A quick look at the bubble

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There’s so much talk about “the bubble” and how weak it actually is this year. But show of hands: how many of you have REALLY looked at the bubble?

Let’s dig in.

Below is a list of teams one the 9-seed line or worse in both ESPN and CBS’ bracketology sites as well as the teams behind them listed as in or fighting to get in.

CBSSports.com 9s: Michigan, Oklahoma State (ESPN 7), VCU, USC
ESPN.com 9s: VCU, Virginia Tech (ESPN 7), Arkansas, Michigan
Consensus should be in: VCU, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech

CBSSports.com 10s: Michigan State, Marquette, Providence, Arkansas
ESPN.com 10s: Michigan State, Syracuse, Providence, Seton Hall

CBSSports.com 11s: Middle Tenn, Xavier, Rhode Island/California (First 4), Wake Forest/Kansas State (First 4)
ESPN.com 11s: Illinois State, Marquette, Middle Tenn, Wake Forest/Vanderbilt (First 4)

CBSSports.com 12 bubbles: Illinois State (in bracket as MVC auto-bid)
ESPN.com 12 bubbles: USC, Xavier

CBSSports.com last four in: Wake Forest, Kansas Sate, California, Rhode Island
ESPN.com last four in: Vanderbilt, Xavier, Wake, USC

CBSSports.com first four out: Illinois, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Wichita State
ESPN.com first four out: Rhode Island, Kansas State, Illinois, Iowa

The four teams above listed as “should be in” are listed by both ESPN and CBS has nine seeds are higher, meaning all four would have to sustain at least a three-seed drop to fall out of the tournament (VCU is currently 23rd in the RPI, for those of you wondering). Subtract them and in theory you get a bubble that should consist of the following teams fighting for spots in this year’s field (listed in order of RPI with average seed, “BUBBLE!” equalling teams that have a foot in in one of the two major brackets and a foot out in the other, “OUT!” meaning out in both):

26 – Illinois State (average seed: 11.5)
The case for:
The Redbirds are a winning team with an impressive 27-5 record. With RPI playing a key role in the current selection process, the Birds could be the highest ranked team left out at No.26.
The case against: 
In short, there is almost no meat on the bone when it comes to their schedule. ISU owns just two top-100 wins, both on their home court, their best being against conference mate Wichita State. A sub-200 loss to Murray State could also hurt their chances.

28 – Arkansas (average seed: 9.5)
The case for:
And 11-6 record against the top-100 including three top-50 wins could help. So should their top-30 RPI and top-50 SOS. 
The case against: 
These guys are at the top of the bubble and should be in good shape. A road loss to sub-260 Missouri isn’t pretty, but we all know those games happens.

30 – Wake Forest (average seed: 11)
The case for:
Nine wins against the top-100 including a huge one on March 1 at Louisville. The Deacs own four top-100 wins away from their home arena and have ZERO sub-100 losses. They also have the 12th rated strength of schedule and a top-30 RPI at the moment.
The case against: The Demon Deacons are a bit  of a “middling major”, with an 18-12 record and a 9-9 ACC record and a losing record overall (9-12) against the top-100.

34 – Xavier (average seed: 11.5)
The case for:
Eight top-100 wins, three coming away from the Cintas Center including a big road win at Creighton. Chris Mack and Co. boast a No.34 RPI and a No.7 strength of schedule.
The case against: Again, a bit of a middling major. Their eight top-100 wins are impressive but when you pair it with 11 top-100 losses, it doesn’t look as sexy (eight of those however were to top-50 teams). A 9-9 Big East finish isn’t all that sexy and the X-men have lost six of their last seven games, their only win coming against No.230 DePaul. If the committee values trends, that could hurt Xavier.

36 – Middle Tennessee State (average seed: 11)
The case for:
If the CUSA favorite Blue Raiders win their conference tourney they avoid the bubble completely and do this entire group a favor. But if they are to be upset (watch out for Rice in that second game!)…lookout. MTSU returned basically everyone from last year’s team that knocked 2-seed Michigan State out of the dance and that could help them in the eyes of this year’s selection committee. They saw limited opportunities but went 4-1 against the current top-100 and 2-1 against the top-50 and went 15-2 away from their home arena, impressive at any level.
The case against: Start with a SOS of 147, throw in losses to Tennessee State and No.241 UTEP. It’s the typical mid-major struggle that could keep them out of the field if they add another CUSA loss, a loss that would likely also send them out of the RPI top-40.

37 – Wichita State (average seed: BUBBLE!)
The case for:
Come on, it’s Wichita State! What’s a tournament these days without Greg Marshall and the Shockers? A loss to Illinois State in the MVC final (we’ll know in a matter of hours) would drop WSU to 29-5 and give the committee a real tricky team to deal with. Wichita State would hover around their current No.37 ranking even with a loss but boasts a kenpom ranking of No.11. The committee isn’t technically supposed to be looking at that stuff (yet), but do you just turn that fact off in the back of your brain? But again, WSU pedigree, 29 wins…MVC runner-up…out. That could be tough.
The case against: Two top-100 wins, No.154 SOS. That’s as mid-major as it gets. Even with a loss to Illinois State the Shocks would have all five losses to top-50 teams, but that would drop them to 2-5 agains the top-100, their best win coming at home to Illinois State.

38 – USC (average seed: 10.5)
The case for:
The case for should start and end with their dance team. Boom…you’re in! In reality it’ll come down to that schedule and that looks like this: 5-7 against the top-100, 2-5 against the top-50, but four of those to top-10 teams and the other top No.15 UCLA on the road, a team they had defeated earlier in the season. No terrible losses and a top-70 SOS could help the Trojans slide in…but that may be a stretch.
The case against: That 2-5 top-50 record might hurt and falling out of the top-40 with an early Pac 12 tourney loss could be a killer for a team clearly riding the bubble. But what hurts them worse may be that No.172 non-conference strength of schedule.

42 – Rhode Island (average seed: BUBBLE!)
The case for:
We’re in serious bubble territory here, making cases for these last few real tricky. Rhody has two top-50 wins help (one on a neutral court against Cincinnati), but that’s still just a 4-7 record against the top-100 (a tough sell, perhaps). Rhody however is on the side of an A-10 bracket that could produce two more desperately need top-100 wins, first against St. Bonaventure, then against Dayton. I think they likely need two wins against that exact group with a trip to the final to make the NCAA tourney as an at-large.
The case against: Hell, I’m an A-10 guy who really WANTS to make a case for, but 4-7 against the top-100 with a No.61 RPI makes it pretty tough. In short, Rhody doesn’t have the high-win total of the MVC teams fighting for inclusion or a solid enough top-100 record to really battle the top BCS schools. They just didn’t get much done against the top teams they played, which could see them out of the tournament. They have zero room for error.

45 – Vanderbilt (average seed: BUBBLE!)
The case for:
Total middling major here, with a 17-14 record that makes them the type of team that college hoops fans could do without in an NCAA tournament. That said, they own two top-30 road wins and 10 top-100 wins total. The Commodores have the seventh best strength of schedule in the country as well and that never hurts.
The case against: The 10 top-100 wins are nice but they pair that with 13 top-100 losses. What they are trying to tell us is they’ve have plenty of chances to beat good teams and they’ve lost most of those games. Teams like this are just so annoying. 17-14!?!?! GET THAT SHIT OUTA HERE!

47 – Michigan State (average seed: 10)
The case for:
Six top-50 wins and they are named Michigan State, head coach is Tom Izzo. The majority (7) of their 13 losses are against current top-50 teams and the Spartans overall have played the ninth best schedule in the country.
The case against: MSU is currently 4-11 off their home court. Newsflash: their NCAA tourney game won’t be on their home court. Another middling major, the Spartans finished below .500 against the top-100 but may sneak into the tourney for some reason I currently don’t understand.

53 – Providence (average seed: 10)
The case for:
10 wins against the top-100 for a 10-8 top-100 record. They also own six top-50 wins including two over fellow bubblers, Rhode Island and Xavier. Winners of their last six, Providence is riding some momentum they hope will send them to this year’s dance.
The case against: Let’s start with two sub-200 losses, falling to both Boston College and DePaul on the road. Those won’t help. Neither should a home loss to St. John’s. Add in a non-conference SOS ranked 166th and these dudes should probably sweat out selection Sunday barring a nice showing in this year’s Big East tourney at MSG. Oh and they’re ranked 53rd in the RPI.

55 – Marquette (average seed: 10.5)
The case for:
Seven top-50 wins, three of which came outside of the Bradley Center. That gives the Golden Eagles a 10-10 top-100 record with six of their losses coming against top-50 teams. They own a win over RPI No.1 Villanova and have just one sub-100 loss, a six-point road L at No.137 St. John’s, which is not the worst of bad losses.
The case against: The biggest blemish on this Marquette team might be a 5-8 road/neutral record that included an 18-point loss at Georgetown. Marquette also did little outside of Big East play, playing the nation’s 224th ranked non-conference SOS.

56 – California (average seed: BUBBLE!)
The case for: 
Honestly, I don’t even know how these guys are on the bubble to begin with. They boast a top-50 road win (at fellow bubbler, USC) and have a strong top-50 SOS but that’s about it. They didn’t do a whole heck of a lot against it.
The case against: Pretty easy case to make. They don’t have a high RPI compared to fellow bubble teams and they are just 4-9 against the top-100. The fact that Jerry Palm has them in the field makes me think some UC Berkley student is shipping him pounds of marijuana once a month. These dudes don’t belong in the field unless they go on a serious Pac 12 run and even then it might still be a stretch to say they deserve a bid.

57 – Illinois (average seed: OUT!)
The case for:
I mean, what’s not to love about a 17-13 team with a No.57 RPI and a losing record in the Big 10, am I right? Illinois is riding this bubble thanks to five top-50 wins and the No.15 SOS in the country.
The case against:
Again, mediocre record, bad bubble RPI, losing conference record, sub-500 top-100 record (11-12), these dudes have more than enough opportunity to play their way into the field and in the opinion of Palm, Lunardi and yours truly…they don’t belong in this year’s field.

58 – Kansas State (average seed: BUBBLE!)
The case for:
Three top-50 wins including road wins at Baylor and Oklahoma State, a top-50 SOS and a winning road/neutral record.
The case against: Sub-500 conference record, only five top-100 wins despite playing in a conference where basically everyone is in the damn top-100 (5-10 overall versus top-100), a No.218 non-conference strength of schedule and a 30-point beatdown at No.154 Oklahoma. With this selection I gotta assume Palm is getting his weed from California and a substance much worse from Manhattan, Kansas.

74 – Iowa (average seed: OUT!)
The case for: 
Five top-50 wins (two on the road) and a top-50 SOS is is pretty solid.
The case against: 4-9 road/neutral record, a 17-13 overall record right now, a G-D RPI outside of the top-70, a losing record versus the top-100 (8-11) and a home loss to Nebraska Omaha. Easy to make a case against these guys.

80 – Syracuse (average seed: BUBBLE!)
The case for:
Six top-50 wins (all at home) including three top-20 Ws and a winning record in the ACC. Also, people love it when you beat Duke.
The case against:
If we’re gonna use RPI, let’s use RPI. 80th..these dudes are 80th in the RPI! A lot of that has to do with a 2-10 road/neutral record that includes a loss to No.211 Boston College. Not only does Lunardi have these guys in, he’s got them avoiding a trip to Dayton.

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About Author

Mat Shelton-Eide has been involved in college athletics since 2007, starting as a co-founder of VCURamNation.com where he covered the Rams all the way to Houston as the one-time CAA darling shocked the hoops world with a historic run to the Final 4. He has worked within two Atlantic 10 athletic departments, first as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department during the '09-'10 basketball season, then after receiving his M.Ed. from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership, as a ticketing and marketing intern in the University of Richmond's athletic department during the inaugural season of Richmond's Robins Stadium, months before the Spiders 2011 Sweet 16 run.

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