How did Arizona get in?

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach discusses the bubble teams that got in, along with several that didn’t. Clearly, the biggest surprise is the Arizona Wildcats, who lost to Arizona State in the the Pac-10 tournament and finished 19-13 on the season.

Certainly, the Wildcats are the most surprising team in the 65-team field. I thought Arizona’s 24-year streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances would end after USC won the Pac-10 tournament title and claimed the league’s NCAA auto bid.

Arizona lost to Arizona State for the third time this season, 68-56, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament. The Wildcats lost five of their last six games and went 2-9 in road games. But they played 16 games against RPI top-50 foes, winning six of them, and were 8-12 against the top 100.

Obviously, the NCAA selection committee rewarded Arizona for playing a very difficult schedule. And because Arizona beat teams such as Kansas, Washington, UCLA and USC, it’s really hard to say there’s no reason it shouldn’t be in the field.

Arizona certainly had an argument, but so did several other teams. Schlabach lists Auburn, Creighton, Penn State, Saint Mary’s and San Diego State as the five biggest snubs. Dick Vitale insists that the mid-majors can’t get the type of non-conference competition that the major conference teams can get. They might be able to schedule a big conference team, but they have to play them twice (in consecutive seasons) on the road. Jay Bilas disagrees and says the mid-majors can get the games they want.

Who’s right? Who knows. I’d like to hear what some current mid-major coaches have to say about the subject. Certainly, Gonzaga was able to schedule a ton of challenging games, but Gonzaga is a different animal. So are Memphis and Xavier. These mid-majors have a long tradition of great basketball, so it’s probably easier to get the games that they want.

The thing that gets me is that the Wildcats lost five of their last six games in the Pac-10, which is down this season. They finished 9-9 in conference. Sure, they have the players to compete with anyone, but they’ve underachieved all season. Why reward them?

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Championship Week Wrap-Up

There are four games left — Duke/FSU, Miss. St./Tenn, Ohio St./Purdue and the Southland final — but just one, the SEC final, has bubble implications. Despite their tournament run, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will have to beat Tennessee to get a berth, and the Volunteers are already in.

As of this morning, Joe Lunardi says the last four teams in will be Minnesota, Maryland, Creighton and Saint Mary’s. His first four out are Penn St., Arizona, San Diego State and Auburn. His next four out are Florida, New Mexico, UNLV and Tulsa.

It seems odd to me that he has SDSU out of tournament after the Aztecs finished the season with back-to-back wins against a bubble team (UNLV), a win over an in-the-Dance team (BYU) and a near-miss against another in-the-Dance team (Utah). Sure, SDSU doesn’t have a marquee win, but neither does Saint Mary’s. I guess Lunardi points to the head-to-head matchup (which the Aztecs lost) as the difference. But SDSU is playing better right now, so it depends on how much stock the committee puts in late season versus early season play. Also, SDSU lost to Arizona by 13 (on the road), so that can’t help either.

It’s also odd to see Creighton back in after being on the “first four out” or “next four out” lists all week. After all, they didn’t do anything to improve their situation after losing by 24 points against Illinois State. SDSU has a tougher schedule (35 vs. 111), a better RPI (35 to 40) and Creighton doesn’t have a single win against a top 25 RPI team. (The Aztecs beat Utah back in January.) Maybe SDSU doesn’t deserve a nod over Saint Mary’s or even Arizona, but they should get in before the Blue Jays do.

It seems to me that if Mississippi State loses, there are two spots available for five teams: Creighton, Saint Mary’s, SDSU, Arizona and Penn State. If the Bulldogs win, there will just be one spot available for those five teams.

On the flip side, Lunardi has removed UConn from his top line and replaced the Huskies with the Memphis Tigers, who blew out Tulsa en route to their 987th straight C-USA title. I just don’t know what to make of Memphis. They lost to Syracuse at home, lost to Xavier on a neutral court and had a road loss to Georgetown. They did blow Gonzaga out by 18 in Spokane, and that’s their only really good win. I watched some of the C-USA championship game and they didn’t wow me despite beating Tulsa (#56 RPI) at the FedEx Forum.

Michigan State and Oklahoma knocked themselves out of contention for a #1 seed with poor performances in the conference tournaments, but Duke can make a case if they can beat Florida State in the ACC tourney. Either way, I think North Carolina, Louisville, Pitt and Memphis will be the #1 seeds and Oklahoma, Duke, Michigan State and UConn will be #2 seeds, just as Lunardi has it. I don’t think there is anyone on his #3 line — Kansas, Missouri, Wake Forest and Villanova — that has a strong argument to be a #2 seed.

Blogging Championship Week: Friday

Even though Pitt and UConn both lost in the Big East quarterfinals, they each still have a great shot at a #1 seed. The two Big 12 teams that might have had a case — Oklahoma and Kansas — lost to Oklahoma State and Bayor, respectively. If Louisville goes on to win the Big East Championship, they’re likely to get a #1 seed as well, so it’s possible that the Big East will get three #1 seeds. However, if Memphis, Michigan State, or even Duke wins their conference tourneys, they may leapfrog UConn (or Pitt) for a #1 seed. The only sure-thing when it comes to #1 seeds is that North Carolina is probably safe. (They have bigger worries with Ty Lawson sitting out the ACC tourney opener.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona’s loss to ASU has really put the Wildcats on the hot seat. Their RPI (59) isn’t impressive, though their SOS (31) is. They are 2-1 versus top 25 RPI teams, so that’s something. USC doesn’t have the great wins that Arizona has, but their RPI and SOS are both better and the Trojans’ win against Cal has them back in the conversation. The fact that the three Big 10 bubble teams — Minnesota, Michigan and Penn St. — all won, doesn’t help either team’s chances, either. Michigan looks to be in (Joe Lunardi projects the Wolverines to be a #10 seed), while Minnesota (projected #11 seed) and Penn St. (#12 seed) are still iffy, but as of right now, he says they’re both in.

I’ll discuss the other bubble teams as the games get going today. Be sure to bookmark this post and check back for my thoughts as the scores roll in. Right now, Virginia Tech and North Carolina are doing battle in the ACC quarterfinals while Minnesota and Michigan State are squaring off in the Big 10 quarters. If the Hokies can beat the Ty Lawson-less Tar Heels, it will go a long way towards earning VT a bid. Michigan State is looking for a #1 seed while Minnesota would guarantee themselves a berth with a win over the Spartans.

11:55 PM: I’m signing off for tonight. We’re having a birthday party for my baby boy tomorrow (he’s turning one), so I won’t be blogging. Check back on Sunday for some reaction to the Sat/Sun action.

11:46 PM:
Illinois beat Michigan by 10. I think the Wolverines have done enough to get a bid, but only time will tell. Syracuse looks like they are going to beat the Mountaineers in overtime. Terrific mental toughness by the Orangemen. I’m interested to see how they play tomorrow against a very athletic Louisville team looking to earn a #1 seed. Again, I think that the fact that Syracuse plays zone has helped them deal with seven overtimes in two nights. They simply don’t burn as much energy on that end of the court as teams that play heavy man-to-man. Mizzou put away Oklahoma State. That Baylor/Mizzou matchup in the Big 12 final will have nationwide implications. Auburn beat Florida — the Gators are probably out and Auburn is back on the bubble.

11:40 PM: Duke beat BC by one with some good defense down the stretch. And…believe it or not…West Virginia and Syracuse just went into overtime!

11:20 PM: San Diego State beat BYU, so that strengthens the Aztecs’ argument that they should get a bid. Before the win, Joe Lunardi had the team as the last one in, and with a win over a NCAA team like BYU, you’d think they’d be safe. Arizona State upset Washington in a chippy one. It’s clear these two teams don’t like each other, especially the two point guards. Duke is up three with four minutes to go (ESPN2), Syracuse leads WVU by five with three minutes to play (ESPN), and Missouri is up four with 11 minutes to go (ESPN360).

10:57 PM: I’m perplexed by this Hyundai Assurance Plus program, where they cover your car payment if you lose your job. I would assume that this deal would appeal to people that are worried about losing their job, but my advice would be that if you’re in that situation, it’s not a good time to buy a new car. Buy a used car or keep driving whatever you’re currently driving.

10:48 PM: So much for Dayton helping the bubble teams out by winning the A-10 tourney. Duquesne is up 13 with 2:35 to play, so it’s not looking good. More bad news for teams on the bubble. Some great games going on right now…Duke/BC, Mizzou/OSU, WVU/Syracuse, ASU/Washington and Florida/Auburn are all within four points.

10:21 PM: He’s a heckuva shooter, but Eric Devendorf is really annoying. Stop with all the antics and act like you’ve made a play before. Maybe it’s the tats that bother me…

BC goes into halftime on a 20-5 run and leads Duke by seven. I don’t know what to think of this Duke team. I don’t see them getting out of the Sweet Sixteen, especially if they meet an athletic, well-coached team.

10:16 PM: Finally some good news for the other bubble teams. Purdue is blowing out Penn State. The Nittany Lions probably needed to keep things closer to get a bid, so they will be on the hot seat if they continue to get blown out.

10:03 PM: Good time for hoops fans — we have Duke/BC, ASU/Washington, Syracuse/West Virginia, Florida/Auburn and Oklahoma St./Mizzou. The winner of that Florida/Auburn game will still be alive for a bid, the loser will probably be on the outside looking in.

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Blogging Championship Week: Thursday

Bookmark this page and check back periodically for my thoughts as I watch the scores roll in on Thursday. There are at least 10 bubble teams in action today, starting with Providence/Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals.

1:32 AM:
I’m going to hit the hay. I’ll be back tomorrow at 12 PM ET to start this all again. New Mexico is currently down seven to Wyoming with two minutes to play, so their bubble might be bursting tonight. It was a great day of basketball capped by one of the best games I’ve ever seen.

1:25 AM: The Orangemen finally prevailed, 127-117 (6 OT). Syracuse plays a ton of zone and I think that gave them an advantage in a game of this length. When you’re playing man to man, you have to go from side to side (of the half court) to cover your guy. When you’re in a zone, you just cover an area, so there’s less running involved. Over the course of a regular 40-minute game, it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but if you give a player the choice of playing 70 minutes of man-to-man or 70 minutes of zone, they’ll pick zone. Zone simply requires less effort, and I think the Orangemen had more in the tank at the end. I’m exhausted and I didn’t play a minute. What a great game…

1:07 AM: This is insane. This UConn/Syracuse game just went to a 6TH OVERTIME! Forget about the winner having any gas left in the tank for tomorrow night. Hell, they might not even show up to play.

12:57 AM: Bill Rafferty with the line of the night, “These guys are so tired they’re going to need cabs to get to the other end of the court.” A.J. Price has been great in the last two OTs.

12:47 AM: Wow, what a game in New York. UConn and Syracuse are in a 5TH OVERTIME. My TiVo ran out of space at the end of the second overtime, so I checked the internet to see who won and I saw that the game was still going on. So I flipped it on and watched the 4th OT. Hasheem Thabeet just fouled out, but Syracuse couldn’t finish at the rim with time winding down. Five more minutes.

11:06 PM:
USC just beat Cal in a tight one, so the Trojans are still alive for an NCAA berth. Mizzou is controlling its game against Texas Tech as is Boston College in its game versus Virginia. UConn and Syracuse are battling with about nine minutes left on ESPN. The Huskies are up two and probably need the win if they hope to secure a #1 seed next week.

10:00 PM: USC is beating Cal by 15 at halftime. The Trojans are a team that could play their way into a bid with a few wins in the Pac-10 tourney. Their RPI (61) and SOS (27) aren’t bad, but they’re 0-4 against Top 25 RPI teams.

9:17 PM: Down goes Pitt! Down goes Oklahoma! The Panthers lost to a very good West Virginia team that was helped by DeJuan Blair’s foul trouble. Watch out for the Mountaineers in the tourney. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State nipped Oklahoma in a great game, which means that the top two seeds in the Big 12 tourney have been knocked out (and Missouri has yet to play). OSU was already in, but now the door is open for a team like Baylor or Texas Tech to get a bid by winning the tourney. The other three teams still alive – OSU, Mizzou and Texas — are already in. In the ACC, Maryland beat NC State to keep the Terps’ slim NCAA hopes alive. They really need to win another game or two to have a legit shot.

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Couch Potato Alert: 3/12

No fewer than ten bubble teams will be in action on Thursday. If any of these teams lose, they’re looking at the NIT, so these are virtual playoff games. Also, don’t forget the NBA doubleheader on TNT — Lakers/Spurs at 8 PM and Cavs/Suns at 10:30 PM.

All times ET.

12 PM: Providence vs. #5 Louisville (ESPN)
The Friars are on the hot seat and really need a win against Louisville to earn a spot in the tourney. A loss probably knocks them out.

12 PM: Northwestern vs. Minnesota (Big Ten Network)
The Gophers are on the bubble and they need a win against the feisty Wildcats. If they lose, they’ll really be squirming on Selection Sunday.

12 PM: Virginia Tech vs. Miami (ESPN 360)
Both teams are on the bubble, and the winner probably needs to beat North Carolina in the next round.

2:30 PM: #21 Marquette vs. #13 Villanova (ESPN)

This game will have an effect on the seeding for the Big Dance.

2:30 PM: Iowa vs. Michigan (ESPN2)
The Wolverines can’t lose to the Hawkeyes and expect to get an NCAA berth.

3 PM: Arizona vs. #23 Arizona St. (FSN)
I think this is the game of the day. The Sun Devils can probably end their arch-rival’s season if they can hang a loss on the Wildcats.

3 PM: Texas vs. Kansas St. (ESPN360)
The Wildcats really need a win against Texas to get back into the conversation.

5 PM: Penn St. vs. Indiana (ESPN)
This is pretty much a must-win game for the Nittany Lions.

7 PM: Maryland vs. N.C. State (ESPN2)
The Terps need to make a run in the ACC tourney to get a look from the committee.

7 PM: West Virginia vs. #2 Pittsburgh (ESPN)
The Mountaineers are safely in, but could improve their seeding with a win over Pitt. Meanwhile, the Panthers need to win to secure a #1 seed.

9 PM: USC vs. Cal (FSN)
The Golden Bears are already in, but they can end the Trojans’ season with a win. USC needs to make a run and a win over Cal would really help.

9:30 PM: #20 Syracuse vs. #4 UConn (ESPN)
If the Huskies want a #1 seed, they’re going to have to beat the Orangemen and (probably) make the Big East Championship final.

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