Poppin' Bubbles: Pitt, St. Joe's punch tickets, others wait
Another monster day of bubble games takes place on Friday. Teams need to stay alive.
With just two days until Selection Sunday, the best thing a bubble team can do is still alive. Whether that means beating a bad team to avoid a subpar loss or picking up a marquee win, that's what a bubble team needs to do. For example, Minnesota beat Penn State on Thursday, which isn't a noteworthy win -- but the Golden Gophers are thought to be in better position than Arkansas because they're still playing. Who will move on to Saturday?
Pittsburgh: The Panthers are dancing. Despite their gaudy record, there have been questions about their resume and NCAA Tournament qualifications due to a lack of quality wins. After beating North Carolina on Friday, I doubt they will be questioned anymore. It's only their second top-50 win of the season, but the victory over Stanford back in November looks a bit better after the Cardinal locked themselves up too. There are zero bad losses, they are 12-3 away from home, and they have an RPI in the 40s. The win over the Tar Heels was much-needed; I think Pitt will hear its name called on Selection Sunday now.
Saint Joseph's: The biggest bubble battle on Friday was between the Hawks and Dayton -- and Langston Galloway's push-off 3-pointer probably put St. Joe's in the dance. They are now 5-5 against the top-50 -- with three wins over Dayton, plus victories over VCU and Massachusetts. The best non-league win was over Boston University, which isn't great, but they are now 11-5 away from home, with only one sub-100 loss. Throw in the collection of decent wins in the conference, and I think Phil Martelli will be happy on Selection Sunday.
Tennessee: The Volunteers probably got lucky when South Carolina beat Arkansas on Thursday, but they certainly took advantage of the matchup, cruising to a 15-point win. They now face Florida in the semifinals in a game that could lock up a bid with a win. With the other bubble teams losing, Tennessee is still in the field -- but can it survive a loss to the Gators? They have a monster win over Virginia in non-conference play, with two more top-50 wins over Xavier and Missouri. There are four sub-100 losses to come close to balancing it out though. On the plus side, the SOS is among the top-25 in the country and the RPI is in the low 40s. Win and in, lose and worry.
Providence: The Friars absolutely had to beat Seton Hall on Friday, and they did. To me, it doesn't boost their resume all that much, as a win over Seton Hall on March 14 means the same as a win over Seton Hall on January 14. In theory. On the other hand, getting to the Big East title game is noteworthy in itself. But can they lose to Creighton or Xavier in the championship and still move to the NCAA Tournament? They still only have two top-50 wins on the season, against Creighton and Xavier. There is only one sub-100 loss, though. The No. 191 non-conference SOS and 7-11 record against the top 100 don't inspire confidence, either, but Providence can end all discussion with a win on Saturday.
North Carolina State: Let's toss the Wolfpack onto the bubble. Beating Syracuse to move to the semifinals of the ACC tournament gets them in the at-large mix, although there is still work to do. That was easily their best win of the season, outshining top-50 wins Pittsburgh and Tennessee. However, there are also three sub-100 losses on the resume. NC State is now 3-8 against the top 50 and 6-9 against the top 100. The RPI was rather low heading into the day, but beating Syracuse will boost it. Now NC State gets to face the winner of Duke/Clemson. For quality win purposes, a matchup with Duke would be nice.
Nebraska: When the Cornhuskers went up by 18 against Ohio State, we were penciling Nebraska into the bracket. However, a collapse down the stretch allowed the Buckeyes to get the win -- and now Nebraska has to wait to hear whether it will be dancing. There is obviously optimism in Lincoln, but I don't think they're a lock just yet. The wins over Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State look good, but they are 4-7 against the top 50, 8-9 against the top 100, and have three sub-100 losses. Moreover, they have a 4-11 record away from home. The RPI and SOS are solid, and they are playing well late in the season. It will be very close. I think Nebraska gets in, but it's not a sure thing.
Dayton: The Flyers could have sealed the deal with a win over Saint Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals on Friday, but they lost on a late shot by Langston Galloway and will now wait until Selection Sunday. It was their third defeat at the hands of the Hawks this season. Now, will Dayton hear its name called? The positives: They have four top-30 wins, with the best non-league win coming over Gonzaga. They are 10-7 against the top 100 and 10-6 away from home, with an RPI of 39 before Friday. But there are negatives, too, mainly the fact Dayton has three sub-100 losses. Right now, I think the quality wins keep the Flyers in the field, but it will be a stressful two days if bubble teams continue to win or the field shrinks from bid thieves.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers had a chance to play themselves into the field by beating Wisconsin on Friday, but they were blown out by 26 and now will wait to find out their fate on Sunday. Back-to-back wins over Penn State in the season finale and Big Ten tournament kept them in the mix, but they're likely to be one of the final teams in the field or one of the first teams out. There are two top-50 wins on the resume, with both Wisconsin and Ohio State counting as top-25 victories. However, the Gophers are 2-8 against the top 50 and 6-11 against the top 100 -- with two sub-100 losses. The 4-10 record away from home is also a trouble spot. One big edge Minnesota has is its SOS, ranking among the top 10 in the country.
Xavier: The Musketeers could have ensured they didn't have an ounce of worry on Selection Sunday by beating Creighton, but they fell short and now have to wait two days. I don't think they will be disappointed, though, as they should still be in the field. Most likely a double-digit seed, but in the field nonetheless. The RPI is in the 40s, the SOS is in the 20s, and they have wins over Creighton and Cincinnati. They are 9-9 against the top 100, although three sub-100 losses are ugly. If there are a handful of bid stealers and the number of at-large bids shrink, Xavier could be in trouble. Aside from that, I think the Musketeers are a few spots ahead of the cutline.
Florida State: Advancing to the quarterfinals to face Virginia gave the Seminoles a massive opportunity to boost their resume and get a statement win. Unfortunately, Florida State lost to the Cavaliers for the third time this season. I think they're going to the NIT as a result. There were non-league wins over VCU and Massachusetts, but the best team they beat within the conference was Pittsburgh. Florida State is just 3-9 against the top 50 and 6-12 against the top 100. Ten wins away from home will help, but I don't think the Seminoles have done enough in ACC play to get a bid.
Missouri: Like the Seminoles, Missouri could have used a marquee win in the quarterfinals over the top-seeded team in the bracket. In Missouri's case, it was Florida -- and the Gators pulled away in the second half for a victory. If the Tigers indeed get left out on Selection Sunday, it won't be because of Friday's game. It will be their late-February defeats against Alabama and Georgia, and their blowout loss to Tennessee in the season finale. They only have two top-50 wins, although the only sure-fire NCAA Tournament was UCLA. On the negative side, there are two sub-100 losses and a 7-9 record against the top 100. I think they will be on the outside looking in.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles quietly moved up the bubble pecking order without racking up quality wins. They had a RPI in the high 20s, which put them in discussion. A blowout loss to Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA semifinals should end that discussion, though. The best win is over North Dakota State, and they have just three top-100 wins on the season. Combine that with two sub-100 losses and it's hard to see the committee selecting them unless it's solely based on the RPI.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini weren't close to a bid in my opinion, but a win over Michigan and maybe a run to the Big Ten title game could have gotten them in the mix. However, they lost to Michigan in the final seconds and are now relegated to the NIT. They have four top-50 wins, including victories over bubble teams Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri, but they also have three sub-100 losses and now have 14 overall losses. Non-conference SOS is also above 200. Valiant late-season performance, but not enough.
LSU: There was some thought that the Tigers could play themselves into the mix by getting to the SEC title game. They won't be getting there, losing to Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday. Talent-wise and on paper, LSU looks good. But the resume isn't near at-large consideration. With an RPI in the 70s, a 4-10 top 100 record and three sub-100 losses, LSU will head to the NIT.
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