One game can mean so much, good or bad, at this point in the season. A number of teams took significant steps toward or away from the Field of 68 this week. Ahead of Tuesday's next full update, here's an interim look at the biggest bubble results from this week (teams in alphabetical order):
SAN ANTONIO -- In the spring of 2009, VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez, having just finished his sophomore season, was at a career crossroads. The Florida native, a bit homesick after spending two years in Richmond, Va., after not getting the right offers from his home state's Division I schools, now was losing his head coach, Anthony Grant, who was taking the job at Alabama.
While Butler and VCU celebrate their historic Final Four trips this week, many basketball followers are already trying to put an expiration date on their joyrides. Consecutive Final Fours or not, how long can a tiny school like Butler keep fielding such upper-echelon squads? How long until some deep-pocketed program sweeps in and poaches away Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens or Rams coach Shaka Smart?
SAN ANTONIO -- On Selection Sunday night, VCU senior guard Ed Nixon was glued to his television. Despite the weeklong insistence of Nixon's roommate, point guard and team bracketologist Joey Rodriguez, that the Rams would make it into the NCAAs, VCU was a very borderline at-large case.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Long after the on-court celebration had died down and the rest of the championship gear-clad VCU Rams had bounded into their locker room, Joey Rodriguez cut a solitary figure strolling down the expansive back corridor at the Alamodome.
SAN ANTONIO, Tex. -- In the week leading up to VCU's Sweet 16 appearance, the Mason Magic drumbeat thumped louder and louder. The upstart Rams were coming from the same exact spot in the bracket -- 11-seed, upper-right corner -- as their CAA Final Four forebearers after both teams used BracketBusters wins at Wichita State to bolster borderline at-large credentials.
CHICAGO -- This was not the Big Ten team's locker room. This was the Colonial Athletic Association team's locker room. And yet here was VCU forward Jamie Skeen, turning to two of his teammates and declaring nonchalantly of their fallen opponent: "They were scared." They seemed bewildered in fact by Purdue's defensive strategy. "They tried to press us," said Skeen. "They don't usually press. It didn't look like they even practice it."
CHICAGO -- VCU's NCAA tourney bid was such an uncertainty that coach Shaka Smart chose not to stage a selection show viewing party for his team. ("I didn't want them to be too crushed" going into a possible NIT game, he said.) Forward Jamie Skeen was eating dinner at a Great Wrap when he heard the news. Others were in their dorm rooms. Several athletic department staffers were at the school's baseball game.
This part of the season's final week is always fun, as major-conference bubble teams sit and watch and hope smaller-conference teams don't hose them. There are fewer bid thieves than usual this season, but the next couple of days will have some tournament results worth watching:
BracketBusters weekend is here and there's something for everyone who enjoys the mid-major level. Five of the games have significant NCAA tournament implications and many of them feature a star (or stars) well worth watching. Here are the 11 TV games ranked in order of importance and intrigue.
Selection Sunday isn't quite around the corner, but it's definitely on this block. As we get closer to the big day, you'll start to see more references to the RPI, but at this relatively early stage it's hard to figure out just how much attention we should pay to all those numbers. Reading the RPI rankings in mid-January is like reading the voting returns early on election night. Yes, the numbers tell you what trends might be forming, but it's far too early to make a projection.
Overrated: Xavier The X-men are a solid team, but they're not as offensively potent as last year's Elite Eight squad and they're much sloppier with the ball. Losers of five of their final 10 games of the season, the Musketeers were given a four-seed while the two other A-10 teams in the field, Dayton and Temple, were both given 11s. That's too big a spread given Xavier only won the league by a game and lost in the tourney semis. The committee gave them credit for a torrid first month of the season, but since that 9-0 start (which included neutral-site wins over Missouri and Memphis), Xavier was just 4-5 against RPI Top 100 teams.
Of the 13 job openings last year at power conference schools (BCS conferences, A-10, MWC, WAC), four were filled with head coaches from mid-major programs. Darrin Horn went from Western Kentucky to South Carolina, Jim Christian moved from Kent State to TCU, Craig Robinson jumped from Brown to Oregon State and Keno Davis went from Drake to Providence. All four have improved their new teams, with Robinson having the biggest impact with the Beavers.
When the BracketBusters pairings came out on Feb. 2, Butler and Davidson were a combined 36-4 and easy choices for the top slot in the weekend's made-for-TV matchups. Since then, the two powerful mid-major programs have a combined 7-5 record, and Davidson's Player of the Year candidate Stephen Curry sprained his ankle.
ATLANTA -- While the college basketball world focused on the Duke-North Carolina showdown on Wednesday night, a North Carolina native who beat Duke in the NCAA tournament last year played the role of the hero again for Virginia Commonwealth.
It did not take long for the mid-majors to make a splash in 2007-08. Just two days after the season opened in Memphis, Gardner-Webb made national headlines by not only upsetting Kentucky, but by doing it in Rupp Arena. Atlantic Sun mates Belmont and Mercer then added to the tiny league's stunning week with wins at Cincinnati and USC respectively.
No one was hurt more in the Billy Donovan saga than the Orlando Magic, who lost face, lost a coach, lost momentum for their new arena, and lost a second-round draft pick to pry their Plan B, Stan Van Gundy, away from the Miami Heat. Yet, as the dust settles on this seven-day ordeal, with Donovan expressing his deep regret for what transpired, you can't help but feel for Anthony Grant -- even if Grant isn't asking for sympathy. To an equal degree that the Magic were scarred, Grant was tantalized.
The two coaches were on the Georgia Dome floor on the night of April 2, occupying vastly different roles as the confetti was settling on Florida's second straight national championship. Billy Donovan was a central figure in the celebration, given that he had just joined John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski as the only men to win back-to-back titles in the past 35 years of college basketball. Anthony Grant, meanwhile, was on the periphery, taking in the scene with a proud-yet-detached look on his face.
ON BOARD DELTA FLIGHT 621 TO ATLANTA -- Time to fire it up, folks: The Final Four is upon us, and I haven't been this hyped about the national-semifinal matchups since, well, since ever. We'll have five things for you to ponder tomorrow, but for now here's one big thing to think about (while wondering why so many people drink in airports at 9 a.m. on a weekday):
One of the themes of this year's NCAA tournament is the lack of upsets, and therefore the lack of Cinderellas. The fact that Butler and Southern Illinois can reach the Sweet 16 and not at least raise some eyebrows is an indication of the increased parity in college basketball and the narrowing of the gap between mid-major and major programs.
You may have read recently that the ever-savvy NFL is attempting to trademark the phrase "The Big Game" in an effort to reap whatever remaining Super Bowl-related money in which they're not already swimming.
Underrated: Gonzaga Is it possible the Zags are a better team without Josh Heytvelt, who was suspended after his arrest for drug possession? Without Heytvelt, Mark Few has been forced to give more playing time to glue-guy David Pendergraft as well as Micah Downs, the former McDonald's All-American who transferred in from Kansas and was hurt at the beginning of the year. The Zags lost a slew of games in late December, but that was the result of a brutal non-conference schedule. In Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga has a dynamic backcourt, and I really believe it will relish the role of being an overlooked underdog again.
RICHMOND, Va. -- Amidst a sea of jubilant VCU fans, Eric Maynor climbed up a ladder on the Richmond Coliseum floor wearing a Rams CAA Champions T-shirt with another slung over his shoulder. He had scissors in his left hand and had some trouble breaking through the white strands he and his teammates earned as souvenirs. But Maynor earned whatever extra ladder time he was taking. He put his Rams in the NCAA tournament.
Rick Majerus has been analyzing basketball games at ESPN for three seasons. On Saturday, he found himself at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the first BracketBusters matchup between two ranked teams.
BracketBusters weekend is approaching, and for 48 hours, the college hoops world will (sort of) belong to the mid-majors. Outside of championship week, next Friday night and Saturday will provide the brightest lights a lot of these programs will see this season. In its fifth year, the ESPN event keeps growing, and it has been done right. ESPN gives itself plenty of flexibility to ensure the best matchups, picking from a field of 102. Additionally, there is a provision that guarantees a rematch of all 51 BracketBusters games during next year's regular season. For schools that have a difficult time scheduling quality non-conference opponents, especially at home, this is a major bonus.