Last time, I took a look at whether certain teams were good enough to be semi-serious contenders later this season. This week, I will analyze a few NCAA Tournament bubble teams. That intro was simple enough.
Gonzaga (West Coast Conference, 18-3, 9-2 in conference, 35th in KenPom)
Kyle Wiltjer and Domanatas Sabonis the two best players in the conference, Gonzaga has years of pedigree and yet the only good team the Bulldogs have beaten is Connecticut on a neutral court early in the season. Gonzaga is decent, but home losses to UCLA and BYU at the supposedly impregnable Kennel have Gonzaga on the bubble in a very weak West Coast Conference. Most bracketology sites have Gonzaga barely in the tournament, but I am of the opinion that they should be given some more leeway.
Here’s my reasoning. First off, Wiltjer is still a beast. He’s currently in the 53/45/85 club, which is extremely impressive for a college basketball player. While his shooting has dropped off slightly from last season, he’s still a fantastic offensive player and his defense at the power forward spot is solid. Sabonis is equally impressive when healthy, and he’s shown some NBA-caliber play in recent weeks. I wasn’t sold on him earlier this year, but he’s legitimately great. Sabonis is shooting 78.4 percent from the line and remains a great rim protector. Opponents are shooting 55 percent at the rim against Gonzaga this season thanks to Wiltjer and Sabonis. Gonzaga should be able to ride those two to an at-large bid at the very least.
The other players on the team, Dranginis, McClellan, etc. can get hot at any time and bury some teams. Although the team has not looked as good defensively, the Bulldogs continue to limit threes at an elite level and have shut down the dregs of the WCC in recent games. I think that Gonzaga is still deeper than St. Mary’s, its only real rival in the WCC, and it will be interesting to see who will win that conference championship. Right now, I’m going to take Gonzaga. But, barring a collapse, both teams should be able to secure at-large bids.
George Washington (Atlantic 10, 17-5, 6-3 in conference, 82nd in KenPom)
I have to admit I haven’t watched much of this team. The Colonials’ KenPom ranking is not very good, but they fare better in Jeff Sagarin of USA Today’s rankings and they have two quality victories. Those quality victories (home against Virginia, home against Seton Hall) have done wonders for their RPI, but I frankly do not think George Washington is a tournament team. The one game I did watch them play, they got crushed by DePaul and looked completely out of their depth.
Compared to St. Joseph’s, another A10 bubble team, or even St. Bonaventure, George Washington’s resume looks rather weak. Losses to DePaul, St. Louis and Richmond? I know two of those were close games, but the Richmond loss was at home! That early season win against Virginia still looks great, but an early season home victory can’t possibly mean that much. Realistically, is GW much better than…I don’t know… Northwestern? Their KenPom rankings and records aren’t that much different. Of course, GW’s quality wins put them a step ahead, but I highly doubt that GW would win that many more games in the Big Ten than Northwestern has this season.
But reasoning might not matter because George Washington has played one of the easiest conference schedules of any bubble team (2nd easiest in the Atlantic 10) and its record remains solid. However, that could change very quickly. The Colonials have a brutal three-game stretch against VCU, St. Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure, and they will have to win at least two of those games to be remain on the bubble. Being home for the St. Joseph’s game will help, and that game could decide which A10 team will get in behind Dayton and VCU.
I would try to offer more statistical analysis, but I haven’t watched the team much and they do not have a ShotAnalytics.com page. Also, that website is great.
UCLA (Pac-12, 13-9, 4-5 in conference, 61st in KenPom)
Stop, they’re not good, they shouldn’t make the tournament. Next question. You can’t lose to Washington State and expect me to take you seriously.
Wisconsin (Big 10, 14-9, 6-4 in conference, 47th in KenPom)
Unlike George Washington, I have watched a ton of Wisconsin basketball this season. Wisconsin is good. Don’t let the awful losses to Northwestern, Marquette, Milwaukee, Western Illinois, and Georgetown fool you. Hayes, Happ and Koenig are starting to click. And they’ve been so unlucky this season. The Indiana loss was unlucky. Bryant McIntosh played the game of his life in the loss to Northwestern. They lost on a Melo Trimble prayer at home. Wisconsin is good, and it already has a quality win against Michigan State. They deserve to be in.
Except…those awful losses are perfect for destroying your RPI. The loss to Western Illinois might have singlehandedly gotten Bo Ryan to retire. Wisconsin is doing everything it possibly can to drag itself out of the hole, but despite five straight victories, I think the Badgers will have to win at least one of its games against Purdue, MSU, Maryland and Iowa to be relevant. Those are all on the road.
If they don’t, Wisconsin will probably end up around 18-13, which is just not going to be enough unless they go deep in the Big Ten Tournament. If Wisconsin gets to 20 wins and plays well in the Big Ten Tournament, they’re almost a lock. If they are 18-13? Who knows? Indiana got in last year with 19 regular season wins and a loss in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. It all depends on what the Selection Committee values. I think they’ll put Wisconsin in, but that’s just my speculation.
Update from last week:
I said Providence wasn’t good on Jan. 26, and they promptly lost to Xavier that night and lost to DePaul on the road on Tuesday. I think that bears my point out.
I said that Duke wasn’t good and I’m already regretting it because Brandon Ingram is very good at basketball. Duke will be fine everyone. You can go back to hating them soon.
I said Indiana was good and they promptly lost to Wisconsin on the road. At least they bounced back and demolished Michigan.
I said that Oregon wasn’t Elite 8 worthy and I’d like to revise that after the Ducks defeated Arizona on the road and have moved to the top of the Pac 12. Oregon is definitely good. Sorry, although I did say that they could get there some day. It turns out that day was two days after I wrote the column.
Shot Chart of the Week: Tarik Phillip – West Virginia
So, Tarik Phillip doesn’t take too many shots, but he is extremely good at the hardest three-pointers you can possibly attempt. But look at those other numbers around the arc. My gosh. I know it’s a relatively small sample size, but I guess Tarik Phillip really likes the three from the left elbow.
“Brevity is the soul of wit” Power Rankings
15. Wichita State – Wrapped up its conference by February 1st.
14. Oregon – Benjamin is one of my favorite players to watch for some reason.
13. Texas A&M – I also still believe in this team, although not as much as before.
12. Miami FL – I still believe in this team as well.
11. Louisville – The win against UNC was the signature win Pitino needed. Too bad it came after an absolute disaster against Virginia at home.
10. Kansas – I’m not sure if the Kentucky win hurt or helped them in my head, so I dropped them slightly. Kentucky keeps on losing these random games in the SEC for no reason. You gotta win at Tennessee.
9. Xavier – 20-2!
8. Michigan State – RIP Northwestern’s Chameleon
7. Virginia – Weird team.
6. West Virginia – Beat Iowa State in Iowa!
5. Maryland – Okay, I’m taking them off upset alert. You’re scaring me Maryland.
4. North Carolina – No comment.
3. Villanova – They play Providence tomorrow. Get hyped.
2. Iowa – While they are awesome, I can’t put them ahead of Oklahoma like KenPom has them.
1. Oklahoma – Hield yields fields of dreams.
Dropped Out: Indiana, SMU
Moved In: Wichita State, Orgeon
Honorable Mentions: Purdue, Iowa State, Valpo, UConn