Wednesday, February 08, 2006

First LOCKS of the Season

I. Bubble Balloons to Fourteen Again
First, some congratulations are in order. Duke, Texas, and UConn have achieved LOCK status at this point. These three could lose out and still get in. All have 20+ wins and all have insured at least a .500 record in their conference. They have lofty RPI ratings and a sackful of quality wins. More teams will be added in the coming weeks. LOCK teams are designated by all capital letters in the Lockbox.

In the last few weeks, we have welcomed preseason powers Kentucky, Oklahoma, Louisville, Boston College, and Syracuse as Bubble Boys. Oklahoma and Boston College have graduated to "Projected In" status. The status of Kentucky are Syracuse are still undecided and they remain on the good side of the Bubble...for now. Louisville has painted itself into a "must-win" corner and could be put out of their misery with a couple of more losses. This week, we add a whopping triumvirate of hoops powers to the Bubble Boy club. Let us once again roll out the plush, red, bubbly carpet to Arizona, Wisconsin, and Washington. All three slid backward onto the Bubble this week with some lackluster play.

1. With Missouri State's loss and Cincinnati's win, I moved the Bearcats into the Bears' slot. UC is an interesting case. They clearly did enough with Armein Kirkland to give them a solid NCAA profile. The question now is how much do they have to do to keep their slot without Kirkland? Simply win a few games? Totally reprove themselves? They will be an interesting case to follow.

2. In the last two weeks, Kansas has went from off the radar to "projected in." Fourteen days ago, it looked like KU was in real danger. Since then they have swept aside anyone who dared get in their path.

3. Is Stanford the new Kansas? The Cardinal have won 8 of 10 including five in a row, but they have many early season transgressions for which they must atone. They are not there yet, but I did put them in the Lockbox as a "bubble out." They might be able to achieve full redemption if they take care of Cal and Gonzaga this week.

4. Kentucky nor Arizona has missed the tournament since the early 1990s. Both streaks are in REAL danger unless these two can pick up some quality wins.

5. Historically, the Bubble hovers around the 9-14 range in Jan and early Feb, but will be down to 5-7 slots (maybe less) come selection Sunday. Just FYI.

The Bubble by the Numbers

--31 Automatic Bids. That will not change this season.
--34 At-Large Bids. That also is a static number.
--13 at-large bids look taken at this point. There are 23 teams listed as "virtual locks," but ten of them are conference leaders. That means that they account for 13 at-large bids. Consult the Lockbox and view the teams listed in black. It is hard to imagine any of those teams missing at this point. This could change, but most if not all of these teams are not going anywhere.
--Eight other teams look pretty safe, but we need a little more confirmation from Boston College, Kansas, Oklahoma, Creighton, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, Marquette and Bucknell. This accounts for seven bids since Bucknell is the leader of the Patriot League.
--That leaves 14 bids for the Bubble Boys, which is up from 11 last week. 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
--Tennessee 75, at Kentucky 67. UK now trails Tennessee by THREE full games in the SEC East. It's now Tennessee and Florida ahead of the pack in the East. And Kentucky STILL is looking for a quality win. That win over West VA was a life age ago.
--at Maryland 76, Virginia 65. Cavs led most of the way before collapsing at the end.
--Duke 87, at North Carolina 83. Great comeback by the Heels; greater resiliency from J.J. Redick.
--at Northern Iowa 68, Wichita State 56. UNI and Creighton now tied atop the MVC.
--Villanova 71, at Saint Joseph's 58. Nova blitzed the Hawks in the second half, 49-24.
--at SIU 66, Missouri State 64. The Bears really could have used this one. This keeps SIU from slipping onto the bubble.

III. Tonight's GOI
--Vanderbilt at Alabama. Two SEC bubblers in a interdivisional contest.
--Temple at Charlotte. Two A-10 hopeful on the bad side of the bubble.
--Syracuse at UConn. This would reestablish the Orange in a big way.
--Iowa State at Kansas State. Hey, Cyclones! Do you want to Dance? You do? Then you have to win these types of games.
--Arkansas at LSU. Hogs need it more. LSU looking to strengthen their seed.
--NC State at Miami-FL. BIG game for the Canes. This would go a long way on their resume.
--Kansas at Nebraska. Huskers need it more, but KU is rolling right now...and they THROTTLED Nebraska by 42 (!) a couple of weeks ago.
--Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. In-state rivalry alert! OSU must win to buoy slim NCAA hopes.
--Air Force at San Diego State. A loss here puts the Falcons a full three games back of the Aztecs.
--Colorado at Texas A&M. Buffs have to win these types of games to stay in the bracket.
--UAB at UTEP. Two RED HOT teams out of CUSA. UAB is 12-1 (lost to Memphis) in their last 13 while UTEP has won 6 of 7. This is for second place outright.
--Indiana at Wisconsin. Badgers are in danger of falling out of the bracket completely if they don't right the ship soon.