It’s Monday morning. You’re swamped. You might have time to read a long winded post on the Bubble, but cant afford the frivolous luxury of a flowering intro? I got it. I totally understand. I’ll get right at it. Here are our personal top-5 developments occurring on the NCAA Bubble over the weekend. Dont forget, less than four weeks until Selection Sunday.
1.) The Likely New Argument Dogging The Big 10
Here’s the new anti Big-10 talking point I anticipate being tossed about as everybody begins doing daily ‘In Or Out’ drills: Yes, the Big 10 is a good league, but its not a great league and I dont think anybody who finishes below .500 in league play should be considered anyway.
This is bound to become a talking point in the upcoming days when the number of Big 10 bids gets discussed. Yesterday on the CBS pregame, their entire panel confidently called for at least eight Big 10 teams to make the field. Thats great, says the local Homer in me. But, a look at the standings reveal just 6 teams at level par or better in the league table. Five are easy to pick out: MSU, OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. The sixth? Want to make a quick quess? Make it now……you have a couple seconds……the answer is coming, be quick….too late….it’s Purdue. The Boilers sneaked out a win last night over to Northwestern, reached 6-6 in league place and avoided another missed chance at home for a nice win.
The problem is that the trio after Purdue that would comprise any bids 7 through 9–Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern–are all two games below .500 in league play at 5-7. I mean the league is good, but nobody has really faced such a murderer’s row where staying sub .500 looks worthy, right? Those teams have to hustle and win four of their final six in order to feel good about their at large chances. The Gophers still have strong tournament hopes, but could really use a landmark win tomorrow at home vs Ohio State. Purdue shot down Northwestern in the second half yesterday. Even though the loss is not a death knell to the Wildcats chances for a bid, they’re going to need to sweep the rest of their home slate against Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State and pick up a good road outcome at Iowa or Penn State down the stretch. Illinois is in a free fall, and after Michigan slapped them around yesterday, have now dropped six of their last seven games. That signature win over Ohio State doesnt even seem like it happened this season anymore. Has their bubble already been popped? There’s a lot of bubble pressure ahead, and I feel as long as these teams stay below .500 it will be used as a club in all punditry discussions against the Big 10 bubble. If you are planning on arguing in favor of the Big 10, you might want to plan your defense accordingly. Under current rules, I dont think any team should be eliminated from an at large due to a losing record league mark. However, I dont think specifically any of the four Big 10 bubble teams would be deserving of a bid at the conclusion of the regular season with an 8-10 league mark.
Let me take a stab on how I think it will go down. Eventually enough teams will climb to the .500 mark. Which ones? Pffft, I dont know. But come Big 10 Tournament time, look for the 8/9 game in Round One to be a play-in game, the 6th and 7th seeds having to survive proverbial play out games, which could be dicey for the 7-seed likely drawing a feisty at times Iowa bunch in the 10-slot. Toss in the 5th seed Indiana in the house in front of a home state crowd looking to make a opening statement in its return to bracket relevancy, and it might add up to one of the more compelling opening rounds in the event’s history.
2.) Texas Transfers Bubble Anxiety To Little Apple
Texas ran away from Kansas State in the second half of their 75-64 win over the Cats, and, in the process, dumped a bunch of their own bubble anxiety right in the middle of the KState camp. We’ve spent parts of the last two Mondays boring everyone by talking about Texas. But they had fallen 3 games below the .500 in Big 12 play and without a .500 record in league play there 13-year NCAA Tournament streak would be in severe jeopardy. Behind the second half rout of the Wildcats, the Horns are at .500 as of today. Thats such a key spot to be in the Big 12 this year. While just two league teams have ever made the Dance with .500 league records, this appears to be a year where that’s a good enough mark to qualify. You’re playing a true round robin in one of the top-3 leagues in the land, so a .500 mark in the conference table at the end of the regular season ought to put you in nice position to make the field. So that was the chase for Texas, and they reached the marker sooner than I thought they could. I didnt think they had the chops to pull out a 2-0 week. But they gutted out a win at Texas A/M in one of the better games the Aggies had played all year and topped it off with the KSU win in Austin two days ago. Down double digits at the break, the Horns roared back to double up KSU in the second half and win going away. They’re not out of the woods, but suddenly the math to end at no worse than .500 in league play is easier. Now I feel confortable they’ll split their two game road trip against the Oklahoma schools. They’ll smoke Texas Tech in any venue. They’ll beat the Sooners in Austin. They still wont win at Kansas, but defending home court and beating Baylor sure does seem a whole heckuva lot easier now doesnt it? I can find three wins to get them 9-9 and wouldnt rule out a game better. To be sure, fans are behind the math that avoids the curse of the sixth seed should the Horns still need a win in that sectional to nab that 14th straight bid.
All that angst during the first half of February on the Horns does seem like a lot of wasted energy at this point. Luckily, we might be able to recycle it and resuse it all on their vanquished foe KState. Tonight the Wildcats play one of the most important games of the week when the host arch rival Kansas. KSU faces a big test. The Wildcats sit at the mythically magical .500 mark in league play. But, man, look at their next three: Kansas, at Baylor, at Missouri. Ouch. We thought Texas was in trouble two weeks ago at three games below Big 12 .500, so what kind of spot would KSU be if they had a record like that 12 days from now? In a worst case scenario, they could roll a closing 3-0 against the run of Iowa State, at A/M, Okie State to get back a 9-9 final mark. That wouldnt be a shock. But talk about some tense moments for a team that seems secure now. If you offered a prop asking will KSU enter that ISU game two weekends from now on a 4-game losing streak, ‘yes’ would get most of the action. Should that happen, and they add a loss to the Clones, I dont think they’d be on too many mock brackets two weeks from today. At least that game is going to be at home. The good news is the Cats dont need to go on a major run. They just need a few more wins and avoid a season torpedeoing losing streak to close February. First missle comes tonight with the Jayhawks.
3.) Creighton, Facing Demotion To Bubble?
I tweeted this out Saturday evening in the wake of Wichita throttling Creighton to take control of the Missouri Valley Conference race, but the sentiment bears repeating. Can a midmajor that finishes a full two games out of first place really feel all that secure for an at-large bid if they cant muster the run to an automatic bid in next month’s league tournament? Creighton’s play in recent games has made this a question for them, regardless of how long they’ve hung out in the national polls. And the last thing they want to do now is drop their marquee, home Bracket Buster event, or lose another regular season MVC game or bow out before the championship round of the league sectional. Thats where we stand with Creighton. One of those three happening might not be enough to take away a possible at large, but two out of those three might make things a little sweaty for the Jays. If their own observers are tagging the season with disaster metaphors, then we dont feel out of turn pondering Creighton’s bubble status instead of merely their evential seed. It all started with this buzzer beater loss to Northern Iowa that at the time seemed like a harmless speed bump:
Mix in a lame performance in a loss to Evansville and the beatdown from the Shockers and you get a Creighton 3-game losing streak. February losing streaks are kryptonite for at-large bids. Dont be fooled by any highish seeds they may still pull in from the mock bracketology crowd. The Jays are smack dab in the middle of penning their own screenplay called How to Lose a Bid in Three Weeks. Here’s their final four regular season games over the next two weeks: at Southern Illinois, Long Beach in Bracket Buster, Evansville, and at Indy State. Not the trickiest, but not a total cakewalk either. The Jays have the chops to win all four and put this conversation to a shameful rest. But, they look vulnerable right now. And Long Beach has the same amount of chops to walk right into Omaha and steal a win. Say that happens and Indy State gets them in Terre Haute in the closer. No way an at large bid is safe at that point heading into the league finals. Would you want to add a result in that field where you dont at least play to your seed? I wouldnt. Creighton’s at large bid is in play and there isnt really another MVC in position to take it. So as the bubble shapes up for the stretch drive all auditioneers should add whoever is playing Creighton to their friends list.
4.) Mountain West Conference Over 3 Bids Suffers Setbacks
There are legit road maps for the Mountain West Conference to get not just four, but even five bids into the NCAA Tournament. The quest for that kind of bounty took a pair of blows over the weekend as Colorado State and Wyoming, the league upstarts who each had scored upset wins over one of the MWC’s Big 3 in recent outings, both lost games that at various times looked winnable. It was a painstaking hit for CSU, which had burst into the consensus Bracket Matrix onto the 12-line with 35 of 60 votes. They went scoreless for three straight minutes after the final media timeout and saw a 2-point lead reverse to a 4-point deficit and eventual final margin in a loss at TCU. The formula to snag a final at large isnt any different here than it would be in the Big 10 or SEC: use homecourt to bag some quality scalps, tuck in a winnable road game or two, and dont drop any games you should win. The Rams had the winnable road variety in their hands, but they let Dwight Stewart doppleganger Craig Williams go off for 21 points including four bombs from behind the arc and were thwarted on the pivotal possession to tie in the closing seconds when Kyan Anderson swiped the ball from Rams hot hand Wes Eikmeier with a defensive stop as impressive as the plays being lauded in the nailbiter Rebel win that tipped the scales in the showdown at the top of the conference between SDSU and UNLV earlier in the day. Thats the difference between the Rams being on just about everybody’s mock bracket this week and enough faded support where they’d be lucky to be in the consensus final four cut. Wyoming, meanwhile, had a big resume win on its hand for 20 minutes. They held New Mexico to a season low 19 first half points and had a halftime lead on the road in The Pit. But, the Pokes were on the other end of an even more impressive defensive effort in the second half, scored just 16 points the rest of the way and lost by 10. After the defensive slugfest during which his team scored a season low 14 baskets, Wyoming Coach Larry Schyatt complained about officiating in some poorly hidden commentary, but Cowboys bloggers admit to not seeing what the fuss was about. Had both the Rams and Cowboys won, we could have a serious converastion about five out of the eight teams in this league getting bids and most people in the room would be nodding their heads. Instead they both lost. And they sit at 4-4 along with TCU, two games behind the Big 3 tied atop the standings.
I dont care how strong this 8-team league is or how entertaining its been to watch this season, I cant see a glut of invites coming to a party of .500 in MWC league play suitors. Somebody needs to get separtation from level par over the final three weeks for more than three bids. Wyoming has a cant drop a game you should win match at home against Air Force this week while CSU has a combo of one of those with a winnable roads game at Boise State on the docket. Thats in advance of a head to head in Laramie on Saturday night that looms as a midmajor Bracket Buster game every bit as important as the made for TV matchups created for the actual Bracket Buster event that will litter the landscape next college hoops weekend.
5.) Bracket Matrix Chaos, Including No Bracket Matrix (GAAAASP!!!)
Five of the last nine at large bids seeded on the consensus Bracket Matrix all lost their last outings–Minnesota, Cincy, Xavier, Miami, CSU. Man I cant wait to see how this impacts the look of the next update. Usually by late Monday the dozens of mock brackets have been collected, tallied up and a whole new look at the projected takes shape. With that kind of turnover who knows what kind of resumes people are looking at it, so it—WAIT, WHAT THERE WONT BE ANY MATRIX UPDATE UNTIL SATURDAY 2./18. Such an announcement just sits there, posted atop the page, the closing announcement taunting me like the Wally World Moose. What the hell are we going to do without an updated Bracket Matrix to stare at and spin out possible season road maps? And what do you mean by Saturday update? Are we going to wake up on Bracket Buster morning with a spiffy, hot off the line bracket snapshot? Or will it just come sauntering in at any old time, possibly already being out of date due to that days final scores? I suppose we can guess some approximate pecking order. Some order of NC State, Texas, Arkansas, Dayton and Arizona–all among the final eight cut from the field–each won this week and could find themselves picking up some of the spilled favor. But, I dont like this devleopment of no Bracket Matrix this week at all, No Siree Bob. I’ve been writing about this Matrix for a handful of years now and have now clue whose behind the effort. There’s been a lot of enjoyment added to my college basketball experience as a result of its existent, so there’s a ton of gratitude on this end. I truly hope nothing is wrong on their end of the world causing this week off. The bubble will be even more of a mess come Saturday than it is now. Good luck sorting it out then.
But, still, no Matrix updates for the week? Somebody hold me.