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A new twist means a new team

Posted by jrswift on March 6, 2007

Our friendly neighborhood “bubble teams” had been living a charmed life this week but things turned on them a bit tonight. Butler lost their Horizon League final to Wright St. and that means both team will be dancing come Sunday. By my count, that means we’ve got 60 teams that are either locks or “in” right now. And that means that there will be one less spot available come Sunday. If this happens to Memphis or Nevada or both this weekend, there will be a lot of disappointed players and fans.

Tonight we are going to take a look at five teams that are under consideration for at-large bids and talk briefly about some key conference tournament matchups this weekend.

First up is Illinois. You can all look up the computer numbers which are good but not overwhelming. Let’s take a look at some key games that may determine the Illini’s fate. They beat Michigan St. and Indiana at home, two fairly marginal at-large teams and won at bubble team Bradley. There isn’t a lot more here that is really striking. Other than the Bradley game, their best win away from home was over Missouri in St. Louis. They didn’t beat any good teams in their league away from home but have no bad losses either. The only teams to beat them in Champagne were Maryland, Wisconsin and Ohio St. Illinois, upon closer examination, is exactly what they appear to be: one of the top 35-50 teams in the country. Nothing really stands out. Their record is not that impressive but they played a lot of good teams so that might be expected. The only teams to defeat them who are currently outside the top 50 in the RPI are Michigan and Iowa. If they had won one or both of those games, this team would be a slam dunk. As it is, they are probably in right now but they could still play their way out or lose out to another hot team. They play Penn St. in the first round of the Big 10 tournament and they had better win that one. If they do, they’ll take on Indiana. Win that and they would move to “in” status…lose and we are right back where we started.

Staying in the Big 10, let’s now look at Purdue. Computer numbers are similar to Illinois though their RPI is closer to 50 than 30. They have beaten three top 50 teams: Michigan St., Illinois and Virginia. Again, none of these are great teams and all those wins were at home. In fact, Purdue has been a great home team, losing only once and that was to top-ranked Ohio St. On the other hand, the road has not been their friend. Their best road-win was at Oklahoma and they defeated only Penn St. in the Big 10. Their losses include not-so-bad ones to Ga. Tech, Butler, Indiana, Wisconsin or even Michigan but also to Indiana St. and Minnesota. Again, if you turn those two bad road losses around, this team is almost certainly in the field. They did beat Illinois but that alone won’t get them in over Illinois. That game was at home and there is no reason to think they would have won on the road…none at all. They have a dangerous first round matchup in the Big 10 tournament against a pretty good Iowa team. Win that and they’ll be playing Ohio St. Again, they’d better win that first game or they are likely out. Win both…and they are probably in.

Michigan is our last Big 10 bubble team and the one on the shakiest ground. They need to win some games this weekend or I have a hard time making an argument for them. Computer rankings are right around 50 so that isn’t going to help much. They did little to impress during their non-conference schedule though they did beat NCAA-bound Davidson. They were thoroughly embarrassed against both UCLA and Georgetown and also lost to North Carolina St. They didn’t play badly in the league but their only road wins were against Northwestern and Minnesota. They held serve pretty well at home, beating Illinois, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan St. and losing to Ohio St. and Iowa. While I think Iowa is a better team right now than their numbers indicate, that still isn’t a good loss. Their record is not much different than Purdue or Illinois but there is just less indication that this team can play at a high level away from home. They play Minnesota in the opening road of the tournament but winning that one won’t help them. They’ll get one more shot against Ohio St. if they win and winning that game might be their only chance.

Now we are going to look at the two bubble teams from the ACC. The two look a great deal alike and so we’ll compare and contrast them. The interesting thing is that they’ll play each other in the ACC tournament and, while the winner might be in, the loser is probably out. Florida St. is an interesting case. They’ve have been up and down all year but, when they’ve up, they’ve been pretty impressive. They have wins against Florida, Duke and Maryland. They also beat Virginia Tech and defeated Providence in the non-conference. They played a lot of bad teams during that non-conference but also visited Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. In those games, they were pretty awful. Though the conference season included a win at Duke, it also included being swept by BC, Georgia Tech and Clemson. They didn’t really lose to a bad team all year but they lost quite a bit and, whether they won enough to make up for it, is debatable.

Clemson is more a tale of two seasons. They started out 17-0 and it seemed unimaginable that they would be sweating out a bid. But things came unglued. They finished 4-9 and managed to lose at Wake Forest in the process. While there is no shame in losing to Maryland, Virginia and Duke at home, it often seemed like the wheels were coming off for this team. Finishing badly does not impress the selection committee but there are a lot of things to like about Clemson. They were a good road team, defeating Old Dominion, Florida St and Virginia Tech, among others. They have a number of solid non-conference wins over other “bubble-type” teams like Appalachian St., Mississippi St. and Georgia. And, even during their stretch of losses, they were almost always competitive. They also swept Florida St. during the regular season and, if they can beat them in the ACC tournament, I think it would be hard to keep them out of the field.

In addition to Wright St., we also congratulate Oral Roberts (Mid-Continent) and North Texas (Sun Belt) for earning their invitations to the Big Dance. Check back in tomorrow night when we’ll profile five more teams and look at any big news from the large number of tournament games tomorrow. We’ll also welcome two more teams to the field with conference championship games in the Big Sky and Northeast conferences. Until then, be well.


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