NCAA Tournament 2013: The Top 10 Bubble Watch Games of Week 17
As we get ready to flip the calendar to March, the bubble is finally starting to take a more stable form. With less than two weeks left until the end of everyone's regular season, there simply aren't enough games left for many teams to play their way into or out of the tournament field.
That isn't to say the tournament field has been set. Far from it. But the bubble is shrinking on a daily basis as some teams are locking up their bid, while others are playing their way further out of the picture.
There are conservatively 36 teams left fighting for the final 18 spots in the field—conservative means San Diego State isn't yet a lock, and Texas A&M isn't quite dead—and these are the 10 games in the next seven days that will most impact those teams.
As a refresher, in order to qualify as a Bubble Watch Game, at least one of the teams involved must be in a position to play its way into or out of the latest projected field as a result of the game. If both teams are in such a position, even better.
The games are ranked by considering how drastically that individual outcome affects the stock of the team(s) involved. If the game has a potential ripple effect on other teams not on the court, it gets bonus attention.
We'll first take a look at five games of mild intrigue that missed the cut as we build up to the games with a guaranteed impact on the tournament field.
Akron at Ohio (Wednesday at 7 P.M. ET)
This is the last legitimate hurdle between Akron and a 16-0 conference record. If the Zips get to 28-4 (16-0) before losing in the MAC Championship game, they’ll need at least to be considered for an at-large bid.
Dayton @ Charlotte (Wednesday at 7:30 P.M. ET)
A win certainly doesn't move Charlotte into the tournament field, but a loss does drop them out of the picture. The 49ers need to finish out the season 4-0 and probably make a spirited run in the A-10 tournament to have a shot.
Butler @ VCU (Saturday at 12 Noon ET on ESPN2)
Neither team is in immediate danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but the loser will have seven losses and an RPI in the mid-30s, which could equate to a double-digit seed.
LSU @ Missouri (Saturday at 4 P.M. ET on ESPN3)
As long as Missouri improves to 16-0 at home in this game, not much changes on the bubble. However, if LSU pulls off the upset, it sneaks onto the fringe of the bubble discussion while Missouri risks falling into the First Five Out.
St. John’s @ Providence (Saturday 8 P.M. ET on ESPN3)
St. John’s has lost four of its last six and will need to win at least two of its remaining three games to have any case for inclusion in the tournament. The final two games are at Notre Dame and vs. Marquette, so a loss at Providence would make that “two out of three” scenario even more unlikely.
No. 10: Florida at Tennessee
Tip Time: Tuesday at 9 P.M. ET on ESPN
Implications for Florida (22-4 overall, 12-2 in SEC, RPI: 4)
Florida couldn’t be further from the bubble, but this game certainly has implications for its seed. Wins in the final four games would almost certainly result in a No. 1 seed for the Gators, but a loss to the Volunteers would put that top line in serious doubt.
Implications for Tennessee (16-10 overall, 8-6 in SEC, RPI: 57)
The Vols have won five straight, including three in a row against the RPI Top 100. Now at 8-6 in the SEC, they could finish anywhere between second and tenth place in the conference.
While a win over Florida would propel them into the projected field, it might not be absolutely necessary for them to eventually get in, as wins in the last three games (at Georgia, at Auburn, vs. Missouri) would get them to 11 wins in conference play.
The Gators have lost two of their last three on the road, but they are too good to drop this one: FLA 83-71.
No. 9: Duke at Virginia
Tip Time: Thursday at 9 P.M. ET on ESPN
Implications for Duke (24-3 overall, 11-3 in ACC, RPI: 1)
A first-place finish in the ACC is still a remote possibility for the Blue Devils. A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is very much a possibility. A loss to Virginia might put an end to both of those dreams.
Implications for Virginia (19-8 overall, 9-5 in ACC, RPI: 75)
When you’re one of the last teams in the field, every game is extremely important. When you play in the ACC, you circle a home game against Duke on your calendar before the season even begins. All things considered, this is Virginia’s biggest regular season game in over a decade.
The scenario for the Cavaliers is very similar to Tennessee’s—while a win would definitely keep them in the projected field, a loss doesn’t necessarily end their season, provided they can win the three games that follow.
Duke has really struggled in five of its seven road games in ACC play, and Virginia’s “prevent defense” is unlike anything the Blue Devils have seen this season: UVA 73-72.
No. 8: Texas A&M at Ole Miss
Tip Time: Wednesday at 9 P.M. ET on ESPN3
Implications for Texas A&M (16-11 overall, 6-8 in SEC, RPI: 82)
The Aggies were a long-shot for an at-large before the 4OT loss to Tennessee. Now they have almost no shot. If they lose to Ole Miss on Wednesday, we can remove the “almost” from that last sentence. With a win, they would still be able to get to 20-11 (10-8 in SEC) at the end of the regular season.
Whether that’s a good enough record to get into the tournament depends on what roughly 30 other teams decide to do in the next two weeks.
Implications for Ole Miss (20-7 overall, 9-5 in SEC, RPI: 59)
Losers of five of the past eight—the most recent of which was a particularly dreadful loss at South Carolina (RPI 200)—the Rebels are hanging on for dear life.
They have just one win over the RPI Top 50—a home win over a Missouri team that can’t beat anyone on the road—and no opportunities in their last four games to add to that “list.” One more regular season loss could be the end of the dream for Ole Miss.
Save for a loss during the four days of the season where Kentucky was peaking, Ole Miss is undefeated at home this season. Ironically enough, save for a win over Kentucky in the game of Elston Turner’s life, A&M is winless on the road against the RPI Top 200: Ole Miss 87-75.
No. 7: Colorado @ California
Tip Time: Saturday at 5 P.M. ET on ESPNU
Implications for Colorado (18-8 overall, 8-6 in Pac 12, RPI: 28)
The Buffaloes have a middling record in a fading conference, but their computer profile remains very strong. A road trip through Stanford and Cal could well drop them to 8-8 in conference play and put a damper on what has been a great RPI for most of the season.
Despite the computer numbers, a 9-9 record in the Pac 12 will not be good enough for an at-large bid—even 10-8 might be pushing their luck—and only one of their remaining four games is anything close to a guaranteed win.
Implications for Cal (18-9 overall, 10-5 in Pac 12, RPI: 43)
Though their scoring margin over the past eight games is just +4.4 PPG, the Golden Bears have won seven of those games during a four-week stretch in which no one else on the bubble seems capable of stringing together wins.
As such, they’re comfortably in the field with three winnable home games left to play. Losses to Colorado and/or Utah this week could cause some Selection Sunday heartburn, but they’re in good shape.
In true road games, Colorado is averaging 59.9 PPG as opposed to 75.8 PPG at home. Cal: 76-62.
No. 6: Detroit @ Temple
Tip Time: Thursday at 7 P.M. ET on ESPN3
Implications for Detroit (18-10 overall, 10-4 in Horizon, RPI: 64)
Unless you consider potential momentum for the Horizon conference tournament to be an implication, there are none.
Improving to 4-6 against the RPI Top 150 might help their seed if they get into the tournament as an auto-bid, but the Titans’ at-large dreams officially died when they lost their BracketBusters game at Wichita State.
Implications for Temple (19-8 overall, 8-5 in A-10, RPI: 47)
Wins over La Salle and Charlotte in the past few days have re-established Temple as the fourth best team in the A-10, behind some order of Saint Louis, Butler and VCU. A home loss to Detroit could once again shroud that fact in doubt, though.
As long as the Owls avoid disaster down the stretch, they’ll get into the tournament. A loss to VCU in the season finale wouldn’t damage their hopes—though a win in that game sure would help their seed—as long as they don’t lose the other remaining games against Detroit, Rhode Island or Fordham.
That may be easier said than done with Temple, considering the loss at home to Duquesne 11 days ago.
Had they played the game back in December when Detroit was playing its best basketball, it would’ve been tempting to pick the Titans. However, Temple has visibly improved over the past 10 days, culminating in Sunday's 20-point destruction of Charlotte’s at-large case: Temple 83-77.
No. 5: Villanova at Pitt
Tip Time: Sunday at 12 Noon ET on ESPN3
Implications for Villanova (18-10 overall, 9-6 in Big East, RPI: 52)
Assuming the Wildcats win at Seton Hall on Monday night, they travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday with a chance to get to 11 wins in the Big East. That would likely give them a share of fifth place in the conference with Notre Dame.
As long as they avoid losing each of their final three games, it’s hard to imagine them missing the tournament. The November loss to Columbia was really bad, but it’s the only one of their 10 losses against a team with a worse RPI than 80. The wins over Marquette, Syracuse and Louisville have more than made up for that bad loss.
Implications for Pittsburgh (21-7 overall, 9-6 in Big East, RPI: 39)
The Panthers’ resume is a lot weaker than the AP polls would have you believe.
They went 12-1 against the 267th strongest non-conference schedule and are just 9-6 in the Big East. They’re pretty fortunate to finish the season against South Florida, Villanova and DePaul, because another loss or two would force the committee to look them over with a finer-toothed comb.
At worst, they’re currently a No. 8 seed, but a loss in the next two weeks could have a very negative impact.
Villanova’s best wins have come at home, and they already lost the home game against Pitt by 15: Pitt 64-52.
No. 4: Colorado State at Boise State
Tip Time: Saturday at 8 P.M. ET
Implications for Colorado State (21-6 overall, 8-4 in MWC, RPI: 16)
Despite back-to-back losses to UNLV and New Mexico, the Rams are still safely in the tournament.
This trip to Boise State is the most difficult game left on their schedule, so it would take a collapse against the weakest teams in the conference for them to fall out of the field.
Implications for Boise State (18-8 overall, 6-6 in MWC, RPI: 45)
This might not be quite a must-win game for the Broncos, but it’s certainly close. A .500 record in the Mountain West likely won’t be good enough for an at-large invite—unless it’s paired with at least one win in the conference tournament—and their final two games are at UNLV and vs. San Diego State.
If they lose this game against Colorado State, they would have to win those last two games to get to 9-7, and that’s fairly unlikely.
My gut says Colorado State wins a low-scoring game, but it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see Boise State get hot from long range and win a game played in the 80s: CSU 67-64.
No. 3: Wichita State @ Creighton
Tip Time: Saturday at 2 P.M. ET on ESPN2
Implications for Wichita State (24-5 overall, 12-4 in MVC, RPI: 31)
As long as they win Wednesday night’s home game against Evansville, the Shockers are absolutely making the tournament—and probably would even if they lost that game and this game against Creighton.
It got dicey for a bit there when they were 21-5, trailing Illinois State by seven points with 41 seconds left, and still had road trips left to Indiana State and Creighton. But they stormed a comeback against the Redbirds, took care of the Sycamores, and beat Detroit by 15 this weekend just for good measure.
Implications for Creighton (22-7 overall, 11-5 in MVC, RPI: 44)
Creighton’s bid isn’t anywhere near as safe.
If the Bluejays beat Bradley and then fall to Wichita State, they drop to 8-6 against the RPI Top 100 and pick up a sixth loss in a conference that’s more than likely only going to send one other team. (Sorry, Indiana State.)
What if they also lose to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley tournament? Suddenly, this is a nine-loss team with only one win over a team that’s definitely going to the tournament and four wins over teams that might.
Things officially get interesting for Creighton after dropping to 6-7 in its last 13 games: WSU 71-69.
No. 2: Kentucky at Arkansas
Tip Time: Saturday at 4 P.M. ET on CBS
Implications for Kentucky (19-8 overall, 10-4 in SEC, RPI: 46)
On Saturday, the Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the season against Missouri, gaining a share of second place in the SEC in the process. Provided they can win remaining games against Mississippi State and Georgia, their worst-case scenario is finishing the season at 21-10 overall and 12-6 in SEC play.
That should be good enough to get in, but it’s uncertain how the committee will treat Kentucky’s resume without Nerlens Noel. A road win over Arkansas would erase any doubt over whether or not they get to dance.
Implications for Arkansas (17-10 overall, 8-6 in SEC, RPI: 77)
As exhibited back in the Florida at Tennessee slide, the SEC’s at-large bids are very much up for grabs. Arkansas doesn’t have an incredibly solid profile at the moment, but it would be impossible to ignore as a tournament candidate with a 4-0 or 3-1 finish.
The Razorbacks are 15-1 at home this season, and I’m operating under the assumption that the Wildcats’ big win over Missouri was less of an indication that they’re adjusting to life without Noel than it was a testament to how much Missouri struggles to play on the road: Arkansas 68-63.
No. 1: Arizona State @ UCLA
Tip Time: Wednesday at 11:30 P.M. ET on PAC Network
Implications for Arizona State (20-8 overall, 9-6 in Pac 12, RPI: 86)
It just wouldn’t be a proper look at the bubble without an update on Arizona State.
After losing at home to Washington on Saturday night, the Sun Devils are back on the wrong side of the bubble, and by a considerable margin. Remaining road games against UCLA and Arizona are huge opportunities, but also huge challenges.
They’ll need to win two of their final three games—the other coming at USC on Saturday—if they’re going to get into the tournament. Even that might not be enough, given their RPI and SOS (136).
Implications for UCLA (20-7 overall, 10-4 in Pac 12, RPI: 41)
The Bruins have won four of their last five games, and close the season with a stretch of four winnable games that could push them back into position for a No. 4 seed.
Of course, this is Ben Howland’s team we’re talking about, so they could just as easily lose three out of those final four and drop out of the tournament altogether.
This rematch with Arizona State—UCLA lost the first game at ASU by 18 points—should be the win that moves them into a lock for the tournament.
If Travis Wear is unable to play because of his “foot sprain,” it’ll be a much closer game, but UCLA should win regardless: Bruins 77-63.