Bubblin'. Last night wasn't of huge import on the bubble. Events of note:
- Nebraska and Notre Dame died.
- Providence flirted with disaster before pulling it out against DePaul.
- Texas A&M gacked it up against Texas Tech.
- Oklahoma State did not against Iowa State.
A&M was only vaguely on the bubble before and isn't in trouble; Bracketology 101 has them a ten seed, and Lunardi has them a nine. So don't get your hopes up there. Oklahoma State has also clinched a bid now.
Today, there is one vastly important game—Michigan versus Iowa—that will either render all of the who-wins-who-loses a sideshow or make it life and death. That's at 2:30 on ESPN2.
Then there is a horde of other stuff as all the big conferences swing into action. Your new favorite team in bold:
- Providence takes on Louisville at noon (ESPN). Providence needs a win over UL or they're done.
- Northwestern vs Minnesota, noon (BTN). Northwestern's at-large hopes are very, very faint and a Minnesota loss would stick them behind Michigan permanently.
- Xavier vs St Louis, noon. The A-10 is in serious danger of coughing up an autobid to a team that wouldn't otherwise be in the field, so you're rooting for Dayton and Xavier whenever they play.
- Arizona State vs Arizona, 3PM (FSN). Arizona's resume is almost identical to Michigan's; if they lose they're probably behind M no matter what.
- Texas vs Kansas State, 3PM (ESPN360). Kansas State has vague at-large hopes that must be put to the sword.
- Indiana vs Penn State, 5PM (ESPN2). Penn State's chances for a bid would evaporate if Indiana managed to beat them.
- Utah State vs Fresno State, 5:30 PM. Utah State might have an at-large case if they don't pick up the WAC autobid.
- Duquense vs Rhode Island, 6:30 PM. Rhode Island needs to get to the A-10 final for an at-large, probably.
- NC State vs Maryland, 7PM (ESPN2). Maryland has fringe hopes with a run in the ACC tourney.
- Virginia vs Boston College, 9PM (ESPN360). BC would put itself in danger with a loss to the awful Cavs.
Miami and Virginia Tech square off, too, but the outcome of that game doesn't matter, you just want whoever wins to lose to UNC in the next round. San Diego State and UNLV also play; I can't figure out which one is preferable. There are a variety of other games like Memphis-Tulane and Utah-TCU where you want tourney locks to win.
As to Iowa. Michigan, of course, blew a four-point last-minute lead thanks to a couple of questionable calls. In overtime Manny Harris sat and Iowa was unconscious and that was that. And they were missing their point guard. And most of their big post guy.
Since then Iowa hung in but lost to MSU, lost to Northwestern, came up two points short of killing Ohio State's tourney bid and mortally wounded Penn State's with a 75-67 victory in double overtime. They finished the conference season 5-13 with three of those wins in overtime. This is not a good opponent we're going up against, but that didn't help much last time.
This time around Michigan has one big advantage: it's on a neutral court. Cyrus Tate, who missed both of Michigan's games against Iowa this year*, is back; starting point guard Jeff Petersen "might get some floor time" but is doubtful. With the way Jake Kelly has been playing of late Petersen's absence doesn't seem that important.
*(Tate did play a few minutes at the end of the game in Iowa City.)
I doubt this is applicable generally since newspapers generally do some investigative journalism in the news department as opposed to the virtually none that happens in sports*, but, man, are web-based properties murdering, burying, and putting up "do not disturb" signs when it comes to the in-depth stuff. Yahoo's latest is a fantastic story on the intersection of agents, AAU coaches, and Kevin Love that has a ton of interesting quotes from both sides of the aisle—former Duke PG and spectacular motorcycle crash victim Jay Williams features, as does love—none of which top this blunt assessment from Love:
“If I was going with an agent,” said Kevin Love, “why would I ever go with a guy who, no offense, but he crashed a motorcycle into a tree. I’m not going to go with a guy that’s reckless.”
Oh, snap. The rest of the article his highly recommended, with Love and Williams calling out Love's AAU coach and the cool quarter-million he banked for his "nonprofit" by setting up a meeting.
*(Except, of course, for the Ann Arbor News and their academics investigation. Of all the programs to get raked over the coals by their local paper, eh? Not, like, you know, Memphis or USC. Michigan. I would freakin' love for every program in the country to have their books gone over so minutely.)
BGSU goodbye? BGSU is facing a massive university-wide budget shortfall of between 6 to 10 million dollars, about $750,000 of which is the athletic department's fault. As a result, BGSU hockey has an uncertain future. The school president already killed Kent State's program at her last job and hockey is an expensive thing to run.
But the hockey team is BGSU's most prominent sport, and the only one in which they can claim a national title. Killing it because it's marginally more expensive would be a shame even if it was responsible for spawning Ron Mason's boring death hockey. It would also eliminate the easiest road trip in the CCHA for Michigan fans, and losing a school with a national title would be terribly embarrassing for the sport in general. About the only entity that might be happy with BGSU's demise is Alabama-Huntsville.
The situation, as it stands: Michigan is 9-9 in the Big Ten and is looking like a likely NCAA tournament entry. They have impressive nonconference wins and a decent record against a top-ten schedule. They are seeded seventh in the Big Ten tourney and have drawn Iowa in the first round.
So what, exactly, are Michigan's chances? Let's go off Basketball Prospectus' expansive 45-member list of bubble participants and filter them into categories.
How Many Spots?
There are 31 autobids and 29 locks on the BP list, so the minimum number of spots on the bubble is five. There are 11 autobids in conferences with tourney locks: the maximum number is sixteen. Realistically, it will be going to hard for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, and Pac 10 to dump a bid on someone not already going to the tourney, so we're really between 10 and 16 spots.
We've got these conferences which could dump extra bids out:
- WCC: St Mary's is in the final against Gonzaga tonight; if St Mary's wins that's two bids for sure for the WCC. If they lose no one knows what will happen with the Gaels.
- A-10: if Xavier or Dayton doesn't win the tourney, an extra bid goes out.
- MidCon: Butler is a lock, but only Butler.
- CUSA: Memphis is a one seed and the rest of the conference is poo.
- Mountain West: BYU and Utah are in; three conference members are kind of sort of on the bubble.
- SEC: only LSU and Tennessee are assured and they're definitely capable of blowing it.
It's hard to see anyone in CUSA beating Memphis, but if you're not expecting some crazy stuff to go down in the SEC you're fooling yourself. You'll probably see two or three wack autobids, leaving our count at 13-ish.
Dayton, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Boston College, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Arizona State are locks in all but world-shaking disaster scenarios. Any scenario in which Michigan gets in ahead of one of these teams is one in which Michigan has become a stone-cold lock; we can disregard those scenarios, then. We're concerned with what happens if M goes 1-1 or 0-1 at the BTT.
We've just given away eight spots and are down to two to eight, but probably five.
PRETTY DEFINITIVELY BELOW MICHIGAN
Some of the teams below may squeeze their way into the tournament but it's hard to imagine a scenario that includes any of them as an at-large participant that does not also include Michigan. (Remember that this list came out Friday, so it's a bit outdated (Davidson) and it's also extremely, extremely generous (Northwestern, for one).)
- Davidson: one nonconference win of note, an RPI of 68, the #173 schedule, and too many losses. They're done; they didn't even make their conference tourney final.
- Kentucky: four-game losing streak to end season, RPI of 79, horrible conference: dead.
- Auburn: checking in with the resident Auburn blog reveals no thought to an at-large bid.
- Georgetown, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame: all Big East teams that have suffered spectacular flameouts to end the season. Bid scenarios all involve runs to the BE tourney final, which obviously can't happen for all of them.
- Northwestern, Nebraska, USC, Mississippi State and Washington State: all major conference teams with extremely remote aspirations. (Seriously: Mississippi State?)
- Niagara, VCU, George Mason, UAB, Western Kentucky, and Tulsa: all mid-major teams that are listed as a courtesy, or something, because even in the Bracket Matrix there are no at-large bids below the assumed autobids of VCU and WKU. At this point Michigan is already ahead of these teams and if they're going to be relevant in this conversation they have to lose in their conference tournaments, likely to a team in the same universe as Iowa. Adding a few more mid-major scalps to the wall isn't going to shoot them past Michigan. (UAB is 2-10 against the RPI top 100. There is no way they are getting an at large.)
- Creighton: also a mid-major with a shaky resume and they have the added benefit of being done for the season, losing by 24 in their conference tournament; if they get in it won't be over Michigan.
HUGE MASSIVE UPSET-FILLED TOURNEY RUN OR DIE
- Rhode Island's loss to 12-17 UMass is widely held to be the final nail in their at-large hopes.
- Temple is 19-11 in the A-10, 1-5 against top 25 RPI teams and 0-0 against 26-50. Though their RPI is pretty good, they'll need a deep run in the A-10 tournament.
- VT and Miami, meanwhile, are both 7-9 in conference and have RPIs in the 50s. They play each other in the first round of the ACC tournament; loser is done, and then winner is done unless there's a Christmas miracle against UNC.
- Maryland suffered a crippling loss to Virginia in its final game of the regular season and now needs to beat #2 seed Wake Forest if they're going to get any at-large consideration.
- Kansas State is the Penn State of the Big 12: two games above .500 in conference, garbage teams outside of it. The Big 12 is not as strong as the Big 10 this year, not by a longshot, and they're well back.
- I'd have lumped Providence in the above category but for this weird fascination with them: #71 RPI, 18-12, #48 SOS, 2-5 top 25 and 0-3 next 25. They're 6-12 against the top 100. Somehow before the weekend this was a team listed on three more brackets than M was at the Bracket Matrix. They will have to take out DePaul or Cincinnati and then win against Louisville in the third round of the Big East tournament to get in ahead of M, I think.
Now, THE BUBBLE PROPER:
SOUTH CAROLINA and FLORIDA
Florida just slipped back into the top 50 in RPI, which sadly raises their record against same top 50 from 0-5 to 1-5. #48 RPI, #91 SOS… maybe they can slip by but there aren't many opportunities to make hay in the SEC.
Florida is the exact same team as South Carolina: #49 RPI, #91 SOS, 2-6 against the top 50. Realistically, both need two wins in the SEC tourney to get in. This being the SEC, though, they're not up against Wake Forest or UNC or Louisville in their quest to get there. Michigan is probably ahead of both of these teams unless they win two more conference tourney games than M.
SIENA and UTAH STATE
You are a fan of both these teams, because they have very high RPIs and could threaten to snag an at-large if they don't win their conference tourneys. The general feeling is that both are autobid or bust, but even though it's been carefully explained to me that the committee doesn't actually look directly at RPI I'm a little leery of the #24 and #27 teams sitting out there as potential at-large selections.
St. Mary's is a weird case because their star point guard broke his hand and the Gaels proceeded to lose some games without him. He returned for the WCC semifinal against Portland. He didn't play well (3 of 12) but St. Mary's set up the showdown everyone expected. If Gonzaga wins and Patrick Mills looks healthy the committee will have an interesting decision to make. They have included teams in the past based on that expectation. They're a wildcard.
(You're rooting for the Zags tonight at nine, BTW, as they're in either way. I strongly suspect St Mary's will make it either way.)
Michigan has an equivalent RPI, an equivalent conference record, and a basically equivalent big nonconference win on a neutral floor (UCLA for M, Louisville for Minnesota). Michigan then tacks on the Duke win and a season sweep of the Gophers. If Minnesota does two games better than M in the Big Ten Tourney they get priority. One and it's interesting. Michigan has to lead now.
This was discussed last week in detail: at this juncture Penn State has no case for a bid over Michigan. They get a first round bye and probably need to win twice in the BTT to even get in the conversation again, and they probably have to make the final to get in over M.
Very close to Michigan minus a tiny bit of SOS or two: 19-12, #52 RPI, #29 SOS, 2-1 against the top 25 and 3-7 against the next 25. Big nonconference wins over Kansas and Gonzaga. Their resume is basically Michigan's resume.
NEW MEXICO, SAN DIEGO STATE, and UNLV
I lump in this trio of Mountain West teams because realistically they'll have to cut each other's throats in the conference tourney to have a case. San Diego State, home of old friend Steve Fisher, is the best positioned right now. One of these teams could claw in over Michigan if M loses to Iowa.
We lose to Iowa… then what?
How good do you feel about those teams we're going up against? If there are two available bids, you are feeling terrible. If there are eight, you are feeling great. Arizona probably shoots past us, and then Minnesota if they do better in the Big Ten tourney and maybe one of the WAC teams and one of the SEC teams and maybe one of the "huge tourney run or bust" teams and then we're probably fifth in anything approximating the center of a Gaussian distribution. Which is also the center of the Gaussian distribution for "who is the last team in the tournament?" And the center of the Gaussian distribution for "who is the first team out of the tournament?"
Gack it up against Iowa and we are on pins and needles and just praying that the committee looks at Michigan's schedule and its big wins and gives us the That Year Georgia Got An At Large bid. It's basically 50-50. Who wants to go into Selection Sunday 50-50? No one whatsoever.
Beat Iowa and?
We'd have to suffer a huge number of autobid shenanigans and otherwise perfectly negative results to get the boot. Michigan can hold serve and be very confident; going 1-1 in the BTT is holding serve.
Rooting Guide For Tonight?
Two conference championship games come off at 9PM: St Mary's vs Gonzaga on ESPN and Niagara vs Siena on ESPN2. You're rooting for Gonzaga, somewhat halfheartedly as I think the Gaels will get in either way, and Siena, lots.
3/7/2009 – Michigan 67, Minnesota 64 – 19-12, 9-9 Big Ten
One of the bizarre things I love is soccer, and one of the bizarre things about soccer I love is the weird British permutations of American sports lingo that get deployed during the course of same and the bizarre permutation I love most is the phrase "get in!"
"Get in!" appears to be the stuffy British equivalent of "GOLAZO," deployed for goals of such spectacular mind-bending quality that a mere "goal" or "gol" is totally insufficient, the existence of such things being another major reason I love soccer. The thing that's bizarre about "get in" is this: it's invariably shouted after the ball has, in fact, gotten in. The ball will get in, and then the suddenly very electric and not at all somnambulant announcer will exclaim "GET IN!"
I think this is because some things you dare not hope for, especially in a game in which goals come so rarely and have this potential to rearrange the universe. Sometimes the situation develops in such a way that the arc of the ball is so improbable and so important and the whole thing is so unlikely that you dare not express hope lest it be wrenched cruelly from you. You can see the curve of the future; you cannot let it enter your heart until the net ripples and the impossible is before you, horned mermaid nuclear spaceship captains and all.
There's three minutes left and Michigan leads Minnesota by two. Manny Harris, a meh at best three-point shooter, takes a pass in the corner and unwisely decides to rise and fire—again. The ball arcs. Someone in the bar has just shouted "C'mon FRESH." If time ever stopped, surely it would do so now.
It's a terrible shot. I mean, just terrible. There are more than twenty seconds on the shot clock and Harris has the ball. He gives a jab step, I guess, but there's a guy in his face and Harris is a 31% three-point shooter and in this game he's two of seven on his way to two of eight and in all ways this is a slow motion 'nooooooooo' situation. Someone hit the abort button. This ship will self destruct in ten seconds.
I am a Michigan fan, so I know how this story goes: long rebound, fast break the other way, transition and-one layup that puts Minnesota ahead for good. Maybe there's a missed wide open dunk for Michigan, or Manny Harris is attacked with a machete and given a technical for spraying blood on the great and powerful Hightower, but those are just details. I know what happens next.
It's just that arc, you know. It looks pretty good. It looks true.
The thing with "get in" is that what has gone down is so good you have to retroactively hope for it, to rearrange yourself into a person so wildly stupid that they would actually believe such a thing is possible.
Last year Michigan was 10-22, more dire than any product put out by Tommy Amaker. Amaker, in fact, kicked the crap out of them in his new job at Harvard. It was one of their eight wins. This year Michigan has two walk-ons splitting most of the point guard minutes, no seniors outside of them seeing any time at all, and a 6'5" freshman guard playing power forward. I mean:
This is a team on the cusp of the NCAA tournament, and they were down twelve halfway through the second half of a road game against a probable NCAA tourney participant.
Beat Iowa and it's over. Get in.
- Every once in a while there's a moment that immeasurably improved by your presence in a sports bar when it happens, and that Minnesota prayer from near halfcourt that went right in moments after Tubby had called timeout was one. The entire bar went "ohhhhhhhh!" in this perfect way. Then there was a brief "Tubb-y, Tubb-y" chant.
- Wow: 100% wrong about Sims in the preview, eh? I've been trying to figure out which totally average NBA bench player Sims reminds me of and it's a tight race between Joe Smith and post-knee-ravaging Antonio McDyess. He's got an NBA shot but I don't know if he's big enough or active enough to be worth having on the roster.
- 100% right about those turnovers, though. It's not often you get a win when the opponent shoots 55% and rebounds half their misses. You kind of have to get 17 turnovers in a 56-possession game.
- Much more detail on this later, but I spent a large chunk of the weekend pondering the bubble and 1) we're obviously in good shape now but 2) we really, really don't want to lose to Iowa, who we just lost to without two of their best players. We might still get in but it's going to be tooth and nail.
Well, how about that? Bernie Mac is back, and given all the crazy stuff on the bubble of late you have to think Michigan is in no matter what now. In. In.
And you can't have one without the other…
Jamiemac has beaten me to it, so the 1,000-foot summary:
The Wolverines probably had the most neutral week of any of the bubble contenders, evening out a great win over Purdue with a good-looking loss to Wisconsin. They did not surge like Providence, nor did they crater a la Kentucky and Florida.
A total of 36 brackets on the Bracket Matrix have been updated since Michigan’s win last Thursday night over Purdue. The good news: Half of those brackets include Michigan. The bad news: Most have not updated yet to include yesterday’s loss at Wisconsin. In fact, only five brackets have been updated since last night and the Wisconsin loss. None of those include the Wolverines.
All of the updated ones have Michigan on the cusp of the field; you have to think that a road win over a Minnesota team that either is in the tourney or will barely miss it would move Michigan up enough to grab a bid. It looks like the conventional wisdom that solidified at the beginning of the conference season—.500 will do it—should hold as long as 1) Michigan doesn't gack a first-round Big Ten tourney game and 2) there are not extensive hijinks in conference tourneys. With vanishingly few mid-majors looking like candidates for at-large bids scenario 2 doesn't have a high probability of coming to fruition. Still, you're in favor of Butler, Gonzaga, Siena, and the two leading A-10 schools until the moment they're knocked out of their conference tournaments, at which point they become FRAUDS(!).
As for the Wisconsin game: Periods of zero defense at the beginning of the first half and zero offense at the beginning of the second doomed them. They got crushed on the boards. Manny was very, very good but could have been a tiny bit more efficient. I let out a frustrated f-bomb when Sims missed an open, potentially tying three, and that was that.
I'm not upset or anything, just frustrated. Everything pointed to the team Michigan's had the entire year, one that intersperses moments of brilliance with things like that Amaker-like possession with around two minutes left. Michigan aimlessly chucked it around the perimeter for 25 seconds and ended up airballing a three as the shot clock expire. That reminded me of the good old days, and by "good old days" I mean "I am poking my eyes out with a stick." OTOH, Sims was making NBA-style turnaround jumpers and Manny was rebounding like a rebounding champion and they clawed themselves out of a hole that seemed surely fatal to actually lead at the half. I am remarkably serene about the team's fate and the program's future; that seems to directly correlate with walk-ons at the point and the only scholarship senior getting stapled to the bench.
I still don't get the rotation. Anthony Wright was dusted off and inserted for periods in both halves and did nothing in particular; Jevohn Shepherd couldn't get off the bench, etc etc etc. I've made this observation/complaint before. It probably doesn't matter nearly as much as I talk about it. It's just odd, is all.
Insert complaint about inconsistency of refereeing here. CJ Lee getting a foul for obstructing some Wisconsin guy's path when Wisconsin guys have been doing that all game immediately followed by a Manny Harris drive on which he is pawed at twice without a call is this game's shining WTF moment.
Many people are unfamiliar with the rules of causality. …But who am I to defy many people? I have been urged by multiple folks to forgo a Minnesota liveblog because of The Liveblog Curse. This is a transparently silly thing to believe in and a transparently silly thing to accede to, but the chorus of complaints is strong and I'm not in the business of intentionally pissing off readers. So the best thing to do is to wash my hands of the decision and leave it up to the readership at large.
Determine our fate, O Reader:
2/26/2009 – Michigan 87, Purdue 78 – 17-10, 8-8 Big Ten
Beat UCLA, nearly lose to Savannah State. Beat Duke, nearly lose to Indiana. Beat Illinois, nearly lose to Northwestern. Actually gack it up against Iowa with Manny Harris on the bench for pissing off the coach, finally killing all hope of making the tourney and…
|DeShawn Sims, F||34||13-16||1-2||2-3||2||5||2||1||2||0||1||29|
|Zack Novak, G||34||1-2||0-1||2-4||1||4||3||0||0||3||3||4|
|Stu Douglass, G||31||2-4||2-3||1-3||0||1||4||3||0||0||2||7|
|C.J. Lee, G||14||2-2||1-1||1-4||0||2||0||1||0||0||3||6|
|Manny Harris, G||35||8-15||3-5||8-11||1||8||4||1||0||4||2||27|
Holy hopscotching hell. Even if the numbers say Michigan is middle of the pack when it comes to inconsistency, it certainly feels like they drank a mysterious serum of their own concoction in November and have since been oscillating wildly between the states of "fresh" and "chuck."
This game was a microcosm. It went from tight but promising at the half—that's what she said—to a ten point lead, at which point the teams traded seven point runs. Purdue went first and the lead careened sickeningly down to three points before Michigan pushed it back out and eventually turned into a laugher. Several minutes of OH GOD MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS later I felt as ill as you can possibly feel with a six point lead and under a minute remaining, but the bleeding stopped: we're back, baby! For now!
The way they did it didn't help my feelings of disorientation. Harris and Sims put on an absolute clinic—with an assist from Stu Douglass, who you'll note above had four assists, no turnovers, and seven points on four shots—against the #5 defensive team in the country. And they did it by hoisting just 16 threes against 30 twos. And when Manny was fouled on drives there were whistles. And Crisler was nominally sold out.
If I'm a little bit inconsistent with my opinion of the team, so is the team.
Here we are again. The freshmen from Indiana are less floppy-haired but the kids from Detroit are still inexplicably faithful and sometimes brilliant. Michigan has an opportunity here, has two cracks at ending its decade wandering in the desert. At some point last night when Michigan led big I remembered that Raftery and company were doing the game and thoughts wandered to what it would be like to hear CBS' fey but iconic "this is college basketball" music and see Michigan and its double-digit seed show up and hear Raftery and Gus Johnson say something along the lines of "this is Michigan's first tourney appearance in ten years."
I have concluded this would feel good no matter what follows, and wish for Michigan to win one of their next two. Come on, kids.
- I don't actually believe that MGoLiveblogs of Michigan basketball games are causing crushing losses, no matter how much evidence piles up, and since these last two games are pretty important we'll brave fate and deploy CILs for both. God help me if they lose both.
- Wooooo assistant technical foul! Did it help? I sort of seemed like it. I don't go in for theories that badgering the referees like you're thinking about killing them helps you with the calls, but Michigan got a lot of calls they don't normally get after Mahoney got T-ed up.
- Do you think the spate of early calls against Michigan—all on obvious fouls—actually helped in the long run? It certainly seemed like that game was called way tighter than most of these Big Ten slugfests are, which undoubtedly had something to do with Michigan's increased presence inside the three point line, and Manny's continued, successful attempts at driving. There was none of that getting lazy or fearful and jacking up poor jumpers. (Ok, there was some of that but the proportion was appropriate.)
- Crisler did not like the Manny Harris charge + assistant coach technical combo. I haven't seen the arena that totally pissed about a call in a long time. And with good reason. I actually thought the Zach Novak blocking foul late where Hummel plowed him after getting his own rebound was way worse, but I didn't have the benefit of replay.
- OTOH, Chris Kramer got absolutely jacked up a few times and could not get a call. LLP (I think) gave him a flying hack as he attempted to dunk that looked like an intentional foul to stop an easy two, but there was no call. There was at least one other instance where he was obviously hacked and didn't get the call, and a couple borderline incidents.
However, I did enjoy Manny Harris driving, dishing, and then clobbering Kramer—who had set up literally under the basket—without getting a whistle. Not because I bear any ill will towards Kramer specifically, just because I hate that crap.
- Did anyone else have a twinge of regret about Grady choosing basketball when he flew back down court and helped slow up a Purdue fastbreak late?