NCAA Bubble Watch

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

NCAA BUBBLE WATCH

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We have just two weeks left in the regular season, which means the many teams 'on the bubble' in terms of the NCAA tournament will be looking to close the season with some impressive results.

They can't afford to go 1-3 over their last four games. Many can't afford to go 2-2 if they then lose in the first round of their conference tournament. Some on the wrong side of the bubble right now HAVE to go 3-1 or better to get themselves back in consideration.

This issue won't affect EVERY college basketball game on the board this week. There are too many teams in the full scope of the sport for that. It will influence a few to several games per night. If there's an influence that isn't factored into the Vegas line, handicappers need to be there to take advantage!

We're not going to go into too many details about HOW we exploit this situation here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. It often comes down to a team-by-team basis. If our SCOUTS and SOURCES suggest a bubble team is focused and ready to play its best basketball, we don't have any trouble backing laying a reasonable spread. But, if we're hearing a team is getting nervous and starting to show signs of tension, we'll jump on the other side in a heartbeat.

If our STATHEADS notice something in the boxscores signaling a change in course (usually connected to offense where teams either start missing their shots if their tight, or attacking the basket if they're fired up), we'll play that course change through the rest of the season.

If our COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS find their simulations skewing in one direction or another (which OFTEN happens in the last two weeks of the regular season based on our long history with computer research here at NETWORK), we'll trust the read and take some positions.

Often our WISE GUY CONNECTIONS help us spot a team that sharp Vegas bettors have either fallen in love with, or fallen out of love with. We like to think we have all the bases covered with our own staff. On the off chance we miss something, monitoring sharp action serves as a great safety net. We've found at least one 'hard charging' team in the bubble picture each of the last three years this way.

Our work is proprietary. Paying customers get the benefits. We have no problem though telling you which teams are on the radar. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, this will help narrow your scope so you can devote maximum attention where it's deserved.

We're going to talk about too many teams today to call this a 'short list.' But, in terms of the couple of hundred teams on the college board, it really is. Here are the teams in the bubble picture based on what we've been reading in ESPN's 'bracketology' analysis and other respected sources.

IN GOOD SHAPE, BUT NOT LOCKS (in alphabetical order)

*Clemson: not setting the world on fire, and still capable of falling out of the mix with a poor finish.

*Florida: their weekend road win on TV helped push them into safer territory. They were on the wrong side of the bubble not too long ago. The Gators do need to keep winning though. Everyone knows its been a down year in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Vandy. Florida has to trump the bad publicity with more results.

*Georgia Tech: another ACC team that impresses one night, but looks very shaky the next. The ACC is currently set for 7 invitations based on the 'bracketology' stuff. We don't have that much respect for the conference right now...but we admit that there aren't many hard chargers coming up from behind at the moment. We'll talk about those possibilities in a few minutes.

BARELY ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BUBBLE

*Louisville: the huge win at Syracuse put the Cards back on the right side of the bubble after a long slump. There are still issues here, and a chance to embarrass themselves these last two weeks and in the Big East tournament. There are so many bubble teams in the Big East that the conference tourney is sure to break a few hearts. Not much margin of error here for the Cards because of that long stretch of mediocrity.

*Marquette: here's another Big East team that needs to shore up its resume. This is a decent squad, but not really a vintage Marquette squad. They haven't impressed against the big name opposition in their league for the most part, which may give the committee an excuse to snub them down the road.

*Oklahoma State: the Big 12 is either going to be the boom story of the postseason, or the bust story. We still can't tell ourselves. If it's a killer conference, then State may deserve more respect than it's getting. If not, everyone but Kansas might be overseeded by 2-3 spots.

*Rhode Island: we're going to put the full Atlantic 10 under the SPOTLIGHT in tomorrow's report. This is a league set to match many of the superpowers in terms of Dance attendance. Rhode Island is part of the mix...and may end up being the swing team that determines whether this is really a breakout year for the A10 or not.

*St. Mary's: if it were up to us, they wouldn't be in the Dance. They've established this year that they're way behind Gonzaga...and Gonzaga has had some disappointing results. St. Mary's looked very shaky in the NIT last year when they were supposed to be a threat. In our book, there's a lot of false hype about the program. 'Bracketology' currently still has the Gaels on the right side of the bubble.

*UAB: if you're like most people, you're probably not paying much attention to CUSA this year. It used to be Memphis and the 11 dwarfs. Then, John Calipari left Memphis! Texas-El Paso is having a nice run, and is already locked in higher up in the seedings. UAB is a danger team that might be a good Cinderella nominee if they do eventually grab one of the last available spots.

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CURRENTLY ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE

This is a lengthy list, so let's break down the teams you need to be paying attention to by conference:

ACC: Virginia has an outside shot of closing hard to post a winning record in the ACC and grab a spot (possibly stealing one from ACC teams already listed). The players are more likely to think of themselves as a bubble team than the selection committee is. But, we're handicapping the PLAYERS each night on the court, not the guys in suits!

BIG EAST: Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida are all currently on the 'bracketology' short list for just missing the Dance. Those teams surely know how important results are this week and next. These may be the three most important teams in your bubble studies. Notre Dame and Seton Hall have 6-8 league records that matched those three teams we just mentioned after the weekend (it was a five-way tie heading into Big Monday!). The players will try to make a bubble case for themselves, but weak non-conference resume's don't have them on the cusp of inclusion right now.

BIG 10: Minnesota is within striking range with a 7-7 league record. Most followers seem to believe that the Gophers are way out of the mix right now though. We expect one of the teams listed today as being well off the pace to surge home and force their way back into the mix. Will Minnesota be one of those teams?

BIG 12: There are currently seven teams in great shape for Dance consideration. Nobody below them has a shot. Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 team worrying about the bubble right now.

PAC 10: Arizona State is really the only team besides conference leader California getting consideration for an at-large bid. The media has been broadcasting the 'only one bid' mantra for so long now that it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy if Cal wins the postseason tournament. Arizona State is tied for first place though...and has a chance to close strong and impress.

SEC: Mississippi State is barely on the outside looking in right now. Could we really see a year where NOBODY from the SEC West gets a bid?! Hard to imagine. Right now, 'bracketology' has four teams from the East getting bids (with Florida barely sneaking in), and nobody from the West. Clearly Miss. State and Florida will be your teams of focus here as they fight for that fourth and probably final spot. Arkansas seems a longshot at best, though the players themselves might be thinking big.

MID MAJORS: Teams who need to impress in case they don't win their conference tournaments include... Charlotte and Saint Louis of the Atlantic 10; Old Dominion and Northeastern of the Colonial; Memphis in CUSA; Siena in the Metro-Atlantic; Wichita State and Illinois State of the Missouri Valley; San Diego State of the Mountain West; and Utah State of the WAC.

Yes, a long list that's a 'short list!'

Trust us, it's worth your time as a handicapper to isolate these teams and pay close attention to their results. As a group, they're more likely than any other subset to 'break form' in these last two weeks of the season. Some are going to rise to the occasion and play better than their Power Ratings. Some are going to choke and play a few points worse than their Power Ratings. Vegas lines are based on full season ratings, not on what's about to happen NOW!

IT'S YOUR JOB TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN NOW!

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Games of interest tonight (some of which include bubble teams we've just listed):
Georgetown at Louisville on ESPN2
Illinois at Michigan on ESPN
Old Dominion at Georgia State
Tennessee at Florida on ESPN
Hofstra at Northeastern on ESPNU

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This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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