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BSD Bubble Forecast: March 3

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Signature win moves Deacs into field, but just barely

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional Practice Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard, Wake Forest basketball won an important game on Wednesday. With the win over Louisville, let’s take a look at where the Deacs stand, according to a consensus of bracketologists, starting with the teams just above the cut line:

It’s great to see Wake Forest in this table, rather than the next one. Most of this group is fairly safe at this point, but there are a few key situations to watch. The most interesting this weekend will be Illinois State. The Redbirds head into this afternoon’s MVC Tournament quarterfinal game as the final team in the Matrix field. Kenpom gives them a 42% chance to lose before the final. Should that sort of a bad loss materialize, expect Illinois State to drop out. Wichita State is potentially in a similar position, but Kenpom likes their odds of winning the conference tournament far more.

Next week, the Big East Tournament will merit significant attention. Kenpom likes Marquette the best of the league’s bubble teams. Providence and Seton Hall are more realistic options to drop, as they both are reasonably likely to conclude their resumes with back-to-back losses (regular season finale, Big East quarterfinals). The most interesting Big East bubble team, however, is Xavier. On Monday, I wrote:

Musketeers have lost five in a row, and their body of work post-Edmond Sumner is shaky at best.

Five has become six, and it’s time to press the panic button in Cincinnati. Xavier will likely head into Selection Sunday five weeks removed from a win over any team not named DePaul. And should they lose to DePaul? That would be all she wrote.

Finally, note that California will drop out of the field shortly. The Matrix has not yet incorporated their 30-point loss to Utah late last night. The Bears are underdogs in their regular season finale @ Colorado, and then will likely be the underdog in their Pac 12 Tournament quarterfinal game as well. They will need to pull an upset to reenter the dance.

As you can see, most bracketologists have consolidated their list of fringe bubble teams. There are a couple teams not on the Matrix currently that I think are still faintly alive (e.g. Iowa, Utah), but the list has been pared down significantly over the last few weeks as teams like Tennessee, Indiana, and Georgetown have clearly played themselves out of contention.

Even among the 10 teams above, not all are real contenders in my opinion. Houston will fall further once their decisive loss at Cincinnati is included. TCU will need to pull a mild upset tomorrow (@ Oklahoma), and then a major upset in the Big 12 Tournament. Georgia Tech is in a fairly similar position as TCU, with even worse odds to pull it off given their mediocre Kenpom rank.

The teams below the Yellow Jackets probably need multiple major upsets. Of that group, the one that is most worth following is probably Clemson, believe it or not. They should win their next two: vs. Boston College, ACC Tournament Tuesday (likely NC State), and then will not be much of an underdog in the 5/12 game. In fact, if Virginia Tech lands the 5 seed, Clemson could actually be favored in that game, on Kenpom. But they would still probably need one more big win.

Most likely, the current First Four Out section is the group to watch (/focus on rooting against): Rhode Island, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Kansas State. Rhode Island has quickly climbed back up this chart, with four consecutive wins following their ugly loss to Fordham. They should win tomorrow, and then will likely get another crack at the A10’s top two (Dayton, VCU) in the A10 Tournament semifinals. We need them to lose that one (or before then). Kansas State and Illinois both finish with games where they are a slight favorite, while Vanderbilt has a chance to sweep Florida.

Big Picture for Wake Forest

As the charts indicate, the Deacs’ tournament hopes still rest on a knife’s edge. If today was Selection Sunday, I think our odds would be better than 50/50, but it would certainly be a nerve-wracking day. Unfortunately, Wake faces a tricky stretch over the next week. The Deacs finish the regular season at Virginia Tech, where Kenpom likes the Hokies by two. Most likely, Wake then opens the ACC Tournament on Tuesday against Boston College, which carries significantly more risk than reward. A win over BC is not going to move the needle, and a loss would be devastating. Assuming the Deacs survive and advance on Tuesday, they will likely play in one of the best 7/10 conference tournament games in NCAA history, as Kenpom #6 Virginia headlines an impressive list of potential opponents.

A few weeks ago, I summarized our position as follows:

5+ wins: We’re dancing
4 wins: Great shape
3 wins: ????
2 wins: Longshot
1 win: Start following NIT bracketology
0 wins: Yikes

Since then, Wake has won twice: Pittsburgh and Louisville. I believe this table still holds. If we get stuck on two wins (e.g. lose out), we’re a longshot. If we win two more from this point forward (four total), we’re in great shape. Three more would be verging on “lock” territory.

The big question is what happens if we win one more, either:
L @ Virginia Tech
W vs. Boston College (or Pittsburgh or NC State)
L on ACC Tournament Wednesday

or

W @ Virginia Tech
L vs. Boston College

The first scenario is particularly worrisome, as it is the most likely individual scenario on the table. Fundamentally, I would disagree with anyone who claims to know how the committee would handle either. Again, our results do not exist in a vacuum. I believe 18 wins leaves Wake vulnerable, which means we have a big week of scoreboard watching in front of us. So let’s take a look at recent bubble movement and what’s up next...

Weekly Bubble Recap:

Bubble teams who were supposed to win, and won:

Virginia Tech (vs. Miami)
Providence (@ DePaul)
Georgia Tech (vs. Pittsburgh)
USC (vs. Washington State)
Clemson (vs. NC State)
Rhode Island (@ St. Joseph’s)
Texas Tech (vs. Texas)
Georgia (vs. Auburn)
Alabama (vs. Ole Miss)
Illinois (vs. Michigan State)
Dayton (vs. VCU)
Northwestern (vs. Michigan)
MTSU (vs. FIU)
Utah (vs. California)

It was an impressive week for bubble teams at home. The Illinois result may have surprised the casual fan, but they were the favorite in Kenpom. Georgia and Georgia Tech lived to see another game, and Northwestern delivered a play that will be remembered for decades to come in Evanston.

Bubble teams who were supposed to lose, and lost:

Vanderbilt (@ Kentucky)
Pittsburgh (@ Georgia Tech)
Indiana (@ Purdue)
Arkansas (@ Florida)
Michigan State (@ Illinois)
VCU (@ Dayton)
Michigan (@ Northwestern)
Houston (@ Cincinnati)
California (@ Utah)

Unsurprisingly, bubble teams did not fair quite as well on the road. Most notably, Indiana’s loss was the final nail in their coffin, Vanderbilt’s loss could be emotionally draining, and Houston’s loss failed to pass the eye test in a national showcase game.

Bubble teams landing upset victories:

Kansas State (@ TCU): Losers of eight of ten, KState went on the road to Fort Worth and pulled out a tight win over TCU in what was effectively an elimination game. The Wildcats are now 7-10 in B12 play; if they can beat Texas Tech tomorrow (four point favorite), they will be the key team to watch during the B12 tournament.
Marquette (@ Xavier): Marquette became the latest team to take advantage of the depleted Xavier squad, winning decisively on the road. Kenpom ranks them as a slight favorite to beat Creighton in the regular season finale, and to make the Big East Tournament semifinals. The Eagles will likely be dancing next week.
Wake Forest (vs. Louisville)

Bubble teams suffering upset losses:

Tennessee (@ LSU): The Vols wish they were stumbling down the stretch. This is turning into an outright free fall, with five losses in their last seven and a 25 spot drop in Kenpom. Cross them off your watch list.
TCU (vs. Kansas State): TCU kept it close and had a chance at the end, but trailed almost wire-to-wire at home in a bubble game they really couldn’t afford to lose. Now they are 6-11 in league play, and a slight underdog at Oklahoma this weekend. Horned Frogs will need to make a run in the Big 12 tournament, which will be brutally difficult from the 7/8 seed.
Xavier (vs. Marquette): As discussed previously, Xavier is quickly becoming one of the most interesting teams to follow these next nine days.

This Weekend’s Bubble Schedule:

Friday:

1:00 (NA): #154 Evansville vs. #45 Illinois State (79%) <— MVC Quarterfinal
7:00 (NA): #215 Bradley vs. #10 Wichita State (97%) <— MVC Quarterfinal

Today is a typical quiet Friday for the bubble watch. Outside of the two key games in the Missouri Valley, there isn’t too much to follow. Four more conference tournaments get underway, with varying degrees of bubble relevance. From least to most:

Southern: In the Southern Conference, Wes Miller and UNC Greensboro may have earned the one seed, but Kenpom likes East Tennessee State the best. The Matrix agrees, ranking ETSU as a 14 seed. Furman and Chattanooga are contenders as well. This has been the strongest year for the SOCON in Kenpom history, but it remains a one-bid league, and is not bubble-relevant.

Horizon: The Horizon League is a similar story. The one seed — Oakland — is actually not the Kenpom favorite. The computers like Valparaiso the most, and once again, the Matrix agrees (Valparaiso currently checks in as a 13 seed). This will be a one-bid league, and is not bubble-relevant.

Colonial: In the CAA, 1 seed UNC-Wilmington is a slight favorite. This tournament will be worth keeping a bit of an eye on. The Seawolves are the best team on Kenpom, but there is significant competition, and they are only 38% to win the tournament. Should they lose, expect to hear some chatter about them as a bubble team. UNCW is 26-5 overall, currently rank as a 12 seed in the Matrix, and are an impressive 33rd in the RPI. It doesn’t hurt that they showed well in the tournament last year either. On the other hand, their best win is against College of Charleston. I don’t think they would earn an at-large, but root for them to take care of business just in case.

West Coast: This tournament is clearly bubble-relevant. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are both clearly in the field (Matrix 1 seed and 6 seed, respectively). Should any other team win the conference tournament, the WCC would get three bids instead of two. On the bright side, there is a 97% chance Gonzaga or St. Mary’s win the title.

Saturday:

12:00 ESPN: #49 Indiana @ #67 Ohio State (57%)
12:00 ESPNU: #66 Illinois (59%) @ #136 Rutgers
12:00 (NA): #55 Providence (49%) @ #87 St. John’s
12:00 (NA): TBD vs. #58 UNC-Wilmington <— CAA Quarterfinal
1:00 ESPNews: #34 Texas Tech @ #35 Kansas State (63%)

A Rutgers or St. John’s win would be very helpful.

2:00 ESPN: #5 Florida @ #40 Vanderbilt (33%)
2:00 ESPN2: #52 Georgia @ #42 Arkansas (66%)
2:00 P12: #54 California (44%) @ #74 Colorado
2:00 BTN: #50 Michigan State (33%) @ #38 Maryland
2:00 (NA): #117 George Mason @ #43 VCU (83%)
2:00 (NA): #46 Xavier (73%) @ #177 DePaul
2:30 CBSSN: MVC Semifinal #1
2:30 (NA): #57 Seton Hall (17%) @ #20 Butler
2:30 (NA): #26 Creighton @ #30 Marquette (58%)
3:00 ESPNews: #43 TCU (44%) @ #65 Oklahoma

Root hard for Florida, Colorado, and DePaul. If Illinois State is playing here, root against them.

4:00 ESPN3: #77 Georgia Tech @ #51 Syracuse (73%)
4:00 ESPN3: #160 Boston College @ #37 Clemson (90%)
4:30 ESPN3: #31 Wake Forest @ #41 Virginia Tech (57%)
5:00 CBSSN: MVC Semifinal #2
6:00 ESPN3: #260 FAU @ #53 MTSU (95%)
6:00 (NA): #88 Davidson @ #48 Rhode Island (77%)
6:30 P12: #170 Washington @ #63 USC (87%)
10:00 ESPN2: TBD vs. #1 Gonzaga <— WCC Quarterfinal
12:00 ESPN2: TBD vs #14 St. Mary’s <— WCC Quarterfinal

Obviously focus on our game late in the afternoon. Afterwards, an upset by FAU, Davidson, or Washington would be great, but don’t get your hopes up. Late night, root for chalk in the WCC tournament.

Saturday also marks the start of the Summit League tournament. South Dakota is a very slight favorite, and currently ranks as a 15 seed in the Matrix. This is a one-bid league, and is not bubble relevant.

Finally, note that Saturday also includes our first conference championship game, with the Ohio Valley title game tipping off at 7:00 on ESPN2. Belmont remains the clear favorite.

That’s all for now. Enjoy an awesome day of college basketball tomorrow, and I’ll be back with another update on Sunday. Go Deacs!