"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
I'm relaxing and watching hoops this afternoon. I'm feeling like a slacker, however, and I am not putting together a 2,000-word plus Bubble News, even though relevant action abounds today relative to Michigan's tournament chances.
I don't know if folks wanted to rap about hoops or not, but, if you do, let's chat.
Here are a few opening salvos:
If you need a complete list of games and rooting interests,Dylan at UM Hoops has compiled one for you. Some nice discussions ensued in the comments section, the latest being insights on an intriguing bubble exercise the folks on GameDay did involving Michigan. By all means, chat hoops there too. If you can't handle two different hoop discussions, you are soft. And, you wont survive the next two weeks.
One simple win over Purdue completely redirected opinion on Michigan's chances. While the Wolverines are still a long way away from being a consensus invite from the Bracket Matrix, 20 brackets have updated since the convincing win over the Boilers and 12 of them have Michigan on a bracket line.
One of those brackets is Joe Lunardi at espn.com. Lunardi has Michigan seeded 11 and the last team in his field. He has them matched up with LSU and a date with #3 seed Duke looming. Any thoughts on that draw? Also, check out this interview he did yesterday after releasing his update. It's a solid perspective on the national landscape, but he saved his most intriguing observsation for last: next Saturday's game at Minnesota might be an at large elimination game.
As the noon games begin their second halves, there is really only one bubble game going on and that's Georgetown at Villanova. At 14-12, 5-10 in the Big East, it's hard to say the Hoyas have a chance and keep a straight face. But, they close with a pair of league lightweights and currently have the nation's #1 SOS. If they can steal a road win in Phily today, they will likely finish at 17-12. They could sneak in with a pair of league tournament wins. A loss today forces them to go much farther in the Big East Tournament to get a bid, with perhaps winning it all being their only way to entry. The Hoyas are up 5 at the half against the solidly favored Wildcats. I still think Villanova comes back and wins this one. So much so that I just put some coin on them -6.5 on the second half time.
I'm also keeping my eye on Cleveland State at Butler, over on ESPN2. Butler will get an at large bid even if it cant win its league tournament, so next week we'll be pulling very hard for the Bulldogs. In the regular season closer today, they're facing one of the teams that might pick them off. I'm really just pointing the game out because way back on December 3 when these teams first played, I suffered unquestionably my worst beat of the year. In a pick 'em, I had the Vikings, and Butler drained a 25-footer as time expired to come from behind and win. I swear it took 10 seconds from release to swish. That was almost three months ago. Its hard to believe its even from the same season. This afternoon, Butler is going for the outright crown and up 6 at the break. If you want a complete look at how the mid majors are currently impacting the bubble, Joe Cribbs Car Wash has you covered.
In the next set of games, the big bubble game is Notre Dame at Uconn. The Irish have won four of five to rope themselves back into contention for a bid. The next 50 hours will tell a lot about Notre Dame's ultimate tale. After today, they host Villanova Monday night. Conventional wisdom in DomerVille is that a 2-1 record to close the season and a 2-1 BE Tourney record will get them in the field. That sounds like something worth rooting against.
And, I will be watching Clemson at Florida State. The game is a pick 'em, and I really, really like Florida State. Oh boy!
I'll have a few updates as the day goes on. Let's talk hoops.
The heavy action of the day is about to begin. If you're controlling the remote today, here's what to keep an eye on:
Arizona at Washington, 3pm, FSN. Line, UW -8.5
Arizona has lost two in a row and now they play the best team in the league. The Cats need this one. They're a solid looking # 8 in the Matrix, but of the 20 brackets updated since Thursday, 12 have Arizona as a double digit seed. They'll be on the edge of the cut line if a third straight loss occurs today. They close at home against Cal and Stanford. Observers said the Cats looked disinterested in their game at Wassau Thursday night, so it will be interesting to see how they come out today.
Duke at Virginia Tech, 330, ABC. Line, Duke -6.5
Virginia Tech picked themselves off the mat with their win over Clemson this week. The Hokies are the final team cut out of the Matrix and are in one more field than Michigan of the 20 updated since Thursday. They close with Duke, UNC and at FSU. How many of those do they need to feel solid about a bid. Perhaps just one, if they dont got 0-1 in the ACC Tournament. The Hokies have a history of playing Duke tough and with close to half their games this year decided by 5 or less, expect this one to be dramatic and down to the wire.
LSU at UK, 4pm, CBS. Line, UK -4.5
I'm going to pat myself on the back right here. Throughout all the Bubble News editions, I touted LSU as the most talented team in the SEC. This week, they clinched the league title. Monsiour Jamie Mac, Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler! Here's hoping it stays that way as a road win in Lexington today would be a huge dagger through the heart of Kentucky's NCAA hopes. I cant shake the feeling that of UK, Florida and Tennessee, only two will make the field. The Gators and Vols square off tomorrow, so a Wildcat loss today would probably give bubble teams a pair of vulnerable SEC teams to pick off during the final week. The Cats are a soap opera. Gillespie is coaching like Rick Moranis. All I know is I dont want to be in Billy Clyde's shoes if UK ends up in the NIT. Unless LSU is still celebrating their crown I dont think UK has the chops today to get it done.
Ohio State at Purdue, 4pm, ESPN. Line, PU -9.5
Lets consider the Big 10 standings, and not the NCAA Bubble, for this one. With a Michigan win tomorrow and an Ohio State loss today, Michigan would rise to fifth in the league standings. Throw in a Penn State loss to Indiana (I saw a Crean and Crimson shirt at the gym this morning. Gotta be a good omen, right?) and Michigan would be in fourth place. Intriguing.
Temple at Dayton, 5pm, no TV. Line, DU -3
Temple had been steadily climbing the bubble until their awful loss to LaSalle on Thursday. They're fifth to last out according to the Matrix, but none of the 20 brackets since Thursday have included the Owls. Dayton has been in the field the whole way and the most recent bracketology straw poll has them as a double digit seed. The loser falls to fourth place in the Atlantic 10. Can you see an at large coming from that position? Dayton closes at Xavier and home vs. Duquense. I'm not trying to be a Chicken Little, but the Flyers cant afford a losing streak here at the end of the season.
Utah at BYU, 5pm, no TV. Line, BYU -6
Both these teams are solidly in the field at this point. BYU is the only vulnerable one of these two. If the Cougars lose today, once more in the final week and flames out early in the league tournament, they could get bounced. I would actually expect that happen under those circumstances.
Texas at Oklahoma State, 6pm, ESPN. Line, OSU -1
One of the biggest bubbles games of the day. The Cowboys sit as a #12 in the Matrix. A big win tonight could move them so far up the bracket lines that only a tailspin to close the season can get them out of.
Nebraska at Kansas State, 8pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, KSU -8
Like the Cowboys, the Wildcats are on the Matrix 12 line. They cant afford a loss or else teams will pass them. KSU players seem to writing their own at large bid obit, after getting blown out by Missouri the other night. The Big 12 schedule makers should get a cookie for this one. One Tuesday, KState travels to Oklahoma State in one of the most important bubble games of the final week. That game becomes more desperate if either the Pokes or the Cats lose at home today.
USC at Stanford, 8pm, no TV. Line, Stanford -2
Michigan sits solidly ahead of the Trojans in most people's minds. But, the Trojans close with a pair of layups at home against the Oregon schools. A win today could lead to a three game winning streak to end the season. Add a fourth win in the Pac 10 and you've got a hot, 20-win team. You see where I am going with this, dont you? Go Cardinal. Pretend it's football and 2007.
Here is a look at every team in the NCAA and whether we want them to win or not:
(Rankings are based on RPI as of Saturday Morning 2/28; parenthesis enclose Pairwise Ranking)
1. Boston University (1)-Win: There is no chance of Michigan catching BU, so it would be nice if they could knock down some other Hockey East teams (i.e. Northeastern)
2. Notre Dame (3)-Lose: We trail them, we have the opportunity to catch them, and they're Notre Dame
3. Michigan (4)-Win: Obvious
4. Northeastern (5)-Lose: If Northeastern does well in their conference tournament, they may pass us
5. Denver (2)-Lose: They lead us in the Pairwise and we stand a good chance of passing them if they lose once, as every remaining game they have should come against Pairwise top-25 teams.
6. Vermont (t-6)-Lose: Like Northeastern, they too have a fair chance to pass us. However, unless they win out, we should be ok.
7. Yale (t-6)-Win: We have a solid lead over them in our comparison and they have a shot at winning comparisons against
Denver, Northeastern, and Vermont, which would boost or secure Michigan's ranking.
8. New Hampshire (t-8)-Lose: When I say lose here, I mean that we don't want New Hampshire to win the Hockey East Tournament. Unless they do that, we should stay in front of them. Also, it would be nice to see UNH upset some higher ranked teams.
9. North Dakota (t-8)-Lose: North Dakota is surging. They probably won't pass us, but even if they don't, it would be nice if they lost some momentum going into the NCAA tournament.
10. Princeton (10)-Win: Another team that can't catch us but could hurt other teams. However, Yale can do a better job of this so we want Yale over Princeton.
11. Cornell (11)-Mixed: Can't really do anything for us but if they lose to Yale and/or Princeton, it'll help our cause indirectly. That said, they don't really matter.
12. Minn-Duluth (t-12)-Win: They play other WCHA teams that we want devalued. They also aren't a threat.
13. Miami (t-12)-Lose: Thanks to OSU, we have a secure comparison here. However, it would be nice for some security in the 2-spot of the CCHA standings (if we beat Ferris State tonight, this point becomes moot).
14. Ohio State (14)-Lose: They're Ohio State
15. Colorado College (t-15)-Win: Like Minn-Duluth, they could knock down some other WCHA teams ranked above them
16. St. Lawrence (t-15)-Mixed: Same as Cornell, but when they win, our RPI improves
17. Minnesota (17)-Lose: We currently hold the #4 overall seed. Should Minnesota make the tournament, we would probably play them in the first round at their home rink. This would suck.
18. Boston College (18)-Win: Another Hockey East team that could screw over teams ranked ahead of them.
19. Wisconsin (t-19)-Win: Another WCHA team that could hurt teams above it. Also, we want Minnesota State to lose, and they play Minnesota State.
20. Air Force (t-19)-Win: You never root against the Air Force
21. St. Cloud State (21)-Win: Same as Wisconsin. Also, they play Denver tonight.
22. UMass-Lowell (22)-Win: Another Hockey East team that could screw over teams ranked ahead of them.
23. Alaska (23)-Win: We'd be indifferent, but they're playing Alaska-Anchorage, whom we want to lose.
24. Rochester Institute of Technology (24)-Indifferent: They play such a low level of competition that they have no bearing on us.
25. Minnesota State (25)-Lose: Minn State provides a lot of TUC wins to WCHA teams, including Denver. If they're knocked out of the top 25 RPI, Denver falls below us.
26. Dartmouth (NR)-Win: Pass Minn State
27. Massachusetts (NR)-Lose: We don't want a weak Hockey East team in the top 25 or the rest of Hockey East gets a boost in their TUC records
28. Northern Michigan (NR)-Lose: If NMU makes the top 25, Michigan gets 2 losses in their TUC record. It also makes for a crappy comparison.
29. Alaska-Anchorage (NR)-Lose: They add wins in the TUC column of the rest of the WCHA if they make it into the top 25.
30. Nebraska-Omaha (NR)-Win: If they make it into the top 25, Michigan gets 2 more TUC wins.
36. Michigan State (NR)-Lose: FYS
Everyone else: Play the spoiler against teams that aren't us.
Update: With Alaska's loss to Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska now is on the cusp of falling out of the Pairwise. Should this happen, Michigan moves into third place behind Notre Dame. Furthermore, Notre Dame loses credit for a sweep against a TUC. This will lead to a highly interesting scenario where Notre Dame will get a one seed if they get two wins against TUCs or a loss in the second round.
In March of 1987, Platoon won the Oscar for Best Picture, U2’s Joshua Tree rocked the radio airwaves and Les Miserables debuted on Broadway.
In college basketball, Purdue and Michigan hooked up in the regular season finale at Crisler Arena in a game dripping with Big 10 Title and NCAA Bubble implications.
Does that sound familiar? Twenty-two years ago, these two proud Big 10 basketball programs played a game with basically the same stakes that are on the line tonight.
For the nuance-inclined, subtle differences exist between tonight’s scenario and 1987. Both games close the Crisler season, but in 1987 it was also the final game of the season. Two games, plus the league tournament, remain for both teams to play this season. In 1987, Purdue had already clinched a share of the title, but needed to beat Michigan to claim the outright championship, or else share it with hated Indiana. This season, Purdue trails the title chase by a game. If they keep winning, the Boilers likely will force a winner-take-all showdown against Michigan State in next week season’s finale. Michigan’s place on the bubble was not exactly the same either. Since it was the final game of the season, Michigan was in a ‘won or else’ mode that day in 1987. Win or lose tonight, Michigan still has some season left to win or lose a bid.
Those details aside, though, it’s hard to shake the comparison at how similar the situations appear 22 years apart as we head into tonight’s critical contest. And, I don’t need a better reason to wax poetic about Michigan sports history, so let’s jump in the Way Back Machine and revisit 1987, when, by the way, I was in the middle of my freshman year in high school.
A Rebuilding Season for Michigan
The 1986-87 basketball season was a transition year for the Michigan program. Fresh off back-to-back Big 10 titles, the Wolverines were playing without stars Roy Tarpley, Butch Wade and Richard Rellford for the first time in four seasons. Coach Bill Frieder had lined up an impressive recruiting class, but blue chip products Terry Mills and Rumeal Robinson both had the sit out the year due to Proposition 48 standards.
The cupboard was hardly bare, however. Michigan had four-year starter Antoine ‘The Judge’ Joubert to lean on. Gary Grant and Glen Rice, the last two Big 10 Freshman of the Year award winners, were in the rotation as was sharp shooting Garde Thompson, who took advantage of the newly introduced three-point shot to boost his scoring production for the team. Underclassmen Mark Hughes and Loy Vaught stepped in to front court positions for the vacated seniors, but those two were just solid role players at that point in their careers, not guys ready to carry a team from the center or power forward positions.
Still, that’s a pretty talented squad. What if you dropped that core of players into the Big 10 today? I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to state they would win the Big 10. But, back then, in a testament to the strength of college basketball in general and the power of the Big 10 in specific, the 1986-87 Wolverines struggled because they did not have the top to bottom fire power of the league elites that season like Purdue, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa all of whom began the year in the AP top 15. Despite a lineup that in retrospect looks pretty darn good, Michigan hovered around the .500 mark in league play for much of the season.
Struggling out of the Gate
Michigan fans found out early on in the season just how short handed the program was compared to the two previous seasons. The Maize and Blue slogged their way through their pre-conference schedule. Suffering a pair of bad losses to Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee State, Michigan entered Big 10 play with just a 6-3 record. To compare, the previous two seasons saw Michigan rack up a combined 18-1 record in pre-Big 10 play.
The team continued their ragged and flat play once the league season began, dropping three of the first four Big 10 games. The final game in that run was a heartbreaking loss to Indiana at Crisler. IU had dominated Michigan, carving out a 51-34 halftime lead. Spurred by the hot second half shooting of Joubert and Thompson, both of whom up ended with 20 points, the Wolverines clawed their way back into the game and managed to forge a one point lead in the closing seconds. Hoosier marksman Steve Alford drilled a shot as time expired to drive a dagger through Michigan’s heart. I can still see IU coach Bobby Knight sprinting and laughing his way off the court. He had no love loss for Frieder and the Wolverines, and he knew his charges had stolen a big game on the road.
The loss dropped the club to 7-6 overall. After dominating the Big 10 for two years, Michigan would be in scramble mode the rest of the season just to make it back into the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan did rebound from that killer defeat and reeled off six straight wins to close out January. The highlight of that run was a high scoring 91-88 win over top ranked Syracuse. Armed with Sherman Douglass, Howard Triche and Rony Seikaly, not to mention super freshman and Detroit product Derek Coleman, the Orange came into Crisler Arena right as Michigan’s season was heading south. Behind 23-point games from Grant and Thompson and another 19 from Rice, the Wolverines sprung the upset in one of the best games ever played at Crisler Arena. The win helped spark the winning streak that got the Maize and Blue back into the tournament discussion.
Unfortunately, Michigan found consistency hard to discover that winter. They fell hard in most of their road games. They had spent two full seasons thumping their league brethren, but spent the 1987 Big 10 campaign getting their comeuppance from all those teams bent on revenge. February trips to Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State all resulted in lopsided losses. Even a bad Michigan State team thumped the Wolverines, torching them for 91 points in a blowout victory at the venerable Jenison Fieldhouse. When Michigan dropped a home game to Illinois by 14 points on March 4, Michigan fell to 18-11 overall, and a mediocre 9-8 in league play. The program had lost just six conference games the previous two seasons combined, but fell eight times—with most of the defeats being fairly one sided—in 1987.
How to Clinch a Bid with Style
Heading into the season finale, the season was not dead. The conventional wisdom of the day held that a spot in the NCAA field was Michigan’s if they could secure just one more win. No other Big 10 team with a 10-8 record had ever been denied a bid in the years since the league was allowed to send more than one team to the tournament. Michigan’s path to the tournament was clear. Win and they would be in the field.
One slight problem stood in their way: The Purdue Boilermakers. The Boilers had a sweet team that season. They entered the game with a heady #3 national ranking. They dominated most of the Big 10 with a trio of scorers: Troy Lewis, a deadly long range shooter, Everette Stephenson, a lanky, long player in the mold of Tayshaun Prince and Todd Mitchell, a Toledo, Ohio product with an above-the-rim game to backup his steady mid range jumpers. Behind these three, the Boilers quickly took the mantle from Michigan as the team to beat in the Big 10. Almost two months to day, the Boilers destroyed Michigan at Mackey Arena, cruising to an easy 89-77 win.
Purdue had already clinched a share of the Big 10 Title, but they would not be resting on their laurels in the finale in Ann Arbor. With a loss, they would be forced to share the crown with arch rival Indiana. That was something the Boilers would have liked to have avoided.
Instead, Purdue stepped in front of a Maize and Blue buzz saw. With their season and tourney bid hopes on the line, Michigan played its best game of the season. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Wolverines dominated the Big 10 Champs. A 25-5 run during the first half paved the way to a 48-21 halftime lead. Michigan did not let up in the second half and held leads as high as 38 points three different times in the contest. When the final horn sounded, Michigan had a convincing 104-68 win.
A Grand Finale for the Judge
The maestro of the afternoon for Michigan was Joubert. The Judge, playing in his last game at Crisler Arena dropped 30 points on the Boilers.
Joubert came to Ann Arbor amid tons of hype. One of the best scorers in Detroit Public School League history, Joubert was a product of Detroit Southwestern and followed his teammate Rellford to Michigan. With his light skin and curly hair, Joubert carried a suave Creole look. He was unmistakable. Stories regularly flew around that he would enter pubs around Ann Arbor wearing a fur coat. His fashion statement on the court often involved wearing multiple wrist bands up and down his arms.
He had a nice college career, but Joubert struggled to live up to the big time billing people had tagged him with as an incoming freshmen. When he was on, he could fill it up with the best of him. When he was not, he drove Michigan fans crazy with his shot selection and lackadaisical attention to detail relative to the other parts of the game. Do you remember Kelly Tripuka? As a pro with the Pistons, Tripuka often would drop 20-25 points and do so without grabbing a rebound and dishing out an assist. That was Joubert’s game as well. He also was a bit chunky. He famously feuded with Michigan State guard Scott Skiles who once chided him as ‘fat boy’ during one of their games against each other.
In his Crisler Arena Swan Song, Joubert had his game rocking. He drove to the goal finishing with finger roll lay-ups, banked home mid-range jumpers and killed the Boilers from long range draining six three pointers. It was a fitting home finale for one of Michigan’s more compelling players in program history.
A few hours after the Purdue game, the Selection Committee unveiled the brackets. The good news for Michigan was their dismantling of Purdue had indeed put them into the field. The bad news was that as a #9 seed, they drew Navy and David Robinson in the first round. And, with a win, they would play #1 seed North Carolina in Charlotte. It was a tough a draw as anyone else received for the first weekend of play.
The momentum from the Purdue win carried over into the first round game against the Naval Academy. Michigan broke open a close game by dominating the second half en route to a 97-82 win. Thompson drilled 9 treys and Loy Vaught punctuated the game with a thunderous dunk in the final minute that snapped the rim from the backboard. The next morning in class, all the Ohio State fans were crying that Vaught deserved a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Whatever.
North Carolina proved a different story, kicking Michigan out of the tournament with a 109-97 victory. The Heels scored the game’s first 12 points and never looked back. Michigan did get to within 6 early in the second half, but the Heels kicked it up a second notch and the Wolverines never threatened.
Despite an uneven season and a blowout loss eliminating them from the tournament, Michigan had planted the seeds for another great team. With Mills and Robinson in the fold the following year, the Wolverines crashed the Sweet Sixteen. We all know what happened in 1989.
Yet, I have a soft spot for the 1987 crew that bridged the gap between great UM teams. And, I’ll never forget Joubert’s flair or his scoring binge in his final game at Crisler that shot the Wolverines into the Big Dance.
Here’s hoping that the Wolverines get a similar effort tonight as again they try to shoot themselves into the tournament and shoot the Boilermakers out of Big 10 title contention.
The obituary for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament hopes has not been finalized. However, a rough draft sits on the copy editor’s desk.
The loss Sunday at Iowa crippled Michigan’s steady climb up the bubble. Heading into the game, a clear majority of the brackets that had updated when the weekend began had Michigan in the field. They had reached the final cut line in the Bracket Matrix. Michigan appeared to control their own fate as far as winning games and snaring a tournament bid. The road map to ending the tournament drought was clear: cobble together a .500 league mark and don’t lose their first round Big 10 tournament game. Achieve that, and it would be March Madness time.
The Iowa loss changed those dynamics. Michigan’s fall from the graces of the bracketologists was steep. At ESPN, Joe Lunardi dropped UM from the last team in the field to eighth from last out of the field. The Bracket Junkie dropped Michigan 10 spots from a comfortable seventh to last In, to third to last Out. Michigan is back in the Bracket Project’s NIT Field. With 18 days until Selection Sunday, Michigan is getting its sparsest support of the season among the mock bracket crowd. With a total of just six mock invites (a number that certainly will decline today as some of those which still have Michigan on a bracket line have yet to update post Iowa loss), the Wolverines are no longer even in the group of last eight teams cut from the Matrix field.
Basically, the Iowa loss was entering a job interview with your fly down. Or mustard on your shirt. Or liquor on your breath. Something akin to all of that. The result being Michigan’s resume has now been cast aside and all sorts of other at large bid candidates have now seemingly passed the Wolverines.
Michigan’s tournament math has changed. If Michigan wins two of three to close out the season and gets to the magical .500 mark in the Big 10, will that be enough to pass teams now ahead of them? Clubs like Maryland, Kansas State, UAB, Oklahoma St, Temple, Texas A/M are suddenly all ahead of Michigan. Notre Dame, Providence, Cincinnati, Miami and Virginia Tech are in the mix, arguably even or ahead of Michigan at this point. Before the Iowa loss, the thought was Michigan needed three wins to get in. That number may need to be upped to four. Michigan might need a win against MSU in a 1/8 game in the Big 10 quarterfinals in order to pass some of the teams ahead of them in the pecking order.
There has been a smattering of good news since the Iowa loss. Georgetown is more cooked than Michigan after Louisville throttled them Monday night. Florida, a Matrix 9 seed, lost to LSU last night. The Gators close with three straight against fellow SEC bubble teams, and they're staring down the barrel of the NIT gun. Penn St, a matrix 11, fell last night to Ohio State and San Diego State, a matrix 12, lost at home to BYU.
One glaring negative from last night was Providence’s impressive win over top ranked Pittsburgh. That’s as big a win as any other bubble team will get from here on out. The Friars, like Michigan, are trailing the pack, but last night’s win sets them up for perhaps the biggest surge up the chart among all the bubble teams.
That, of course, is not good news for Michigan. It’s unclear if Michigan getting to 9-9 in the Big 10 will put them in any better position than they are today if things around the country do not change. Luckily, the beauty of this chase is that things don’t stay the same. Bubble tracking might be the most fluid situation in sports. So, against the backdrop of a fast drying Wolverine obituary, here’s a rundown of rooting interests for the busiest night of hoops before the weekend.
Kentucky at South Carolina, 7pm, EPSN Full Court. Line, Pick
When a pair of 10 seeds in the Bracket Matrix square off this late in the season, then you know it’s a big bubble contest. Paradoxically, it’s also a game with first place in the SEC East on the line. The Gamecocks have lived on the edge all season, pulling out wins throughout the season (including earlier in the year in Lexington) in their final possession. The Cats, meanwhile, have been carried by Jodie Meeks. I don’t think either team is in trouble with a loss tonight, but consider each of their slates from here on out. UK has LSU, at UGA and at Florida. South Carolina goes at Vandy, Tenn and at UGA. Both teams may be safe by splitting their final four and picking up a win in the SEC Tournament. But, there are traps out there and the loser tonight will walk a fine line on the bubble. Michigan fans should root against the loser tonight the rest of the way.
Rutgers at Notre Dame, 7pm, EPSNU. Line, ND -14.5
By all accounts, the Irish should just roll right past the Scarlet Knights. However, when you’re a sub par defensive outfit, every game has the possibility to be an adventure. If the Irish want to make a late charge into the tournament, perhaps Mike Brey should play Zach Hillestand less. I don’t think they’re in too much trouble tonight, especially if they play like they did against Louisville and Providence. Like Michigan, Notre Dame is not in the final eight cut from the Matrix Field. Unlike Michigan, they’re trending upwards. In the scheme of things, this game might only be important should the Irish lose and absorb a bad loss. Their next two are biggies: at UConn and home against Villanova, Saturday and Monday respectively. If they win tonight, lose those two and win their closer against St Johns, the Irish will be 17-13, 8-10 in the Big East. Does that get them? Discuss.
Dayton at Rhode Island, 7pm, no TV. Line, URI -6
The Flyers look secure, with an 8 seed in the Matrix and a gaudy 24-5 record. However, the Flyers had a dreadful-looking loss to St Louis over the weekend and now face the hardest four game closing stretch in the A-10, beginning with a tricky road game tonight at URI. Dayton has won five games since the start of January by 3 points or less. Can they stay on the right side of ledger tonight followed by Temple, at Xavier, and Duquense? Will the sky start to fall on the Flyer’s tournament hopes? Splitting those games might push Dayton far enough down the bubble that an early exit from the A-10 could be lethal. If they do worse than split, they might have some work to do in that tournament to qualify for the NCAAs.
Virginia Tech at Clemson, 7:30pm, ESPN2. Line, Clemson -10
Somebody needs to throw the Hokies a life vest. They’ve lost three in a row and are about to be drenched in a Tsunami of ACC power teams. After tonight, Virginia Tech takes on Duke, UNC and Florida State to close out the season. The good news for Tech is if they can split those four games, they would have a .500 ACC record and enough late season big wins to surge into the field. The bad news is the run down the stretch has to come against four of the nation’s top teams. Any Hokie hot streak from here on out will drastically change the bubble picture in their favor. However, the Hokies are fading fast, a predicament traced back to their first meeting with Clemson last month.
Duke at Maryland, 9pm, ESPN. Line, Duke -6
When these teams played last month, the outcome was probably the most embarrassing result a Gary Williams-led team ever faced. The storyline is simple tonight for Maryland: Payback and settling an old score. Historically speaking, the Terrapins have a nice history of avenging blowout losses. The Terps are the Cat’s Meow after their take down of UNC over the weekend. After banishment all winter long, Maryland jumped from non contender to a consensus 12 seed in the Matrix. Two out of every three mock brackets place the Terrapins in their field. The question is can they keep that momentum going? If they lose tonight and again over the weekend at Wake Forest, can Maryland keep those mock invites? Not likely, especially if other teams surge this week. Nevertheless a win tonight or against the Deacons will go a long way to cementing Maryland’s position in the field. Considering where this program was when February started, it might be one of Williams’ better coaching achievements.
Kansas State at Missouri, 9:30pm, EPSNU. Line, Missouri -9
Looking for a darkhorse team who could play deep into March? Introduce yourself to Missouri, one of the most efficient offenses in the land. We’ll see where this team gets seeded, but I could see an Elite Eight trip. However, this is bubble talk, so let’s move on to the Kansas State Wildcats. Despite winning eight of their last nine games, KSU still has not convinced a majority of bracketologists. While they’re a 12 seed in the latest Matrix, KSU is clearly the last team in the tournament based on that comprehensive metric. Less than 40 percent of the brackets tracked have KSU in their field. They had to climb out of a 0-4 Big 12 hole and have nothing but weak losses on their OOC slate. A win tonight gives them a sweep of the Tigers and likely cements their spot in the field with a manageable slate down the stretch. A loss, though, might sap up all their remaining support and without any obvious big ticket scalps out there, who knows if they will reappear on anybody’s radar? The Cats have won four league road games in a row for the first time in 30 years. Tonight, that streak goes up against an undefeated team at home. Time to break out the something has got to give cliché.
Mississippi St at Tennessee, 9pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Tennessee -9
The Vols play at South Carolina and at Florida in their next two games, so they could find themselves in a boatload of trouble if they fail to hold serve tonight against the Bulldogs. The Vols have backed themselves into a corner.I can offer one tip to the Vols. If you want to swing yourself out of said corner, try the novel approach of actually listening to your coach. If they can’t get by MSU tonight, they’ll be on a three game losing streak and staring at consecutive road games against teams ahead of them in the standings. While they’re a consensus 9 seed in the Matrix right now, where will they be if this is just the middle of a losing streak? Michigan and other bubble teams could use a Volunteer losing streak.
UNLV at Utah, 10pm, no TV. Line, Utah -5
All winter, four Mountain West Conference teams have belligerently stuck around in most bracketologists fields. Maybe, just maybe, the worm is finally turning on this one. SDSU’s loss last night was big for teams on the bubble. The same could be said should UNLV lose this evening in Salt Lake City. The Rebels are an 11 seed in the Matrix, but a loss tonight drops them to 8-6 in league play. I still don’t think a MWC team hovering near a .500 league mark will merit at large consideration. If they lose tonight, the Rebels will have to sweep their final two (home vs. Air Force and at SDSU) to get back into the at large mix. If not, they’ll need to win their league tournament. The good news there for Rebel fans is, like every year, they’re the tourney host.
Bumped to the front page for those of you wondering who to cheer for/against this weekend.
Events broke perfectly for Michigan throughout the week in the college basketball world. In addition to a pair of good wins since last Sunday, the Wolverines found an ally in the out of town scoreboard. Every night has brought carnage to the bubble. Many of Michigan's bubble brethern fell, some twice, and lost key swing games.
The upshot? For that answer, we'll break out the latest Bracket Matrix chart. A total of 19 brackets, nearly one-third of the now 60 brackets tracked, have been updated since the close of day Thursday and Michigan's resounding win over Minnesota. Of those, 15 pushed the Wolverines up the chart and into the field of 65.
The overall numbers still dont look to great, but consider Michigan's surge just in the last 48 hours. When the week began, Michigan was only in nine total fields. The Wolverines saw their support dwindle throughout the week until only six mock brackets had placed Michigan. The Wolverines had fallen to eighth from last out of the comprehensive matrix. When Michigan tipped off Thursday night against the Gophers, the Temple Owls were in more fields than Michigan. Temple? Really? I didn't realize a fourth place team in the Atlantic 10 was that impressive. Were Pepe Sanchez and Mark Macon granted more eligibility and nobody told me?
All bracketologists needed to see was a big Michigan win, and the Maize and Blue delivered resoundingly Thursday night. It was cool to see Michigan elevated into Lunardi's ESPN field, where he has the Wolverines a 13-seed. This guy annually nails the field on the spot, so as long as we stay in his bracket, Michigan fans ought to feel confident on Selection Sunday. The Bracket Project has steadily moved Michigan up its NIT bracket lines and finally leapt the Wolverines into the field, where they check in as an 11-seed. The Bracket Junkie still has UM as an 11-seed, but Michigan saw themselves promoted up four spots to seventh from last team in the field. RPI's Jerry Palm, who is trying to predict what the field will look like on Selection Day, as opposed to giving us a snapshot of what the bracket would look like today, has Michigan in the field for the first time this season since he started doing his projections. Even in updated fields leaving Michigan out, there is good news to report. College Hoops Net did not list UM as even one of their final eight teams out earlier in the week. But, today, Michigan sits on the cusp as the last team cut from his Friday afternoon update.
The surge in support pushed Michigan up to second from last in the Matrix complete look. But, 41 brackets, many of which do not have Michigan in yet, have not updated since the win and won't update until after this weekend is in the books. A win tomorrow with some strategic losses across the country today and Michigan will likey see enough comprehensive support to get into the Matrix field. In case you think thats too many minds to change, consider of the 15 brackets that have UM in the field post Minnesota victory, only two had them in their field prior to that game. And, they now have more than twice as many bids as Temple, helpfully shielding readers here from a hateful Temple rant.
All this transpires on the eve of one of the more compelling weekends of the season for teams sitting on the bubble. Games between bubble mates litter the schedule today. If Michigan can take care of business tomorrow, one reason to assume an even greater movement in the Matrix is the fact that with so many head to heads, plenty of teams elbowing for room will fall by the wayside. By Monday morning, we may have our clearest bubble picture yet in this goofy season. We know the outcome of Michigan's game will go a long way in painting that picture. Here are some other games to keep a rooting interest today.
Notre Dame at Providence. Noon, ESPN Full Court. Line, Prov -2
It ought to be fun watching these schools attempt to play defense. There are 5 games in the NBA tonight. I set the total at 2.5 for number of those games this matchup between the Irish and Friars will outscore. Any takers? Sign on up!Michigan is farther ahead of Notre Dame than Providence in the pecking order, so I actually think Michigan fans should pull for the Irish, even if it opens the door for their rise up the bubble.
Boston College at Miami. Noon, no tv. Line, Miami -7
According to the Matrix, this is a consensus 9-seed (BC) versus the consensus fourth team out (Miami). Time is running out on the Hurricanes. Without a win today, you have to wonder if the Canes can do enough from here on out to merit consideration outside of a deep run in the ACC Tournament. This has to be considered a must win.
Tennesseee at Kentucky. 1pm, CBS. Line, UK -3
Again using the Matrix as a barometer, this is a #8 vs a #11. Kentucky is the lesser seed here and in desperation mode. They've lost four of six and are in real danger of being kicked out of a majority of brackets if they dont stop the bleeding. Michigan in the NCAA field, but not Kentucky? Yeah, right. That's a joke. What's next, the Cats on a longer bowl streak in football than Michigan? Oh. Wait. Nevermind.
Baylor at Oklahoma State. 1:30pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, OSU -4.5
Without really doing anything all that impressive, the Cowboys are making a move up the bubble. They've lost all their key games it seems in both league and OOC play. But, if they keep winning, they could sneak in there. This team is young, and probably more talented right now than Michigan. But, their defense is suspect, so they are vulnerable today to Baylor's similar up the floor tempo. The Bears are a disappointment this year, but if they can conjure up a winning streak, they could be a strong bubble team by the time league tournaments roll around. In the end, this game could give the Providence/ND game a run for their money as far as total points goes.
Louisville at Cincinnati, 2pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, L'Ville -5
The Bearcats surprising run to a bid faces a make or break game this afternoon. Seeded 12 in the latest Matrix, CU is the shakiest of at-large teams. A home win against top-10 Louisville legitimizes them and they will leap a couple of seed lines. A loss pushes them out of the field, with a limited road map for re-entry at their disposal the rest of the way.
Marquette at Georgetown. 2pm, ESPN. Line, G'Town -3.5
The Hoyas are the sixth to last team cut from the Matrix field. But, they have played a tough schedule and have enough quality wins where they wont need a good looking record to sneak into the field. But, they have to start stringing together some wins. A win over Marquette today cures a lot of the ills plaguing the Hoyas. It will put them on the right track and in line for a bid as long they can a get a couple more wins down the stretch. A loss forces them to sweep their next two games against Louisville and Syracuse, or else get ready for an NIT home game.
Vanderbilt at Florida. 3pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Florida -8.5
Florida is a near unanimous selection across the bracketologist spectrum, landing as a Matrix 10 seed. They already have 20 wins. But, they're trending a bit downward and have lost three of five. With five games left, if they repeat the number the Gators might find that a lot of teams are passing them. The slate is rough. After this game, they play each of the four other likely SEC bid candidates. Does a Gator loss today open the door for a collapse?
SDSU at New Mexico. 3pm, no tv. Line, NM -5
Nothing has been able to displace Steve Fisher's club from their mock invite. Now, they face a tough test against the Lobos this afternoon. I dont think the Aztecs can afford too many more losses and still get consensus support in mock brackts. They're an 11 in the Matrix and a loss, despite on the road to a decent league foe, might turn a lot of double digit seed projections into NIT invites.
UNC at Maryland. 3:30pm. ABC. Line, UNC -12.5
Good news Terps fans, if you can win one or two of your final three homes games, then the squad could be a road sweep of two bottom feeders away from getting a bid. The bad news, those home games are against UNC, Duke and Wake. Good luck. That trek begins today against the Heels. I know from a SOS standpoint, UM could spin a Terrapin win positively. But, then again, does Michigan want to be on the bubble with a team that has such high end, recent scalps, not to mention a head to head win over them? I say no. I'm pulling for the Heels here.
Kansas State at Iowa State. 6pm, no tv. Line KSU- 3.5
Kansas State has been yo-yoing in and out of the field for about a month now. Right now, they're on the wrong side looking in, placing third from last out of the field, right behind Michigan, in the Matrix. At one time, Hilton Magic ruled, and Ames was an impossible place to get a win for road teams. However, Jamaal Tinsley, Marcus Fizer and Fred Hoiberg are not walking through that door. Its sad to see Iowa State irrelevant, but hopefully for one night they can conjure up the ghost of Johnny Orr and Hilton Magic can rule again. A loss here cripples KSU the way a possible loss tomorrow to Iowa would to Michigan.
Texas AM at Texas Tech. 6pm, no tv. Line, TAMU -1
Just once, I wish the folks on Game Day would ask Bobby Knight how he feels about his son turning Tech into a high scoring, no defense outfit. It would make good TV, seeing him take a swing at, I dont know, how about Jay Bilas? Are we into that? Sweet! What we're not into is a resurgent Aggie squad. Their easy win the other night against Texas puts them back on the map. The Aggies are cruising towards something like 22 wins and with OOC victories over LSU and Arizona, they can make a compelling case for a bid. With a handful of winnable games down the stretch, they can easily take care of the sub par league record marring their resume. A loss to a second division Red Raider team, though, might derail their surge enough to neutralize it entirely.
Washington at USC. 7pm, no tv. Line, USC -2
With 23 bids, the Trojans are the only team left out of the Matrix with more mock invites than the Wolverines. USC has not played in a week since being swept on their Arizona tour. Only the bubble chaos around them kept them in as many fields this week as they're in. They wont survive any of the next cutdowns if they lose again, even to a quality foe like UW. At the least, a USC loss and UM win tomorrow will enable Michigan to surpass the Trojans.
Florida St at Virginia Tech. 8pm, no tv. Line VT -3
According to the Matrix, this is a 6 (FSU) vs 11 (VT). On the surface, these clubs are trending in opposite directions. The Noles have been climbing, but the Hokies thanks to consecutive losses to Maryland and UVA are hanging on by a thread. Both of these clubs face treacherous schedules over the final two weeks. Wins for either might be hard to come by after today, so the loser faces the real possibility of a losing run that will extend into March. That's not a good thing. I think a road win by FSU would benefit Michigan more. Remember, we've been tracking 5 ACC bubble teams and hoping that three would fall by the wayside. Maryland and Miami are already out. Tech is almost out. If all three lose today, we'll have been granted one of bubble wishes as the final weeks begin.
Oklahoma at Texas. 9pm, ESPN. Line, Texas -1
The marquee ESPN game of the night. In one corner a title contender with one of game's best players. In the other corner, Texas, a team spiraling in the wrong direction. In the Sooners they have the wrong opponent to try and get out of this funk. The Horns have lost four of their last six, a la Kentucky. A loss tonight drops them to .500 in league play. They appear to be a solid 8-seed according to the Matrix, but for how long if they keep losing?
BYU at UNLV. 11pm, no tv. Line, UNLV -2
This late night game in the desert is between a #10 (BYU) and #11 UNLV) according to the Matrix. How does the loser stay in anybody's fields come Monday morning? At worst the loser will fall behind Michigan, provided the Wolverines can take care of business tomorrow.
The WCHA is to college hockey as the SEC is to college football. This decade, like the SEC, the WCHA has generally been considered the best conference in college hockey. But this season it doesn't actually have the strength to match up with tourney-worthy teams from other conferences.
The WCHA currently has 7 of the top-20 teams in the [irrelevant] USCHO poll and 7 of the teams ranked in the [relevant] Pairwise Rankings, which basically determines who makes the NCAA Tournament. However, in the USCHO poll, only Denver (8) and North Dakota (9) rank in the top 10, while only Denver is in the top 10 of the Pairwise Rankings (t-5 as of 1:21 AM on Saturday, and yes I'm writing this at a ridiculously stupid time of night). One belief held by members of the College Hockey media (rather small, as you might imagine), is that the WCHA is so deep that teams keep knocking each other off, an argument that is backed up by having 9 out of 10 teams in the top 30 of the RPI. While the general consensus is that the WCHA isn't necessarily as strong as years previous, many (and when I say many, I mean many relative to people who follow college hockey) believe that the WCHA is still the strongest conference in the nation, or at least competing for the title with Hockey East.
In my opinion, the idea that the WCHA is the strongest conference in the nation is utter crap. To back it up, I am going to look at the records of WCHA teams in the Pairwise Rankings against out-of-conference opponents in the Pairwise Rankings. To put it simply, I'm going to look at the records of "good" teams in the WCHA against good teams from other conferences.
Denver: 2-2-0 (2-2-0 home) (t5 Pairwise)
Minnesota-Duluth: 1-1-0 (1-1-0 neutral) (t12 Pairwise)
North Dakota: 1-2-0 (1-1-0 home, 0-1-0 road) (t12 Pairwise)
Wisconsin: 1-2-0 (1-2-0 home) (14 Pairwise)
Minnesota: 2-1-1 (2-1-1 home) (15 Pairwise)
Colorado College: 0-0-0 (COWARDS!!!) (t17 Pairwise)
St. Cloud State: 0-1-0 (0-1-0 neutral) (21 Pairwise)
Overall: 7-9-1 (6-6-1 home, 0-1-0 road, 1-2-0 neutral) Win%=0.46875
As a straight record, 7-9-1 against quality opponents isn't bad, but certainly doesn't lend credence to the idea that the WCHA is even close to the best conference in the country this year, especially when you consider that the vast majority of these games were home games.
A fair criticism of the analysis above is that the 7-9-1 record is the result of having 70% of the conference being evaluated against the top teams in every other conference. However, I can refute this critique with two points: a) the only team with a winning record against quality competition is Minnesota (all at home too) and b) the reason that so many teams are up there is that they feasted on highly mediocre competition.
The WCHA combined non-conference record is 41-23-10 (Win%=0.62162). The combined non-conference record of the 7 teams above is 30-16-9 (Win%=0.62727). This means that the combined non-conference records of the top 7 teams are about as good as those of the bottom 3 teams. The reason for this is that the weak bottom 3 teams beat up on the worst teams in the NCAA, and the top 7 teams also racked up a positive winning percentage by beating up on the worst teams in the NCAA. This led to a high overall conference RPI because the RPI does not take individual games into account, but focuses on the overall records of teams. This means that a win over a bad team and a loss to a great team means the same thing as splitting two games against an average team. The result of this system is that the WCHA teams played a number of terrible teams, whose records do not compensate for the disparity of talent in NCAA hockey, while producing a mediocre performance against actual good teams, to give the conference a heightened RPI, putting more teams into the Pairwise Rankings (of which RPI is a component).
In conclusion, the WCHA is not that good and as it's 2:25 AM, I'm going to bed and not getting up until 2.