the season has truly begun now
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.
Color me frustrated with the Bracketology World this morning.
Catching up with the mock brackets last night, I expected Michigan to surge a little bit. I had convinced myself they might find their way into enough fields to build a consensus spot in the Bracket Matrix. If not that far, they would be no worse than on the cusp of the field.
Yeah, um, about that, ah, well funny thing, it seems my analysis was a wee bit off.
Ironically, Michigan, despite a great road win and plenty of fellow bubble teams falling around them, actually lost ground in the last comprehensive Matrix update. Before the weekend, Michigan was third to last out of the field, according to the full view of the Matrix, which tracks upwards of 55 mock brackets. Monday night, however, they had been downgraded to sixth to last out.
Looking deeper into the Matrix eased only some fears. Only 28 brackets were updated today to include games played through the weekend. So, not all the "votes" are in. But, still, Michigan was only in five of those 28 brackets. I expected that number to be at least twice as much.
Michigan does not appear to have separated themselves at all from the group of teams just left out of the field. Michigan is one of the final eight teams on the outside looking in, according to the Bracket Matrix.
Of those teams, Michigan, at least, passed Kansas State as they're in one more bracket than KSU of those 28 fields updated yesterday. Rather surprisingly, Michigan only received the same amount of invites as Penn State and Providence. Georgetown, Creighton and USC, meanwhile, remain in more of these 28 fields than the Wolverines.
Spinning some of these numbers positively, you do notice that seven of the eight final teams out, Michigan included, basically have been given equal accord. They're all scattered in just enough brackets across the entire 55-bracket spectrum to make a dent in the Matrix and be included in the final group out. It is within Michigan's grasp to out perform all of those teams from here on out.
Southern Cal, the team in this first eight out group with the most bids, has not paid in full for their loss late Sunday night. The Trojans are in 28 fields (compared to the average number of fields from the other seven in this group ,9.5, with UM in 9 fields), however more than half of those bids came from brackets that have yet to be updated to include the weekend's results. The Trojans should lose support as more mocks come in. Who will get those bids?
Michigan's losing record in league play right now might be the one thing that’s keeping UM from sweeping onto one of the final bracket lines.
Michigan has a decade's worth of mediocrity to overcome as far as perception goes. Coming to the table with a losing league mark is something you only want to do if you're a tournament regular and folks are already conditioned to giving you the benefit of the doubt. Michigan is not in either category. Despite improved play from the Big 10, Bracketologists dont seem inclined to include a team from the league that’s below .500. And, most appear to be having a hard time talking themselves into granting seven bids to the league.
Not all Bracketologists feel this way. One, The Bracketeer, whose mock field is affiliated with, of all things, a Creighton Blog, sneaks the Wolverines in the field. He explains that in each of the last two seasons a team with a losing record from a BCS league netted an invite. As of now, he feels Michigan will benefit from that gift. Mr. Bracketeer, the Mgoblog Community salutes you for going to extra historical research mile on behalf of the Maize and Blue.
Michigan needs to force everyone else's hand this week with a pair of conference wins. It will push UM to 8-7 in the Big 10. In the updates one week from today, I would be more than interested in hearing arguments for keeping UM out of the field, considering they would have a winning league mark, big time OOC scalps in Duke and UCLA and as many wins against the RPI top 100 as anyone else on the bubble.
What surprised me when looking into the fields that updated yesterday was the fact that for every field that had Michigan just missing the cut, there was a field where Michigan didn't seem to be in contention and left off of whatever 'final group left out' list thrown out there. There is a fairly wide range of opinion on the Wolverines. And, the more prominent brackets out there are among those driving the inconsistent judgment on the Maize and Blue.
Michigan is on the up tick according the Matrix administrators. In their own field at the Bracket Project, Michigan remains excluded from the field. They don’t list who their final teams out are, but in the mock NIT Field, Michigan is a top seed, moving up from a 3 seed last week. Moving up on the NIT Bracket lines is progress, right?
Michigan was the last team out of Lunardi's field at ESPN. He also pointed out in an interview on the WWL that the Wolverines could easily play themselves into a bid. The Wolverines were also the biggest mover of the week in the Bracket Junkie's field, going from 7th to last Out to 3rd to last In. Those two are annually considered among the most accurate Bracketologists. Those are good signs.
You know who else gets acclaim for their accuracy and brilliant mock brackets? Bracketology 101 and College Hoops Net, both of whom continued to downgrade Michigan. In B101, Michigan's fall mirrored their overall decline in the Matrix with UM going from third to last out to sixth to last. Siegel at CBH had been a long holdout for UM's chances, but in his bracket Monday, he doesn't even have the Wolverines listed among the final eight teams left out. I dont feel comfortable about Michigan's standings if both of these guys have Michigan falling farther out of range for bid.
Bottom line, it's up to Michigan to gain people's support. If they have a winning record in their final regular season games, they will notch at least two more wins against teams currently in the field. They will also notch at least one road win. With more bubble carnage also expected between now and then, its still safe to assume that three more wins, enough to clinch a .500 league mark, will be enough for Michigan to earn an at large bid.
Looking elsehere along the Bracket Matrix, here a couple of other observations:
Bracketologists gave Cincinnati a mulligan for their road loss to Pitt over the weekend. That's fair enough considering the Panthers might be the best team in the nation. Of the 28 brackets updated Monday, CU remained in 18 of them. The Bearcats recent run up the Big East standings gave them enough capital to absorb a loss to an elite team. Can they afford two? Most of the brackets have them clinging to a 12 seed. The Bearcats next play Saturday afternoon at home against Louisville. I dont think they get a second mulligan with another loss.
The Miami Hurricanes are in jeopardy of being swept out of most fields. There were more new brackets Monday, by a 15-13 count, that had Miami out of the field. By that metric, the Canes are the team most in danger of falling out the Matrix. They travel to Florida St Wednesday night and host Boston College Saturday afternoon. Those are two games that might be as important as any other games along the way for Michigan's eventual chances. The Wolverines are decidedly anti-Da U from here on out.
The Mountain West Conference continues to receive four bids. I promise to no longer get worked up about this though. In the Matrix, BYU, SDSS and UNLV remain in a vast majority of fields, but all three are on the 11 line. I dont think any of those teams can afford losses at that projection and not fall by the wayside if other bubble teams perform well. After spending the last couple of weeks collecting wins against the bottom half of the league, we finally see a run of head to head matchups that might end up being elimination games relating to next Monday's brackets. New Mexico at BYU, BYU at UNLV, SDSU at NM, UNLV at Utah, BYU at SDSU are all on the schedule from now until the end of the month. The league could cannabolize its at-large bids between now and the end of the month. It will be hard to keep the losers of those games in mock brackets as we get closer to March, especially if other bubble teams perform well.
Beware Creighton. The Bluejays suddenly are in more updated fields than Michigan. The Missouri Valley Conference had been on a six-year run of receiving multiple bids into the dance. That ended last year. But Creighton and league cohort Northern Iowa are trying to start a new streak. What's intriguing about the Jays position is that, unlike most mid majors this time of year, they can really improve their resume in their final four regular season games. They play MVC fourth place team Evansville tonight. On Saturday, they have a marquee Bracket Buster game against well known George Mason, where a win will impress. After a road game against last place Missouri State, the Jays close the season on ESPN playing third place Illinois St. If they win those games, they will be in the tournament as long as they dont flame out early in the MVC tournament. How many losses will it take to implode their at large hopes. One? Two? This is a storyline to watch between now and the end of the month.
Did Texas A/M just breathe new life into their season? They have a poor man's Michigan resume with a pair of OOC wins over LSU and Arizona sparkling their profile. But, they are three games below .500 in conference play in a league regarded to be below the Big 10. Yet, getting lost in the Bracket Matrix for some time reveals the Aggies in a surprising amount of final groups left out of the field. And that was before last night's resume win over Texas. They have one of the easiest slates of all the bubble teams from here on out, although they do have three league road games to play. Still, the Aggies have to be considered a threat again.
While we're exhaling after that nail biting Michigan win, dont forget there are other hoops going on tonight that will impact Michigan's spot on the bubble.
Boston College, Miami and USC are just ahead of UM, grabbing some of the last few at large spots ahead of Michigan in most mock brackets. All three have games today against big time opponents. Its a triple header on FSN with Duke at BC, UNC at Miami and USC at ASU. They all are significant underdogs.
Here's why these games are important to UM:
*Right now, UM has the second best result of the weekend of all teams that are just in the field, or just out of the field. I put Arizona's throttling of UCLA as the best result, by far. Still that allows Michigan a chance to move up and get on more bracket lines. The perception of the win can alter drastically if one of these bubble teams pull a huge scalp tonight. In resume head bumping, for example, do we want Michigan to go up against a BC team with wins over UNC and Duke? Um, no. We'll probably lose that argument.
*What if chalk holds form? According to the Bracket Matrix that would be mean that two consensus 10-seeds, two 11-seeds and one 12-seed will all have gone down this weekend. Michigan is the only 'Final Four Out' team to notch a win, a road win vs an RPI top 100 no less. Michigan is currently in nine fields in the matrix, but only one that's been updated since the MSU loss. If chalk sweeps tonight, expect both of those numbers to increase.
*Lets look at the bubble dilemma bracketologists will have in reshaping their latest mocks. We're going to use the Bracket Junkie's mock bracket, last updated Friday, as a barometer. Its a pretty good read and offers up a different commentary from the usual suspects we see in the traditional media. Its obvious he knows his hoops and the selection process.
Notice his last 10 in the field. Three of the last seven in--Va Tech, Cincy and KSU--have already lost. Three more--BC, Miami and USC--are expected to lose tonight.
Among the large group he includes that just missed the cut, plenty others along with Michigan won. However, the Wolverines win was the best of that bunch. Michigan winning at Northwestern is beter than Providence beating Rutgers and the MWC hopefuls UNLV and SDSU smothering of second division teams. Its even better than Creighton thumping SIU on the road.
I'm throwing this bracket out here to illustrate how big of a move Michigan may yet make in this week mock brackets. This is one that's a regular read of mine where Michigan has a chance to go from seventh to last out of the field to being on a bracket line when it updates Monday.
So, Michigan still has a lot to gain today. If you're inside watching sports and NASCAR is not your thing, find your local FSN. You have a rooting interest in all three games: Duke over BC, UNC over Miami and ASU over USC.
Duke up 31-20 with 5 to go in the first half.
So any thoughts on Michigan's game today, the rest of the season and its tourney hopes? Any takes on the national landscape?
Thanks, and I will hang up and listen.
Three of the game's marquee players, Blake Griffin, Hashem Thabeet and Jody Meeks, gave college hoops fans enthralling performances for Valentine's Day. Take a bow, gents. Their performances yesterday were the college equivalent of the Kobe-Lebron Madison Square Garden games a couple of weeks ago. I could not take my eyes off them yesterday, they were fascinating efforts. Consider that Meeks, following up his unreal buzzer beater against the Gators, dropped 45 points carrying his depleted team to a key SEC road victory. And, yet, it wasn't even the best performance of the day. Or even the second best. Toss in the scramble for information on the Stephon Curry injury and a strong buzz of college hoops hovered in the news morning. Bubble talk has ramped up. The regular season is drawing to a close. Selection Sunday is four weeks from today. The scent of March is in the air.
Its with this backdrop that Michigan faces an immeasurably crucial day of hoops, beginning with their game at Northestern (Line, NW -4.5) in a few hours. I wont say its the most important game of the season, because haven't we already said that twice this month? We all know the storyline. Michigan needs to start winning some games or risk falling off the tournament rader. You get the feeling the Wolverines are a loss from kissing away any hopes for an at large bid. I dont think those feelings are all that innaccurate.
However, somewhat paradoxically, Michigan also finds itself perhaps a win away from convincing a majority of bracketologists that they're worthy of being in their fields. Yesterday's out of town scoreboard broke positively for Michigan. The Wolverines are in position today, with a road win against a team in the RPI top 100, to pull close, or even pass, many teams allegedly ahead of them in the chase for bids.
Kansas State and Georgetown are two of the teams among the final four out. Both lost heartbreakers yesterday. BYU doesn't play this weekend. Michigan, with a win, takes a big step forward from this mini pack. While Creighton, St. Mary's and Penn State, from the next pack of four out, all won games, Michigan arguably would stay ahead of that trio with a win today.
How about the teams in the field according to the Matrix? Cincinnati, a 12-seed and pretty much the last team in most people's field, got waxed by Pittsburgh. Virginia Tech, a 10-seed, lost to Maryland and enters a nasty gauntlet of ACC foes from here on out. Kentucky and South Carolina won on the road, the Gamecocks at the buzzer, but Michigan's win today would be mathematically stronger than those. A win today and Michigan gains ground on all those teams. They probably outright pass Cincinnati.
I realize that's not a ton of carnage for Michigan to take advantage of, but remember I labelled this a crucial day for the hoops program, not just a crucial game. Consider the rest of the schedule this afternoon. Three teams, just ahead of Michigan and in the field, face long odds this afternoon. Boston College, USC and Miami--all double digit Matrix seeds--play top-15 teams and each are decided underdogs in games later today. Duke at Boston College (Duke -7.5), UNC at Miami (UNC -8) and USC at Arizona St (ASU -7) are all lined up in convenient triple header fashion (Woot! Fox Sports Net) beginning a few minutes after the final buzzer in Evanston today.
Obviously, Michigan winning its game first is the most important piece of today's puzzle. But, if they manage to get by the Cats, it could be a red letter day of scoreboard watching. Heck, you could make a case that if Michigan losses, the scoreboard watching becomes even more important today as then a win by any of those other teams could make the gap for an bid between them and UM too wide for the Wolverines to overcome in the regular season.
Screw that, though, we're tyring to think positive here. None of this win or lose BS, lets just win and then bring down the hate with a fury onto the Eagles, Trojans and Canes. Lets get our voodoo dolls out, unleash the WLA attack dogs and embark a full scale, whistle stop, skull cracking tour. I know its just hoops, but you're capable of hate against the Trojans and the U, right? Perfect. I knew you'd understand.
So, you're saying Michigan might a team in the field when the day's over
I'm not saying that for sure, but there's a strong possibility that Michigan would still get one of the 34 at large bids if the season ended.
Really? C'mon you're joking. Is that a runner's high you have going or did you wake and bake and forget to go the church this morning?
Hey, thats a low blow man. You know I'm injured and cant run right now. And smoking pot is illegal. All I am doing is coldly breaking down mock brackets and truth reporting.
Anyway, lets go right on and get ahead of ourselves and project the landscape if Hoops Karma deals Michigan blackjack, meaning a win and a sweep by the favorites later on. That would mean two 10's, two 11's and one 12 in the Bracket Matrix with at large bids will have lost over the weekend. Michigan, meanhile, would be the only team in the Matrix final four out that won. Putting it in those perspectives, there's a heavy stack on the table today. The Wolverines will take a big step either towards or away from the tournament field this afternoon.
Are we focusing too much on the Saturday sample size? Perhaps. But, more than half of the Matrix updated as the weekend began. Those brackets alone will be vulnerable to the immediate results of this weekend.
My bet is that Creighton finds its way into many new brackets. But, their inclusion could be a straight up swap with one of the hangers-on from the Mountain West. I am more than fine with that result. St Mary's, now that it proved it could win a big game without start Patty Mills, might also reappear in most brackets after a one week excile.
Those results would only take in partial account of the full bubble shakedown if results break the right way for Michigan. Remarkably, they could find themselves in the field tomorrow afternoon. If it all breaks for Michigan, I actually expect that to happen. At worst, I would expect Michigan to be in more fields during the next rounds of updates than they are in today.
Scoff all you want about fretting Michigan's place in a fake bracket projection. The top end ones worth tracking regularily nail the entire field or, at most, miss just one entry. The competition they have between themselves has more to do with picking a teams correct seed, not whether or not they're actually in the field. Where a team stands in relation to these brackets has served as a much better indicator of where a team sits on the bubble than any poll.
As for the making the real tournament, whether or not that happens, we'll likely be looking back to the results of today as a day of bellweather results.
Michigan does not play today, but that does not mean their position on the bubble wont be altered over the course of the next several hours. Games all day and all night will continue to reshape the bubble position of the Wolverines. Since Michigan's loss Tuesday night to MSU, a total of 25 bracketologists have remade their fields. Only one, still has the Wolverines in their field. However, they remain firm in the 'final four out' category when taking a look at the entire Bracket Matrix, the comprehensive bracketology list tracked by the Bracket Project. With a win tomorrow at Northwestern, Michigan probably wont be worse than that during the next round of comprehensive updates. In the meantime, there's plenty to cheer for, or more appropriately root against, today that will enhance Michigan's position going into their game tomorrow in Evanston. Michigan fans need to bring the hate to several teams across the country as the action unfolds. That might not sound nice considering its Valentine's Day, but we're trying to break a decade long NCAA Tournament drought, so who gives a rip. Without further adieu, here is my compiled list of Enemies of the State:
Georgetown at Syracuse, noon, ESPN. Line, S'cuse -5
Georgeton versus Syracuse screams of classic college basketball, doesn't it? This nooner is a nice way to tip off a long day of hoops. Big stakes are the line today for the Hoyas. Their at large hopes are slowly vanishing under the weight of a young team and a difficult Big East slate. They're just 3-8 since the start of January and sit in 11th place in the conference, three games below .500 in league play. They're running out of time to turn the ship around before March. As it stands now, Georgetown is only in 12 of those 25 brackets updated since Tuesday, 8 of which have them as an 11 or 12 seed. They may be one loss away from being completey excommunicated by the entire bracketology crowd. Are you sure you hate the Hoyas enough going into this one? Take this test and find out.
UCLA at Arizona, 1pn, CBS. Line, UCLA -4
As January closed, the Wildcats were dead in the water and looking NIT bound. One five-game winning streak later, Arizona has rescusitated its season and NCAA hopes. Suddenly only three of the 25 brackets that have been updated to include all of this past week's action dont have Arizona on a bracket line. That's quite an impressive turnaround. However, a loss today to the Bruins may begin to put all that back in jeopardy. The Bruins have dominated this series, winning eight in a row. Bruins Nation breaks down how likely another win over Arizona is. The Wildcats are a double digit seed virtually across the board and the next couple of weeks will be arguably its toughest stretch in league play of the season. Three straight road games follow today at Arizona St, UW and Wassau. A win obviously solidifes the Cats posiition in the bracketologists' eyes. A loss, however, could begin a spiral towards the wrong side of the bubble by the time March rolls around.
Nebraska at Missouri, 1:30pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Missou -11.5
Looking for a tournament darkhorse to impress even the most nerdy college hoops junkie? Try the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They have one the most efficient offenses in the Big 12 and with other teams falling around them, Big Red is peaking at the right time. Just two lonely bracketologists among the entire Bracket Matrix have Nebraska in the field, so they still need to open a few eyes. A win at Missouri today would do that. A loss keeps them invisible. The Big 12 still has a chance at fielding six teams, but only Nebraska is stepping up right now to be that possible sixth team. But, they have to pull in some big wins away from Lincoln from here on out to pull the trick. I'd just assume see them lose today so we dont have to worry about them come Selection Sunday.
Minnesota at Penn St, 130, BTN. Line, PSU -3
I'm still not sure who Michigan fans should root against in this one. On one hand, Penn State is in a funk. Fans have been urged to pull back their NCAA expectations. They've lost three in a row and stud scorer Talor Battle only has a combined 19 points during this streak. If Penn State losses again, the Lions will completely vanish from any at large discussion. They sit in a worse position than Michigan right now and a loss actually puts them in scramble mode from here on out just to notch an NIT bid. On the other hand, Minnesota's spot in the Big 10 pecking order, I think at least, is up for grabs. A loss here gives them losses in three of four games, with the only win being against lowly Indiana. With the Gophers coming to Ann Arbor on Thursday, its conceivable that by this time next week Michigan will have pulled even with them in the tangible standings and ahead of them in the intangible pecking order. Minnesota fans might know who to spread the love to today, but I don't. I'm torn. No worries, thoughh. I am well trained by the WLA propaganda arm, so I'll be able to spin either result as good news for the Maize and Blue.
Kansas at Kansas St, 330pn, ABC. Line, KU -1
This is the one game I am looking most forward to of all the action today. The Wildcats are the Little Brother of the state. And, they have a lot of hate for the rival Jawhawks. It drives some to vandalism. But, in basketball this has been more fued than rivalry as the Jayhawks have all but owned the series. They've only lost once in KSU's own building. The spice for today's game is the hot Wildcats, winners of six in a row. They look no worse than the Big 12's fourth team. Despite the streak, its taken them awhile to impress the bracketologists. Georgetown, for example, is in more of the most recently updated mocks than KSU. Why are people not sold on the Cats yet? Perhaps its an OOC slate whose best win is against Cleveland State. Or, those awful losses to Oregon and Iowa, programs in the team photo for worst team from a BCS league. Or the fact that less than a month ago they were still winless in league play. A lot of that perception could change today with a resounding win over the defending National Champions.
Virginia Tech at Maryland, 4pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Maryland -3
It does not matter if they're playing Gardner-Webb or Clemson, the Hokies play close games. Almost half their games this season of been decided by five points or less, including near-miss, bad losses turned victories this week over NC State and Georgia Tech. Today's road game against Maryland just drips with bubble implications for the Hokies. While they are in near unanimous selection status across the Bracket Matrix, a loss today could start the ball rolling in the complete opposite direction. In their closing run of at Virginia, Florida State, at Clemson, UNC, Duke and at Florida State, they're not going to be favored to win too many of those games. Can you see the Hokies losing five games from here until the end of the regular season? I can and thats a lot of losses in the season's final four weeks for a team on the bubble. A loss today begins to poke a few holes into the Hokies resume and with so many landmines up ahead their bid into the field, despite what the brackets say today, is far from secure.
Florida St at Wake Forest, 4pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Wake -8.5
Of all the teams to root against today, the Seminoles appear to be the most certain to make the field. But, like the Virginia Tech situation outlined above, this team has a brutal slate down the stretch. A series of losses, beginning today possibly at Wake Forest, could well loom. That does not bode well for a program that has not been into the Dance in a decade and in recent seasons have seen bids evaporate under the heat of late season collapses. This team might look like its a long way from the bubble, but a loss today shoves them in that direction.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 4pm, ESPN. Line, Pitt -15.5
The Bearcats are the anti-Georgetown of the Big East hopefuls. They've won seven of nine games, including a sweep of the Hoyas and a win over Notre Dame. At 7-5 in the tough Big East, the Bearcats are in position to earn a bid. They're in more than 75 percent of the most recently updated mocks (just 6 folks have left them out), but their consensus 12-seed in the Bracket Matrix proves their margin of error is slim. The Bearcats have an interesting resume. Their OOC plays includes losses to Memphis, Xavier, Florida State and wins against UNLV, UAB and Mississippi St. That's decent. Their Big East mark, however, may be a bit fraudulent. Half their wins have come against league dormants like Depaul, Rutgers and St. John's. They dont have a win against anybody thats .500 or better in the conference. We'll see if this team is ready to wear as they enter the make or break portion of the slate. After today, their next three games are versus Louisville, West Virginia and at Syracuse. We'll find out just how worthy this team is over the next couple of weeks. The always astute local media thinks today's game is a possible pitfall for the Bearcats. You dont say, do you? Considering they're one of the biggest underdogs on the board today, thats not exactly breaking news.
Creighton at Southern Illinois, 5pm. ESPN2. Line, Creighton -3
Talk about charging hard from the rail. The Bluejays have won five in a row and eight of their last 11. They sit alone in second place in the underrated Missouri Valley Confernece. Dont make the mistake of thinking a MVC team wont get an at large bid. While the league only earned one bid last season, it had sent multiple teams into the Big Dance for six straight seasons before then. Across the entire Bracket Matrix spectrum, the Jays are only in nine fields, but more than half who have placed them on the board have done so since mid week updates. We'll see how they fare on the road in Carbondale this afternoon. CU-SIU used to be the game of the year in the MVC, but the Salukis have fallen on hard times in recent seasons. But, they still play in-your-shorts defense and have a great home court edge. The Jays only won by a point when the teams played earlier this season in Omaha, so a tight one is in the offing. All it might take is another regular season loss or two to extinguish Creighton's flame.
Ohio State at Wisconsin, 9pm, ESPN. Line, Wisco -5.5
I dont think it really matters if Wisconsin loses or not tonight against Ohio State. I'm pulling for them to do so, only because it muddles up the Big 10 pecking order and at least opens the door for Michigan to perhaps slide ahead of them. Regardless, unless the Badgers only two wins from here on out are against Indiana (of all years for Michigan not to play the Hoosiers twice.....thank you Big 10 schedule makers!), I think they'll easily make the field. Those games are home contests against OSU and Michigan and road trips to MSU and Minnesota. I suppose losses in all four are not out of the realm of possibility, so we might as well try to push down the first domino tonight.
Portland (Not The Trailblazers) at St. Mary's, 10pm, no TV. Line, St. Mary -8.5
All season it looked like the West Coast Conference would get two teams in the field with Gonzaga and St. Mary's earning bids. Recent weeks have been cruel to the Gaels, however. They've lost four of five and, worse, their best player Patty Mills is out indefinetly with a broken hand. The Gaels don't look they can win without him. A loss today drops them to 6-5 in WCC play. The Bracket Matrix reveals that St. Mary is in worse position than Michigan right now, albeit only slightly. They're only in one field thats been updated this week. If another loss gets tacked on their resume tonight, you have to wonder what exactly this team can do--if anything--to get back in everyone's good graces when, and if, Mills does return.
SEC BUBBLE: UK, TENN, USC, FLORIDA, LSU
Kentucky at Arkansas, 1pm, CBS. Line, UK -4.5
Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 3pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Vols -10
South Carolina at Alabama, 3pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, SC -2
Florida at Georgia, 330pm, ABC. Line, Florida -10
Ole Miss at LSU, 7pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, LSU -11.5
I could not pinpoint one SEC in particular to root against today, so we all might as well pull for the entire conference's NCAA hopefuls to loss. You dont have a problem rooting against the SEC, do you? No? Excellent. The league is in an interesting spot. I never bought into the January brackets that only gave bids to three SEC teams. However, I'm not sure I buy the February brackets that seem unanimous in placing five teams. I wonder if at least one of them will prove to be too average down the stretch to earn a bid. That would be good news for Michigan and everyone elese on the bubble as it would logicially free up a bid. Florida, LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky are all seeded somewhere between 7 and 11 according to the Bracket Matrix. All five are favored today, so here's hoping there is at least one live puppy out there to spring an upset today to muck up the waters. And, here's double hoping that it becomes a trend from here on out to close the SEC season and make the league no better than a 4-bid conference.
MOUNTAIN WEST BUBBLE: UTAH, SDSU, UNLV
Air Force at Utah, 4pm, no TV. Line, Utah -20
Wyoming at San Diego State, 10pm, no TV. Line, SDSU -16.5
Colorado State at UNLV, 10pm, no TV. Line, UNLV -17
Clearly, I am obsessed with the Mountain West Conference. Which is weird because I love mid majors and typically would go to bat for them. But, until I begin to see more sanity across the bracketology world and the consensus only field two, and not four, MWC teams, this league will continue to irk and worry me as a fan of a program on the bubble. Maybe we're finally beginning to see some movement on this front. The Bracket Matric has UNLV out of the field, even though 17 of the 25 brackets updated since Tuesday still have the Rebels in the field. SDSU and BYU are treading water as 10 and 11 seeds. Utah seems secure, for now, as a 9. BYU does not play this weekend, but the other three are all favored tonight against league lightweights. Any upsets in the MWC tonight would go a long way to making my anti MWC crusade a success. UNLV and SDSU would be booted out of all legitimate mock brackets if either lose tonight, and I dont think either have enough on their slate from here on out that will allow them to do enough to get back inside the field.