Despite not playing a game, Michigan’s hopes for a NCAA tournament bid took a hit as a result of last night’s action on the hardwood. Left to scoreboard watching in the wake of the Wolverine’s loss to the Spartans Tuesday, I was hoping to see some fellow bubble teams crash and burn. Sadly the opposite happened and several teams that were even or slightly ahead of UM in the bubble pecking order notched key wins. Here’s a quick wrap of some of the bad news:
The Kansas State Wildcats routed Texas Tech, notching their sixth straight victory. The win puts KSU in the driver’s seat for fourth place in the Big 12 and a first-round bye in the league’s postseason tournament. It also helped further legitimize their quest for a surprise bid in the post Beasley/Walker era. A win Saturday at home against the hated Jayhawks could put KSU in near lock status.
Continuing their strong mid winter push, the Cincy Bearcats clinched their first winning season under new coach Mark Cronin by slipping by dormant St. Johns. The Bearcats aren’t celebrating that feat as they have bigger fish to fry: A possible NCAA tourney bid and a date with powerful Pittsburgh over the weekend.
LSU notched its biggest win in years (even bigger than during the Final Four run in 2006? Really?), and have solidified its place atop the SEC West standings and, perhaps, more importantly in the NCAA field.
Elsewhere in the SEC, the Tennessee Vols kept pace in the SEC East. They beat up on a team they should beat in last place Georgia, so the win is not impressive by any stretch. Still, after losing at weak Auburn over the weekend, the Vols needed a bounce back win. With their SOS, it will be tough to keep the Vols out of the field, but every game from here on out will be important.
Here’s a shocker: the Virginia Tech Hokies played another close game. Always living on the edge, Virginia Tech has avoided disaster all week. Sunday, they used a miracle second half comeback to stave off an upset bid from NC State. Last night, a workmanlike performance was needed to ease by Georgia Tech. The Hokies are in great position for a bid, but they’re heading into the meatiest part of their slate. They close out with 2 games against FSU and a game each against Maryland, UVA, UNC, Duke and Clemson, so they have a long way to go before they can feel easy about being guaranteed a spot.
The Wisconsin Badgers are back in contention for a bid after winning their third game in a row after topping Iowa last night. Wisco looked dead only days ago, but one winning streak later they’re probably no worse than sixth in the Big 10 pecking order heading into the weekend.
It’s time to drink the Dayton Flyer Koolaid. After dropping a game over the weekend to UNC Charlotte, Dayton responded by getting its biggest resume win of the season, thumping state rival Xavier. If the Flyers showed any signs of weakness, I got the impression bracketologists were more than willing to dump them from their fields. However, after such a marquee win, the Flyers looks as secure in the field as any other bubble team right now.
Out west, Utah buzzed San Diego State to take over sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference. We all know how I feel about the MWC and their projected four bids into the tournament. Last night's results probably did not impact that number for today, but I actually think the Utes win spins somewhat positively for the Maize and Blue. Among the quartet of teams (Utah, SDSU, BYU and UNLV), the Utes appeared to be the most firm in most mock fields. BYU and UNLV are just hanging on by a thread. The Aztecs are somewhere in between. The loss to Utah should push them closer to the bubble's edge. I dont think the Aztecs get an at large bid unless they win the regular season crown. Last night's loss will make that feat harder to achieve.
All those teams notching wins last night are officially ahead of Michigan in the pecking order. Not only do the Wolverines need to turn their own season around, but they could use a hiccup or two out of those programs as well.
It was not all bad news for the Maize and Blue tournament hopes last night. Some positive results did come across the finish line.
Penn State continued to see its shine dull. The Lions have now dropped three in a row and have to be behind Michigan now in the Big 10’s pecking order. PSU stud Talor Battle was shut down last night and eventually outclassed by a plucky Purdue walk-on, dubbed Bobby Buckets.
The Baylor Bears continued its freefall. They were a team I would have pegged in preseason as a tournament team. However, they started the week in worse position than Michigan, and they missed another chance to snare a big win when Oklahoma drubbed them on their home floor.
Boston College, a team in most fields right now as a double digit seed, lost a halftime lead and dropped a home game to Clemson. The Eagles bid is out there for the taking if they continue to play average ball.
It does not sound like much, but at least those results helped Michigan’s cause.
Focusing on the Bracket Project, of the final dozen teams fielded via at large bids, six notched wins this week, two lost and four either haven’t played this week or don’t take the floor again until this weekend. Of the first eight teams left out of the field, Wisconsin, Creighton, and Kansas State won; Michigan, Penn St and Oklahoma St lost; St Mary’s plays tonight; and Georgetown is off until Saturday.
What does any of that mean? Nothing, really, as these are only faux brackets and there are a ton of hoops left to be played. However, a pecking order is being determined. As of now, nobody looks like they’re falling out of the field. That’s not good for Michigan. Worse, it looks like they’re falling to the bottom of the list of the group of wannabees that currently sit on the outside looking in.
A lot can change with a full weekend of hoops ahead of us. And, there are some games going on tonight that might help shakedown the bubble. Here’s what’s on tap:
USC at Arizona, 10:30, FSN. Line, AU -2
Far and away, this game between the Trojans and Wildcats is the biggest bubble matchup of the night. In the Bracket Project, both of these clubs are among the final dozen at large teams, with USC coming in as an 11-seed and Arizona just squeezing in as a 12. The Cats are hot right now, riding a five game winning streak. Tonight, they face a plucky USC team that is 30-13 ATS as an underdog in the Tim Floyd era. They’ve also covered 17 of their last 24 on the road. Hmmm, intriguing. Regardless, the loser tonight finds their tenous spot in the field on even shakier ground. Michigan fans need to root for the loser tonight to go in a tailspin.
Gonzaga at St. Mary’s, 11, ESPN 2. Line, Zags -4.5
The Gaels may prove an interesting case study for the committee. They seemed a sure thing until a few weeks ago when star Patty Mills went down with a broken hand. They’ve lost three of four since. According to the Bracket Project, the Gaels are a consensus ‘final four teams out’ team, although Lunardi, for one, at ESPN still places them along the 11-line. The committee has been known to give teams dealing with injuries a break, provided they're healthy and playing well come Selection Sunday. With a win tonight over the Zags, the Gaels may not need the charity. With a loss, however, the club is on thin ice.
The Zags, meanwhile, were worked over ptetty good on their home floor by Memphis their last time out. Despite being undeafeted in league play, the loss is creating some introspection among the Kennel Klub patrons.
Louisville at Notre Dame. 7 pm ESPN. Line, L’Ville -2
Dear Louisville: Please stick a dagger in the heart (if they still have one….zing!!) of the Irish tonight. Once a top-10 team, the Irish aren’t even on anybody’s radar right now as far as an at large bid is concerned. That’s what a 7-game losing streak will do to you. Irish fans appear to have given up the ship. Rather than hammering more discussion on a one-man offense and a defense that cant stop the other team's best forward, Irish bloggers have gone back to the drawing board in hopes of discovering the keys to creating a perennial power.
The slate eases up slightly down the stretch for Notre Dame, so if the Irish can nab a big scalp tonight against the Cardinals they might be able to claw their way back into everyone’s good graces. Let’s hope it does not happen.
Illinois at Northwestern, 9pm, ESPN 2. Line, Illini -2
The Illini are a lock to make the field. The Wildcats are a long shot. This is not a huge bubble game, but it’s the only Big 10 game of the night. Michigan plays the Wildcats next, so tune in for some advance scouting.
UCLA at Arizona St, 9pm ESPM. Line, UCLA -1
First place is on the line tonight in the desert. Ben Ball was stifled in these team's first game. Can UCLA exact a measure of revenge?
Meanwhile, despite a team battling for first place and a projected Sweet 16 team, it appears that nobody in Tempe is paying attention. Of course, when the primary blog covering ASU is plastered with football recruiting news on the day of the biggest hoops game of the season, can you blame anyone for not being that sky high?
Considering UM’s SOS took a hit last night with the losses by Duke and Northeastern, it would be nice to see UCLA win this game. Michigan will be on the bubble come Selection Sunday and their win over the Bruins needs to look as impressive as possible. A win over the Pac 10 champs would be a nice feather in the Wolverines’ cap.
With the Game of Year in the Mountain West Conference going on tonight, its as good a time as any to discuss the league and its tournament bid chances. Tonight, Utah travels to San Diego State and sole possession of first place is on the line. Apparently, you're missing something if you're not watching Mountain West hoops. The league is having a watershed season. At least, I assume it is. What other conclusion can I make considering that for most of the winter, bracketologists everywhere have been landing a boatload of MWC teams into their field. With 32 days until Selection Sunday, the MWC is seeing 4 of its team in plenty of mock brackets and just about everyone has no less than three teams in the field.
Bracketology 101 called out ESPN's Joe Lunardi last week for including four MWC teams (Utah, SDSU, BYU and UNLV) in his field last week. Lunardi still those four in his field, albeit with BYU and UNLV among the final four in his field. However, B101 is finding the league is hard to resist, admitting to caving in with his latest mock field and even he has three MWC on the board.
I concur with B101's original sentiment. Not to disrespect the fine, competitive hoops they play in the Rockies, but are you kidding me with four bids into the NCAA field? That's almost half their league! What is this, some sort extra credit for the impressive football season the league just completed? I guess its the Year of the MWC. Nobody told me that. Do I still have time to get all my Year of the MWC shopping in before its over?
Even with Michigan's loss to MSU last night, it does not take a PHD in argumentative logic to win a debate that Michigan has the better resume and team than most of the MWC clubs being considered at this point. Throwing Michigan out of the equation, however, I conted we can make a better case for several of the bubble teams left out of most fields today over the at large bids given to the MWC teams.
The league is seventh in the conference RPI rankings. Thats an excellent mark for them, but its just one measurable. The MWC deserves an at large based upon that, but I dont think that alone should warrant the inclusion of more than that.
What if we did conference challenges between the MWC and other comparable leagues and matched the top four MWC teams against the top four teams from either the Missouri Valley, Colonial, Atlantic 10 or West Coast leagues? I've watched enough hoops this year, where I would expect the MVC and CAA to come out on top and I'd be more than willing to put my money where my mouth is. None of these other leagues is in much contention to receive an at large bid, let alone multiple ones.
Browsing through the mocks that have loaded up on MWC teams reveals a sentiment that perhaps nobody else is buying this many MWC bids either. But the bulk of the bubble is so weak that its hard to bump any of them out right now. I can only buy part of that thought process. I agree the overall bubble is not that strong. But, I disagree that there aren't teams currently on the outside looking in that have better resumes and achieved as much, if not more, in better leagues than the MWC.
Enough of my hyperbolic opinion. As we get ready for tonight's showdown, lets do what is only natural this time of year: Breakdown and compare resumes.
SDSU 17-5, 7-2
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100:1-2, 3-4
Best 6 Wins:SD, at UNLV, BYU. TCU, Utah, at CSU
Key Losses: Arizona, ASU, St. Mary, at BYU at Wyoming
Our old friend Steve Fisher has a nice team in the Aztecs, and he is trying to coax them into a third tournament appearance since he arrived in town. I wonder how many of his SDSU players have phone numbers of local bookies in the cell phones?
Low blows aside, it's nice to see Fisher have some success this late in his career. I would encourage anyone to check out a few minutes of any televised Aztec game, if only to see the Haray Carey-esque eyeglasses look the Fish is rocking these days. It's unintentional comedy at its finest.
Anway, lets dive into their resume. Following his mentor Bill Freider's lead, Fisher's club loaded up on a lot of cupcakes, gobbling wins against the likes of UC-San Diego, Western Carolina, Hampton, Seattle (not the Sonics), Northern Colorado and Arkansas Pine Bluff. They had three notable OOC games, but lost all three.
The Aztecs only have three wins versus the RPI top 100. Compare to Michigan, which has more than twice as many. Or Cincy, Arizona, USC and Miami which has twice as many. But, its SDSU that's in all but 5 mock brackets that have been updated after last weekend's action, while the other schools are fighting for their spots.
My problem with SDSU's resume is that their best wins of the season are all in league play. Are we saying the MWC is so strong that a team with ziltch on their OOC resume can still net a bid on the back of home court wins in league play? If that's the case, why aren't we also talking about Northeastern of the CAA, Tulsa from CUSA or Creighton from the VC deserving at large bids. We aren't.
I dont think SDSU is a team that can win a game in the tournament, and isn't that a key factor in finally determining who gets into the field. The irony of Michigan and SDSU battling on the same bubble makes for a nice story line. But, if the Aztecs grab an at large bid and Michigan is one the final teams left out in the cold, my bitterness towards Fisher will only grow.
Utah 16-7, 7-2
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100: 2-4,6-5
Best 6 Wins: Ole Miss, Oregon, Gonzaga, LSU, BYU, New Mexico
Key Losses:SW Baptist, Idaho St, Utah St, Oklahoma, Cal, at SDSU, at UNLV
Way back in the 1990s, the Utah Utes were guaranteed spots in the NCAA field. Basketball season has not been as kind to Utah in recent years, but this year's Utes squad may finally have recaptured the magic of the peak Majerus years. A win tonight in their showdown with SDSU may officially prove the Utes are back.
Given their RPI, SOS and resume building OOC wins over LSU and Gonzaga, Utah has a much better case for an at large bid, even if they lose and get swept tonight by SDSU. Six wins against the RPI top 100 is not something you usually see from a mid major, so that's a nice feather in their cap.
You know what's not a nice feather in their cap? Those atrocious losses to SW Baptist and Idaho State. Yet, the Utes are 11 in the RPI. Are we sure the RPI formula is working? How can a team have those horrible losses, play in a quasi mid major league and yet still remain among the cream of thr RPI crop? Somebody over there may need a new math consultant.
On one hand, those losses were two months ago. However, I saw plenty of commentary this week regarding Kentucky's suddenly shaky bid, pointing out not only the Cats losing streak at the time, but also their embarrassing loss to VMI way back in the season opener. Utah's losses should be weighed accordingly. At least VMI is in first place of the Southern Conference and will likely end up in the tournament. Idaho State is in the bottom half of the Big Sky. As for SW Baptist, I dont even knoW what division of hoops they play, let alone their conference ranking.
If it comes down to Utah and others for one of the final spots, how do those losses not come back to haunt them? Miami, Michigan, Cincy and Penn St, just to name a few, play in tougher leagues, have marquee OOC wins, but dont have those pair of stinkers on their resume that the Utes do.
BYU 17-5, 5-3
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100: 2-3, 4-5
Best 6 Wins: Utah St, Tulsa, SDSU, TCU, Wyoming, at CSU
Key Losses: New Mexico, Utah, UNLV, Arizona St, Wake
The Cougars are the only team in the country to beat Utah State. And, they have a win over Tulsa, the second place team in Conference USA. I'm sold. Go ahead and put them in the field. Most folks have chugged the Cougar Koolaid (wait a minute....that sounds interesting.....perhaps the more perverted wing of the WLA can get to work on a recipe.....but, I digress). BYU finds itself in 30 out of 45 mock brackets that have been updated to include recent games.
I dont mean to knock that win over the Aggies. That's an elite mid major program. But, should Bracket Buster Day type wins pave the way for this kind of seemingly automatic inclusion into the field? I say no. There has to be more than that. Adding in a win over Tulsa and nice MWC record just does not scream at large invite.
When you think about it, isn't BYU's 5-3 MWC mark rather pedestrian? We're talking about leaving .500 teams from BCS leagues out of the field, yet we're blindly promoting a BYU club that's only two games above .500 in a lesser league. You know who else is within that same range record wise in comparable leagues? Try Houston, Temple and Illinois State. Those teams are nowhere near the bubble, but BYU has crashed the gates.
The Cougars are in with a 5-3 MC conference mark, but Cincy and Penn State are still fighting to get noticed with a 6-5 mark in the Big East and Big 10 respectively. Does that make sense?
The Cougars might need to worry that a fellow league member's slide may bode ill for them and other conference members on the bubble.
UNLV 18-6, 6-4
W/L vs RPI top 50, 100: 3-2, 3-2
Best 6 Wins: San Diego, Arizona, at Louisville, at BYU, Utah, TCU
Key Losses:Cal, Cincy, at TCU, at CSU, SDSU, at NM
Wow. Another MWC team that hasn't won more than 60 percent of their league games gets a majority of bracketologists on board with their resume. Typically that winning percentage is NIT material out of this sort of league. Yet, 60 percent of the mocks (27 out of 45) that have been updated since the weekend still place the Rebels in their field.
The Rebels have not been playing all that well of late. Early it looked like they might have been the best team in the league. But, they dropped winnable road games at TCU and CSU and more recently lost consecutive games to SDSU and New Mexico. Fans are expecting a roller coaster, with the strong chance of hell breaking loose, down the stretch.
UNLV has great wins over Arizona and Louisville. But, they also lost to fellow bubble mates Cincy and Cal. Seriously, how can you put UNLV in your field, but not the CU Bearcats. They basically have indentical league marks, but Cincy plays in a much tougher conference and they beat the Rebels head to head, in Vegas no less.
Compare the Rebels resume with Michigan's and tell me which one is better. UM has a better RPI, shatters them in the SOS department, play in a better league, have more marquee OOC wins and have twice as many wins over the RPI top 100. I dont feel that UM should be on too many bracket lines in the wake of last night's loss. Nor do I understand all the love I see UNLV getting in the mock brackets.
Here's where the rubber meets the road for me when it comes to UNLV. They lost to TCU. Now, the Horned Frogs are up and coming, but they still lost this year to Indiana. Anyone who loses to a team that lost to Indiana this year should be eliminated from consideration. That's just the rules.
In one of the most vexing, muddled and up-in-the-air bubble situations the college hoops landscape has seen in recent years, Michigan split their games last week, but in the process elevated their overall profile.
A week after nearly unanimously falling out of most mock brackets, Michigan regained some footing by thumping everybody’s trendy dark horse Penn St by 20 and then going toe to toe on the road against top ranked Uconn. While the Wolverines upset bid fell oh so short, the game effort against the Huskies helped prove to most college hoop observers that UM can compete and beat tournament caliber teams. Also helping Michigan’s cause this week was the continuation of collapses at Notre Dame and Georgetown, several Big 12 bubble teams going winless on the week and fellow Big 10 bubble mates Penn St and Northwestern stepping back to the pack.
Despite ending the week with a loss, Michigan found itself in more mock brackets this week. After losing four of five games to close January, Michigan entered February in only a smattering of brackets, many of which had not been updated to even include Michigan’s more recent losses.
One week into the new month, Michigan finds itself in 18 of 52 mock brackets tracked by the Bracket Project. Nearly 40 percent of the accredited bracketologists label Michigan a tournament team, despite having just gone through its biggest slump of the season. That bodes well for Michigan’s chances, if they can close out strong and bang out a few more impressive wins.
If Michigan can pull out a winning record in their final seven games, a stretch that includes marquee home games against MSU (tonight), Minnesota (2/19) and Purdue (2/26), then a tourney bid is theirs for the taking. A 9-9 league mark ought to do the trick, so long as they do not have an embarrassing flame out in the Big 10 tournament and lose to Iowa or Indiana in a first round game.
The final two teams in the Amaker era broke even in the Big 10, but were denied a bid. Those teams failed to close strong. With a bid on the line in the season finale in both those seasons, Michigan failed to deliver a home win against Indiana and Ohio State respectively. Those Michigan teams did not have anything to brag about in the OOC slate either and, in fact, was routinely embarrassed in their big time non conference games.
This year’s squad is much different. To get to a .500 record in league play, they have to close strong. And, if they succeed, they will have beaten several tournament bound teams in February. And, unlike those Amaker squads, this year’s Michigan team boasts as strong a pair of OOC wins (Duke and UCLA) as anyone else in the country.
With less than five weeks until Selection Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines control their own destiny as far as earning a tournament bid. The path begins tonight with rival Michigan State in town. While awaiting tip off, here are some other observations about the latest round of mock brackets.
Blue Grass Blues
Is Kentucky in trouble? It’s hard to imagine a member of the college basketball royal family missing out on the tournament, but the Wildcats could not have picked a worse time to embark on a losing streak. The SEC has been maligned all winter with experts forecasting as few as four or three bids into the field. You don’t want to be an SEC team on the bubble right now—especially on a losing streak—as public perception will work against you.
Losers of three in a row, the Cats are already finding that public perception betraying them a bit. In the week since UK last played a game, more than one quarter (15 of 51) of the updated mock brackets have left them out of their field. Michigan, for example, is in 8 brackets which UK has been left out of, including such notables as the Bracket Project and collegehoopsnet.com.
The Wildcats are a team in need of win. Tonight’s home game with Florida (on ESPN after the MSU/UM) carries as much import for the home team as the showdown in Ann Arbor does. A win for UK really cures a lot of ills. However, a loss extends the losing streak for a team that plays four of its next five games on the road.
You know it’s bad in Lexington when fans are pining for the days of Eddie Sutton. While his tenure led to crippling probation, some folks wish the Gillespie had a bit of Old Man Sutton’s imagination as they try to fight their way out of a losing streak and off the bubble.
It was a boring week in the ACC, right? Landmark wins by Clemson over Duke and Miami over Wake during the week was followed by a weekend chalk full of dramatic comebacks. Duke, Florida State and Virginia Tech all climbed back from large halftime deficits to secure key wins. Ho hum, just another boring week in the ACC where it seems every game is not only close, but also played between final four contenders and/or good teams residing on the bubble.
It was a good week for the ACC as in some mock brackets, notably Lunardi’s at ESPN, the ACC now has 8 bids, the most of any other conference. The biggest team winner in all of this might have been Florida State. The Noles are one of five ACC bubble teams, but with all of them facing many hurdles between now and the end of the season, it’s really anybody’s guess how this whole thing will shake out. But, coming from behind to notch a road win at Clemson has the Noles, at least for now, standing out from the crowd. Most mock brackets have them securely in the field with a #7 seed or better. The Seminoles are close to being tournament locks and breaking their 10-year drought.
The rest of the ACC bubble still has work to do. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami are still in most fields, albeit as double digit seeds. Neither of those teams can afford a losing spell or other teams will surely pass them. Maryland, the only league bubble team not in any recently updated mock fields, needs to go a prolonged winning streak to nudge back into contention.
Obviously, it’s a marquee week for the league with Wednesday night’s Duke/UNC showdown, but be sure to keep an eye on these games as their outcomes will go a long way in determining the next round of mock brackets: Clemson at BC, 2/10; Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 2/11; FSU at WF, 2/14; VT at Maryland, 2/14; Duke at BC, 2/14; and UNC at Miami, 2/14.
Another week, another new contender in the Big 12
We’re in the process of a complete overhaul of the bubble picture in the Big 12. Spurred by preseason expectations, Oklahoma St, Baylor and Texas A/M was the conventional wisdom’s pecking order for the last few invites for a league that should be a 6-bid conference. However, those three schools are just a combined 9-17 in league play and had been ping-ponging between being in and out of the mock brackets for the last several weeks. Each school went 0-2 during the last week of play. All three have fallen off the radar of most bracketologists and will need to go on a major run from here on out just to finish break even in conference play.
What’s worse is they’ve been bypassed by new bubble teams right out of their own league. Kansas State burst onto the scene the final week of January with wins over Missouri and Texas. The Wildcats followed the act by winning two more games last week—including a gutsy road win in College Station over the Aggies—to run their winning streak to five games. After the win, it’s fair to ask if the balance of power in the league has shifted divisions. The Wildcats have a big week ahead of them. They host Texas Tech tomorrow and then welcome KU in a huge showdown Saturday afternoon. With a manageable slate down the stretch, it will be difficult to keep KSU out of the field if they notch another two wins this week.
Meanwhile a new contender for a bid also emerged in the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska followed the same model KSU did previously and used a marquee win over Texas over the weekend to jump into bubble discussion. Are they tournament ready just yet? One Nebraska bracketologist says not yet, but its just a blast to even include them into the discussion. Nebraska’s bubble situation is just like Michigan’s, in that they have plenty of big name marks on the schedule where wins could boost their resume right into the field. Unlike, Michigan, however, all those contests are on the road. In their final seven games, Big Red has to travel to Missouri, Kansas, KSU and Baylor. If they don’t get at least one win from that group of games, the Huskers will be a .500 team at best in league play. With an OOC resume devoid of any big time wins and marred with bad losses to Oregon St and Maryland Baltimore County, I doubt that will cut it come Selection Sunday.
Beware, Mock Bracket Darling
One of the more interesting trends this winter has been watching the rise—and subsequent fall—of the Mock Bracket Darling. I define this species as a team which nobody is even discussing, but after an impressive week suddenly shoots to the top of everyone’s bubble list. Two weeks ago, the Darling was Virginia Tech. After notching landmark road wins at Wake and Miami, the Hokies came out of nowhere and made appearances in just about everyone’s mock fields. Last week, bracketologists everywhere lauded Penn St, and 24 hours after their road win at Michigan St, the Nittany Lions made their own debut in the mocks.
Both teams found their new found status too much to bear. The Hokies immediately choked a big lead and lost at home to Clemson, followed by a buzzer beating loss to BC. While they won their only game last week, the Hokies place in any eventual field is far from secure. Penn St followed their appearance in the mocks by getting blown out at Michigan and losing at home to Wisconsin. After dropping a pair of bubble battles, the Nittany Lions find themselves out of most mock fields as quickly as they were placed inside them.
If you’ve become a Mock Bracket Darling, you had better watch your back.
If this trend holds up, that bears bad news for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Alleged to be a bottom half team from the Big East, the Bearcats have parlayed a recent hot run into an ‘in the field’ status by most accounts. The Bearcats run includes a win over Notre Dame and a sweep of Georgetown. With those programs cratering towards the NIT and Providence on a three-game losing streak, the Bearcats have found themselves as the last Big East team in the field. According the Bracket Matrix, 41 mock fields have posted since this weekend’s action and the Bearcats find themselves in 27 of those fields. In most of those mocks, CU is either an 11 or 12 seed and among the final teams overall placed on the board.
The Bearcats have one of the conference’s best scorers in Deonta Vaughn. They also have one the league’s top Diaper Dandies in Yancy Gates, who was just named Big Eat Rookie of the Week for the second time this season. Their coach highlights a down to the wire loss at Uconn as the season’s turning point. Hopefully, Michigan can follow suit after their near miss against the Huskies on Saturday.
Can they avoid the Mock Bracket Darling Hex? After a gimme at home against St John’s this week, the Bearcats still have games with Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse and West Virginia between now and March 1. If they can come out of the stretch alive, we might need to find a permanent place in the field for them.
Un4gettable? You had to be there
Away from mock brackets, there was a dose of Michigan related hoops news over the weekend. Do you remember Chris Weber? He played on the Fab Five and advanced to a couple of Final Fours during his years at Michigan. Allegedly.
Anyway, the Sacramento Kings of the NBA retired good old #4’s number in a dramatic ceremony Friday night. All the luminaries that you would expect at such an event showed up. Like Scott Pollard and Doug Christie. Mateen Cleaves was even there and spoke to the crowd about C-Web.
There was a little problem, however, with the crowd that night. Apparently dozens of Wise Guys showed up to honor Weber as well. The Kings did not have enough seats for them, but I am sure Chris, good guy that he is, invited them all out to his post game celebration. It was touching moment, indeed.
Who exactly is Shawn Siegel? And, more importantly, why do I have a man crush on him today? No, recruiting junkies, he’s not some OMG Shirtless Recruit with a reputation of busting skulls from the linebacker position who’s about the commit to Michigan (I wish).
Rather, Siegel is the proprietor and editor of the comprehensive website collegehoopsnet.com. It’s a quirky site devoted to college basketball. I say quirky because often I can’t find the exact information I’m looking for when I check into the site, but I never fail to find other nuggets and links that keeps me occupied during my college hoops research.
My adoration from him today stems from the fact that in his latest stab at a mock bracket he still has the Michigan Wolverines in his field, albeit hanging by a string as a 12 seed and one of the last teams to make his final cut. Shawn Siegel, the Michigan community salutes you.
Remarkably, Siegel is not alone in including the Wolverines, losers of five of six games and seemingly hanging on to a bid by a razor thin margin the whole second half of January. Rainmaker (who runs this blog, Pac Man Jones or Reid Baker? Discuss) joins Siegel in placing Michigan along the 12 line. Another mock bracket site still has Michigan as high as an 11 seed, actually moving the Wolverines up in the field despite their 0-2 week. He also has eight Big 10 teams in the field. Clearly, he’s Jim Delaney’s nephew.
Alas, these folks are in the minority. Michigan has fallen out of most everybody’s brackets, including luminaries in the bracketology field such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and the Bracket Junkie. A quick perusal of the obsessive bracket matrix reveals that Michigan is on the outside looking in right now, but remains in striking range as one the final teams cut from most fields.
Here’s the math that I see Michigan up against. There are 19 at large bids out there that I feel are secure right now. Barring a collapse of epic proportions these teams will find themselves seeded come Selection Sunday. That leaves 15 at large bids left to be doled out. Depending on how inclusive you want to be, anywhere from 35 to 40 teams are among the group battling it out for those bids. The good news is Michigan has an excellent out of conference resume to fall back on and has plenty of conference showdowns—mostly at home—that will allow them nail some high end scalps to the wall and impress the Selection Committee. That bad news is, well, have you seen the team play recently? That’s the bad news and there’s doubt the team will have the chops to rebound and close strong.
Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of events away from Ann Arbor that are impacting the current form of the brackets and the tournament bubble:
INVITE PENN SCHTAAAATE
After snaring perhaps its biggest win of the decade, Penn State fans are wondering if their proverbial black shoes are shined up and ready to dance. Their upset of Michigan State in East Lansing as 12.5-point underdogs is arguably the most impressive league win in the entire conference. What’s not arguable is the immediate impact of that victory: the Nittany Lions appearance, in almost across-the-board fashion, in the mock brackets. In many cases, the mocks just subbed one Big 10 team for another as PSU became one of the final four teams into the field, while, sigh, Michigan fell into the final four to eight out category.
Normally watching a conference brethren pass you by is bad news, but Penn St’s surge could not have been timed better for Michigan. Conveniently, guess who’s coming to Ann Arbor on Thursday night? That’s right; the Penn St-Michigan game this week looms as perhaps the biggest bubble matchup of the week.
The Wolverines are trending downward, but they can regain a does of credibility by beating this week’s mock bracket darling. A win will re-establish Michigan as the sixth Big 10 team ahead of PSU and Northwestern. They’ll have earned a split with the Lions. While PSU will still have a better league mark, Michigan’s out of conference resume, with wins over UCLA, Duke and Northeastern of the CAA dwarfs Penn St’s, which is devoid of any legit scalp, but marred by a pair of shaky home losses to Rhode Island and Temple. If Michigan wins Thursday and puts together a decent showing on the road against top ranked Uconn on Saturday, I’d like to hear the arguments for keeping PSU in the field over Michigan.
Elsewhere in the Big 10, Northwestern is also on the uptick. They are appearing in more than a handful of lists as a final team cut from the field.. This too is good news for Michigan. Who would have thought wins over Northwestern and Penn St would be resume builders. For that matter, who would have thought that wins over Michigan would be as well?
On the other end of the spectrum are the reeling Wisconsin Badgers. Already plummeting on a six game losing streak, the Badgers have a pair of tough ones this week with Illinois on Thursday and PSU on Sunday. The Badgers appear no better than 9th right now in the Big 10 pecking order. Despite some strong computer numbers, the Badgers may needto win four of their next five games just to get in range of a bid. If they keep losing this week, they may have passed the point of no return. That could lead to an outcome where the final league bid comes down to UM, PSU and NW. As long as Michigan beats PSU this week and begins to collect more league wins, I’d take my chances with the Wolverine's resume in that scenario.
ACC Déjà Vu
How many bids did the esteemed ACC receive into the field last season? Believe or not, the answer is just four bids. That seems impossibly low for a league that, much like SEC football, is always considered—correctly or not—as the standard bearer of the sport. The league’s problem is that it’s so top heavy. It puts the league in a bind and may lead to the same fate this year on selection day as last year.
The league’s Big Four of UNC, Duke, Wake and Clemson are Final Four threats. After that, however, nothing is certain and anywhere from between 5 teams and none may be making a claim for a bid come March. There’s a quintet of teams—BC, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Miami and FSU—that are all jockeying for position behind the league heavyweights. Some combination of those five are in the mock brackets, with the ones in the field among the last included and those on the outside among the last excluded. These five clubs still play a combined 15 games against the league’s Big 4, not to mention several more head to head games against fellow bubble dwellers.
Some slates look too daunting to even consider a bid. Maryland, for example, has five games remaining with the Big 4, and their resume is currently plagued with a 1-3 record against fellow league bubble teams and a bad loss to Morgan State. Miami, a team already struggling and falling out of favor with the mocks, lines up against Wake, Duke and UNC in their next three games. The Canes are feeling the heat already, but their three-game losing streak could double. Virginia Tech, a team that always finds itself in close games, will have to find some wins in a closing stretch that includes two games against FSU and games with UNC, Duke and Clemson. The Seminoles, meanwhile, might have the hardest final month of them all with four games against the Big 4 and four more against their fellow bubble mates.
It’s hard to see more than two more bids coming out of that group. It’s easier to see at least a couple of them embark on protracted losing spells like the one Michigan is going through right now. If you set the number of bids coming from this group at 2.5, I would take the Under. Heck, make it 1.5, I still might throw down on the Under. I like to live dangerously. It’s what I am pulling for as less bids for the ACC could mean more for the Big 10.
In a week where most of the news centered on football recruiting and the in-season firing of two hoop coaches, the SEC actually made positive strides on the court and suddenly finds itself in contention for more bids.
For weeks, the SEC had been labeled the worst of the BCS leagues in terms of hoops and was in danger of getting as few as three bids into the dance. In a week that saw a breath of fresh air from Tennessee, saving the Vols season and South Carolina get a signature win in Lexington, causing a white wine binge, the SEC has raised its profile and suddenly looks like a good bet to nab five bids. Just about every mock has UK, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and LSU all in their fields, with the Gamecocks and Tigers new entrants this week.
The teams are surging now and it might stay that way. The drop off after these five teams in so severe that it’s hard to conjure up a losing spell for any of those teams that would knock them out of people’s brackets. Programs like Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Arkansas are such a mess, games against them look like automatic W’s right now. The SEC might be locked into those five bids. They could end up with the same amount of bids as the ACC when it’s all said and done. If so, who’s going to perform CPR on Vitale?
The big game this week is South Carolina at Florida. Its been fun watching South Carolina this winter, but fans of bubble teams need somebody to throw a bucket of cold water on the Gamecocks and at least begin to cast some doubt on their candidacy for a bid.
Big 12’s New Player
A new candidate emerged last week from the Big 12—the Kansas State Wildcats. Thanks to wins over seemingly certain tournament teams Missouri and Texas last week, folks in the Little Apple are thinking Big Dance. With the departures of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker to the NBA, KSU was supposed to regress this season. They’ve caught fire of late, riding the hot hand of JUCO transfer Dennis Clemente, who dropped 40 points on the Horns over the weekend.
The wins pulled them into a four way tie for fifth place in the league and the Wildcats are neck and neck with fellow Big 12 bubble mates, Baylor, Oklahoma St and Texas A/M. All four of those clubs, though, remain below .500 in league play with 3-4 records. KSU merits mention because with the wins last week, they’re the only club of the bunch on the upswing.
Baylor, who lost at home last night to KU, and Oklahoma St are slumping with the Bears losing four in a row, while the Cowboys have dropped four of five. The Aggies had lost four of five before nabbing a pair of wins last week, but they’re still on the wrong end of .500 in league play and play four of their next six away from College Station.
The dynamic between these teams is similar to the bubble outlook in the ACC. Depending on which bracket referenced, Baylor, OSU and TAMU are either hanging just in the bracket or hanging just outside of it. With none of these teams playing all that well, nor having a very impressive overall resume to hang its hat on, I’m beginning to buy into KSU as the league’s fifth best team as the latest Big 12 projections seem to suggest.
What I can’t buy into right now is more than one of Baylor, OSU and TAMU finishing up with winning league records. And, I am not nearly as optimistic as this Aggie booster, predicting an 8-2 close to the season and an easy tournament bid. I’ll take the Over on losses as the Aggies will be doing well to break even over the course of the rest of the season. I see five Big 12 teams qualifying for the tournament, and unless some programs turn it around in February, that may be the limit. Just don’t be shocked if the Purple from Manhattan are one of those squads.
Bracket Buster Letdown
The Northeastern Huskies continue to win just about every time out and sit alone atop the Colonial Athletic Conference standings. Michigan’s 20-point win over NE—a team that beat bubble team Providence—continues to get better and better with each passing week. Northeastern is edging ever so close to the top 50 RPI and could get there if they keep up their winning ways in the CAA and bag a nice mid major scalp come Bracket Buster Day later this month.
Alas, the ESPN movers and shakers did not help this cause out at all, bypassing NE when selecting the day’s marquee games. Instead of tipping against one of the high RPI mid majors like Siena, Utah St or Northern Iowa, the Huskies drew Wright St, a team sitting at 102 in the RPI. The teams behind NE in the CAA standings, VCU and George Mason, arguably received better looking games. Michigan’s hopes of finding another top-50 win on their resume took a hit as nothing short of running the table will push NE into that range.
There was plenty of other news from the bubble to report, but I’ll save that for the weekend report and let some of the games play out this week. And, don’t worry even if Michigan falls out of NCAA contention, we can always begin to track these mock NIT brackets, where a possible second round game with San Diego St looms. Pay back is a bitch, Fish, a bitch, I tell you!
As expected, Michigan lost today on the road to one of the best teams in the Big 10. The Harris ejection was a huge stomach punch to the team, which was too bad because Michigan, without really playing above their head, had gone neck and neck with Purdue the first half. It looked like they could play with Purdue. I am more encouraged about Michigan's chances when they rematch four weeks from now at Crisler Arena than I was this morning. Hopefully Manny will drop a career high on them in retribution for today's early shower.
The obvious sad news is that Michigan, hanging by a thread in most mock brackets when the week began, will disappear from most boards after an 0-2 week. No worries. There are plenty of big ticket scalps out there coming to Crisler Arena in February. Michigan still controls its own fate in regards to an NCAA tournament bid despite their expected absence from the next round of projections.
Scoreboard watching, plenty of good news did come in for Michigan's bubble hopes. Lets take a look at how the afternoon went for Lunardi's projections at espn.com Notre Dame (#10) extended its losing streak to five and is headed for a triple digit RPI. Oklahoma State, a team among the final 4 into the field along with Michigan, also completed an 0-2 week. Two teams from the final eight cut, Mississippi State and Providence, lost with the Bulldogs failures against Ole Miss especially damning, falling spot on in the 'bad loss' department. BC and USC from that group face toss up games this evening. I cant think of one team out there thats not from this group that will automatically leap over them in the current pecking order. With no bubble team making a decisive statement this week, its at least good timing for Michigan to throw up an 0-2 week on the board. Another consideration favoring Michigan as it relates to ESPN's projections. Among the dozen teams that include their final four in and final eight out of the field, three (Utah, BYU and SDSU) are from the Mountain West Conference. Along with UNLV, that league is probably only going to get two bids, so those bubble contenders in that time zone will pick each other off.
In between commercial breaks of tonight's big hockey game with ND, here's what to look for on the out of town scoreboard that will impact the bubble as the final day of January comes to a close.
Baylor at Missouri, 6 pm ESPN Full Cout. Line, Missou -7.5
I'm watching these teams run up and down the court against each other as we speak. Missouri up 35-32 late in the first half. Each team will continue to trade impressive scoring runs.
Conference positioning on the bracket lines is on the line as well. This is a #7 vs a #10 seed in ESPN's current field and its a #8 vs #9 in Rivals. Both teams look solid in this field right now and sport a combined 32-8 record.
I like both of these teams. Missouri is a proud hoops school and the college game can only be at its peak when good teams are rolling out of Columbia. I want to see Anderson create a winner and love the fact he's trying to replicate the Old Razerback 40 minutes of Hell style. Baylor speaks for itself. How can you not cheer for Drew's impressive turnaround and this beleaguered fan base.
I wonder, though, in watching the Bears get totally outclassed by OU and Texas in recent games if this reclamation project hasn't hit a ceiling. They can compete for a tourney bid, but they still look an influix of talent away from being legit conference title challengers. Baylor fans will take that progression as pursuing the first ever consective tourney berths is exciting enough. Defesively, the team has issues and a loss tonight drops them below .500 in the league.
Virginia Tech at Boston College, 8 pm ESPN Full Court. Line, BC -4
How are the Hokies going to respond to letting such a big lead disappear en route to losing to Clemson the last time out? Probably by playing a close game, that's how. Nine games this season have been decided by five or less points. After Thursday's vomit job, the Hokies are now 4-5 in those contests. They're an 8 and 9 seed in the Rivals and ESPN fields, so an 0-2 week would crimp their stature. Home games this week against NC State and Georgia Tech will give them a chance to steady their ship this week, but this team will be living on the edge every time out.
Tonight, they'll be looking to earn a key series sweep of a fellow ACC bubble team. To do so, the Hokies will look to continue their mastery of the quick ACC turnaround travel schedule.
Boston College has been on a big yo-yo this whole month. After their upset over UNC, they were everyone's darling and promptly made an appearance in the national polls. Their next time out they fell to Harvard (Yay, Tommy A!) to start a four game losing streak. Now, they've won three in a row taking advantage of the bottom third of the league standings. They're among ESPN's bottom half of the final eight cuts in their projection. Their RPI is 57, two spots behind Michigan, as of this morning. Their next six games is a brutal stretch that includes games with Clemson, Wake and Duke. They have a big recruit in the house tonight as well. They could use this victory.
This game will go a long way in determining the ACC pecking order.
Miami at Maryland, 8 pm ESPN Full Court. Line, pick 'em
The Terps have been the best soap opera story of the season. They've lost three in a row. The were embarrased in one of the worst losses in school history. Bookending that ineptitude were a pair of games where they lost double digit halftime leads. And surrounding all this a very open fued between the coach and the athletic department over recruiting. Despite their struggles consider this plea by the Testudo Times that he's still the man. Nevertheless, on the verge of missing the tournament for the fourth time in five years, the drama coming out of College Park has got an O.K. Corral feel to it. Adding to the drama of another gamenight is the fact the nation's top recruit will be courtside.
Maryland can still turn it around and string enough wins together. But, they're going to have to do it against an murderous slate with half their remaining games against Duke, UNC, Wake or Clemson. Its doubtful the Terps have the chops to get many wins against those big boys, or if they can sweep the collection of other games on the schedule. They're not on anyone's radar as a tourney team. They're likely not going to do better than break even the rest of the way. You can figure out their fate from there.
But, for strength of schedule sake, Michigan fans ought to be pulling for the Terrapins to at least make a nice run at it over the season's final weeks. Commentators Zone Read Left and jmblue took me to task for rooting against Maryland as it hurts Michigan's overall profile. I'd have to agree with that. In retrospect, I think i was narrowly focusing on the head to head aspect of the UM-Maryland dynamic when in reality it would take an extraordinary amount of circumstance to get to the point where the last bid would be between these teams. Anything that helps keep Michigan's resume and RPI afloat and competitive during this downturn is a welcome result.
A Terp win tonight could also start the downfall of a team that currently sits on the 7-line in both the ESPN and Rival projections. Miami looks to be in good shape in the projections. But, their next three games are against Duke, Wake and UNC. If they lose tonight, they're staring at 3-7 in ACC play if they dont spring a major upset. They come in tonight having lost two in a row. Lose tonight and the makings a losing streak well into February could take root. Fans of every bubble team should be pulling for that to happen.
Wisconsin at Northwestern, 8 pm BTN. Line, NW -1
Whats the longest the losing streak a team has ever had and still received an at large bid into the field? I dont know the answer to that. But if you set the bar at 6-game losing streaks, I'd take the 'under' on whatever you threw up on the board on the number of teams who rebounded to earn an at large invite. The Badgers look to avoid their sixth straight defeat tonight in Evanston. Hanging around as a double digit seed in every mock bracket, the Badgers will likely find themselves, along with Michigan, out of most of the mocks next update.
Also of intrigue: Will any physical play from the Badgers result in an ejection, a la in the Michigan game today, in the wake of the Krabbenhoff knockdown?
Meanwhile, what's up with Northwestern? Are they the darkhorse nobody is talking about? Is Michigan about the become the longest ncaa drought in the conference? Vegas is impressed. I cant get over the fact Northwestern is favored. A month ago you'd be ignored as a heretic in Midwestern basketball circles had you suggested the Cats would be expected to win over the Badgers, even at home.
Jerry Palm's projections at cbssportsline.com really has me perplexed about the Wildcats. He claims he's trying to project how the field will look come Selection Sunday, whereas everyone else is telling you what the field would look like today. Ok, that's fine. Yet, he has the Wildcats in the field. He's predicting the 11-7, 3-5 Wildcats to rip off a lot of wins. We'll see if that run starts tonight.
The Wildcat voices out there dont seem all that convinced. They're coping with the flaws and anxities a close win over dormant Indiana brings. Ah, yes.Remember that Michigan fans? Just three weeks ago. Good times.
Florida at Tennessee, 9 pm ESPN. Line, Tenn -4
If the Vols lose tonight at home, they'll fall to no better than fifth in line in the SEC pecking order. In a league, where taking the 'over' at 4.5 for number of bids received is a bad bet, that is not an enviable position to be in. Despite their slump, Vol Nation is advised to stay calm as the 2007 Sweet 16 team followed a similar bumpy trek. Yet, the same blog predicts another loss tonight I dont know, there's an edge missing to this year's Volunteers. One thing is clear, their home court advantage has been crushed. They had been 50-2 under Pearl at home--including a 34-game win streak--but Tennessee has already lost four games this month in Knoxville. And, now tonight they welcome one the league's highest scoring teams. There are warrants out for the Florida Gators and here's the rundown of wrongdoings. On the Florida side, this game will define the team's mettle and whether or not its as good as it guady record would suggest.
Cal at USC, 10:30 FSN. Line, USC -5
For the first time during this California set of the Pac 10 round robin, Michigan's allegiances lay squarely with the Northern California team. Despite a loss last time out to UCLA that exposed flaws, I've put the Bears in the sure thing department because of their nice looking 16-5 record combined with a favorable schedule: Five of their next seven are at home with the road trip being the cushy Oregon Swing. Its hard not to see this team coming into the clubhouse with more than 20 wins and less than 10 losses. That's a tournament resume coming out of a BCS league.
USC is a different story. Lunardi's ESPN projections have USC in the final eight out; Rivals as close as the final four out. They're in the middle of this beauty pagaent, but dont stand out from the crowd. A loss could be crippling because their next three games are at UCLA, at AU and at ASU. If indeed a losing streak is in the offing for USC, then Michigan can stay ahead of them in this chase by defending their home turf in upcoming games. Tim Floyd's crew could use some bench production as they march through this important stretch.
Diarist note: If interested, use the comment thread to discuss the national hoops landscape, in lieu of the open threads in the forum section from the last two Saturdays. Also, I'll update to discuss the night games and post it later today. Enjoy the hoops!
It's the final day of January. Selection Sunday is 44 days away. The second half of conference season begins as teams enter their final 10 games of the schedule, a stretch that many pundits claim is given more accordance when the selection committee meets.
Taking a look at the conference standings this morning, I factor 19 at large bids are already assured to teams that appear a lock to make the field. A mixer of 35 teams enter today as the top candidates to fill the remaing at large card. The problem is there are only 15 bids remaining, meaning less than half of this group will make it to the Big Dance. Teams better start winning and adding to their resumes fast or they'll be left playing road games in the NIT come March.
The Bubble is officially taking form. It will be fascinating watching the ebb and flow of these final six weeks. Which teams will emerge from the bubble to become locks. Will any of today's sure things crash and burn in February,landing on the dangerous bubble? Which, if any, midmajors (and I include Conference USA, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley as part of this group) will step forward and demand a spot? And, of course, counference tournament week could upset the entire apple cart and redefine the final field of 65. On Super Bowl Eve, here are some key story lines to keep an eye on today:
Fading Big East Powers
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, noon ESPN. Line, Pitt -11.5
Georgetown at Marquette, 2pm ESPN Full Court. Line, Marq -6
Notre Dame and Georgetown were expected to contend for the Big East title, but instead end January in serious jeopardy of making the tournament. Each faces a tough road game today as they attempt to redirect their winter slide.
According to mock brackets, the Irish need to be the more concerned team as they're a #10, 12 and 12 seed in the ESPN, Rivals and CBS mock brackers respectively. The latter two projections came after their loss to Marquette earlier in the week and those fields have the Irish among the last four teams placed in the field. Today, the Irish sit in 80th in the latest RPI numbers. Translation: With a loss today, the Irish wont find their name on too many mocks during the next update cycle.
On one hand, the Irish have lost four in a row. But on the other hand, the quality of competition (Louisville, Syracuse, UConn and Marquette) have been top shelf. Maybe the Irish really aren't that bad. In ND circles, their predicament is being compared to a fellow Big East team from last year that went from horrific losing streak to Sweet Sixteen in a matter of weeks.
I can only buy the ND '09 as Villanova '08 comparision at a cheap price at this point. The Wildcats exited their tailspin last season with a 13-8 record. They went 6-3 to close the season, including resume wins over West Virginia and Uconn, and then routed Syracuse in a virtual play in game during the Big East Quarterfinals. After their losing streak, the Cats had some winnable games that they got healthy on.
Notre Dame is 12-8 right now and there are no signs this losing streak will end not only because how 'meh' they're playing, but how murderous the schedule is for the next fortnight. After today's game at Pitt, the Irish line up at Cincy, at UCLA and home against Louisville. They might not be favored in any of those contests. If they drop 3 of 4, they'll be 13-11 and no better than three games below .500 in league play.
I think Notre Dame's slide will continue. The losing streak might reach eight before its all said and done. Other than Luke Harangody, this team struggles to score. Kyle McAlarney is in a major shoointg funk and they get a lot of floor time out of guys that dont have much of an offensive game like Tory Jackson and Zach Hillestand. And, they've always had problems on the defensive end. They cant guard anybody's front court. That's a huge problem today going up against Pitt and rugged forwards DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.
If any team looks closer to the Villanova situation from last season, its the Hoyas. While their losing ways may continue this afternoon, their slate eases up with home games next week against Rutgers and Cincy. Nab those winnable home games and their fall from grace will be a thing of the past. Besides, most mocks still have the Hoyas lingering around 6-seed area, although most have yet to take in account their loss three days ago in Cincinnati.
Georgetown just is not playing well right now. According to Hoya Saxa, they whiffed on 10 layups in their loss to the Bearcats. Four of their five starters are in prolongues shooting slumps and as a team, they're hitting only 21 percent of their three point attempts the last four games. You know what's not good for a team struggling on the offensive end? A road matchup against one the best defensive outfits in the country. Plus, Marquette is out for revenge after a gut wrenching loss to the Hoyas that killed their Big East title hopes last season.
There's one other early Big East start today worth keeping an eye on when West Virginia travles to play Louisville (noon, ESPN Full Court, Line L'ville -6.5) in an underrated rivalry game. The Cards are surging and may find themselves in contention for a #1 seed. The Mountaineers right now are in the sure thing categy as far as an at large bid. But, a battle between Big East upper division teams is worth a look and I had to mention it just so I could link this Cardinal fan's ode to Huggy Bear.
Let's Go Hockey! Let's Go Hockey!
Michigan at Purdue, 1pm CBS. Line, Purdue -12.5
Attention Michigan Fans! Attention Michigan Fans! Do not pay attention to this game. Do not pay attention to this game. I repeat, do not pay attention to this game.
I'm kidding. Sorta. Just try and not get too involved in the outcome of this afternoon's game at Mackey Arena against Purdue. Save your emotional investment for tonight's hockey grudge match against ND at Yost.
I'm not saying this because it would be a waste of time to throw yourself into a game that Pomeroy gives the team only a 9-percent liklihood to win (Wait, so your saying there's a chance), but rather this game represents a mulligan for the Maize and Blue.
If they win, then the bandwagon is back up and running with national accolades. But, if they lose? Well, everyone expects them to lose. Bubble observers wont punish them too much. Yes, they may fall out of mock brackets, but they'll still be right on the fringe. There are many teams out there that are marring the resume worse than Michigan. As I detailed earlier in the week, the Wolverines bid will come down to defending home turf the month of February. You can make a case that Wednesdays's home game against Penn State is more important than losing this game to a Purdue team that has climbed its way back to being a favorite to win the regular season crown.
Its always hard to figure out if the good Michigan team will come out to play or the the bad Michigan team. While local fans are having a hard time defining this squad, so too are Purdue followers. I hope Michigan plays so well today that they pull us all into believing they can win it. But, lets not freak out too much in the CIL if they dont.
Uprising in the Desert
Washington State at Arizona, 1pm CBS. Line, AU -5
I would not consider either of these in the hunt for a tourney bid. However, each pulled off big time upsets Thursday night (Wassau over ASU; the Cats over UW) and the winner today is but a February hot streak away from pullling themselve into the final field. I did include both clubs in the mix of 35 mentioned at the top.
Did the Chase Budinger head stomp galvanize this Arizona club? How he matches up with WSU's uber freshmen Klay Thompson could go a long way in determining this one. Any defense would be nice to see out of Arizona which has allowed 90 and 97 points in the last two games.
Has Wassau figured out how to play with their new lineup? If Wassau packs the defense it brought to the ASU game, the Cougars ill notch the road win.
If the Cougars win, they'll complete a winning record in the first half of league play. Duplicate that over the second half and they could be in business for a bid. If the Cats win, they'll still be just 4-5 in conference, but with the easiest road trip on the schedule (the Oregon Swing) looming a nice looking winning streak could be in the offing. Nobody is looking at these schools right now, and its not a good development for Michigan if either of these clubs add to the crowded bubble
Big 12 Bubble
Oklahoma St at Texas A/M, 2pm ESPN. Line, A/M -2.5
Both these teams are in the same purgatory Michigan is in right now. Somewhere between the final teams included and left out of the field while struggling to find their game.
I've said before I like this Cowboy team. Not so much because I think they're the real deal, but at least coach Travis Ford has them playing an up tempo style thats just more fun to watch than the half court, turn the game ugly style of play implemented under the Sutton family. Of course, maybe that style was in vogue for so long in Stillwater because it got the job done. The Cowboys have lost three league games this season despite scoring 81, 92 and 95 points in those contests. A loss today will give them defeats in four of five games and drop their league record to 2-4. With no outstanding OOC wins to lean on, the Cowboys cant afford to not finish better than .500 in league play and expect any chance at a bid.
The Aggies may end up with a guady looking 21 or 22 wins when the season is over. Like the Cowboys, they have nothing victorious of note on their OOC slate, but, unlike the Cowboys, they played a tissue paper soft non conference schedule that will cost them in the eyes of the selection committee. Can a 22-win team from a BCS league be denied a bid? The committee will be weighing that question when the Aggies are discussed. Just to get into the discussion though is this must win today to avoid being swept by Oklahoma St.
SEC West, uh, Showdowns?!?!?
Mississippi at Mississippi St, 1 pm ESPN Full Court. Line, MSU -9
Arkansas at LSU, 5pm, ESPN Full Court. Line LSU -10.5
The Egg Bowl on hardwood is not really the most compelling game. Despite the upset of Kentucky, the Rebels remain a team hovering around .500 and not anywhere near the tournament discussion.
The Bulldogs are a different story. Along with LSU, they're the only team with legit at large hopes right now from the SEC West. I dont think the runner up in that division will snare a bid, so they need to stay at the top of the standings with the Tigers. Losing a home game to a second division team would be bad news for a team that today, at best, is among the field's final cuts.
In Baton Rouge, the Tigers look to hold serve against Arkansas. LSU might be the most talented team in the SEC. If they can win consistenly from here on out, they ought to win the SEC West and sneak into the field. But, like Mississippi St, LSU can ill afford a home loss to a second division team. The SEC is the worst of the BCS leagues and home losses to bottom dwellers will sink both of these teams resumes even if they bring a shiny overall record to the table. On a night celebrating 100 years of LSU hoops, the Tigers ought to demolish Arkansas.
The Hogs buried themselves with an 0-4 SEC start. A win gives them a nice step in the right direction of a recovery. A loss returns them to four games below .500. Either way, its a long road for Arkansas just to get back to the bubble
South Carolina, a basketball school?
Five years into the Steve Spurrier regime, South Carolina has turned into a basketball school. Ok, thats probably not what the Old Ball Coach had in mind. Nobody in Columbia is paying undivided attention to the upcoming football signing day because these plucky Gamecocks have injected itself into the race for the league crown, not to mention an NCAA bid.
They're moving up in the blogosphere's SEC Power Poll. But, they need to keep winning because this league may only get three bids come March. I dont expect them to win in Lexington today, but I am eager to see how they compete. Statistically, there's a lot to like. They have four double digit scorers, shoot the ball as well as anyone in the league and have a great turnover ratio. That's a recipe for winning basketball. UK Blog Sea of Blue worries the Gamecocks strengths align directly with the Wildcats weaknesses.
An upset today probably puts them in the rankings and in everyone's mock brackets come next week. Even with a loss, the Gamecocks have positioned themselves as well as anybody for an at large bid.
NoCal vs SoCal
Stanford at UCLA, 3:30pm, ABC. Line, UCLA -10
Today's game in Pauley Pavillion could net a bounty for Michigan. A UCLA win continues to prop up one of Michigan's marquee wins on the season. A Stanford loss continues to push the Cardinal back, putting a Sweet 16 team from a year ago and one of the nation's last teams to lose a game this season in a horrible bubble position. They would fall to 3-6 in the Pac 10 and their best OOC win is over Northwestern. They would need a major February run to get back in range. However, a win would give Stanford a better win over UCLA, not to mention more recent, than Michigan's win over the Bruins.
The Bruins leaned on the basics of Ben Ball in thumping Cal the other night. They're back on the winning track and with upsets of ASU and UW that same night, the Bruins are back in control of their own fate to win a fourth straight Pac 10 crown.
Friars own Huskies
Providence at Uconn, 4 pm ESPN Full Court. Line, Uconn -12.5
The Providence Friars ought to scare the pants off any team sitting the bubble. They didn't have any impressive wins until the beat Syracuse the other night. Yet, they parlayed a soft early Big East slate where they played all the bottom dwellers, to a 6-2 conference mark.
They're talking as many as 10 teams from this league going to the dance and there's no way a school with 11 league wins is being left out of the field. The Friars get to that mark just by breaking even the rest of the way. Bubble teams need to order up a Providence losing streak, stat!
Surprisingly, it may not begin today against the #2 ranked Huskies. Providence swept Uconn last year. They've won four in row on the road in this series and won five of their last seven overall agains the Huskies. I'd like this team a lot more if they showed the slightest bit of interest in playing defense. Still, they're a blast to watch and thier 100-96 track meet win over the Orange the other night was as great an offensive showcase in college hoops as you'll see this season. It outscored half of the NBA games on the schedule that same night. Despite their recent dominance in this series, the Friars task today will be tougher than their contest against the Orange earlier in the week as the Huskies come in at full strenghth whereas Syracuse was a banged up squad that lacked enough firepower to win such a high scoring game.
Those are among the compelling games to watch today. I'll either update this or throw another diary out there outlining the half dozen or so games this evening worth a look....you know, in between commercial breaks of the UM/ND hockey game of course.
Also, I've done Open Thread in the forums the last two Saturday afternoon to chat about hoops before the UM game that night. With Michigan playing within the hour, I wont be doing that, but please by all means, if you so desire, use the comments in this Diary as a de facto open thread about the day's hoops actions.