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.
In a game of contrasting styles, it will be Duke’s smothering half court defense versus the up tempo attack of the Deacons. We’ll find out some answers tonight about the true ACC pecking order.
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.