Saturday involves a stack of conference tournament semifinals and finals which will reshape the bubble picture.
Whether those games will clarify or further muddle the bubble picture is anyone’s guess.
You have games to watch, so we won’t drone on forever, but here are five bubble bits you need to know heading into Saturday and the weekend as a whole:
5 – SURPRISE AUTOBID POSSIBILITIES
There’s no need for an explanation, just a list: Davidson, LSU, Georgia, Memphis, and Tulane are all alive in the chase for an autobid which would cost a bubble team a Dance card. Memphis and Tulane play each other, so the winner of that game will contest an autobid on Sunday in the AAC final.
4 – CONFERENCE-SPECIFIC SITUATIONS
The Selection Committee does not sit down and say, “Conference A deserves this many teams, and Conference B deserves that many teams.” Yet, the strength or weakness of a conference does shape a few important selection considerations, this one topping the list: If an autobid-only team — with no shot at an at-large bid — swipes the autobid, it could very well take the spot of the at-large hopeful in its own conference.
This could very possibly happen in the SEC if LSU or Georgia wins the tournament. Vanderbilt and South Carolina would be at greater risk of exclusion from the field. They both want Texas A&M and Kentucky to win on Saturday in the SEC semis.
If Davidson gets the autobid in the Atlantic 10, Saint Bonaventure would have added reason to sweat. It wouldn’t guarantee exclusion for the Bonnies, but it would add one more plot complication to their hopes of making the field.
If the Memphis-Tulane winner captures the AAC autobid, the Connecticut-Temple loser and/or the loser of Sunday’s final might have reason to worry. Cincinnati would also have reason to sweat a little bit, though the Bearcats’ odds are still better than even of getting in.
3 – TEAMS THAT HELPED THEMSELVES SHOULDN’T THINK THEIR WORK IS DONE
Michigan beat Indiana. UConn beat Cincinnati. Those were undeniably huge, transformative wins. However, neither the Wolverines nor the Huskies are locks.
Want to be a lock? Michigan can beat Purdue on Saturday and punch its ticket. UConn should beat Temple to solidify its status. The journey’s not over, guys.
2 – THE TEAM THAT WAS IN UNTIL IT WASN’T: SOUTH CAROLINA
In 2014, SMU was the team which almost everyone thought was in all the way. The Mustangs seemed to be safe, or at least to have far better odds of inclusion than other bubble competitors. Then, however, they lost to a subpar Houston team in the AAC quarterfinals. North Carolina State made a little run in the ACC Tournament, making the semifinals after winning a couple games.
The Selection Committee put N.C. State and SMU side by side. One was the last team in, one the first team out. SMU got punished for playing a cream-puff non-conference schedule and had to go to the NIT.
South Carolina — seemingly solid in the eyes of some bracketologists — could get a long re-examination over the weekend after its loss to Georgia Friday night in the SEC quarters. There’s a team which abruptly falls out of the field after appearing safe for months. South Carolina might still make the field, but be warned: The Gamecocks could be the 2016 version of SMU.
1 – AT LEAST ONE TEAM, PROBABLY TWO, WILL BE GUT-PUNCHED ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON
Last year, the bubble seemed very clean, and even then, the Selection Committee found a way to outrage two teams. Colorado State and Temple clearly deserved to make the field more than UCLA did, and very likely more than Ole Miss. At the very least, UCLA had no business making the field. (Ole Miss had a more reasonable case.)
This year, however, it’s plainly apparent that no matter what the committee does, one team will feel acutely stung. In other words, the committee doesn’t have easy choices to make this year. It could have selected 68 teams last year with zero controversy, but made at least one mistake if not two. This year, it’s just about impossible for the committee to choose.
The profiles of Monmouth, Valparaiso, Wichita State, South Carolina, Saint Mary’s, Michigan, and Connecticut represent several different flavors, several noticeably different collections of results and opponents played, balancing non-conference and in-conference information.
RPI, KenPom, strength of schedule, road-neutral records — the committee is faced with choices among those resume components. Most resumes have one or two, but not three, and certainly not all four.
Someone’s going to get left out, but in a year when Louisville and SMU essentially donated their tournament spots, all those teams must know that they had a chance to do a little more, and couldn’t.
Let’s just hope there’s no out-of-left-field selection on Sunday… such as Florida or Tulsa.