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Bubble Watch: Chattanooga

The Mocs bubble chances rest largely on their performance this weekend against Western Carolina and ETSU.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It's time to get bubbly!

The Southern Conference is not known for their spot on the bubble, but the conference has produced a team that may qualify for the tournament without an automatic bid this year.

Chattanooga is tied for the lead in wins nationally at 22-3. They have wins over Dayton, Illinois and Georgia all on the road. Tennessee Tech is hovering right around the Top 100 as well. These are the positives.

The negatives are big as well. They play in the SoCon, which is better than it has been in recent years and is essentially the equal of where it was when Steph Curry roamed the court for Davidson. But it is still just the 20th ranked conference in the country in the RPI. The Mocs lost to Furman, who is ranked in the 160s, even if they are in a fight for second in the conference. They also lost to UL-Monroe, who is in the 180s. Their record vs. the Top 100 is either 2-1 or 3-1 (depending on where Tennessee Tech ranks at the moment). That is not a lot of games against Top 100 foes. The other loss is to Iowa State, hardly an unacceptable loss, but not a close one either, as the Mocs lost by 20.

But the win at Dayton looms large as one of the best out of conference wins for a mid-major this year. Dayton has only lost three games all year and the Flyers have not lost at home to anyone except the Mocs. The loss to UL-Monroe was without Justin Tuoyo, who sat out that game with a concussion. Tuoyo is one of the best mid-major big men in the game. That may not mean much to the people doing the mock brackets around the country, but the committee may pay more attention to that kind of detail.

The Mocs have been without Casey Jones for most of the season. The day before the win at Dayton, Jones hurt his ankle in practice. He has not returned to action yet. There are still rumors that he may return. He was the preseason SoCon Player of the Year. If Jones returns and the Mocs get on a roll here in the final weeks, the Mocs can point to the losses to UL-Monroe and Furman as both being not full strength.

The Mocs schedule is tough this weekend. Thursday they go to Western Carolina. Saturday they go to ETSU. The game at Cullowhee is always a tough place to play and ETSU is currently the second place team in the SoCon.

Now, think about this. What seed would a team at 31-3 with a win at Dayton that had won eighteen straight games receive in the tournament? It is quite possible that team could get as high as 8 or 9 seed. Would a 30-4 team really fall all the way out of the tournament? What about a 29-5 team? It is quite likely that the Mocs would fall out at 29-5, but is not entirely impossible. I think 30-4 would possibly get them in the tournament.

That would mean winning out in the regular season and then advancing to the championship game in Asheville. The loss would have to be to one of the better teams in the conference as well.

For the Mocs to make it at 29-5, they would have to lose to an acceptable foe as well in the regular season. The Mocs only have one of those remaining, really. As I said before, they go to Western Carolina and to ETSU this weekend. The ETSU game would be acceptable. They are at home against UNCG, VMI and Samford after that, before travelling to VMI to close out the year in a game due to be made up from earlier this year. The Mocs might be able to sustain a loss to ETSU and still get an at large bid. A loss to Western Carolina could be OK. None of the final four games are acceptable losses for the Mocs to get to the NCAA Tournament.

So, can the Mocs get in without winning the tournament? Possibly. But this weekend will be the most telling before Asheville on whether or not the Mocs get into the NCAA Tournament as an at large team. If you are a bubble watcher, keep a close eye on the Mocs road contests on Thursday and Saturday against Western Carolina and ETSU. They will tell a large tale.