NCAA Bubble Update: Last Four In, First Four Out, Next Four Out, Games To Watch

Here is the updated look at the NCAA Tournament bubble, as of Thursday morning …

Last Four In

UAB (22-5; 10-3 C-USA; RPI: 32; non-conf. RPI: 18): The Blazers are just hanging on right now, thanks to their early season home wins over lock Butler and fellow bubble team Cincinnati. After Wednesday’s win at UCF, UAB possesses a 11-3 road/neutral record, but that’s a bit deceptive, as the losses came against three of their best four road opponents — Kent State, Memphis and Virginia — none of whom are close to the field. The Blazers will have to close strong to stay in. While Saturday’s home game against Tulane is winnable, the final week — featuring a home date with Memphis and road trip to UTEP, who beat UAB at Bartow Arena — is far more crucial.

Connecticut (17-11; 7-8 Big East; RPI: 42; non-conf. RPI: 13): The Huskies claimed a second straight Monday night win over a top ten opponent, defeating No. 8 West Virginia in Hartford. Of course, wins over the Mountaineers and last week’s victim, Villanova, wouldn’t have looked so good had the Huskies not beaten Rutgers on Saturday as well.  UConn’s has one last home game, against Louisville Saturday, and a closing road swing at Notre Dame and USF that could help them improve on a lackluster 3-8 road/neutral record, while hurting two of their bubble competitors in the process.

San Diego State (18-8; 9-5 MWC; RPI: 38; Non-conf. RPI: 40):The Aztecs are here for one reason, and one reason only. Unlike most of their bubble brethren, they’re winning games more often than not, going 8-4 in their last 12, and 4-2 in their last six. Plus, they’re four points away from owning a 10-game win streak, as they lost to BYU by 2 at home and dropped a 2-point OT game at New Mexico. However, the Aztecs will wish they had those two games back after Wednesday’s loss at BYU, which makes them is 2-5 against the RPI Top 50. The two wins are home victories over the Lobos and UNLV. The Aztecs then take a week off before they close with a winnable home game against Colorado State and a road trip to hapless Air Force.

Marquette (17-9; 9-6 Big East; RPI: 63; Non-conf. RPI: 134): The Golden Eagles exemplify the “revolving door” aspect of this year’s Bubble. I had them out after their Thursday home loss to Pitt, and now they’re back in after a huge win at Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon. They hold on to their place after an OT win over St. John’s Wednesday. Marquette stands at 3-0 against Big East bubble teams with that win. Plus, they own a home win over Georgetown and neutral site victory over Xavier. On the minus side, the Golden Eagles’ road/neutral record now stands at 6-6, and they can get over .500 this week with a third straight road win at Seton Hall Sunday. Losses to N.C. State (RPI 116) and DePaul (182) are real blemishes, but will fade into the background with more victories. 


First Four Out

Dayton (18-9; 7-6 A-10; RPI: 44; Non-conf. RPI: 17): On Monday, I said the Flyers were another “revolving door” team, after a loss at Duquesne Sunday knocked them out. The door is now pretty much shut and locked (if you can do such a thing with a revolving door after Wednesday night’s loss at Temple. UD’s road/neutral record now stands at 5-8, with the best win coming against Georgia Tech in Puerto Rico way back on November 19 and the best true road victory coming against George Mason on December 8.     

Cincinnati (16-11; 7-8 Big East; RPI: 57; Non-conf. RPI: 42): In an ideal world, the Bearcats would be in over UConn, who they swept. However, after their loss to Marquette Sunday, the Bearcats are 5-7 in their last 12, like the Huskies, but 2-4 in their last six, granted one of those two wins came at UConn. On the other hand, can you guess the last time Mick Cronin’s team won a game against an opponent who’s a lock or near lock? If you said, “UC’s back-to-back victories over Vanderbilt and Maryland in Maui,” you are correct. The Bearcats get a chance to change that fact at West Virginia Saturday. The Bearcats did manage to beat DePaul at home on Wednesday to set up the key weekend clash.

Charlotte (19-8; 9-4 A-10; RPI: 55; Non-conf. RPI: 60): Just two weeks ago the 49ers were in the middle of a seven-game win streak, but Saturday’s 81-67 home loss to Xavier makes string that seem far away. The loss was the 49ers’ third straight defeat, and second consecutive at home. While a loss to the Musketeers was understandable, Wednesday’s six-point setback at the hands of Duquesne was less so. Bobby Lutz’s team will try to get to 20 victories this weekend, as they hammered St. Joseph’s to end their skid Wednesday to win number 19 and visit George Washington Saturday. Next week, they have a chance to grab two quality wins to close the season, as they visit Rhode Island and host Richmond, a team they already defeated at the Robins Center. Charlotte’s 9-5 road/neutral mark may yet be a major boost, especially if they can beat the Rams in Kingston. 

Mississippi State (20-8; 8-5 SEC; RPI: 64; Non-conf. RPI: 79): The SEC West leaders find themselves here by virtue of their sweep of in-state rival Mississippi. The Bulldogs’ resume is a bit thin otherwise, with a win over Old Dominion in South Padre being the non-conference highlight, and losses at Western Kentucky and against Rider in Starkville major blemishes. MSU’s only real shot at a resume-building win comes March 6 at home against Tennessee. The Bulldogs topped Alabama Wednesday and next visit fading South Carolina on Saturday.


Next Four Out

Mississippi (18-9; 6-7 SEC; RPI: 66; Non-conf. RPI: 39): The Rebels’ marquee win is better than their archrivals, as they defeated Kansas State by 12 in Puerto Rico before Thanksgiving. Still, not managing to beat the Bulldogs’ once is an issue, considering that’s the difference in the race for a bad division at the moment. Three straight losses, with two coming at home, didn’t help. (See Charlotte above.) However, the Rebels’ were able to beat Auburn Wednesday to end the skid. A road game at tricky Alabama is on the schedule for Saturday, followed by more SEC West SOS-crushing goodness, as Ole Miss has LSU and Arkansas on the slate before the SEC Tournament. 

Notre Dame (18-10; 7-8 Big East; RPI: 80; Non-conf. RPI: 83): The Irish snapped their three game skid Wednesday, crushing No. 12 Pitt to give them their first win without the still-injured Luke Harangody. Given that the Irish’s three setbacks without Harangody were by a total of six points, you have to imagine that Notre Dame would have won at least two of them if he was healthy. Expect the Committee to keep this in mind, especially as the All-Big East forward should return soon. The Fighting Irish’s closing stretch provides them with more opportunities, as they visit Georgetown Saturday before closing with UConn at home and Marquette on the road. Notre Dame may need to win three of the four, thanks to home losses against Loyola Marymount, Rutgers and St. John’s; a lackluster 1-5 mark against RPI Top 50 teams; and an awful 2-7 road/neutral mark. 

Arizona State (19-8; 9-5 Pac-10; RPI: 58; Non-conf. RPI: 58): The problem for any Pac-10 team that wants to turn itself into an at-large candidate is the schedule. The Sun Devils next travel to the Bay Area, where they’ll face Stanford Thursday and league leaders Cal on Saturday before hosting the LA schools to close the regular season. While the game with the Golden Bears is a must win for any at-large hopes, ASU cannot afford to drop any of their other remaining games. The only win the Sun Devils can hang their hat on at the moment is a home victory over San Diego State on December 19, their lone top 50 win in five tries. 

Washington (17-9; 8-7 Pac-10; RPI: 65; Non-conf. RPI: 24): The Huskies do own home wins over Texas A&M and Cal, but December losses at Texas Tech and against Georgetown in Anaheim are now missed opportunities in a weak bubble year. A sweep at the hands of tourney-ineligible USC, with the home loss coming Thursday doesn’t help either. In terms of building a late case, the Huskies’ schedule is even less helpful than the Sun Devils’. This week, UW travels to Pullman as they attempt to sweep the hoops’ Apple Cup. Next week, a trip to the Oregon schools awaits. Three away games is not the way for a team that owns a 1-6 record in true road games to close. 

 

On The Fringe

Minnesota (16-11; 7-8 Big Ten; RPI: 76; Non-conf. RPI: 64): The Golden Gophers’ chances took a hit when they couldn’t beat No. 3 Purdue, who played most of the game without Robbie Hummel, Wednesday night in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers are now 4-9 this season against the RPI Top 100. Three of those wins came at The Barn, where they defeated Ohio State, Wisconsin and now-out of the picture Northwestern. Minnesota’s nine-point triumph over Butler in Anaheim is useful, but the losses to Portland and Texas A&M that followed aren’t. Neither was the road loss at Miami that followed the California trip. Losses to Indiana (in Bloomington) and Michigan (at home) sting, but the Gophers avenged the IU loss Saturday and can avenge the loss to the Wolverines on March 3 in Ann Arbor. Minnesota’s final chance to make an impression against a Tournament-quality opponent before the Big Ten Tournament comes at Illinois Saturday.

St. Louis (17-9; 9-4 A-10; RPI: 84; Non-conf. RPI: 194): There are two reasons why the Billikens aren’t closer to the field: their 3-7 road/neutral record, and the fact their best non-conference win came against Big 12 bottom feeder Nebraska. Wednesday’s home loss to Xavier may have done them in, even with a home game against Temple coming up. SLU also visits Dayton to close the regular season, but that one looks like it could be for NIT seeding at this point. 

Seton Hall (16-10; 7-8 Big East; RPI: 50; Non-conf. RPI: 71): Remember that string of four games at the end of 2009/start of 2010, where the Pirates lost heartbreakers, including OT games against West Virginia and Virginia Tech? Hall fans are undoubtedly wishing they’d won a couple of those right about now, as those wins would be major boosts to an OK resume. But they didn’t, meaning the Pirates own a 2-9 mark against the RPI Top 50 and a 3-7 road/neutral mark. Those stats aren’t major selling points. One thing Seton Hall has done this season is prove that they can lose to good teams, and they won’t get much of a chance to reverse that down the stretch. Tuesday, they beat Rutgers in the first of two late meetings. Their game against Marquette is their final one against a tourney contender, as they close with a road trip to Rutgers and Providence. 

South Florida (16-11; Big East 6-9; RPI: 67; Non-conf. RPI: 67): The Bulls looked like they had turned the corner with a four-game win streak in late January/early February, a run capped by a win at Georgetown on February 3. But that was a mirage, as they’ve since dropped three of four, including an ugly 16-point loss to St. John’s at home on Saturday. The Bulls seem to have an issue with playing to the level of their competition, as they’re 3-4 vs. the RPI Top 50, and 2-6 against teams rated between 51 and 100. USF couldn’t grab another marquee road win, as they were hammered at Villanova Wednesday. A home game with Providence is on deck for Saturday before the Bulls close with a roadie at DePaul and home game with a UConn team who’s also likely to be desperate for a victory.    


Bubble Games To Watch This Week

TV information from Matt Sarz’ College Sports on TV site.

Thursday
Arizona at California, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Saturday
Notre Dame at Georgetown, 12 p.m. ET (CBS Regional)
Mississippi at Alabama, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Cincinnati at West Virginia, 2 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Arizona State at California, 3 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)
Kansas at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)
VCU at Old Dominion, 4 p.m. ET (CSN Regional)
Maryland at Virgina Tech, 4 p.m. ET (Raycom Regional/Full Court)
Florida at Georgia, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network/Full Court)
Mississippi State at South Carolina, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Charlotte at George Washington, 6 p.m. ET (MASN)
Massachusetts at Dayton, 7 p.m. ET (WHIO/CSN Regional)
Minnesota at Illinois, 8 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Washington at Washington State, 10 p.m. ET (FSN Northwest/FCS Pacific)

Sunday
Northwestern at Penn State, 12 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Marquette at Seton Hall, 12 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court)
Richmond at Xavier, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Louisville at Connecticut, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Clemson at Florida State, 5:30 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)

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