NCAA Tournament 2013: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Week 18
Championship Week—unanimously the greatest 13-day week of the calendar year—is already in full bloom.
In a normal season, at least 30 of the 37 at-larges would have been locks for the NCAA tournament by this point, but this has been anything but a normal season. There are teams currently projected as a No. 7 seed that could very realistically still drop out of the tournament field altogether.
If you're a fan of a team on the bubble, you deserve a medallion forged from antacids and antidepressants.
With the exception of two potentially meaningless games on Tuesday and Thursday, the regular season comes to a close this Sunday. Where will all the bubble teams stand as they enter their conference tournaments?
These are the 20 teams whose stock has moved the most in the past seven days.
The order of the slides does not represent an ascending or descending order of strength. They merely oscillate between a team that is up and a team that is down.
When possible, teams from the same conferences will appear in successive slides. The SEC needed to be broken up this week, as there were three teams from the conference with falling stocks, but none on the rise.
Record: 18-12 overall, 10-8 in Big East
This may come as a shock, but people can be a little over-reactionary when bubble teams pick up big wins in March.
To be sure, Villanova’s win over Georgetown—though atrociously officiated—was positively massive. A loss would have dropped its chances of making the tournament to 50/50, but the win gives it at least a 95 percent chance of dancing.
Don’t put a wax seal on that invitation just yet, though.
If Providence beats Connecticut on Saturday, Villanova would be playing in the No. 8/9 game in the Big East tournament, likely against Cincinnati. Lose that game and Villanova is an 18-13 team with an ugly loss at Seton Hall and an incredibly ugly home loss to Columbia.
The five RPI Top 50 wins are more than likely good enough to overlook those shortcomings, but we can’t be completely sure until we see what else happens on the bubble over the next 10 days.
St. John's: Down
Record: 16-13 overall, 8-9 in Big East
Not a great season to be a St. John’s fan.
It started out promising. The Red Storm had a 6-2 record with losses coming in a close game against OVC favorite Murray State and a not-so-close game against ranked Big 12 opponent Baylor.
It’s funny how things change.
They swooned in December, rebounded in January, but have fallen off the deep end of late. Losses in six of their last eight games are the least of their concerns. D’Angelo Harrison was suspended for the season last week and a fistfight broke out against Notre Dame on Tuesday night.
Weird things are prone to happen when your team is made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores, but this is hardly the note upon which Steve Lavin wanted to end the season.
Record: 17-12 overall, 9-8 in Big East
It’s tough to remember the last time the Friars were on the bubble. They haven’t even been invited to the NIT since 2009.
Nevertheless, they’ve won seven of their last eight games, and in the process have picked up four of their five wins over the RPI Top 100 this season. A win over Connecticut this weekend would clinch the No. 7 seed in the Big East tournament, giving the Friars something of a leg-up on Villanova, Cincinnati and St. John’s.
There’s still a considerable amount of work to be done, but Providence has had a better four weeks than most bubble teams.
Air Force: Down
Record: 14-12 overall, 7-8 in Mountain West
The Falcons were a long shot to begin with, but by losing to both Fresno State and San Diego State in the past week, we can just about put an end to their bubble argument.
Saturday’s home game against New Mexico would be a huge win, but they’re so far gone that even a second win over UNM in the MWC tournament might not be enough to shock them back to life.
San Diego State: Up
Record: 19-8 overall, 9-6 in Mountain West
With Wednesday night’s win over Air Force, the Aztecs have all but clinched their tournament bid. Their worst-case scenario now would be a loss at Boise State on Saturday and then a second loss to the Broncos in the MWC quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Should both of those losses occur, they would drop to 19-10 with an 8-10 record against the RPI Top 100. That’s definitely a bubbly resume, but it’s better than anything the SEC bubble teams would be submitting today.
If they win either game against Boise State, the Aztecs will be golden.
Record: 18-12 overall, 9-8 in SEC
Welcome to the Tale of Two Arkansases! (Is there a proper way to pluralize states? If not, can we go with Arkansaws?)
At home, Arkansas is 16-1 and averaging an astonishing 81.1 PPG. Away from home, Arkansas is 2-11 and averaging a pedestrian 64.2 PPG.
The Razorbacks can improve their resume and those figures with a deep run into the SEC tournament, but it seems unlikely at best, considering those two non-home wins were against Auburn and Alabama A&M.
Iowa State: Up
Record: 20-10 overall, 10-7 in Big 12
The Cyclones got a big win over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night, picking up their third RPI Top 50 win of the season and moving much more comfortably into the tournament field.
A win at West Virginia on Saturday would move the Cyclones to a lock regardless of what happens in the Big 12 tournament, but a loss to WVU would almost certainly drop them back to the last five in.
Record: 18-11 overall, 11-6 in SEC
It’s really becoming a struggle to find a scenario in which Alabama could make the tournament as an at-large team.
Alabama has no RPI Top 50 wins and four RPI Sub-100 losses, including a 37-point effort at Auburn in early February.
It would take a win over Florida in the SEC tournament to get the Crimson Tide back in the bubble discussion, though it’s far from a guarantee. Unfortunately, if they beat Georgia on Saturday they could wind up with the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, meaning they couldn’t play Florida until the SEC championship game.
It very well might be auto bid or bust.
RPI: All in the top 54
Record: Each team has a minimum of 22 wins and a maximum of two conference losses.
Teams: Akron, Belmont, Bucknell, Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee
Before we dive in, can we just agree that there needs to be more of a division between the 32 conferences than just major or mid-major? Lumping the A-10 and Mountain West into the same group as the MEAC and SWAC is absurd. Please suggest an alternative approach in the comments.
In case you haven’t noticed, some of the teams receiving the “Up” designation are a bit of a stretch, while it wouldn’t be too difficult to find at least another eight to 10 bubble teams worthy of a downgrade.
However, we can’t have 20 teams going down and only five going up. The bubble is like an elaborate combination of teeter-totters. For that many teams to be on the decline, there needs to be a roughly equivalent number of teams on the rise.
These “mid-major” conference tournament favorites are the primary beneficiaries of bubble chaos. Even if we assume that each of these teams has an 80 percent chance of winning its tournament, that leaves a 67 percent chance that at least one of these teams will fail and land on the bubble.
If that does happen, the losing team will have a better profile than a good number of the other teams discussed in this article.
Record: 20-10 overall, 11-6 in SEC
Most people had already given up on Kentucky a week ago, but I was keeping the faith. Yes, the Wildcats were without their star player, but they were 11-4 in conference play with only eight losses all season. They’re devoid of key wins, but so are many other teams on the bubble.
The primary argument for keeping them in the field was that they didn’t have any terrible losses.
That went out the window over the past several days as they picked up their worst and third-worst losses of the season at Georgia and at Arkansas, respectively.
A win over Florida on Saturday would get Kentucky back into the field, but don’t hold your breath, Lexington.
Record: 19-11 overall, 8-9 in Big Ten
The loss at Indiana was anything but a bad one, but the Hawkeyes’ win over Illinois on Tuesday night put them back on the fringe of the bubble discussion.
The problem for the Hawkeyes is that they won’t get another shot at a marquee win until the Big Ten quarterfinals. Beating Nebraska on Saturday would get them to 9-9 in the best conference in the country, but only three of those nine wins are against the top seven teams. None of them are against the top four.
They’re on the rise, but it’s going to take a big win in the Big Ten tournament to push this team into the field.
Record: 20-10 overall, 8-9 in Big Ten
The Illini lost at Iowa and nearly suffered a disastrous home loss to Nebraska over the weekend.
They’re still in the tournament field, but things are starting to look bleak again. They travel to Ohio State for a season finale that will likely push their conference record to 8-10, resulting in a game against Purdue in the No. 8/9 game of the Big Ten tournament.
A loss to Purdue would open the door for other bubble teams to leapfrog them. Depending on how many teams actually do so, they could be headed for the NIT.
Record: 24-7 overall, 13-5 in MVC
By beating Bradley and Wichita State in the past week, Creighton finished the regular season with a 11-5 record against the RPI Top 100, and has a resume devoid of losses to the RPI Sub-150—making the Bluejays one of the only teams on the bubble without at least one horrific loss to overcome.
As long as they avoid losing in the MVC quarterfinals to Drake, they should get into the tournament.
Wichita State: Down
Record: 24-7 overall, 12-6 in MVC
All the Shockers had to do was win a home game against Evansville and they would’ve been fine.
They blew that game and subsequently lost to Creighton, so here we are again debating how little it would take to knock them out of the tournament.
A loss in the quarterfinals to Missouri State would almost certainly be enough to give them the boot to the NIT, but what about a loss to Northern Iowa in the semifinals? It starts getting a little gray at that point.
We can’t forget to factor in that the loss would occur before many major conference teams have even finished their regular season, let alone their conference tournaments. Perhaps a Northern Iowa loss wouldn’t immediately knock Wichita State out of the tournament, but it would get bypassed by other teams still in action.
The Shockers would likely need to at least make it to the MVC championship game—if not actually win it—to make the NCAA tournament.
La Salle: Up
Record: 21-7 overall, 11-4 in A-10
It’s safe to say that no one outside of La Salle’s campus would have actually projected in the preseason that the Explorers would have a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament. Yet here we are.
With wins over Duquesne and George Washington and a head-to-head tiebreaker over Butler, the Explorers have clinched no worse than a No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.
If they beat Saint Louis on Saturday and VCU loses to Temple, La Salle would be the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament. There have been single-game surprises, such as TCU beating Kansas and Michigan losing to Penn State, but the Explorers earning the A-10's top seed would be the most unforeseeable outcome of this entire season.
Even if they lose to Saint Louis and lose in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament, the Explorers have a very good shot at making the NCAA tournament.
Record: 17-13 overall, 7-8 in A-10
The Spiders never officially cracked into the bubble watch, but they were getting very close a week ago.
After beating George Washington last Wednesday, they were 17-11 with an RPI in the 80s. They had one bad loss to George Mason and one great win against VCU. They were essentially a carbon copy of Massachusetts, but with more quality losses.
With road losses this past week to Dayton and VCU, they not only blew an opportunity at a great win, but also dropped to 0-11 away from home against the RPI Top 200. The only way they’re getting in now is by winning the A-10 tournament.
Record: 22-8 overall, 10-5 in A-10
By not losing to Fordham on Wednesday, the Owls extended their winning streak to six games and all but locked up their bid to the NCAA tournament.
A win over VCU on Sunday would put a nice little bow on their invite. Even with a loss in that game, if they can avoid following it up with a loss to the No. 11 or No. 12 seed in the first round of the A-10 tournament, they’ll be just fine.
Arizona State: Down
Record: 20-10 overall, 9-8 in Pac-12
The Sun Devils have lost three straight and six of their last nine. A loss at Arizona on Saturday would officially put an end to their at-large dream.
A win would at least make things interesting again.
That would put them at 10-8 in conference play with a shot at the No. 5 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which would mean a rematch with Arizona in the quarterfinals—provided the Sun Devils can get past Washington State in the opening round. That would give them a 6-4 record against the RPI Top 50.
An at-large bid is much less likely than it was even a week ago, though not impossible.
Record: 18-13 overall, 9-9 in Pac-12
The Cardinal scored a win over Utah and a road win over Cal to close out the season with a .500 record in conference play.
It’s looking like they’ll be playing Arizona State in the No. 8/9 game of the Pac-12 tournament before getting a shot at the No. 1 seed—likely Oregon—in the quarterfinals.
Would wins in those two games be enough for Stanford to sneak into the tournament out of seemingly nowhere? Per usual, it will depend on how other bubble teams do in their respective conference tournaments. A run to the Pac-12 championship game would probably be good enough for a bid.
Record: 23-7 overall, 12-5 in Pac-12
It's games like the one Oregon and Colorado played on Thursday night that make people despise RPI.
The Ducks lost the game by 23, but it will likely improve their RPI as a result of losing a road game to a team with a higher RPI.
It's understandably infuriating that a team could in any way benefit from getting destroyed by an in-conference foe.
Nevertheless, it definitely hurts their overall profile. Unless they beat Utah and UCLA loses to Washington, they've forfeited the right to an undisputed Pac-12 regular-season championship by losing five of their last 10 games.
We blamed the lack of Dominic Artis for the first four losses, but he played 14 horribly ineffective minutes in the loss to Colorado. No longer can we view their recent struggles with an Artis-sized asterisk—there's a tongue twister for you. No, it's time to start considering whether the Ducks just might not be as good as we once thought.