You know what's weird? I'm incredibly relaxed now. I suppose I should thank Tubby for refusing to call a play for the final five minutes of the game and for the players to commit 5 turnovers without hitting the rim with a shot once down the stretch. Really though, coming down to the end didn't it seem like Michigan State's gameplan was "keep attacking the rim" while the Gophers game plan was "let's use the entire shot clock and hope we get enough stops so time runs out before the Spartans catch up to us"? But I've moved on. I feel good today. No Gopher tournament stress bugging me. Even the pinched nerve in my back feels better. Nice.
The sports world does move on, however, and these ads aren't going to click themselves to make me some bank, so I have to write about something. Luckily there are two awesome things right around the corner - The NCAA Tournament and the start of baseball season. I thought I would write about baseball, tearing apart Twins' strategies like this one (why why why why would you hamstring your bench by carrying a third catcher because you're worried about a situation that almost never happens and really isn't that big of a deal when it does happen? So Twinsthink here it's almost criminal) or discussing MLB Season Win Totals (Reds over 86.5 and Padres under 73.5 are locks), but it turns out my brain is only slowly moving over into baseball, so first we have to deal with the NCAA Tournament, and that means another Bubble Watch.
Yes, I realize this is far less meaningless now for any Gopher fan, but that also means it's that much more enjoyable to write/read because you don't have to stress out about it. Failure is relaxing.
Locks from my last bubble watch who stayed locks (rationale for some of the more questionable ones here is at that link) (34):
ACC (4): Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia
Big East (6): Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, UCONN, Notre Dame
Big 10 (5): Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin
Big 12 (4): Missouri, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor
Pac 12 (1): Cal - although they close with three road games and a loss in any makes them shakier
SEC (3): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt
Mountain West (3): UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico
Atlantic 10 (2): Temple, St. Louis
Others (6): St. Mary's, Wichita State, Creighton, Gonzaga, Murray State, Long Beach (both Memphis and Southern Miss are back on the bubble
Teams that have moved to lock status in the last week(4):
Big East (1): Seton Hall. Yes, that win over Georgetown was that big, much like a Gopher win over Michigan State would have been. An RPI of 30 and a SOS of 26 to go with an 8-8 record against the Top 100 is a solid resume. Plus, assuming they don't lose both of their last two (vs. Rutgers, @DePaul) the Pirates are a 20-win team.
Big 12 (1): Kansas State. Funny how I called K-State a terrible team in my last bubble watch and since then they've won at Baylor and at Missouri. That's two road wins against RPI Top 15 teams in the last week, which also gives them "how you finish the season cred" and you know those two victories are going to stick in the minds of the committee.
SEC (1): Alabama. More than the win over Tennessee, the announcement that JaMychal Green was being reinstated is what bumps Alabama back up to a lock (even better, they knocked off Arkansas on the road tonight without him). Without Green they were certainly capable of going on a 4-game slide to end the year and miss the tournament, but with him back I don't see it, especially with Auburn and Ole Miss still left on the slate.
Others (1): Harvard. It's time. The Crimson are now a game and a half ahead of Penn with an RPI in the mid-30s, a 6-2 record against the RPI Top 100 (thanks to a sweep of Yale who now ranks #100), and only one bad loss (to Fordham). Barring a monster collapse, I don't see them getting stiffed.
That gives us 38 "locks" according to me. With 37 at-large bids, assuming one of the lock teams wins the autobid for the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Mountain West, Big 10, SEC, Atlantic-10, Pac-12, Ivy, WCC, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, and Big West that means there are still 12 bids up for grabs. The contenders:
Purdue - The Boilers are awfully, awfully close to wrapping up a bid, but I can't quite bring myself to put them all the way in yet but I'm not even sure why. They're basically in, but something's holding me back (mainly because I don't want to go back and delete/edit what I already wrote). Seriously, even if they lost at both Michigan and Indiana they're going to beat Penn State at home which gives them 9 conference wins and 19 overall wins. Hard to see any way they don't make it in.
Washington - The Huskies are lacking in top end wins (just 3 top 100, zero top 50) like every other Pac-10 team, but they've taken care of business in league play at 12-3, and although they don't have a shot at picking up a big win in their final 3 regular season games, all three are on the road (Wash State, USC, UCLA) and winning two of those three gets them not only to 14 league wins and 21 total wins, but a 6-5 road record. Take all that together, and Washington should be in solid shape.
Colorado State - The Rams are weird because their computer numbers are through the roof (RPI 25, SoS 5) because looking at the resume you wouldn't think they're that great, but they've dominated teams from RPI 70-100 (5-2 record), and after beating New Mexico this week that gives them two top 30 wins. They have two more chances for monster wins, @SDSU and vs. UNLV, and winning either basically locks them in. I'm as surprised as you are.
West Virginia - A 17-11 record when your SoS is #7 is outstanding, but they're fading with a 2-6 record in their last 8, even if none of those losses is particularly egregious (except maybe the loss at St. John's). Everything is still pretty copacetic here, particularly if they can manage a home win vs. Marquette Friday night, but even if they lose that win and manage to win their last two (DePaul, @South Florida) they're probably sitting pretty.
Memphis - Last week's loss to UTEP was enough to knock them off of lock status, but they bounced back with a destruction of ECU. Memphis's next two are @Marshall (RPI 51) and home vs. UCF (#60) and if they win both of those you can go ahead and mail them a bid. Even if they only win one and at least reach the C-USA Championship game they're probably ok, but they should probably consider winning both for kicks.
In the Middle:
Miami - The Canes didn't do themselves any favors by losing at Maryland this week, but they still control their own fate with a home game vs. Florida State this weekend. Beating the Seminoles would give them a second RPI Top 20 win to go with the big upset at Duke, and it's exactly the kind of game a bubble team needs to take care off to get themselves where they want to be (like Seton Hall). In Miami's case I don't think beating FSU would lock it up, but it'd be a big jump up.
Cincinnati - Shit I just realized I didn't type anything here because I was waiting for the results of their game against Louisville. With a really high RPI that doesn't put them in, and it might not even put them in the "Strong Case" category. That SoS is just terrible at 147 (and 325 in non-conference SoS) and the loss to Presbyterian (RPI 260) is a nightmare. The committee seems to hate teams who schedule like shit out of conference, so that's another hurdle for Nick Van Exel U. Better win out, including a home game against Marquette, to feel anywhere near safe.
South Florida - ESPN calls the Bulls one of the most interesting at-large cases ever, and it's hard to disagree. The RPI (49) and Sos (36) aren't great but aren't bad either, and the 10-5 league record is outstanding. USF, however, has only one good win (over Seton Hall RPI 30) and four losses to sub-100 RPIers, but none since December 14th. In fact, the worst team the Bulls have lost to since then is Notre Dame (RPI 33). With games remaining against Cincy, @Louisville, and West Virginia they have three shots to add Top 100 wins. I'm kind of excited to see how this works out.
Mississippi State - Up until Feb. 11 the Rebels were cruising: 19-5 record, 6-3 in conference, no losses outside the RPI Top 100, and a 7-5 record against the top 100. Good shape. Then a three game losing streak with losses to Georgia, LSU, and Auburn led to nearly a must win against Kentucky, where Mississippi State looked every bit an NCAA Tournament team but couldn't get the win. Now they badly need to win at Alabama this weekend and then close it out by beating South Carolina and Arkansas to take the pressure of having to make a run in the SEC tournament off.
Southern Miss - The Golden Eagles were basically a lock a week ago, but back-to-back losses to Houston (RPI 215) and UTEP (RPI 129) have made things much more questionable. Normally I'd put Southern Miss a level down from here based on a typically weak C-USA, but even after those losses somehow their RPI sits at #17 (a sparkling 9-3 record against the top 100 has a lot to do with that). They probably can't afford any more slip-ups until the C-USA Championship game, and the regular season finale at Marshall (RPI 51) looms large.
Middle Tennessee State -You don't hear much about them, but the Blue Raiders (what? lol) are running through the Sun Belt like a red hot scimitar through some tendons. Twenty-three total wins already, 4-3 vs. the Top 100, and a 10-3 road/neutral mark are all definite positive signs. No marquee wins (best win is over #59 Akron) and no real games scheduled against marquee teams (toughest opponent was Vandy with Akron #2) make things rough. MTSU needs to get to the Sun Belt Championship to make this interesting, but any loss prior to that probably does it, which is a shame because this is a good team.
VCU - The CAA is a bit tricky this year, because although VCU (and Drexel, see below) have gaudy records and the CAA is usually a pretty solid conference, the RPIs are a bit lacking (both in the 70s). You can't rule either of them out and both won their Bracket Busters match-ups, but neither has any remaining shot at a top end win either. If VCU (or Drexel) wins out and at makes the conf tournament championship they're definitely in contention, but both squads would do well to just win the whole thing instead.
Drexel - The Dragons are a bit different than VCU because while VCU has been consistently mediocre all year, Drexel started the year shitty and is now the greatest team in history. They started the year 2-4 and have now gone 22-1 including stomping Cleveland State in Bracket Busters. They have three bad losses but two came before December 4th and they're 4-0 vs. the RPI Top 100 since December. VCU And Drexel have nearly identical resumes, so the CAA Tournament looms huge for both.
Iona - Truth be told I'm not nearly enough of a bracketologist to know if Iona has a real shot here, but to me they should. The RPI is just fine at 44, they're 22-6 overall and rolled the conference at 13-3. They don't have any top 50 wins but they're a very nice 6-3 against the RPI Top 100, and they absolutely pass the eye test especially if you saw them roll Nevada in Bracket Busters. The real issue here is two RPI sub-200 losses (Hofstra, Siena) and admittedly that's a big black mark. Still, I'd consider Iona a tournament team who effed up twice rather than an imposter. I hope they make it.
In bad shape:
Minnesota - You know what's going on. The only reason you can't drop them off is because they still have opportunities to grab marquee wins that most bubble teams aren't lucky enough to have. If they can beat Indiana at home and win at Wisconsin (and not blow the finale against Nebraska) that may very well be enough to get them in. I wouldn't hold my breath.
Northwestern - Their loss this week to Michigan was a pretty big back-breaker. Like Minnesota, however, they still have a chance to boost their profile immensely with a home date vs. Ohio State coming up on Feb. 29. Win that and it should send them in, assuming they don't lose at Iowa or Penn State - a dangerous assumption indeed.
Texas - Similar to the teams above, the Longhorns have whiffed on chance after chance after chance to get that big win. They've played 11 games against the RPI Top 50 this year, which is really good, but have only won 3 of them. They also don't have any horrendous losses, which is pretty much what is keeping them alive, but they probably have to win at Kansas in about a week and a half in order to get in.
Oregon - The Pac-12 is horrible this year, which makes it a bad conference to be in when you have a mediocre profile, but Oregon is still hanging around due to having the second best RPI in the conference (52) and a 17-1 record against the RPI Top 100+ (ie only one bad loss). A win over Colorado next week would give them another Top 100 win which would really help.
Arizona - The Wildcats have a similar profile to Oregon, but with more Top 100 wins (5 vs.2). That would probably rank them above Oregon, but the Wildcats are basically done for marquee win chances with just games vs. USC (RPI 241), UCLA (134), and @Arizona State (238) left to go. Arizona's best bet is to not screw up, make it to the Pac-12 championship game, and hope enough other teams screw up. Of course, winning the Pac tourney is the actual best bet, but we're not assuming things here.
Oral Roberts -The Golden Eagles are an interesting case, because their RPI is decent (47), you can't argue with a 16-1 conference mark, and although they only have one bad loss (UTSA), they don't really have anything to balance it out with no Top 25 wins and just a 3-3 record against the Top 50. I don't think they'll get a bid, but after the win over Akron in Bracket Busters they're definitely interesting. If they make the Summit League Final and lose to South Dakota State (RPI 63) they have an outside shot if enough other team's falter down the stretch.
Belmont - I don't really think Belmont has much of a shot here, but the 21-7 record, and #68 RPI mean you can't completely rule it out, although it would take a whole lot of collapsing by others. The Bruins have two Top 51 wins (Middle Tennessee & Marshall) but weren't able to get any real marquee win despite a pretty decent schedule. They most likely better win the A-Sun Tournament, but if they win their last remaining regular season game and then get to the final before losing to say, Mercer (RPI 118) they'd probably get at least a little consideration.
It's Over (9):
NC State - blew a 20-point lead at Duke, got blown away at Florida State, and then couldn't hang with UNC at home. Three chances to get a big win and three whiffs.
Illinois - The blowout by Nebraska is enough to end their hopes, but with the tailspin they're in their could easily be three more losses tossed on pre-Big 10 tournament.
Xavier - If the Musketeers can manage to win at St. Louis next week and enough other team's falter they may be able to crawl back into consideration, but as it looks now their loss to UMass spells their doom.
St. Joe's - Similar computer numbers to Xavier, but St. Joe's now has four bad losses after dropping a home game to Richmond this week. Not even a win over Temple on Saturday can get them in now.
George Mason - The CAA teams, as noted above, are in perilous enough position, but GMU's loss to Northeastern on Wednesday is one bad loss too many and pushes their RPI to 91. No chance.
Weber State - I have no idea why I had them in the bubble watch initially, what with the RPI of 74 and SoS of 294 and zero wins over RPI top 90 teams. Probably because my wife and a some of her relatives attended the school. Despite that kind of pull, they have no at-large shot at all.
Davidson - The game against Wichita was their last gasp and they not only came up short but they didn't even come close. Kind of a shame because their win at Kansas is one of the best wins of anybody all season, but it's pretty much the only positive thing on this resume. Also not a shame because Davidson annoys the piss out of me.
Nevada - Pretty similar to Davidson but without the Kansas win. They may have had a little life if they could have squeaked out a win over Iona in Bracket Busters but alas, it was not to be. A weak WAC did them no favors this season.
Akron - The Zips have a great MAC record at 12-1 and no bad losses to speak of, but they also lack quality wins and needed to beat Oral Roberts in Bracket Busters to remain in consideration. They didn't.
So that's where things sit. As far as the Gophers go, they need to win out in the regular season. It's that simple. And I'm super confident that will happen. Can't wait. Awesome. Joy.