Bubble Watch 2017: In/Out for Top Bubble NCAA Tournament Teams
|Haanif Cheatham, Marquette|
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (15-11, 6-7)
When Josh Pastner opted to head to Atlanta, many people believed it was simply to ditch out of a Memphis program primed to fire the still-young head coach. Because of this, expectations for the Yellow Jackets were very dim entering 2016-2017. Georgia Tech has responded with a marvelous season, and remains very much on the bubble. The Yellow Jackets possess an okay record and sit at about .500 in what is probably the toughest conference in the sport. However, the thing keeping them most attractive to the Committee has to be some of their huge wins. The Yellow Jackets have beaten Florida State, UNC and Notre Dame, which has helped them overcome a poor RPI (76) and mediocre strength of schedule (57). Georgia Tech now moves into an interesting part of their schedule. All of their games are winnable over the next five, and two of them are against Syracuse, who also sits on the bubble. Taking advantage of that favorable schedule and perhaps doing some damage in the conference tournament could be the ingredient needed to propel GT into the field.
Clemson Tigers (14-11, 4-9)
Clemson got a huge victory against fellow bubble-team Wake Forest this week, but this team still sits in a precarious position right now. Many people believe the Tigers are in, but it is hard to overlook a 4-9 conference record, even in the ACC. The tough part is, Clemson could easily have beaten Duke (lost 64-62), Syracuse (82-81), UNC (89-86) and Virginia Tech (82-81), which would have given their resume a major boost if they had even managed one or two of those collapses. The Tigers' schedule the rest of the way isn't brutal, but includes a number of road tests. This team has to be also likely get a signature victory in order to secure a berth in the Big Dance. As long as that is absent, it is hard for me to put a 12th place team into the field.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (15-11, 6-8)
Quietly, Danny Manning has Wake Forest headed to their best season in a long time and in an interesting spot in mid-February. The Demon Deacons own a decent record, but much like Clemson, they lack a real, eye-popping win. They have feasted on mainly the ACC bottom-feeders, and failed to beat anyone of note in the non-conference. The good news is that a battle with Duke and then Louisville later gives them two opportunities to really show what they can do. Splitting one or winning both could greatly help the Demon Deacons, particularly if they combine that with a conference tourney run. But, Wake still appears on the outside looking in at the moment, until they prove they can hang with the big boys.
Seton Hall Pirates (16-9, 6-7)
The Big East is a very good conference this season, which bodes well for Seton Hall, who has very strong tournament chances despite a sub-.500 record in the conference. Headed by Khadeem Carrington and a lengthy list of offensive weapons, the Pirates have had some terrific moments, with two huge victories against South Carolina and Creighton this week. Yet, there are some serious worries when examining Seton Hall as well. They were blown out by Villanova, and have failed to really play well against many of the other Big East powers. The Pirates get 'Nova later this week, in a game that could well play a huge role for their tournament hopes. Like most teams on this list, Seton Hall still has to end the year well, but a decent RPI and SOS will continue to propel them.
Marquette Golden Eagles (15-10, 6-7)
Here is a crazy fact: Marquette has the longest NCAA Tournament drought out of any Division I Wisconsin school, spanning three seasons. There is a good chance that comes to an end in 2017, as the Golden Eagles have a strong enough resume to get in. Marquette may also be sub-.500 in the Big East, but own to huge victories over Villanova and Creighton. Although, the Golden Eagles have lost four of five since that two-game stretch of victories. That leaves them with plenty of work to do, likely needing to beat either Xavier or Creighton to end the year to have any chance. Yet, that 'Nova victory is a key advantage for Marquette few others can boast.
Indiana Hoosiers (15-12, 5-9)
A quick look at Indiana's record over the last few weeks and a 5-9 mark in the struggling Big Ten is enough for many to discredit any chance the Hoosiers make the tourney. But, the Hoosiers are still alive, only because of two huge non-conference victories over Kansas and UNC, both who could get No. 1 seeds. Those wins may show this team's vast potential, but you also have to recognize just how poorly Indiana is playing right now. They have lost six of their last seven and lost to another bubble team, Michigan by 30 points recently. They still have an opportunity to beat two likely NCAA Tournament teams in Northwestern and Purdue, but the window of opportunity is quickly slamming shut in Bloomington.
Alabama Crimson Tide (15-10, 8-5)
In the SEC, it appears Kentucky, Florida and probably South Carolina are locks, with plenty of chaos beyond that. Arkansas is in prime position to be the fourth team in, but Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee are all jostling for position for a chance at a fifth bid. 'Bama probably has the best chance, because they are playing the best of the trio and own the best conference record. Also helping the Tide's case is a recent victory over South Carolina, which added some bulk to a pretty thin resume. Yet, my major worry with Alabama is the fact the SEC has not gotten much respect from the Committee the last few seasons, and it is hard to imagine that changing. Unless they can jump Arkansas, I find it tough to see five teams getting in from the conference.
Illinois State Redbirds (22-5, 14-1)
Illinois State is not like most of the teams on this list, because of course they play in the Missouri Valley, where it is always tough to secure multiple tournament bids. The Redbirds and Wichita State are in a dead heat for the regular season crown, with both at 14-1 in the conference. Illinois State actually beat the Shockers once, but Wichita does have a better overall record and responded by beating them by 41. Whichever team doesn't win the conference tournament could be in an interesting spot, but Illinois State would put a good case for deserving of an at-large bid. They have a poor SOS and lack many big wins, but their RPI is terrific (36) and they have the makeup of a tourney team, with plenty of experience and depth. It is hard to say whether the Committee would prefer a .500 ACC team or a five-loss Missouri Valley team when it comes down to it, but I'd prefer the Redbirds over most.