"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
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.
When I close my eyes, I see Michigan basketball players bricking three-point shots. Over and over and over again.
I can’t say anything about last night’s game that others have not already said. Brian has thrown in the towel regarding an NCAA tournament bid. Dylan at UMHoops has the breakdown of one of the worst offensive performances of the season. Meanwhile, Tim at Varsity Blue corrects a flaw in the BTN analysis, while pointing out any NCAA bid will come down to home games next month against MSU and Purdue.
I don’t think all is lost for an NCAA bid. Michigan is going through the hardest patch of their season. Beginning with last night’s game, the team was staring at the likelihood of dropping three of its next four games. When that stretch is over, Michigan won’t be in anybody’s mock bracket, but they’ll have plenty of games over the season’s final month to spruce their resume up and buck for a spot in the final field.
Michigan’s possible bid into the Dance will come down to defending home turf in the month of February against the likes of Penn St, Michigan St, Purdue and Minnesota. Win those games and steal a road win at, for example, Iowa or Northwestern and it will hard to deny Michigan a bid. Any combination of five to six more regular season wins ought to do the trick. With the Big 10 as well regarded now as its been in years, there will be impressive wins in that bunch that would only add to Michigan’s nice looking list of wins already.
A road map to a bid exists. The question is do the slumping Wolverines have the moxie to follow it? In the meantime, the best we can do is hope that fellow bubble teams continue to crash and burn. Tonight’s action does not bring much opportunity for that, but there are still games—including showdowns in the Big 10 and Pac 10—that will impact Michigan’s resume and ultimate RPI numbers.
Hokies look to play Giant Killer……again
Thanks to a week that included road upsets at Wake Forest and Miami, Virginia Tech has begun to make appearances in mock brackets. The Hokies earn a 9-seed from ESPN and an 8-seed from Rivals. With a fairly manageable schedule the next couple of weeks, tonight’s contest against Clemson (7pm ESPN2, Clemson -1) looms as a big contest in Blacksburg . A win might cement their position and only a February collapse could keep them out of the field.
The Hokies have earned a defensive reputation since joining the ACC, but it’s their offense that propelling their latest winning streak. Behind the run is one the league’s most underrated players Malcolm Delaney, another in a long line of Baltimore cagers who have made an impact.
Clemson appears to be more of the real deal than in recent years. One reason is their improved free throw shooting, which might not be the worst in the ACC for the first time in four seasons. As a result, they’ve been much better in close games. That might come in handy tonight against the Hokies, who seem to do nothing but play close games. Clemson fans appear worried about this game as they’ve seen this kind of Hokie surge before.
Illini try Blackjack Gophers
Has Illinois really won 20 in a row over the Minnesota? Yikes! That dates back to the 1990s. Tonight’s matchup (7 pm, BTN, Illini -1)features a pair of 17-3 teams. Crunching numbers, one Gopher observer is not so optimistic that streak ends tonight.
The Gophers are always strong at The Barn, and, despite the streak, Illini boosters aren’t taking this game for granted. The Gophers have lost two in a row at home, burning some of my money in the process. Illinois, meanwhile, is 11-4-1 against the number, including 5-1-1 against the Big 10. Vegas has made the Illini a slight 1-point road favorite tonight, in a series where the favored team has covered 10 out of 13 times. Hmm, intriguing. I know the Illini are a good team. I am not sure how good the Gophers are. Losing their 21st straight to the Illini would be bad news for the Gophers. Losing Tubby Smith as coach would be worse
NoCal versus SoCal
Northern California meets Southern California as the Pac 10 round robin brings us a series on Golden State battles over the next 48 hours. Tonight Cal plays at UCLA and Stanford plays at USC. On Saturday, the opponents flip flop. All four of the games ought to have some lingering aspects on the bubble and Michigan’s resume.
First place is on the line when the Bears and Bruins hook up tonight (10:30, FSN, UCLA -9.5). Michigan’s resume needs all the polish possible, so Wolverine fans hope UCLA has found some answers to the problems plaguing them during their recent slide. For the first time in a long time, the Bruins might be vulnerable in the Pac 10 race. Cal is having a resurgent season under former Stanford Mike Montgomery. One reason for their turnaround is this freshmen find from south of the border.
In the other contest between the Trojans and Cardinal (10:30, no TV, USC -6), it’s hard to discern who exactly Wolverine fans should be cheering against. Neither Stanford nor USC appear in any of the primary mock brackets. Both, however, are among the final groups of teams left out of the mocks. As I see it, Michigan benefits if the both teams lose on Saturday, making this particular game less relevant. The Trojans expect to get some healthy bodies back for tonight’s affair.
Showdown in Pacific Northwest
Cal and UCLA is not the only showdown with first place on the line along the left coast this evening. St. Mary’s travels to Gonzaga (11pm, ESPN2, Zags -9) tonight with the top spot in the West Coast Conference on the line. Little Bubble impact will be felt, however, as both teams are ranked in the top 25 and expected to get bids into the dance come Selection Sunday. But, its as big a rivalry as you’ll find among the mid major conferences. Night owls should find plenty fun watching and here’s a primer from a Zag perspective to help track the action.
Also of note tonight is Alabama at Arkansas. The Hogs have played themselves out of the field with a 0-4 SEC start. They need to close with an 8-4 record just to even have bubble hopes. Meanwhile, in Tucson, Arizona hosts Washington. Hard to believe the fall the Wildcats have taken this year. They’re 2-5 in league play and need a major run over the next month just to put them in consideration. They’re an underdog on their home floor, and, no, the person in this poster is not me.
The good news continued to pour in last night vis a vis Michigan’s stature on the Bubble in the chase for an elusive NCAA Tournament bid. Wisconsin and Maryland continued their recent losing ways while those fun Northeastern Huskies throttled VCU in a CAA showdown for first place. That November win over the Huskies keeps getting better and better for Michigan each passing day.
The biggest bubble news of tonight will be brought to us directly by the guys wearing the Maize and Blue as Michigan treks down south to play the hated Buckeyes. Big 10 positioning in the standings and in mock NCAA projections will be on the line. The Buckeyes currently are favored by 5 points.
Both teams are in ESPN’s and in Rivals projected fields this morning, although Rivals is a bit more bullish on the Wolverines than the WWL. The loser tonight might find their spot in those fields in jeopardy, especially Michigan since the Wolverines travel to West Lafayette to play the surging Boilermakers Saturday afternoon. Expect the Wolverines to be at least double digit underdogs in that contest.
As for tonight, I could drone on and on with what I feel about the game, but Dylan over at UM Hoops has an excellent breakdown of the game tonight and Michigan’s spot on the bubble in a pair of posts over at his site.
I will add some words regarding where Michigan stands right now. I realize some fan enthusiasm has waned and the Wolverines appear to be slipping out of the mock projections. However, only the home loss to OSU earlier this month is the only result that was out of line with how I saw this team’s arc progressing this winter. I factored them to be 6-5 in the Big 10 when they host MSU on 2/10. If they don’t snare a road win this week, they’ll be one game off that pace. They can overcome that and still win a bid based on their regular season play.
Let’s play this forward. Assume road losses at OSU, Purdue and UConn with a home win over Penn St between now and the MSU game. That puts UM at 15-9, 5-6. While they won’t be in any mock brackets at that point, they’ll have plenty of chances to raise their profile over the final month.
That home game with the Spartans will be a must win. The Wolverines also host Purdue and Minnesota in February and those must be wins as well. They also have to find a way to get at least one road win at Northwestern or Iowa. Let’s assume a sweep of those home games, a split in those roadies and road losses at Minnesota and Wisconsin. That puts UM at 19-12, 9-9, but with wins over Duke, UCLA, Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota, the Wolverines might have the best top 6 wins of any of the bubble teams. I think they’ll earn a bit at that point, so long as they don’t totally suck in the Big 10 Tournament and lose to IU or Iowa in a 6 vs.11 or 7 vs. 10 first round game.
Sure, that’s easier said than done, but a road map to an at large bid still exists even if Michigan drops three of their next four games.
I’m not discounting their chances tonight either. I’ve said it many times this season, but OSU struggles to score the basketball. They will go through one protracted drought tonight. Michigan can take advantage of that. If Simms can outplay Mullens and, more importantly, convert on his scoring chances, I think Michigan takes down the Buckeyes. Either way, it should be an intriguing game, and I look forward to rapping with all of you wherever the CIL is being hosted tonight.
Beyond the showdown in Columbus, the schedule is full of action across the country that will likely impact the latest and greatest field projections. Here’s a quick rundown on some of those games so you can properly scoreboard watch in between Manny Harris baskets.
Duke at Wake Forest, 7pm, ESPN. Line, Duke -1
It’s one of the prime showdowns of the season. With the scalp of Duke hanging on the wall, Michigan fans probably should be rooting for the Blue Devils tonight. Since this would be a road win for Duke, I think the good old RPI might be boosted so much that Michigan might somehow manage to also score points with the BCS computers.
For those who still don’t know who these upstart Demon Deacons are, here is a primer from the eye of their enemy tonight.
I don’t think I’ve seen a team better than Duke all season at forcing teams to start their offense out of their own comfort zone and disrupting the passing lanes. It will be a huge test for the patience of Wake Forest. I love them on their home court, but Duke’s defense looks so legit I hate to go against them. For Wake to win, they need a monster outing from their superstar Jeff Teague.
I have that Gambler’s Itch to play tonight’s game, being a huge showdown and all. I’ve actually gone against Duke three times this month: pushing against Georgetown, winning against Davidson and losing against Maryland. I feel lucky to have gone 1-1-1. Betting against Duke is as comfortable as driving on ice. I’ll think I’ll just pop a beer, sit back and enjoy this one. It should one the best games of the season.
Pittsburgh at Villanova, 7pm, ESPN2. Line, Pitt -3.5
In the only other game of the night between ranked foes the Panthers and Wildcats hook up to help determine feline supremacy. Both teams need not worry about an invite to the field, but this game could go a long way when eventually sorting out seeds. As long as the Panthers stay in the top-5, they will be given strong consideration for their first ever #1 seed come March.
LSU at Tennessee, 8pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, Tennessee -7.5
Only three SEC teams are in ESPN’s projections right now. In their field, the Vols are 7-seed, while LSU is among the final teams left out. Rivals, which also has the Vols as a #7 seed, has placed LSU in their field as the fourth SEC club with a #11 seed.
The Bengals could get their first impressive win of the season tonight. They might be the most talented team in the SEC West, but winning the division won’t necessarily guarantee them anything when the season is done. New coach Trent Johnson has re-established some defense identity with the program. The results have netted a sporty 15-4 record, but there is not an impressive win in the bunch. The Tigers need to put up a serious conference record to make the field. While they're off to a nice 3-1 start, they need to notch this winnable road game against a quality foe to even think of closing in on any mock bracket bids.
Meanwhile the Vols continued presence on the Bubble will give us plenty of time to debate the merits of a team that played a very challenging schedule, but did not win many of those games. Perhaps this slate was too ambitious for a program replacing two players now earning NBA paychecks. Because of the transition in personnel, the Vols have scraped their full court, high scoring pace and continue to tweak their attack. Coach Bruce Pearl has thrown down the gauntlet calling this the most important week of the season. Here’s a Volunteer perspective on the first game of this critical week.
Vanderbilt at South Carolina, 7pm, no TV. Line, South Carolina -6.5
If the Vols have the most important week of any team in the SEC, then South Carolina may have the second. With a win tonight against Vanderbilt, South Carolina will have its first three game SEC winning streak in almost three years and only the fifth league hat trick in the last ten seasons. Everyone has taken notice of the Gamecocks since this win over Florida. They've made it onto Lunardi's radar, albeit as one of final teams cut from the field. It could just be a blip on the radar, however, if they drop tonight’s home game against the Commodores. On Saturday, a date with an angry Kentucky team in Lexington awaits.
Syracuse at Providence, 7pm, ESPN Full Court Line, Providence -2
Nobody claims the Friars a contender to make the field. They do, however, sit in fifth place in the Big East with a 5-2 record. They've feasted on the dregs of the league, but wins are wins. If they have the chops to break even the rest of the way, there's no way the committee leaves out a team with 11 Big East wins. Tonight begins a four game stretch that will determine if the Friars belong in this discussion or not. After hosting Syracuse, PC plays at UConn, vs Villanova and at West Virginia. We'll revisit the Friars chances if they manage to break even in those games. They'll try to get this stretch off to a good start against a banged and bruised Orangemen squad.
Georgetown at Cincinnati, 7:30pm, ESPN 360. Line, Georgetown -6
The Hoyas resemble Notre Dame's position, detailed here yesterday. Losers of three in a row and five of seven games this month, Georgetown can’t afford losses to teams like the Bearcats, especially after losing to Seton Hall on Sunday. These squads are tied for ninth in the conference and CU actually has a better overall record. If they spring the upset tonight, perhaps it’s the Bearcats, instead of the Hoyas, who may find themselves on the bubble. Georgetown travels to Marquette on Saturday, so a loss tonight means they're staring at a 0-2 week. That’s not great news for a team seeded #10 in the latest mock bracket.
Illinois State at Northern Iowa, 8pm, no TV. Line, UNI -2.5
The Missouri Valley Conference is accustomed to getting multiple bids into the tournament. Last year, however, broke a long streak of receiving multiple bids as only one team was invited into the field. I don’t care what the mock brackets say today (indeed, they agree as only UNI as a #13 are in ESPN’s field right now), I feel the MVC is going to receive just one bid again. Then again, it is the #8 ranked in the latest RPI projections, so perhaps I am underselling the Valley. Observers of the league, however, are not and the league’s mediocre play might net it just a lone bid again come March
These are the top two teams in the league as the second half of their conference season begins. Despite that, their RPI projections are not that great with the visiting Redbirds checking in at #59 while the Panthers are #73/ I don’t see anything on the Redbirds or the Panthers resume that stands out. We'll see how February plays out, who knows maybe these clubs combine to close out 16-2 or something. Then, we'll talk. But, first place is on the line tonight in Cedar Rapids and they play good hoops on the MVC. It should be a fun game, too bad there's no television coverage.
North Carolina at Florida State, 9pm, ESPN Full Court. Line, UNC -11.5
Without gaining much notoriety, the Seminoles have done enough little things to merit a mock invite. They won a holiday tournament by beating Cincy and Cal. They beat rival Florida. They're off to winning record in the ACC. The have a winning record on the road in conference play. The worst part of their resume is losing at Northwestern. But, at this point isn't that better than losing at Maryland? The Seminoles appear to have a bid to lose. Not everyone is impressed. After tonight, they stil have four games left with the ACC's Big Four and an intriguing home and home with Virginia Tech during the season's final two weeks. I guess I'm not sold on them either. Yet. I'm not sure I'll like them anymore after tonight when the 305th worst turnover team (who is their point guard, fer gawd's sake? Nick Sheridan?!?!) hits the court against the premium Tar Heels.
Before moving on to some of tonight’s action, a few words need to be said about what transpired last night as it impacts the hunt for NCAA Tournament bids.
Oklahoma went into Stillwater and topped the Cowboys, 89-81. I predicted a 20/20 for Blake Griffin, but he fell short by scoring 26 points and “only” grabbing 19 boards. Meanwhile for the Pokes, this is the third game in league play that OSU has lost despite scoring more than 80 points. Expect their defense to continue to fail them as they try to establish their resume. Oklahoma State was in the same boat as Michigan in ESPN’s latest field projection—a 12 seed and among the last few put in the field—so a loss and missing out on a chance for a good looking resume win is good news for Michigan fans.
Perhaps, more compelling, though is the news coming out of South Bend.
After winning 45 straight at home, the Irish lost last night to Marquette for their second home loss in a span of 48 hours. Folks, the Irish are in trouble. They’ve lost four games in a row, and five of their last seven. They’re in 11th place in the Big East with a 3-5 record. Their RPI is all the way down at 73, and that’s before last night’s loss is factored in. To compare, Michigan is 44th in the latest RPI. The Irish have a worse RPI rating than teams like Providence, St. Joe’s, Buffalo, Stephen F. Austin and Penn State. None of those teams are getting any consideration for an at large bid right now, so why should the Irish?
What helps is they play in the uber tough Big East. I heard the hoops guru on Rivals Radio this afternoon claim that a Big East team could go 8-10 and still make the field. Perhaps, but the downturn by the Irish bears continued watching. Check out ND’s next stretch of games: at Pitt, at Cincy, at UCLA, Louisville, USF, at WVA and at Providence. They also still have a road date at Uconn. With three straight road games beginning Saturday, if the Irish’s losing streak continues through that road trip (and it will if Kyle Mcalrney doesn’t break out of his shooting slump), they will be 12-10 overall, 3-7 in the Big East. The league is bucking for a record amount of bids, but you have to wonder if a 17-13 team with a losing league mark would net an invite. Before last night's loss, the latest projections had the Irish as a #10 seed. Here’s hoping the Irish keep losing.
So, Oklahoma St may have played itself out of the field, while Notre Dame has devolved and played itself onto the Bubble. What will tonight’s action bring?
Purdue at Wisconsin. Line Wisco -1
The Boilers have rebounded from an 0-2 start in league play. If they can nab another road win tonight, they could find themselves in the driver's seat for league honors. The Badgers, not so much. Losers of four in a row, Wisconsin needs this win. One Badger observed has called it the most important game in years for the program. While I won’t go that far, one has to wonder about the Badgers future resume if they don’t right the ship. As of now, road wins against Virginia Tech and Michigan are the best they have to offer. If the Badgers can't put together a winning record in conference play, that resume won’t do the trick. Heading into the night, Wisconsin is just an 11-seed in the latest ESPN projections.
This is a swing game with Big 10 title and NCAA bubble implications. I will go as far as saying it’s the most important game for Wisconsin this season to date. Odds makers have installed the Badgers as an unranked favorite over a ranked team. I find that system hard to pass up, so I might put a little coin on the Badgers.
Boston College at Maryland. Line, Maryland -4
Neither team has an NCAA tournament resume despite the fact that each have nabbed an impressive win against a team currently in the top-10. Those wins have been washed away by bad losses.
Doesn't the loser tonight get pushed so far back in the line that it would take a major run over the final month of the season just to be a legit bubble team? I think so.
How in the world are the Terps going to respond after that curb stomping at the hands of Duke on Saturday? Fans are now expecting Maryland to miss the Big Dance for the fourth time in five seasons. The local press is looking fondly at 'could-have-been' Terps who are playing for other schools. Things dont look so good for Gary Williams right now and a home loss tonight will only ratchet up the pressure.
Northeastern at VCU. Line, VCU -6.5
This is worth tuning in just to watch VCU's little guy Eric Maynor in action. What? You dont remember him? Maybe this will jog your memory. The kid has been one of my favorite players to watch for a couple of years. The game tonight is on EPSNU at 9 pm.
More notably, first place in the Colonial is on the line as both teams come in sporting 8-1 records. The CAA had been a three team race, but both the Rams and Huskies have beaten George Mason in recent days, leaving these two tied for first. Its a classic case of VCU's offense vs Norhteastrn's defense.
Michigan fans may remember Northeastern. The Wolverines clubbed them by 20 points in the second game of the season. Nobody put much thought in to it then, but that game is slowly, but surely, turning into a quality win for UM.
Northeastern sits at #60 in the latest RPI projections. Much is made of a team's record vs the RPI's top 50, so a win tonight might push NE into that range. There's always talk af the CAA netting two bifds into the field, but a head to head win over NE could come in handy if there's debate about UM come Selection Sunday. A run to the CAA title for Northeastern will only boost UM's resume. Best case scenario for UM boosters would be a stirring and dominant run on behalf of Northeastern en route to the CAA regular season title. We all should be pulling for them tonight.
Utah at BYU. Line, BYU -3
The Mountain West is an interesting league as it could get anywhere from 1 to 3 bids into the field. BYU and Utah are two clubs who hope to be in that mix. In Lunardi's latest field projections, BYU is a #12 seed and among the final four teams included. Utah, meanwhile, is among the first four teams cut from the field. The implications for the next round of mock brackets is pretty clear.
For Utah, its not too early to call this a must win game.
Color me skeptical about the Utes chances this evening. Utah was outclassed in road losses at SDSU and UNLV, and I expect the same to happen tonight. BYU is a short 3-point favorite and I'll roll with the Mormon Cagers tonight.
Its a small slate of games tonight, but as you can see, there's plenty going on as it relates to the Bubble that Michigan will be sitting on all winter long. We'll be enjoying the games, but also likely wagering on Wisconsin, BYU and Baylor -1 over Texas.....like the Badger game, that one too is an unranked favorite over a ranked team.
Big game tonight.....well, they are all big as the program tries to navigate the league schedule and cobble enough wins to get into the NCAAs.
This is a game they must win. IU might win 2 league games this year and a loss--even on the road--to this year's Hoosier outfit might just cancel out one of Michigan's prime wins on it resume.
According to Vegas, UM is a 7-point road favorite.
IU is going through a similar situation to what Michigan football did this fall. They are completely rebuilding. Michigan football had the largest proportion of yards gained by freshmen in all of CFB because of the attrition that followed 2007. IU is in the same boat. Their top returning player scored a total of 28 points last year. Their second most experienced returning player logged a grand total of 11 minutes all of last season. Among all D-1 schools, IU ranks second in both points per game and minutes played by freshmen.
Tom Crean has done a great job of recruiting. He has a top-10 class ready to set foot on the Bloomington campus for next season. This season? He has a nice core of freshmen and first time contributors, most of whom, however, would only be solid role players on your typical IU basketball team. Doesn't that all sound familiar?
The results on the court have been similar too. UM trudged to its worst season in years in the first year of this transition. Indiana comes in at 5-8 and this longtime Big 10 hoops observer wonders just who exactly this club going to beat in league play. The program is headed towards an historically unprecedented awful record. IU was the last Big 10 team to go undefeated in league play. They may be the first team ever to go 0-18 in league play. So, IU is also channeling their inner Detroit Lions.
And, like the UM fanbase, Hoosier fans have found themselves arguing over what is the worst, more embarrassing loss in program history. While UM fans debate Appy St vs. Toledo, IU fans have their own compelling back and forth relative to terrible losses. The contenders? In this corner, there is a 14-point loss to Northeastern (you may recall UM whipping NE by 20 or so to open the season) in which the Hoosiers tallied their feweat points ever at Assembly Hall. In the other corner, is a wire to wire lose, albeit closer, to mighty, mighty Lipscomb. I don’t know, I guess I would go with Lipscomb as the worse loss. NE is in the notable Colonial Conference and may be a contender in that league. Lipscomb is an also ran in the Big South. Actually, I don’t think there is a right answer on this one. Both losses are shameful to the IU faithful.
Typically Indiana fans are discussing the quest for the Big 10 title and seeding prospects for the tournament. This winter, they’re debating moral victoriesand the likelihood of an 0-18 record. My favorite is the guy who considers Saturday’s Iowa game a win because the Hoosiers covered the 14-point spread. I think he’s my long lost brother.
In addition to the Michigan game, there are two other intriguing games going on tonight. The best part about UM's rise this year back into the basketball discussion is that it makes the whole landscape of college hoops relevant again to our fanbase. Each night this winter, there will be games that will impact the bubble, seedings and regional placement for the NCAA field. Instead of that world being foreign to us, now those games directly impact our program progress. Its way to early to talk bubble and seeding, but that does not mean things are not in focus enough to give us an indication of which scores elsewhere in the country impact Michigan.
Tonight, ESPN has a great doubleheader. Davidson plays at Duke at 7 pm. The Stephon Curry show performs at venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium. That is must see viewing. Davidson is a 13-point dog tonight, but they have covered the spread virtually every time when catching points the last two seasons when matched up with a BCS school. I think they keep it close.
The other contest is Gonzaga at Tennessee. These schools have already played, with Gonzaga winning in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Weekend. The Zags are in a free fall, having lost four of five and dropped out of the national polls. The Vols are 3-point favorites. I expect the Vols to keep Gonzaga’s tumble going. The upshot of the Zags troubles for Michigan is simple. The WCC earned three bids last year, but with none of those schools looking good right now, I don’t think any of them are certain to get an at large. The more bids available, the better for a program like Michigan trying to get back into the dance after a decade long absence.