Thursday, March 12, 2009

Auburn vs. the Bubble update

Yes, it's "The Boy in the Bubble" again, which I feel like I reference once a month or so around here. But I don't care, because if you're not down with Graceland I'm not entirely sure we can be friends.

At-large stock arrow:: Down a bit.

Bad news: The big bubble development, as I'm sure you're aware by now, was Cleveland St. outlasting Butler Tuesday night to claim the Horizon automatic bid and toss the Bulldogs into the at-large pool. The bubble cut-off line moves up a spot, and now Auburn will have to leapfrog one more team if they want to make the Dance as an at-large.

Other than that, it's actually been pretty smooth sailing around the rest of the bubble--but this one result has way, way more impact on Auburn's bubble chances than everything that's happened in the power conferences put together.

Good news: If Auburn has a lot of work to do to catch the teams in front of them, at least at the rate power-conference teams are falling by the wayside, no one's going to catch Auburn from behind, either. The damage:

--The reverse jinx from Tuesday on the Big East worked like a charm, didn't? Yours truly boldly predicted that at least one Big East team would make a big run up the bubble ladder and that it would probably be Georgetown. Surprise! The Hoyas might have beaten UConn on the road and Memphis(!) earlier this year, but they still somehow managed to lose to hapless St. John's twice in a week to bring their horrible disappointment of a season to a close.

No other Big East bubbler fared any better--Notre Dame got mauled by West Virginia last night to extinguish any hope for the Irish, Cincinnati silenced any final whispers of a bid by handing DePaul the Blue Demons' first Big East win of the season Tuesday, and while Providence eliminated DePaul at the next stage, that win doesn't do a thing for them. The Friars will have to beat Louisville (who's only been playing as well as any team in the country the last couple of weeks), and if the bubble squeezes even that might not be enough.

--Over in the Big 12, Nebraska was one of the many teams that might have been able to cobble together an argument if they'd made a mad dash to their league final. Nevermind: they got drilled by Baylor in the opening round.

Texas A&M is most likely safely in the field, but they didn't do themselves any favors by losing to Texas Tech late last night. Could the Committee take best-case scenario Auburn (as laid out Tuesday) over the Aggies? Maybe, since that Auburn team would have an equal number of top 100 wins and a better "last 12" record ... but probably not, since TAMU would have three wins rated better by the RPI than Auburn's best and a better worst loss. But hey, at least there'd be a discussion.

What to watch: There is an absolute ton of bubble action today. Teams whose fates could be decided (in addition to the aforementioned Providence) include:

Florida (vs. Arkansas): Auburn will be watching this one pretty closely, for obvious reasons. I still feel this is a win-win situation for Auburn: a Gator win keeps the "best-case scenario" alive, but a loss eliminates what by some measures is the SEC's second-best team. (Me? I want Arkansas. Auto-bid or bust, baby, not to mention it's better for the bubbletastic mid-majors out there.)

Arizona (vs. Arizona St.): The Wildcats have looks like a pretty clear play-in/play-out kind of game against in their in-state rivals. I'm one of the few who think Arizona's got a chance to slip into the tail end of the field even with a loss--but it won't be a great one, that's for sure, and I think best-case scenario Auburn probably passes on them on the strength of their better hypothetical tourney performance.

San Diego St. (vs. UNLV): Joe Lunardi's had an inexplicable infatuation with this team all season, but there's no way even he can think they've got a prayer if they lose on the road at UNLV today. Auburn fans are big, big fans of the Rebels. (Frankly, I don't see the Aztecs getting it done. They're not the sort of team that's good enough to beat a good team on the road twice in a season, and they've done it at UNLV once already.)

The Big 10: I'm a little more bullish on the Big 10's bubble trio of Michigan, Minnesota, and Penn St than some--Penn St. aside, there's some good nonconference work there, and all three bubblers have oodles of high-RPI wins--but a loss today by any of the three would make some fingernail-chewing come Sunday afternoon. I think Michigan and Minnesota can probably survive depending on results elsewhere, but the ugliness of an Indiana loss would put Penn St. would be in real trouble--and likely behind best-case scenario Auburn (which I'm going to start abbreviating BCSA), I think. (Something not many commentators seem to have realized is that Northwestern is still alive for a bid if they can beat the Gophers today and follow that up with a second win over Michigan St. No team in two seasons has missed with six RPI top 50 wins, and that would give the 'Cats eight.)

Kansas St. (vs. Texas): A two-game run past the 'Horns and waiting Kansas would likely vault the Wildcats right into the thick of bracket talk. Then again, a loss to Texas today ends any hope. Let's go, Horns!

New Mexico, Utah St. (vs. Wyoming, Fresno St.): I don't expect either of these teams to fall to inferior opponents in their conference quarterfinals, but it would help Auburn if the did. (Though for the record, I can't want this to happen Utah St. Every other team on this list, yes yes a thousand times yes. Aggies? Not exactly.)

ACC: Usually I do my best to ignore the most disgustingly hyped conference in all the land, but all three games today have huge ramifications for Auburn's bubble hopes: Virginia Tech and Miami play an elimination game, but the winner would likely still have to upend North Carolina in the next round to better BCSA; Maryland cannot survive a loss to recently surging N.C. State; and in a huge game for BCSA, Virginia goes for a huge RPI boost with a win over Boston College.

Whew. That's about it.

What they're saying: Some pretty cool statistical work from the firm of Gasaway and Pomeroy gives Auburn a 12.6 percent chance of winning the SEC tournament, fourth-best odds in the league. What the numbers don't know, of course, is that the team that lost to Mercer and got crushed by Ole Miss isn't around any more. We think.

Also at Basketball Prospectus, their resident bracketologist is way higher on Auburn than just about anyone else, ranking the Tigers ahead of either South Carolina or Florida, two different Mountain West teams, Minnesota and Penn St., Maryland and Arizona. Hope the Committee sees things the same way he does.

UPDATE: Just saw this from Bracketology 101, a site whose methods I occasionally disagree with (they project wins when filling out their field, rather than following the usual approach of relying only on information-to-date, and often rely on conference quotas basically every Committee member ever has sworn don't exist) but who's also had a pretty good record of accuracy with their final brackets. They write today:
If the Gators win, they play Auburn in the quarters in an at-large elimination game. The winner of that game, if they can beat Tennessee and get to the final, will get a bid.
So, hey, got that going for us.

Elsewhere, there's much less optimism--after the Butler loss, Auburn is now without a single vote in the Bracket Matrix. 78 votes, and not one of them has Auburn in the current field.

Someone at the Birmingham News--though I'm not sure who--is optimistic anyway, picking Auburn to win the SEC tournament. I will definitely cosign this opinion from our anonymous author:
Humor yourself while watching on TV and play "Count the Empty Seats" at the St. Pete Times Forum. There is no business having the SEC Tournament in Tampa. Florida, the only SEC member within seven hours of Tampa, hasn't even sold all of its 1,100 tickets.
Seriously: in the middle of the worst economic climate in a bajillion years or whatever, the SEC moves its tournament completely outside the conference's geographic borders and as far away as possible from the Kentucky fans that make up 90 percent of the tournament's attendees to start with. I know the ACC has bogarted the Georgia Dome this year, but is something really that wrong with the BJCC? With that nice-looking gym the Ohio Valley played in in Nashville last week? South Alabama's glittering new gym in Mobile? Memphis? Charleston? Pensacola? Atlanta--Georgia Tech's gym worked out just fine last year, didn't it? Anything's better than Tampa.

The JCCW's "Where we stand," updated:


1. Minnesota
3. Penn St.
4. Arizona
5. Creighton
6. Florida


7. New Mexico
8. South Carolina
9. Maryland
10. Miami
11. San Diego St.
12. Auburn
13. Providence
14. Northwestern

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