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.