College Basketball Handicapping: Bubble Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 02/25/2009
The nearer we get to the NCAA Tournament, the more important games get for teams that are fighting for a spot in the dance. Betting games involving bubble teams differs only slightly from betting other games at this time of year - you only need to add in the consideration of how the teams will handle the pressure of their situation. Here's a look at 10 bubble teams and the challenges they face in the coming weeks:
Michigan - My beloved Wolverines are in dire straits. With four games remaining they needed two wins to likely made the tournament. That prospect took a serious blow when they turned their brains off and threw away a win in overtime against Iowa. That means that they need to win two of their last three, and it's hard to find those two amongst a home game at Purdue and trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Their next game, on Thursday against the Boilermakers, is crucial - they must win that because they are so bad on the road. If they don't then they will be playing for NIT seeding, and that will obviously hurt their motivation.
Boston College - The Eagles are penciled in to most brackets at this point. To stay there they probably need to finish at 9-7 in their conference. They now have a week to think about that challenge before their last two games - at NC State next Wednesday, and then at home against Georgia Tech the following Saturday. Those games are essentially win-and-you're-in affairs - one win will likely be enough.
Penn State - The Nittany Lions have a terribly weak non-conference schedule, so they need to show their strength in-conference to earn a spot. Like Michigan, they likely need to win two of their final three games - Indiana on Saturday, Illinois next Wednesday, and at Iowa to close the season on the final Saturday - to earn a spot. Illinois is tough, but Penn State has already beaten them once. The other two games are very winnable. If they play their game then their prospects are very good.
Maryland - The Terrapins helped their chances significantly by beating North Carolina this weekend. They still have some work to do, though. They aren't helped by a great non-conference schedule, and they have struggled on the road. They probably need two wins in their last four games to get in, and they would be helped by a conference tournament win or two as well. Those wins are going to be hard to find - they have Duke and Wake Forest at home, and travel to NC State and Virginia.
San Diego State - The Aztecs were looking good to earn an impressive fourth bid from the tough Mountain West Conference, but their hopes have taken a setback in their last two games - blowout losses at New Mexico and to BYU. They also have some injury issues to deal with. Their situation is critical, but they can salvage themselves. They need to win all three remaining games - at TCU, then at home against Colorado State and UNLV. They also need to make a good run in the conference tournament. At this point I would bet against them.
Cincinnati - When people talked about the ridiculously tough Big East Conference before the season the Bearcats weren't a team that got a lot of respect. They are still in the bubble picture, though. Their biggest problem is that they don't really have an impressive win against a top opponent. Beating Pitt or Louisville in one of their last two games would have helped immensely. To get in at this point Cincinnati really needs to run the table in their four remaining games - West Virginia on Thursday, followed by trips to Syracuse and South Florida and a home game against Seton Hall. It's hard to believe that they will get it done.
Notre Dame - Here's another Big East bubble team that seems more likely to be left out. They are obviously hurt by losing eight of their last 11, though they did add a nice win against Louisville. To give themselves a very good chance of making the field the Irish likely need to win all four of their games, Easier said than done - Rutgers and St. John's are very winnable games, but a trip to UConn and a home game against Villanova are much tougher.
Temple - Temple needs to do their job and then hope for the best. The A-10 is almost certain to be a two-bid league, but there is an outside chance they would get three, and Temple is third in line. The Owls have four games left. Three - against La Salle on Thursday, against St. Joseph's, and at George Washington - are likely to be wins if Temple can maintain their current form. Temple's hopes all come down to one game - at Dayton on Saturday. If Temple wins then they have a chance. If they lose then it's all done.
UAB - The Blazers are clearly the second best team in the Conference USA, but that's not saying much. The conference doesn't get a whole lot of respect beyond Memphis. UAB looks good, but they have just one big win - against Arizona. They have just one chance of making the field - they have to beat Memphis on the road on Thursday. That's easier said than done - Memphis has won 54 in a row at home.
Virginia Tech - The Hokies have made it very hard for themselves by losing their last three. Depending on your perspective, it's either a good thing or a very bad one that they have a very tough remaining schedule - at Clemson and Florida State, and at home against Duke and UNC. Two wins over that stretch would make the Hokies very hard to leave out, but I'm not holding my breath.