Bubble Watch: Showtime

Bubble Watch: Showtime

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Another close road loss didn't change Purdue's fortunes much. The Boilers are locked into a top-six seed, but they could finish anywhere from 3 to 6 depending on this weekend's games - odds are that the four-way tie for third isn't going to stay that way, but you never know. How did things get so close? Let's take a look. Indiana fell at home to Iowa; Fred Glass doesn't see any problems here, which honestly shouldn't be a surprise since he's basically IU's version of Dave Brandon. Given that recruiting for any Indiana coach is at worst not much of a problem, it's probably in everyone else's best interest if Crean remains at the helm in Bloomington. That, plus Michigan State's win over the Good Guys, split the bubble teams decisively (two games separate the groups), with the top group fighting for byes to Friday and the bottom group fighting to avoid the NIT.

Two games Saturday pair off teams in each group: Illinois at Purdue and Michigan State at Indiana. Ohio State hosts Wisconsin and Iowa hosts Northwestern, so I'd be really surprised if all four teams end up 12-6 in conference play.

Current status: In

Bracket Matrix: 11.10, in 62 of 80 brackets. Other systems are focusing on Purdue's lack of movement this week; it's something of a concern only because Purdue's so close to the bubble.

Lunardi: 11-seed play-in against BYU, with the winner facing SMU in a game that will no doubt be vacated in a couple of years. Purdue was 42nd on the S curve Thursday, but today they dropped a bit for unknown reasons.

dratings: second 12 seed, down two spots. Illinois and Indiana are immediately ahead of Purdue, which ... OK. Any individual rating system will have its flaws. At least Purdue isn't the lowest seed in Indiana. (Valparaiso has the last 12 seed.)

kenpom: 48th, up two spots.

RPI: 61st, tied with Syracuse (speaking of vacated wins) and Saint Mary's, down three spots. Yeah, that doesn't match what the Nitty Gritty report says. ESPN doesn't care.

Possible conference seeds

Third seed (17.7%)

Two possibilities: Purdue's the only 11-6 team to win, or Purdue and Iowa are the only teams to win. Purdue wins a tiebreaker with Iowa based on the head-to-head win.

Fourth seed (33.6%)

Four options: a three-way tie for third with Iowa and Ohio State (Iowa is 2-1 in that group and has beaten Maryland, Purdue is 2-1 and did not beat Maryland, OSU is 1-3 in that group), a tie for third with MSU (Spartans win on head-to-head win), a tie for third with OSU (Ohio State wins based on what would be its win over Wisconsin), or a three-way tie with Michigan State and Iowa (Sparty 2-0, Purdue 1-1, Iowa 0-2).

Fifth seed (19.7%)

A four-way tie (Sparty is 3-0 in the group, Iowa 2-2 with a win over Maryland, Purdue 2-2 with no win over Maryland, OSU is 1-3), a three-way tie with MSU and OSU (MSU 2-0, OSU 1-2 and win over Wisconsin, Purdue 1-2), a tie for fifth with Iowa (head-to-head), a three-way tie for fourth with Iowa and OSU (see above), or a three-way tie for fourth with MSU and Iowa (see above).

Sixth seed (29.0%)

Four possibilities: Purdue's the only 11-6 team to lose, they tie for fifth with OSU, they tie for fifth with MSU, or they tie for fourth with MSU and OSU.

So it's still pretty much a coin flip as to whether Purdue's getting a bye to Friday or not.

Of course, that's just half of the picture. Assuming the Boilers don't win the conference tournament, the other thing to watch is the rest of the bubble. For this part, we'll focus primarily on resume strength of the team in question. It's possible that in certain situations, a bubble team winning might help Purdue more based on various things, but I think it's safer to wish doom on all other bubble teams.

All but in

Iowa (20-10, 11-6, RPI 36, kenpom 21)

The Indiana win put the Hawkeyes in what should be safe territory. They're a 7 seed in the Bracket Matrix and in Lunardi's bracket; anything short of two losses to Northwestern (Saturday, plus the 6-11 game on Thursday in Chicago) should mean they're safe.

Ohio State (22-8, 11-6, RPI 32, kenpom 15)

Despite the sunny computer ranking, the Buckeyes are essentially interchangeable with Iowa: they're either the last 7 or the first 8 depending on whether you checked Bracket Math Thursday or Bracketology today. Even though OSU hasn't lost at home since December 30, they haven't beaten a contending team on the road this season. Their soft non-conference schedule became a problem after the losses to Michigan State and Michigan. On the other hand, Wisconsin is a safer opponent than Northwestern, especially because a blowout loss is much less likely against the slow-tempo Badgers, and that's really the only thing that would bump OSU at all Saturday. A Thursday loss would hurt them a bit, but I don't see them falling below a 9 even if that does happen.

Michigan State (20-10, 11-6, RPI 29, kenpom 20)

Sparty's big problem is that they haven't recorded an unexpected win since early January at Iowa; that's probably still their best win (their home win over OSU is close, but that was at home). A win at Indiana should be enough to remove all doubt, and a loss is probably excusable as long as Indiana stays in the bubble picture. The thing that may help MSU the most is that at least in Bracketology, there are four other Big Tenteen schools between the Spartans and the end of the bubble. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Izzo's team drops past all of them. (Let this be a lesson, kids. If the NCAA uses a system that focuses heavily on strength of schedule, play tough opponents.)

Not close enough yet

Purdue (19-11, 11-6, RPI 63, kenpom 48)

RPI remains unimpressed by close road losses, so the Boilers still have work to do. The nice thing is that sometimes it's enough to watch other teams not get the job done, and Purdue's been able to move up in part because other bubble teams are moving down. Anyway, they can shore up their slightly-sinking rating by pushing Illinois further off the bubble Saturday ... but that still won't be enough, not with the movement around them and the possible threat of conference tournament upsets. Another quality win in Chicago should do the trick.

Indiana (19-11, 9-8, RPI 51, kenpom 57)

I guess this is what happens when you don't mind showing experienced players the door if you think you can make space for one more heralded freshman. A solid loss at home to Iowa has accelerated Indiana's drop from safely in the field to dangerously close to being out of it: even though many brackets aren't scared yet (9.90, 77 of 80 brackets), Lunardi has them in the 12-seed play-in game, as does dratings. kenpom may be expecting a close Michigan State win in Bloomington, but that doesn't mean that RPI will let it slide - if that comes to pass, Indiana may well need to win a quality game to get in, and it seems very unlikely that will happen.

IU has a head-to-head win over Illinois and would win a tie for 7th, but that would give them the 10 seed on Thursday, and neither Minnesota nor Northwestern would be a quality opponent. Maryland would be, but I don't see Crean's banged-up squad winning that game in Chicago. Worse would be falling to the 8 seed and facing Wisconsin - even a low-quality win Thursday is better than no win at all.

Just about out

Illinois (19-11, 9-8, RPI 58, kenpom 53)

The Illini are the first of Lunardi's Next Four Out and the third team out in the Bracket Project. While a win Saturday would at least give Illinois a chance to stay in the tournament, a loss might be a real problem. Facing the same 7/8 choice that Indiana has, only on the other side of the tiebreaker, chances are pretty good that Illinois would have to beat Wisconsin to get into the dance. They lost by 19 in Madison, which of course is worse than it seems because of tempo. (Wisconsin averaged 1.39 PPP in that game. That's ... a lot.)

In any event, the Illini are too close to the bubble to afford what otherwise would be an explicable road loss. They should be playing for their tournament lives ... and it might be time to start thinking about whether or not Groce is a good fit in Champaign. Three straight bubbly teams is not what his boss was expecting - it's one thing to do that at Ohio U., but another thing entirely in the Big Ten.

Angels and Devils

That leaves the rest of the country. Let's look at two groups: strong teams in one-bid conferences that might steal an at-large bid if they don't win their tournament, and bubble teams in other conferences that maybe just need a push to be left out.

Angel: Gonzaga (29-2, 17-1 WCC, 3/7 vs. 8-seed San Francisco)

BYU isn't clearly in the field yet; no other team is close. You want Gonzaga to win the tournament.

Angel: Stephen F. Austin (26-4, 16-1 Southland, 3/7 vs. Sam Houston St, 3/13 in Southland semis)

Crazy, right? But they're a solid 12 seed, they're up to 45 in kenpom, their three non-conference losses are in OT to Northern Iowa and in regulation at Xavier and Baylor, and if a couple of 12 seeds finished poorly (cough Indiana cough), if 2-seed Sam Houston beat them in the Southland final, there's a chance the Lumberjacks would be OK. (The Bearkats have the 15th-best defense in DI; SFA has the 19th-best offense. That's actually a game worth watching, I think.) You are now SFA fans, just in case ... but if you have a scenario in mind where the Southland becomes a two-bid conference and IU is headed to the NIT, I'd understand.

Devil: BYU (23-8, 13-5 WCC, 3/7 vs. 7-seed Santa Clara)

BYU beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga, 73-70. This is not a good thing. Yes, Purdue's win over the Cougars is looking better and better, but bubble decisions do not take into account head-to-head matchups in November, as far as I know. BYU also has a win over Stanford, but that's about it, and they were swept by Pepperdine in conference play. Unfortunately, the Waves are in Gonzaga's half of the bracket; BYU is likely to face Saint Mary's before a rubber match with the Zags. The Gaels aren't going to get in with a win, and the Cougars won't be safe enough yet to afford a loss on ... uh, Monday.

Devil: Davidson (22-6, 13-4 A-10, 3/7 at Duquesne, 3/13 in A-10 quarterfinals)

Bob McKillop's team hasn't missed a beat since moving from the Southern Conference. A win over Duquesne would presumably give the Wildcats the #1 seed (they beat Dayton in the only regular-season meeting between the two teams). The Flyers are comfortably in, as is VCU, but Davidson is not. Because the A-10 tournament final is Selection Sunday, the Wildcats need to take care of business before that game so that it doesn't become a win-or-out game; that's likely to happen, with Rhode Island or VCU likely to show up in the semis. A loss to Duquesne makes their resume shakier; a loss on Friday the 13th probably burns it up.

Devil: Temple (21-9, 12-5 AAC, 3/7 vs. UConn, 3/13 in AAC quarterfinals)

The Owls will finish third or fourth, depending on what happens Saturday and in Sunday's Cincinnati-Memphis game. Finishing third gives them the 6-11 winner, which is a low-reward matchup for them. Finishing fourth gives them Memphis or UConn, either of which would be a higher-quality opponent but still not good enough for a win to lock in a spot. However, with weak Tulsa likely to finish second, getting the 3 would likely mean the Owls would have a shot at SMU in the final ... and that sequence might be enough to get them in. 24-10 with a 25-point win over Kansas might just do it. You should root for Connecticut tomorrow.

Devil: Texas (18-12, 7-10 Big 12, 3/7 vs. Kansas State, 3/11 in Big 12 opening round)

That silly win over Baylor seems to be the thing keeping the Longhorns on the bubble, despite the possibility of an 11-loss conference season. Well, that and the fact that it's the Big 12, which is far and away the strongest conference in the country this season. Seven of their ten conference losses are against kenpom top-20 teams, one more is to #25 West Virginia, and their non-conference losses are to #1 Kentucky and #42 Stanford in OT. That's good for the 9th-best SOS ... but unfortunately for Rick Barnes, their next two opponents aren't going to help any. Kansas State has an RPI of 80 (as Purdue fans well know at this point), and a loss to them would serve up RPI-121 TCU in an opening-round game on the 11th; the 7 seed, which they'd get in a three-way tie (same tiebreakers as the Bee One Gee, so OSU would be 3-1 against the other two, Texas 2-2, K-State 1-3) would mean RPI-173 Texas Tech on the 11th.

A loss Saturday means trouble; a win just keeps them alive. Same story on the 11th. If Texas survives to the quarterfinals, then a win over Kansas or 2 seed Iowa State or Oklahoma would make a strong case for their inclusion ... but they could still get bumped by a surprise conference tournament winner.

There are other teams to root against - Tulsa, UCLA, Miami (YTM), Illinois (obvs) - but for now, start with these guys. Once conference regular-season play is done, we can look more closely at who needs to lose ... or maybe at who Purdue may end up facing once they get in. (They will get in, right?)

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