March Madness Predictions 2011: Who Will Get Screwed by the Selection Committee?
I have just been handed a news bulletin. As of this second, every article about March Madness brackets must begin by mentioning that the bubble is soft.
Before, it was merely a custom. But now, it seems it's the law.
So how about that bubble this year, huh? It is soft, man. And I'm talking Limburger soft. In fact, it is so soft...
How soft is it?
It is SO soft that...well, you know what, I'm actually not very good at these.
But suffice it to say that when a bubble is this soft, it's a little more difficult to pop. That's probably why the bracket projections are fluctuating so heavily with every game. Bubblicious just 24 hours ago, Colorado likely locked down a bid with its win last night over Kansas State. Teams like Penn State are still potential participants despite losing 13 games.
Just two days before Selection Sunday, it doesn't seem like this thing is ever going to burst.
Yet burst it will. Give or take, 20 teams are still viable candidates for half that number of at-large bids. So even in a top-heavy field like this one, inevitably teams with respectable résumés will be watching from the sidelines when the lights go down and the Miley Cyrus goes up.
Here are 10 teams that, barring a major conference tournament run, are likely to get screwed when they dole out the tickets to the dance this Sunday.
10. Missouri State Bears
If this is a stronger field of bubbles, the Bears likely wouldn't be sniffing this list. But the fact is they are 25-8, they're regular-season champs in the Missouri Valley Conference and they just lost the MVC tourney by a whisker to Indiana State.
They also have an RPI of 41, higher than Marquette, Florida State and UTEP, among others.
The Bears have been steady all year and could have a case to make if they lose a spot to a shinier brand with a shabbier résumé.
9. Cleveland State Vikings
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It's a shame we'll miss Norris Cole and his high-top fade leading the Vikings to a first-round upset over some unsuspecting Pac-10 team.
Why can't you make that happen, selection committee? What about my needs?
Cleveland State (26-8) lived in the RPI top 50 most of the season. At the end of the day, it couldn't find a way to beat Butler, despite getting three tries at it. But its high win total should give it more weight over a lesser team from a glossier conference—cough, USC, cough.
8. Memphis Tigers
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This is one strange basketball team. They are 23-9 overall and have the second-highest RPI in Conference USA, yet they sat fourth in their league at the end of the regular season.
They have certainly been inconsistent (seriously, Rice?), and they may not be the cuddliest team out there, but their rock-solid overall play (including a win over Gonzaga and a season sweep of conference champ UAB) should get them on the bubble.
As of now, though, they are on the extreme margins, with prospects looking dim; last night's win over Southern Miss probably isn't going to get it done.
7. Harvard Crimson
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Harvard basketball has been a running joke for so long that it's hard to take them seriously.
But the weakling of the Ivy League (and man, is that saying something) hit the gym over the proverbial summer and is getting ever stronger under head coach (and Coach K protege) Tommy Amaker. They will play Princeton this Saturday for the Ivy's automatic bid, but their regular-season performance argues that they deserve a spot regardless.
A 23-5 record, a share of the regular-season conference championship and brand-name wins over Boston College and Colorado should be enough to earn them bubble consideration. Their RPI of 34 currently ranks ahead of glitzier contenders like Tennessee, Illinois and Boston College.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, though, people can't seem to view Harvard as anything other than that pimply kid they knew back when.
6. Utah State Aggies
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This team is 28-4 and boasts an RPI of 16.
Yeah, the Aggies' schedule is a little thin, but when you have almost 30 wins, you're clearly capable of high-level play.
But if they don't win the WAC, something tells me that a lack of quality wins will sink them.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
After whomping Auburn in the first game of the SEC tournament Thursday, Trey Thompkins and the Dawgs are now 21-10 on the year.
The fact is, they have taken care of business throughout the season and continue to do so, having won eight of 11 down the stretch. But without that star-making win, the paparazzi that is the selection committee (well, sometimes, anyway) doesn't always pay attention.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies
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Seth Greenberg is fast becoming the Susan Lucci of the ACC.
Like Lucci's Erica Cane, Greenberg's teams are always dangerous, always fearless and absolutely loved by their rabid fanbase (what, you don't watch All My Children?). And yet the Hokies just can't make the tournament on any consistent basis.
This season had all the makings. The ACC was down, and the Gobblers were up. They scored victories over then-No. 1 Duke and Florida State. But just as quickly, they gave it all back, losing at home to Boston College and at Clemson.
Yet this team has 20 wins to its credit in what was ultimately a tougher conference than some initially gave it credit for being. That win total may be enough to get some other high majors into the dance; it should be enough for Virginia Tech, regardless of what happens Friday against Florida State.
3. Michigan Wolverines
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In its last 11 games, Michigan went 8-3—including two wins over Michigan State—to surge to a surprising 19-12 overall record and a 9-9 mark in the loaded Big Ten.
In that same span, Illinois went 5-6 to stumble to a record identical to Michigan's.
In that same span, Michigan State went 6-5 to stumble to an 18-13 record overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten. Oh, and it lost twice to Michigan.
More people are starting to give the Wolverines their due, but in the eyes of others, there is no clear separation between Michigan and these other two programs, despite the fact that Michigan clearly outperformed them down the stretch.
This can't be making for peaceful nights in Ann Arbor, though maybe if Michigan can beat the Illini in the Big Ten tournament on Friday, it'll be sleeping a lot easier.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
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This team is 20-10. It beat Kentucky. Sure, it lost some bad ones (St. Peter's is a college now?), but it has evolved and come on strong, winning 15 of its last 19.
If that's not finishing on a high note, I don't know what is.
The Crimson Tide also won—convincingly—the SEC's West division and finished behind only Florida with a 12-4 conference record.
But something like a loss to St. Peter's and a few other autumn stinkers tend to linger. A deep run in the SEC tournament—which seems plausible—may bolster their case. Yet their stumble out of the gate could mean the Tide will be lapping at the feet of lesser teams next Thursday.
1. George Mason Patriots
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Jim Larranaga's scrappy bunch finished the regular season atop the rankings in the undervalued Colonial Athletic Association. They're 26-6 overall and have lived in the RPI top 30 all season, ahead of Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Temple.
At one time, they were even ranked nationally.
Mid-major teams have clawed their way to national respectability—and, if memory serves, Mason had something of a hand in that. Some people do consider the Patriots to be a lock for the dance.
But I'm not convinced they're going to get the love they deserve from the selection committee. They have neither beaten nor played anyone of national consequence and lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals of the CAA tournament (again, an underrated conference this season).
Though they ultimately deserve it for beating nearly every team the schedulers put in front of them, I fear that Mason's 2011 tournament story will not end as happily as past installments.