Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 11:06 AM
The month of February has arrived, which means March Madness is going to be here before you know it. The media is already talking about college basketball teams on the bubble even though we're still more than a month away from Selection Sunday. If the media's talking about it, then handicappers need to be thinking about it!
You can already see some teams struggling with the pressure of being on the bubble for NCAA Tournament consideration. Everyone wants to play in the Big Dance. Nobody wants to fall apart and miss the Big Dance. If you watched Monday Night's Missouri-Texas game on ESPN, you heard Brent Musburger and Bob Knight talk about the importance of the game for the Longhorns. Even in late January, the topic was on the radar. Let's quickly run through a dozen teams who will be taking the court in the next few days knowing that it's time to WIN if they want to make a run at tournament glory.
We're going to use the "last four in," "first four out," and "next four out" sections from ESPN's Bracketology page for the 12 most obvious examples of bubble teams. You could probably expand the list to 20 or so teams if you wanted to...or even 24-28 if you want to include EVERYONE who thinks of themselves as being on the bubble even if they're not. But, these 12 teams have the most at stake right now. Here's the "last four in."
NOTRE DAME: The Irish had a big win on Sunday at Connecticut, and take the floor again early Saturday in a national TV game against #15 Marquette. That would be a good scalp to have for the Irish as they continue to make their case. Remember that Notre Dame was a #2 seed last year, but was stunned in the second round.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats are reeling of late, having lost three straight games including a bad resume loss to Rutgers this past Saturday. Maybe they were drained from big efforts against Syracuse and West Virginia. The good news is that Cincy had a week off to recuperate before hosting lowly DePaul on Saturday. Given the toughness of their remaining schedule, Cincinnati could stay on the bubble through the whole month of February.
WASHINGTON: You may have watched the Huskies' big win this past Saturday Night at Arizona. It would be odd for only one team from the Pac 12 to get a bid...and Washington has a good chance to earn an at-large bid with a strong finish. They host UCLA Thursday Night in a national TV game that they really need to win to solidify their position. Five of their last seven games are on the road...so the team better win its home games!
COLORADO STATE: The Rams were in danger of falling off the map after suffering blowout losses on the road to Wyoming and New Mexico. But, a blowout win this past Saturday over San Diego State may have saved the season. Tonight, the Rams visit #13 Nevada-Las Vegas in a huge game. A road upset, and CSU surges to safety for the time being. A big loss, and it's back to the wrong side of the bubble. Big game on the Wild Wednesday schedule.
Now the four teams who are knocking the loudest on the door trying to get in...
BRIGHAM YOUNG: This team isn't used to losing at home, but they've just dropped double digit decisions to Loyola, Marymount and St. Mary's. The crowd got a technical foul in the St. Mary's game! So much for behavioral code violations. Gonzaga visits Provo Thursday Night in a big TV game on ESPN2. That should have the feel of Missouri-Texas in terms of importance. The road team is the better squad...the road team is on the bubble and needs to impress a national TV audience. The remaining schedule is pretty soft for BYU outside of the two games left with Gonzaga.
STANFORD: Stanford looked like a sure thing a few weeks ago. But they just suffered three straight bad road losses in Pac 12 play. And their 2-point home win over Utah was about as embarrassing as a win could be considering how bad Utah is. We have them further off the pace ourselves than Lunardi does because of their recent form. Big games at home Thursday and Saturday against the Arizona teams. If Stanford doesn't sweep, they may be out of the Dance for good.
NC STATE: Bad week for the Wolfpack, as they lost big to archrival North Carolina in a game that can only be seen as a flunked test. In the bounce-back spot, State lost to Virginia in a virtual tie-breaker game for fourth place in the ACC standings and the minds of voters. The fact that it was a home loss made it very clear that State isn't currently playing Dance-caliber basketball. They have a chance to right the ship tonight and Saturday against Boston College and Wake Forest (both 2-5 in league play)
MARSHALL: Free fall! Marshall has lost four straight games, as they didn't do much to impress during their toughest schedule stretch of the season. And, to make matters worse, losses to West Virginia, Memphis, and Southern Miss were joined by a very poor home loss to Alabama-Birmingham. They better get things going tonight vs. Tulane, because a tough road game at Tulsa awaits on Saturday.
And, the teams who really need to pick up their pace because they have to leapfrog the four teams we just discussed in addition to outlasting each other...
TEXAS: How should you evaluate close losses to nationally ranked teams like Missouri, Baylor, and Kansas? Texas is good enough to take those teams to the wire...and those teams are all very highly regarded. Yet, loss after loss has created a 3-6 record in Big 12 play. The schedule is about to get easier as Texas runs into longtime rivals who aren't playing very well this year. There's time to get back on the right side of the bubble. A Saturday-Monday sequence against Texas Tech and Texas A&M is a must-sweep.
MISSISSIPPI: It would be something if a team that lost to LSU 81-55 made the Big Dance. We're not as impressed with the Rebels resume as Lunardi is. We agree that Ole Miss at its best can compete with anybody (they just lost by four points versus Florida in a quality loss). Road games at Alabama, Mississippi State, and Kentucky in the next few weeks will make it clear whether or not these guys are legitimate.
WYOMING: There are currently four teams from the Mountain West in the brackets according to Lunardi, with Wyoming looming as a possible fifth. We're very skeptical that the committee would take five teams from this league, and even four seems like a longshot given the committee's past history. Wyoming must take care of business tonight at TCU, then impress Saturday vs. UNLV in their biggest home game of the year. This is not a team we're currently optimistic about, though we may pick our spots with them on the service.
CENTRAL FLORIDA: This past Saturday we wrote a NOTEBOOK entry that mentioned Conference USA having four teams in Lunardi's brackets. It's down to just TWO because Marshall and Central Florida failed to impress that day. Central lost at home to Southern Miss by 13 points, which may have erased the positive impact of an earlier one-point home win over Memphis. Central will have a tester on Saturday at SMU, then a potential elimination game next Wednesday against Marshall in terms of ending the bubble hopes for one of those teams.
That lays out the big picture...you do-it-yourselfers have some work to do to pick winners tonight and through the next week! If you'd like some help, BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK are just a few clicks away. Our game day selections go up a few hours before tipoff right here at this website. You can also sign up for seasonal service on line, or by calling our office at 1-800-323-4453.
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We'll no doubt talk more about bubble teams and bubble handicapping strategies through the month of February. You longtime readers have won with us over many years of college basketball. The Tech Bubble may have burst. The Housing Bubble may have burst. JIM HURLEY'S BANKROLL JUST KEEPS GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER BECAUSE HE GETS THE MONEY!