Bubble Watch: UConn and other sure things
New locks, a messy ACC (except UNC), Mountain West altitude, BYU's killer flaw, Drake's bubble return and so much more
No preamble today. We’re already a day behind the usual schedule (sorry, folks, life and an ill-timed Monday night illness intervened; thank you for your patience) and currently fighting hard against the urge to use a big image of David Hayter-era Solid Snake smoking a cigar and saying “Kept you waiting, huh” as the key art for this college basketball newsletter. We’ve also got new locks, an attempt to understand the ACC, an answer to the mystery of why the BPI hates the Mountain West, and so much more. So let’s get through the housekeeping and get right in:
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The distinctions between “should be in” and “work to do” are pretty fuzzy this time of year. All of this will matter a lot more in, like, a month.
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There are almost certainly typos in the below copy. We are our only editor; this is a one-man show. If you spot factual mistakes or just think we should consider a team not on the page, get in touch in the comments or shoot me a note.
NET and SOS are always current as of the previous day. Records are always up to date. Thanks as ever to Warren Nolan for his immensely helpful site.
OK! Bubble Watch time!
A thought occurred watching North Carolina run rampant against Wake Forest Monday night: This is what Carolina basketball looks like. This is what a North Carolina team is supposed to look like. A dynamic pass-first point guard (Elliot Cadeau), an off-ball scoring guard that can handle (R.J. Davis, having an ACC POY season), wing pieces with length (Cormac Ryan, Harrison Ingram), an absolute blue-chip stud of a small forward/power forward hybrid (also Harrison Ingram, ha) and a rebound-hoovering center that seems like he’s been on campus forever (Armando Bacot). Bacot was a preseason All-American before last season and he might be the fourth-best player on this team. It’s ridiculous.
With some tweaks and variations — some tweaks from the Roy Williams days, and some variations on who the star is in any given year — this is what the best North Carolina teams look like. You can look at the record and the underlying performances, but college basketball fans of any age or persuasion also just know it when they see it. Lock ‘em.
Elsewhere, man, the ACC is getting weird. Previously there had been a pretty clear divide between the average ACC teams that were on the bubble and the ones that weren’t; that line is now blurred. Pittsburgh won at Duke in iconic fashion; it remains 2-6 against the top two quadrants with a home loss to Mizzou. Syracuse beat Miami Saturday (after winning at Pitt) then got boat-raced by surging Florida State Tuesday night. (The Carrier Dome was empty at the buzzer.) Florida State is 8-2 in last 10 but needs more. N.C. State won a punchout against Wake, also in iconic fashion. Then N.C. State lost at home to Virginia Tech, fell to No. 79 in the NET, and still hasn’t won a Quad 1 game (or gotten all that close). Average teams trading uncertain defeats doesn’t seem to be helping anyone. It’s a big fat mess.
Locks: North Carolina
Should be in: Duke, Clemson
Work to do: Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami
Duke (14-4, 5-2; NET: 19, SOS: 101): One of the most difficult things about being the Duke head coach must be being keenly aware of, and/or actively choosing not to care about, how much people can’t wait to root against you. There was a point in Tuesday night’s 83-69 win at Louisville in which it kind of looked like Duke might lose at Louisville. Now, us, we would have been awash in anxiety, worried about the Internet’s jokes, all too focused on the fact that so many people wanted us to fail just so they could laugh. Oh, God, imagine what they’ll say about this. Duke losing to Louisville. Imagine the memes. Most people don’t have to perform under these stresses! Anyway, the result was safe in the end, and promising, too, in that it featured the returns to action of both Jeremy Roach (who was fine) and Mark Mitchell (who was excellent — 20 points, 12 rebounds, 8-of-11 shooting).
Clemson (13-5, 3-4; NET: 33, SOS: 25): Clemson had a weird week. On Tuesday, they allowed 93 points in 75 possessions in a double-overtime loss to Georgia Tech, the exact sort of soft defense we said we were concerned about last week. Then, on Saturday, they went to Tallahassee, where Leonard Hamilton’s team appears to have almost totally figured itself out … and managed an extremely competent 78-67 win. We told you the ACC was a mess! The win at FSU alleviates some worries about a full-blown Clemson collapse and quite nicely sets up this weekend’s trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium.