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NCAA Basketball "Bubble" Assessment - Down the Home Stretch
NCAA Basketball "Bubble" Assessment - Down the Home Stretch Welcome back to another edition of assessing the NCAA basketball "bubble" as we prepare for Conference Tournaments. It has been an eventful past couple of days for the college hoops "bubble" and the final teams vying for those last few precious at-large bids. There were two games last night in particular that had a direct impact on the current "bubble" and really helped to bring the overall "bubble" picture into clearer focus. Before we get to those two games, let's take a moment to provide an overall assessment of the current "bubble" situation. I've talked about the perceived lack of depth this year already, but that has become especially true as of late. The way it stands today, I believe there are legitimately 8 teams that are currently outside of the field, that still have a chance to play themselves in. Out of those 8, really five have a realistic path in front of them. With that kind of shrinking "bubble", several pathways have emerged for the last few teams that are still currently projected in at the moment to shore up their resumes heading into conference tournament time. One conference that continues to sit right smack in the middle of this year's "bubble" is the Big XII conference. While the conference has several locks with the likes of usual candidates Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas State, they also have three teams that continue to float around right in "bubble" territory. Oklahoma, Texas, and TCU are right in the middle of the debate, but one of those teams has played themselves safely into the field after last night. Oklahoma hosted Kansas in a huge game for the Sooners. Aside from the ugly 6-10 record in Big XII play heading into last night, OU had put together a pretty solid resume overall. The one things that was significantly lacking? A true marque win within conference play, in a conference that offered up those opportunities weekly. Wins over TCU and Texas weren't enough for the Sooners, and the matchup with the Jayhawks was the perfect opportunity. Oklahoma stepped up to the challenge and put a whooping on Kansas, leading by well over 20 points in the second half before coasting to the 13-point victory. The victory gave the Sooners the one notch their resume needed, and moved them out of "last four-in" territory and firmly into the field. I now have Oklahoma slated as the top 10-seed. I wouldn't be surprised to see them projected for as high as an 8-seed as most mock brackets out there loved the Sooners even before their much-needed marque victory last night. The Sooners weren't the only team to get themselves a major victory last night as the Minnesota Golden Gophers welcomed red-hot Purdue to Minneapolis in what was basically a must-win. While Minnesota limped through a painful 2-6 February, they started March off with a bang by upsetting the Boilermakers last night, and adding a huge upper-echelon win to their resume. The victory gives the Golden Gophers conference wins @ Wisconsin, vs Purdue, and vs Iowa, as well as a non-conference win @ Washington. Last night's win also bumped Minnesota from "last four-in" territory to safely in for the time being as the final projected 10-seed. While both Oklahoma and Minnesota got huge victories last night that had a direct impact on the bubble, some of their fellow conference foes still have work to do. TCU and Ohio State, in particular, find themselves in not-so-desirable situations. The Horned Frogs were 17-6 and safely in the field as a projected 6-7 seed not all that long ago. Now? Well TCU has lost 6 of 7 and find themselves in a free-fall. At just 6-11 in the Big XII, they have created quite the situation for themselves & the committee. First off, it should be noted that the "selection" committee has not placed a team that finished with fewer than 8 conference victories within an 18-game + conference schedule in over 20 years. Secondly, they have never awarded a team that went 6-12 in conference play with an at-large bid. I'm not so sure the committee wants to set that precedent this year. Meanwhile, fellow Big XII rival Texas is also lingering right on the cut-line. The Longhorns have impressive non-conference wins, including a big one over North Carolina, and have put together a pretty good resume within Big XII play. The problem? After getting blown out by Texas Tech, they are just 16-14 overall. While it's still not enough to drop them down to "last four-in" territory, the Longhorns currently sit as the lowest 11-seed. All of that being said, if Texas loses their regular season finale on Saturday, that would put them at just 8-10 in the Big XII and 16-15 overall, leaving the Longhorns out of the field in my opinion. So, what does this all mean for Texas & TCU? Well, it has turned their season-ending game on Saturday into a play-in game of sorts for the moment. The winner will do wonders to their prospects and remain in the backend of the "projected" field, while the loser will drop out. There is a lot at-stake in Austin this Saturday. While Minnesota picked up that big victory within Big TEN play, Ohio State finds themselves needing to do a bit more themselves. A big 20-point victory last week verse Iowa was completely undone by a lackluster effort at Purdue over the weekend, leaving the Buckeyes' resume with more to be desired. Some pundits continue to have OSU as high as a 9-seed currently, but I don't see it. They have home victories over Iowa & Minnesota within conference play, and a road victory at Indiana. While they are all solid, none of them are against the top 5 in the Big TEN. Furthermore, they have a pair of losses to cellar-dwellers Rutgers and Illinois. A non-conference victory at Cincinnati to start the season continues to give OSU the boost needed to keep them in the field. However, with the Buckeyes' only other notable non-conference win coming against Creighton, they still have work to do. With a current NET ranking of 43, and RPI of 51, Ohio State is right in the middle of "bubble" land. For Ohio State, it has become simple as well, win at-home against Wisconsin this weekend, and pickup that coveted win within conference play over a top-tier Big TEN team and the Buckeyes may just punch their ticket. A loss to the Badgers? Well, that would leave Ohio State with significant work to do in the Big TEN tournament. One other team I'd like to discuss in-depth today are the Temple Owls. The American Athletic squad seems to be a bit polarizing at the moment. While most projected brackets have the Owls in the field as of today, their situation has become a bit more unstable over the past week or so. The main reason? Temple has not had the opportunities to pickup wins that mean anything while the rest of the "power" conference teams have. As it stands, the Owls haven't embarked on an untimely losing streak or anything, they just need one more boost to their resume. As it currently stands, it's just a non-conference win @ Davidson, and home victory over Houston within the AAC that comprises their resume. With a pair of bad losses (by 18 @ Tulsa, & at home to Penn), Temple needs to do a bit more to bolster their resume. Luckily for the Owls, they finish the season at-home over Central Florida. UCF has played themselves safely into the field, and received a big boost after defeating Houston on the road. For the Owls, it has become rather simple as well: win @ UConn in a tricky game during the week, and then knock off UCF at home to close out the regular season. A loss in either game would be damaging to the Owl's hopes heading into conference tournament time. Lastly, when deciphering the 11-seeds from the last four-in, etc., Arizona State's resume continues to stick out. While the Sun Devils are getting no boost from the dreadful Pac-12 this year, non-conference victories over Kansas, Utah State, and Mississippi State continue to hold-up well. They also have a home win over Washington (the only team in the Pac-12 that actually providers a "quality" win this season), leaving the Sun Devils with a rather solid resume, despite a lower-than-expected NET rating (68). ASU closes the season on Saturday at in-state rival Arizona. The Sun Devils need to take advantage of the down year for the Wildcats and get a W to feel good about their prospects heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Here is how I see the "bubble" as it currently sits today: "SAFELY IN THE FIELD … FOR NOW": 10 OKLAHOMA (7-10, 19-11) NET 41 RPI 36 10 N.C. STATE (8-8, 20-9) NET 31 RPI 92 10 FLORIDA (9-7, 17-12) NET 35 RPI 67 10 MINNESOTA (9-10, 19-11) NET 56 RPI 49 "LAST FOUR BYES": 11 UTAH STATE (15-3*, 25-6) NET 30 RPI 31 11 SETON HALL (7-9, 16-12) NET 63 RPI 63 11 ARIZONA STATE (11-6, 20-9) NET 68 RPI 40 11 TEXAS (8-9, 16-14) NET 33 RPI 46 "LAST FOUR IN": 12 TEMPLE (11-5, 21-8) NET 57 RPI 35 12 OHIO STATE (8-10, 18-11) NET 43 RPI 51 12 ALABAMA (8-9, 17-13) NET 53 RPI 42 12 TCU (6-11, 18-12) NET 54 RPI 48 "FIRST FOUR OUT": BELMONT (16-2, 25-4) NET 45 RPI 43 LIPSCOMB (14-2, 24-6) NET 46 RPI 73 FURMAN (13-5, 24-6) NET 44 RPI 55 CLEMSON (7-9, 17-12) NET 39 RPI 62 "NEXT FOUR OUT": INDIANA (6-12, 15-14) NET 55 RPI 82 GEORGETOWN (8-8, 18-11) NET 72 RPI 83 LIBERTY (14-2, 26-6) NET 62 RPI 97 CREIGHTON (7-9, 16-13) NET 49 RPI 54 Welcome to the "Bubble" Creighton! While the Blue Jays are just 16-13 overall, and 7-9 in the Big East, a massive road victory at Marquette and solid mid-range metrics (49 NET; 54 RPI) have catapulted them into the "next four out" territory. I don't foresee the Blue Jays bursting into the field, but win their final two - at home against both Providence & DePaul, and at 9-9 & 18-13 overall heading into the Big East tournament, would at least put them in the conversation. Lastly, Alabama has been on cut-line for weeks now, and continue to be a mainstay in the "last four-in" category. Last night provided a huge opportunity for the Crimson Tide, and they let it slip away. After leading by 11 at halftime over Auburn, Bama was outscored by 17 in the second half and fell at-home, 66-60. That loss has rendered the season-ending road trip to Arkansas a must-win for the Crimson Tide. Lose that one, and at just 8-10 in the SEC and 17-14 overall, they will find themselves on the outside looking in heading into the SEC tournament. Well, there you have it, the current "bubble" situation as it stands today, and pathways for those at the backend of the bracket, to bolster their resumes to closeout the regular season. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below - who do I get right? Who did I get wrong? Who do have as your last four in the field? As always, thank you for the support & enjoy all of the college hoops actions ahead of us! Happy reading & writing!! Checkout today's video where I discuss the current "bubble"!:

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