Poppin' Bubbles: Providence, Minny stay alive; Cal, Arky suffer Ls
Thursday is one of the best days of conference tournament week -- and bubble teams will be in action.
The bubble picture will look very different on Friday than it does right before noon on Thursday. There is tons of bubble action on the slate as the major conference tournaments across the country begin to heat up. There are games between bubble teams, games that are must-wins for bubble teams, and opportunities at marquee wins for bubble teams.
Providence: The Friars were the biggest bubble winner of the afternoon session, beating St. John's to get some momentum and keep their at-large hopes alive. Up next is a semifinal date with Seton Hall -- a game Providence needs to win. A loss would be a sub-100 mark on the resume. Playing Villanova would have had a bigger reward, but the Wildcats fell to Seton Hall in the quarterfinals. The Friars have just two top-50 wins, with the lone marquee win coming over Creighton at home. They are 7-10 against the top 100, with one sub-100 loss. Providence is also 8-8 away from home. Beat Seton Hall, and the Friars get a swing at the Big East's automatic bid.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers were among the teams that needed to avoid a subpar loss on Thursday -- and they passed that test easily, blowing out Wake Forest by 29 points in the ACC tournament. The top of the resume isn't great, with only one top-50 win (over Stanford in November), but Pitt is 5-2 against teams ranked 51-100, has zero sub-100 losses, and is also 11-3 away from home. The Panthers could really boost their resume with a quarterfinal win over North Carolina on Friday, as a loss would mean a long 48 hours until the selection show. It would be their best win of the season. It's not a great resume, but the lack of major negatives helps.
Stanford: The Cardinal locked up a bid to the tournament by beating Arizona State in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. They were in suspect shape heading into the season finale, but three wins in a row have righted the ship and now Johnny Dawkins is going to the NCAA Tournament. That gives them five top-50 wins on the season, and while none are top-10 or truly "marquee" victories, getting five of them is impressive. Moreover, Stanford has no bad losses and is a solid 9-7 away from home. Combine that with a top-30 SOS and an RPI in the 40s, and it's difficult to see the committee leaving them out.
Dayton: Beating Fordham does nothing for the Flyers' resume, but it keeps them in good shape heading into the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. They have now won 10 of their last 11, and could clinch things with a win over Saint Joseph's on Friday. Dayton has an RPI in the 30s, plus four top-30 wins. The Flyers are also 10-5 away from home and 9-6 against the top 100. Beating St. Joe's (another bubble team) would really solidify things, but the Flyers could get in either way. The three sub-100 losses means things aren't safe just yet, though.
Xavier: The Musketeers hadn't played in a week, and the last time we saw Chris Mack's team take the court, they followed a loss to Seton Hall with a loss to Villanova. As a result, Xavier wasn't a lock entering the Big East tournament. Beating Marquette puts the Musketeers in good shape moving forward, though. They do get a chance to 100 percent lock their bid up on Friday against Creighton, but the Musketeers are probably in regardless. The RPI is in the 40s, the SOS in the 20s, and they have wins over Creighton and Cincinnati. Moreover, they have defeated bubble teams Tennessee and Providence. The three sub-100 losses are bad, but they are 9-8 against the top 100.
Minnesota: Beating Penn State in the regular season finale kept the Gophers alive. Beating the Nittany Lions again in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament moves them up the pecking order just a bit more. There's some bubble carnage going on around them, which means simply getting a win helps. I still don't think it makes them a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team, but beating Wisconsin on Friday would likely do the trick. A loss on Friday leaves them sweating profusely on Selection Sunday. The top-10 SOS is fantastic, and wins over Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa help. But they are just 3-8 against the top 50 and 6-10 against the top 100, with two sub-100 losses. The 4-9 record away from home also isn't great. Beat Wisconsin on Friday, and we won't be having much of a conversation anymore.
Missouri: The Tigers' blowout loss to Tennessee put them on the backburner of the bubble, but a double-overtime win against Texas A&M in the SEC tournament keeps their hopes alive. And up next is Florida -- obviously a must-win game for Missouri. A loss and the Tigers are heading to the NIT. A win and they will be in the mix. They have two top-50 wins, over UCLA and Tennessee, but there are also two sub-100 losses. They desperately need to beat Florida to boost the resume -- there just isn't enough meat at the top of the profile yet. A 4-1 neutral record looks good right now, though.
Colorado: The Buffaloes could have survived a loss to California and still been in the NCAA Tournament, but they really sealed things up with a quarterfinal victory over the Golden Bears. They are likely poised for the 8-9 game, but could be wearing home jerseys in the round of 64 depending on how things go in other conference tournaments. Up next is Arizona in the semifinals. A win there, and Colorado could get out of the 8/9 game. Either way, the Buffs are in.
Florida State: The Seminoles still have a long way to go, but they kept their hopes alive with a last-second win over Maryland in the ACC tournament. They now face Virginia in the quarterfinals -- an absolute must-win if they want to have any chance at an at-large bid. Florida State really hurt its chances last weekend with a home loss to Syracuse, which would have given the Seminoles a marquee win. They do have wins over VCU and Massachusetts, along with Pittsburgh, but they are just 6-11 against the top 100 and do have a sub-100 loss to Miami. A win over Virginia could get them back into the conversation.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took down tournament host UTEP on Thursday, keeping their hopes alive despite a less-than-convincing resume. They have a terrific RPI, in the 30s, but their lack of meat to the top of the resume could keep them out even if they win another game and get to the conference title game. Their best win is at North Dakota State, and they have just three top-100 wins overall -- to go with two sub-100 losses. Moreover, their SOS is poor. If they win another game and get to the title game, we will have to consider once again -- but the only way they definitely get in is with the automatic bid.
Arkansas: When the Razorbacks beat Kentucky for the second time, all was well with Mike Anderson's team. They followed it up with wins over Georgia and Ole Miss, and things looked good. However, the wheels have fallen off the past two games and now Arkansas might be relegated to the NIT. There was the blowout loss to Alabama and the season finale -- and in a game they had to win, the Razorbacks lost to South Carolina in the SEC tournament. The RPI and SOS numbers aren't very good, and the non-conference SOS is poor. Three top-50 wins are nice, as is an 8-8 record against the top 100, but three sub-100 losses take some of the luster off. Right now, I would have the Razorbacks on the outside looking in.
California: After perhaps saving its season with a season finale win over Colorado, the Golden Bears lost to the Buffaloes in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That's now losses in four of their final five games, leaving them in a worrisome position with three days until Selection Sunday. They were one of the last teams in or one of the first teams out heading into the week, so this was obviously bad news. They do have four top-50 wins, but the RPI is in the 50s and they are 4-10 against the top 50. The win over Arizona is a nice plus on the resume, but it can only take them so far. The Golden Bears have to hope the Providenes and Minnesotas of the world go down as soon as possible.
St. John's: The Red Storm are heading to the NIT after losing what was essentially an elimination game against Providence. Had they won, they would have been one win away from the Big East title game. Instead, they lost on their homecourt and won't be in the NCAA Tournament. They played very well toward the end of the season, winning nine of 10 before losing two of their final four -- and then falling to Providence. In the end, their lack of quality wins will do them in. St. John's has just one top-50 win; that's simply not enough to go dancing.
SMU: The Mustangs will probably still get in, but the resume is far from impressive (for a team that was considered a lock). And it looks worse after losing to Houston in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament. They do have four top-30 wins -- but that's it in terms of top-100 wins. SMU swept Connecticut, and also beat Cincinnati and Memphis. After the loss to Houston, though, there are also three sub-100 losses on the ledge. Throw in a non-conference SOS near 300, and there might be some sweating for SMU on Selection Sunday. I think they're safe, but it will likely be as a double-digit seed.
Utah: The Utes needed to make a run to the Pac-12 title game just to get in the conversation, but they were absolutely blown out by Arizona in the quarterfinals. It's NIT time for Utah. While the Utes might pass the eye test and do have four top-40 wins, the non-conference SOS is one of the worst in the country and they are also just 3-9 away from home. Utah has a bright future under Larry Krystkowiak, but it won't be in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes are in the same boat as SMU. They've been considered in very good shape for most of the season, but a closer look reveals the resume just isn't that of a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Thursday's loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament highlights some of the negatives on the resume. The RPI has dropped to the 50 range, although the SOS is still in the top 20. They have good wins over Michigan and Ohio State, along with victories against bubblers Nebraska and Xavier. Outside of that, it's an unimpressive resume. They are 6-11 against the top 100, and now have a sub-100 loss to Northwestern to add to that. I think Iowa gets in, but it is a certain double-digit seed at this point.
Arizona State: Like SMU and Iowa, I think the Sun Devils get in. But like SMU and Iowa, they certainly aren't playing like an NCAA Tournament team right now. They have now lost three in a row heading into Selection Sunday, getting bounced by Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. They have four top-50 wins, including a victory over Arizona (and the win over Stanford actually looks a bit better now, ironically). They are 9-10 against the top 100 with one sub-100 loss. The RPI and SOS are fine overall, but Arizona State is just 5-10 away from home and has a non-conference SOS in the 200s. The Sun Devils will get in, but it could come as a double-digit seed.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are still going dancing, but they could have probably gotten out of the 8/9 game with a win over Kansas. Either way, I think they're in safe shape for Selection Sunday. They are 5-2 since Marcus Smart returned from suspension, with wins over Kansas and Kansas State. Oklahoma State also owns victories against Memphis, Colorado and Texas. The Cowboys are 8-11 against the top 100 and have one bad loss.
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