Bubble Watch: Clemson, Michigan Bolster Their Cases
As conference tournaments heat up around the country, teams have just a few more chances to improve their standing in the NCAA Tournament race. We look at the winners and losers from Thursday’s action.
Clemson: With a 7-1 win against Louisville at the ACC Tournament, you have to believe that the Tigers have all but sewn up a spot as an at-large team. Currently, they sit inside the top 40 in RPI and boast a 16-16 mark against ACC competition. That’s an at-large resume under just about any circumstances, but in a year with a very soft bubble, Clemson should feel safe.
Connecticut: With an RPI inside the top 30, UConn was probably already in good shape for an at-large bid should they fall short of the automatic bid, but with wins against Houston and Wichita State to push their record to 2-0 so far this week, the Huskies more or less sealed the deal, despite finishing the regular season at 12-12 in the American Athletic Conference.
Florida and Missouri: These two teams made quick exits from the SEC Tournament, leaving their postseason hopes hanging in the balance. As bids were stolen and other bubble teams improved their odds as the week went on, the thinking was that they would be two of the easiest teams to lop off a shrinking bubble. After all, each won just 13 regular season SEC games and went 0-1 in the conference tournament. Instead, if anything, the bubble seems to have softened for now, which is creating a more hospitable situation for both.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs helped themselves with a 4-3 win against Nevada to open the Mountain West Tournament, bolstering what is already a very solid at-large case. Despite some negative marks, such as a 1-3 record against the RPI top 50, a regular season title and an RPI inside the top 40 should be enough to get Fresno State in the field, especially with the soft bubble.
Michigan: The Wolverines may have saved their season with a 5-4, walk-off win against Illinois at the Big Ten Tournament with Jordan Nwogu playing hero and delivering a two-out, two-run, game-winning double. Not only does it continue to give them a shot to win the automatic bid at the end of the weekend, but it keeps hope alive that they could put together an at-large resume. The win moves Michigan inside the top 45 in RPI and improves its mark against the RPI top 50 to 5-10. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Minnesota upset Indiana later in the day, which takes away the opportunity for another top-50 win against the Hoosiers on Friday. But as the bubble continues to degrade, a top-45 RPI alone might be enough for the second-place finishers in the Big Ten.
Brigham Young: BYU is a regional-quality club. That’s why it has been ranked for several weeks now. But the Cougars are toying with not quite putting together a regional-quality resume if they fall short of winning the West Coast Conference. With a 4-1 loss to Loyola Marymount, BYU is one loss away from putting that resume up for judgment by the committee. An RPI of 40 is good enough in most cases, but the lack of high-end wins, as evidenced by an 0-2 record against RPI top-50 opponents, could be a problem.
Oklahoma: With a run rule-shortened 15-3 loss to Texas Christian at the Big 12 Tournament, the Sooners’ season is most likely over. They came into the week very much on the bubble with an 11-13 record in Big 12 play, and that mark has only moved backward with a pair of losses this week in Oklahoma City. Like Virginia, Oklahoma will hope a soft bubble proves to be its saving grace, but with a 4-12 record against the RPI top 50 and an RPI around 40, which is solid but not enough on its own to overcome the negatives, it just doesn’t have a lot going for it compared to some others that will also be in the mix.
Texas State: The Bobcats really didn’t help themselves in going 0-2 in the Sun Belt Tournament. They still have the regular season title as a resume item, but the RPI, which was a plus for much of the second half of the season, has evaporated. With the loss, that figure is now north of 50, and it’s increasingly unlikely that they end up getting the benefit of the doubt.
Virginia: The Cavaliers lost, 10-3, to Miami at the ACC Tournament, finishing off their stay in Durham with an 0-2 record. They did a lot of work at the end of the season to get back into the discussion, most notably winning a series against Louisville in the next-to-last weekend of the regular season, but that work might have been undone by the lackluster showing this week that pushed their record against ACC competition to just 14-18. A soft bubble might offer a reprieve when it’s all said and done, but Virginia will certainly be sweating out Selection Monday.
Wake Forest: The Demons Deacons came into the week clearly on the outside looking in for an at-large bid. A 7-4 win against Florida State on Tuesday at the ACC Tournament gave them a window of opportunity, but a 6-5 defeat at the hands of North Carolina State on Thursday, which eliminates Wake from the tournament, probably dashes its hopes altogether. An RPI in the 50s won’t do much for the committee, nor will a 6-11 mark against the RPI top 50.