Bubble teams

Illinois State makes bubble teams sweat with ‘Arch Madness’ semifinal win over No. 8 Wichita State

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For bubble teams this time of year means that they’ll spend a considerable amount of time scoreboard-watching, not just to keep tabs on other teams working to earn an NCAA tournament bid but also to watch conference tournaments where the NCAA tournament bids are essentially known.

Saturday afternoon Illinois State, a team that needs to win its league’s automatic bid to go to the NCAA tournament, made things a little more complicated for bubble teams across the country by knocking off No. 8 Wichita State 65-62 in a Missouri Valley semifinal. Daishon Knight was outstanding for the Redbirds, scoring 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, and his two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining provided the final margin.

Knight scored 16 of his points in the second half, shooting 6-for-7 from the field as Dan Muller’s team erased and eight-point halftime deficit. Overall Illinois State shot better than 63 percent from the field in the second half, doing a good job of creating quality looks. Add in a 15-for-17 half from the foul line, and Illinois State was able to produce enough offense to beat one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

Gregg Marshall’s team shot 45 percent from the field but just 4-for-18 from three. How much of a concern should this be for Wichita State, especially with Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet combining to shoot 2-for-12 from three Saturday? Not too much, as they entered the game shooting a respectable 36.6 percent from three on the season. The Shockers simply ran into an opponent in Illinois State that’s beginning to figure things out.

The Redbirds have now won six straight games, and the confidence they’re playing with on both ends (playing multiple zone defenses had an effect on Wichita State’s offense Saturday) makes this group a serious threat to grab the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. And no bubble team wants to see that happen.

No. 23 SMU’s loss at Temple damages a resume that lacks quality road wins

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With home wins over UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati, No. 23 SMU has three quality wins that look good on their NCAA tournament resume. Based largely upon those results, Larry Brown’s Mustangs look to be well-positioned to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993. However, results like Sunday’s 71-64 loss at Temple won’t do SMU any favors given the absence of a quality road victory.

Dalton Pepper led four Owls in double figures with 24 points, but with SMU limiting Temple to 39% shooting defense wasn’t the biggest issue for the Mustangs. The problem: foul shooting.

Despite making 48% of its shots from the field, SMU managed to shoot just 14-for-26 from the foul line and at one point in the second half missed six consecutive free throws. Leaving that many points on the board can prove costly in close games, and sure enough that was was the case for SMU.

Markus Kennedy, playing in his hometown, paced SMU with 18 points and he was one of three Mustangs to grab five rebounds on the afternoon. Rebounding was another area that proved problematic for SMU, with Temple managing to rebound nearly 36% of its missed shots. Entering Sunday the Owls ranked eighth in the American in offensive rebounding percentage (conference games only), and with leading rebounder Anthony Lee (8.9 rpg) sitting due to a nagging knee injury one would expect SMU to control the glass.

However that wasn’t the case, and the combination of poor foul shooting and rebounding proved to be too much for SMU to overcome. Losing at Temple certainly won’t look good on SMU’s resume, and this is a team that has just one RPI Top 100 win away from Dallas. That win: a 62-54 victory at Wyoming on December 20.

Of SMU’s final five games just two are away from home but they’re big opportunities, with No. 24 UConn (February 23) and No. 20 Memphis (March 8) being the opponents. And with No. 13 Louisville’s visit on March 5 being the only remaining home game of value (Houston and UCF are the other two), SMU may need one of those two road games in order to feel secure about its resume.

The three home wins against ranked teams will certainly help SMU when it comes to reaching the Field of 68. But given the lack quality results away from home, their spot isn’t as secure as some may have assumed.

Did Seton Hall’s loss to Louisville burst its bubble?

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NEW YORK–Late in the first half of Seton Hall’s matchup with Louisville in the second round of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, a voice rang out from the back of the Seton Hall student section.

“I just wanna dance!” a fan yelled. Well, not so fast.

Following the Pirates’ 61-55 loss to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals on Wednesday night, Seton Hall will have to sweat out Selection Sunday before they know whether they’ll be in the field of 68.

“I’ve always been under the belief that it’s the total year, it’s not just two games that you played bad maybe at the end of the year,” said coach Kevin Willard. “Our total resumé is as good as anyone’s out there.”

Wednesday night was Seton Hall’s chance to solidify a spot in the tournament, after a Tuesday night win over Providence did little to boost their resumé and, instead, only did well to avoid another bad loss.

Louisville, with their pressure defense and help from center Gorgui Dieng, who had six blocks, fended off a late Seton Hall run to divert the Pirates into a holding pattern until Sunday.

Guard Jordan Theodore finished with 17 points for Seton Hall, but pressure from the Cardinals forced him into six turnovers.

A visibly emotional Theodore, towel draped around his neck in the postgame press conference, tried to describe the state of his team and how he will pass the time between now and when the committee will rule on his team’s fate, Sunday.

“For me and Herb [Pope] at the end of our Seton Hall career, especially leaving it up to the selection committee…we came up short tonight,” he said. “I’m not going to watch TV, I’m just going to get better, go to school, and live my life.”

Seton Hall’s resumé is as follows:

Overall record: (20-12, 8-10 Big East)

Strength of Schedule: 51

RPI: 54

Wins vs. RPI Top 50: 4

The question that remains is, will the committee favor Seton Hall over a mid-major team with more wins, like Drexel or Iona? Do the Pirates have enough to make it?

After a big win over No. 8 Georgetown on February 21, it looked like they had punched their ticket, but bad losses down the stretch to Rutgers and DePaul keep them in this limbo for the next four days.

There’s not much else to say now, and Theodore realized it.

“It’s up to the selection committee, so we’re going to see what happens on Sunday.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_