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Saturday's Bubble Set Up, Part One
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.