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BREAKING DOWN THE BUBBLE IN EACH CONFERENCE
March 10, 2009

SCS.comAs the final week prior to selection Sunday arrives, the final mad scramble for those last at-large berths intensifies. Itís a last chance to knock off a Michigan State or North Carolina and leave a good impression on the selection committee. Itís also a last chance opportunity to win your respective conferenceís tournament and earn an automatic bid, but only 31 teams will receive a berth of that sort. Here is a conference by conference breakdown of what teams need to do to reach the field of 65:

America East

There will be no at-large bids coming from the America East Conference. The championship will take place Saturday between top seed Binghamton and underdog UMBC, the winner will go dancing.

ACC

Perhaps no conference in the country has as much depth at the top portion of its conference. The ACC has five teams which are locks for the tournament, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Florida State can all lose their initial ACC Tournament game and still receive and at-large berth. The situation gets more confusing at the ACC elite. Boston College, Miami (Fl), Maryland, and Virginia Tech all head to Atlanta with their bubble lives at least on life support. North Carolina State, Virginia, and Georgia Tech all need to win the conference tournament in order to advance to the big dance.

Boston College seemed headed for a lock earlier in the season after their win over North Carolina, however since that giant victory, they have been extremely inconsistent. However, you canít dispute the fact that they are 9-7 in the ACC and 21-10 overall with wins over North Carolina and Duke. Should they knock off Virginia in their ACC opener, they can start to feel good about the prospect of getting selected on Sunday, if they lose it will be dicey considering their RPI in the mid-50ís. Miami (Fl) came back to knockoff NC State this weekend saving them from having their plug pulled, in order to start feeling alright about a berth, the Hurricanes will need to defeat Virginia Tech on Thursday and perhaps even Carolina on Friday, needless to say a tough task. The game with the Hokies appears to be a knockout game, as both teams pretty much face the same task of beating one another than UNC. Maryland has been all over the map this season. They quietly climbed in the bubble race then defeated North Carolina and seemingly were headed in the right direction before closing the season losing three out of four games. Much like Tech and Miami, the Terps need to defeat NC State in their opening round game and go one to beat a heavyweight in Wake Forest. Prediction: Assuming they do not lose to Virginia, BC will make the dance. I canít see either Miami or Virginia Tech beating North Carolina, nor Maryland beating Wake Forest. The ACC seems destined for six bids.

Atlantic Ten

The Atlantic Ten is always an interesting situation come Selection Sunday. Xavier is a lock for the dance as is Dayton. After these two teams, the winner very well may need to win the Atlantic Ten Tournament. Rhode Island and Temple are the only two teams that could even be considered for at-large berths. The Rams actually seemed to be in reasonably good shape winning 10 out of their previous 11 before getting upset against Massachusetts. If they had won that game, a trip to conference championship and a close battle with Xavier would have given them a real shot at a bid, not it seems anything short of the automatic bid will not suffice. Temple is a little more attractive thanks to a RPI of 40. Much like URI, the Owls were on a hot streak before falling to Big Five rival LaSalle. Should Temple defeat the Saint Josephís/Charlotte winner and then takeout Xavier in the semifinals followed by a close game with Dayton, the Owls will be one of the last four in or last four out, it will be that close. Prediction: As mentioned before, the Atlantic Ten has two locks for bids, but will more than likely need a third team to leave Atlantic City with the tournament title in order for three bids. My gut feeling tells me even if Temple beats Xavier and falls in the championship, they will come up just a bit short.

Atlantic Sun

East Tennessee State has already won the Atlantic Sun Tournament earning the conferenceís lone bid.

Big Twelve

Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri are all locks to enter Selection Sunday with bids in hand. After that a slew of bubble teams including Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and even Nebraska have hopes of seeing their name called on the television this Sunday. The Longhorns, Cowboys, and Aggies all feature top 40 RPIís that will surely play into their favor when portfolios are compared. They will face the bottom three teams in the Big 12 in the first round, if they win these games, expect to all three to earn bids. Kansas State is a dicey situation, the fourth place finishers in the conference have 21 wins, but their RPI is in the 70ís. They will need to beat the Texas/Colorado winner and then beat Kansas in the semiís to have any chance due to their weak non-conference slate. Nebraska, despite a .500 Big 12 record has a higher RPI and has gone 4-3 against teams ranked 26-100. If they can beat Kansas, Texas, and give Oklahoma a very tough game in the championship, you will hear their name mentioned as a hot at-large possibility. Prediction: The Big 12 will earn six berths, which is about what is expected. Obviously Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri are will it, and I would be shocked if Texas, Texas A&M or Oklahoma State falls short, although they might want to win their Wednesday games just to be on the safe side. Although Kansas State and Nebraska can make things interesting, both probably need to win the conference tournament to earn a bid.

Big East

The Big East seems destined for the most bids of any conference in the country for sure. The locks include Louisville, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Villanova, Marquette, Syracuse, and West Virginia. That is seven locks, which speaks volumes about the depth in the conference. Teams like Providence, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Georgetown will have opportunities to showcase their talents this week. All four are in precarious situations currently but thanks for the chance of winning four Big East games in as many days, none can be completely eliminated from the at-large talk. Providence is 10-8 in the Big East which you would assume would merit a berth, however, they actually played a very timid Big East schedule. Assuming Cincinnati beats DePaul on Tuesday, they will play Providence on Wednesday creating an elimination game. The winner will get a crack at Louisville and perhaps Villanova, both could be marquee wins.

Notre Dame and Georgetown have to be considered two of the most disappointing teams and the country, but both are desperate and dangerous. Notre Dameís RPI is in the 70ís creating a problem, more than likely they along with Cincinnati needs to win the Big East Tournament, or at least get to the championship to be considered. Georgetown however has played an astonishing 19 games against top 100 opponents which has kept them in the talk up until this point. They play Saint Johnís in the opener, game they will be favored, then move onto a Marquette squad that just lost their most important piece. If they can beat Marquette, they will then play a Villanova team they beat on the road last week. Should they emerge victorious against Nova, they will find themselves in the championship, with a RPI around 30 and a combined Big East record of 10-12 if they lose to in the semiís. Prediction: Cincinnati and Notre Dame need to win the Big East Tournament to join the aforementioned seven locks. Providence probably can get a bid with a trip to the finals as is the case with Georgetown, although the Hoyaís could be safe by just getting to the semifinals. Expect only seven to come out of the Big East, I just canít see any of the big boys getting knocked off considering how rested they will be, with the exception of perhaps Marquette.

Big Sky

As expected, the Big Sky will be a one bid conference. Weber State is heavily favored to take home the league championship and the bid.

Big South

Radford earned the conferenceís lone bid over the weekend by defeating VMI.

Big Ten

Perhaps the conference with the greatest parity is the Big Ten. Michigan State, Illinois, and Purdue are all safe. Ohio State and probably Wisconsin would need a slew of upsets to dash their tournament hopes, the two will meet in the 4/5 game on Friday where the winner can play themselves into lock status and the other will sweat a little bit. After these five teams the fun begins. Penn State, Minnesota, and Michigan all personify the true definition of a bubble team. If any of those teams lose in the opener on Thursday, they will probably be eliminated for an at-large berth. And if Minnesota loses to Northwestern, the Wildcats will have a chance to play itself into contention reaching the Big Ten championship.

Letís examine Penn State first, the surprising Nits should be in if they beat Indiana, which is essentially a road game and then hang tough with Purdue, another road game. The same applies for Michigan, beat Iowa and play Illinois tough and an invitation should arrive. Minnesota may have a tougher road thanks to closing the season 3-6. Their RPI is similar to the Wolverines and better than Penn State, but Tubbyís squad is struggling. If they beat Northwestern, which is essentially an elimination game and then beat Michigan State, they are a lock. If they lose to the Spartans, then they will be NIT bound. Prediction: The easy one is Northwestern, anything less than a trip to the championship is not good enough. Penn State and Michigan should be fine by avoiding the opening day loss and getting waxed in the second round. Minnesota is the toughest call, to be safe, if they win two they are in, and one will have them sweating and probably coming up short. I donít which teams they will be, but the Big Ten will get seven teams.

Big West

The Big West is another one bid conference, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State are the two favorites.

Colonial Athletic Association

Despite solid records, Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason, and Old Dominion do not offer enough to warrant an at-large bid, therefore this will be a one bid conference. The top two seeds VCU and George Mason meet Monday for the lone bid.

Conference USA

Needless to say Memphis is the lone lock coming out of Conference USA and more than likely the lone bid. Tulsa and UAB have very long shots of garnering an at-large berth, meaning they need a ton of help from other teams while making it to the championship against Memphis and giving them all they could handle. Prediction: This is a one bid league unless Memphis falls along the way, considering the tournament is in Memphis so that is not happening. Tulsa and UABís names will be mentioned as bubble teams, but unless they win the conference tournament, they will be staying home.

Horizon

The championship game will be played at Butler on Tuesday when the Bulldogs take on Cleveland State. If the Vikings win then the conference will earn two bids since Butler has reached lock status, if not then Butler will be the lone team.

Ivy

Cornell has already clinched the league championship and automatic bid. No other team will be considered for an at-large berth.

MAAC

Monday night will have a lot of teams cheering for Siena to defeat Niagara in the championship game. If Niagara wins, the MAAC will have one definite and Siena will be in the discussion for an at-large bid. The Saintís boast a RPI of 22 and are 5-5 against the top 100. Prediction: I do not think Siena will win this game, so they will surely be sweating for the next week and I do not think they will earn a bid. This will also cause a lot of conversation as to the validity of the RPI. Winner gets in, loser stays home is how the MAAC Championship boils down.

MAC

In a down year for the MAC, no team will be discusses as an at-large candidate. The tournament kicks off Tuesday with Buffalo and Bowling Green as the favorites. Needless to say the champion will get the only bid.

MEAC

Another one bid conference, the champion will be crowned on Saturday with Morgan State as the favorite.

Missouri Valley

Once again the Missouri Valley will have a team at the center of controversy come Selection Sunday. Northern Iowa already secured the automatic berth, while Creighton is still in contention for an at-large bid. The Blue Jays have a top 40 RPI and were co-regular season champions accumulating 26 wins. Two bids can only happen if the favorites do extremely well over the next week, even then wins over New Mexico and Dayton will not be enough to earn a second bid.

Mountain West

Brigham Young and Utah, the regular season champions will certainly advance to the NCAA Tournament. After that, there is a mess of bubble teams. Those teams include New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV. The Rebels seemed to be in good shape until they sputtered down the stretch losing 4 out of 9. They will face San Diego State on Thursday in what will be viewed as an elimination game. The winner will face BYU for a chance to secure a certain bid as opposed to sweating out the selection process. Thanks to a weak non-conference schedule New Mexico probably needs to win the Mountain West Championship. Prediction: More than likely the Mountain West will earn three bids. As mentioned before, BYU and Utah will be invited as will the UNLV/San Diego State winner. The only way they earn four bids is if either BYU, Utah, San Diego State, or UNLV does not win the championship.

NEC

Another one bid conference, the champion will be crowned on Wednesday when Robert Morris takes on Mount Saint Maryís.

Ohio Valley

Morehead State has already earned the only bid this conference will receive.

Pac 10

The Pac 10 seems pretty set in terms of its postseason bids. Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, California, and Arizona all seem to be safe for a bid, however Arizona could do itself a favor by beating Arizona State in its opener. The only team not mentioned with at-large aspiration is USC and those chances are bleak. If the Trojans advance to championship they will be considered and even that may not be enough. Prediction: The Pac 10 appears destined for five bids as even if Arizona loses its opener, they should still be safe. The only way they earn six is if a surprise team wins the tournament.

Patriot

American and Holy Cross will meet for the right to advance to the big dance on Friday. Obviously a one bid conference.

SEC

No conference is a bigger mess than the SEC. Louisiana State and Tennessee are the only teams that can be considered a lock. Florida, South Carolina, and Auburn will be playing to advance their case. While Kentucky and Mississippi State probably need to win the conference tournament, however they will be considered with a good run. Florida helped its chances greatly this weekend defeating Kentucky in what could have been an elimination game. The Gators and South Carolina are in a similar boat RPI wise and are separated by only a game in the SEC standings. Auburn is the team that has recently emerged by winning 8 of its last nine including victories over Tennessee and LSU.

The SEC Tournament will be the most important of all the conference tournaments. Between Florida, South Carolina, and Auburn, whoever reaches the championship will almost certainly advance to the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky and Mississippi State will still need help from around the country if they reach the finals. Prediction: The SEC is definitely having a down year when they might be hoping for a fourth bid. As mentioned earlier, Tennessee and Louisiana State are locks and the conference tournament will determine South Carolina, Auburn, and Floridaís fate. I canít see the SEC not getting a fourth bid somehow Florida and South Carolina will get in.

Southern

The conference favorite and its star Stephen Curry will not be dancing, well at least not in the big dance. Davidson fell in the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament and does not have enough girth on their schedule to warrant an at-large berth. On Monday, Charleston will face Chattanooga for the conferenceís lone bid in what should be a very good game featuring two teams that could pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament.

Southland

The conference tournament champion will be the only representative from the Southland Conference. San Houston State and Stephen F. Austin are the favorites to be crowned on Sunday.

SWAC

On Saturday, the conference champion will be crowned from this one bid league. Alabama State is the regular season champion.

Summit

North Dakota State will look to become the conferenceís only team heading to the big dance in their first season of Division I basketball on Tuesday.

Sun Belt

Western Kentucky and Arkansas Little Rock expect to meet on Tuesday for the conferenceís only berth.

West Coast

After knocking off Portland on Sunday night, Saint Maryís hopes to have earned the right to enter lock status. However it is not a guarantee still. Gonzaga obviously is a lock, if Saint Maryís beats them Monday night, the West Coast Conference will send two teams for certain. If Gonzaga wins, Saint Maryís will sweat out the next week. But considering they lost the majority of their games without their top player, Patty Mills, I think Saint Maryís is in the field unless all bedlam breaks loose this week.

WAC

The WAC is in a similar situation as the West Coast Conference, only that Utah State is not the lock that Gonzaga is, or perhaps not even Saint Maryís. If Utah State wins the conference tournament, the WAC will only send one team. If another teams wins, the Aggies will still have a chance assuming they reach the finals and lose to Nevada, no other team will suffice since the tournament is in Reno and the pack is the number two seed. If this does happen, I think Utah State will be competing with teams like Temple, Siena if they do not win the MAAC, Rhode Island, Providence, and Minnesota as well as a slew of other teams that could get hot this week.

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