Tuesday, February 1, 2011

State of the Bubble: America East to Conference USA

My fellow Americans, this is indeed a troubled time for our bubble. It is being forced to deal with a growing number of teams wishing to reside on it's surface. It's shrinking land mass means a potential for a big crisis. Let there be no doubt whatsoever though, it will continue to weed out those who have been unlucky to fall in to the bad side. And by the middle of March, only those who have persevered will be moved to stronger and more stable positions in the bracket. Let us take an examination at who shall be finding themselves in the so-called promised land of the field of 68.

America East
Expected bids: 1
Contenders: Maine, Vermont, Boston University
The Black Bears, who have exactly ZERO postseason appearances at the Division I level, hold a one game lead over the Catamounts, but it's essentially two games, since Maine won the first contest(rather convincingly) in Burlington. Don't count out the Catamounts or Terriers though, both face the Black Bears once more and both are capable of thwarting the momentum.

Atlantic Coast
Expected bid range: 4-7
Locks: Duke
Should be there: North Carolina
Bubble riders: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Miami(FL), Virginia Tech
This has been a tough year for the ACC, only Duke has anything close to a solid resume(and even there the Blue Devils got rocked by St. John's). In any other year, the Tar Heels' middling resume would be bubble-worthy, but the fact they have a good chance of a protected seed tells you how much worse the collective shape of all 32 conferences is this year. If it weren't for the fact that they're not hoops royalty, the Seminoles and Eagles would, in my view, not be the bubble riders that they are. The Terps' resume doesn't match up with it's performance...yet. Beat the Blue Devils on Wednesday and they should move above the cut line.

Atlantic Sun
Expected bid: 1
Contenders: Belmont, East Tennessee State
The Bruins of Nashville almost had a resume-changing win that would have gotten it bubble consideration. But they couldn't beat either Vanderbilt or Tennessee(twice), so the fall back to just being the heavy favorite in this low-level league. The Buccaneers are a game and a half behind, but lost to the Bruins in Johnson City, so the must make up ground if they're to get the top seed.

Atlantic 10
Expected bid range: 1-3
Locks: None
Should be in: Temple
Bubble riders: Xavier, Duquesne, Dayton, Richmond
Conference cannibalism has yet to strike here, but the collective heft in non-conference play is rather weak. The Musketeers are the team on the upswing, but it's the Dukes who could end up on top in the conference, even with a weak OOC profile.

Big East
Expected bid range: 8-12
Locks: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame
Should be in: West Virginia, Syracuse, St. John's
Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette, Rutgers
Without any reasonable doubt, this is by far the best conference in Division I and this year, that 2005 expansion should pay off with the most bids in the country. Whether or not the league will have ten teams or more in it is in play, but 9 is a certain lock to happen. The only way the 8 bid scenario comes forth is if wacky things happen elsewhere.

Big Sky
Expected bids: 1
Contender: Northern Colorado, Montana
Despite losing 71-70 at Weber State on Saturday, the Bears remain the best contender for the AQ out of the Big Sky. The Grizz, currently up front by half a game, does have the edge for the teams' return game next month. Whoever wins the regular season title will also host the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Big South
Expected bids: 1
Contenders: Coastal Carolina, Liberty, Winthrop
The Chanticleers hold the edge over the Flames in the race for the top spot in this conference, and should expand the edge when the two meet in Conway on Thursday. But you can never count out Randy Peele's Eagles, who since 1999 have(figuratively) owned the league. Last year, Coastal Carolina went 17-1 in the regular season, but the Eagles shut down the Chanticleers' offense and won the bid.

Big Ten
Expected bid range: 6-7
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Should be in: Michigan State
Bubble riders: Penn State, Michigan
If it weren't for the Big East, the Big Ten would be the best conference in the country. It has a clear leader in Ohio State, several sweet 16 contenders, and two legitamate bubble teams. There's still time for someone like Northwestern to make a run(Did I just really say that?).

Big 12
Expected bid range: 5-7
Locks: Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M
Should be in: None
Bubble riders: Nebraska, Baylor, Iowa State, Colorado, Kansas State
The most dissapointing team in the last group are the Wildcats who are struggling to make it to .500 in the conference. Everyone else on that list have some holes in their resumes. Expect one to three of them to eventually make it in to the field.

Big West
Expected bids: 1
Contenders: Long Beach State, Cal Poly, Fullerton State
The 49ers are running away from the Big West pack, giving coach Dan Monson some relief after his failed tenure at Minnesota.

Expected bid range: 1-3
Locks: None
Should be in: None
Bubble riders: Old Dominion, VCU, George Mason
All three bubble teams listed here will face tough competition in the upcoming Bracketbusters series. The Monarchs get to host Cleveland State, the Rams visit Wichita State and the Patriots do battle with Northern Iowa. If they do well, then the Colonial could get an extra team in.

Conference USA
Expected bid range: 1-2
Locks: None
Should be in: None
Bubble riders: Memphis, UAB, UTEP
Conference cannibalism has struck the league with avengance. Central Florida, who had 2 excellent wins over Florida and Miami(FL) is last in the conference having lost at home to East Carolina and Rice. They're no longer in contention. The other three have lots of work to do, especially if one is to breakaway. In all likelyhood, only the conference tournament winner will go.

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