NCAA BK

Bubble watch: Which teams in trouble?

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Dan Wolken

Before joining The Daily, Dan Wolken’s investigative work into the recruiting practices of Air Force football led to a Congressional audit. Wolken later became a leading national voice on college basketball, documenting the University of Memphis' rise to prominence and breaking important stories on the ensuing NCAA investigation.

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ACC

Locks (3): Duke, North Carolina, Florida State.

Should be in (1): Virginia.

Bubble (2): Miami, N.C. State.

Virginia (21-8 overall, 8-7 conference, RPI 49, SOS 83): Well, now this is getting interesting. The Cavaliers lost at home to Florida State, and a deeper look at the resume makes things look a little shaky. No wins over the top-3 teams in the ACC. One significant non-conference win against Michigan. Virginia is probably still in, but they might want to win at Maryland this weekend just to make sure.

Miami (17-11 overall, 8-7 conference, RPI 52, SOS 32): With each win or loss, the Hurricanes’ fortunes change. The latest development, a loss at N.C. State, means they might be on the outside looking in. They certainly need to finish up with a win over Boston College and do some damage in the ACC Tournament. How much damage? That’s a huge question.

N.C. State (19-11 overall, 8-7 conference, RPI 59, SOS 23): The Wolfpack secured a season sweep over the Hurricanes, but that’s probably not going to be enough since those are their two best wins in ACC play. Any hope hinges on winning at Virginia Tech and a deep run in the ACC Tournament.

BIG TEN

Locks (6): Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Purdue.

Should be in (0): None.

On the Bubble (1): Northwestern.

Northwestern (17-12 overall, 7-10 conference, RPI 51 SOS 10): Ugh, what heartbreak for the Wildcats after allowing a Jared Sullinger bucket to lose to Ohio State in the final seconds on Wednesday. Now they’re just 2-10 against the RPI top 50 and really up against it. Northwestern obviously must beat Iowa on the road and win at least one Big Ten tournament game to be considered.

BIG 12

Locks (4): Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State.

Should be in (1): Iowa State.

On the bubble (1): Texas.

Iowa State (21-9 overall, 11-6 conference, RPI 32, SOS 49): It’s not likely to be a problem, but the Cyclones surely would have liked to finish this off at Missouri on Wednesday. Instead, they lost a second-half lead and will focus on Baylor this weekend, another game that can lock up their bid. Even if they lose that one, Iowa State is probably fine.

Texas (19-11 overall, 9-8 conference, RPI 54 SOS 31): All the statistics and advanced metrics suggest Texas is an NCAA Tournament team, but the accomplishments of this team are very shaky. The Longhorns snuck out a win over Oklahoma on Wednesday and can obviously win their way in at Kansas on Saturday. Short of that, they’ll be right on the borderline going into the Big 12 tournament.

BIG EAST

Locks (5): Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame.

Should be in (2): Cincinnati, South Florida.

On the bubble (5): West Virginia, UConn, Seton Hall.

Cincinnati (21-9 overall, 11-6 conference, RPI 68, SOS 98): The Bearcats have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them late in the season, beating Louisville and Marquette at home. With a 6-3 record against the RPI top 50, it’s going to be hard to deny Cincinnati a bid at this point despite a poor non-conference strength of schedule, which has contributed to the weak RPI. Closing the regular season with a win at Villanova would make them feel more secure going into Madison Square Garden.

West Virginia (18-12 overall, 8-9 conference, RPI 53, SOS 13): There’s good and bad news for the Mountaineers. The good news is that they’re still hanging onto a spot in the field despite losing seven of their last 10. The bad news is they may need to win at South Florida this weekend to keep it. And even at that, it’s likely West Virginia will need a win in the Big East Tournament to make it in.

UConn (17-12 overall, 7-10 conference, RPI 36, SOS 2): Forget what the numbers say. Is this really an NCAA team? UConn has lost nine of 12 with its only wins in that span coming against Seton Hall, DePaul and Villanova. Tuesday night’s loss at Providence was a serious slip-up, and now there’s huge pressure going into Saturday’s home game against Pitt.

Seton Hall (19-10 overall, 8-9 conference, RPI 47, SOS 42): The Pirates followed a breakthrough win over Georgetown with a poor performance at home against Rutgers, losing 77-72 in overtime. That puts them right back where they were last week, needing a win at DePaul on Saturday to stay on solid footing.

South Florida (18-11 overall, 12-5 conference, RPI 35, SOS 19): Well how about that? In the span of a couple weeks, the Bulls have gone from way out of the tournament picture to playing for a decent seed. South Florida erased a lot of doubts Wednesday with a 58-51 win at Louisville, and now a lot of the pressure is off for Sunday’s showdown against West Virginia.

SEC

Locks (3): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt.

Should be in (1): Alabama.

On the bubble (1): Mississippi State.

Alabama (20-9 overall, 9-6 conference, RPI 28, SOS 16): Impressive job by Anthony Grant to steady the Crimson Tide and get in position for an NCAA bid despite all kinds of suspensions and off-court chaos around the program. Alabama has beaten Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Auburn in succession and can finish off the season in style at Ole Miss on Saturday. Combined with their work in the non-conference slate, that should be enough for a bid.

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Mississippi State (20-10 overall, 7-8 conference, RPI 61, SOS 67): Trailing late at South Carolina, the Bulldogs nearly closed the book on their at-large hopes. Instead, they came through with a 69-67 overtime victory and will host Arkansas on Saturday trying to get back to .500 in the SEC. That’s another must-win, obviously, though this team will certainly need one more win and maybe two in the league tournament.

MOUNTAIN WEST

Locks (3): San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico.

Should be in (1): Colorado State.

On the bubble (0): None.

Colorado State (17-10 overall, 7-6 conference, RPI 20, SOS 4): This team has taken care of business at home, going 13-1 at Moby Arena including wins over San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico. That appears to be enough to get in this year, though the Rams would be wise not to slip up at Air Force this weekend just to be sure.

PAC-12

Locks: None.

Should be in (0): None.

Bubble (4): California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon.

California (23-7 overall, 13-4 conference, RPI 37, SOS 96): The Bears can’t win the league title outright, which might have been their best argument for an at-large. Their best non-conference wins were Denver and Weber State, which is a major problem. They did win at Washington and sweep Oregon, but the Bears will likely need a strong showing in the Pac 12 tournament.

Arizona (21-9 overall, 12-5 conference, RPI 69, SOS 96): The Wildcats just really haven’t gotten much done this year. They’re only 5-8 against the RPI top 100, and two of those wins came against Valparaiso and New Mexico State. That isn’t an at-large resume in this or any year, and if you really start parsing their accomplishments they’re probably fourth in line among the Pac 12 contenders.

Oregon (21-8 overall, 12-5 conference, RPI 44, SOS 77): There are a couple things to like about Oregon. One, the Ducks have just one bad loss (against Oregon State at home), which is better than what most bubble teams can say. They also have a key transfer in Devoe Joseph, who had to sit out the early part of the season. Their performance in the Pac 12 tournament will push them on one side of the line or the other.

Washington (21-8 overall, 14-3 conference, RPI 50, SOS 85): It’s remarkable to think Washington could wrap up the Pac 12 title with a win at UCLA on Saturday and still not be assured of a bid. The Huskies are 1-6 against the RPI top 50 and 3-8 against the top-100. Yuck. Sweeping Arizona and splitting with Oregon, given the lack of any other accomplishments, should not be good enough.

MISSOURI VALLEY

Locks (2): Wichita State, Creighton.

On the bubble: None.

ATLANTIC 10

Locks (1): Temple.

Should be in (1): Saint Louis.

On the bubble (3): Xavier, Dayton, St. Joseph’s

Saint Louis (22-6 overall, 11-4 conference, RPI 30, SOS 97): The Billikens somewhat made up for their loss at Rhode Island with a convincing home win over Xavier on Tuesday. A 7-4 record against the RPI top 100 is good enough to put them ahead of the bubble teams, though there’s some danger looming with Saturday’s trip to Duquesne.

Xavier (18-11 overall, 9-6 conference, RPI 55, SOS 43): There’s still something not quite right about the Musketeers, but they’re still in position to hang on to one of the final few at-large bids. They should be able to hold serve against Charlotte on Saturday, and then it’s simply a matter of whether they can avoid an early exit from the A-10 Tournament. It’s definitely touch-and-go right now.

Dayton (18-11 overall, 8-7 conference, RPI 73, SOS 58): It doesn’t necessarily take them out of the equation, but losing at Richmond on Wednesday certainly doesn’t help. Dayton will hope to be evaluated on the basis of its big wins (Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Temple and Xavier) as opposed to its bad losses (Rhode Island, Miami-Ohio, Buffalo).

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Saint Joseph’s (19-12 overall, 9-7 conference, RPI 56, SOS 44): After a horrible home loss to Richmond, the Hawks rebounded with a nice win over Temple on Saturday. Then they squandered that momentum with a tough loss at better-than-you-think St. Bonaventure. They probably need a run to the A-10 finals to get back on the good side of the bubble.

WCC

Locks (2): Gonzaga, St. Mary’s.

Should be in (0):None.

On the bubble (1): BYU.

BYU (22-7 overall, 12-4 conference, RPI 45, SOS 103): The Cougars went 1-3 against the league’s top two teams, and they should get one more shot at Gonzaga in the conference tournament semifinals on Saturday. BYU might make the NCAAs anyway, but that win would lock it up.

CONFERENCE USA

Locks (1): Memphis.

Should be in (1):Southern Miss.

On the bubble (2): UCF.

Southern Miss (22-6 overall, 11-4 conference, RPI 17, SOS 57): It doesn’t seem like anything is coming easy for Southern Miss, though maybe that’s just the weight of trying to end a 21-year NCAA Tournament drought. They can probably absorb a loss to Marshall on Saturday and still be in great position, but a win there would remove all doubt.

UCF (18-9 overall, 9-6 conference, RPI 64, SOS 94): It’s probably a stretch to include the Knights here, especially after a 29-point loss at Memphis on Tuesday. If they can beat UAB to end the regular season and beat either Memphis or Southern Miss in the conference tournament, however, they could get back into consideration for one of the final few at-large spots.

OTHERS

Murray State (25-1 overall, 15-1 conference, RPI 27, SOS 177): With its regular season now over, Murray State has locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Bubble teams everywhere will be rooting for the Racers to win the Ohio Valley’s automatic bid so they don’t take up an at-large.

Nevada (22-5 overall, 12-1 conference, RPI 48, SOS 147): The record is impressive and the team is very good, but there’s just not much heft to the non-conference resume. Nevada is 4-3 against the RPI top 100, though it does own a non-conference win against Washington. The Wolf Pack probably need to win the WAC tournament, but if they can get in, this could be a dangerous team.

Harvard (23-4 overall, 10-2 conference, RPI 38, SOS 171): Uh oh. Just when it looked like Harvard had everything under control, it took a home loss to Penn last Saturday. Now things get interesting. With two losses each in league play, Harvard and Penn could be headed for a tie in the standings, which would set up a one-game playoff for the conference title and the Ivy’s automatic bid. Could Harvard get an at-large in that scenario? It’s possible but far from certain.

Middle Tennessee (24-5 overall, 14-2 conference, RPI 46, SOS 173): This is a quality team that nobody will want to face in the NCAA Tournament, but the Blue Raiders took a bad loss at the wrong time last Saturday at Western Kentucky. Now, the good wins category is basically empty, though they do have some OK wins against Belmont, Akron, Ole Miss and UCLA. Getting to the Sun Belt finals might be enough for an at-large, but that’s playing with fire now.

Long Beach State (20-7 overall, 15-0 conference, RPI 34, SOS 111): The 49ers are close to polishing off a perfect season in the Big West, which would certainly be worthy of at-large consideration. Whether they’d actually get a bid is shaky, given their 0-6 record against the RPI top 50.

Drexel (25-5 overall, 16-2 conference, RPI 65, SOS 235): The Dragons closed the regular season by winning 16 straight in the Colonial race, winning the conference title outright over VCU. Especially in a year with so many bubble teams struggling down the stretch, you have to give Drexel a strong look for winning a historically good league, despite the strength of schedule problem. Getting to the conference tournament finals will probably be enough.

VCU (25-6 overall, 15-3 conference, RPI 58, SOS 179): The Rams are in a similar spot as Drexel – not a lot of eye-catching wins but a great record in a very competitive conference. Beating George Mason on Saturday gave VCU the No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament. If Drexel and VCU meet in the finals, both should get into the NCAAs..

Oral Roberts (26-5, 17-1 conference, RPI 40, SOS 174): Given this team’s dominance over the Summit League, they probably won’t need an at-large. But just in case, Oral Roberts has pretty solid credentials and a 3-3 record against the RPI top 100. That isn’t great, but it’s not bad. They belong in the field regardless.

Tagged: South Florida, Saint Louis, Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Northwestern, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, Mississippi, Harvard, Ohio, Drexel, Temple, Xavier, Dayton, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa State, New Mexico, Devoe Joseph

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