Who wants a bid? A-10 Steps Up, Others Continue to Walk Plank

Idle bubble teams continue to gain momentum as BCS conference fringe teams fall by the waste side. Forget expanding the tournament, I agree with Seth Davis’ proclamation, this year delivering 60 or 61 bids may be more appropriate than the full 65. Another day of wall-to-wall hoops, buzzer beaters reminiscent of Christian Laettner, a few upsets, one conference stepping up big team after a topsy-turvy season, even the unexpected basketball weather delay. Let’s sort through the rummage from Friday.

A-10 – At least one group of teams wants to sleep easy on Saturday night. St. Joe’s, thought to have blown their at-large bids after staggering into the finish line last weekend, played themselves right back into the conversation BEFORE the Xavier game with two wins in A-10 tournament while other bubble teams took steps backwards. Yesterday’s win over the Musketeers, the Hawks second in eight days, end any debate. If St. Joe’s beats Temple for the auto bid, look for a single-digit seed on Sunday night. The Owls are a different story, after a typical strong non-conference schedule (SOS-30) and a mediocre start to conference play, Temple sat at 11-10, a non-factor in NCAA talk. A strong finish to grab second place in a competitive A-10, followed up with two wins in the conference tournament, leave Temple at 20-12, 8-2 in the last 10, an RPI of 56 and a strong SOS. Despite winning games they should win, Temple deserves a bid, they played their way in, they earned it. Taking the committee perspective, Temple probably needs to win today to snag the auto bid. Kudos to the A-10 for stepping up.
SEC – Scary situation when the roof came down in the Georgia Dome, in the midst of great Mississippi State-Alabama battle. With debris falling thanks to a tornado ripping through the Atlanta area, SEC officials delayed the game, in OT after thanks to Mykal Riley’s 3-point buzzer beater to keep Alabama’s hopes alive. The Bulldogs held on in the end, but officials canceled the Kentucky-Georgia matchup to setup an interesting, unprecedented situation this weekend. Kentucky and Georgia play at noon today down the road at Georgia Tech, the semis also move to the smaller arena and start at 6PM, with this afternoon’s winner having to play a second game in the semifinal night cap. This is not completing part of one game before another game folks, it’s two full games in one day, suddenly makes the four games in four days look easy. If either team can sweep the double dip, back to business at 3PM Sunday for the finals, 3 wins in about 30 hours, not an easy situation. On the court, Tennessee looked less than impressive needing a last minute shot to top South Carolina, while Arkansas probably wrote their ticket in with a win. Only Georgia has a chance to steal a bid, though extremely unlikely with the odds stack against them.

Big 10 -Reminiscent of Laettner over Kentucky, a day after the 10-year anniversary of Bryce Drew’s buzzer beater for Valpo, Blake Hoffarber made a great catch in traffic and buried a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to knock off Indiana and keep the Gopher’s tourney hopes alive. Probably the best finish of the week, Indiana’s Eric Gordon missed a free throw on purpose down by two with 3.5 seconds left, a play that rarely works. DJ White not only made it work, grabbing the rebound, he scored on the putback to tie and got the foul call. After completing the improbable, old fashioned 3-point play, Minnesota had 1.5 seconds left and ruined a herculean effort by White, who finished with 23 points and 13 boards. Hoffarber has made a habit of last  minute heroics, nailing a three point shot in OT to tie a Minnesota state high school title game from his backside in 2005. Earlier in the day, after Wisconsin put Michigan out of its misery in an unwatchable quarterfinal opener, Michigan State avenged a loss to Ohio State last weekend, outplaying the Buckeyes squad down the stretch, likely sending the national runner-ups to the NIT along with last seasons champs. Resume aside, and Ohio State’s does not exactly standout with a 2-10 record against Top 50 teams, if you watch the Buckeyes a few times they are not an NCAA caliber team. Fourth best in the Big 10 means little more than fourth best in the A-10 this year. By far the worst BCS conference, the Big 10 only deserves four bids. Underlying the weaknesses in conference, surprising Purdue fell to a bad Illinois team later in the day, while dramatic buzzer beater aside, Indiana has struggled since the Kelvin Sampson debacle, stumbling to the finish losing 3 of the last 4. Forget reputation, watch the games, this conference stinks. Come tourney time, unless Michigan State or Indiana gathers itself and gains some momentum, the Big 10 can forget the Final Four and may struggle to make the second weekend. Obviously, I’m not high on Wisconsin and Purdue.

ACC – Not much surpris here. Duke and UNC stayed on course to battle for a #1 seed on Sunday afternoon. Virginia Tech made a nice statement with a convincing win over Miami, today they get a shot at UNC, a game they need. One advantage of the ACC, teams get a crack at two Top Five teams for a statement win during the conference tournament, one downside of the ACC, bubble teams have to get through two Top Five teams in the conference tournament. Simple, Hokies beat Carolina, they get in and Duke holds its fate for a top seed.

Saturday’s Bid Vultures – Villanova, UMass, VCU, et al. have their eye on games in C-USA, the MAC, and SEC conferences. Tulsa takes a crack at Memphis playing a major underdog role, on the road against a Top 3 team, but a win in the C-USA title game steals a bid from the bubble. Akron tries to do the same to Kent State in the MAC final, while Georgia, however great the odds against them now, still have a chance, albeit an extreme long-shot, to steal one in the SEC. What about the Big Ten you say? Well, Minnesota faces Illinois in a semifinal today, meaning one of those teams will definitely play on Sunday for the automatic bid against a team already NCAA bound, therefore bubble teams already have something to watch Sunday afternoon no matter what’s today’s result brings.

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