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Bubble breakdown: Opportunity knocks for Michigan today

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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If a handful of at-large hopefuls want to be certain they'll hear their names called on Selection Sunday, they have a chance to accomplish that with victories on Saturday.

Richmond can leave no doubt with an Atlantic 10 semifinal win over Temple. Ditto Alabama in the SEC semis against Kentucky, Michigan in the Big Ten semis against Ohio State or Virginia Tech and Clemson in their respective ACC semifinals against Duke and North Carolina.

Losses for any of those teams won't necessarily doom them to the NIT, but it will make for an anxious wait until 6 p.m. EST on Sunday, especially with possible bid thieves lurking in the Atlantic 10, the WAC and Conference USA. Below is my take on the bubble picture as it stands entering Saturday's action.

Who's in and Who's out?

61. Richmond (25-7, 13-3, RPI: 58): Even though the Spiders failed to beat Atlantic 10 front runners Temple and Xavier this season, simply avoiding bad losses down the stretch enabled them to finish three games clear of fourth-place Duquesne. An Atlantic 10 quarterfinal win over Rhode Island may have secured a bid for Richmond, while a semifinal win over Temple on Saturday would make the Spiders locks.

62. Georgia (21-11, 9-7, RPI: 39): Two losses to fellow at-large hopeful Alabama in the past week leave the Bulldogs in a somewhat precarious spot. Not one of Georgia's 11 losses came against a team that isn't at least in the running for an NCAA tournament berth, yet the Bulldogs still suffered 11 losses and also only managed standout wins against Kentucky, Tennessee and Colorado.

63. Colorado (21-13, 8-8, RPI: 68): While the Buffs couldn't topple Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals on Friday, they all but punched their NCAA ticket the previous night by upsetting previously surging Kansas State. A third win over Kansas State this season coupled with victories over Missouri and Texas should send Colorado to the NCAA tournament despite mediocre computer numbers dragged down by far too many victories over teams with RPI's 300 and above. {YSP:MORE}

64. Michigan (20-12, 9-9, RPI: 57): Amid all the griping about bubble teams being unable to play their way into the field, Michigan has emerged as an exception. Not only did the Wolverines rally from a 1-6 start to Big Ten play to raise its conference record to 9-9, they also bolstered their NCAA tournament case by sweeping rival Michigan State and defeating Illinois in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

65. Alabama (21-10, 12-4, RPI: 83): Alabama remains the most fascinating bubble team in the field because of the conundrum of whether its strong SEC season counteracts its woeful non-league performance. The Tide's come-from-behind SEC quarterfinal victory over Georgia on Friday strengthened their case, but they'll need to beat Kentucky on Saturday to feel secure.

66. Virginia Tech (21-10, 9-7, RPI: 66): Good fortune finally was on Virginia Tech's side on Friday when referees disallowed Derwin Kitchen's erstwhile game-winning shot at the buzzer, giving the Hokies a crucial 52-51 ACC quarterfinal victory over Florida State. A semifinal win over Duke would mean Seth Greenberg's team could rest easy on Selection Sunday for once, but Virginia Tech has to feel far better about its hopes after beating the Seminoles.

67. Clemson (21-10, 9-7, RPI: 59): Aside from a victory over Southern Conference tournament champion Wofford in November, the only certain NCAA tournament team the Tigers have beaten is Florida State at home. That's why it was so important Clemson earned its second win over Boston College in Friday's ACC quarterfinal to set up a semifinal matchup with North Carolina, which could provide the Tigers the marquee victory they need to go from bubble hopeful to at-large lock.

68. USC (19-14, 10-8, RPI: 70): The Trojans suffered a narrow but costly loss to top-seeded Arizona in the Pac-10 semifinals on Saturday, leaving them in a precarious spot despite six wins in their final eight games. While marquee wins over Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, UCLA and Washington bolster USC's case, no bubble team has a worse collection of losses than Rider, Bradley and TCU, not to mention a sweep at the hands of Oregon.

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69. Penn State (18-13, 9-9, 43): As painful as Friday's 36-33 Big Ten quarterfinal victory over Wisconsin was to watch, all that matters to the Nittany Lions is securing a victory that catapults them from the fringes of the at-large discussion to the heart of it. Double-digit non-league losses to Maine, Maryland and Ole Miss are warts on Penn State's resume, but the Nittany Lions (18-13) also boast two wins over Wisconsin and one apiece over Michigan State and Illinois.

70. Saint Mary's (23-7, 11-3, RPI: 48): What may cost the Gaels a bid is a late-season slide that included a pair of losses to Gonzaga, a home loss to Utah State and an inexplicable loss to woeful San Diego. Does an early home win over St. John's and going 1-for-3 against the Zags counteract that poor finish? Let's just say it's going to be a nerve-wracking weekend for the Gaels.

71. VCU (22-11, 12-6, RPI: 50): The Rams' rally against Old Dominion in the CAA title game fell a few buckets short, which may end up condemning them to the NIT. Can solid wins over UCLA, George Mason and Old Dominion outweigh a poor finish to CAA play that included losses to Drexel and James Madison? Doubtful.

72. Memphis (24-9, 10-6, RPI: 38): The Tigers stayed alive with victories over Southern Miss on Thursday and East Carolina on Friday, setting up a matchup with host UTEP in the C-USA title game. Would a title game appearance coupled with a win over Gonzaga and a sweep of UAB be enough for Memphis to sneak in as an at-large? The Tigers would be wise not to rely on it.

73. Boston College (20-12, 9-7, RPI: 44): The Eagles one-sided quarterfinal loss to fellow at-large hopeful Clemson on Friday afternoon will probably be the result that keeps them from making the field of 68. A 9-7 ACC record is nothing to get excited about this season, and a victory over Texas A&M is the only standout non-conference win on Boston College's resume.

74. Alabama-Birmingham (22-8, 12-4, RPI: 28): UAB's overtime loss to East Carolina in the Conference USA quarterfinals on Thursday likely dooms the Blazers to the NIT. The Blazers won the the league title, boast a strong RPI and defeated VCU and Arkansas outside of league play, but the lack of a marquee wins on this resume probably isn't enough to overcome Thursday's stunning loss.

Friday's bubble recap:

• Alabama 65, Georgia 59 (OT) — If Georgia misses the NCAA tournament, or even lands in the First Four, Mark Fox will be kicking himself for his use of timeouts down the stretch.

• Arizona 67, USC 62 — Kevin O'Neill watched from home as the Trojans sustained a loss that may cost them an NCAA bid.

• Michigan State 74, Purdue 56 — Whether this is a sign the Spartans will be dangerous in the NCAA tournament or not, it at least guarantees they'll hear their name called on Sunday.

• Virginia Tech 52, Florida State 51 — Maybe Derwin Kitchen's game winner was still in his finger tips when time expired. Or maybe referees just figured the Hokies deserved a break.

• Clemson 70, Boston College 47 — Clemson isn't guaranteed a spot yet, but it certainly looks better for the Tigers than it does for the Eagles after this ACC quarterfinal.

• Michigan 60, Illinois 55 — Clemson isn't guaranteed a spot yet, but it certainly looks better for the Tigers than it does for the Eagles after this ACC quarterfinal.

• Memphis 76, East Carolina 56 — This was a must-not-lose game for Memphis. Now the question is whether the Tigers can survive a Conference USA title game loss to UTEP or not.

• Kansas 90, Colorado 83 — This loss will leave Colorado a little anxious on Sunday, but Friday's victory over Kansas State likely was enough to land the Buffs a bid.

• Richmond 55, Rhode Island 45 — It wasn't pretty, but Richmond avoided a potentially devastating loss.

Saturday's bubble look-ahead:

• Clemson vs. North Carolina — Clemson's history against North Carolina has not been favorable to say the least. Maybe it will be different today?

• Michigan vs. Ohio State — The basketball version of this rivalry has higher stakes than usual today in the Big Ten semifinals.

• Penn State vs. Michigan State — A victory likely would make Penn State one of the most unlikely participants in the field of 68

• Virginia Tech vs. Duke — The Hokies already toppled Duke once. Do they have a second upset in them?

• Alabama vs. Kentucky — The Tide's first win over Kentucky was in Tuscaloosa, but the Cats will have the crowd on their side in Atlanta.

• Memphis vs. UTEP — A win here and Memphis earns the Conference USA automatic bid, condemning the league to one-bid status almost for certain.

• Richmond vs. Temple — The Spiders have gone 0-for-2 against Temple and Xavier this season, so this is their chance to erase that flaw on their profile.

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