Bubble Watch: Wednesday Viewing Guide
The rest of the major conferences kick off their tournaments today, as do most of the minor ones. In fact, only the AAC, Big Sky, Big West, and Sun Belt wait until the 12th to start. (Suggestion for the last three: maybe start your tournaments earlier. More visibility, etc.) There aren't many bubble teams in action today, not unless you're Jay Bilas. (Good idea: tilt the tournament toward mid-majors. Bad idea: watch so little basketball that you think Minnesota deserves a bid.) Still, if you're fortunate to have a lot of time in front of a TV today, you can plan pretty much your whole day, so let's roll.
Last night's results
Gonzaga polished off a foul-prone BYU team rather easily, winning the West Coast by 16 in a game that probably wasn't that close (the first half was contested, but the Zags pulled away in the second). 1.28 PPP for the opponent is no way to impress the selection committee, Cougars. Gonzaga seems all but certain to be a 2 seed, while BYU has to root against major-conference upsets: they're hanging on as a 12 in Bracket Matrix and Lunardi, although dratings has them as a 7 seed.
Single-bid tournament titles went to Robert Morris (Northeast), Valparaiso (Horizon), and North Dakota State (Summit).
Current status: In
Bracket Matrix: 10.90, 105 of 111.
Lunardi: third 11 seed, facing Providence in Columbus, no change.
dratings: third 10 seed, no change.
kenpom: 48th, no change.
RPI: 58th, down two spots. I'm assuming this is from effects that include losses for BYU and Grambling State. w.
Tonight's top games
Big 12 first round: #10 Texas Tech (13-18, RPI 172) vs. #7 Texas (19-12, RPI 42), 9:00 on ESPNU
Texas is clinging to a play-in seed (Lunardi has them as an 11 even though they're one of his last two in) and can't afford what would be a really bad loss. The Longhorns don't have one this year, surprisingly: their worst loss was to RPI-59 Stanford in December at home. RPI-11 Iowa State waits in the quarters. If Texas makes it to Friday, they may be safely off the bubble, but it's more likely that they'll just push someone else closer to it. You want Texas Tech to win this one.
ACC second round: #14 Virginia Tech (11-21, RPI 220) vs. #6 Miami (20-11, RPI 61), 9:00 on ESPN2
The ACC tournament started a day before the Big Tenteen's, so the important matchups there will show up a day earlier. Miami gets a break of sorts: instead of #11 Wake Forest, who actually beat the Hurricanes a month ago, they get #14 Virginia Tech. Miami swept the Hokies in regular-season play and must make it three-for-three to avoid being instantly dropped from the bubble. RPI-24 Notre Dame would be a quality win in the quarters if Miami can get that far, and it's not out of the question, as they lost by only five in South Bend in January. Root for Virginia Tech if you like, but I don't think it's going to happen.
Games in Chicago
#13 Penn State (16-15, RPI 115) vs. #12 Nebraska (13-17, RPI 130), 4:30 on ESPN2
Generally speaking, when you hire a coach who got mediocre results in a second-tier conference, you're not going to be competitive in a power conference. Exhibit A: Nebraska. Finishing the season on a 1-10 run, Nebraska has no shot at anything. In their regular-season finale, the Huskers played well against a Maryland team that was locked into the 2 seed, but came away with the loss anyway. In five years at Colorado State, Miles led the Rams to a single tournament appearance, where as an 11 seed, they were bounced in the first round by a Murray State that finished 31-2. If he lasts five years in Lincoln (which seems unlikely), I wouldn't expect him to top that.
This afternoon, they'll be facing a team with a similarly-dismal NCAA history in Penn State, although Pat Chambers at least has the Lions moving forward instead of rocketing downward. PSU won the lone meeting this year, 56-43 at home. If I were you, I would skip this game.
#14 Rutgers (10-21, RPI 164) vs. #11 Minnesota (17-14, RPI 94), 7:00 on BTN
164? Has RPI seen Rutgers play? Losers of 14 straight, the Scarlet Knights are a perfect example of Jim Delany's master plan. It's not a coincidence that this game will be hidden on BTN. The fewer people that see this, the better. Eddie Jordan's team will have access to better resources in the coming years, but they've got to at least become competitive. A fluke win over Wisconsin doesn't make up for two months of bad basketball.
They're playing a Minnesota team that is in this position largely because of performances like their 89-80 home win over Rutgers in January. Earning only a meh win in non-conference play (against Georgia, currently a Lunardi 9-seed), Minnesota looked like a better-than-its-record team after starting off 0-5 in conference play, with just one bad loss (at Michigan). After dropping road games to Nebraska and Penn State, the Gophers evoked memories of Dennis Green. (Side note: Green spent five years coaching bad teams at Northwestern, but also managed to get the Vikings into the NFC Championship Game twice in three years.)
Give Minnesota credit for scratching out home wins against Illinois and Purdue and road wins against Iowa and Michigan State, but this looks like a transition year for Richard Pitino's team, as he shifts them from the plodding offense they ran under Tubby Smith to a faster-paced team similar to what his dad runs at Louisville. Minnesota should get the win, but then again, they should have beaten Penn State at home, too.
The Patriot League final is tonight, pitting #4 Lafayette against #6 American (7:30, CBSSN). Imagine two teams about as good as Rutgers playing for a conference championship. Guess what? IT'S REAL. American swept the Leopards, 78-76 in Easton and 88-77 in DC, so prepare yourself for about 500 comments about how it's hard to beat the same team three times in one season. (FWIW, both teams split with each of the teams they beat in the tournament to get to the championship game.)
Also, in case you were wondering why Army is one of five original Division I teams never to make the tournament, it's because of Bobby Knight. No, really! Back when the NIT and NCAA were roughly equal in stature, Knight got Army to a 20-5 record in 1967-68 (which is an accomplishment in and of itself), but chose the NIT over the NCAA. Given that the NCAA was still bracketed geographically, with most of the good teams in the East and just UCLA in the West, it was probably a good decision.
In modern terms, it's because Army went 6-12 in this conference ... and that's roughly par for the course. Their 10-8 conference record in 2014 was their best conference record since 1990-91, their first year in the Patriot League. (To give you an idea of how difficult it is to win at Army, Mike Krzyzewski was 9-17 in his final season there.)
But that's OK. Those guys have a more important day job.