Contributors: Tanner Stump and Chris Halioris
Week 4 (4/25/23)
Talk about from out of nowhere. Washington shocked the Pac-12 (and us) with wins over Cal and Stanford over the final regular season weekend to push themselves into the bubble picture and give us reason to consider why we didn’t include them in this column last week (sorry guys). Well, the country is on notice now. The Huskies vaulted all the way up to #43 this week and inside the cut line. Depending on the amount of runs, it appears they’re still in danger of missing the field if the season ended today. But it doesn’t. And they’ll have one more shot to shock their conference coming up against #2 seed and co-co-co (???) Pac-12 Champion Arizona. A win there crushes other bubble hopefuls and no team will want to see these guys come NCAAs.
As predicted, the American Athletic Conference tournament was an absolute doozy with just about every match being played going the distance. The SMU Mustangs emerged victorious over Tulane in the finals, likely cementing both teams’ spots in the NCAA Tournament. This was a major blow to other bubble teams, hoping that Memphis would come through and potentially shut the door on both program’s seasons. In other bad news for bubble teams, UTSA made its’ way to the finals before falling to the 4-peat champion Blue Raiders and should remain on the right side of the bubble.
So, in summation, after multiple runs, SMU seems to steal a bid, pushing the cut line to 45. UTSA and Tulane both should be in the field and bubble teams around the nation should be more uncomfortable than last week.
Coming up in the final week are potential bid steals from the Big West, West Coast, and A-10 conferences. Out of those, the Big West seems to be the one to keep and eye on. Even though UCSB will be heavy favorites, they did drop a conference bout with UC Davis this year and so the door remains open.
VCU in the A-10 and the combined strength of San Diego and Pepperdine should keep the bubble from shrinking in either of those events.
Phew, margins are thin. Arizona State, Washington (see above), and Nebraska find themselves as the last bubble teams standing with matches to play. A loss for any of these teams in their opening conference tournament matches could spell the end to their NCAA hopes and none of them are a given. Arizona State plays an Oregon team they squeaked through against at home 4-3 only two weeks ago. Washington will have its hands full with Pac-12 juggernaut Arizona. And Nebraska needs to pull the upset against Illinois whom they narrowly dropped their match to in Champaign. Of these three teams, Nebraska is the one who cannot make the field without a win. If all three lose their opening bouts, Arizona State and Washington will find themselves separated in the rankings by less than .10 points, but with the Sun Devils owning the H2H over the Huskies, I’d have them penciled as the last team in for this year’s field.
SEC foes South Carolina and Tennessee find themselves in the number 8 and 9 spots respectively in this week’s rankings. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. These two seem destined to battle for the last coveted Super Regional hosting spot and unfortunately for the Gamecocks, despite the higher ranking, this leans heavily in Tennessee’s favor. The Volunteers own the H2H win (a 6-1 decision in Columbia), a better common opponents record, and more Top 50 wins.
The gap between these two and USC, the only team behind them with matches to play, is large. Even with USC beating every opponent in their path with the highest ranking possible, they’ll still be about 3 overall ranking points behind. The Trojans also don’t any of the selection committee criterium advantages over the SEC teams meaning they likely won’t be able to vault into the #8 spot no matter how this weekend goes.
Projected Cut Line: 45
Locks: 41 teams
The bubble: 6 teams for 4 available spots
Last 4 in: Tulane, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Arizona State
First 4 out: Washington, Nebraska, Miami (FL), Oregon
Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida State, NC State, Louisville
Miami comes in at #49 and also projected at #49 as of now which is the 2nd team out. There may or may not be a path for them to get in as the big jump they need is to somehow get past Oklahoma State. As all the schedules come out for the week it will take a lot playing around with the What-If calculator to see if there are any scenarios that can get the Canes in but it’s not looking too good at the moment.
Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
Baylor feels like a virtual lock at this point with Arizona State and Oklahoma State behind them, and then one more that would have to pass as well, but funny things can happen. Arizona State still has the Pac-12 tournament as does Washington so those are two teams that could bypass the Bears on their own results. The question becomes, is there a third? It just doesn’t seem likely unless some set of results manage to catapult Oklahoma State in front of them which can always happen. If you’re Baylor you have to be feeling pretty good but still watching hoping for early losses for ASU and Washington to solidify your spot.
Oklahoma State is the bubble team right now and can’t love their position. Washington behind them could knock them out with a win over Arizona, although that will admittedly be a tough one. The Arizona State vs Oregon match does not seem to have much impact, but an Oregon win is certainly better for the Cowboys as it knocks ASU behind them and seems like it may lock them in regardless of what else happens. The Pac-12 tournament matches will definitely have a big impact on the Cowboys chances with all of the matches affecting Washington and ASU so that’s what you’re watching if you’re a Cowboy fan.
Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois
Columbia, Harvard, Middle Tennessee State, San Diego, Pepperdine, Memphis, Cornell, Tulane, UTSA
The Gauchos finished the regular season with a convincing win against Cal Poly. They’ll enter the Big West tournament as the #1 seed. UCSB didn’t face much challenge within the conference regular season except in their loss to UC Davis in an epic match filled with 5 three setters and a deciding doubles tiebreaker. But UC Davis faltered down the stretch against UC Irvine (defending conference tournament champs by the way), meaning that the Gauchos may not even have to see them again this season. Similar to VCU, the Gauchos can still make the tournament with a loss to UC Irvine or Davis, but wouldn’t be a sure thing. Second year head coach Blake Muller will be looking for his first tournament title alongside first year assistant Max Koller in what would be a huge win for their young careers.
USC, Arizona, Stanford, Utah, California, UCLA
The Sun Devils gave Arizona all they could handle in their rivalry wake last weekend, but came up just short in what would have been an at-large NCAA berth clincher. They now enter their final matches needing to outplay other bubble teams to hear their name called. It will definitely be one match at a time for ASU. If they win against Oregon and other bubble teams (see Wash and Neb) falter, they should be in. But if those other teams keep winning as well, ASU may need to pull the upset against USC as well to be assured.
UGA, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, LSU
With 10 teams on lock, the SEC is likely to have the most NCAA bids for a conference and will once again play a main role in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky came away with a come from behind win against UGA to claim it’s 2nd conference tournament title in school history and first since 1992. They’ll likely enter as a Top 4 seed in this year’s field and will have a different role to play in the tournament than they did last year when they made their magical run to the finals as a #8 seed. Look for the Cats to be a major threat for the title in Orlando, having proved their outdoor prowess on the back half of the season. The loss bumps Georgia to the #6 or #7 position depending on the finish of Michigan. A very dangerous USC team (now equipped with an eligible Tien) looms at #10.