NCAA Looking Ahead: How Big Is The Bubble?

By Mel Greenberg

  It's two weeks since the Guru was supposed to find things sorted out at the end of the first half of conference play in terms of being able to look ahead and get some idea of the dyamics of the NCAA field.

 Well, it hasn't exactly turned out that way. Regular-season conference races from most places that will produce mega-member representative numbers are still undetermined and there is a good chance that many conference tournaments will have their share of upsets as in recent seasons.

 In some cases, particularly the perceived one-team leagues, it won't make a difference. Also, even if say Oklahoma doesn't win the Big !2, for example, the Sooners are considered in the lock list for the NCAAs and probably the winner will have been on the initial list, also.

 This particlar drill is just to see what are we dealing with and before the Guru gets an instructional reminder email from his friends running the NCAA, he is only using conferences as reference points to compile the two lists -- the locks and the others for discussion -- hence the bubble.

 The Guru used conference standings and RPI reports as of Tuesday morning to identify teams with full awareness that much has yet to occur. It should also be noted that a conservative approach was taken and some teams were thrown to the bubble group with full knowledge they would be taken quickly, perhaps, but they were placed in that column to see how they hold up against other hopefuls.

  Rutgers, for example, is too much in flux for now to be called a lock. Obviously, the Scarlet Knights on paper would probably compare favorably off the nitty gritty sheets against teams playing less rugged schedules. But at some point won-loss does matter and just because they are a host site in the first two rounds does not guarantee anything.
  The NCAA took its lumps at Penn State several years to maintain the integrity of the process, though the Nittany Lions were in worse shape.

  Hey, one can always use Villanova as the local host in Piscataway, M.J. And, yes, the Guru knows that while the Wildcats are at the moment on the lock list, they can unlock themselves and move to the bubble.

   Also, in the discussion list, the Guru tossed a bunch of Atlantic Ten teams in that direction just to see how whoever emerges as the second or third best team compares with others. The race is too fluid after Xavier, which is considered a lock. Temple, for example, starts a four-game run against the top four teams in the conference with a trip to Charlotte. Obviously, if the Owls don't do well, they better be a wrong-winner of the A-10 tournament.

 Michigan State was on the lock list but then held off because the Spartans have losses to St. Bonaventure, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech, two of which are on the bubble list.

 More teams than will probably make the field from the Mountain West were put over into the discussion list in the same manner as the A-10 group.

 Incidentally, during the recent Mock Bracket exercise in Indianapolis it was noted that it never really comes down to a specific last team taken. Usually it is a case of 8-for-4 or similar mathematical shoehorn to determine the final cut.

 So here is the lock list, whose teams will not be indentified by conference but appear in such a manner that it should be obvious. Conference teams from the so-called one-team leagues, cann use say mid-major or less?, were not included except in a few cases where the team seems worthy of bubble discussion if it does not prevail in its postseason tournament.

  So let's start with the locks.

   Florida State
   North Carolina
   Kansas State
   Texas A&M
   Iowa State
   Notre Dame
   Ohio State
    Utah slot holder at worst)
    Arizona State

     That gives us 27 meaning six slots would come from the bubble
     However, eight of these have the potential to be automatic bid winners out of their conferences unless real darkhorses make it through the field.

    So, in essence, you want the right eight to win to help your cause if you are a bubble team.

    So now, let's move to the Guru's bubble:

   Boston College
   Wake Forest
    Georgia Tech
   St. Bonaventure
    George Washington
   Texas Tech
   Oklahoma State
    Michigan State
   Virginia Commonwealth
    Wisconsin-Green Bay
    San Diego State
     New Mexico
     South Dakota State
    Mississippi State
    Middle Tennessee

     This group adds up to 27. However, four have the potential to win the so-called one-team leagues, which would now make it 23 for 14, needing a reduction of nine.

      One cluster the Guru mentioned at the top of this post has five teams of which at least three will eliminate themselves. Two or three other clusters could also be reduced by two teams, each, over the next two weeks.
   So, if it all shakes out, we'd be talking about enough off the board to make it almost a perfect fit EXCEPT there are teams not on the radar here that still have a chance to make a late run.

   Several years ago when Villanova emerged as the surprise Big East winner -- they were a lock that year -- Miami went into the conference tournament with an 80 RPI. However, the Hurricanes pulled a couple of upsets and had a decent enough kick down the stretch to make an at-large slot.

  Remember, this post relies on everything happening as it is expected, but the reality is it never does.

  We'll return to this discussion just before the conference playoffs start as well as along the way look at the wild non-UConn race for the top seeds.

   -- Mel