It's hard to think of a selection process more prone to the whims of random chance and idiocy than selecting the 68 teams that will fill out the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Think about it. You're trying to distill 347 teamsdown to 68. But because there are so many teams out there, and because it's temporally impossible to watch that much basketball, you can't rely on what you've seen. You have to rely on numbers, statistics, word of mouth, conference v. conference records, how a team plays under a full moon, a Ouija board, and more to pick the teams. Elections in the Ukraine make more sense and are less complicated. The proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in the Westcan start a domino effect of tournament reshuffling pushing teams in and out of the tournament.
Incidentally, the build up to the NCAA tournament is an incredibly amusing time if your sense of humor leans toward the risque. How many times can you hear sports reports of any gender ask each other whether or not a team is in or out. They were in, they were out, they were in, now they're finished. They came in the backdoor, but now they're in for good. Locked in. That team was playing tight, now that they've loosened up they've slid right in. What are we talking about again? And why is that mascot smoking a cigarette and ordering a pizza? It's like attending a dinner with Andrew Dice Clay.
Regardless of this, if you're in the right spot, you have everything to gain by simply sitting still. With an 18-12 (8-9) record, the Michigan Wolverines are squarely on the Tournament Bubble. They've got an RPI of 59 and a Strength of Schedule Ranked 22nd. They also knocked off a fellow bubble team, Minnesota, on their opponent's home court. (which, BTW, kills Minnesota's tourney chances barring their winning the BTT). What Michigan doesn't have is big wins over teams with highly ranked RPIs. But that doesn't matter right now. What matters is who is winning and losing the games in between now and Saturday's tip off.
Frankly I'm not sure who in the hell we're supposed to be rooting for or against to help Michigan's NCAA chances, so I've been following Tim's Bubble Watch for some kind of idea as to my rooting interests. One thing I do know, however, is that when three teams that are on the Bubble lose, that's good.
Michigan got some good news yesterday when Alabama got absolutely throttled by Florida. The Tide sport a pretty in the neon light 19-10 (11-4) record, but their RPI is 87 (which undoubtedly dropped after their beating) and SOS is 175. Read that again, SOS of 175. With Tennessee [17-12 (7-7), RPI: 33, SOS: 2], Georgia [19-9 (8-6), RPI: 35, SOS: 27], Kentucky, Florida, and Vandy squarely in the tournament, I have to think Alabama's latest loss knocks them out for good. Five SEC teams seems about right, barring some crazy finish to their conference tournament.
In the Big XII is a little screwier. Baylor dropped a must win to Oklahoma State, which probably will kill their at large hopes since they close against a pissed off Texas team on Saturday. OSU is 6-9 in conference, and closes at Oklahoma. I have trouble seeing them in the dance, even at 7-9 with a BXIIBT win. The real issues are Colorado and Nebraska. Ideally only one of these teams will make the dance. Nebraska sits at 19-10 (7-8) with an 80 RPI, with one game left against... Colorado. The Buffaloes have a warm up against Iowa State before hosting the Huskers. Ideally, ISU knocks off the Buffaloes and the Buffaloes then knock off Nebraska. But that's not going to happen. ISU has 2 conference wins. If Colorado wins both games they sit at 9-7 and are squarely in the tournament. That would drop Nebraska to 7-9 along with (ideally) a presumed 7-9 Baylor and a 7-9 OKSU team (though a loss to Oklahoma isn't entirely out of the picture, it is on the road). Ideally Colorado wins out and sets a two game spread between the in's and the out's. Nebraska and Baylor finish at 7-9 and OKSU finishes at 6-10. Everyone is satisfied that the Big XII is fairly treated and the conference gets six teams in.
In the ACC, well... you're going to need a pad of paper and a pen. The ACC is awful this year. I have to laugh at Miami for actually saying that Tim Hardaway Jr wasn't an ACC player. Miami would be in the tournament with Timmy. As it stands... They aren't even close. Here's the thing, there are no less than fifty ACC teams on the bubble with just Duke and UNC securely in the tournament. Another team I think is in without a doubt is Boston College. They just whipped fellow bubble team Virginia Tech (at Tech) by fifteen, have an RPI in the high 30's/low 40's and the an SOS of 13. With a final game against 8-21 Wake Forest, there's no way the Eagles don't get to 19 wins. They're in.
The way it breaks down for the rest of the ACC is as such. Florida State has a dazzling record of 20-8 (10-4), but their RPI (45) and SOS (96) keep them on the bubble. That's what happens when you play no one in your OOC schedule. FSU has two games remaining including a nasty match up against UNC tonight and a closer at NCST. You want FSU to drop both of these. The Seminoles RPI would drop like a stone and it would further emphasize the disparity in talent in the league. I still think they're in regardless, but you can dream right? Just like FSU is bubble darling Virginia Tech. Other than a win over Duke, Va Tech shouldn't be in the conversation. An RPI in the high 50's/low 60's, a SOS at 104, and dropping a crucial game at home to BC has their invite on life support, if that. However, they have a final game against fellow bubble team (and Michigan Victim) Clemson on tap. Clemson is just like Virginia Tech and FSU: pretty record but played no one. They've muddled through to an 8-6 conference record but get Duke and Virginia Tech to close the season. You want a loss to Duke and a win over VaTech. the loss to Duke should kill their bubble hopes and the win over VaTech would kill the Hokies'. Michigan holds the tiebreaker head to head over Clemson. Maryland is the last one on the slate and my money is on them finishing 20-11 (9-7). Their RPI is awful and they're lacking any big wins, I think it takes two wins in the ACC tournament to get them in.
In the PAC 10, things seem a little more settled. I'm fairly confident the PAC10 gets Arizona, UCLA and Washington into the tournament. The only caveat is that if U-Dub drops it's last two, it could end up a two bid conference. Root for it all you want, but I'm not going to count on it.
Finally, and I say finally because I'm going to go over every minor conference in the country, there's the Big East. The land where they don't play defense. I think it's fair to assume that the conference will get the benefit of the doubt and get 10 teams. Whether it's Cincinnati or Marquette is the question. Here, I think you have to root for Cinci. Their record and RPI are better, and to top it off, Cinci and Marquette play one another tonight. Root for Cinci to win. They're probably already in, but a Marquette win would mean the Big East gets 11 teams and likely bump a team like Michigan. You hate Marquette with a passion tonight.
Rooting Interests Tonight:
Iowa v. Michigan St. - A loss to Iowa (again) would kill the Spartans' RPI. Michigan needs them to win to set up a winner take all game on Saturday, where MSU's RPI is as high as possible to give the Wolverines a credible top 50 RPI opponent's scalp to parade in front of the committee.
Cincinnati v. Marquette - DIE EAGLES! DIE! DIE! DIE!
Utah v. Colorado St. - Colorado St. is a cliche bubble team. Utah is a past opponent. A Utah win kills CSU's bubble hopes and makes Michigan look better all at once. Sadly, this one really matters.
North Carolina v. FSU - Root for a complete and total blowout by the Tarheels.
Duke v. Clemson - You want Duke to crush Clemson, then you want Clemson to crush Virginia Tech.
Miami v. Maryland - Root hard for Miami to kill Maryland's tourney dreams.
Iowa St. v. Colorado - A loss to ISU would severely tarnish Colorado's recent run. It's not going to happen, but root for it anyway.
Marshall v. UTEP - Both are bubble teams, but UTEP has the better resume and the better chance of surviving a loss and still making the tournament. Marshall is a game back of the miners with a good but not great 8-6 CUSA record along with 20 wins. A loss probably dooms Marshall's tourney hopes. UTEP played, and beat Michigan early, so a win here helps our SOS ever so slightly.
Richmond v. St. Joes - Richmond is a definite bubble team in the crappy A10. At 22-7 (11-3) they look pretty enough for an invite, one that could go to Michigan. You want, an admittedly horrible, St. Joes' team to win this. This type of loss would kill their tourney hopes and keep the A10 at two invites only.