Who's in, and who's on the bubble around the country
If you’re dead-set against the idea of conference basketball tournaments (raise your hand, Mike Montgomery), you can make a pretty good case that some of them this week are mostly superfluous.
Among the big-six conferences, the Pac-12, ACC and Big East hold relatively little suspense except for seeding. While the Pac-12 is unprecedentedly wide open, there appears to be no drama for NCAA-tournament fence-sitters short of a run to the title.
They play on anyway, so we play along. With Selection Sunday just ahead, the national picture:
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America East — Albany (23-10) is at Vermont (21-10) Saturday for the title.
Atlantic Sun — Florida Gulf Coast (24-10) won.
Big Sky — Top-seed Montana (23-6) is the host; final Saturday night.
Big South — Liberty (15-20) won.
Big West — Long Beach State (18-12) is top seed in Anaheim.
Colonial — James Madison (20-14) won.
Horizon — Valparaiso (26-7) won.
Ivy — Harvard (19-9) won.
Metro Atlantic — Iona (20-13) won.
Mid-American — Akron (24-6) and Ohio (23-8) have double-byes with the final Saturday in Cleveland.
Mid-Eastern — Norfolk State (21-10) has top seed; final Saturday in Norfolk, Va.
Northeast — Long Island-Brooklyn (20-13) won.
Ohio Valley — Belmont (26-6) won.
Patriot — Bucknell (28-5) beat Lafayette (19-15) by a 64-56 count Wednesday night for the title.
Southern — Davidson (26-7) won.
Southland — Stephen F. Austin (26-3) is top seed with Saturday final in Katy, Texas.
Southwestern — Southern (21-9) is top seed with final Saturday in Garland, Texas.
Summit — South Dakota State (25-9) won.
Sun Belt — Western Kentucky (20-15) won.
Atlantic Coast (4-5)
In: Duke (27-4), Miami (24-6), North Carolina (22-9), North Carolina State (22-9).
Bubble: Virginia (21-10). Say hi to history’s weirdest bubble team, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, who have a win at Wisconsin and victories against Duke and North Carolina, a fine 8-3 record against the RPI top 100 — and a 7-6 record against teams 101-200, plus a home defeat to No. 318 Old Dominion (5-25). Cavs (modest 66 RPI) would feel better with a Friday victory, probably against N.C. State.
In: Saint Louis (24-6), Virginia Commonwealth (24-7), Butler (24-7).
Bubble: LaSalle (21-8), Temple (23-8), Xavier (17-13). Temple looks solid, with seven consecutive wins and victories over Villanova, Syracuse, Saint Louis and VCU. Xavier’s loopy resume shows a 5-3 record against the RPI top 50, 0-5 against 51-100, and it needs to get busy this week. LaSalle closed with a 24-point defeat at Saint Louis and might need a Friday victory over Butler.
Big East (7-8)
In: Louisville (26-5), Georgetown (24-5), Marquette (23-7), Pitt (24-7), Syracuse (23-8), Notre Dame (23-8).
Bubble: Villanova (19-12), Cincinnati (21-10). ‘Nova has victories over Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown, and a workable 5-7 top-50 mark, and should breathe easy with its victory Wednesday over St. John’s. Cincy is likely in after an opening victory over Providence.
Big 12 (4-5)
In: Kansas (26-5), Kansas State (25-6), Oklahoma State (23-7).
Bubble: Iowa State (21-10), Oklahoma (20-10), Baylor (18-13). It might be that ISU-Oklahoma game Thursday that puts the winner in and the loser out. Cyclones, 3-7 against the top 50, might benefit from two riveting overtime defeats to Kansas. Oklahoma, 3-6 versus the top 50, counts on a 16th-ranked strength of schedule to help offset a dagger loss to TCU to finish. Baylor, the definition of flighty, had an 11-game stretch in which it lost eight and the victories were against Texas Tech and West Virginia (twice). For starters, it must beat Oklahoma State on Thursday night.
Big Ten (5-8)
In: Indiana (26-5), Michigan State (24-7), Ohio State (23-7), Michigan (25-6), Wisconsin (21-10).
Bubble: Iowa (21-10), Illinois (21-11), Minnesota (20-11). Hawkeyes’ top-100 mark of 5-8 doesn’t seem to pass muster, so it needs a Thursday victory against Northwestern and possibly one more against Michigan State. Illinois meets Minnesota in the Big Ten’s sweaty-palms game, the Illini (6-9 against top 100) hoping wins against Gonzaga and Indiana carry enough weight, Minnesota banking on a No. 3 SOS to overcome a 5-9 finish, including losses at Nebraska and Purdue.
Conference USA (1-2)
In: Memphis (27-4).
Bubble: Southern Miss (23-8). USM, winless in five games against the top 50, is a longshot. In a weak C-USA, question is whether it could get an at-large bid without winning the league.
Missouri Valley (2)
In: Creighton (27-7), Wichita State (26-8).
Mountain West (4-5)
In: New Mexico (26-5), Colorado State (24-7), UNLV (23-8), San Diego State (21-9).
Bubble: Boise State (21-9). Former Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice’s team is 3-5 against the four MWC locks, all the wins at home. It also has a victory over Creighton to offset a 218 nonconference SOS. But losing 73-67 to San Diego State late Wednesday night won’t help.
In: UCLA (23-8), Arizona (24-6), Oregon (23-8), California (20-10), Colorado (20-10).
If the bubble weren’t so soft, you might question Oregon’s credentials: Ducks were only 2-4 against the other Pac-12 locks, went 3-5 against the top 50, 7-7 versus the top 100, had a nonconference SOS of 259, and went 5-6 down the stretch. Still, the field figures to accommodate them even with a loss to Washington on Thursday night.
In: Florida (24-6), Missouri (22-9).
Bubble: Kentucky (21-10), Tennessee (19-11), Mississippi (23-8), Alabama (20-11), Arkansas (19-12).
Welcome to the free-for-all of conference tournaments. I can’t see Kentucky not making it, having played Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor and Louisville out of its league. Tennessee won eight of its last nine and was a creditable 4-4 against the top 50, 9-9 versus the top 100. Ole Miss was a shaky 1-4 and 7-6 in those metrics and despite its win total, must fight a 291 nonconference SOS. ‘Bama features top 50/100 marks of 1-4 and 7-7. Arkansas went 4-5 and 7-10 on those two, but its 1-9 road record will be a problem. Prospective Friday games between ‘Bama and Tennessee and Arkansas and Kentucky will determine a lot.
Bubble: Louisiana Tech (26-5). Wins notwithstanding, Tech would be advised to win the WAC; it has only one top-50 win and an overall SOS of 190.
West Coast (1-2)
In: Gonzaga (31-2).
Bubble: Saint Mary’s (27-6).
Still reason for the Gaels to sweat. They like to say they haven’t lost to anybody but Gonzaga since Dec. 23, but with SMC risking little out of conference, it’s a thin portfolio — one top-50 win, 4-4 against the top 100, two losses vs. teams 101-200. They seem on the sunny side of the bubble, but the committee likes to see more scheduling moxie.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org