Friday, March 11, 2005

A Big Day for Bubbles | by Mike

On Tuesday, Notre Dame appeared firmly camped on the good side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, needing only a win against Rutgers to move to "lock" status. After Wednesday's implosion, Irish fans are left to hope for favorable outcomes in other conference tournaments. Here is my take on how Irish fans should hope today's games unfold:

2:00 - Georgia Tech v. Virginia Tech - Virginia Tech loss

Based solely on on-the-court resumes, one would think that Georgia Tech (8-8 in conference) is squarely on the bubble and Virginia Tech (also 8-8 in conference) is on the outside looking in. Somehow, Georgia Tech's finals run last year coupled with the certainty that the Selection Committee will give the ACC at least four bids has transformed Georgia Tech into a lock. Virginia Tech combines a truly horrendous out-of-conference schedule (losing to VMI, among other bottom-feeders) with a .500 conference record. Yet their win over Duke and ACC bias has placed them on the bubble. Nonetheless, a loss today should seal Virginia Tech's fate.

2:30 - Minnesota v. Indiana - Indiana loss
Minnesota is generally regarded as a lock. Indiana, despite a 15-12 record, somehow finds themselves on the bubble. IU is getting a lot of mileage out of their 10-6 conference record. However, the Big Ten has just been awful this year. A loss here should burst IU's bubble.

6:40 - Michigan State v. Iowa - Iowa loss
Michigan State has been a lock for a while. One would think Iowa's NIT fate was cemented long ago, given their 7-9 record in a piteous conference and the loss of their best player (Pierre Pierce). Yet many consider Iowa to be on the bubble. Perhaps this has something to do with Iowa AD Bob Bowlsby's position as Selection Committee Chairman. One should not forget the end run Bowlsby tried to pull on the BCS to secure Iowa's Orange Bowl berth a few years ago. That said, an Iowa loss here would remove all doubt.

7:00 - Wake Forest v. NC State - NC State loss
NC State is yet another of those 7-9 ACC teams that find themselves mentioned as on the bubble. NC State actually has a great opportunity here, in that Wake Forest is playing without star point guard Chris Paul, who is suspended from the game for his nut-shot to Julius Hodge in the season closer. Paul's absence and NC State's desire for revenge give NC State a good shot at the win. Hope that they lose and remove themselves from contention.

8:45 - George Washington v. Temple - GWU win

Even with a loss in the A-10 tourney, GWU may be able to get in as an at-large bid. So hope that they win the tournament, leaving another at-large bid available.

9:00 - Pacific v. CS Northridge - Pacific win
Pacific is in regardless of how they do in their conference tournament, so a Pacific loss means one less at-large spot is available for bubble teams like Notre Dame.

9:00 - Utah v. UNLV - Utah win
See GWU and Pacific.

9:00 - UTEP v. Rice - UTEP win

A UTEP loss tonight might not be entirely bad for Notre Dame, as it might knock them off the bubble. However, it might not, so it's probably better if UTEP just wins their conference tournament.

9:15 - Buffalo v. Western Michigan - Buffalo loss
A loss would end Buffalo's hopes of an at-large bid.

Midnight - New Mexico v. SD State - New Mexico loss
It would be hard to see New Mexico garnering an at large bid with a loss to an 11-17 San Diego State team.

One final note. If the ND message boards provide an accurate reading of the pulse of Irish fans, it appears that many don't care whether Notre Dame makes the tournament at this point. There are several reasons why Irish fans should want the team to make the tournament, but the most important are:

1. Recruiting - the appearance of stability is absolutely essential to Brey's recruiting. When the Big East conference was in a state of flux, our recruiting suffered considerably. As El Kabong has said over on The Pit, "Rob Kurz was supposed to have classmates." Other coaches used the conference instability to scare recruits away from Notre Dame. We don't want these coaches to have further ammunition, painting ND as an NIT regular. Based on David McClure's comments, we could expect as much from Krzyzewski.

2. Chris Thomas - Thomas has given far too much to this program for Irish fans to be ambivalent about how his career ends. He has been the face of the program, played through pain, and been a lightning rod for criticism - both from Irish fans and opponents' fans. The frustration of Irish fans and other fans' resentment of Notre Dame have both unleashed themselves on Thomas. Through all this, Thomas has conducted himself with class and dignity, while rewriting the Notre Dame record books. If you care about Irish basketball, you should care about how Thomas's career at Notre Dame ends.