WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report – 3/5/07

WeAreDePaul.com's Mike Adam is back with the Monday edition of his NCAA Tournament Bubble Blog...

So after all is said and done after the weekend, DePaul's RPI rank has nudged up slightly, according to warrennolan.com. It's at 60 as of this morning. All things considered, not such a bad thing, since we were all worried the home game against South Florida (RPI Rank: 1,896) would cause it to fall.

So here we go. An at-large bid is there for the taking. I don't proclaim to know what the magic number of wins in New York is. The optimists say one. The cautious say three. Some in-between say two. I just know it isn't zero.

However, I suppose I am the optimist in that when DePaul came back from Maui 1-4 (against Division I competition), I wasn't sure how the Demons were going to ever get back in the bubble picture. Yet they managed to do so, on the strength of a 16-8 record from that point forward. There was a post a couple of weeks ago (I don't remember who said it, so I apologize for not giving due credit) about enjoying the ride. At what point do we get to enjoy the ride DePaul has taken us on? Do we only get to enjoy it if the Demons make the NCAA Tournament? Is it only when DePaul suffers no embarrassing losses so we don't have to put up with crap from our friends and faceless message board posters from other sites? Personally, I'm having a great time. Sure, I'll be bummed if the Demons go out on Wednesday and lay a major egg in the most important game of the year, but what can I do to control that, you know? If I thought my words would have any influence on the game, I'd take the next three days off from work and write a monologue for a filibuster. I'll be here writing if they win, and I'll be here writing if they lose.

What are my thoughts on drawing Villanova? Gotta play someone, so it may as well be them. This may sound odd, but I actually like that DePaul has to earn its way into the Dance by playing one of the toughest draws. Bring it on. I thought Burno 11 summarized it perfectly yesterday:

"I don't understand why people are upset with this matchup. To get in the NCAA tourney, you have to BEAT good teams.

If DePaul played Providence and won, it means nothing unless they can follow through against Georgetown. Now, if they beat Villanova AGAIN, the Committee has to take notice, and DePaul may move above them in the pecking order. Then, if they can shock Georgetown, we're talking about seeding for sure."

Bingo. I'm not 100% sure there's any circumstance where DePaul would go and Villanova wouldn't, but I do think there are worse positions DePaul could be in than trying to anchor themselves to Villanova.

I will say this – if DePaul can beat two Top 20 RPI teams (Villanova and Georgetown) on back-to-back days at a neutral site…I don't see how they get left out. How many other bubble teams have the opportunity to make such a statement in their first two conference tournament games? Assuming the Demons pull off this daily double, would it not prove that the DePaul of March is much different than the DePaul of November, which dug themselves into the hole to begin with? First thing's first, though – before you can win two, you have to win one.

I'm going to make a concerted effort for the next few days to try and write daily…so long as work allows (unfortunately, it's busy season at my "real" job). That could stop as early as Thursday morning, though, depending on my possible level of disheartenment (wow, that's actually a word) as to what the Demons did the prior day.

The Good

Big East

St. John's 77, Providence 64. Well, since piece #79 of the #91-piece scenario that got DePaul the #6 seed in the Big East Tournament didn't come to fruition Saturday night, it's a good thing that Providence (18-11, 8-8, RPI: 70) lost. This pretty much wipes out their at-large hopes.

ACC

Wake Forest 78, Virginia 72. The Father of Modern Basketball and his Cavaliers (19-9, 11-5, RPI: 45) couldn't win on the road? You're kidding? That's interesting that the co-ACC champions only have an RPI rank 15 spots over the eighth-best team in the Big East. Clearly, Jay Bilas is asleep at the wheel here.

Big 10

Iowa 60, Illinois 53. Illinois' (21-10, 9-7, RPI: 37) resume is probably enough for them to get in at the moment, but that could change in a hurry if they somehow collapse against Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa (17-13, 9-7, RPI: 84) continues to screw up the entire conference. They are utterly mediocre, yet beat everyone in Iowa City. In one of the most intriguing quarterfinal match-ups anywhere, they play Purdue.

Ohio State 65, Michigan 61. A sigh of relief here, as Michigan (20-11, 8-8, RPI: 53) gives Ohio State a scare but falls short. The Wolverines get a no-win game against Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. A win is expected, and may even deteriorate the RPI rank. Lose, and they're going to rename the NIT, "The Tommy Amaker Invitational".

SEC

Tennessee 71, Georgia 65. The Bulldogs (16-12, 8-8, RPI: 64) play in the tougher division of an extremely difficult conference, but they let two chances to make a statement slip through their fingers at the end of the regular season. Barring a deep SEC Tournament run, I don't see them in the NCAA Tournament field.

Mississippi State 91, Alabama 67. As mentioned below, Kentucky is going to get the chance to take these two teams out of the SEC Tournament in successive rounds if the Wildcats can get past ‘Bama (20-10, 7-9, RPI: 44) in the first round. This is the fourth time in conference Alabama has lost a game by 20 or more points on the road. And they get an awful draw with a Kentucky team who's going to be more focused than usual, given the scrutiny Tubby Smith has been under lately. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (17-12, 8-8, RPI: 66) are the co-champions of the SEC West, and by virtue of a tiebreaker that Jackie Sherrill must have concocted, are the #1 seed from that division. How would MSU garner an at-large bid with their weak resume? I don't see how they can.

Big XII

Kansas 90, Texas 86. Certainly doesn't hurt during resume-evaluation time that the Demons have a win over a team who went 27-4 and won the Big XII regular season, as "Rock, Chalk" (27-4, 14-2, RPI: 15) did.

Baylor 86, Oklahoma State 82. As best as I can piece together, Oklahoma State (19-10, 6-9, RPI: 52) is making up the game that was cancelled earlier in the season against Nebraska on Monday night. How they perform there might show if the Cowboys have any fire left in the belly at all. But I really don't see how they get into the NCAA Tournament. They're going to finish under .500 in a conference rated lower than the Missouri Valley. They've lost nine of their 14 games, and two of the five wins came at home in multiple overtimes. According to warrennolan.com, as recently as five weeks ago, their RPI rank topped out at 10. Now they're in the 50s. OSU played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament.

Missouri Valley

Southern Illinois 53, Bradley 51. If DePaul had to write a script for Bradley (20-12, 11-9, RPI: 40) to follow in the MVC, this would have been it. They won the game against Northern Iowa, then showed they could hang with Southern Illinois on a neutral court for the entire game before falling. And they did hang with the Salukis. I'm not sure either team was up by more than seven during the entire game. I know this has been mostly eradicated, but does anyone still believe losing to Bradley was a "bad" loss? Maybe the margin was disheartening, but this is a good team.

Creighton 75, Missouri State 58. I was there to see Nate Funk of Creighton (22-10, 16-5, RPI: 21) have one of the quietest 33-point outings you'll ever see in a college basketball game. He didn't really have a scoring surge, just kept scoring…and scoring…and scoring. Since I don't get to see many non-Big East teams in person, it was enlightening to me to see Missouri State (21-10, 13-7, RPI: 38). Honestly, after watching them, I didn't feel like they were an NCAA Tournament team. I try to stay away from the intangible, since that's harder to defend in a discussion than the tangible. But in my mind's eye, I couldn't envision them winning a game in the Tournament if they got there. Maybe I caught them on a bad day. Regardless, they're going to hold on for dear life to their neutral-site win over Wisconsin and their season sweep of Bradley, but I don't know if that's enough.

Pac-10

Arizona 85, Stanford 80 (OT). So what do we do about the Cardinal (18-11, 10-8, RPI: 57)? Remember, 10 wins in the Pac-10 is not the same milestone as 10 wins in most other conference because the Pac-10 plays 18 league games instead of 16. That RPI rank is much more dangerous for them than I thought it would end up, and they have a nasty first-round Pac-10 Tournament game against USC.

Others

Davidson 72, College of Charleston 65. "Thank you" notes from all over the country will be heading to Davidson (27-4, 20-1, RPI: 50), who took themselves off the bubble and put themselves in the Dance. Now we have to watch what happens to Appalachian State (22-7, 16-4, RPI: 61), who are probably going to get left out because a) they finished second in the regular season in the conference and b) the Southern Conference is the 19th-highest rated conference. Plus, their win at Wichita State lost some luster when the Shockers went out in the Missouri Valley quarterfinals. I don't see the Mountaineers as a serious at-large threat.

Winthrop 84, VMI 81. Luckily, I was blissfully ignorant as to the drama that was playing out at Winthrop (24-4, 17-0, RPI: 69) since I was at the Missouri Valley Tournament. VMI nearly stole this game. The Eagles advance to the NCAA Tournament, and they save another bubble spot for the rest of the nation.

Butler 67, Loyola (IL) 66 (OT). Whew – disaster just barely averted. I can't decide if Butler's (25-5, 14-3, RPI: 27) already peaked or if they've been getting everyone's best shot for the better of two months and are growing tired. I don't have the most confident feeling as they head into the championship game against Wright State (22-9, 14-3, RPI: 78). The Raiders know the only way they go to the NCAA Tournament is by winning this game, and they get home-court advantage, where they've only lost once this season (to Bowling Green, of all teams).

Fresno State 71, Utah State 66. Go figure the Aggies (20-10, 9-7, RPI: 59). They lose at Louisiana Tech (RPI: 196). They beat Nevada (RPI: 19). Then they lose at home to Fresno State (RPI: 73). This loss probably relegated them to auto-bid or bust. I don't see how the fourth-place team in the WAC has a case for an at-large, especially given two of the last three results.

The Bad

Big East

West Virginia 79, Cincinnati 65. A win here by the Bearcats would have provided a bit of separation for the Demons over the Pittsnogles (20-8, 9-7, RPI: 58). Yet that was probably asking too much of a team who is likely just happy the season is over. Congratulations to WVU for winning the game. Their reward is a no-win situation against Providence in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Lose, and they won't be making the NCAAs. Win, and they may or may not be in (Providence isn't going to do much for West Virginia's RPI rank.)

ACC

Georgia Tech 74, Boston College 60. Any questions left about the Ramblin' Wreck (20-10, 8-8, RPI: 33) getting invited to the Dance? Unfortunately, none here, either.

Clemson 75, Virginia Tech 74. Who would have thought this? Clemson (21-9, 7-9, RPI: 34) gets a stay of execution for the time being, but look what's waiting for them…

Florida State 98, Miami (FL) 90. The Hurricanes are throwing scares into people left and right, but the Seminoles (19-11, 7-9, RPI: 46) survive. Here's a game that might rival Purdue-Iowa for intrigue: Clemson vs. Florida State in an #8-#9 game, with the loser not even technically qualifying for the ACC quarterfinals. Can you say, "elimination game"?

SEC

Mississippi 83, Auburn 79. All hail the co-champions of the SEC West, the Mississippi Rebels! (19-11, 8-8, RPI: 67) Nothing like a division champion with 11 overall losses, huh? The question is not whether they have to win a game in the SEC Tournament, but rather how many. They get a bye in the first round, and will be awaiting the winner of the Tennessee-LSU game. (Has a team who played the day before ever been favored over a team who had a bye?)

Arkansas 82, Vanderbilt 67. Did anyone see this game? Are we sure it isn't a typo? This was among the biggest wins for bubble contenders over the weekend, but Arkansas (18-12, 7-9, RPI: 48) is still going to have to explain how it finished under .500 in conference in the weaker SEC Division. I want them knocked out of the SEC Tournament as early as possible, and the team who gets first crack at them is South Carolina.

Florida 85, Kentucky 72. Ah, well – Florida couldn't keep losing forever, could they? The consolation prize for the Wildcats (20-10, 9-7, RPI: 12) is that they get to play a slumping Alabama team in the first round, then likely progress to an EASIER game in the second round against Mississippi State.

Big 10

Purdue 73, Northwestern 50. Did you know that, according to warrennolan.com, Purdue's (20-10, 9-7, RPI: 47) RPI rank has been between 37 and 47 for the past two months? This is what happens when you beat everyone at home and no one on the road, as the Boilers have managed to do. They could be in serious trouble if they lose the quarterfinal game to Iowa mentioned above.

Big XII

Texas Tech 63, Iowa State 61. After their middle of the season five-game losing streak, the Red Raiders (20-11, 9-7, RPI: 41) claw their way back to an over .500 conference finish and 20 overall wins en route to a fifth-place finish in the Big XII. They should be fine come Selection Sunday.

Kansas State 72, Oklahoma 61. Not like this was an unexpected result, but Kansas State (21-10, 10-6, RPI: 62) now has 21 overall wins, 10 conference wins, and a fourth-place finish, and they STILL can't get their RPI rank out of the 60s. And if Texas Tech wins its first game, Bob Knight will be going up against Bob Huggins in the quarterfinals. Nice.

Pac-10

Arizona State 42, California 41. Good grief. What is most embarrassing about this for California (14-16, 6-12, RPI: 87): a) they only scored 41 points, b) they lost to a team who is now 7-21, c) this was Arizona State's first road win of the season, or d) their RPI rank tumbled about 20 spots when all was said and done?

Atlantic 10/14

Richmond 71, Rhode Island 69. Richmond is now 8-21 after this home win over the Rams (15-13, 10-6, RPI: 122). (sigh)

Massachusetts 71, St. Joseph's 67. Maybe the Minutemen (23-7, 13-3, RPI: 55) are serious after all. Their RPI rank has done nothing but improve since the season has gone on, they've won nine of their last ten, and they have a non-conference win at Louisville in their hip pocket. On the down side, though, they're only 1-4 against the RPI Top 50. Regardless, they bear watching.

Others

Tulane 76, UAB 74. Even with the coaching change, I would have never forecasted UAB (15-15, 7-9, RPI: 124) to be so average in such a bad conference. Really, the only saving grace they can provide to DePaul is if they can get past Marshall in the first round of the C-USA Tournament, then somehow stun Memphis. Even then, though, that pops a bubble because no one else in C-USA outside the Tigers is remotely at-large worthy. This is depressing. Now I know how Indiana fans felt.

Central Arkansas 92, Northwestern State 86. I feel like renaming this section today the "horrifically bad". Cal lost to a team who's now 7-21. Rhode Island lost to a team who's now 8-21. Northwestern State (14-14, 10-6, RPI: 182) still won its division, but lost to a team who's now 6-20. At least the loss was on the road, but still…

San Diego State 55, TCU 51. As expected, the Aztecs (19-9, 10-6, RPI: 56) held serve at home against a bad Horned Frogs squad. The silver lining is that their RPI rank took a hit. They're probably going to have to win the Mountain West Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament now.

The Ambivalent

Big East

Villanova 78, Syracuse 75. You know, DePaul did technically finish ahead of Villanova (20-9, 9-7, RPI: 18) in the Big East standings. And with this win, DePaul now owns wins this season over four teams who ended the season with 20 or more wins. And I'm pretty sure the Catholics at DePaul are more pious than the Catholics at Villanova. This is a city whose fans booed Santa Claus, after all… (Yes, I'm kidding, for any visitors who might be reading this.)

Colonial

VCU 73, Georgia State 60

Drexel 64, Northeastern 50

VCU 63, Drexel 56

So where do these three results leave these two teams? Well, if you're going to follow the Villanova-DePaul logic people are applying, Virginia Commonwealth (26-6, 18-2, RPI: 51) beat Drexel (22-8, 14-6, RPI: 42) at Drexel, and now has beaten them in the conference tournament. Plus, the Rams will finish with at least four more conference wins than the Dragons. Now the Colonial also has the same problem as the Big East with unbalanced schedules, and VCU played an easier regular season. And in the Bracket Busters, Drexel won at Creighton, while VCU lost at home to Bradley. But I think VCU is "in", and I think Drexel is going to polarize people on Selection Sunday. I really have no idea about them right now.

George Mason 79, Old Dominion 63. Boy, I'm not sure there's a team who would make me more nervous to be matched up against in a tournament setting than George Mason (18-14, 12-9, RPI: 121). Needless to say, they're not getting into the NCAA Tournament without winning the automatic bid, but how much did this loss put a monkey wrench into Old Dominion's (24-8, 16-4, RPI: 39) at-large plans? After all, this is a sub-100 RPI loss, and the RPI rank tumbled commensurately (down about six spots). They're going to lean hard on three things: 1) a non-conference win over Georgetown, 2) a 12-game winning streak going into this game, and 3) a second-place finish in the Colonial regular season. I think in concert, all three of those things will still probably get them an at-large bid, but now they have to sweat a bit more than they wanted.

Games to Watch

Oklahoma State at Nebraska. Even if Oklahoma State gets it, this win doesn't do much for their overall profile.

George Mason vs. VCU. Anybody know VCU's fight song?

Santa Clara vs. Gonzaga. I still don't think Gonzaga's going Dancing without winning the WCC, but I'd rather not find out. I'm quite sure Santa Clara's not going Dancing unless they win.

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