Welcome to the final week of the 2016-17 regular season.
Some conferences have already finished up their conference schedules. Most are wrapping up this week. What we know for sure is that the opportunities for proving that you belong in the NCAA tournament as an at-large team are shrinking in number.
According to Bracket Matrix as of Sunday morning, Marquette was clear of the cut line and clear of the First Four in Dayton as well. That’s the same spot they were holding down in the update on Saturday morning, and in between MU went out and forgot to score a field goal for 7 minutes against Providence and lost. I know for a fact that a number of the major bracketology efforts won’t update again until Monday morning, so we have to take that “HEY, STILL SAFE!” report with a grain of salt.
In any case, that’s the Matrix we have to work with for this week’s Bubble Watch. We’ll cover the week ahead for the 9 seeds on down, because even at this point, even the best #9 seed team has people marking them as low as #11. We’ll also check on the First Four Out category, but by the time we get down that far, we’re talking about a team that’s appearing on just 15 of the 98 brackets that are in the aggregation.
We’ll give you each team’s current KenPom ranking, whether their games this week are home or away, and the KenPom rankings for their opponents. These games don’t happen in a vacuum, of course, so we’ll try to provide some context for each team along the way.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams (#47): Wednesday at #31 Dayton; Saturday vs #114 George Mason
The Rams got clipped by Rhode Island on Saturday to end a nine game winning streak. Arguably, their at-large profile is being propped up by their two freak chance victories over St. Bonaventure and George Washington, so they could really use a season sweep of the Flyers to make people forget about that.
Northwestern Wildcats (#36): Wednesday vs #27 Michigan; Sunday vs #12 Purdue
...... Northwestern has lost five of their last seven. Yay home games here, but if they want their first ever NCAA tournament appearance, they probably should not lose either of these games.
Arkansas Razorbacks (#41): Wednesday at #7 Florida; Saturday vs #52 Georgia
Boy, it sure would be fun if the Bulldogs could find a way to do Marquette one last favor here and knock off Arkansas out in Fayetteville.
USC Trojans (#68): Wednesday vs #198 Washington State; Saturday vs #168 Washington
Well, this really worked out well for USC. All they have to do is not screw this up with a loss. Unfortunately, they’ve screwed up their last four games with a loss. The first three? Not so bad: Oregon, at UCLA, at Arizona. Sunday night, at Arizona State? UH OH. They will probably not be this high after Monday morning’s bracket updates.
Michigan Wolverines (#27): Wednesday at #36 Northwestern; Sunday at #93 Nebraska
Two road trips for John Beilein’s charges, but you’d think that these would both be winnable games if Michigan wants to claim themselves as a tournament team.
Wichita State Shockers (#10): The Missouri Valley tournament
The Shox are the #2 seed in the field after losing a tiebreaker to Illinois State. They have a bye to the quarterfinals, where they’ll get either Drake or Bradley. And no, by the way, that #10 KenPom rank is not a typo.
Michigan State Spartans (#50): Wednesday at #62 Illinois; Saturday at #46 Maryland
Once 4-4 in league play, the Spartans are now 10-6 and perhaps most impressively, they’re 2-0 since they knew Eron Harris was out for the season with an ACL tear. Neither of these games is going to be a picnic for them, but a split would work out well for them.
Seton Hall Pirates (#57): Tuesday vs #60 Georgetown; Saturday at #20 Butler
Winners of three of four and five of seven (although they barely dodged a loss to DePaul), Seton Hall gets a chance to kick the Hoyas while they’re down and then maaaaaaaybe steal a quality win in Indy to wrap things up.
In The Field 11 Seeds
Marquette Golden Eagles (#32): Wednesday at #39 Xavier; Saturday vs #26 Creighton
can’t lose can’t lose can’t lose can’t lose can’t lose can’t lose can’t lose
Syracuse Orange (#51): Saturday vs #77 Georgia Tech
Jim Boeheim’s cast of characters got their doors blown off on Sunday by Louisville. Not the best way to follow up that home win over Duke (shoutout to John Gillon), especially since they’ve now lost four of five.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (#344): Thursday vs #294 FIU; Saturday vs #258 Florida Atlantic
Officially, Bracket Matrix has Middle Tennessee exactly four lines clear from the cutline, but since they’re the Conference USA regular season champion after Sunday’s win over UAB, they are counted as the automatic bid and therefore can’t go to Dayton. If they lose another game before the CUSA title game, they are probably not going to be able to get an at-large bid. Kind of a weird situation there.
Last Four In
Providence Friars (#56): Tuesday vs #181 DePaul; Saturday at #88 St. John’s
This sets up nicely for PC to extend their winning streak to six straight, but getting that season ending win at the Garden is not going to be a picnic on any level.
Kansas State Wildcats (#37): Wednesday at #40 TCU; Saturday vs #35 Texas Tech
I swear to you, KSU better just still be here as a residual from Saturday morning’s outlooks. They’re 6-10 in the Big 12 and have lost five of six and eight of 10, and their non-conference schedule is total garbage. Get them out of here.
California Golden Bears (#48): Thursday at #54 Utah; Saturday at #78 Colorado
Cal snapped a three game losing streak on Friday, although the streak did include games against Arizona and Oregon. They get two chances against decent squads to get things pointed upwards again.
Illinois State Redbirds (#45): The Missouri Valley tournament
ISU might be the #1 seed in the MVC tournament, but right now, they look like team #68 in the NCAA tournament. They’ll play either Indiana State or Evansville in the quarterfinals on Friday and go from there. The Redbirds need to get to Sunday’s Arch Madness title game, regardless of whether or not they face Wichita State there.
First Four Out
Vanderbilt Commodores (#43): Tuesday at #6 Kentucky; Saturday vs #7 Florida
Oh, man, the ‘Dores put together this nice little run of five wins in their last six and seven in their last nine only to have to stick their faces directly into this woodchipper? That stinks.
TCU Horned Frogs (#40): Wednesday vs #37 Kansas State; Saturday at #64 Oklahoma
Weirdly, although maybe merely due to the home/away nature of it, TCU is favored by KenPom to beat the team that’s in the NCAA tournament at the moment, but not to beat the team that’s waaaaaay outside. Go figure.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (#33): Wednesday vs #5 Louisville; Saturday at #42 Virginia Tech
Wake needs a split at worst to keep their hopes alive. Lose both and they’re probably done for, barring a miracle ACC tourney run.
Rhode Island Rams (#53): Wednesday at #169 Saint Joseph’s; Saturday vs #90 Davidson
Hey, lookit the Rams suddenly popping back in to consideration thanks to their win over VCU. They’re barely alive here, though, and can’t afford to take any format of Ls this week.