1) Big time programs on the outside. North Carolina, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, UCLA, Arizona, Oklahoma.
It became clear early in the season that UCLA and Memphis were far from the teams they were in the past. Oklahoma hasn’t been able to put things together, reinforcing the importance of Blake Griffin to last year’s team. Arizona – see point #3. UNC, UConn, and Louisville have become the recent talk of the Bubble Watch.
The ACC remains strong, but UNC looks like a mess. If selection was last Sunday, UNC would have a 0.03% chance of receiving an at-large bid. One road win (at NC State, the worst team in the ACC), a 2-4 conference mark, and a StatJunkie RPI of 76 make this UNC team very unattractive. The next three games won’t make tar-heel life any easier. At VT, at Maryland, and vs. Duke could seal Coach Williams NIT fate.
As of last Sunday, Louisville (21.1%) and UConn (14.4%) were both square on the bubble and out of the tourney. Louisville’s home win against UConn on Monday helps their case by putting them back over .500 in conference (5-4). But with no signature wins and only one road win (at Providence), Coach Pitino may have to beat one of the Big East top 5 to stake a tourney claim.
Apparently Coach Calhoun is the greatest coach of all time. UConn has lost 6 of its last 8 and now have a 3-6 conference record. The Big East may try to claim 10 teams this year, but for it to get more than 6, 6-10 have to start upsetting 1-5.
2) What happens when traditional powers fall off the map? Enter a flurry of mid-majors. Led by the A-10 (5) and the Mountain West (3), Mid-majors are claiming 11 at-large spots. A much higher total than the 4 that were selected last year. Mid-major locks include Butler, Northern Iowa, BYU, Xavier, New Mexico, Temple, and Rhode Island. Teams that should be in include UAB, Charlotte, and Gonzaga. Teams on the bubble with work left to do are UNLV, Richmond, San Diego St., Siena, Wichita St., Dayton, Cornell, St. Mary’s, Old Dominion, Utah St., Tulsa, and Northeastern.
The release of the Bracket Buster schedule feeds right into this conversation and here are the games that will impact the bubble. Friday 2/19, Old Dominion at Northern Iowa: This game means a lot more to ODU than it does to UNI as it pertains to selection Sunday. Saturday 2/20, Siena at Butler: repeat previous sentence with Siena in place of ODU. Saturday 2/20, Wichita St. at Utah St.: Both teams are fighting to make a case to the committee. A road win for Wichita St. would be huge for the RPI, and this will be the last and best chance for Utah St. to impress the committee.
3) Don’t look now, but Arizona is back in the mix. The team that killed my perfect prediction last year is sitting in a similar situation it was in 11 months ago. At 3.7%, the Wildcats are the ninth team out in this week’s prediction. However, at 3.1%, they were the eleventh team out last year. Is there something about the Arizona streak of tourney appearances that gets them an at-large nod? I claimed there was last year and I am nervous about it this year. To make things worse, the Pac-10 is awful and Arizona could easily finish second in the conference with a 12-6 record (18-12 overall). Will a second place Pac-10 team get a spot over a sixth place A-10 team? Yes. Do they deserve it? Not right now.