NCAA Tournament 2013: The Top 10 Bubble Watch Games of Week 15

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 10, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: The Top 10 Bubble Watch Games of Week 15

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    In the past seven days, 14 teams ranked in the AP Top 25 suffered a total of 19 losses. Just another chaotic week for what are supposed to be the best teams in the nation.

    The bubble, however, remains largely unchanged from last week.

    Certainly, there has been a fair amount of movement on the bubble, most notably Illinois and Colorado coming back from the brink of extinction while Ole Miss and Wichita State play their way towards it, but there was very little action into or out of the field.

    There's a pretty good chance that will change this week, and these are the 10 games most likely to cause that shakeup, ranked in ascending order of likelihood to affect the bubble. 

No. 10: Ole Miss @ Texas A&M

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    Tip Time: Wednesday @ 7 on ESPN3

    Implications for Ole Miss (18-5, RPI: 48):

    We knew the stretch of games against Kentucky, Florida and Missouri was going to be difficult, but it would’ve been nice if the Rebels had actually shown up for any of those games. Now there’s more than an inkling that they might not be a tournament-worthy team.

    A loss to Texas A&M would further amplify that suspicion. Ole Miss has a very favorable schedule down the stretch, which is both a blessing and a curse for a team on the bubble. Any losses over the course of its final eight games could cause a serious problem, and this road game against A&M is the most difficult one remaining.

    Implications for Texas A&M (14-9, RPI: 73):

    Thanks primarily to a pair of losses to Georgia, the Aggies are nowhere near the bubble, but with the way this season has gone, there’s reason to believe they could eventually get there.

    Of their eight remaining games, they have two left against Ole Miss, and the other six are against teams that will most likely finish the season in the bottom half of the SEC. Considering the strength of other resumes on the bubble, 21-10 (11-7) with wins over Ole Miss, Kentucky and Missouri might be enough to sneak in.

    Prediction: 

    Ole Miss gets back to its winning ways behind 27 points from Marshall Henderson: Rebels 79-73.

No. 9: Villanova @ Cincinnati

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    Tip Time: Tuesday @ 8 on ESPN3

    Implications for Villanova (15-9, RPI: 61):

    As Villanova is arguably the most bubbly team in the nation right now, a road win over Cincinnati would be nothing short of massive.

    In my opinion, the Wildcats will need to win at least four of their remaining seven regular-season games to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. They only figure to be the favorite in two of those games, so they’ll need to find some upsets somewhere along the way.

    Implications for Cincinnati (18-6, RPI: 32):

    The Bearcats are still comfortably in the field, but recent losses to Providence and Pittsburgh have at least made things a bit more interesting.

    At 6-5 in conference play, they’ll need to pick up at least three more wins before the Big East tournament in order to ensure inclusion in the big tournament. If they lose this home game to Villanova, that becomes significantly more challenging.

    Prediction:

    Cincinnati bounces back, but not without some protest from Ryan Arcidiacono: Bearcats 61-59.

No. 8: Gonzaga @ Saint Mary's

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    Tip Time: Thursday @ 11 on ESPN2

    Implications for Gonzaga (23-2, RPI: 13):

    Gonzaga couldn’t be much further from the bubble, but a loss to Saint Mary’s could conceivably drop them a seed or two.

    Implications for Saint Mary’s (21-4, RPI: 51):

    The Gaels have done exactly what they needed to do by winning 13 of their last 14 games. However, they’re going to need to add a marquee win to their resume.

    The BracketBusters committee did them a favor by adding a home game against Creighton to their schedule, but they’ll still need to actually win one of the games against Gonzaga or Creighton. If they close out the regular season 5-1, I think a loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Championship game would be acceptable.

    Prediction:

    Matthew Dellavedova won’t let his team lose his last home game against Gonzaga: Gaels 84-80.

No. 7: Baylor @ Kansas State

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    Tip Time: Saturday @ 7 on ESPNU

    Implications for Baylor (15-8, RPI: 53):

    Fresh off three straight single-digit losses to the teams ahead of them in the Big 12 standings, the Bears kick-start a similar three-game stretch against Kansas State on Saturday. 

    Since their shocking-at-the-time win at Kentucky on December 1, the Bears are 2-6 against the RPI Top 100, and have fallen out of the tournament field altogether. A lot depends on what happens with other teams on the bubble, but their resume might only be able to absorb two more losses and remain in the discussion.

    Implications for Kansas State (19-4, RPI: 22):

    A loss would become the worst of the season for Kansas State, but a win would push the Wildcats to 7-4 against the RPI Top 100 and ever closer to a No. 3 seed.

    Prediction:

    Baylor came oh so close to beating Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State, but Kansas State is head and shoulders above all of those teams: Wildcats 76-65.

No. 6: Charlotte @ Saint Louis

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    Tip Time: Saturday @ 7

    Implications for Charlotte (17-6, RPI: 58):

    These two teams are headed in completely opposite directions. The 49ers have lost four of their last six with a road game against Butler coming up before this game. They were a borderline bubble team before this rough stretch and would need to win just about all of their remaining games to dance.

    Winning one of two games this week might be enough to keep them in the discussion for now, but if they lose them both, it’s auto-bid or bust for Charlotte.

    Implications for Saint Louis (18-5, RPI: 56):

    Saint Louis has won six straight games in convincing fashion since inexplicably losing at home to Rhode Island.

    The Billikens will need to keep up that hot streak, as they have three games against Charlotte, VCU and Butler in a span of six days. They’re in the field for now, but things could go downhill in a hurry if they aren’t careful.

    Prediction:

    Saint Louis is just too good, and has too many guys who could score 25 in a given night for a team like Charlotte to stop them. Billikens 74-61.

No. 5: UCLA @ Stanford

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    Tip Time: Saturday @ 4 on ESPN

    Implications for UCLA (18-6, RPI: 38):

    If the Bruins aren’t careful, they’ll be 8-5 and tied for fourth place in the Pac-12 by the end of the week. Road games against Cal and Stanford are no laughing matter—Washington somehow won both of their games on that trip, but everyone else in the Pac-12 is winless in those locations.

    They appear to have recovered from the home loss to USC, but I will have the Bruins as a No. 8 seed in my next bracket, and it doesn’t take much for a No. 8 to fall from grace.

    Implications for Stanford (15-9, RPI: 57):

    A new team seems to sneak its way into the bubble discussion each week, and this week that team is the Stanford Cardinal. For the sake of those in Palo Alto, I hope they fare better than Charlotte and Air Force did.

    It would take a great run over the final seven games (no worse than 6-1) for the Cardinal to have a realistic argument, but if they can avenge road losses to USC, UCLA and Colorado while improving to 12-6 in conference play, I could see them making the Big Dance.

    Prediction:

    UCLA is the better team, but that certainly hasn’t always translated to wins thus far this season: Cardinal 65-63.

No. 4: Temple @ Massachusetts

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    Tip Time: Saturday @ 6 on CBS Sports Network

    Implications for Temple (16-7, RPI: 40):

    Get ready for a lot of A-10 bubble discussion over the next five weeks. Not that that’s anything different from the norm, but for once it’ll be because of an excess of quality teams rather than because Joe Lunardi graduated from Saint Joseph’s and perennially over-values the conference.

    Temple is just 7-7 against the RPI Top 150, but returns to the tournament field behind a pair of one-point wins over Charlotte and Dayton in the past week. Despite the win over Syracuse, I have my doubts that the committee would extend an invite to a “mid-major” team with more than 10 losses, so the Owls will need to go 6-2 down the stretch.

    Implications for Massachusetts (16-6, RPI: 50):

    They only have one win against the RPI Top 75, but the Minutemen just keep hanging around. The upcoming week (@ VCU, vs. Temple) with either make or break their season with games at Xavier and vs. Butler still on the horizon. 

    Prediction:

    Can lightning strike twice? Last time I predicted the outcome of a Massachusetts game, I expected them to get blown out, and they instead picked up their best win of the season: Owls 78-67.

No. 3: Arizona State @ Colorado

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    Tip Time: Saturday @ 9 on ESPNU

    Implications for Arizona State (18-6, RPI: 65):

    Arizona State wins the 2013 Northwestern Commemorative Award for consecutive days spent squarely on the cut line. Most teams on the bubble experience big swings and oscillate into and out of the field, but the Sun Devils’ needle hasn’t moved more than a degree or two in over a month.

    Finishing off a season sweep of Colorado would be a huge boost for ASU’s resume. A win over Utah and a loss to Colorado would put them right back in the middle of the bubble for another week. 

    Implications for Colorado (16-7, RPI: 20):

    If the college basketball season ended today, a great debate would rage between Colorado supporters and Virginia backers. The Buffaloes clearly have the better computer profile, while the Cavaliers (in my opinion) clearly put a better product on the court night in and night out.

    The Buffaloes still have five very difficult games remaining (as well as a rematch with Utah they probably shouldn’t overlook). Even if they win this game, I suspect they’ll eventually play their way out of the field, but a loss here to the Sun Devils would be pretty damaging.

    Prediction:

    Jordan Bachynski (16 points, 9 blocks, 7 rebounds) was a huge matchup problem in the first game for Colorado. While I doubt Colorado will shoot 2-of-19 from three-point range again, I also doubt that Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon will each repeat what was easily the worst game of the season for them both: Sun Devils 76-62.

No. 2: Virginia @ North Carolina

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    Tip Time: Saturday @ Noon on ESPN3

    Implications for Virginia (17-6, RPI: 92):

    Virginia is the perfect microcosm for how absurd this season has been. The Cavaliers are 6-0 against the RPI Top 100, but have six losses to teams that wouldn’t even be on the bubble if the field was expanded to 128 teams.

    Because of their horrendous nonconference schedule, the Wahoos still have a considerable amount of work to do. They’ll probably need to win three of their remaining five games against the RPI Top 100, while hopefully picking up three easy wins peppered in throughout those challenges. 

    Implications for North Carolina (16-7, RPI: 36):

    This is much less of a bubble game for the Tar Heels if they can win at Duke on Wednesday, and if the past 20 years are any indication, there’s no reason to rule out that possibility.

    However, for kicks and giggles, let’s assume they lose to Duke. They would fall to 16-8 (6-5) with four difficult home games and an always difficult road trip to Maryland still to be played. From an RPI perspective, this game against Virginia is the easiest of those five, and a loss would put their tournament bid in serious doubt.

    Prediction:

    Virginia’s defense has been much less effective on the road (61.7 ppg) than it has been at home (45.7 ppg) over the past 12 games. I have to assume someone other than Reggie Bullock will show up for UNC in the rematch: Tar Heels 71-63.

No. 1: Minnesota @ Iowa

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    Tip Time: Sunday @ 2 on Big Ten Network

    Implications for Minnesota (17-7, RPI: 11):

    One month ago, Minnesota was 15-1 and on an eight-game streak of winning games by double digits. People started speculating that if Duke lost to NC State, Michigan lost to Ohio State, and Minnesota beat Indiana that the Gophers could be atop the next AP Rankings.

    Well, they didn’t beat Indiana…or Michigan, Northwestern or Wisconsin. They did beat Nebraska, because, well, who hasn’t? Then they nearly lost at home to Iowa before losing to Michigan State and Illinois.

    Just like that, Minnesota dropped from potential No. 1 in the nation to potential bubble team in a span of 29 days; and the next 15 days won’t provide any relief. The Gophers will need to win four of their remaining seven games just to get to .500 in conference play, and a loss to Iowa would make that nearly impossible.

    Implications for Iowa (15-9, RPI: 89):

    Iowa is a far cry from the tournament field today, but certainly not for lack of opportunities or lack of effort in those opportunities. Losses to Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin (and Purdue, for that matter) could have just as easily been wins for the Hawkeyes.

    As is, they’re 4-7 in conference play with only one definite loss (@ Indiana) left on their schedule. Games against Penn State, Purdue, and Nebraska (x2) should absolutely be wins. If those games play to form (a ludicrous assumption in 2013), they would be 8-8 with home games against Minnesota and Illinois to be determined.

    A 9-9 record in the Big Ten might be enough for tournament inclusion; 10-8 in the Big Ten would almost certainly be enough to get in. So yeah, this is a huge game for both teams.

    Prediction:

    It will be a sloppily entertaining game that will only grow in importance as the week progresses: Hawkeyes 70-66.