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March to Madness: NCAA Basketball Bubble Watch, February 19th

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Frogs keep pace on a strong weekend for the Bubble

Melissa Triebwasser

Frog Status

Current KenPom Rank: 21 (↑4)

Opponent Average KenPom Rank: 84 (-)

Strength of Schedule: 24th (↓10)

TCU’s quiet start was quickly erased, taking the lead just before halftime and skyrocketing through the second half. Ahmed Hamdy had his most impressive overall performance as a Horned Frog: filling up the stat sheet, drawing foul trouble on all of OK State’s big men, exorcising his free throw demons, and operating as a Brodziansky counterpart that the Frogs have needed. When the TCU guards got in foul trouble, Jamie Dixon tried out some big lineups, featuring a single guard, that could be intriguing for holding leads in the future. The remainder of TCU’s schedule will not be as forgiving to such a slow start, but TCU has proven it has the offense to run with anybody.

The impressive victory keeps TCU on track for a thrilling finish to the regular season, but the wins must continue. Whether hitting the gridiron at Jack Trice or the hardwood of Hilton, the trip to Ames is always a tricky, nervy affair. The Cyclones have already claimed some prize victims this season, including Big 12 elite WVU, OU, and TX Tech. Road wins have been hard to come by for TCU, but the Frogs must overcome Hilton Magic and return to Fort Worth victorious ahead of the two massive home showdowns next week.

Weekend’s Biggest Impact

· #26 Texas A&M (↓6) vs #39 Arkansas (↑4) The SEC was a mess on Saturday, with many of the top teams losing to the lower tier. The Aggies entered this game still ranked in the AP Top-25, but left with its tenth loss and in a tie for 9th-place in the SEC. Having the #5 overall Strength of Schedule will help keep A&M afloat and playing zero top-40 teams for the rest of the season should allow for wins to pile and lock the Aggies into the Dance, but a single loss will put them on very shaky ground. Arkansas is in the opposite situation – this win put them in a tie for 3rd in the SEC and climbing all Bracketology projections. The Razorbacks close the season by only facing top-50 teams, including home games against #32 Kentucky and #10 Auburn; any two wins will likely send the Hogs dancing.

On the Move

· #29 Notre Dame (↑11) – The 17-point victory over Jim Christian’s #80 Boston College has boosted the Irish into the top-30 and given an opportunity to get back into the National Bubble discussion. Despite a solid KenPom rating, Notre Dame will need more to overcome the 11 losses bringing down any statistical measurements. A home win Monday over #44 Miami is a must-win to give their résumé any credibility with the Committee; otherwise a major upset at #1 Virginia to close the season is required to give the Irish any chance.

· #34 Virginia Tech (↑8) – A 20-point road victory, even over #124 GA Tech, is a boost to the Hokies’ statistical profile, but mostly sets the stage for one the nation’s most difficult stretch runs. VA Tech closes with four top-50 games, with an average KenPom rank of #25. Any two wins against that schedule will lock VA Tech into the Tournament.

· #38 Oklahoma (↓7) – Since being announced as a four-seed in the Committee’s Television Extravaganza, the Sooners have lost two games by double-digits and now sports a résumé with double-digits in the loss column, falling into a tie for sixth in the Big 12. Everyone is ready to lead the backlash to the backlash and fall in love with Trae Young again, expecting a Buddy Hield-ian performance in Allen Fieldhouse on Monday. If Oklahoma picks up a sixth consecutive loss, the Player of the Year awards and Tournament bid that seemed to be locked up weeks ago will become very much in question.

· #36 Louisville (↓7) – The Cardinals got waxed by #7 UNC and faces a brutal closing stretch, even more difficult than that of Virginia Tech’s. Louisville will match-up against top-50 squads for the remainder of the season, with an average KenPom rank of #22, and with only one in the YUM Center. Just as the Hokies, any two wins against this schedule will lock in a bid for the Cardinals

Bubbles Burst

There is a cliché every college basketball season that the “Bubble is especially soft this year,” suggesting that arguments about the teams that sneak in or get left out are meaningless because they are all bad. Perhaps it will reach that point this year too, as the better teams become locks and the bad teams cling to life, but as it stands, the Bubble appears stronger than in years past. The weekend’s results brought this to bear, as true-Bubble and fringe-Bubble teams stacked up wins. Simply winning is not going to be good enough to maintain a spot on the Bubble or push ahead, as the Bubble Watch had two teams fall out of the top-50 despite earning conference wins.

· #51 UCLA (↓2) – The Bruins were taken to overtime by #73 Oregon, but came out on top, sending the Ducks to the deepest depth of the Bubble. They can do the same to #60 Utah this week, where a UCLA win would make it very difficult for the Utes to climb back into Bubble discussion.

· #52 USC (↓2) – A 13-point home victory over #104 Oregon St. was not enough for the Trojans to hold off the advances of the fringe-Bubble teams. They travel to Boulder next for a trickier-than-it-should-be game against #114 Colorado, where a loss could push USC off the Bubble for good.

· #53 New Mexico St. (↓8) – These Aggies suffered consecutive sub-100 road losses and now must win the WAC tournament to go Dancing.

New Faces

· #48 Marquette – After dropping below the Bubble line during a week off, the Golden Eagles travelled to Omaha and put up a huge come-from-behind victory over #27 Creighton to keep their Tournament dreams alive. Marquette gets three sub-70 games prior to hosting the Creighton rematch to close the season; any loss in those three would likely burst the Marquette Bubble for good.

· #49 NC State – Entering the top-50 for the first time all season, the Wolfpack have finally made the big time. Three more wins are likely needed to keep NC State on the right side of the Bubble with a weak close to the season, opponent average KenPom rank of #67, with more work to do in the ACC Tournament.

· #50 Loyola Chicago – With Wichita State headed to the greener pastures of the American Conference, the Missouri Valley has taken a nose-dive - Loyola-Chicago is the only top-100 team. I don’t consider the Ramblers (yes, I admit, I had to Google that) a bid thief, they will need to win Arch Madness to reach the Big Dance.

What to (Bubble) Watch

· #44 Miami at #29 Notre Dame – Mon. Feb. 19; 6:00 PM CT; ESPN

· #27 Creighton at #24 Butler Tues. Feb. 20; 6:00 PM CT; FS1

· #32 Kentucky at #39 Arkansas – Tues. Feb. 20; 8:00 PM CT; ESPN

· #40 Seton Hall at #69 Providence – Wed. Feb. 21; 5:30 PM CT; Fox Sports Net

· #42 Texas at #47 Kansas St. – Wed. Feb. 21; 8:00 PM CT; ESPNU

· #51 UCLA at #60 Utah – Thurs. Feb. 22; 8:00 PM CT; ESPN