The situation, as it stands: Michigan is 9-9 in the Big Ten and is looking like a likely NCAA tournament entry. They have impressive nonconference wins and a decent record against a top-ten schedule. They are seeded seventh in the Big Ten tourney and have drawn Iowa in the first round.
So what, exactly, are Michigan's chances? Let's go off Basketball Prospectus' expansive 45-member list of bubble participants and filter them into categories.
How Many Spots?
There are 31 autobids and 29 locks on the BP list, so the minimum number of spots on the bubble is five. There are 11 autobids in conferences with tourney locks: the maximum number is sixteen. Realistically, it will be going to hard for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, and Pac 10 to dump a bid on someone not already going to the tourney, so we're really between 10 and 16 spots.
We've got these conferences which could dump extra bids out:
- WCC: St Mary's is in the final against Gonzaga tonight; if St Mary's wins that's two bids for sure for the WCC. If they lose no one knows what will happen with the Gaels.
- A-10: if Xavier or Dayton doesn't win the tourney, an extra bid goes out.
- MidCon: Butler is a lock, but only Butler.
- CUSA: Memphis is a one seed and the rest of the conference is poo.
- Mountain West: BYU and Utah are in; three conference members are kind of sort of on the bubble.
- SEC: only LSU and Tennessee are assured and they're definitely capable of blowing it.
It's hard to see anyone in CUSA beating Memphis, but if you're not expecting some crazy stuff to go down in the SEC you're fooling yourself. You'll probably see two or three wack autobids, leaving our count at 13-ish.
Dayton, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Boston College, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Arizona State are locks in all but world-shaking disaster scenarios. Any scenario in which Michigan gets in ahead of one of these teams is one in which Michigan has become a stone-cold lock; we can disregard those scenarios, then. We're concerned with what happens if M goes 1-1 or 0-1 at the BTT.
We've just given away eight spots and are down to two to eight, but probably five.
PRETTY DEFINITIVELY BELOW MICHIGAN
Some of the teams below may squeeze their way into the tournament but it's hard to imagine a scenario that includes any of them as an at-large participant that does not also include Michigan. (Remember that this list came out Friday, so it's a bit outdated (Davidson) and it's also extremely, extremely generous (Northwestern, for one).)
- Davidson: one nonconference win of note, an RPI of 68, the #173 schedule, and too many losses. They're done; they didn't even make their conference tourney final.
- Kentucky: four-game losing streak to end season, RPI of 79, horrible conference: dead.
- Auburn: checking in with the resident Auburn blog reveals no thought to an at-large bid.
- Georgetown, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame: all Big East teams that have suffered spectacular flameouts to end the season. Bid scenarios all involve runs to the BE tourney final, which obviously can't happen for all of them.
- Northwestern, Nebraska, USC, Mississippi State and Washington State: all major conference teams with extremely remote aspirations. (Seriously: Mississippi State?)
- Niagara, VCU, George Mason, UAB, Western Kentucky, and Tulsa: all mid-major teams that are listed as a courtesy, or something, because even in the Bracket Matrix there are no at-large bids below the assumed autobids of VCU and WKU. At this point Michigan is already ahead of these teams and if they're going to be relevant in this conversation they have to lose in their conference tournaments, likely to a team in the same universe as Iowa. Adding a few more mid-major scalps to the wall isn't going to shoot them past Michigan. (UAB is 2-10 against the RPI top 100. There is no way they are getting an at large.)
- Creighton: also a mid-major with a shaky resume and they have the added benefit of being done for the season, losing by 24 in their conference tournament; if they get in it won't be over Michigan.
HUGE MASSIVE UPSET-FILLED TOURNEY RUN OR DIE
- Rhode Island's loss to 12-17 UMass is widely held to be the final nail in their at-large hopes.
- Temple is 19-11 in the A-10, 1-5 against top 25 RPI teams and 0-0 against 26-50. Though their RPI is pretty good, they'll need a deep run in the A-10 tournament.
- VT and Miami, meanwhile, are both 7-9 in conference and have RPIs in the 50s. They play each other in the first round of the ACC tournament; loser is done, and then winner is done unless there's a Christmas miracle against UNC.
- Maryland suffered a crippling loss to Virginia in its final game of the regular season and now needs to beat #2 seed Wake Forest if they're going to get any at-large consideration.
- Kansas State is the Penn State of the Big 12: two games above .500 in conference, garbage teams outside of it. The Big 12 is not as strong as the Big 10 this year, not by a longshot, and they're well back.
- I'd have lumped Providence in the above category but for this weird fascination with them: #71 RPI, 18-12, #48 SOS, 2-5 top 25 and 0-3 next 25. They're 6-12 against the top 100. Somehow before the weekend this was a team listed on three more brackets than M was at the Bracket Matrix. They will have to take out DePaul or Cincinnati and then win against Louisville in the third round of the Big East tournament to get in ahead of M, I think.
Now, THE BUBBLE PROPER:
SOUTH CAROLINA and FLORIDA
Florida just slipped back into the top 50 in RPI, which sadly raises their record against same top 50 from 0-5 to 1-5. #48 RPI, #91 SOS… maybe they can slip by but there aren't many opportunities to make hay in the SEC.
Florida is the exact same team as South Carolina: #49 RPI, #91 SOS, 2-6 against the top 50. Realistically, both need two wins in the SEC tourney to get in. This being the SEC, though, they're not up against Wake Forest or UNC or Louisville in their quest to get there. Michigan is probably ahead of both of these teams unless they win two more conference tourney games than M.
SIENA and UTAH STATE
You are a fan of both these teams, because they have very high RPIs and could threaten to snag an at-large if they don't win their conference tourneys. The general feeling is that both are autobid or bust, but even though it's been carefully explained to me that the committee doesn't actually look directly at RPI I'm a little leery of the #24 and #27 teams sitting out there as potential at-large selections.
St. Mary's is a weird case because their star point guard broke his hand and the Gaels proceeded to lose some games without him. He returned for the WCC semifinal against Portland. He didn't play well (3 of 12) but St. Mary's set up the showdown everyone expected. If Gonzaga wins and Patrick Mills looks healthy the committee will have an interesting decision to make. They have included teams in the past based on that expectation. They're a wildcard.
(You're rooting for the Zags tonight at nine, BTW, as they're in either way. I strongly suspect St Mary's will make it either way.)
Michigan has an equivalent RPI, an equivalent conference record, and a basically equivalent big nonconference win on a neutral floor (UCLA for M, Louisville for Minnesota). Michigan then tacks on the Duke win and a season sweep of the Gophers. If Minnesota does two games better than M in the Big Ten Tourney they get priority. One and it's interesting. Michigan has to lead now.
This was discussed last week in detail: at this juncture Penn State has no case for a bid over Michigan. They get a first round bye and probably need to win twice in the BTT to even get in the conversation again, and they probably have to make the final to get in over M.
Very close to Michigan minus a tiny bit of SOS or two: 19-12, #52 RPI, #29 SOS, 2-1 against the top 25 and 3-7 against the next 25. Big nonconference wins over Kansas and Gonzaga. Their resume is basically Michigan's resume.
NEW MEXICO, SAN DIEGO STATE, and UNLV
I lump in this trio of Mountain West teams because realistically they'll have to cut each other's throats in the conference tourney to have a case. San Diego State, home of old friend Steve Fisher, is the best positioned right now. One of these teams could claw in over Michigan if M loses to Iowa.
We lose to Iowa… then what?
How good do you feel about those teams we're going up against? If there are two available bids, you are feeling terrible. If there are eight, you are feeling great. Arizona probably shoots past us, and then Minnesota if they do better in the Big Ten tourney and maybe one of the WAC teams and one of the SEC teams and maybe one of the "huge tourney run or bust" teams and then we're probably fifth in anything approximating the center of a Gaussian distribution. Which is also the center of the Gaussian distribution for "who is the last team in the tournament?" And the center of the Gaussian distribution for "who is the first team out of the tournament?"
Gack it up against Iowa and we are on pins and needles and just praying that the committee looks at Michigan's schedule and its big wins and gives us the That Year Georgia Got An At Large bid. It's basically 50-50. Who wants to go into Selection Sunday 50-50? No one whatsoever.
Beat Iowa and?
We'd have to suffer a huge number of autobid shenanigans and otherwise perfectly negative results to get the boot. Michigan can hold serve and be very confident; going 1-1 in the BTT is holding serve.
Rooting Guide For Tonight?
Two conference championship games come off at 9PM: St Mary's vs Gonzaga on ESPN and Niagara vs Siena on ESPN2. You're rooting for Gonzaga, somewhat halfheartedly as I think the Gaels will get in either way, and Siena, lots.