This article compares two teams currently on the NCAA tournament bubble with comparable RPI and overall credentials. Think of it as a virtual play-in game; two teams who could potentially meet in a First Four matchup.
Michigan (17-12, 8-9 Big Ten); RPI: 59, SOS: 21
Georgia (19-9, 8-6 SEC); RPI: 36, SOS: 30
Common Opponents: None
Why Michigan Gets In
Michigan has quietly won seven of their past ten games in the Big Ten and is a win away from closing the regular season at 9-9 in the Big Ten. They are just a half game back of Illinois and Michigan State, two teams who seem to have a better than not chance of making the NCAA tournament.
With a win at Minnesota this weekend, half of Michigan’s eight conference wins have now come on the road. That’s more than Illinois, Michigan State and even Wisconsin. They also won at Clemson—another bubble team—earlier this year in the ACC-Big Ten challenge
With a win over Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan has proven they can win in the toughest of environments. Combined with a win at Penn State—where Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin have all lost this year—Michigan should be considered at least on the same level as both Illinois and Michigan State in the tournament discussion.
Michigan has eight wins against teams in the RPI top 100, including two against teams in the Top 50—Michigan State and Harvard. The Wolverines have played ten teams in the top 50 of the RPI, and seven in the top 20. Five of those seven games were decided by nine points or less.
Included among Michigan’s close losses is an overtime loss to Kansas, a four point loss to Ohio State, a one-point loss on a buzzer-beating three to Wisconsin and a three point loss to Syracuse in Atlantic City. All four of those teams could be seeded third or higher when brackets are announced in twelve days.
Why Michigan is Left Out
The previously mentioned win at Michigan State—with an RPI of 42—is currently the best win Michigan has, in terms of RPI. When you consider that the Spartans are a bubble team themselves, the Wolverines have yet to score a win against a true NCAA tournament team.
In terms of non-conference wins, there isn’t a whole lot Michigan can really take to the bank either. While Harvard is a top 50 win, it’s not particularly appealing to have that as your best win outside of the Big Ten. That may hurt Michigan when compared to a team like Illinois, who beat North Carolina earlier this year.
Despite the close losses to top 20 teams, Michigan also has a couple unimpressive losses to bottom-tier Big Ten teams. The Wolverines lost by 14 at Northwestern, and by 19 at Indiana. Without any big wins to erase the presence of those losses, Michigan may find themselves coming up a bit short in their hopes for the Big Ten’s fifth or sixth bid.
Why Georgia Gets In
Georgia has made it through the battlefield that is the SEC East division with an above .500 conference record. They are currently in third place in the East, tied with Kentucky and ahead of Tennessee. Each of those teams has already done plenty enough work to ensure an NCAA tournament berth.
With two games remaining against SEC West teams—LSU at home and Alabama in Tuscaloosa—a 10-6 record and possible second place finish in the East are not entirely out of the question.
Georgia has certainly held their own against their division rivals. The Bulldogs beat Kentucky in their first SEC game of the season. After an overtime loss to Florida, and a buzzer-beating loss to Tennessee—both in Athens—Georgia came back and picked up a key win in Knoxville just nine days ago.
The wins over Kentucky and Tennessee are two of Georgia’s three wins vs. the RPI top 50. The other is a win over UAB in December. The Bulldogs also have a win over Colorado—a team fighting along with Georgia and UAB to secure a tourney bid.
While losses are losses, Georgia does not have a single one to a team outside the top 50. Seven of their nine losses are to teams in the top 25. In a year where most bubble teams have some bad losses going against them, Georgia has not lost to a single team who will not be in the NCAA tournament later this month.
Why Georgia is Left Out
Even in a league with such a large gap between the East and West, can the SEC really send five teams to the tournament from the same division? That’s what Georgia has to hope for on Selection Sunday.
Given that Florida, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee have already claimed their spots, Georgia would be the fifth team from the East in the tournament. The West division, conversely, figures to get just one—if that—in Alabama.
The committee states that conferences are never allotted a set number of teams. However, Georgia could wind up being the odd team out due to their 2-6 record against the other four East teams mentioned.
While wins over UAB and Colorado are respectable, there are no truly impressive non-conference wins on Georgia’s resume. Like Michigan, the Bulldogs came up short in their toughest non-conference games—against Notre Dame, Temple and Xavier.
Also like Michigan, Georgia does not have a particularly good winning percentage against the RPI top 50 (3-9, .250). While that may not prove to be too destructive to their at-large chances, it does show that Georgia has missed out on some opportunities for big wins that could have booked their NCAA dance ticket already.
Who Gets In?
These two teams are a lot closer than their records and RPI might indicate. Each has given the impression of being a solid tournament team—playing very competitive against top teams, but without a whole lot of wins to show for it.
Michigan has a few nice road wins at its disposal, which could help them prevail against some of their bubble peers. However, Georgia also has a strong record away from home (8-5), including a 4-3 mark in the SEC.
When combined with their pair of wins over definite NCAA tournament-bound teams—Kentucky and Tennessee—Georgia should get in the field of 68 just over Michigan, who has no such wins.
Other matchups to consider:
Boston College-Colorado State: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/626211-boston-college-vs-colorado-state-which-team-will-make-the-ncaa-tournament