Of bubble teams, UM slips into NCAAs with win over Iowa

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Michigan basketball coach John Beilein didn’t want to talk about his team’s NCAA Tournament resume, when asked recently.

For starters, he said, he didn’t know the resumes of the other teams on the so-called “bubble.”

So, let’s take a look at the teams fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, and how they stack up against Michigan, which enters the regular-season finale Saturday night against Iowa with a record of 20-10, and 10-7 in the Big Ten.

According to the latest Bracketology projections by ESPN’s expert Joe Lunardi, there are 16 teams on the bubble, including Michigan, which Lunardi has among the last four in, and playing in the “First Four” games in Dayton.

Here’s a look at those teams:

Last four byes

Providence (20-9): The NCAA Tournament Selection committee will have to consider how the Friars have been playing entering March — because they’ve lost six of their last 10, including a stunner to lowly DePaul. Quality victories: Villanova, Arizona, Butler (twice). KenPom: 55. RPI: 43.

Vanderbilt (18-11): There are a lot of losses here, but almost all of them are to teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament, or on the NCAA Tournament bubble. And almost all of them were close games. Quality victories: Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky. KenPom: 23. RPI: 48.

Cincinnati (21-8): You can look all you want, and then look some more, and you likely won’t find a so-called “signature” victory to Cincinnati’s credit. You likely won’t find too many bad losses. Tough to say if that’s enough. Quality victories: Connecticut (twice). KenPom: 29. RPI: 51.

Connecticut (20-9): This team absolutely trounced Michigan early in the season, in the Bahamas. That’s worth noting when considering the Wolverines’ case. Here’s another team that doesn’t have much in the way of signature wins. Quality victories: SMU. KenPom: 28. RPI: 53.

Last four in

Michigan (20-10): For starters, that 20th win really doesn’t count, since one of the wins was DII Northern Michigan. That’s why the Wolverines would be quite wise to beat Iowa, or it’ll be a stressful Selection Sunday. Quality victories: Texas, Maryland, Purdue. KenPom: 47. RPI: 57.

Oregon State (17-10): This a bit ambitious, putting in the sixth-place team in the Pac-12. It’ll take some more work in the final two games, against Southern California and UCLA, to be sure. Michigan has a much better case. Quality victories: USC. KenPom: 61. RPI: 28.

Butler (19-9): The Bulldogs played a very tough schedule, no question about that. They fared better early in the season than they did recently, going 6-5 in their last 11 — though that includes losses to Xavier and Villanova. Quality victories: Cincinnati, Purdue. KenPom: 39. RPI: 55.

Florida (17-12): Florida gave Michigan State a good game early in the season, prompting Tom Izzo to call this an NCAA Tournament team. We’ll see. Twelve losses is a lot, including two to fellow bubble team Vanderbilt. Quality victories: LSU, West Virginia. KenPom: 44. RPI: 46.

First four out

Gonzaga (23-7): Bracketology is projecting St. Mary’s, tied with Gonzaga atop the WCC standings, will get the bid. If Gonzaga wins the conference tournament, it could lead to two bids for the WCC, which could hurt Michigan’s cause, as well. Quality victories: Connecticut. KenPom: 32. RPI: 66.

Tulsa (19-10): This team might need to see a strong run in the American Athletic tournament, considering the rather weak nonconference schedule, during which the Golden Hurricane didn’t really roll to a bunch of wins, anyhow. Quality victories: Wichita State, SMU. KenPom: 43. RPI: 44.

St. Bonaventure (20-7): First thing’s first, it has to win its final two games in the regular season, which would at least put the Bonnies tied for third in an Atlantic 10 conference that probably gets three bids. There’s a serious lack of signature wins, though. Quality victories: Dayton. KenPom: 82. RPI: 35.

Alabama (17-11): Folks questioned why former NBA coach Avery Johnson would take this job — and in Year 1, he at least has the Tide in the discussion to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Quality victories: Wichita State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Texas A&M. KenPom: 81. RPI: 48.

Next four out

George Washington (21-8): It’ll need to win its final two games of the regular season — and, who knows, that might be enough. It did pick up some nice early wins against teams from big-time conferences Tennessee and Penn State. Quality victories: Virginia. KenPom: 72. RPI: 56.

Ohio State (19-11): Sure, it has racked up 11 Big Ten wins. All of those were against teams below OSU in the standings, until it beat Iowa the other day. A win over Michigan State in the regular-season finale could go a long, long way. Quality victories: Kentucky, Iowa. KenPom: 64. RPI: 73.

Washington (16-13): Not much of a case here, with a bunch of stinker losses (Oakland). It could take a long Pac-12 tourney run to do it, and it’s hard to see that coming from a team that’s lost eight of 11. Quality victories: Texas, UCLA. KenPom: 65. RPI: 76.

LSU (17-12): Here’s another team that’s limping to the finish line, despite having one of the best players in the country in Ben Simmons. Yet, it’s actually two games ahead of bubble teams Alabama and Florida in the SEC standings. Quality victories: Kentucky, Texas A&M. KenPom: 73. RPI: 86.

Final thoughts

If Michigan beats Iowa on Saturday, and that’s certainly possible given the Hawkeyes are struggling lately, that should be enough to punch the Wolverines ticket — even if it means playing in the one of the “First Four” games.

But a loss Saturday, and Michigan is not at all guaranteed to get in. It probably would need to win at least two games in the Big Ten tournament; one probably wouldn’t be enough, because it wouldn’t be against a quality opponent.

A loss Saturday, and Michigan fans probably will want to hope that all the mid-major conference tournaments go as expected, as upsets could take away at-large berths. For instance, if Oakland were to win the Horizon League tournament, that could mean Valparaiso takes one of the at-large berths.

If there’s some positive news, there are two more at-large bids available than there normally would be, with SMU and Louisville banned from postseason play this year.