Let’s be totally cheesy and use Joey Brackets from ESPN whose field they just posted on TV. Illinois, Rhode Island and Washington are among the final five in. Minnesota and Mississippi State are among the final five cut out. Even folks not interested in priming the pump of their own TV broadcasts seem to agree with this order. BaselineStats has URI, Illinoi and UW as their final three in with Minnesota and Mississippi State lurking among his last cuts. All play today among the dozen games on tap today among the multi-bid leagues. It seems to be the consensus that on the eve of selection day, there are only enough bids available to count on one hand and these five teams all have a chance that nobody else has today to stake a claim. You can make a case that there’s room in the field still for all five. Who the heck knows which way the debate for the final at large bids will turn if all five lose today. I wont lie, there is part of me that would like to see that happen because I think we’ll get some crazy selections from the committee that will come out of nowhere. Billy Packer might just interupt one of the first round games Shooter-style from Hoosiers in protest. That could be exciting. This will prove to be one last pinata swing at the bubble that will determine what pecking order will fall out. Beware of Bid Thieves in Conference USA and the ACC this afternoon that could derail some of the process. If I were a fan of Florida, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Dayton and even Wake Forest, I would be looking for VooDoo dolls of those teams to drive sabres through.
If things go right the Big 10 could be the big winner of the weekend. Before the weekend, the Big 10 looked like a 4-bid league. That’s a disapointment from preseason expectations after seven bids a year ago and performing very well in NCAAs. But now they look like a decent bet to bump up to as many six bids. Anytime you can increase your conference’s bid total by 50-percent during the final weekend of play, you’ve put your mark on March Madness as a league. Illinois impressive effort against Wisconsin and Minnesota exorcising demons over Michign State have set both clubs up for at-large bids that didnt have in their hands heading into the Big 10 sectionals. Are you kidding me with this Minnesota run? No, we’re not, and buckle in your March may get a lot more interesting. The Dagger already claims six bids for the Big 10, saying Minnesota can move to lock status with a win. The ESPN Gameday talking heads all just preached the Gohper Gospel during their last segment saying Minnesota was a tournament team. Hubert Davis said they passed the eye test and Jay Bilas said they deserve to be in the field. Why are the pimping Minnesota? Dont they know their game is on CBS today? I thought ESPN hated the Big 10? Dont tell me Internet Tin Foil Hat Wearers have led my astray. Shocker.
Anyway in the Big 10 semifinals today it sure does seem the Big 10 can put a lockdown on six NCAA bids. Illinois win over the Badgers have finally moved them back into the Bracket Matrix. They’re a Matrix 12-seed, but with 47 votes, they have the fewest amount of votes of any at-large team in that consensus field. Eight of the nine mocks that updated this morning do have them in, so they’re support is rolling fast in the right way. No way they get turned away at the Ball if they beat Ohio State today. The Buckeyes really overmatched Illinois twice this year. But if the Illini can pull a 180 on the Bucks the way they did to Wisconsin five days after the Badgers embarrassed them at home, then they can easily win this game today. They’re seven-point dogs. That intrigues me. Have you noticed how strong the puppies have been barking during this Big 10 sectional? The Underdog is 5-2 ATS. Yesterday, they swept the board and on the first half, second half, final score trifecta, if you will, they were 10-2 ATS. I think that shows that while the league’s cream rose to the top and became elite and the middle class fell short of expectations, there wasnt that big of a gap between those teams when you really break it down. This league was marked by its top four squeaking out wins against the middle of the pack all season long.
Minnesota dropping games in the final minute they had dead to rights against Michigan State and Purdue come to mind. Tuck those games away and not go 1-3 against Indiana and Michigan and the Gohpers are easily in the field right now. In fact, they would have been part of the regular season title chase. But it’s two down in the big 10 finals, but how manhy more to go for the Gophers? Is one enough? Two will give them the automatic bid anyway. Minnesota exacted a measure of revenge for that first heartbreak and have got themselves back into at-large discussion. If they can exact a second dose today, they will jump into most people’s mock brackets. Bracketville and Bracketology 101 already have them in their field among the mock bracket crowd. These folks have had them in all along and have moved ahead of their final four in group.
So, they Big 10 has a chance to leave its mark on the final bid invites. But, there are plenty of other contenders. There are 13 games today between teams from possible multi-bid leagues. Five games will have direct impact of the bubble, three involve the bid thieves we talked about in an earlier post and the remaining four are, well, frankly, like quality college football bowl games like UK vs Tennessee in the SEC Semifinals or the Big East and Big 12 Championship games. And, there are six championship games, all televised in a row on ESPN2, from one bid leagues. Whoa. Lots of good hoops. Hunker down. Make a sandwich. Crack open some brewdoggers. And, enjoy while, as we always do, let’s take a look at the bubble games away from the Big 10 today. We’ll have a full on picks post in a little bit.
RHODE ISLAND VS TEMPLE, ATLANTIC 10 SEMIFINALS, 1:00. LINES, Temple -3.5, O/U 127.5
Rhode Island is taking its mulligan and making a run with it. Losses the last two Saturdays to lowly St. Bonaventure and UMass had tripped the Rams from solid bid invite to out of the field heading into the Atlantic 10 Tournament. But a pair of wins including hammering hard charging St. Louis and the corpses from the bubble carnage the last 72 hours have put the Rams right back on the cutline. Next up is Temple and a chance for a resume win against a ranked team on Selection Day Eve. Talk about timing. A win today over 17th ranked Temple in the A10 semifinals ought to surf them right back into the tournament when its all said and done. In the Matrix, they are second from out with 18 mock votes. But among the nine who have updated this morning, they are in four. They’ve gone from just above 20-percent support to 45-percent if the recent polling holds form across the board. They could reach majority status with a beatdown of the Owls today.But dont expect the Owls to mail it in and look past Rhode Island. The Rams promise to match the Owls signature intensity. With an at-large bid in the Atlantic City gift bag, I would be disappointed if they didnt.
MISSISSIPPI STATE VS VANDERBILT, SEC SEMIFINALS, 3:30, ABC. LINES, VANDY -2, O/U 141.4
Is Mississippi State a Bid Thief or a legit at-large candidate. To be honest, I dont really know. They’re still way back on the rail, with just a lone mock vote, not good enough to even qualify among the final eight cut from the field. But they’re beginning to close like a bullet. They got a big win over the Gators last night in a game they pretty much controlled from the opening tap. The Gators hardly rolled over and died, but the Bulldogs had an answer for every second half run Florida threw at them. So, did that help their cause in the very most recent up-to-date Bracket Matrix exit poll? The esteemed Bracketology’s 101’s bracket this morning lists Mississippi State as second from-last-out of the field, just behind last cut Rhode Island. The Bulldogs and Rams are the only two teams in their field that conceivably could play themselves into am at-large bid. As for the Bulldogs:, their conventional wisdom says a win today by MSU over Vandy would warrant a bid, while it’s Florida fans who should worry the most in the event that happens. Interesting. I think Ole Miss, which remains in the MAtrix as a 13-seed with 51 votes has already left a vacated space for someone like their state rivals from Starkville to have. All told, we have nine mocks updated this morning and the Bulldogs have moved themselves into the brink of just about every one. The consensus this morning is the Bulldogs will crash the dance if they win. The Rebels, meanwhile, were hanging on just just fields. That’s 57-percent support down to 22-percent. Three games in a row and six of the last eight with Vandy have been decided by seven or less points. It’s been a tight series with the dog covering five of eight games the last six seasons. The Bulldogs lost in Nashville, but covered a 5.5-point dogs, in the only game this between the two back in January. Vanderbilt’s offense vs Mississippi’s defense and their defensive player-of-the-year. A spot in the SEC Finals and, perhaps for MSU, a bid in the tournament are on the line.
WASHINGTON VS CAL, PAC 10 CHAMPIONSHIP, 6:00, CBS. LINES, CAL -2, O/U 151.5
Washington stated its case last night by thumping Stanford from opening tap to final buzzer. Cal comes into the game after ending UCLA’s season. They were the regular season champ and staring at something like an eighth or ninth seed in the NCAAs. Washington can make the at large discussion a dead issue by beating Cal today in the Pac 10 finals. But what if they cant get by the Golden Bears? Do they snag an at-large bid and keep the Pac 10 from the ignoble fate of being a one-bid league. As always, lets peer into the Bracket Matrix for guidance on that question. They are currently part of the consensus field, albeit as just as 13-seed with 59 out of 79 mock votes. The good news is that eight of nine that have posted updates this morning have the Huskies part of their field. The bad news is they are no better than final one or two teams kept in the field. A loss and some bad results on the out of town scoreboard could put UW in the NIT and make the Pac-10’s one bid power no stronger than that of the Big West.
SAN DIEGO STATE VS UNLV, MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP, 7:00, VERSUS. LINES, SDSU +4.5, O/U 130
When you’re a Matrix 12-seed, under at-large consideration, with over 90-percent support from the mock bracketology crowd, and you beat a top-10 team to advance to your league sectional, it’s safe to say you’ve made a strong statement about going from the bubble to being a lock for the field. No team had as an impressive a win on the bubble in the last 48 hours than the Aztecs spearing of New Mexico last night in the MWC semifinals. In dishing the Lobos its first defeat in over two months, the Aztecs had one of their best nights shooting the trey with 19 bombs, shot the ball overall at a 52-percent clip, and Billy White and Kawhi Leonard were studs. White led all scorers with career-high 28 points on 11-14 shooting and Leonard had a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards, the only player with double digit rebounds. Along with Malcom Thomas, the three forwards are the top-3 scorers this season for the Aztecs and go 6/7, 6/8, 6/9 across the board. Active, big and skillful up front, the Aztecs have been chugging along towards a bid all conference season. Since mid-January, the only teams to beat SDSU are currently ranked in the top-15. The Aztecs just beat their highest ranked foe in over 20 years. They have two wins now over the top-10 Lobos. Is the win over the Lobos enough for a fourth bid from the MWC? Believe it. It looks like it might fall that way. Seventy-three mocks have them in their field and virtually all of those votes were tallied before last night’s results. This team is a lock, yes? Probably. Maybe. I”d plunk money on it. But, with bid thieves lurking and plenty of teams hovering around the cutline with the Aztecs are still playing this weekend with a chance to make better overall statements that SDSU, Aztecs fans cant book it just yet. What if they lose and both Minnesota and Illinois add a second win over top-10 teams in as many days today? The Gophers and Illini are coming out of stronger conferences and have much better non-league resumes than the Aztecs. And, that’s just one deabate situation just off the top of my head. Here’s another one: UW wins the Pac 10, the Illini and Gophers win and one of the bid thieves completes a successful heist. If the Aztecs lose today, do they keep their spot against those hard charging insurgents? I dont know, but let the fascinating debates begin. The Aztecs can remove themselves from this debate by taking care of business today in the MWC Championship game against UNLV. That would net them the automatic bid, guarantee the league a fourth bid and would end all bubbles talk in style. If anything, it will be fascinating to watch Steve Fisher try to coax this weekend to a championship conclusion. He’s been one of the best March coaches over the last 21 years and he’s got another team working on a run. Watching them the last two nights survive a scare against and win by a point over CSU and then go toe to toe in a tight victory over a top-10 team really has taken me back to some of those exciting, every game was close regardless of foe, tournament runs he had with the Michigan Wolverines. Today, they take on UNLV for the title after the Rebels dispatched BYU in the other semifinal. It was another classic in the UNLV/BYU rivalry. Fans wanted to see a BYU/New Mexico in this game, but this isnt a bad game. The Rebels are a deep team with 11 guys in the rotation getting anywhere from 28 to 11 minutes of run. They’re smallish compared to SDSU. SIx of their top seven scorers are perimeter players. No frontcourt player gets more than 14 minutes of court time a game. But, two of their guards including Chace Stanback, are very tall for their position. Stanback is 6/8 is trhe team’s leading scorer and remarkably leads the team in rebounds, steals and blocks. UNLV also home court advantage tonight as the tournament is being played at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels appear to be tournament locks and are a 10-seed in the Bracket Matrix. One team today can rest easy with a ticket punched. The loser will have to sweat out the next 24 hours and hope the scoreboard watching goes their way. Both teams are among the better defensive outfits in the land. But, both are also among the best shooting teams in the land. Two good shooting offenses and defenses will be battling for league championship. With Fisher and UNLV Coach Lon Kruger we have two coaching personalities who have been making March statements for over two decades. And bubble arguments will swirl with the outcome. Sounds like something worth watching.
I am just going to end this post by pointing out the single unit plays I made on the early semifinal games. I tweeted them. I’ll have a picks post for the rest of the games in the next hour.
Vols +5 over UK
Temple -2 (-140) over URI
Illinois +7.5 over OSU