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.