March 13, 2011
The running joke about Seth Greenberg being the face of the bubble probably isn't funny to the Virginia Tech coach anymore.
For the fourth straight Selection Sunday, the Hokies will gather to watch the NCAA tournament selection show unsure whether they will hear their name or not. They've been banished to the NIT each of the past three seasons, but this year they appear to have at least a 50-50 chance of sending seniors Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen out with an NCAA bid.
At least Virginia Tech has plenty of company on the bubble this season. Alabama, USC and Saint Mary's headline an unusually long list of teams hoping to snare one of the last available at-large bids to the NCAA tournament on Sunday afternoon.
Below is an up-to-the-minute prognostication of the bubble picture as it stands right now. We'll update this if Penn State manages to lock up an automatic NCAA bid with a victory over top-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten title game on Sunday afternoon.
Who's in and Who's out?
63. 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.
64. Colorado (21-13, 8-8, RPI: 76): 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.
65. Penn State (19-13, 9-9, RPI: 54): Big Ten tournament victories over Wisconsin and Michigan State catapult the Nittany Lions from the fringes of the at-large discussion to the heart of it. Although double-digit non-league losses to Maine, Maryland and Ole Miss are warts on Penn State's resume, the Nittany Lions (18-13) now boast two wins apiece against Wisconsin and Michigan State and one over Illinois.
66. Alabama (21-11, 12-4, RPI: 79): Alabama remains the most fascinating bubble team in the field because of the conundrum of whether its strong SEC season counteracts its woeful RPI and poor non-league performance. The Tide's come-from-behind SEC quarterfinal victory over Georgia on Friday strengthened their case, but they remain smack on the bubble after a blowout loss to Kentucky on Saturday.
67. USC (19-14, 10-8, RPI: 69): 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.
68. Virginia Tech (21-11, 9-7, RPI: 64): It's fitting that perennially bubble-bound Virginia Tech finds itself in its usual tenuous position entering Selection Sunday. A loss to Duke in the ACC semifinals on Saturday didn't erase the good the Hokies did in edging Florida State the previous day, but it did ensure Seth Greenberg and his team a sleepless Saturday night as they wait to see whether they're in or out.
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69. Clemson (21-11, 9-7, RPI: 57): 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 would have been so huge for Clemson to hold onto its ACC semifinal lead against North Carolina, a task that proved to difficult to accomplish.
70. Saint Mary's (23-7, 11-3, RPI: 44): 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: 49): 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. Boston College (20-12, 9-7, RPI: 45): 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.
73. 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.
Saturday's bubble recap:
• North Carolina 92, Clemson 87 (OT) — If Clemson misses the NCAA tournament, it will rue not being able to protect a double-digit lead in this game.
• Kentucky 72, Alabama 58 — The Tide may not have needed to win this game, but this still wasn't the lasting image you want to leave in the selection committee's minds.
• Ohio State 68, Michigan 61 — Even with this loss, the Wolverines appear to be safely in the field.
• Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63 — Odds that Seth Greenberg didn't sleep a minute on Saturday night? 250-1.
• Penn State 61, Michigan State 48 — A huge shooting night from Talor Battle propelled the Nittany Lions to one of their bigger victories in years.
Sunday's bubble look-ahead:
• Penn State vs. Ohio State — The Nittany Lions can leave no doubt with an upset of the nation's top-ranked team.
• Dayton vs. Richmond — Every bubble team in America will be rooting for NCAA tournament-bound Richmond to prevent Dayton from earning the Atlantic 10's automatic bid and reducing the number of available at-large bids by one.