With the Gophers somehow still tenuously clinging to a bid (or being right on the cusp) according to most projections, I thought it might make sense to look at the bubble with a more critical eye. ESPN does a very good Bubble Watch each Tuesday, and you can probably find one at any reasonably sized, sports-related website, but I'm going to take a harder, more project-y look than the cautious look most other sites take. To put it another way, rather than avoiding projecting where teams will end up at the end of the season, I'm going to go right ahead and project my ass off. So here we go. Joy.
IN (4): Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia - FSU's loss to BC and Virginia's loss to Clemson hurt, but both teams should be ok in the end
BUBBLE TEAMS (2): NC State, Miami - Neither team is in very good shape right now, because between the two of them Miami's win over Duke is the only good win either team has. Plenty of chances coming up to grab a bid though.
IN (6): Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, UCONN, Notre Dame - Although both UCONN (late swoon) and Notre Dame (slow start) have some issues that make them less than true locks, both have enough on the board (UCONN computer numbers and a win over FSU; Notre Dame great play in the Big East including four wins over ranked teams) that it would be pretty stunning to see either miss out. The Irish are probably safer, but UCONN has five games left including Pitt, Nova, and @Providence. Even if they lose their other two (vs. Marquette and Syracuse) as long as they win those they get to .500 in the Big East which would be enough combined with the rest of the profile.
BUBBLE TEAMS (4): Seton Hall, West Virginia, Cincinnati, South Florida - The Hall and West Virginia are spiraling down, Cincy has to overcome a brutally bad non-conference schedule that included losses to Presbyterian and Marshall, and South Florida isn't even considered a bubble team by the ESPN guys (although with an RPI of 57 and a 9-4 Big East record, even with a thin resume other than that I have to include them). There's a very good chance none of these Bubble teams get in, although if SHU can go 3-1 to close out (@Cincy, G-Town, Rutgers, @DePaul) they're probably good.
IN (5): Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana - although Wisconsin still sucks
BUBBLE TEAMS (4): Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern - these four teams are bunched so tightly it's hard to even pick an order, although after beating Illinois on the road to get to 7-6 in the conference you'd probably have to put Purdue on top (and Illinois on the bottom). With so many locks, rpi-hogs, and ranked teams in the conference it's going to come down to who can grab those chances to knock off a top team and get a quality win. The only game left between two of these four bubble squads is Saturday with the Gophers going to Northwestern (huge game) so reaching up and taking down a giant when the opportunity presents itself is how these teams will have to make their mark. (mmmmm.....maker's mark)
IN (4): Missouri, Kansas, Baylor, Iowa State - I might be being a bit optimistic with the Cyclones, but two guaranteed wins left (home vs. Tex Tech and Oklahoma) mean ISU will get to 20 wins and at worst a 10-8 conference record with a decent RPI and no truly bad losses. The other bubble teams in the Big 12 are pretty weak, and I can't see only three teams getting in so I'm giving the Clones the nod.
BUBBLE TEAMS (2): Kansas State, Texas - both of these teams are terrible and will lose in the first round if they sneak into the tournament. Other than K State's win over Missouri there's not much here. K-State also beat Alabama, while Texas has wins over Iowa State and Temple and the two teams split with each other. Just not much to work with. Both have two chances for big wins left (Texas: @Kansas, vs. Baylor, K-State: @Baylor, @Missouri) and if either wins one of those and the games they're supposed to win they'll probably be in, but the point remains - these teams stink.
IN (1): Uh, nobody? I'll put Cal in here because their RPI is significantly better than everyone else in the conference (#38 vs. mid-60s), an easier schedule the rest of the way (only 1 game versus a bubble team and it's at home), and a 5-4 record vs. the RPI top 100. But really, nobody looks good here.
BUBBLE TEAMS (3): Washington, Arizona, Oregon - These teams all have terrible RPIs, very few (if any) good wins, and some bad losses, but you still have to consider them as possible tournament teams because if any of them win out you're looking at things like 15-3 or 14-4 conference record and even in a down Pac-12 (again) that's tough to ignore. Each team only has one tough game left with Washington and Arizona playing each other on Saturday, but there are enough road potholes here that it would be super easy for all three to slip and miss the tournament.
IN (3): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt - it would take a monumental collapse for Vandy not to make it in, and Kentucky and Florida are pretty much deadlocks
BUBBLE TEAMS (2): Alabama, Mississippi State - Bama would have been a lock but suspensions to like, the entire team led to a loss to LSU and a home loss to Florida (a win in that one would have sealed the deal). They're still in ok shape, but with their two best players still suspended indefinitely the bad losses could start piling up. Miss State's back-to-back OT losses (to LSU and Georgia) have them going in the wrong direction, but a win next week at home over Kentucky would cure everything, and they have the talent to do it.
IN (3): San Diego State, New Mexico, UNLV - Rather than taking a step back from a very successful campaign last year, the MWC might be stronger than ever, at least at the top. All 3 of these teams are solid locks.
BUBBLE TEAMS (1): Colorado State - Although the overall profile doesn't scream tournament team, the computer numbers are weirdly strong #28 RPI, #5 SOS. But the main reason to consider the Rams on the bubble is they have games left against New Mexico (home), SDSU (road), and UNLV (home). If they can somehow manage to go 2-1 in those (and beat #66 Wyoming at home) and combined with those computer numbers they're suddenly a bid stealer. NOTE: This probably won't happen.
IN (2): Temple, St. Louis - Temple is solidly in, and although St. Louis isn't quite as certain at this point the Billikens are almost guaranteed to win three of their final 4 (Fordham, @Rhode Island, Xavier, @Duquesne) which would get them to 12-4 in the league and 24-6 overall. With a current RPI of 22, that'll do it.
BUBBLE TEAMS (2): Xavier, St. Joseph's - The Musketeers season tanked hard after the brawl vs. Cincy and although everybody seemed to waiting for them to recover they just never did and pretty much have to win their last five (including @St. Louis). I'm including St. Joe's here because of the decent RPI (#48) and their win over Creighton, but they basically have to beat Temple on Feb 25th (and win everything else) to have a chance.
IN (8): St. Mary's, Wichita State, Creighton, Gonzaga, Murray State, Southern Miss, Memphis, Long Beach State - because of the terrible conferences these teams play in any one of them falls off with more than 1 more loss, but because I'm projecting forward I don't really see that happening to any of these teams (note: odds are it WILL actually happen to one of these teams, I just don't know which one but I have to bet I'd go with one of the C-USA squads). St. Mary's home loss to Loyola-Marymount this week was surprising, but that's three wins for Loy-Mary over RPI top 50 teams, so it's certainly not a bad enough loss to cause any panic.
BUBBLE TEAMS (12): Harvard, Middle Tennessee State, Drexel, VCU, George Mason, Iona, Belmont, Davidson, Weber State, Akron, Oral Roberts, Nevada - Most of these teams have gaudy records, but most also have some seriously major flaws in their profiles so they're really only included here for shits and giggles. Harvard and Middle Tennessee State probably have the best shot with Harvard nearly a lock. The Nevada/Iona bracketbuster game on Saturday is basically an elimination game as is Akron @ Oral Roberts, and the results in that event for Drexel (@Cleveland State), Davidson (vs. Wichita), George Mason (vs. Lamar), and VCU (vs. Northern Iowa) will go a long way towards bumping teams up or bumping them down and out.
So where does that leave things? Well, thanks to expansion, there are 37 at-large bids and I'm calling 36 of them locked up already. However, assuming a team with an at-large resume wins each of the conferences that puts several back in play. Say North Carolina, Syracuse, Ohio State, Missouri, Cal, Kentucky, UNLV, Temple, St. Mary's, Creighton, Murray State, Southern Miss, and Long Beach all win their conference tournament that means there are 14 bids up in the air right now and I currently have 32 teams on the bubble for those 14 bids. But if we go a step further and assume Harvard, Middle Tennessee, Drexel, Iona, Belmont, Davidson, Weber State, Akron, Oral Roberts, and Nevada all win their conference tournaments that puts them out of the running for a bid, so suddenly it's 22 teams for 14 bids.
So your direct competition, Gopher fans, are these 21 teams:
North Carolina State
The outlook is actually far more optimistic than I expected when I started doing this exercise, because some of these teams (St. Joe's, Colorado State, the Pac-10 teams, the Colonial teams, South Florida) are in far worse shape than the Gophers, so I can suddenly see why they seemed to still be in or on the cusp in most bubble watches. What this tells me is that despite everything the Gophers are still in control of their own destiny. Beat Northwestern, win one of the three middle games, and close it out with a win over Nebraska and get to 8-10 in this conference this year with a couple huge wins and good computer numbers and that's probably enough this year. Lose to Northwestern and it's a bit tougher, but on the flip side there's also an opportunity here to close out 4-1 and wrap up a bid pre-B10 tournament.
Seriously, just do it for once. Just one time. Take the chance at a bid, capitalize on it, and just run with it and be safe and relaxed on Selection Sunday because I'm going to be in Florida and I don't want to stress out. I just want to fish, watch the Twins a little bit and pretend they might be good, drink, read, and fish. That's it. There's no need to be dicks about this.