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March to Madness: NCAA Basketball Bubble Watch, February 18th

Horned Frogs are squarely on the Bubble again, looking to stay afloat in Stillwater

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Texas Christian
Hey, at least these jerseys looked sharp
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Frog Status

· NET Rank: 41 (↓7)

· RPI: 33 (↓7)

· KenPom Rank: 41 (↓8)

· ESPN BPI: 39 (↓1)

NET result for the home loss to Oklahoma

Welcome back to the Bubble, Frog fans. Most of the Bracketologists had prematurely removed TCU from the Bubble and into likely-lock territory, with a 9-seed as the floor for the resume to date. TCU promptly went out and lost its worst game of the season, causing a free fall in the rankings and rejuvenating fellow Bubble contender Oklahoma in the process. The fear with this loss is: if the Committee decides there is only room for seven Big XII teams, the Sooners now have the season sweep trump card over TCU. As for the game itself, TCU again had no answer for Kristian Doolittle, who would win the Naismith if he could play TCU every game – averaging 22.5 points and 10 rebounds per game on 74% shooting, with zero fouls. On offense, it felt like eventually the flood gates would open and the shots would start falling, as the open looks kept coming. Instead, TCU put up its 2nd worst shooting percentage of the season (#1 was in Norman), as the Frogs shot under 40% from the field for the 3rd time in the last 4 games. This feels like it should be the low-point of the season and the team will rally to close the season strong, but every remaining game will be of the highest urgency

Must-win season officially tips off tonight, as TCU will be fighting for Tournament life in Stillwater. Needing a buzzer beater to knock off the Cowboys in the Schollmaier, TCU will have to up its game to escape Gallagher-Iba with a win and the Bubble still intact. I believe the shots will fall better than they have lately, I believe the defense will hold OSU below the 48% they shot in Fort Worth, I believe Kouat Noi will return to the court, I believe Kendric Davis will continue his superstar ascension, and I believe TCU will win this game. Otherwise, this Bubble Watch may become a long slow slog towards a frightening Selection Sunday.


NET Impacts

· #50 Alabama (↓5) vs #33 Florida (↑7) – This one made TCU’s resume very happy: boosting an already vanquished foe, while trashing the Bubble case of another contender. Even as they jump ahead in the NET, the Gators do not scare me as a threat to a bid for TCU – already with 11 losses, Florida would need wins over LSU and at Rupp Arena to win the resume comparison over TCU, given the Frogs’ head-to-head victory. That is unless the Frogs tank the remainder of the season, in which case we’d need to worry more about the lower level threats, like Alabama. The Tide get their toughest games at home to close the season and should be able to hover near the Bubble cut line to the end, so any chance to push them further down the pecking order is good news for rest of the Bubble.

· #55 Indiana (↓4) vs #51 Minnesota (↑7) – This may be the final blow to Indiana’s at-large chances by picking up a 12th loss, by 21 points, to another Bubble hopeful. The Hoosiers will have ample opportunity to jump back in, but it will be an exceedingly difficult task, as their next four opponents are all NET Top 30. The Golden Gophers have now climbed to the brink of the Top 50 and are primed for a potential statement win with #8 Michigan coming to Minneapolis this week. Let’s hope the top B1G teams won’t Barry Alvarez it to allow other B1G schools into the Playoffs. Bubble Watchers are looking for these two squads to get blown out at home by teams already locked into the Tournament

· #29 Kansas St. (↓3) vs #13 Iowa St. (↑4) – This game will mostly be recognized for being the one that left the door open for the Jayhawks to continue their streak of conference championships, as K-State could not extend its lead over the pack, now only up a half game. This allowed ISU back into the race after being left for dead following its home loss to TCU. The sprint to the finish at the top of Big XII is going to be exciting to watch.


NET Positive / NET Negative

Last week I ranted against the perception that the Bubble is soft this season and we’d be subjected to bad teams sneaking into the Tournament as a result. As a statement on the Bubble’s strength: The Top 50 only produced 11 losses over the weekend and only one, Hofstra’s loss to UNC Wilmington, was to a team outside the Top 50. The Bubble is gaining in power and fortifying its defenses against those teams looking to break through, so any bad loss could be the one that pops a Bubble or puts a likely-lock into dangerous waters. Given the Horned Frogs’ position on the Bubble, it is time to start rooting for the downfall of the opposition.

· #46 St. John’s (↑3) – The Red Storm are a curious case: 3 terrible home Q3 losses, but 5 Q1 wins, including over Big East giants Marquette and Villanova. I would expect the Committee to grant a bid to St. John’s just based off the strength of wins, but with no Q1 games remaining, any loss the rest of the way will cause a major dent.

· #36 Baylor (↓3) – Losing in Lubbock is certainly no season killer, but the Bears have no room for error in their resume. With 2 massively glaring Q4 home losses, Baylor will almost certainly have the worst loss of any team to which they’ll be compared. If Baylor can complete the season sweep of Iowa St in Ames this week, they could be looking to move beyond the Bubble race and enter the conference championship hunt.


Bubbles Burst

· #58 Hofstra (↓10) – This should finally be the message to the NET that the Pride have no business being anywhere near this Top 50. Hofstra lost to the last place team in the Colonial Athletic Association, #251 UNC Wilmington – a Bubble has never been more definitively burst.


New Faces

· #49 Butler (↑5) – The Bulldogs are back in NET’s favor for the first time this month with the lopsided victory over DePaul. Butler has been a true Bubble team all season, with a NET peak of 41 and valley of 57. Butler still has road games at #19 Marquette and #20 Villanova that could serve as the fuel to rocket the Bulldogs into the Tournament, just as it has for St. John’s recently. Without a win in at least one of those games, it will be hard for Butler to do enough to earn an at-large bid coming out of a down Big East.


What to (Bubble) Watch

The week includes seven byes and many top teams playing each other - it should lead to a week of good games, but maybe not the Bubble showdowns we’ll see going forward. The intrigue this week will be if any sub-50 teams can steal a win from the Bubble teams, introducing some chaos. Let’s just hope we don’t see one of those in Stillwater on Monday night.

· #67 Davidson vs. #83 Dayton – Tues. Feb. 19, 5:00 PM CBS Sports

· #28 Iowa vs. #25 Maryland – Tues. Feb. 19, 7:00 PM B1G Network

· #86 Texas A&M vs. #50 Alabama – Tues. Feb. 19, 8:00 PM SEC Network

· #44 Ohio State vs. #77 Northwestern – Wed. Feb. 20, 7:30 PM B1G Network

· #85 Providence vs. #46 St. John’s – Wed. Feb. 20, 7:30 PM FS1

· #21 Auburn vs. #71 Arkansas – Wed. Feb. 20, 7:30 PM SEC Network