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ON THE BUBBLE: SATURDAY NIGHT INSOMNIA
March 9, 2006

SCS.com Just a little over three days until Selection Sunday, the waters are getting muddier instead of clearer. Much like Professor Marvel in the Wizard of Oz, most bracketologists are looking for some kind of slick trick to fool all of the runaway Dorothies out there, but there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The conference tourneys will make or break a number of teams, though last night's Big East action certainly did not help clear up the situation. Syracuse beat Cincinnati to give the Orange new life, while Seton Hall lost to Rutgers. There is nothing nastier than sweaty Pirates, and there will be a room full of them on Selection Sunday in South Orange, New Jersey. While some teams have separated themselves into solid "IN's", there are still several wide open slots. Here is a look at who is IN, who is OUT, and who is truly playing for their lives this weekend.

Most folks agree that these teams cannot miss:

UConn, Villanova, Duke, Memphis, Ohio State, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Gonzaga, LSU, Tennessee, UCLA, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Iowa, George Washington, Washington, Kansas, Boston College, Florida, Georgetown, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Marquette, Wisconsin, NC State, and Wichita State.

That is 27 teams that are locked and ready to go.

Here is a look at where other potential teams stand. How many get in will depend on how the conference tourneys go. Bubble Nation will be rooting hard for teams on the above list to win their conference tourneys. Of course, Temple finished off GW as this article was written, so the Bubble just shrank by one slot. Add in Syracuse's monster win over UConn, and two spots may have disappeared in the last few hours.

SLEEPIN' WELL ON SATURDAY NIGHT

Arkansas (21-8, 45 RPI)
The Hogs have put it all together late in the season. After a loss to hapless Mississippi on February 15, UA has ripped off five in row, including home wins over Florida and Alabama, plus an important road scalp at Tennessee. They have done enough.

Arizona (18-11, 24 RPI)
The Cats have been officially awarded the "Magic RPI Award" for this season. They possess just two top 50 RPI wins and have three sub-100 losses, but maintain a robust RPI of 24. How? There is not a single opponent on their schedule worse than #176 in the RPI. They avoided RPI poison. They also went 5-2 to close the season.

Indiana (17-10, 36 RPI)
Two weeks ago, the Hoosiers needed a strong finish that looked nearly impossible in their state at the time. But, Mike Davis's crew has won four in a row, including two Big Ten road games to get to 9-7 in the conference. This strong close, coupled with the heavy lumber they stacked in the early season, will allow the Hoosiers a minimum amount of stress on Sunday.

Kentucky (19-11, 40 RPI)
The Cats punched their ticket with the win at Tennessee last week. If they take care of Mississippi today, they can sleep like a rock. Even if they lose, they will be fine unless a large number of dark horses win conference tournaments.

Missouri State (20-8, 21 RPI)
A strong RPI, twenty wins, 8-2 in their last ten, and four top 50 wins makes the Bears all but a lock. One of the MVC Six-Pack might be left out, but it will not be Missouri State.

Nevada (23-5, 18 RPI)
The Wolf Pack has won eleven in a row and has too much RPI strength to be left out at this point. Even if they lose in the WAC Tourney, they should be just fine.

Northern Iowa (21-9, 25 RPI)
Some are suggesting that UNI is on the bubble. If they played in a major conference, the mere suggestion that they could miss would cause riots. With eight top 50 wins and a top 25 RPI, the Panthers can rest easy.

Syracuse (20-11, 39 RPI)
The Orange just took out UConn in the Big East Tourney. They can sleep fairly easily now with that monster win in tow along with a top 40 RPI, eleven Top 100 wins, and no sub-100 losses.

UAB (21-5, 44 RPI)
The Blazers have won six in a row since the UTEP debacle, including that gem of a win over Memphis. With the win over SMU today, the Blazers can sleep well. Furthermore, no one wants to play against "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." Ask LSU about last year's first round tilt with UAB.

LIKELY IN, BUT DRINKING CHAMOMILE TEA ON SATURDAY NIGHT

Alabama (17-11, 46 RPI)
The Tide has piled up some nice wins in the last month or so (LSU, Tennessee, Florida), but a double-digit loss at Mississippi State to end the regular season left the door ajar just a bit. One win the SEC Tourney would clinch it, and they are likely in even with a loss.

Bradley (20-10, 34 RPI)
The Braves won their last seven regular season games and four of them were over the brass of the MVC. They did falter in the MVC title game against SIU, but Bradley is in a nice position. They have been the best team in the Valley over the last 10 games.

Bucknell (24-4, 50 RPI)
The Bison are likely going to dance even if they lose to Holy Cross on Friday, but they should win just to be safe. Their RPI has dropped precipitously since conference play began, and another loss would push them into the mid-50's. That is not a place a team wants to be on Sunday.

Cincinnati (18-12, 41 RPI)
Darn that Gerry McNamara. His answered prayer kept Cincy from being in the "Sleep Easy" category. UC is 6-10 since Armein Kirkland went down with an injury, and that will weigh on the committee's mind. The Cats will be rooting for Bucknell and other at-large candidates in one-bid conferences this weekend.

Florida State (19-8, 56 RPI)
The win over Duke was huge, but FSU really needs a win in the ACC Tourney to make things all better. Their bloated RPI and lack of quality wins will keep them tossing and turning unless they can snag a quality win or two in the next couple of days. They must take care of Wake Forest today.

Michigan (18-9, 37 RPI)
The Wolverines looked like a sure-fire Tourney team for most of the season, but a 2-6 finish with a loss to lowly Purdue has raised some doubt. If they beat Minnesota today, they should be okay, but a loss to the Gophers would make their situation quite dicey.

Texas A&M (20-7, 49 RPI)
The Aggies finished alone in 4th place in the Big XII ahead of fellow Bubble Boy Colorado. They also finished by winning seven in a row to close the season and get Colorado tomorrow. I think the Aggies are close, but a win tomorrow would erase all doubt.

TAKING BENEDRYL, NYQUIL, OR OTHER SLEEP-INDUCING DRUGS OF CHOICE ON SATURDAY NIGHT
(Only a couple of these teams, at most, are likely to get invitations)

Air Force (22-5, 38 RPI)
The Falcons' great record and second-place MWC finish are nice, but zero Top 50 RPI wins does not bode well with so many bubble teams winning. They need to get to the MWC final and lose a tough game to have real at-large hopes.

BYU (19-7, 55 RPI)
Three Top 100 wins and three sub-100 losses is only even in the numerical sense. BYU's chances are miniscule.

Colorado (19-8, 51 RPI)
The Buffs followed up a huge win over Oklahoma on February 15 with a 2-3 finish with blowout losses to Kansas State, Nebraska, and Kansas. They probably need a couple of nice wins in the Big XII Tourney to be truly viable.

Creighton (19-9, 43 RPI)
The Jays have had some injury issues that contributed to a few of their losses, but it still remains that they lost four of their last six. With so many other teams surging, that type of finish could keep them out.

George Mason (23-7, 28 RPI)
The Patriots would seem to be safe if it were not for an ill-timed punch to the groin. Actually, there is never a good time for a groin punch, but GMU guard Tony Skinn delivered one to an opposing player in their loss to Hofstra earlier this week. Hence, he will be out for their next game, which (theoretically) happens to be the NCAA Tourney first round. So, the question is this: Is GMU a top 34 at-large team without Skinn?

Hofstra (24-6, 30 RPI)
The Pride is 12-2 in their last fourteen with wins over fellow CAA contenders UNC-Wilmington and George Mason (twice). But they had no meaningful out-of-conference wins and lost to #221 Towson. They have the quintessential Bubble resume.

Houston (18-8, 58 RPI)
Like AFA and BYU, the quality wins are just not there, especially with losses to Rice and UCF on the resume. They have a couple of Top 25 RPI wins, but only three Top 100 wins total.

Maryland (17-11, 47 RPI)
The Terps are 2-7 on the road and 4-6 in their last ten. Those two stats are killers for a team on the bubble. They must defeat Georgia Tech today and pull an upset or two over the weekend.

Seton Hall (18-11, 57 RPI)
What a roller coaster team. They rebounded from losing 4 of 5 late in the season to take care of both Cincinnati and Pitt, then laid a gigantic egg against Rutgers in the first round of the Big East Tourney yesterday. That means that they finished the season 2-4 with losses to St. John's, DePaul, and Rutgers sandwiched around those two big wins.

Stanford (15-12, 78 RPI)
No chance unless they win out to the Pac-10 final and lose a close game to a good team.

Utah State (20-7, 52 RPI)
Five sub-100 losses is probably too many to overcome under any circumstances. It is especially difficult when that team possesses just one Top 50 RPI win. The Aggies' hopes are slimmer than slim.

Vanderbilt (16-11, 67 RPI)
An RPI this poor coupled with a losing conference record leaves the 'Dores with a monster mountain to climb. They need multiple wins in the SEC Tourney to have any shot.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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