Monday, March 3, 2008

NCAA Bubble Update: Anyone want to go Dancing?

Does any NCAA basketball program want to step up their play, improve their resume and make it impossible for the Committee to leave them out of the field of 64? Or do most teams prefer to stumble down the stretch in hopes that that early marquee win or .500 conference record is strong enough to back their way into the Tournament?

In the current landscape that is Division 1 College Basketball, 34 teams can lay claim to being invited as an at-large team to the annual chaotic tournament known as March Madness. But which teams this year are among the 34 best not to win their conference tournament’s automatic bid? Since that question can’t be answered as of now (since conference tournament’s haven’t started), the better question is which teams are playing well enough to earn an at large invitation in case they stumble in their conference tournament?

To answer that question, first I need to change my tie to a color that matches my neon yellow highlighter. OK, now I am ready to be a “talking head expert” that ESPN so willingly employs.

Even if you are only a casual fan of college basketball, you know that the Duke’s and UCLA’s of the world are going to be in the Big Dance. So let’s focus on teams currently straddling that infamous bubble with the most at stake in the next 2 weeks as regular season conference plays winds down.

Teams are throwing away must have wins left and right. Syracuse [17-12 (7-9), RPI: 57, SOS: 10] gave a home game away to bubble foe Pitt on Saturday, George Mason removed themselves from the bubble all together after losing at Northeastern, and a week after the most important win of Bracket Busters Kent State [23-6 (11-3), RPI: 35, SOS: 141], laid an egg at Bowling Green. And if that wasn’t enough Southern Illinois, Houston and St. Joseph’s all lost. This trend harkens back to my original point, does anyone want to go dancing?

With an already suspect resume that includes 1-8 against the RPI top 50, Ohio State [17-12 (8-8), RPI: 54, SOS: 27] lost at Minnesota. Now OSU must win their next two games against Big 10 powers Purdue and Michigan State. Texas A&M [20-8 (7-7), RPI: 46, SOS: 91], put up 37 points in an embarrassing loss to fellow bubble contender Oklahoma. They have lost 4 of their last 5 and close the season out against Baylor and Kansas.

Arizona [16-12 (7-9), RPI: 21, SOS: 1] must be banking on their number 1 strength of schedule since the Committee almost never leaves that team out. They lost this week at home to USC and UCLA to slip 2 games under .500 in the Pac-10 and are 4-6 in their last 10 games.

Apparently, St. Joseph’s [17-10 (8-6), RPI: 65, SOS: 83] would rather spend March in the NIT. While sitting firmly on the bubble, they unexpectedly lost to St. Louis and followed that up by losing to Temple on Sunday. They also sport out of conference losses to Holy Cross and Creighton.

All of these losses are allowing teams left for dead like Virginia Tech, Villanova, and Oklahoma State to creep back into bubble contention. These teams are back in consideration because they have won games. The Pokes have won 5 in a row. VT has won 3 in a row and finish with Wake Forest and Clemson.

Speaking of Clemson [20-7 (9-5), RPI: 19, SOS: 24], this is the only team that has won when they had to. Every other team in this column should look at the Tigers because they all but earned an at large bid on Sunday night after going into the Comcast Center and beating bubble mate Maryland, [18-12 (8-7), RPI: 64, SOS: 15]. And they won with a 3 at the buzzer after trailing by 20 points in the second half.

It is time for teams to stop taking a step into the tournament and then taking a giant leap back out. This isn’t the Hokey Pokey. Teams should be in must win mode. That's why this week's games such as Pittsburgh-West Virginia, Arkansas-Ole Miss, and Texas A&M-Baylor are important. Let’s hope some bubble teams win these critical games and earn a spot off the bubble and into the field of 64. It sure doesn’t look like anyone else will.

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