You know what you don’t want to do if you are sitting on the NCAA Bubble?
You certainly don’t want to lose to a 20-loss team that’s lost six straight games by more than double digits. And, you definitely don’t want to barf away a double digit lead in the closing minutes and lose to a team with twice as many league losses as wins.
Yet, that’s exactly what Cincinnati and Georgetown did in stunning losses last night that sliced a near lethal dagger through the heart of their at-large hopes and helped clear up a lot of elbow room on the NCAA Bubble.
The Bearcats could not contain the Bulls Dominque Jones, who dropped 30 points on CU for the sophomore’s 22nd career game with 20 or more points. Georgetown, meanwhile, inexplicably frittered a way a big lead en route to losing in overtime to St. John’s. The Johnnies missed 14 straight shots in the second half, yet still were able to come back and spring the upset. Did they find a way to sneak Chris Mullen and Mark Jackson into the game somehow? I don’t know. I do know the loss drops the Hoyas into 12th place in the Big East. I don’t care how tough the Big East is perceived to be, their 12th place team wont sniff the final field of 65.
Those outcomes, as well as Kansas State’s loss to Oklahoma State, put serious dents in the resumes of the three teams directly behind Michigan in the current Bracket Matrix in the quest to break into the field. Throw in Matrix 12-seed Maryland’s home loss last night to Wake Forest and it was a pretty solid night on the out-of-town scoreboard for the Maize and Blue. If only Iowa had pulled through to kick a leg out from underneath Ohio State’s resume, the night would have been perfect.
First Upset in the Books
The out-of-town scoreboard also revealed the first official upset of March Madness when 7-seed Illinois-Chicago went on the road to beat 6-seed Youngstown State in the opening round of the Horizon League Tournament. I have a feeling we’ll see several more upsets between now and the end of the month that will resonate louder than that one.
In addition to YSU, 11 other teams saw their dream die last after being eliminated last night in various league tournaments. See you later, High Point, Tennessee State and Coastal Carolina. I feel like we barely knew you. Better luck next year. Sorry, Detroit, your dream to play the Final Four in your city ended last night at the hands of Cleveland State. We’re down to less than 320 remaining to be the last one standing in four weeks at Ford Field. That number will shrink further tonight with elimination games in the Patriot and Sun Belt conferences. Fellow Hoops Junkie Jerry has a primer on all that action in part one and part two of his series looking ahead to a big weekend in mid-major hoops.
The few league tournament games tonight will impact Michigan or the rest of the bubble. Here’s a sketch of the action tonight that will impact the bubble:
As The ACC Turns
We’ve tracked five bubble teams from the ACC, but in the final week of the season little has been determined yet regarding their fates. Only one of those teams, Florida State, has separated itself from the pack to get off the bubble and lock in a bid. While the Noles dropped a tough one on the road to Duke last night, they’re on their way to a top-4 finish in the ACC. They also covered the spread (as predicted, WOOT!) and are now 10-4-1 against the number in the ACC this season. Don’t forget that factoid next week when the league field convenes.
That leaves Maryland, Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech still trying to ensure a bid. The Terps lost last night to Wake, dropping them a game below .500 in league play. Through all the ups and downs, Maryland finds itself in the very same position as last year, needing to cobble together at least two more bids to feel safely about getting a bid.
Boston College is the most secure of all these teams. They’re a consensus 8-seed in the Bracket Matrix. But, if they don’t win another game the rest of the way, they probably would be left out. After their road game at NC State tonight, they host last place Georgia Tech to close the season Saturday. If BC were to drop those games, they would be .500 in ACC play. They can’t afford a 0-2 week against those lightweights and then go 0-1 in the ACC Tournament and still expect a bid. The Eagles, barring total collapse, are in the field. Is it possible said collapse could begin tonight in Raleigh? I’m not sure, but the Pack have played better since making a lineup change in their first games with the Eagles this year.
Miami and Virginia Tech are different stories. Both clubs need at least two, if not three, wins from here on out to sneak back in the field. As of today, both clubs are just ahead of Michigan among the final eight left out in the Bracket Matrix. The Hokies and Canes are in 22 and 20 brackets respectively.
The Hokies have a chance at a big scalp this evening when North Carolina invades Blacksburg. These teams have not played each other since last year’s ACC semifinals, an absolute classic won by the Heels on a Hansbourogh buzzer beater. That loss kept the Hokies out of the Field of 65. A win tonight would go a long way towards earning a big this season. The Hokies might seem at a talent disadvantage tonight, but don’t sleep on them. They have a way of turning most games into nail biters. A total of 68 games since Seth Greenberg took over have been decided by five points or less or in Overtime. That’s more than one-third of the games since he took over the Hokie program. On Senior Night, when they’re bidding adieu to one of the more successful classes in program history and the Puerto Rican Assassin, the Hokies could be a very live dog.
As for Miami, the Canes were mired deep in the league standings a couple of weeks ago. But, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech tonight and NC State over the weekend, they will have crawled back to even in ACC play. They would be a on a nice winning streak, but since most of those wins will have come at the expense of second division teams, they would still need a grab a win next week in the ACC tournament.
It boils down to this in the ACC: Some combination of Miami, Virginia Tech and Maryland will end up as the 7-8-9 seeds in the ACC Tournament. Can either of those teams strengthen their cases between now and then? At this point, it looks like a good bet that none of these three will be any better than 8-8 in league play and none will have more than 20 overall wins when the ACC convenes next week. Two of these teams will square off in an 8-9 game to start the tournament next Thursday afternoon. At worst, it will be an elimination game. At best, it will be a play-in game. As for the third team that gets the 7-seed? I suggest not losing that 7/10 game (likely foe: NC State) that will wrap up the night session of the first round.
Down south, the focus tonight is on a pair of reeling SEC teams: Kentucky and Florida. Both clubs are rapidly playing themselves out of the tournament equation and need to stop the bleeding before they play each to close the season over the weekend. Both have been hemorrhaging support from the Bracket Matrix in recent updates.
Kentucky has the easier chore tonight, traveling to last place Georgia. The Cats are clinging to a 12-seed in the Matrix, and almost half of the bracketologists have left them out of their fields. The Cats have lost two in a row, three of four and six of their last nine games. That’s no way to enter March.
The Cats are on the verge of missing the NCAAs for the first time since the Eddie Sutton, Chris Mills, Shaun Kemp-induced probation sunk the program, prohibiting their participation in 1990 and 1991. The folks down in Bluegrass Country are not taking it well. Billy Clyde Gillespie is on the hot seat, mainly because this is not how UK basketball seasons are supposed to look like. Not only are the Wildcats in disarray, but their coach is saying they aren’t a better team than Georgia, tonight’s opponent. That’s last place Georgia for those not up on the SEC standings.
For this Hooiser alum, no tears are shed when there is panic in Lexington. For the time being, it even makes me forget our own problems down in Bloomington. That does bring a tear, so let’s move on, shall we?
Florida, meanwhile, looks to be in slightly better shape with an 11-seed and placement in approximately two-thirds of the brackets. However, they have a much tougher hill to climb tonight traveling to Starkville to play Mississippi State. Like UK, Florida comes in off back-to-back losses. The Gators have lost four of their last six games and are just 5-6 in their last 11 games, the same record as Michigan during that span. However, by all accounts, Michigan plays in a tougher league than Florida and included in that stretch was a non-conference game on the road against top-ranked Uconn. Gator observers admit it's easier to make a case leaving Florida out of the field, and they might need four wins from here on out to make the field.
Here’s the deal with both of these teams: Can either feel secure if they go 2-2 from here on out? We know one will lose this weekend. Can the loser of that game get in with just one SEC Tournament win? I don’t think so. Every road map into the field for these teams becomes even rockier should either lose this evening.
Does the winner get a fancy axe?
Are we interested at all in the Wisconsin-Minnesota game? Um, yeah. Wisconsin is likely in the field, but like Boston College, probably won’t get in if they don’t win another game. Considering they host woeful Indiana (dammit!!!) over the weekend, a Badger collapse is not likely to happen. Still, in Badger Country, its being billed as one of the league’s marquee games of the season.
As for the Gophers, even with a win, they can’t afford to lose to Michigan on Saturday. I’d rather Minnesota come into that game with as sparkly a resume as possible. For the Gophers tonight can be a win-win-uh,win situation against the rival Badgers.
Even with a Minnesota win tonight, Michigan can earn the 7-seed in the Big 10 conference with a win on Saturday. Anyway you shake it, Saturday’s game between the Gophers and the Wolverines will determine which team only has to win one Big 10 Tournament game and which team has to advance at least two rounds in order to snag an at large bid. I don’t think tonight’s game will alter that scenario.
A New Threat Emerges in the Mountain West
Out in the Mountain West Conference, your guess is as good as mine as to what’s going on. I’ve been railing all winter on people including 4 MWC in their fields.
We’ve seen some attrition in that line of thought with San Diego State garnering next to no support these days. The Aztecs are only in a grand total of 4 brackets in the Matrix. UNLV, meanwhile, is a 10-seed, but the Rebels are garnering near unanimous support, putting them on stronger footing, on the surface at least, than teams like Florida and Kentucky. Neither of those positions will change tonight as each hosts one of the league’s worst teams with UNLV playing Air Force and SDSU welcoming Colorado State. Conveniently, the Rebels and Aztecs play each this weekend and it’s looking more and more likely they will see each other again next Thursday afternoon in the 4/5 quarterfinal of the MWC Tournaments.
Elsewhere in the league, BYU seems secure barring a complete collapse and a three-game losing streak to end the season. They do play a tougher-than-it-looks game tonight on the road at Wyoming, so maybe the first strike in said collapse is coming. But since they host winless-in-the-league Air Force this weekend, don’t get your hopes too high for a Cougar choke job. Utah is a home win from the regular season title and probably won’t be left out of the field either.
So, BYU and Utah look; UNLV and SDSU still have some work to do and any bid between them may come down to back-to-back games each other beginning Saturday night in Vegas. So, this league is easy to figure out, right? Not when New Mexico is added to the discussion. Say what you will about Steve Alford (awesome player, so-so coach) he has the Lobos on fire. They notched a big win over Utah last night and are one win away from sharing the league crown with the Utes. However, as of today, the Lobos are in exactly one bracket along the comprehensive Matrix. I wonder how this will change between now and next Monday? Maybe the MWC will net four bids after all.
I still think the number is three. It may be the most intriguing league tournament all of next weekend. My guess? If seeds hold, the two semifinals winners will get a bid as well the next best team. I still don’t see four teams, but if it happens, rest assured a team from one of the power leagues will be left out in the cold.
For amusement purposes only, I offer the following predictions for tonight. Hey, I am 2-2-1 making calls in March Diaries, but we're only beginning.
Minnesota -2 over Wisconsin. No team that loses at Iowa will win at the Barn. Well, until Saturday, that is.
Mississippi State beats Florida, but I'll take the +1 anyway.
Va Tech +10 over UNC......remember a few years back when Duke's Sean Dockery beat the Hokies on a half court shot? They stewed for an entire year waiting for revenge. Expect the same kind of effort tonight out of Va Tech, who are still fuming over last year's clash in the ACC semifinals. They might not win, but they'll keep this withing single digits.
Michigan and all the other teams on the NCAA bubble saw some chips fall their way last night with the Irish losing on their home court to Villanova. The 17-point loss likely drops ND out of any serious at-large contention save for a major run in the Big East Tournament that involves upwards of three wins when the field convenes in New York City next week. According to the latest BE Tourney projections, those wins would have to come against, in order, Rutgers, Syracuse and Louisville, with those last two foes both coming off a bye. Impossible? No. But, it would still be improbable.
The only negative of the outcome was to my bank account. My prediction of an ND win went down in flames, as did the profit I made on Michigan's pointspread cover Sunday afternoon. Sigh. At least I took one for the cause. Kinda like Brian and the abololition of the Live Blogs, right?
That brings us to tonight. While there are several games that will impact the bubble, it's bound to be a frustrating night for Michigan fans. Their fellow bubble mates tipping off tonight are mostly playing second division teams or favored in their game. Or, both. If form holds, Michigan won't gain much traction in the chase.
But, its March. The possibilities are endless, and there is no better time than now to be pulling for the underdog.
Ohio State at Iowa, 9pm, BTN. Line, OSU -1
What happens if Ohio State keeps losing? They’ll be hosting a NIT game, that’s what. For the second straight season, the Buckeyes tournament hopes come down to the final week of play. The Bucks, a solid NCAA pick all winter, are finding their bid in jeopardy as they slump to close the season. After losing four of five games, Ohio State can’t really afford to drop too many more and stay in anybody’s good graces. Winning at Iowa should be a cakewalk, right? Tell that to Badger and Wolverine fans. If OSU can’t take care of business tonight, they will be facing a must win home game this weekend against a Northwestern them that just beat them. Ohio State is a 9-seed according to the Matrix, but they need to do the same thing Michigan needs to do in order to get into the field: Win 2 more games between now and the end of the league tournament.
Cincinnati at South Florida, 7pm, ESPN U. Line, Cincy -2.5
Georgetown at St. John's, 7:30pm, ESPN 360. Line, GT -6.5
I link these games together because of how similar the situations are to one another: Favored Big East bubble team hits the road to play a league lightweight.
On one hand, I recall USF upsetting Marquette and handing the Eagles their first league loss. On the other hand, I see the Bulls have not won a game since. And, in all those games, the margin of defeat exceeded double digits. If the Bearcats lose tonight, it would be much worse than Michigan’s loss to Iowa last month and a fatal blow to their at large hopes. After being run out of the Carrier Dome two days ago, the Bearcats are out of excuses and need to start impressing the tournament committee. As of now, the Bearcats are fifth-to-last out according to the comprehensive Bracket Matrix, one slot ahead and in two more brackets overall the Michigan.
With Georgetown, a deeper look into the Matrix reveals how valid a threat the Hoyas are to steal an at-large from Michigan or any of the other bubble teams. While the Hoyas are only placed in six total brackets (putting them at eighth-to-last out and two spots behind Michigan), all six of those brackets have been updated since the weekend. Compare that to Michigan and Cincinnati which remain in just 6 and 5 respectively of the most recently updated brackets. Translation: The Hoyas aren’t yet getting the overall support of the Bearcats and Wolverines, but they are getting at least as much more recent support. They wont gain any additional support in their game tonight against St. John’s, but they lose all that they do have with a loss.
Both CU and GU close at home against more league patsies (CU hosts Seton Hall, GU hosts Rutgers) this Saturday. Finishing 2-0 to close out probably won’t elevate them into the field, unless massive bubble chaos ensues. However, winning both games this week sets both schools up to advance only as far as the Big East quarterfinals to likely get a bid. Taking a look at the projected Big East Tournament brackets shows both playing more lightweights in the opening round. Wins there would advance both in the second round to play in the afternoon session next Wednesday with the Hoyas playing Villanova and the Bearcats playing West Virginia. Could those be play in games for both schools? I don’t know. But, I do know that each has to win out until that game for it to happen in the first place.
Wake Forest at Maryland, 9pm, no TV. Line, Wake -1.5
Somebody needs to explain to me why this game is not on television? http://www.testudotimes.com/2009/3/2/778436/maryland-wake-forest-previ
“>Deacons vs. Terrapins should be a blast and worth tuning in to, if only to see if Greivas Vasquez can continue to shoot the Terps to a tournament berth. Without him, the Terps don’t beat NC State the other night, let alone their show stopping upset over UNC 10 days ago. But, because of those efforts, Maryland not only controls its own tournament fate, but probably does not need to notch this win tonight to make the Dance. A win might lock them in, but even with a loss, the Terps have a chance at a .500 ACC record with a win at Virginia on Saturday. Like Michigan, two more wins from here on out may do the trick. Maryland is a 12-seed according to the Matrix consensus, but unless they get completely embarrassed tonight, I don’t think they’ll fall out of too many brackets with a loss.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 7:30pm, ESPN2. Line, OSU -6
The Bubble Game of the Night takes place in Stillwater when Kansas State hooks up with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys currently sit as a 10-seed in the overall Bracket Matrix. Kansas State, meanwhile, is one spot behind Michigan as the seventh-to-last team out. I tend to think Michigan fans need to pull for KSU in this one. The Wildcats do close with a lay-up at home against Colorado this weekend, but by every metric available, I think Michigan’s resume remains stronger. A win in Stillwater would be impressive, but Michigan can match that by winning at Minnesota later in the week. The Wildcats would still have to advance farther in their own league tournament than Michigan does in theirs to pass Michigan. The Cats will need a big game out of Denis Clemente if they want win this one tonight. Oklahoma State is a different situation. They play at Oklahoma on Saturday. Folks, they are not winning that game. A loss tonight will mean a 0-2 final week. That’s never good for a bubble team. Its senior night in Stillwater, and its hard to believe they’re highly touted 2005 recruiting class is about the . A win tonight will go a long way in preventing that from happening.
Blantantly stealing a trick from Brian and his football game previews, but here goes......Three things to make me look stupid in the morning:
*Iowa beats Ohio State
*Oklahoma State beats KSU, but closer than the experts think.
*And, in a game not featured above, take Florida State +12.5 over Duke. Dont sleep on FSU. They've won twice for me in recent weeks in games against Miami and Clemson. They will give Duke all they can handle this evening. The games tips at 8 and is on ESPN Full Court.
Alright, I still intend on breaking down the roster of the more historically accurate brackets and where they place Michigan as we head into the final week of the regular season. However, something called a job got in the way of serious bracket crunching this afternoon. I'll spend some time tonight sorting through more mock brackets.
However, allow me a few words to prepare you for basketball action tonight as it pertains the the bubble. It won't take long. There's only one game of true import. But, its a biggie.
Nineteen days ago, the Irish sat at 12-10, losers of seven games in a row. Five of those losses were by double digits. Staying above .500 looked like it would be a challenge, let alone any hopes for the Big Dance. Nobody was playing defense, and, only one could score.
Rather surprisingly, the Irish picked themselves off the mat and, as March starts, according to some, have a fairly manageable road map into the NCAA Tournament. I guess that's what wins in four of six games, including dominating efforts against Louisville and at Providence can do for you, especially in a weak bubble year.
For example, lets turn our eyes to Bracketology 101. Why him? The folks at the Bracket Matrix claim B101 to be the most accurate mock bracketologist over the last three years. He already has Notre Dame in the field. Forecasting tonight as the start of a four game winning streak, B101 has the Irish on the 12 line right now. If that winning streak comes to fruition, expect Notre Dame in the field when pairings are officially announced in two weeks.
After their game tonight, the Irish close the season Friday night in South Bend, against league lightweight St. John's. As the Big East Tournament bracket projects right now, the Irish would open with Rutgers. A win advances them to a 7 vs 10 game against the Syracuse Orangemen. That's the road map that conventional wisdom figures Notre Dame has to navigate in order to get an at large.
Villanova and Syracuse are challenging bookends, but, considering this team was dead in the water less than three weeks ago, Irish fans have to be happy about the fact they're still alive and kicking, right? I mean, they'll be favored to win the first three games of this closing kick, so things are just ducky in DomerVille, correct? Um, not so much. Some are too busy raking Mike Brey over the coals for coaching a team with such promise into such a shaky bubble position with a week to go in the season.
Notre Dame fans think they have coaching problems, but perhaps they should be thankful they dont have Viilanova head man Jay Wright pulling the strings. His violations against Nova Nation have been enumerated in the Wildcats ugly demise against Georgetown over the weekend.
One thing I do know is that the final 10 minutes of that game on Saturday rivalled anything as ugly we've seen come out of the Big 10 this year. That includes that 38-33 classic that Penn St and Illinois spit at us a few weeks ago. At least in the game, some folks scored clutch buckets down the stretch. The Hoyas and Wildcats were stuck at 52-50 for much of the final five minutes of the game with the Hoyas chucking up air balls, which the Wildcats matched with hurried and careless turnovers.
Maybe the Wildcats are beginning the run out of gas. From what I saw out of them over the weekend, plenty of doubt exists that they can go into South Bend tonight and put an end to the Irish threat. In fact, I expect the Irish to cover the -2.5 this evening and do so emphatically.
Let's quickly compare the resumes of Notre Dame and Michigan as it stands now:
Notre Dame, 16-12, 7-9
Best wins: Texas, Georgetown, Louisville and Providence
Bad losses: at St John's......otherwise, the Irish have not lost to a club that's not either in the field or strongly competing for a bid.
W/L vs RPI: top 25, 1-7; 26-50, 2-3; 51-100, 1-1
Michigan, 18-11, 8-9
Best wins: UCLA, Duke, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue.
Bad losses: at Iowa. Probably not as damning as losing to the Johnnies.
W/L vs RPI: top 25, 3-5; 26-50, 3-4; 51-100, 4-2
Compare and contrast those resumes. Play it forward with ND winning four straight, then losing in the Big East quarterfinals. The Irish would be 20-13, with wins over Villanova and Syracuse (likely) added to their resume along the way. If Michigan takes care of business and gets as far as the Big 10 quarterfinals, they would have an identical 20-13 and add a second win--on the road, no less--against Minnesota.
Whose resume is better in each situation? Is there room for both Notre Dame and UM in this field? What if ND advances an extra round, beyond the above road map, in their league tournament and Michigan does not?
According to the earliest returns from the latest straw polls, Michigan’s yo-yo on the NCAA Tournament Bubble continues.
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. Michigan is on their final cut lists and, at least in their minds, Michigan is much closer to being in the field this morning than they were a week ago in the wake of the Iowa debacle.
JN at the Basketball Forum places just six Big 10 teams and chooses Georgetown over Michigan by virtue of their longer list of quality wins. Michigan has the scalps of UCLA, Duke, Purdue, Illinois, Penn State, and Minnesota. Georgetown, meanwhile, owns wins over Memphis, Maryland, UConn, Syracuse, Providence, and Villanova. Discuss.
Going behind enemy lines, the Columbus Dispatch has Michigan in the ‘barely out’ category. At least they’re being honest about Ohio State, seeding the Buckeyes as an 11 while noting the hometown team is on “thin ice.”
Paymon takes a novel approach detailing the final bids he would dole out. He has Michigan as one of his final teams out. All four of his final teams in the field—Notre Dame, Arizona, Kansas State and Florida--have huge games between now and the time the Wolverines next play.
Rush the Court has the deepest analysis of any of the earliest returns, including cliff notes for the upcoming week. He has Michigan second-to-last out of the field.
Michigan needs to win a lot more to get into Fully Sports Field of 65. Michigan is not even among the last four cut, but St. Mary’s, Rhode Island (WTF!) and Cincinnati (Double WTF!!) are. Seriously, how did the Bearcats look more impressive yesterday than Michigan? They were non competitive against Syracuse. There’s no way Rhode Island gets an at large unless they reach the A10 finals, so we won’t discuss the Rams until they get four more wins.
It’s only a thumb nail sketch of what the Matrix may eventually look like. I’ll report on a deeper look into the Matrix, including how Michigan is being treating by the more historically accurate bracketologists (here’s a hint: not well), later in the day when more brackets are updated.
Until then, here’s a nice breakdown on how the “new” RPI formula is impacting teams in the chase this year. It does not look like the revamped formula is impacting Michigan, but plenty of other bubble teams are seeing their rankings altered in this often cited metric used to help separate teams from the pack.
One thing worth noting: It’s mentioned the best way to keep a strong RPI afloat is to schedule one of those preseason tournaments. Michigan has done that for next year as they’ll take part in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend in a field that includes Xavier, Florida St, Baylor, Creighton and Marquette. Taking part in that tournament this season has really helped keep Siena and Oklahoma State’s RPI higher. Both the Saints and Cowboys played each other in the last place game, but their SOS from taking part in the field has been a feather in their RPI caps all season long.
Happy March, everyone!
We're beyond the traditional winter months on the calendar and chatter of Spring Training promises warmer and longer days ahead.
For me, the arrivial of March really only means one thing: A cavalcade of intense college hoops dramatics. They call it March Madness. I am certain you've heard something about it before.
Over the next three weeks, a buffet of bubble battles, conference tournament elimination games and the opening rounds of the tournament itself will cut the game down from 343 to 16 teams.
Actually, we're below 330 teams right now as some hangers-on in the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Ivy leagues have already been eliminated. Sorry, Southeast Missouri State, but you didn't qualify for the OVC Tournament. You can stop any contigency plans for a parade in downtown Cape Giradeau. Of course, since you went 0-18 this year in the league, those plans probably weren't that far along anyway.
There will be a ton of hoops crammed in this a short period of time as we sort out who will be left standing and deemed #1 (not to mention, who will be named #66). As a college hoop junkie, I will be in Heaven. I shudder to think just how many games I will gamble on between now and St. Patrick's Day. And, then the NCAA and NIT tournaments will actually begin. Wow. Hold on Tight.
For Michigan fans, the arrival of March brings both great excitement and dread.
On one hand, the program is playing relevant hoops again. A year removed from one of the worst seasons in program history, Michigan sits squarely on the bubble with an obvious, and not impossible, road map into the NCAA Tournament. Doing so would break a decade-long qualifying absense from the final field of 65. That quest begins today at Wisconsin, in the first of at least three games remaining for Michigan of which the Wolverines need to scrape up two wins to likely make the field.
However, March has not been kind to the basketball program this decade. That's where dread sets in for Michigan fans. They've been dragged to the NCAA cut line before, only to see their hopes clipped in the end. Did you know that since their last NCAA appearance, Michigan is just 18-24 in the month of March?
Oh, that's no shock. I'm surprised it's not worse. We've had some lean times
Ok, so it's not that awful. It's not awesome, either. But, how about removing the 10-2 NIT mark compiled during those years? We're left with a brutal 8-22 record, all of which is against Big 10 foes either in regular season or league tournament games.
Ouch. Crap, that blows donkey.
Michigan has lost five regular season March games in a row and 11 of their last 14.
March Madness is to the basketball program as Pasadena is to the football program.
Triple Ouch, and thats a blow smart guy. You're On Notice
What's worse is how many of those March contests would made Michigan tournament bound had the result gone the other way.
In 2003, Michigan entered March tied with Wisconsin in the loss column for first place in the league. Late scoring droughts doomed Michigan in home losses to Illinois and Purdue. That was the last season Michigan was on probabtion, but its final 17-13 record would not have passed the grade anyway.
Eh. Who cares? It was good to be winning again. The probabtion being lifted was the biggest win of the season anyway. We we finally on the way back.
Which stomach punch loss to Indiana was worse? The 5-point road loss in Bloomington in 2004 to a sagging Hoosiers club with a losing record. Or, the 2006 season closer where the Wolverines vomitted a couple different double digit leads allowing lame duck Mike Davis to steal its tournament bid.
2006. Epic Fail. I wanted to tear of Tommy's head that day and feed it to zoo animals. How do you never beat Mike Fucking Davis in your entire coaching career? You have to work hard to blow that many games to that guy.
Courtney Sims missed dunk.
Is it too early to drink?
All those losses flipped UM from a tournament-looking team to the NIT or worse. And, it does not take into account any of the woes in the league tournament where Michigan has had plenty of chances to overcome those regular season gaffes. Mission Never Accomplished.
What's your point, I thought you said Happy March Madness?
What can Michigan do to break the cycle? I think they've already done it. They hired John Beilein. Beilein took over a complete rebuilding project last year. It's a feather in his cap that he rebuilt the program in his image and already has at least returned the Wolverines back to the level where his predecessor peaked. Getting Michigan to the brink of the tournament was the limit for Amaker.
I think we learned that Amaker is not that good of a head coach. He's a career #2 guy, best left to managing certain aspects of the team. As a head coach, he never was able to discover that new wrinkle or push that extra button to get the team those critical March wins. Its a different brand of ball this month, and you need a different brand of coach.
Beilien fits that bill. Chew on these numbers as we approach the tip today in Madison. During Michigan's stretch of futility, Beilein is 33-22 SU, 34-19-2 ATS in the month of March. While Michigan has been losing critical March games for the last decade, Beilein has been winning them.
That above record includes the 1-3 marks from last year when Beilein arguably faced his widest talent gap between his team and the bulk of its schedule. Last season was the first year that a Beilein team had a losing record in March against the spread since his second year at Richmond. That was also the first year of Michigan's NCAA drought.
The talent gap has clearly shrunk, evidenced by the fact the Wolverines are on the brink of doubling their league wins from last season and, more importantly, ending their long tournament absence. The club still is not loaded with talent. But there's enough skill and smarts on the team, that I trust it in a game like we have today, specifically because Beiein is behind it prepping and prodding them. I expect this March to deliver results that we're more accustomed to from Beilein squads.
The battle of coaching wits between Beilein and Bo Ryan today will be fascinating. Of course, it might create a game played in the 50s and not look aesthetically pleasing. But, it will create a game than ends closer than the experts in the desert (Wisco is an 7-point favorite) think.
Michigan has the chance to have the two best players on the court throughout the game. I like C.J. Lee's chances to lock up Travon Hughes so he doesn't kill Michigan like he did back in December. Manny Harris will not shrink from this moment.
I've seen enough of the Badgers this year to know that despite what defensive stats are out there, this is not one of Bo Ryan's vintage lock down units. I've seen teams from like Long Beach State and Iona carve out quality looks against this defense, convert and nearly pull off upsets. The Badgers have had worse moments against the league's bottom three than Michigan. At home this season against likely tournament and bubble teams, the Badgers are just 1-5 ATS. Michigan is one of those teams. I dont think they'll be able to shake free from Michigan all day.
The Wolverines will have their chances today. If they can convert a few more open looks than usual, they will be there in the end and we'll have another dramatic Sunday afternoon of basketball on our hands. Just in time for March.
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.