Here is our February 6th look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as teams try to make the field. These are our last four teams in and first four out for now, but check back for future updates.
The calendar has now flipped over to February as Selection Sunday draws closer on March 15th, and we continue our weekly projections for which teams will be in the NCAA Tournament and which teams will have to settle for NIT, CIT or CBI bids, or even worse will not be participating in any post-season tournaments at all. Here are our latest educated guesses on our NCAA Basketball picks to make the NCAA Tournament as of February 6th.
Or more specifically, we are attempting to predict both who the last four teams in the field will be and who will be the first four teams out of the Big Dance, which is obviously still a tough task at this early stage. Remember also that most conference winners will get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, so these predictions could be affected by some upsets in conference tournaments by teams that would not have qualified for the NCAA Tournament otherwise.
Therefore, one conference tournament upset could knock out the last of our last four teams in and two upsets could cut these projected last four bids in half, while at the same time increasing our odds of being correct on the first four teams out. Those are the challenges of making these predictions about a month before the conference tournaments even begin and now about five weeks before Selection Sunday, but that challenge only makes doing these more fun!
With all of this in mind, here are our still early predictions for the last four teams selected for the NCAA Tournament field, as well as our selections of the first four teams out of the Big Dance.
Last Four In
Purdue Boilermakers: Purdue was once sitting at 11-8, but the Boilermakers have won four straight games since then with the victims including Iowa, Indiana and Ohio State! We feel that most recent win over the Buckeyes moves the Boilers from being squarely on the bubble to being the first of our last four teams in. We may learn more when Purdue visits a Minnesota team ranked 45th on Pomeroy on Saturday, but the Boilermakers will then have just two more games remaining vs. teams ranked in the Pomeroy Top 50. As long as Purdue does not slip up vs. one of the lesser teams, we feel that it is in good shape for a bid given the teams that it has beaten recently, not to mention an earlier win over Minnesota at home and a nice non-conference win over 41st ranked BYU on a neutral court.
Buffalo Bulls: We feel that the Bulls are the best team in the MAC this season, and they could make things moot by winning the MAC Tournament. However, should they fall, we think they are the one team that can give the MAC a second bid to the Dance. Currently at 15-6 and riding a three-game winning streak, Buffalo should have fairly little problem winning 20 regular season games and we think 21 is a real possibility with even 22 not out of the question. And it helps that the Bulls played a competitive non-conference schedule ranked 79th in SOS on Pomeroy and that they were actually competitive while losing by reasonable margins to Wisconsin (68-56) and to number one Kentucky, whom the Bulls actually trailed by just seven points with 10 minutes left before the Wildcats pulled away for the 71-52 win.
Colorado State Rams: The Rams seemed safely in as recently as two weeks ago and we still have them sneaking in currently, but not by much! In retrospect, Colorado State took advantage of a non-conference schedule ranked 227th according to the Pomeroy Ratings while going 13-0 out of conference to begin the year, and while they do have a respectable 6-4 record inside the Mountain West, they have losses to Boise State and Wyoming within their last three games as of this writing sandwiched around a win over a Fresno State team ranked just 220th on Pomeroy. The Rams may need to at least split their games coming up vs. New Mexico at home and San Diego State on the road, or their spot in the Big Dance could be in jeopardy.
Old Dominion Monarchs: Obviously Old Dominion could do itself a huge favor by winning the Conference USA Tournament and gain an automatic bid to the dance, but as of now we feel that the Monarchs have done enough to literally be our last team in. Naturally that would also put them in the position of being out if there is a major upset in one of the conference tournaments. While we are not too fond of Conference USA, we give the Monarchs this nod due to beating five Pomeroy Top 100 teams out of conference, most notably VCU, LSU and Richmond. There is also a realistic chance that Old Dominion can win out looking at their schedule to finish the regular season at 26-4, but even if they have one hiccup along the way to finish at 25-5, we like their chances to go Dancing provided they do not suffer a first-game upset in the C-USA Tournament.
First Four Out
Miami Hurricanes: The Hurricanes seemed to be sitting cushy six games into the ACC season as they were 4-2 in the conference, but one of the wins was extremely impressive when they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and shockingly routed Duke 90-74 while the two losses were both acceptable as they were in overtime to second ranked (at the time) Virginia and on the road by five points at Notre Dame. However, Miami has lost three straight games since then, a streak that began with a home loss to a Georgia Tech team ranked 76th on Pomeroy and was followed up by a road loss at 131st ranked Florida State. The most recent loss was not a bad one to Louisville, but dropping to 14-8 on the heels of those previous two games is unfortunately enough for us to rate the Canes as out first team out as of now.
George Washington Colonials: We had George Washington as one of our first four out last week and that has not changed. In fact we may be generous in keeping the Colonials in this group at all as they have played just one game in the last seven days and it resulted in a 59-55 road loss at Rhode Island. That was not a bad effort though on the road vs. the 64th ranked team on Pomeroy, but it was George Washington’s second straight loss following a defeat at VCU. This is still a team that was good enough to beat Wichita State on a neutral court in Hawaii earlier this season, but then again the Colonials also have some questionable losses to Penn State and La Salle on their resume. Also, GW may also get hurt by the Atlantic 10 sending six teams to the Big Dance last season and yet Dayton being the only team doing any damage, as that may prompt the committee to not select as many A-10 teams this year.
St. John’s Red Storm: The Red Storm were once flirting with a Top 10 ranking on the AP Poll earlier this season when they finished non-conference play 11-1 with the only loss coming to Gonzaga. However St. John’s has proceeded to go just 3-6 inside the Big East with two of the losses coming to a DePaul team ranked 124th on Pomeroy and to 114th ranked Creighton. The Red Storm split their two games in the last seven days, first completing a season sweep of 43rd ranked Providence, which was an encouraging sign. However the Red Storm then failed to gain any momentum by losing its most recent contest badly 85-62 at Butler. That leaves St. John’s at 14-8 and without a real statement win with Providence being the highest ranked Pomeroy team that it has beaten.
NC State Wolfpack: Apparently upsetting Duke is not enough to qualify for the Big Dance these days as the Wolfpack join Miami as the second team in our first four teams out that owns a win over the Blue Devils this season. Unfortunately the Wolfpack have been tumbling going 2-5 since that upset including four losses in the last five games. That now has NC State at 14-10 overall and 5-6 inside the ACC, most recently losing to a Wake Forest team ranked 110th on Pomeroy. Furthermore, besides Duke, the next two best wins for NC State have come vs. 46th ranked Richmond and 68th ranked Boise State, both out of conference wins vs. mid-major schools. Also a non-conference loss to 97th ranked Wofford does not help the Wolfpack’s cause.