On The Bubble
Five teams who are on the precipice of missing the Big Dance.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
The 2011 NCAA bubble’s direction, like that of any spherical liquid-lined air pocket, has been fluid and unpredictable. Like clockwork, the free-flowing movement in, out, on, around the bubble continued this weekend. It’s almost March, though, so at a certain point (which may have been a few days ago for a handful of teams) a loss that could’ve been offset with a couple good wins two months ago becomes a potentially back/bubble breaking defeat. Here’s a list of five teams (five having only damaged its NCAA hopes and one having liquidated them) who may have seen their bubble popped for good this weekend.
5. Virginia Tech: Is it even worth it for Virginia Tech to play three quarters of the season? Joking, of course, but Va. Tech sitting precariously on the bubble is arguably college basketball’s most predictable scenario. The Hokies are never a lock, but are never officially out until the selection committee says so. Unlike in years past, however, Seth Greenberg might not have much of a beef with the process if his team does not get a bid. The Hokies only have themselves to blame for a crucial weekend loss to Virginia. That makes two losses on the season to the in-state rivals and 13-13 Cavaliers. Woof. Like all of these teams, Virginia Tech has a chance to redeem itself with a home game vs. Duke next Saturday, but an even more important game is the must-win a week later against fellow bubble dweller Boston College. That has tournament play-in game written all over it.
4. Baylor: It has been quite the chore keeping track of Baylor’s fluctuating bubble stock over the past month, but Saturday’s home loss to woeful Texas Tech could put an end to bubble watchers’ frustrations. I’d normally say a loss in Waco to the Red Raiders is mystifying, but nothing should surprise with Baylor any longer. Everyone seemed to hope back on the Bears’ bandwagon after their impressive overtime win at Texas A&M, but if that was one step forward, their latest loss is at least two steps back. Baylor’s most impressive win is easily the one in College Station. They even have a non-conference loss to aforementioned dead-team-walking Washington State. Luckily for Baylor, in the loaded Big 12 there is always opportunity for a team to play its way back into the conversation (three of Baylor’s final four games are against ranked opponents). Still, this loss to 4-8 Texas Tech at home isn’t going away any time soon.
3. Washington State: Even though the Pac-10 isn’t as weak as many still believe, turns out talk of it being a four-bid league was extremely premature. The Cougars’ 71-69 loss to Arizona State on Saturday may have been overlooked around the country, but unfortunately for coach Ken Bone it won’t go completely unnoticed. This is an extremely bad end of February loss, especially when you consider it drops Washington State below .500 in conference play. The Cougs stayed in the bubble conversation for this long by avoiding terrible non-conference losses, but after all of their slips up in Pac-10 play, those two marquee (liberal use of the term) wins over Washington and Gonzaga will only take them so far. After all, the bubble is weak … not anemic. Unless Klay Thompson can lead his team to a second win over Washington in Seattle next weekend and the Cougs follow that with a mini Pac-10 tourney run, I’m not sure how the selection committee could justify giving one of the final spots to Washington State.
2. Memphis: I, for one, am thrilled that Memphis is finally out of the bubble talk for good. I’m not a Memphis hater or even someone who follows the program remotely closely … I just couldn’t stand that this team was still getting at-large consideration with their mediocre (at best) resume. This weekend’s loss to C-USA bottom feeder Rice makes it four defeats in a weak league. And the Tigers better not hang their hat on that non-conference win over Gonzaga … the Zags have issues of their own. Looks like the only thing that will salvage Memphis’ NCAA hopes is a run in the conference tournament (which I’m afraid could easily take place).
1. Duquesne: Duquesne’s cute story is not so rosy anymore. The Duke’s have barely any impressive wins to begin with (a win over suddenly streaking Temple is about it), so every loss from here on out is crushing. And Duquesne has suffered a bunch recently, dropping three of the last four games. The A-10 is going to struggle to get three teams in the tournament this season (kind of a shame for a league people were declaring a burgeoning power conference before the season started), and it looks like that third spot is Richmond’s to lose. So, as of now, the Dukes can’t be considered a serious at-large candidate. A win at Richmond in the regular season finale and a run in the A-10 tourney (with at least one win over either Richmond, Temple, or Xavier) is a must for Duquesne to have any hope on Selection Sunday.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.