus Missouri in November. They’ll need to do some work in the Pac-12 tournament, which they are completely capable of doing.
Not too long ago I had Washington in the field. Their top-level wins at Kansas and USC and Arizona at home were just too much to ignore. They finished poorly, going 3-5 with losses at Oregon State and at home to Oregon and are only 5-8 versus quadrant 1/2 teams to this point. If I’m omitting Oklahoma State and Baylor given their elite wins, how can I include Washington?
In (7) – Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Texas A&M
Bubble In (1) – Alabama
Bubble Out (1) – Mississippi State
The Tide are currently my last at-large team in the field. A 17-14 record with 5 straight losses is not the best way to win over the committee, that’s for sure. They do have 5 quadrant 1 wins, which is tied for the most among bubble teams with Texas and Oklahoma State. What sets them apart from Oklahoma State is that their out of conference strength of schedule is at 28 compared to OK State’s 283. 14 losses is a gigantic number, but there’s something to be said for testing yourself out of conference. I get that strength of schedule shouldn’t be the end all, be all, but when teams are this close it needs to count for something. One of Alabama’s losses was by 5 to Minnesota when the Gophers were a top 25 team in the country and the Tide had to finish the game with 3 guys on the court. There has to be some kind of human element or common sense involved here. They’ve also beaten Rhode Island, Texas A&M, Auburn, Oklahoma, Florida and Tennessee. They could have been playing the Pepperdine’s, Houston Baptist’s and Mississippi Valley State’s of the world like Oklahoma State, but instead tested themselves against tougher competition. I’m banking on that counting for something when rubber hits the road. They open with Texas A&M, a team they just lost to by 2 points on the road on Saturday. If they lose that one, I don’t see them getting in at 17-15. If they win that one, I think they are safe. Big game.
Mississippi State started to make waves as a bubble team after winning three in a row including at Texas A&M. Since then they’ve lost to Tennessee at home and at LSU by 21. They are 5-10 vs quadrant 1/2 teams and are only 3-8 on the road. If Oklahoma State isn’t getting in, Mississippi State has no shot. Well as of now anyway. If they run all the way to the SEC title game with wins over LSU, Tennessee and the winner of Florida/Arkansas, then we can talk. Until then? No.
In (3) – Cincinnati, Wichita State, Houston
In (1) – Nevada
Bubble Out (1) – Boise State
Boise State has only 5 quadrant 1/2 wins and those are made up entirely of quadrant 2 wins. They don’t have any elite wins, and while they don’t have any back-breaking losses, one win against conference titan Nevada would have been nice. Even a run to the conference final doesn’t seem like it will be enough.
In (2) – St. Mary’s, Gonzaga
Bubble In (1) – Middle Tennessee
Right now I have Middle Tennessee in the field as the winner of their conference. It will be a much harder decision to put the Blue Raiders in the field if they falter in the C-USA tournament. They were cruising right along, winning 11 in a row before losing their regular season finale to Marshall at home, which was their second of the season to the Herd. They are 5-4 against quadrant 1/2 teams and even have 2 quadrant 3 losses now (Marshall and Belmont at home). They lost very close games to both USC and Miami in the Hawaii Christmas Tournament, and anyone with a set of eyes knows that this team is a tournament team. They’ve even proven that the last 2 years beating Michigan State two years ago as a 15-seed and Minnesota last year as a 12. Yes, what you’ve done in past years is not a criteria for getting in to this years’ tournament so I’m hoping they just take care of business again in their conference tournament and we get to see Giddy Potts terrorize power-6 teams one more year.
In (1) – Rhode Island
Almost In (1) – St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure is making it harder and harder to keep them out of the field. The Bonnies have now won 12-straight games and are peaking at the right time. Their worst loss was to Niagara at home by 2 points without their best player Jaylen Adams. They are now 11-5 away from home. Yes, beating George Mason, LaSalle and Duquesne on the road should not carry the same weight as a Big 12 road win should. That much is obvious. But they’ve also beaten Syracuse and Buffalo on the road and Vermont on a neutral court. Their lack of elite wins will not keep them out of the field, it will only affect their seeding. Unless they win the Atlantic-10 tournament, their seed ceiling is probably a 10. But they should feel safe about getting in, barring a disaster of a loss to the Richmond/Duquesne winner of course.
* Indicates team has won automatic bid into tournament by way of winning their conference tournament.
9. Florida State
4. Texas Tech
7. Seton Hall
10. St. Bonaventure
12. South Dakota State
13. UNC Greensboro
7. Texas A&M
10. North Carolina State
2. Michigan State
9. Virginia Tech
5. Ohio State
4. Wichita State
13. Murray State*
11. Middle Tennessee State
14. Wright State
10. Kansas State
16. Hampton/SE Louisiana
8. St. Mary’s
5. West Virginia
13. New Mexico State
6. Rhode Island
11. Arizona State
2. North Carolina
15. UC Davis
LAST 4 AVOIDING DAYTON – St. Bonaventure, Texas, Providence, Arizona State
HEADED TO DAYTON – UCLA, Marquette, USC, Alabama
FIRST 4 OUT – Baylor, Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Washington
STILL IN IT/WORK LEFT TO DO – Louisville, Utah, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Oregon, Boise State
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini