Bubble Watch: Stanford soars, but Big East tourney leaves some upset
NEW YORK — Conference tournaments are now in full swing all across the country, and with seemingly each result, resumes are being bolstered and bubbles are being popped.
You never can be sure how the selection committee will interpret each team’s qualifications, but here’s our best guess at what Thursday’s results meant for the teams whose tournament fates have yet to be decided:
Colorado: The Buffaloes entered Thursday’s Pac-12 quarterfinal against Cal with a favorable resume, and may have still been tournament-bound, even had they slipped up in Vegas. But they escaped with a win and will assuredly be playing next week, even if it’s as an underdog.
Stanford: One could argue that Johnny Dawkins’ team got lucky to be playing an Arizona State team with its tournament fate already locked up, and the Sun Devils played like they’d sooner be prepping for next week than competing in the Pac-12 tourney. As a result, the Cardinal thrashed Arizona State and solidified their status in the field of 68.
Baylor: After a mid-season freefall, Baylor got on the straight and narrow over the season’s final month, with several signature wins putting them back on the bubble. The Bears’ chances were good even had they lost to No. 17 Oklahoma on Thursday, but a 78-73 win over the Sooners punches their ticket to the dance.
Dayton: If Dayton played in another conference, the Flyers would likely already be a lock for the NCAA tournament, but a more-than-formidable Atlantic 10 conference has made things difficult, and they’ll need a strong showing at Barclays Center to get in the field. The Flyers got off to a good start Thursday with a rout of Fordham, but Friday’s showdown with fellow bubbler St. Joe’s will likely be a win-or-go-to-the-NIT affair for both teams.
Pitt: The Panthers took care of Wake Forest to the tune of a 29-point win Thursday, but that was little more than a game they couldn’t afford to lose. They’re a borderline tourney team regardless of what happens against North Carolina on Friday, but a win would go a long way toward guaranteeing them a spot in the field.
FSU: Florida State may be the odd team out in the ACC without winning the entire conference tournament, but a victory over top-seeded Virginia on Friday would do the Seminoles all kinds of good, and if they can follow that up with a win over Pitt or North Carolina in the semifinals, it may be enough to put them in the field and leave the Panthers out.
Xavier: Until Thursday, Xavier’s loss to Southern Cal and two losses to Seton Hall weren’t doing the Musketeers any favors, but after Seton Hall shocked Villanova in the Big East quarterfinals, it’s just the USC defeat that looks especially egregious. And while it was bad, they also had several superb wins, and their overall resume should be enough to get them into the dance. A second win over Creighton on Friday would make it a lock.
Minnesota: The Gophers tried their darndest to pop their own bubble Thursday against Penn State, but escaped with a win despite themselves. A second win over Wisconsin this year on Friday would do them a lot of good, especially given their top-10 strength of schedule.
Providence: The Friars faced St. John’s Thursday in what amounted to a win-or-go-home game for both teams. Providence looked poised to rout the Johnnies in their own city, and eventually had to settle for a close victory, but I doubt the Friars are complaining too much if it puts them in the tournament.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles don’t really have a signature win to speak of this season, and their schedule leaves something to be desired. But they also don’t have any particularly devastating losses, and their RPI is solid. They’d be well served to just win the C-USA tournament to get an auto bid to the NCAA tourney, and the first true step to doing that comes Friday against top-seeded Louisiana Tech.
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs have one great win, on the road at Oklahoma, and could make Conference USA an unlikely two-bid league, but like the conference’s other favorite, Southern Miss, they shouldn’t leave anything to chance. Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss meet Friday in the C-USA semifinals, and you can rest assured, both teams will be taking it seriously.
Mizzou: Yes, Missouri won on Thursday against Texas A&M, but the way the Tigers did it – in double-OT fashion against a subpar opponent – may have done them more harm than good. A win over Florida on Friday, however, may be enough to make us forget that Thursday happened.
Cal: After a tough loss to Colorado on Thursday, there’s nothing more Cal can do to speak for itself before Selection Sunday. The Golden Bears have to hope that their resume – which includes road wins over Stanford and Oregon and home victories against Arizona and Colorado – will be enough to convince the committee that they’re on the right side of the bubble.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes have been plummetingover the last month or so, and that freefall continued Thursday against Northwestern, with a 67-62 loss in the Big Ten first round. There was a time when Iowa was a lock, but now it’s looking likely that they miss the tournament altogether.
MAYBE NEXT YEAR:
Arkansas: A season sweep of Kentucky and quality wins over Minnesota and SMU put the Hogs on the bubble, but Thursday’s loss to a poor South Carolina team that went 5-13 in SEC play this year was almost certainly enough to pop it. If only they had stolen that game against Florida in January…
UTEP: The Miners’ chances were somewhere between slim and none before Thursday’s game Southern Miss. After a 64-56 loss to the Golden Eagles, UTEP can take a sharpie to their tournament hopes.
St. John’s: The equation was simple for St. John’s on Thursday: Beat Providence and you’re probably in, lose and you’re probably out. Well, the Red Storm lost on one of its home floors in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would have you believe, and their tournament prospects were dashed as a result.
Utah: The Utes were a team with an outside chance at making the field heading into Thursday, but a 71-39 throttling at the hands of Pac-12 No. 1 seed Arizona wasn’t a good look to end the season and will almost assuredly keep them out of the field of 68.