Welcome to the final Monday edition of the BSD Bubble Forecast. Following one of the best weeks of Wake Forest basketball in recent memory, the Deacs are safely in the field now, appearing on 106 of 113 brackets in the Matrix. Let’s take a look at where things stand:
Wake Forest currently sits as the fourth-to-last at-large (MTSU projected as an auto-bid), meaning we are right on the Dayton bubble now. In front of us, Xavier is the obvious team to pass. They draw DePaul in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, and then would face Butler in the quarterfinals. Assuming they split those, we should pass them if we can beat Boston College and Virginia Tech. Given their recent form, just beating Boston College could be enough.
USC is another strong candidate to replace us in Dayton. They open the Pac 12 Tournament with a Boston College-type “can’t lose” game against Washington, and then would be a significant underdog against UCLA in the quarterfinals. Back in the Big East, Kenpom likes both Seton Hall and Providence to lose their opening game, quarterfinal matchups against Marquette and Creighton, respectively.
In the field behind Wake, options to pass Wake are limited. Illinois State’s resume is complete, following a decisive loss to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Tournament championship, and they are more likely to drop than rise. Syracuse is a slight underdog against Miami in their opening round ACC Tournament game, and would be a major underdog in a potential quarterfinal against North Carolina. Vanderbilt is the strongest candidate of this bunch, as they are favored against Texas A&M and then would get a crack at a Florida team they’ve already defeated twice.
On the outside looking in, we find a number of teams that Kenpom does not believe in. Georgia Tech is a slight underdog in the 11-14 game against Pittsburgh, and would be a huge underdog against Virginia should they advance (for full ACC Tournament Kenpom odds, go here). Illinois is a significant underdog in the 8/9 game against Michigan, and it would be a shock if they beat Purdue after that as well. Iowa is coming off of recent wins against both Indiana and Wisconsin, but it would be quite a surprise if they replicated them. Indiana is favored in that 7/10 game.
Even among the teams projected to survive their opening game, Kenpom is often skeptical of their chances at a major, narrative-altering win. Georgia is a slight favorite over Tennessee, but would be a major underdog against Kentucky in the quarterfinals. California should cruise past Oregon State, but then draws Utah in the quarterfinals. Not only would beating Utah not enhance their resume all that much, but Utah would actually be favored in that game. In all likelihood, California will need to win three, including a win over Oregon, to move back into the field.
Ohio State has a relatively friendly path — Rutgers, Northwestern, Maryland — but Kenpom is no longer a believer in the Buckeyes this year. On paper, Houston should be a solid favorite in their AAC quarterfinal, which would then give them another crack at Cincinnati, but unfortunately for the Cougars, they will likely draw tournament host UConn. Factoring in home-court advantage, Houston is a coin-flip to make the semis, and obviously much less to make the final.
The two teams on this list that really stand out for having reasonable chances to make noise are Kansas State and Rhode Island. First, Kansas State has a 30% chance to defeat Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Their candidacy likely hinges on that game. The Wildcats earned a split in the regular season. Rhode Island will be a significant favorite in their Atlantic 10 quarterfinal game, and then likely will have a shot at Dayton in the semifinals. Kenpom gives them a 44% chance in that one. Finally, if you are looking for a real dark horse, don’t forget Clemson quite yet. It would not be a shock if they beat Duke. In fact, they are 3x more likely than Georgia Tech to make the quarterfinals.
Big Picture for Wake Forest
Bubble teams who were supposed to win, and won:
Iowa (vs. Penn State)
Wichita State (vs. Illinois State) <— MVC Championship
UNC-Wilmington (vs. Willam & Mary) <— CAA Semifinal
Houston (vs. East Carolina)
Michigan (@ Nebraska)
Bubble teams who were supposed to lose, and lost:
Illinois State (vs. Wichita State) <— MVC Championship
Northwestern (vs. Purdue)
Bubble teams landing upset victories:
Bubble teams suffering upset losses:
Sunday also saw three conference tournaments conclude. In addition to Wichita State, congratulations to Winthrop and Florida Gulf Coast for clinching automatic bids with convincing home wins. Both are expected to be 14 seeds. Wichita State is currently slotted as a 9 seed, despite ranking 10th in Kenpom.
Monday Bubble Schedule
7:00 CBSSN: #86 College of Charleston vs. #63 UNC-Wilmington (60%) <— CAA Final
9:00 ESPN #127 Santa Clara vs. #1 Gonzaga (96%) <— WCC Semifinal
11:30 ESPN2: #71 BYU vs. #14 St. Mary’s (80%) <— WCC Semifinal
The CAA final represents a bit of a dilemma. UNC-Wilmington has a slim chance at an at-large bid, so ordinarily, we should prefer they go ahead and win, clinching the automatic bid and ensuring the CAA does not take any at-large slots. They face College of Charleston, however, which is quietly one of Wake’s best RPI wins. So in this case, I don’t have a strong preference either way.
The rooting interest is much simpler in the WCC: keep pulling for Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. Remember, we just need either one to win the title. Hopefully they both win tonight and remove any potential bid-stealing drama.
There are two more conference championships tonight, neither with any bubble impact. In the Southern Conference, #1 seed UNC-Greensboro is actually a six-point underdog against #3 seed East Tennessee State. For Wake’s RPI purposes, and any potential stats filtered by an “against tournament teams” qualifier, root for UNC-Greensboro. The Matrix currently ranks ETSU as a 13, and UNCG as a 14. This game is at 7:00 on ESPN2.
In the MAAC, #4 seed Siena is a one-point favorite over #3 seed Iona (9:00 ESPN2), thanks largely to home court advantage. The Matrix is still adjusting to their upset of top seed and heavy favorite Monmouth. Early returns suggest the winner of this game will be around a 15 seed, which is a big loss for the league; Monmouth would have been a 12 or 13. The MAAC may want to consider not forcing their #1 seed to play true road games in the tournament semifinals.
Finally, a couple more conference tournaments get underway today with first round action. In the MEAC, NC Central is the clear favorite, ranking as the league’s best team by over 120 spots in Kenpom. They project as a 16 seed. This will be a one-bid league, and is not bubble-relevant.
The MAC is much more wide open. Ohio and Akron have nearly identical Kenpom ratings, and there are a host of others not too far behind. Akron has the 1 seed, and is currently a 13 in the Matrix. This will be a one-bid league, and is not bubble-relevant.
That’s all for today. It should be a great night of mid-major conference finals. Thanks for reading, and as always, Go Deacs!