With eight days remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
Only a month after Oregon was left for dead after falling to 3-8 in Pac-12 play, the Ducks completed an improbable revival.
They won for the seventh straight time Saturday afternoon in Eugene, upsetting Pac-12 champion Arizona 64-57 to all but ensure themselves an NCAA tournament bid.
Oregon hadn't beaten a single surefire NCAA tournament team when it fell by a combined four points at Arizona and Arizona State the first weekend of February, but the Ducks have amassed some impressive scalps since then. Among the teams they beat during their current win streak are UCLA, Arizona State and now Arizona, a good list when combined with non-league victories over BYU and Georgetown.
With those five wins, a top 35 RPI and no losses to any non-NCAA tournament contenders besides rival Oregon State, Oregon is a notch ahead of most bubble teams. Not only are the Ducks in position to survive an early Pac-12 tournament loss, they could actually improve their seeding enough to be the favorite in an opening-round NCAA tournament game were they to do some damage in Las Vegas next week.
The key to the victory for Oregon was a 17-5 second-half spurt sparked by pinpoint outside shooting, a deafening crowd and swarming defense.
Jason Calliste, Joseph Young and Johnathan Loyd each had at least one 3-pointer as Oregon came from behind to build an eight-point lead with less than two minutes to go. Arizona went more than seven minutes without a field goal, resurrecting concerns about the health of their offense without forward Brandon Ashley.
Arizona's ability to avoid prolonged scoring droughts is the key to its national title hopes, but this loss won't be all that damaging. The Wildcats are still in good position to earn the No. 1 seed in the Anaheim Region regardless of what they do in the Pac-12 tournament.
In reality, this was a game that was far more significant to Oregon. It culminated the Ducks' rise from the fringes of the bubble picture to a surefire NCAA tournament team nobody will want to draw.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE SATURDAY:
• Cal (19-12, 10-8): A pair of Justin Cobbs free throws with 20.8 seconds left in overtime propelled Cal past Colorado on Saturday in Berkely. To make the NCAA tournament, however, the Bears are probably going to have to beat the Buffs a second time. Cal earned the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and would face Colorado in the quarterfinals assuming the Buffs survive against either 12th-seeded USC or Washington State. Considering the Bears are only 7-11 against the RPI top 100 and have only four RPI top 50 wins, they're probably going to have to at least reach the Pac-12 semifinals to have a realistic chance of returning to the NCAA tournament.
• Stanford (19-11, 10-8): Once seemingly safe after upsetting UCLA only two weeks ago, Stanford had fallen back to the bubble with three straight losses to Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. The Cardinal probably would have fallen out of the field of 68 with a fourth straight loss on Saturday, but they delivered a last-possession defensive stand to hold off Utah 61-60. The strength of Stanford's resume are four top 40 RPI victories over UConn, UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon and no losses to any team outside the top 100. Does that outweigh a mediocre 7-10 record against the RPI top 100? Perhaps, but avoiding an opening-round Pac-12 tournament loss would certainly help.
• Dayton (22-9, 10-6): Even though Dayton might have had a little bit of margin for error after upsetting Saint Louis earlier in the week, the Flyers may not need it. They grinded out a 60-48 home win over Richmond to put themselves in pretty good position entering the A-10 tournament. Add the wins over the Billikens and Spiders to previous victories against Gonzaga, UMass and George Washington, and the Flyers have four top-30 wins and an 9-6 record against the RPI top 100. The only anchor weighing down Dayton's resume is three sub-100 losses against Rhode Island, Illinois State and USC. Dayton will be no worse than a No. 6 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which means it will draw either Fordham or George Mason. One win there, and the Flyers should be fine.
• St. John's (20-11, 10-8): Considering St. John's was once 0-5 in the Big East, the Johnnies have to be fairly happy with their position after eking out a 91-90 overtime victory at Marquette on Saturday afternoon. St. John's still has work left to do to make the NCAA tournament, however, because its lone top 50 RPI win came against Creighton and its two other decent wins were against bubble teams Providence and Georgetown. One Big East tournament win is essential but the Johnnies probably need to reach the title game to feel remotely confident. Otherwise there are just too many bubble teams with similar records, a longer list of quality wins and no losses to Depaul.
Tennessee (20-11, 11-7): When Tennessee lost to Texas A&M on Feb. 22 to fall to .500 in the mediocre SEC, I said the Vols probably needed to avoid anymore bad losses and defeat Missouri in a bubble battle to feel good about their chances heading into the SEC tournament. Well, that's exactly what they did. A 72-45 rout of Missouri lifted Tennessee to 11-7 in the SEC and put them in decent but not comfortable position. Despite bad losses to Texas A&M, UTEP and Vanderbilt, the Vols have some good bubble wins, a blowout of Virginia in non-league play and an RPI in the 40s. If they win their SEC quarterfinal -- likely against fellow bubble team Arkansas -- they have a good chance. If not, it will be a very nervous wait until Selection Sunday and possibly a third straight NIT bid.
Other bubble winners: Pittsburgh, BYU, Gonzaga
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL SATURDAY:
• Green Bay (24-6, 14-2): The downside of conference tournaments for mid-major league champs is that an entire season's worth of good work can unravel in one night. Such is the case for Green Bay, which fell behind by 13 points in the first half against Milwaukee in the Horizon League semis, rallied to force overtime and then ran out of steam. The chances of Green Bay surviving that loss and earning an at-large bid are slim, but the Phoenix do have a similar profile to the Middle Tennessee team that received a spot in the First Four last March. Green Bay has a great win over Virginia and a respectable No. 52 RPI, but the Phoenix's next best win came against Tulsa and it has a few bad losses in league play too.
• Missouri (21-10, 9-9): The path to NCAA tournament contention is now pretty simple for Missouri after its 72-45 loss at Tennessee on Sunday. Unless the Tigers survive an opening-round SEC tournament game against Texas A&M and then defeat Florida in the quarterfinals, they have scant hope of hearing their names on Selection Sunday. Aside from a victory over UCLA in December, Missouri hasn't beaten a single surefire NCAA tournament team. They also have been swept by Georgia and sustained losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama. At the moment, this is a profile that screams NIT.
• Colorado (21-9, 10-7): The key to Colorado's at-large hopes is proving it's still NCAA tournament-caliber even with leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie out with a season-ending knee injury. The question now is whether the Buffs have done enough even with their overtime loss at Cal to feel safe entering the Pac-12 tournament. Colorado's overall body of work is plenty good enough to make the field of 68 thanks to five RPI top 50 wins including a victory over Kansas, but the Buffs are just 7-7 without Dinwiddie. They open the Pac-12 tournament with a matchup with the No. 12 seed -- either Washington State or USC. Avoiding a bad loss there is important and then winning a rematch with Cal in the Pac-12 quarterfinals would leave no doubt.
• Arkansas (21-10, 10-8): Oh, Arkansas. All you had to do was avoid a bad loss to Alabama to feel relatively secure entering the SEC tournament. Instead you not only lose to the Tide but revert back to "Road Arkansas" form and lose as though you were playing football, not hoops. An 83-58 meltdown in Tuscaloosa won't undo all of the good the Razorbacks did in winning six straight prior to Saturday's game, but it certainly leaves Arkansas in more tenuous position, especially since its two wins over Kentucky don't look as impressive with the Wildcats floundering. In addition to its two wins over Kentucky, Arkansas still has solid wins over SMU and Minnesota in non-league play. Still, with a pair of sub-100 RPI losses to Texas A&M and now Alabama, the Razorbacks might want to avoid an opening-round SEC tournament loss.
• Georgetown (17-13, 8-10): Had Georgetown managed to upset Villanova in its regular season finale on Saturday, the Hoyas would have had a strong case for an at-large bid. Instead the Hoyas suffered a convincing 77-59 loss that leaves them at the mercy of the selection committee's preferences barring a deep Big East tournament run. Judging by quality wins, the Hoyas are clearly an NCAA tournament team considering they've beaten VCU, Kansas State, Michigan State, Creighton, Xavier, Providence and St. John's. Judging by bad losses, the Hoyas have no hope considering they've fallen to Northeastern, gotten swept by Seton Hall and Marquette and own a 2-8 record in true road games. What the selection committee does with Georgetown is anyone's guess, but the Hoyas certainly would benefit from winning a game or two in the Big East tournament to bolster their resume a bit.
Other bubble losers: Oklahoma State, LSU
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