Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bubblin' Over

I. Bubble Boys
First, I would like to extend an official Bubble Boy welcome to preseason darlings Oklahoma and Kentucky. Oklahoma was a consensus top 10 preseason team and Kentucky was top 15 and the preseason pick to win the SEC. At this point, both teams look like great NIT draws.

Oklahoma: 77 RPI; 9-4 overall; 0-2 in conf; 0-1 vs RPI top 50; 1-2 vs RPI top 100; lost at Nebraska and at home to Missouri

Kentucky: 33 RPI; 10-5 overall: 0-1 in conf; 0-4 vs RPI top 50; 4-4 vs RPI top 100; lost by 26 to Indiana, 27 to #119 RPI Kansas, and at home to Vandy

Both teams are tailspinning. In Kentucky's case, last night's loss is particularly puzzling because Randolph Morris made his return and played inspired, effective basketball...and Vandy (who did not play that well) still ended a 31-game losing streak in Rupp. The 'Dores collected their first win ever in that venue. Kelvin Sampson and Tubby Smith are both highly respected coaches, but both teams are in freefall right now. Weekend losses will almost certainly keep them out of the bracket on Monday (of course, I had Oklahoma out this past Monday).

Have a look at the updated Lockbox to see what the conference bubble breakdown looks like.

1. SIU and Manhattan currently lead their conferences, so they get the top-slot auto bids, even though both would likely miss as at-large teams. SIU has lost to Monmouth and D-II Alaska-Anchorage and Manhattan has only 1 top 100 RPI win.

2. George Mason has been added to the Lockbox as a team to watch.

3. The Big Ten looks pretty cut and dried as of today. Michigan seems to be the only real bubble team at this point. If Northwestern wins a couple of more games, they might creep into the conversation. The top six have really separated themselves at the midway point of the season (Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa).

4. The Big East and SEC are a mess. Who knows what will shake out of those two conferences. The MVC knows it has six good teams, but not all six are going to the NCAA. Should be a dogfight in the Valley.

The Bubble by the Numbers
--31 Automatic Bids. That will not change this season.
--34 At-Large Bids. That also is a static number.
--12 at-large bids look taken at this point. There are 20 teams listed as "virtual locks," but eight of them are conference leaders. That means they account for 12 at-large bids. Consult the Lockbox and view the teams listed in black. It is hard to imagine any of those teams missing, although it is still early. This could change, but most if not all of these teams are not going anywhere.
--11 other bids look pretty safe, but we need a little more confirmation from Boston College, Wake Forest, Maryland, Louisville, Syracuse, Washington, Tennessee, George Washington, Northern Iowa, Missouri State, and Nevada.
--That leaves 11 bids for the Bubble Boys. The Bubble Boys who made it in are in green and those left out are in red in the Lockbox.

II. Last Night's GOI
--NC State 78, at Boston College 60. I'm starting to get a little concerned about BC. They are now 0-3 in ACC play and their RPI has dipped to 49. Another loss and they will have to be considered a bubble team.
--Vanderbilt 57, at Kentucky 52. Not only did Vandy end the 31-game losing streak in Rupp, but they did it without playing their best basketball.
--Wisconsin 64, at Minnesota 62. The Badgers led 25-6 at one point, before frittering away that entire cushion. Per usual, Wisconsin made tough plays down the stretch when they needed it.

III. Tonight's GOI (BIG Bubble Night)
--LSU at Arkansas. HUGE match up in the SEC West. Someone is going to win the West, and my money is on one of these two.
--Alabama at Auburn. In-state rivalry alert! Also pretty important; actually every game in the SEC West is important because anyone could win it.
--Wichita State at Bradley. Winner climbs a rung or two on the Bubble Boy ladder.
--Kansas at Colorado. The Jayhawks need to back up that good home performance against Kentucky with a win. The Buffs just missed being in the bracket on Monday.
--Maryland at Duke. Always interesting.
--Indiana at Michigan State. The Spartans simply cannot start 0-3 in conference can they? Can they?
--Creighton at Northern Iowa. The Blue Jays are without star Nate Funk for the rest of the season (shoulder).
--Syracuse at Notre Dame. Good test for the Orange and a game that ND desperately needs for its resume.
--Texas A&M at Oklahoma State. Whoever wins, it will go a long way in the Big 12 race and in NCAA hopes.
--Villanova at Rutgers. The RAC is always a tough test and Rutgers has a competitive squad.
--Marquette at Seton Hall. Big bubble implications.
--Iona at St. Peter's. Two of the MAAC big three (Manhattan).
--Georgia at Tennessee. Felton's defense vs. Pearl's offense.
--Georgetown at West Virginia. Both need it badly, though G'town probably needs it more.