Despite not playing a game, Michigan’s hopes for a NCAA tournament bid took a hit as a result of last night’s action on the hardwood. Left to scoreboard watching in the wake of the Wolverine’s loss to the Spartans Tuesday, I was hoping to see some fellow bubble teams crash and burn. Sadly the opposite happened and several teams that were even or slightly ahead of UM in the bubble pecking order notched key wins. Here’s a quick wrap of some of the bad news:
The Kansas State Wildcats routed Texas Tech, notching their sixth straight victory. The win puts KSU in the driver’s seat for fourth place in the Big 12 and a first-round bye in the league’s postseason tournament. It also helped further legitimize their quest for a surprise bid in the post Beasley/Walker era. A win Saturday at home against the hated Jayhawks could put KSU in near lock status.
Continuing their strong mid winter push, the Cincy Bearcats clinched their first winning season under new coach Mark Cronin by slipping by dormant St. Johns. The Bearcats aren’t celebrating that feat as they have bigger fish to fry: A possible NCAA tourney bid and a date with powerful Pittsburgh over the weekend.
LSU notched its biggest win in years (even bigger than during the Final Four run in 2006? Really?), and have solidified its place atop the SEC West standings and, perhaps, more importantly in the NCAA field.
Elsewhere in the SEC, the Tennessee Vols kept pace in the SEC East. They beat up on a team they should beat in last place Georgia, so the win is not impressive by any stretch. Still, after losing at weak Auburn over the weekend, the Vols needed a bounce back win. With their SOS, it will be tough to keep the Vols out of the field, but every game from here on out will be important.
Here’s a shocker: the Virginia Tech Hokies played another close game. Always living on the edge, Virginia Tech has avoided disaster all week. Sunday, they used a miracle second half comeback to stave off an upset bid from NC State. Last night, a workmanlike performance was needed to ease by Georgia Tech. The Hokies are in great position for a bid, but they’re heading into the meatiest part of their slate. They close out with 2 games against FSU and a game each against Maryland, UVA, UNC, Duke and Clemson, so they have a long way to go before they can feel easy about being guaranteed a spot.
The Wisconsin Badgers are back in contention for a bid after winning their third game in a row after topping Iowa last night. Wisco looked dead only days ago, but one winning streak later they’re probably no worse than sixth in the Big 10 pecking order heading into the weekend.
It’s time to drink the Dayton Flyer Koolaid. After dropping a game over the weekend to UNC Charlotte, Dayton responded by getting its biggest resume win of the season, thumping state rival Xavier. If the Flyers showed any signs of weakness, I got the impression bracketologists were more than willing to dump them from their fields. However, after such a marquee win, the Flyers looks as secure in the field as any other bubble team right now.
Out west, Utah buzzed San Diego State to take over sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference. We all know how I feel about the MWC and their projected four bids into the tournament. Last night's results probably did not impact that number for today, but I actually think the Utes win spins somewhat positively for the Maize and Blue. Among the quartet of teams (Utah, SDSU, BYU and UNLV), the Utes appeared to be the most firm in most mock fields. BYU and UNLV are just hanging on by a thread. The Aztecs are somewhere in between. The loss to Utah should push them closer to the bubble's edge. I dont think the Aztecs get an at large bid unless they win the regular season crown. Last night's loss will make that feat harder to achieve.
All those teams notching wins last night are officially ahead of Michigan in the pecking order. Not only do the Wolverines need to turn their own season around, but they could use a hiccup or two out of those programs as well.
It was not all bad news for the Maize and Blue tournament hopes last night. Some positive results did come across the finish line.
Penn State continued to see its shine dull. The Lions have now dropped three in a row and have to be behind Michigan now in the Big 10’s pecking order. PSU stud Talor Battle was shut down last night and eventually outclassed by a plucky Purdue walk-on, dubbed Bobby Buckets.
The Baylor Bears continued its freefall. They were a team I would have pegged in preseason as a tournament team. However, they started the week in worse position than Michigan, and they missed another chance to snare a big win when Oklahoma drubbed them on their home floor.
Boston College, a team in most fields right now as a double digit seed, lost a halftime lead and dropped a home game to Clemson. The Eagles bid is out there for the taking if they continue to play average ball.
It does not sound like much, but at least those results helped Michigan’s cause.
Focusing on the Bracket Project, of the final dozen teams fielded via at large bids, six notched wins this week, two lost and four either haven’t played this week or don’t take the floor again until this weekend. Of the first eight teams left out of the field, Wisconsin, Creighton, and Kansas State won; Michigan, Penn St and Oklahoma St lost; St Mary’s plays tonight; and Georgetown is off until Saturday.
What does any of that mean? Nothing, really, as these are only faux brackets and there are a ton of hoops left to be played. However, a pecking order is being determined. As of now, nobody looks like they’re falling out of the field. That’s not good for Michigan. Worse, it looks like they’re falling to the bottom of the list of the group of wannabees that currently sit on the outside looking in.
A lot can change with a full weekend of hoops ahead of us. And, there are some games going on tonight that might help shakedown the bubble. Here’s what’s on tap:
USC at Arizona, 10:30, FSN. Line, AU -2
Far and away, this game between the Trojans and Wildcats is the biggest bubble matchup of the night. In the Bracket Project, both of these clubs are among the final dozen at large teams, with USC coming in as an 11-seed and Arizona just squeezing in as a 12. The Cats are hot right now, riding a five game winning streak. Tonight, they face a plucky USC team that is 30-13 ATS as an underdog in the Tim Floyd era. They’ve also covered 17 of their last 24 on the road. Hmmm, intriguing. Regardless, the loser tonight finds their tenous spot in the field on even shakier ground. Michigan fans need to root for the loser tonight to go in a tailspin.
Gonzaga at St. Mary’s, 11, ESPN 2. Line, Zags -4.5
The Gaels may prove an interesting case study for the committee. They seemed a sure thing until a few weeks ago when star Patty Mills went down with a broken hand. They’ve lost three of four since. According to the Bracket Project, the Gaels are a consensus ‘final four teams out’ team, although Lunardi, for one, at ESPN still places them along the 11-line. The committee has been known to give teams dealing with injuries a break, provided they're healthy and playing well come Selection Sunday. With a win tonight over the Zags, the Gaels may not need the charity. With a loss, however, the club is on thin ice.
The Zags, meanwhile, were worked over ptetty good on their home floor by Memphis their last time out. Despite being undeafeted in league play, the loss is creating some introspection among the Kennel Klub patrons.
Louisville at Notre Dame. 7 pm ESPN. Line, L’Ville -2
Dear Louisville: Please stick a dagger in the heart (if they still have one….zing!!) of the Irish tonight. Once a top-10 team, the Irish aren’t even on anybody’s radar right now as far as an at large bid is concerned. That’s what a 7-game losing streak will do to you. Irish fans appear to have given up the ship. Rather than hammering more discussion on a one-man offense and a defense that cant stop the other team's best forward, Irish bloggers have gone back to the drawing board in hopes of discovering the keys to creating a perennial power.
The slate eases up slightly down the stretch for Notre Dame, so if the Irish can nab a big scalp tonight against the Cardinals they might be able to claw their way back into everyone’s good graces. Let’s hope it does not happen.
Illinois at Northwestern, 9pm, ESPN 2. Line, Illini -2
The Illini are a lock to make the field. The Wildcats are a long shot. This is not a huge bubble game, but it’s the only Big 10 game of the night. Michigan plays the Wildcats next, so tune in for some advance scouting.
UCLA at Arizona St, 9pm ESPM. Line, UCLA -1
First place is on the line tonight in the desert. Ben Ball was stifled in these team's first game. Can UCLA exact a measure of revenge?
Meanwhile, despite a team battling for first place and a projected Sweet 16 team, it appears that nobody in Tempe is paying attention. Of course, when the primary blog covering ASU is plastered with football recruiting news on the day of the biggest hoops game of the season, can you blame anyone for not being that sky high?
Considering UM’s SOS took a hit last night with the losses by Duke and Northeastern, it would be nice to see UCLA win this game. Michigan will be on the bubble come Selection Sunday and their win over the Bruins needs to look as impressive as possible. A win over the Pac 10 champs would be a nice feather in the Wolverines’ cap.