Bubble Watch

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

BUBBLE WATCH

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

The regular season is over in college basketball. We're now at the time of year where a lot of teams who BELIEVE they should be in the NCAA tournament are fighting over relatively few available spots. Most bubble teams will be disappointed. Even Mr. Bracketology Joe Lunardi himself may be disappointed about one or two of his final picks. The selection committee has a mind of its own, and doesn't always defer to ESPN!

Today seemed like the ideal time to run through all the teams who BELIEVE they're on the bubble (even if they're realistically so far away from a bid that their chances are minimal). The Big East and Atlantic 10 tournaments start tomorrow. Everyone else who hasn't already played their tournament gets rolling right after that.

Here's a list from the remaining tournaments of teams who have WINNING records in their conference, but aren't currently sure things for invitations to the NCAA Tournament. We'll take the conferences in order of this week's tournaments in the official rotation. That way you can take notes in your schedule.

BIG EAST
Notre Dame

Actually, the Big East is so strong that the usual requirement of 'winning record in the conference' might be thrown out. Joe Lunardi currently has Connecticut in the Big Dance as we write this, even with a 7-11 record in the league. Seton Hall and South Florida are both 9-9 in conference play heading into the tournament. It's probably best to think of the Big East bubble teams this way:

*Notre Dame is probably in, but can screw it up with a bad tournament.

*Connecticut is right on the cusp...probably 50/50 at the moment.

*Seton Hall and South Florida didn't do enough before conference play to build quality resume's, and are longshots even though they have a better record than Connecticut. Should either have a nice run in the Big East tourney, a media drumbeat will start sounding for their inclusion.

ATLANTIC 10
Saint Louis
Rhode Island
Charlotte

Note that Dayton is also considered a bubble team even though they're only at .500 this year. Rhode Island is currently barely in, but isn't playing very well of late. Saint Louis has a nice league record, but was spotty earlier in the season. The NOTEBOOK braintrust believes the A10 will get four bids...so three of the four teams mentioned here are in trouble.

BIG 12
Nobody's on the bubble in this league. Seven will make it, five won't.

CONFERENCE USA
Memphis
UAB
Marshall
Tulsa

All of those have winning records in the league, so even players on Marshall and Tulsa will be dreaming the dream. Lunardi has Memphis and UAB right on the edge right now. We wouldn't be shocked to see one of those teams join UTEP in the final Dance brackets. Either could win their way in with a tourney title. That's probably the best case scenario. Why swept the bubble when you can control your own destiny?

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MOUNTAIN WEST
San Diego State

Currently, State is in the mix according to ESPN. They're right on the edge though, so a bad result in the Mountain West tourney could cost them. The best basketball out West has been played in this conference this season. We hope the committee takes four teams (SDSU plus BYU, New Mexico, and UNLV) to reflect that reality.

PAC 10
Arizona State
Washington
Arizona

We're listing everyone with winning records in their conferences because the focus is on what the PLAYERS think about the process. Arizona doesn't really have much of a chance. But, with a 10-8 record, you know the coaches are going to be drilling into the players heads the possibility of something big happening. ESPN has really started hyping Arizona State and Washington the past few days. Washington in particular is seen as somebody who can get hot and go far. Pay close attention to the Huskies and Sun Devils in the Pac 10 tourney.

ACC
Georgia Tech

Lunardi actually has Georgia Tech in comfortably even with a 7-9 league record. You regulars know how we feel about the ACC. Do we need to run the numbers from last year's debacle again? North Carolina was great. Everyone else was overrated. It's a travesty that SEVEN teams from this overrated conference will be in the Dance most likely.

SEC
Florida
Mississippi State
Mississippi

Heading into the week, Florida is barely in...and Mississippi State is barely out. We expect four SEC teams to get a bid just because of historical respect...which means one of the three above will sneak in.

BIG 10
Nobody

Well, there's nobody with a winning record who isn't already seen as in. Illinois is seen as potentially vulnerable if they have a bad tournament. They're currently the fifth of five teams expected to make it. Minnesota will get hyped on the Big 10 TV network as being a deserving team...but they've got a lot of work to do to make in six teams from the Big 10. This conference has grown on us this year, and five seems right.

For the conferences in action this week we didn't list...there really isn't a bubble. Either the conference champ will get the only bid. Or, the regular season champ is safe even if they don't win their tournament. Maybe Utah State has to sweat in the WAC. Hopefully the selection committee has already locked them into a spot.

How should YOU handle the bubble teams when you're trying to pick games this week? This is what we've learned in recent years:

*Most bubble teams will disappoint! ESPN's announcers will spend the day bemoaning the fact that so many bubble teams blew their opportunities to impress. This really shouldn't be a surprise though. If they were solid as a rock, they wouldn't be on the bubble in the first place. As a general rule, you should look to go against the bubble teams in Vegas. The pointspreads may be a point or two too high because of the public's fascination with bubbles.

*A few bubble teams will make great runs. You need to recognize these teams and back them until they hit a wall. Some don't hit a wall and go on to win their tournaments. The fact that this occasionally happens is what's caused the public love affair with bubble teams. They think everyone can rise to the occasion...when it's really just one or two teams each year catching fire to surprise people. If you see fire in the eyes in game telecasts of a bubble team, you can make some investments in them. Just remember that you'll usually see fear!

*In general, look to play Unders in games involving bubble teams. They get conservative. They slow down tempo. They sit on leads if they get them. If they don't get leads, it's because they're so nervous that they're missing shots! You'll even see Unders with the teams that get hot because they're playing inspired defense while on their mission.

If you'd like some help navigating the challenging waters this week, sign up for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK by calling 1-800-323-4453. We've got great postseason rates for our BLUE RIBBON and CASHLINE programs. Game day releases can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

RIGHT NOW is a great time to sign up! You can get things rolling with tonight's CHAMPIONSHIP PARLAY, featuring NETWORK'S top plays from:

The COLONIAL championship game
The WEST COAST championship game
The METRO ATLANTIC championship game
The SOUTHERN championship game

We may be involved as well in the Sun Belt semifinals. There are also five games in the NBA that will garner scrutiny from our handicapping staff.

We'll be back tomorrow here in the NOTEBOOK to preview the Big East and Atlantic 10 tournaments that get under way Tuesday. We hope last week's look at two-point defenses helped your selection process in the mid-majors. Get ready to dig even deeper in this week's busier tournament schedule!

There are still about a dozen conference tourneys left. THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING!

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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