With about a month 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.
Whatever slim chance Indiana had of making a push for an NCAA tournament bid all but vanished this week as the Hoosiers suffered a pair of damaging losses.
On Wednesday, Indiana gagged away a home game against Penn State that it led by 11 with 3:19 to go. On Saturday, the Hoosiers weren't even competitive in a 82-64 road loss to a Purdue team that had dropped five of six.
Those two surprising losses all but guarantee Indiana will become the 10th team since 2004 to miss the NCAA tournament after claiming a No. 1 seed the previous season.
At 14-11 overall and 4-8 in the Big Ten, Indiana isn't even within sight of the bubble anymore. Quality home wins against Wisconsin and Michigan help a bit, but the Hoosiers' profile is weighed down by losses to all the bottom teams in the Big Ten, from Nebraska, to Northwestern, to Illinois, to Penn State, to Purdue.
Nobody expected Indiana to duplicate last year's 29-win season after losing two starters to the NBA and two others to graduation, but it's surprising to see the Hoosiers floundering like this.
With point guard Yogi Ferrell and senior Will Sheehey returning and a vaunted freshman class arriving, Indiana was expected to develop into an NCAA tournament-caliber team over the course of the season at minimum. Instead the Hoosiers have regressed in Big Ten play, turning the ball over far too frequently and not making nearly enough jump shots to make up for it.
The offensive struggles were especially apparent at Purdue. Ferrell scored an inefficient 27 points and Sheehey and freshman Noah Vonleh combined for 24, but nobody else on the Hoosiers managed even four points as the team shot 32.2 percent from the floor.
A year ago, Indiana finished a 97-60 rout at Purdue with walk-ons on the floor. The bench warmers were again on the floor at the final buzzer on Saturday in West Lafayette, but for entirely different reasons.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK IS RISING
• Missouri (18-7, 6-6): Missouri can thank Jabari Brown for helping it secure the two home wins it needed to bounce back from its recent three-game losing streak. The junior guard scored the game-winning basket in the Tigers' one-point victory over Arkansas on Thursday night, then lit up Tennessee for 24 points and had the game-clinching steal in a 75-70 victory on Saturday afternoon. Those wins lifted Missouri back to .500 in SEC play and gave it a head-to-head edge on two other potential SEC bubble teams. The Tigers now have five games they should be favored in before a visit to Tennessee in their regular season finale.
• Saint Joseph's (17-7, 7-3): Nothing Saint Joseph's did in non-league play suggested the Hawks were an NCAA tournament contender, but they're making up for it with their ascent to the upper third of the Atlantic 10 standings. They won at La Salle 75-64 on Saturday, at least temporarily earning them a share of third place pending the results of the rest of Saturday's Atlantic 10 slate. In the last two weeks, Saint Joseph's has won at Dayton and La Salle and defeated VCU and UMass at home. That's enough to elevate the Hawks into the bubble picture with a month to go before Selection Sunday.
• Cal (17-8, 8-4): Here's something you haven't seen often from a bubble team recently: Cal had two winnable road games this week, and, gasp, won both of them. The Bears followed a narrow win at Washington State with a more convincing victory at a dangerous Washington team that had upset Stanford in Seattle earlier in the week. At 8-4 in the Pac-12 with a home win over Arizona and road wins at Oregon and Stanford, Cal is on pace to return to the NCAA tournament. The Bears' finishing schedule is challenging, however, so they could really help themselves by beating UCLA in Berkeley next week.
• Baylor (16-9, 4-8): Don't count out Baylor just yet. Brady Heslip sank a clutch three to force overtime against Kansas State on Saturday evening and the Bears pulled away in the second extra session for a marquee win they absolutely had to have. A disastrous five week stretch in January and early Feburary put Baylor in a huge hole as the Bears lost seven of eight games. They'll need a sizzling finish to recover, but non-conference victories over Kentucky and Colorado offer hope. If Baylor can win four out of six to close the regular season, it will at least have hope of securing an at-large bid entering the Big 12 tournament.
• BYU (18-10, 10-5): To ensure that Thursday's visit from Gonzaga was still meaningful, BYU had to avoid being swept during its Northern California road swing. The Cougars did that Saturday night, coming from behind to edge third-place Saint Mary's. Some are of the belief BYU would be in the field of 68 if the season ended today because of its strong non-league strength of schedule, top 50 RPI and victories over Texas and Stanford, but the Cougars also have a ton of head-scratching conference losses. At minimum, it's probably essential BYU takes down Gonzaga in Provo on Thursday to split the season series with the Zags.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK IS FALLING:
• Clemson (15-9, 6-6): For Clemson to make up for a poor non-league performance that included losses to Auburn and Arkansas and no notable victories, the Tigers need to finish in the ACC's upper tier and notch some marquee wins in the process. Saturday's home date with No. 17 Virginia provided Clemson an opportunity to bolster its resumé, but the Tigers couldn't come up with enough defensive stops down the stretch and fell 63-58. The play Clemson will regret the most was Jordan Roper's ill-advised contested 25 footer with 11 seconds to go and the Tigers within three. The shot failed to even draw iron, ensuring Clemson would lose for the third straight game.
• Oklahoma State (16-9, 4-8): If it once seemed unfathomable that Oklahoma State would be a bubble team this March, that's no longer the case. A shorthanded Cowboys team has lost seven of eight since starting the season 15-2 and climbing into the AP Top 10. Saturday's home loss to Oklahoma was far more competitive than Oklahoma State's previous loss at Texas, but the outcome is just as damaging. Unless the Cowboys can win at Baylor on Monday night, they will be 4-9 in the Big 12 when Marcus Smart returns from his three-game suspension. They would need five wins in their final five regular season games to reach .500 in the Big 12 and probably at least three to have a realistic chance of securing an at-large bid entering the Big 12 tournament.
• Ole Miss (16-9, 7-5): Just when it seemed safe to think Ole Miss might have a shot at making a return trip to the NCAA tournament, the Rebels lose two consecutive winnable road games. Tuesday night's three-point loss at Alabama and Saturday afternoon's one-point loss to Georgia leave Ole Miss fourth in the SEC standings at 7-5. That's still a game ahead of fellow bubble teams Missouri, Tennessee and LSU, but the Rebels lack the notable non-league wins those teams have. Ole Miss' next two games are at home against Kentucky and Florida. Winning at least one of those is probably essential for the Rebels to even stay in the bubble conversation.
• LSU (15-9, 6-6): Does anyone in the SEC besides Florida and Kentucky actually want to make the NCAA tournament? LSU did nothing to suggest it belongs this week by losing at Texas A&M on Wednesday and at Arkansas on Saturday. That leaves the Tigers with a resumé that includes more bad losses (Rhode Island? Texas A&M? Alabama? Georgia?) than notable wins (Kentucky, Missouri, Saint Joseph's). I've long said that LSU is talented enough to do some damage should it reach the NCAA tournament, but that's looking more and more unlikely now. The Tigers need a strong finishing kick, no easy task considering they still go to Gainesville and Lexington.
• Southern Miss (21-5, 8-3): If Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech were Conference USA's best hopes of avoiding one-bid status entering the week, then the Bulldogs are now probably the league's last chance. Southern Miss perhaps fatally crippled its hopes with back-to-back losses at UAB on Thursday and at Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Worse yet, neither were even close as the Golden Eagles lost by a combined 41 points. Southern Miss' candidacy largely depended on its gaudy record rather than on quality wins, so it's going to be tough for the Golden Eagles to come back from this. At the very least, any Conference USA team that hopes to contend for an at-large bid will have to win the league outright, and the Golden Eagles are now a game behind Middle Tennessee, UTEP and Louisana Tech in the loss column.
• NC State (16-9, 6-6): Two turnovers in the final minute cost NC State what could have been a season-changing upset at Syracuse. Desmond Lee's miscue with 21 seconds left cost the Wolfpack a chance to extend a one-point lead, then Anthony Barber's errant pass led to C.J. Fair's game-winning transition layup. Had NC State held off the top-ranked Orange, the Wolfpack would have won for the sixth time in seven games and added a monumental win to an otherwise modest collection of victories. Instead they fell to 6-6 in the ACC and are still in search of a win capable of boosting them from the outskirts of the bubble picture into the field of 68.
• West Virginia (15-11, 7-6): West Virginia's late charge into the bubble picture has been a good story the past few weeks, but it's hard to ignore that much of the damage the Mountaineers have done has been at home. They squandered another chance for a meaningful road win on Saturday, falling at Texas 88-71 to drop to 3-4 on the road in league play with the victories coming against TCU, Texas Tech and Baylor. Quality wins against Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor keep West Virginia in the bubble conversation for now, but a non-league slate that includes no good wins and a loss to Virginia Tech is a lot to overcome. A strong finish to the regular season is a must if the Mountaineers want to make an unexpected NCAA tournament appearance.
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