Providence Keeping NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive

With wins over two of the top Big East teams in their last two games Providence is keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes afloat, at least for the time being. The Big East is projected to get 4 or 5 teams in the NCAA Tournament this season and Providence is fighting with Georgetown, Marquette and Seton Hall to likely be that 5th team. The term “soft bubble” has been bandied about regularly the last few weeks with teams that are on the fringes of the field of 68 when bracketology experts put out their latest bracket showing rather weak profiles. Exhibit A: Providence. The Friars currently sport an RPI of 60 with a 3-7 record against Teams in the Top 50 of the RPI. They also have a 6-8 conference record. And yet, the Friars are “on the bubble” in many brackets like ESPN.com and USA Today.     CBSSports.com even has Ed Cooley’s bunch in their field as one of the “Last Four In”.

Want evidence how soft the bubble is this year? Here’s a blind resume for a team from Selection Sunday 2014 that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large:

  • Overall Record: 23-11
  • Regular Season Conference Record: 10-8
  • RPI: 40
  • Strength of Schedule: 63
  • Record Against RPI Top 50: 3-6
  • Record Against RPI 51-100: 5-4
  • Record Against RPI 101-200: 10-1
  • Record Against RPI 200+: 5-0

If this resume looks familiar it’s because that was Providence coming off their 2014 Big East Tournament Championship. Notice I said the above team didn’t get in as an at-large. That’s technically true and an interview with the Selection Committee chairman revealed that the Friars would have, in fact, not made the NCAA Tournament that season based just on the merits of their resume alone. In other words, they were only in the field because they won the Big East’s automatic bid. RPI of 40 versus this year’s current 60. That’s how soft this year’s bubble appears to be.

Through games on February 15th here is Providence’s resume this season:

  • Overall Record: 16-11
  • Regular Season Conference Record: 6-8
  • RPI: 60
  • Strength of Schedule: 33
  • Record Against RPI Top 50: 3-7
  • Record Against RPI 51-100: 5-1
  • Record Against RPI 101-200: 3-2
  • Record Against RPI 200+: 5-1

The Friars now have their second of two Big East bye weeks this season leading up to their next game on February 22nd in Omaha against Creighton. That game against Greg McDermott’s Bluejays presents another golden opportunity for Providence to enhance their resume. Creighton currently sits at 18 in the RPI and they are a half game behind Butler for 2nd place in the Big East standings. Should Providence steal one on the road at the CenturyLink Center they will head into the final 3 games as either a favorite or the game is a coin-flip.

Here are some scenarios to consider for Providence’s final four regular season games (RPI numbers courtesy of RPIForecast.com’s RPI Wizard tool):

Scenario #1 – Best Case Scenario

  • Win all 4 remaining Big East games.
    • Overall Record: 20-11
    • Big East Regular Season Record: 10-8
    • Projected RPI: 48
    • My Take: This should be good enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament this season, even if they end up losing their quarterfinal game in the Big East Tournament, which would be against the likes of Butler, Creighton or Xavier.

Scenario #2 – Chalk

  • Win 2 games they will be favored in (Marquette, DePaul), lose 2 games they will be underdogs in (at Creighton, at St. John’s).
    • Overall Record: 18-13
    • Big East Regular Season Record: 8-10
    • Projected RPI: 69
    • My Take: This is good enough to get them a fifth straight postseason tournament appearance but it will be in the NIT and they would be on the bubble for a home game.

Scenario #3 – Somewhere in Between

  • Win 2 games they will be favored in (Marquette, DePaul), win at St. John’s — which should be close to a coin flip — and lose at Creighton.
    • Overall Record: 19-12
    • Big East Regular Season Record: 9-9
    • Projected RPI: 56
    • My Take: This puts Providence squarely on the bubble and leaves them work to do in the Big East Tournament where they’d probably need to at least make an appearance in the semifinals, if not the finals.

Providence also needs to dodge “bid stealers”. These pesky team are ones that get hot and win a conference tournament to get that league’s automatic bid but wouldn’t have earned an at-large bid on their own. Every “bid stealer” equals one less at-large spot for a team like Providence that has a tenuous position on the bubble. It’s clear that a path still exists for Providence to get to a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance — I’m legally obligated to mention that the Friars have never done that in their storied basketball history — but it isn’t an easy path. Selection Sunday is less than a month away and Providence’s destiny is in their hands over these next 4 games.

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