Big Bubble Battles

After watching my Bandwagon Team – Xavier – throw away last night’s 11-point lead in a game that would have all but punched their “Dance Card,” I was inspired to see how the bubble is shaping up.  So I went to the Bracket Matrix (which has certainly made its way into my favorites as I’ve visited it about 142 times in the last three days) and looked at the final 10-seed, the 11-seeds, the 12-seeds, the First Four Out, and the Next Four Out.  Then I went through each team’s schedule to see which games had high-impact potential on the resumes of these teams.

When you check out the picture at the bottom of the post, know that I’ve highlighted some games in three ways – Win and In, Bubble Battle, and Opportunity for Improvement.  I was going to do a “Lose and Out” category, but with these teams, basically any game not highlighted in one of the three previous categories is a “Lose and Out” game. Here’s a category-by-category breakdown of the high-impact games.

CSU - not good enough yet

Win and In
February 29
Cincinnati vs Marquette:  The Bearcats are actually favored by 1.5.  I would think it’s rare that a team is actually favored in a game of “win and in” status.

Northwestern vs Ohio State: Unlike Cincinnati, Northwestern is an underdog – one of 6.5 points.  Despite the Buckeyes’ most recent game being a home loss to Wisconsin, they would still represent an impressive enough win for Northwestern to make the field.

Colorado State vs UNLV: UNLV is a team solidly in the Dance (as evidenced by their standing as a 5-seed in the Matrix).  They’re a small 2.5 point favorite as they try to improve their seeding position against a Rams team that desperately needs a Top 50 win to impress the Committee.

You didn't think I'd go a whole Texas paragraph without asking for Rick Barnes to make the Dance so I can bet against him, did you?

March 3
BYU vs Gonzaga (neutral – Las Vegas, NV): This game would be the second round of the West Coast Conference Tournament.  BYU has to get past the winner of San Diego and Pepperdine before they get their shot at Gonzaga.  If they never make it to Gonzaga, they don’t make the Dance.  If they beat Gonzaga, however, it should be enough to get them in.

Texas at Kansas: This is a tall order for any team (as Missouri showed last Saturday), but it’s especially tough for an inconsistent Bubble team like Texas.  I obviously don’t know a line yet, but KenPom has Kansas winning by 12.  A huge upset would be enough to the Horns.

Opportunities for Improvement
UCF (at Memphis), Xavier (at Saint Louis), and Minnesota (at Wisconsin) all blew chances at improving their resumes last night.  Later this week, however…

February 29
USF at Louisville: The Bulls are the quintessential example of why using selection guidelines such as “X conference wins gets you in.”  Currently at 11-5 in the Big East, South Florida’s resume still isn’t very impressive as they’ve played a soft Big East schedule.  USF played Providence, Pitt, and Villanova twice each.  Those teams are in the bottom four of the league.  They need a marquee win (because their “eye-bleeding” 46-45 win over Cincinnati on Sunday doesn’t fall into that category).

March 1/March 4
Illinois doesn’t deserve a bid.  But they play Michigan and at Wisconsin in their next two and could try to leave the Committee with a good impression.  Maybe it will be too little, too late, but they need to win both.

Bubble Battles
February 29
Miami at NC State: The Canes enter the game in a better position (currently “In” according to the Matrix while NC State is in the Next Four Out), but the Wolfpack is favored to win the game.  The teams could potentially switch positions with a convincing NC State win.  However, Canes’ big man Reggie Johnson is being reinstated to the lineup after suspicions he received improper benefits in the Nevin Shapiro ordeal.  Johnson is a solid big who is the team’s best rebounder when he gets the minutes.

March 3
West Virginia at South Florida: USF is 11-5 in the league, but as mentioned above, that’s a bit misleading.  WVU is just 8-9.  However, KenPom predicts this to be a one-point South Florida win.  Prior to the adjustment for home court, he has WVU as the better team (ranked 45th vs 70th).

March 7
The Big East Tournament could provide us with a “Loser Goes Home” matchup on the second day.  Cincinnati should get a single bye and might be waiting for West Virginia if they can win their first-day game.

While it appears that some teams are safely in, very much can change.  And something that no Bracketologist accounts for is upsets in Conference Tournaments of one-bid league.  Because the Bracketology “rules” dictate that the current conference leader gets the auto-bid in each of those leagues, no upsets are forecast into the Bubble picture.  Therefore, these teams that are “First Four Out” may have to jump at least 3-5 teams to get in.

Here’s the graph I mentioned earlier.  The games in parentheses on the right represent potential matchups based on current league standings.  They’re not set in stone as those leagues haven’t finished their regular seasons.

Click it to enlarge.

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