Bracketology 102: The Real Bubble Teams and the Teams Pretending To Be Them

Good afternoon, virtual class.

Hope your studying has been going well.

Before I begin, I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have a new member who had an excused absence due to the severe drought on California this past Monday.

Welcome to the virtual class, Kimberly.

I am sure you found Wednesday’s games quite enjoyable.  I could not believe the endings myself.

With the bubble teams suffering major blows to their chances in reaching the “Big Dance”, I would like to mention the key implications of each school and give a percentage on what they would need IMHO to hear their school called on Selection Sunday:

Gonzaga (RPI of 27)–no wins at all over a Top 25 team, that probably has not happened since John Stockton laced them up for the ‘Zags way back when.  But in all seriousness, their 23-6 record in any other year would automatically give them a Tournament label.  All they have to do is win their conference tournament and they will be in as one of the Automatic Qualifiers–more on that term next week as some of the mid-majors being their conference tournaments.

Percentage chance on making the “Big Dance”–90 percent.

California (RPI of 47)–their overall game has not been good recently, having lost to the top two schools record-wise in the Pac-12.  They still can improve their chances winning at Arizona State, plus their final two home games at Berkeley with Utah and Colorado.

Percentage chance–65%.

Nebraska (RPI of 52)–huge loss to the Orange Crush at Illinois on Wednesday night.  The game wasn’t even close.  Northwestern and Indiana are next up for the Huskers.

Percentage chance–55%.

Dayton (RPI of 56)–7 of their 10 wins against Top 25 ranked teams were in the RPI 100 to 200 range, which is mostly comprised of medicore teams.  The Flyers are a very meager 3-7 against those same teams ranked in the Top 50, 2-6 in the Top 25 just by itself.  Dayton has some winnable games left on their schedule, with home games with UMass and Richmond surrounding a trip to Saint Louis.

And yes, in a small tweak of the hosting rules–Dayton would be eligible to play on their home court if they manage to be one of the last four schools in.

Percentage chance–75%.

BYU (RPI of 33)–A 20-10 record good enough for 12-5 in West Coast Conference play.  They are definitely on the bubble since they don’t have too many quality wins.  The Cougars would have to win their post-season conference tournament just to be included in the mix.  Any other year, they would be just like Gonzaga and St. Mary’s of California in recent years–their records alone would merit serious consideration from the Selection Committee.

Percentage chance–Between 35 to 40%.

Other schools needing all of the help that they can get include:

Shared RPI’s of 53 for Richmond and UW-Green Bay, along with St. John’s (RPI of 63) and LSU (RPI of 66).

Wait a second…someone has a question:

Big Z, it seems that there are way too many variables to put into play.  With the RPI, is that the only indicator or there are other indicators taken into consideration?

The RPI is one of many considerations, great question there Tiffany.

Strength of schedule, what were teams ranked in November and December, along with the overall health of a team.  Are players healthy both with their bodies and in their grades?  Injuries and any type of academic suspensions/financial or personal hardships can place a considerable strain on a school’s chances not just to reach the Final Four, but also any stage of the Tournament itself.

(The ladies imagine that their hearts are beating a bit faster, as Big Z mentions his next statement.)

But I do realize it is one of many factors, but it is not the overriding factor.

Hope that answers your question.

And I do realize with the calendar getting ready to turn to March, one of my favorite times of the year and that I am having a slightly difficult time trying to get to my mail as this pic from earlier in the week clearly attests…


Yes, my online friends–that is around 3 to 4 inches of ice over the street and with the return of the very chilly and snowy weather to come, I have decided…

There will be no pop quiz on Friday.

(The ladies all scream, “Hooray” with sheer delight, followed by a clever mention of, “Thank you, Big Z.”)

I certainly hope and pray that the West gets their rain–I went through a similar drought back in the spring of 2012.  In the meantime, the games are planning to get more exciting than ever in this being the most wide open tournaments we have seen in at least two decades.

Please have a great night and stick around for more cool updates throughout parts of the weekend, as long as I don’t feel too exhausted or sweaty from all of the shoveling of snow that is yet to happen.


North Carolina, Michigan barely survive on road

Marcus Paige and Glenn Robinson III both made shots you wouldn’t believe if you watched the games live.

In Raleigh–N.C. State’s T.J. Warren hit shots from practically anywhere on the court.  Not to be outdone by Warren’s 36, Marcus Paige for the Tar Heels put up 35 of his own and provided the game winner.

In the final seconds of overtime, his driving one handed layup lifted North Carolina clearly out of the bubble with a nifty 85-84 close shave victory.  UNC is 11-4 in the ACC (1/2 game in back of neighborhood rival Duke), good enough for fourth place after a very sluggish start after the holidays. 

In West Lafayette, Purdue did everything but contain Glenn Robinson III. 

He made six of his last eight shots and scored 14 out of 17 points — none more important than the ball that seemingly hung on the rim forever before finally dropping through the net as the overtime buzzer sounded in Mackey Arena.  In front of his father, the 1994 National Player of the Year and soon-to-be football player for the Boilers in Gelen.  The stat line on Robinson was very impressive indeed–8 rebounds, three assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes.

Nik Stauskas had 15 points, Caris LeVert 14 and Jordan Morgan 13 points to go with nine rebounds on a night the Big Ten-leading Wolverines needed everything to hang on for dear life.  Michigan (20-7, 12-3 Big Ten) extended its lead over cross-state rival Michigan State to one game and over third place Wisconsin to two games.

For Purdue, it was a totally different story–a bit more to be explained in Bracketology 102 in my next post.  The Boilermakers (15-13, 5-10 in Big Ten play) have lost three straight and remain the only team in the Big Ten without a win over a Top 25 team this season.  Their greatest chance at dealing a big blow to Michigan’s possible number 1 seed hopes was when Kendall Stephens went to the free throw line for a 1-and-1 bonus situation and his team leading 76-75 lead.  Only 12.2 seconds remained in overtime.  But the ball clanked off the front of the rim, the Boilermakers’ only missed free throw all night. A time out later, Robinson caught a rather dangerous across-the-court lob pass in the right corner, spun away from a defender and gently rolled in a mid-range bank shot as time ran out.

Bubble Teams Really Did Not Help Themselves

With all apologies to Annie Lennox and The Eurythmics with one of their famous 1980’s hit tunes in “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”, the bubble teams blew a golden chance to lock down possible tournament berths.  This definitely opens the door for many teams on the fringe.

And so, please take your virtual seats for our next course…


Florida backs up being new Number 1 by edging Vanderbilt, and Wichita State goes to 30-0 after dispatching Bradley on the road

After Kansas and Syracuse got some much needed wins on Monday night, Tuesday’s slate featured some more titantic tilts:

In Nashville, Florida held off a game Vanderbilt squad 57-54 to clinch a tie for the SEC regular season title.  Unlike the last time Florida went there as the top dog in February 2007 when Joakim Noah and Al Horfford ended up losing at Vandy, the Gators used that largely as a motivational tool and would eventually end up repeating their national championship.

At Peoria, Bradley’s Senior Night did not go very well.  Wichita State stuck to their game play and made things a cakewalk in the second half as the Shockers became the first school in NCAA history to go 30-0 during the regular season.  The 69-49 final had four Shockers players in double figures, led by Ron Baker’s 15 points.

A very interesting statistic I found out online (thanks to and other sites), this is the comprehensive list of the last remaining unbeaten schools in each year since the tournament field expanded to 64 way back in 1985.  You will see many familiar schools on this list, but with Wichita State–we shall see what we shall see:

Year Team Date Started season Total losses/finish
1985 Georgetown Jan. 26 14-0 3 — Lost national title game
1986 Memphis State Feb. 7 20-0 6 — NCAAs 2nd round
1987 DePaul Jan. 25 16-0 3 — Sweet 16
1988 BYU Feb. 6 17-0 6 — NCAAs 2nd round
1989 Illinois Jan. 26 16-0 5 — Final Four
1990 Georgetown Jan. 20 10-0 7 — NCAAs 2nd round
1991 UNLV March 30 34-0 1 — Final Four
1992 Oklahoma State/Duke Feb. 5 18-0/17-0 8 — Sweet 16/2 — Nat’l champs
1993 Virginia Jan. 20 11-0 10 — Sweet 16
1994 UCLA Jan. 30 14-0 7 — NCAAs first round
1995 UConn Jan. 28 15-0 5 — Elite Eight
1996 UMass Feb. 24 26-0 2 — Final Four
1997 Kansas Feb. 4 21-0 2 — Sweet 16
1998 Utah Feb. 1 17-0 4 — Lost nat’l title game
1999 UConn Feb. 1 19-0 2 — Nat’l champs
2000 Syracuse Feb. 7 19-0 6 — Sweet 16
2001 Stanford Feb. 3 20-0 3 — Elite Eight
2002 Duke Jan. 6 12-0 4 – Sweet 16
2003 Duke Jan. 18 12-0 7 –Sweet 16
2004 Saint Joe’s March 11 27-0 2 — Elite Eight
2005 Illinois March 6 29-0 2 — Lost nat’l title game
2006 Florida Jan. 21 17-0 6 — Nat’l champs
2007 Clemson Jan. 13 17-0 11 — Lost NIT title game
2008 Memphis Feb. 23 26-0 2 — Lost nat’l title game
2009 Wake Forest Jan. 21 16-0 7 — Round of 64
2010 Kentucky Jan. 26 19-0 3 — Elite Eight
2011 Ohio State Feb. 12 24-0 3 — Sweet 16
2012 Murray State Feb. 9 23-0 2 — Round of 32
2013 Michigan Jan. 13 16-0 8 — Lost nat’l title game

Welcome to Introduction On BubbleTology 101: How Schools Are Selected Into The NCAA Tournament, Generally Speaking

Good morning, or afternoon virtual class as the case may be.

I am Big Z, College Basketball Superfan since 1979 and today I would like to talk a bit about why we hear so often in late February into early March–and that is simply the term, “Bubble Watch.”

(Two ladies named Tiffany and Patricia draw this kind of bubble to illustrate their point, albeit not too effective):


Image courtesy of

No, it is not that kind of bubble.  But Patricia and Tiffany get some bonus points for trying.

But that’s not what I am referring to here.

(Ladies seem a bit dazed and confused.)

This course involves following the seeding and bracketing procedures on how a certain group of individuals based in Indianapolis, Indiana choose the best, or in some cases–most worthy schools on being included in that year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Rather than explain verbatim about the S-Curve and why it exists…I would like to center my discussion on why the brackets are as such (a template of a typical blank bracket shows up on the board):


I could think of three reasons why fans are so enamored with the brackets:

a) Fans can understand why schools are seeded the way they are (most of the time depending on geography and other factors).

b) To create a sense of fairness and that most schools would not have to travel too far to get to their games at the pre-determined venues.

c) It is also a great recruiting tool not only for coaches and media alike, but also for admissions people and website designers who can boldly state in their school colors that their team made the NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, whatever have you.

You may notice one thing slightly different, this was the bracket used prior to 2011 when there was only one extra game that would fill the final blank line in your brackets.

In other words, the NCAA decided that CBS had basically too much of a good thing, IMHO–and that the cable channel that gives you Operation REPOOOOO and other reality shows called TruTV came up with–you guessed it, three extra games otherwise known as the First Round at the UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

In other words, there are 68 schools that qualify each March for the “Big Dance.”

Personally, I think having those extra four games is a bit much.  When you see bracket pools filled out (when people fill in brackets to win either prizes or sums of money, albeit the NCAA condones all forms of sports gambling), it is meant to be for fun and hopefully for “entertainment purposes only”, as all the so-called online gaming sites like to tout these days.

And people like Jerry Palm from and Joe Lunardi from ESPN, one of their key jobs is to predict not only who makes the tournament, but where they will be seeded!

(Both Patricia and Tiffany’s eyes get really big staring at the brackets).

But perhaps the best and most effective way that the Selection Committee concludes on how these teams make the NCAA Tournament and Todd Wright used to explain this in 2008 on his former overnight ESPN Radio sports talk show.

The three things that he explained in the simplest of terms are:

1. Every bubble team needs to win two (2) games in their conference tournament (typically takes place no later than the first two weeks of March).

2. Each school needs to win at least 20 games overall during the season.

3. Each school needs to achieve at least a .500 record during conference play, typically when conference season shortly after Christmas and New Year’s.

Let us use some schools that are having shaky seasons as examples:

Oklahoma State.  Even after Marcus Smart returned from his three-game suspension last Saturday with a monster performance compiling 16 points, 10 assists and six steals in a decisive revenge victory over Texas Tech–they are a classic case.

Their current record entering Monday night is 17-10 overall, but 5-9 in Big 12 play (that includes their recent seven game losing streak during the entire Smart suspension for shoving a fan).

Two big red flags right there.  Let’s examine their RPI a bit:

In non-conference play, they are a hot 17.  Conference play, they are a meager 81.  Overall, the Cowboys are a 49–which in general is pretty respectable.

The biggest glaring weakness is that OSU is that they are 4-12 on the road.  Not good, especially since they are 3-9 playing against in the RPI Top 50.

Basically, they would have to win every game remaining on their schedule, starting tonight at TCU.

They would then play a pair of home games against Kansas and Kansas State on March 1 and 3 before going to Iowa State on March 8.  Then their conference tournament starts.

Bottom line, don’t expect Oklahoma State in the Dance unless they win every remaining game they play.

Let’s move onto a perennial team that is often called on each March since 1999, and that is Gonzaga.

Gonzaga sits at 23-6 overall, but 13-3 in their first season in the West Coast Conference.  They split their two meetings with BYU (11-5 in WCC play).  With the quality of play in the WCC taking a small hit this season due to all of the restructuring around the country, this looks like a one-bid conference.  Perennial contenders St. Mary’s is also in the mix, but they have to win their conference tournament–albeit they are 10-6 in the conference and a 20-9 overall.So, the jury is still out on that conference.  Gonzaga’s RPI is 26 overall, but 38 in conference play.

Another school that used to coast in the former Conference USA and now is struggling to stay afloat in the newly named American Athletic Conference is the Memphis Tigers.

Memphis is 21-6 overall, 10-4 in the conference.  So far, so good one must think.

(Everyone in the virtual class gets busy scribbling down numbers in their notepads).

Let’s look inside the numbers a bit:

The Tigers’ RPI is 36 overall and 25 in AAC play, both very good numbers in any typical year.

But since this year has been sooooooooooo topsy-turvy, each of their six losses is magnified a bit more:

Four of their six losses have been with teams ranked in the RPI Top 26 to 50, including three games on the road.  But just like Oklahoma State, Memphis will have to win some huge games to improve their chances:

Thursday at Houston, formerly a tough place to play but won’t help out in their RPI too much.

But their final three games are definite appetizers, they look too appealing to pass up:

March 1 hosting Lousiville, at Cincinnati on March 6, then two days later hosting surprising SMU of Dallas.

Other schools clearly on the bubble amongst other mid-major schools include Xavier and a surprising entrant in Nebraska.

If I have time later on, I will hope to explain a bit further about their current quandrys as we enter this very special time of year.

But for now, time to go grab a good tasting burger.


Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy watching or listening to the games.

(Just as the ladies in the virtual class pretend to jump out of their seats…)

And there might be a pop quiz later in the week if you are all watching Project Runway or Fashion Police–so please…study smart.  Have a great day.

Michigan sweeps Michigan State, while Doug McDermott climbs to Top 10 in NCAA career scoring

A very light schedule on Sunday, but that did not mean that the games were slouches–far from it.

Early in the afternoon, Nik Stauskas scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half.  Most of the shots were from the perimeter as Gang Green did not have an answer for Big Blue’s newest scoring weapon.

Michigan overcame a 36-34 halftime deficit and pulled away in the final 13 minutes by outscoring Tom Izzo’s bunch 31-22 to win going away 79-70.  The victory puts Michigan all alone atop the Big Ten standings (11-3 in conference play 1/2 game better than the 11-4 mark currently held by Michigan State).

Even with Nebraska starting to get hot winning six in a row, the league may be sending 5 or 6 teams to the Big Dance when the draw is released in three weeks.

Elsewhere on Sunday, as most Americans lamented another the end of another Winter Olympics…

SMU got the better of UConn in AAC play, 64-55 while Doug McDermott continued to make more history for Creighton.

Top Ten NCAA Career Scoring List Adds New Member

Even though the Bluejays missed 5 of 6 from the free-throw line in the final 3 minutes (even though they went to the line twice more than Seton Hall).  Bottom line is that Creighton did just more than enough to hold onto a slim 1/2 game lead over Villanova in the Big East standings.

Doug McDermott scored 29 points to move into 10th place in college basketball scoring history all-time.  Grant Gibbs added a season-high 16 points as the Bluejays (23-4, 13-2) won for the eighth time in their last nine contests.

McDermott made a free throw late in the second half to pass Alfredrick Hughes for 10th on NCAA all-time scoring chart.  McDermott’s career total stands at 2,917 points, which put him on track to pass Danny Manning and “The Big O”, Oscar Robertson by the end of the regular season.

ESPN has the big games on their “Big Monday” slate, but again another light schedule across men’s college basketball:

Syracuse pays its’ final visit to Maryland at 7 p.m. Eastern, while at the same time on ESPNU it will be Oklahoma State and the resurging Marcus Smart visiting TCU.  Currently at 16-10, the Cowboys need every win that they can get in the classic case of BubbleTology.  The 9 p.m. contest features Oklahoma looking to surprise Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.

Speaking of BubbleTology, some of you might be wondering what it is exactly?  Find out in my next blog sometime on Monday.

Jim Boeheim had every reason to be irate, Wichita State continues to remain perfect

It appeared to be another classic for the ages:

Just like three weeks before at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse hung toe-to-toe with Duke and all of those zany “Cameron Crazies.”  But the hero for so long, Tyler Ennis made a drive to the basket in the final minute to try and tie the score.  The play resulted in an offensive foul, since the revised NCAA rules do not permit an offensive player to be up in the air while the defender is in a stationary position.

The 66-60 final score was decided on technical free throws.  As much as ESPN devoted to this story late on Saturday night, the bottom line is Syracuse has lost two in a row.

Let me emphasize that last part again:


Duke bounced back impressively after the three-point shot doomed them on Thursday night at the Smith Center in getting blown out by North Carolina.

Other key games around the country on Saturday:

New Mexico stunned San Diego State at home 58-44.

Wisconsin survived a key Big Ten tussle at Iowa, 79-74 while the new Number 1 in waiting Florida dispatched Ole Miss on the road in a close battle, 75-71.

Russ Smith hit a soft 16 foot shot from the left side with less than four seconds left to edge out Cincinnati in another tense game in the AAC 58-57 with “The Big O” Oscar Robertson in attendance.

Kentucky appears to be back on track in the SEC after barely getting back a very determined LSU squad 77-76 in overtime at raucous Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Stanford appears to be on the bubble after giving UCLA a crushing blow to their tournament hopes, with the Cardinal dispatching the Bruins in Palo Alto 83-74.

Arizona used a double digit run to start the game and never looked back at Colorado, 88-61.

Iowa State appears to be back on track in the Big 12 winning at TCU, 71-60.

Even Marquette and DePaul staged quite a cool game at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena.  Had they played more than one overtime, the crews would not have had enough to clear off the basketball court so they could set up for that evening’s American Hockey League game between the Chicago Wolves and the Abbottsford (British Columbia, Canada) Heat.

And yes, Wichita State barely broke a sweat in winning yet again–83 to 54 at home against Drake.  A road test at Bradley on Tuesday and their final home contest on Saturday before the “Arch Madness” Tournament begins in St. Louis the following week.  The Shockers matched Illinois’ streak of 29 straight wins to start a season at 29-0.  Next up for the history buffs out there, St. Joseph’s of Pennsylvania from 2003-2004 as guard Tekele Cotton ran the offense smoothly once again by hitting 9 of his 12 shots from the floor for a game-high 21 points.

Big week for the Big Ten, and it all starts early on Sunday afternoon with CBS televising a game that I thought at the beginning of the season was going to be huge for Michigan.  It turns out both the Spartans and Wolverines will need this game rather badly.

And after Indiana’s brief roof problem inside Assembly Hall on Tuesday night, Iowa had to ask to move their game with Purdue.  According to, the report mentioned that Iowa will travel to Minnesota on Tuesday, Bloomington on Thursday, and at Purdue next Sunday after both teams agreed to move the game from Saturday.  Indiana will play at Wisconsin on Tuesday, then hosts Iowa on Thursday and Ohio State on Sunday.

“We appreciate the efforts of all those involved in working together during this process,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said in a statement. “I especially would like to thank Purdue’s administration and Matt Painter for agreeing to move our game.  Being able to move the Purdue game to Sunday allows us to have two days of preparation for both the Indiana and Purdue games next week.”

The makeup game will be played at 9 p.m. Eastern time next Thursday on ESPN.


And there was one left

Wednesday night, a 19 loss team did the near equivalent of a 16 seed beating a 1.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  Syracuse’s track for an undefeated season goes down in flames, thanks in large part to a rather paltry 32 percent shooting and not holding a 19 point lead at home.

The final score–Boston College 62, Syracuse 59 in overtime.  Perhaps the Orange was looking ahead to their big showdown game with Duke come Saturday night.  Not so fast, Syracuse fans!

This was the first time that a team with so many losses knocked off the top-ranked team in the country since 1955.  Holy Marty McFlies on that one!

This means, only mid-major Wichita State which won handily 88-74 at new Missouri Valley Conference member Loyola of Chicago is the last one standing.

Also of possible tournament seeding shakeups, Arizona survived just barely at Utah 67-63 and that game took another five minutes to settle matters.

With unsettling weather predicted for most of Thursday affecting the Midwest and the South in the form of rain and possible flooding to wash away most of the winter snow–I would not be surprised to see more games be rescheduled or postponed to another day.   That’s just my opinion, so I hope my power will stay on most of the time.  If not, I will hope to see you all during the weekend.  Take care.