Saturday, February 23, 2008

College Basketball March Madness: Bubble Trouble

With the month of Madness just a week away, it's not too early to start looking at which teams have to amp it up a bit to make the field of 65 for the NCAA Tournament. Here's a quick peek at teams that are surely in, those with a solid shot and those on the bubble.

No-Doubters: These teams can relax. They're 99% assured of getting in, no matter what.

North Carolina
Washington St.
Notre Dame
St. Mary's
Kansas State
America East Conference Champion
Atlantic Sun Conference Champion
Big Sky Conference Champion
Big South Conference Champion
Big West Conference Champion
Colonial Athletic Association Champion
Ivy League Champion
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champion
Mid-American Conference Champion
Mid-Continent Conference Champion
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champion
Mountain West Conference Champion
Northeast Conference Champion
Ohio Valley Conference Champion
Patriot League Conference Champion
Southern Conference Champion
Southland Conference Champion
Southwestern Athletic Conference Champion
Sun Belt Conference Champion
Western Athletic Conference Champion

That's 43 spots already taken. I've included the likely winners or runners-up from the major conferences as individual teams, like Tennessee in the SEC, Duke and North Carolina in the ACC, etc.

That leaves 22 spots remaining to be filled. All records are as of Friday, Feb. 22.

Likely candidates:
Clemson 19-7
Wake Forest 16-8
Marquette 19-6, ,
Michigan St. 21-5, ,
St. Joseph's 16-8
Texas A&M 20-6
Houston 19-6
Wright St. 20-8

That's 8 almost certain to get in, leaving just 14 more spots, but, uh-oh, there are 31 teams on the bubble (and there may be a couple I missed from minor conferences). Texas A&M, Wake Forest, Michigan State and Marquette could get bumped from the likely list if they lose 3 or more games or take early exits from conference tourneys. Overall, however, those still look like they'll make the grade.

On the Bubble:

ACC: Virginia Tech 15-11, Miami 18-7, Maryland 17-10 - The Terps lay claim to a win over North Carolina. Miami upset Duke last week and late-season wins count more. The Hokies have beaten Maryland twice, but essentially, nobody else. With Maryland losing to Miami on Saturday, give the Hurricanes the edge and maybe just five teams from the ACC go dancing.

Big East: Cincinnati 13-12, West Virginia 18-8, Pittsburgh 19-7, Syracuse 17-10, Villanova 16-9 - With 16 teams in the conference, the Big East could legitimately send 7 teams to the party. Villanova got a huge boost on Saturday, breaking UConn's 10-game win streak. Cincy lost to Georgetown, and 13 losses is going to be tough to overcome, even though the Bearcats are now 8-6 in the conference. Pitt's been sketchy to say the least, losing three of their last five. The 'Cuse and Mountaineers could make some noise in the Big East tourney and grab a bid.

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Big Ten: Ohio St. 17-9, Minnesota 16-9 - Both teams need to step it up, though it is conceivable that the Big Ten only sends four teams and both of these are out. Most of the smart money is on Ohio State.

Big 12: Oklahoma 18-8; Baylor, 17-8, Texas Tech, 14-11 - Doubtful that even two of these can get to the tourney unless the Aggies continue to implode. Baylor, hot early, needs to win a couple more. The Red Raiders evened their Big 12 record at 6-6, plus their recent win over K-State will look good to the committee, but they have A&M, Texas and Kansas all in a row upcoming. The Sooners have quietly hung around, and early wins over Arkansas, Gonzaga, West Virginia and Baylor should go a long way.

Conference USA: UAB 18-8 - With Memphis running the table in the C-USA and Houston playing well, UAB is about all that's left from this weakened conference.

Mid-American: Akron 9-4, 19-7; W. Michigan 9-3, 15-10 - Kent State looks like the team to beat, and one of these, but not both, could make the final cut.

Missouri Valley: Illinois St. 11-5, 19-8; Southern Ill. 10-6, 15-12; Creighton 9-7,18-8; Bradley, 9-7, 16-12 - With Drake odds-on to win the Missouri Valley title, each of these teams are deserving of a closer look. Bradley has won their last two, against Creighton and Drake, the two Illinois schools are solid. Illinois State had a nine-game win streak earlier in the year that included four straight road wins. The Salukis have won three straight and have loads of playoff experience, plus that great name. Lots to like in the land of the Ozarks and the tournament committee might take a total of four teams from this excellent mid-major.

Northeast: Robert Morris 13-2, 22-6 and Wagner 13-2, 20-6 - these two tip on Saturday, so the winner will likely take the Northeast Conference Champion championship. A sleeper is Sacred Heart, which owns a win over Robert Morris.

PAC-10 USC 7-6, 16-9, Arizona St. 6-7, 16-9, California 6-7, 15-9 , Arizona 6-7, 16-10, Oregon 6-8, 15-11, Washington 6-8, 15-12 - How many Pac-10 teams are going to go? Four, five? Almost certainly not six. That means four of these will miss out. While USC has a leg up in conference play, they don't look particularly well-balanced and could miss out, especially with big games at home vs. Cal and Stanford and a road trip to both Arizona teams coming up. Washington will have the toughest time, and Arizona hasn't impressed all season. From the looks of it, Arizona State, Cal and Oregon will battle it out for two spots.

SEC: Kentucky 8-3, 14-10, Florida 7-5, 20-7, Mississippi St. 8-3, 17-8 , Arkansas 7-4, 18-7, Mississippi 4-7, 18-7 - After Tennessee and Vandy, everybody in the SEC is on the bubble. Figuring that the conference will send a maximum of six teams to the tourney, two of these aren't going to make it and the decision will likely come down to the SEC tournament. Of these, Mississippi, with that losing conference record, looks the weakest. Kentucky beat Arkansas on Saturday and upped their conference record to 9-3. Florida, Mississippi St. and Arkansas may all go, if Kentucky gets their pass.

Confused? You should be. I've identified 16-19 teams on the bubble with good chances of moving forward, but, like I said earlier, only 14 can go. Some good teams will be bumped, as is usually the case.

I'll provide another update next Saturday. Selection Sunday is March 9, so why haven't you bookmarked College Basketball Daily?

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