Here is our February 20th look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as teams try to earn a bid. These are our last four teams in and first four out for now, but check back for future updates.
We are getting closer and closer to Selection Sunday as it is now just as a tad over three weeks away, so it is once again time for 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 worse, will not be participating in any post-season tournaments at all. So we now present to you our latest NCAA Basketball picks to make the NCAA Tournament as of Friday, February 20th.
But more specifically, we are actually attempting to predict who the last four teams in the field will be and who will be the first four teams out of the Big Dance, obviously a tough task even three weeks before the selections are made. To complicate things, most conference winners get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, so these picks could be affected by some major upsets in conference tournaments by teams that would not have made it otherwise.
Therefore, one conference tournament upset could knock out the last of these last four teams in and two upsets could cut those projected last four bids in half, while also increasing our odds of being correct on the first four teams out. Those are the challenges of making these predictions before the conference tournaments have even begun, but we have never shied away from such challenges in the past and they only make doing these projections much more fun!
So with all of that in mind, here without further ado are our February 20th predictions for the last four teams selected for the NCAA Tournament field, as well as our selections for the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament.
Last Four In
Stanford Cardinal: We had the Cardinal more safely in the tournament than this up until now and they are still ranked 37th overall on the Pomeroy Ratings, but Stanford has now plummeted into our danger zone at the worst possible time with four losses in the last five games. Yes, one of those losses came to Utah on the road, which is certainly forgivable, but they also lost to a Washington State team ranked 191st on Pomeroy and to 99th ranked Colorado, both on the road, as well as to 43rd ranked UCLA at home. The only win during this span was over a lousy USC team by eight points at home and remember that the Cardinal did have a questionable non-conference loss at DePaul early in the season. The recent skid has Stanford at 16-9 overall and just 7-6 in the conference, and the Pac-12 is now the lowest ranked of the six major conferences according to Pomeroy.
St. John’s Red Storm: We had the Red Storm as one of our first four teams out last week because they were lacking in key victories as their best triumphs prior to last Saturday were sweeping two games from a Providence and beating Minnesota out of conference early in the season. However, St. John’s then went on the road Saturday and beat a Xavier team ranked 26th on Pomeroy, and the Red Storm’s stock went up a little more by Providence now moving up to 35th. We feel those factors offset the most recent road loss to 18th ranked Georgetown enough for now to move St. John’s back up. Remember that the Red Storm still has home rematches vs. Georgetown and Xavier coming up as well as a road date at Villanova to end the regular season, so they still have more opportunities to either justify this placement or to crash and burn and drop out of this group again.
NC State Wolfpack: It has not been the most consistent of seasons for the Wolfpack, as they were good enough to put up 87 points in an upset of Duke early on in ACC play but who also recently lost five games in a six game stretch to fall to the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. However, NC State’s only game in the last seven days was a big on as it went on the road into Louisville and upset the Cardinals 74-65, and that was with the Cardinals at full strength before they suspended point guard Chris Jones. That is good enough for us to put the Wolfpack back to the right side of the bubble this week, but precariously so as the second to last team in.
Davidson Wildcats: Davidson made a step up in class this season to the Atlantic 10, a conference that sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament last season, after being a longtime member of the Southern Conference, and the Wildcats have handled the rise in class well, first going 9-2 out-of-conference with the two losses coming to a couple of heavyweights in Virginia and North Carolina and then going 9-4 so far in Atlantic 10 play. In fact, Davidson is surprisingly ranked 36th in the country overall on the Pomeroy Ratings, thanks mainly to ranking seventh in offensive efficiency and 11th in effective field goal percentage at 55.8 percent. Still, we had Davidson out of the Big Dance before a current four-game winning streak with the most recent one being a crucial one on the road at George Washington in what just might have been a play-in game.
First Four Out
LSU Tigers: We have continued to waffle back and forth with the Tigers with these weekly bubble updates, and after having them in last week on the heels of a two-point loss to the number one team in the country Kentucky, they are now our first team out after losing a game we think they had to have 68-62 at Texas A&M in their most recent contest. Yes, LSU has nine wins this season vs. teams in the Pomeroy Top 100, but the loss to the Aggies drops the Tigers to 18-8 and three of those losses came to 202nd ranked Missouri, 167th ranked Mississippi State and 144th ranked Auburn, with those rankings being all on Pomeroy. LSU remains 34th on Pomeroy overall, but the Tigers are simply not playing as well as that last few teams we have as our last four in right now, and once decisions get this close, recent form counts for a lot.
Boise State Broncos: We had Boise State as one of our last two teams in last week after a week that included a surprisingly easy 61-46 win over San Diego State, but apparently the Broncos could not stand the prosperity as they began this past week by losing to a Fresno State team ranked 209th in the Pomeroy Ratings, snapping an eight-game Boise winning streak. Yes the Broncos rebounded by beating a UNLV team ranked 112th last game, but the damage was already done for a team that was on a short leash to begin with. You see, the Mountain West is having a down season ranking 12th among all conferences as a whole according to Pomeroy, so that loss to the Bulldogs that now leaves the Broncos at 19-7 overall takes on added significance.
BYU Cougars: The fate of the Cougars could come down to how many teams the selection committee wants to have in the field from the West Coast Conference, where Gonzaga is definitely in but BYU and St. Mary’s may be competing for just one at-large bid, or worst yet, the committee may elect to make Gonzaga the only WCC team in. The Cougars did beat St. Mary’s head-to-head last week and they then extended their winning steak to four games with wins this week over Pacific and San Diego, improving BYU to 21-8 overall. Despite that, we have the Cougs as our third team out for now as the win over St. Mary’s was just their second over a Pomeroy Top 100 team all year with the other one coming vs. a Stanford team that may be overrated based on its current skid. Losing twice to Pepperdine, including once at home, also hurts the BYU cause.
Miami Hurricanes: We had the Hurricanes as one of our first four teams out last week and they remain in that group this week despite going 2-0 in the past seven days. That is because the two wins came vs. ACC weaklings and Miami needed two overtimes to get past Boston College before knocking off Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes are having a yo-yo season as they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and shockingly routed Duke like few other teams ever have there 90-74 early in the conference season while also having two “good” early losses with one in overtime to second ranked Virginia and the other on the road by five points at Notre Dame. However, the Canes then had some questionable losses to 76th ranked Georgia Tech at home as well as to 104th ranked Florida State and 93rd ranked Wake Forest on the road.