NCAA Tournament bubble watch: The East

Examining the NCAA Tournament bubble with less than two weeks to go until Selection Sunday. Contenders are listed by conference and in two parts; part one features teams from conferences based on or near the east coast.

Records are as of Feb. 28. Opinions are strictly those of the writer.

BIG EAST

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame

THE OTHER CONTENDERS…

UCONN (17-11, 6-8 in Big East)

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BEST WINS: Florida State, Harvard, at Notre Dame, West Virginia

BAD LOSSES: Central Florida, at Seton Hall, at Rutgers, at Tennessee

BODY OF WORK: The defending national champs have lost eight of 11 but still have a resume that basically ensures they’ll be in the NCAA Tournament — especially this year, with this weak bubble. UConn just isn’t clicking, though, so don’t pencil in remaining games vs. Pitt and Providence as sure victories.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Squarely on the bubble. UConn has wins, a high RPI and strength of schedule numbers to make it but has a losing conference record and isn’t inspiring confidence. Stay tuned. 

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CINCINNATI  (20-9, 10-6)

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BEST WINS: Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown, at UConn, Seton Hall

BAD LOSSES: Presbyterian, Marshall, St. John’s, at Rutgers

BODY OF WORK: Top-heavy. The Bearcats have played well in what’s probably the nation’s deepest conference and have almost completely turned their season around after a shaky start. The soft non-conference schedule stands out, but the Bearcats on their A-game are pretty good.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: In — almost. The win over Louisville last week basically should have been the clincher, but the Bearcats lost a close one at South Florida and now host Marquette Wednesday. If the strength of schedule wasn’t so poor, Cincinnati would already be a lock.

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WEST VIRGINIA (17-12, 7-9)

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BEST WINS: Georgetown, Cincinnati, at Pitt, Kansas State, Oral Roberts, Akron

BAD LOSSES: Kent State, at Seton Hall, at St. John’s

BODY OF WORK: Was solid two weeks ago, now is shaky. West Virginia has enough good wins and has played a good enough schedule, but the Mountaineers have collapsed lately and Bob Huggins had an epic blowup after last Friday’s home loss to Marquette.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Squarely on the bubble. West Virginia can get in if it can get a couple wins down the stretch.

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SETON HALL (19-10, 8-9)

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BEST WINS: VCU, UConn, West Virginia, at Dayton

BAD LOSSES: Northwestern, at South Florida, at Rutgers

BODY OF WORK: Just OK. The bad losses look better than they did a few weeks ago, and the Pirates have the look of a tournament team in everything except their sub .500 conference record.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Squarely on the bubble. Seton Hall needs a strong finish after losing at Rutgers last weekend.

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SOUTH FLORIDA (18-11, 11-5)

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BEST WINS: Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Pitt (2), Seton Hall

BAD LOSSES: Penn State, at Auburn, at Old Dominion

BODY OF WORK: Weak overall, but the Bulls have 11 conference wins and stand fifth in the Big East. The conference tournament will be huge for South Florida.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: On the bubble and steadily moving in the right direction. The Bulls are winning ugly, but they’re winning and can’t be ignored in this tournament landscape.  

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ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State

THE OTHER CONTENDERS…

MIAMI-FLORIDA (17-10, 8-6 in ACC)

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BEST WINS: at Duke, UMass, Florida State

BAD LOSSES: at Ole Miss, NC State

BODY OF WORK: Things got really complicated Sunday when center Reggie Johnson was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. The committee takes into account games played with injuries/suspensions, and Johnson already missed time earlier in the season. The main thing is the Canes did beat Florida State to get over .500 in a rather weak ACC.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Squarely on the bubble and must beat NC State on the road Wednesday night.

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NORTH CAROLINA STATE (18-11, 7-7)

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BEST WINS: Texas, at Miami-FL

BAD LOSSES: Georgia Tech, at Stanford

BODY OF WORK: The Wolfpack lost two games last week, and gave up a 19-point lead in a loss to Duke the week before. That huge letdown against the Blue Devils may end up sending NC State to the NIT.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Out. Two losses last week didn’t help what was already a rather weak resume. The Pack must beat Miami Wednesday night to get back into bubble consideration.  

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SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Alabama

THE LONE OTHER CONTENDER…

MISSISSIPPI STATE (19-10, 6-8 in SEC)

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BEST WINS: West Virginia, Arizona, at Detroit, Alabama

BAD LOSSES: at Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Georgia, at LSU, at Auburn

BODY OF WORK: This is a team that two weeks ago was a tournament lock and five weeks ago might have been a top-four seed. But 6-8 in what’s a very bottom-heavy SEC isn’t going to impress the committee. The Bulldogs have lost five straight and haven’t done a lot to make anybody think that’s going to change.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Wrong side of the bubble. Losing the lead last week vs. Kentucky pretty much summed things up.

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ATLANTIC 10

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: Temple and Saint Louis

THE OTHER CONTENDERS…

XAVIER (18-10, 9-5 in Atlantic 10)

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BEST WINS: at Vanderbilt, Purdue, Cincinnati, at Butler

BAD LOSSES: at Hawaii, at LaSalle, Oral Roberts

BODY OF WORK: Complicated — like everything else about this team. Xavier’s strong wins stand out, but it simply isn’t playing great basketball as it heads into a huge game Tuesday night at Saint Louis. The Atlantic 10 is good but not great overall and Xavier has steadily fallen back toward the pack.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Squarely on the bubble, leaning toward the right side. For all its flaws and complications, Xavier has played good teams and beaten enough of them.

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DAYTON (18-10, 8-6)

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BEST WINS: Alabama, Saint Louis, at Temple, Xavier

BAD LOSSES: at Miami-OH, Buffalo, at St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island

BODY OF WORK: Up and down. Dayton has experienced injuries, bad losses, good wins and and has played a strong schedule. The Flyers still have more near-misses and bad losses than quality wins, so they have to hope.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Wrong side of the bubble. Dayton is an interesting case because it has quality wins but some really bad losses. If the Flyers can win a couple in the A-10 Tournament, they become a strong candidate to play in the First Four on their home floor. 

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ST. JOSEPH’S (19-11, 9-6)

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BEST WINS: Temple, Drexel, Creighton, Dayton

BAD LOSSES: at American, Charlotte, Penn

BODY OF WORK: The Hawks have some nice wins — none nicer than beating Temple last weekend — and had chances at others; they lost to Iona in overtime, at Harvard by 5 and had to play at Xavier without leading scorer Carl Jones. The resume is interesting, and the qualiity of their schedule puts them very much in the discussion.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Wrong side of the bubble, but trending in the right direction. This is a very talented but very young team that’s playing its best ball at the right time of the season. Stay tuned.

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CONFERENCE USA

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: None

THE TOURNAMENT CONTENDERS…

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MEMPHIS (21-8, 11-3 in C-USA)

BEST WINS: Miami-FL, Southern Miss, Xavier, Belmont, Tennessee (2)

BAD LOSSES: UTEP, at Central Florida

BODY OF WORK: The Tigers play a very tough non-conference schedule and scored some good — but no great — wins. In this season, though, they seem to stand a cut above true bubble teams.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: In — almost a lock.

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SOUTHERN MISS (23-6, 10-4)

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BEST WINS: Memphis, South Florida, at Colorado State, Central Florida (2)

BAD LOSSES: at UAB, at Houston

BODY OF WORK: The best wins aren’t overly impressive but compared to the other bubble teams this year they are solid. It’s still tough to say with any confidence that the Eagles are one of the best 37 at-large teams.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: On the bubble, leaning toward the right side. Southern Miss has a bunch of wins but no really great ones. Its best wins do look better now than they did three weeks ago, however.

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CENTRAL FLORIDA (20-8, 9-5)

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BEST WINS: UConn, Memphis

BAD LOSSES: at Louisiana-Lafayette, at Tulsa, at UAB, at Rice

BODY OF WORK: Shaky. The Knights are improved but have squandered too many opportunities. It’s not even a certainty that C-USA will be a two-bid league, let alone a three-bid league.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Out. The early shocker over UConn has lost more than a bit of its luster. Must beat Memphis tonight to have any at-large hopes.

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COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: None

THE TOURNAMENT CONTENDERS…

VCU (25-6, 15-3 in CAA)

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BEST WINS: South Florida, at Akron, Richmond, Old Dominion (2), Northern Iowa

BAD LOSSES: Georgia Tech

BODY OF WORK: Pretty strong, but lacking a win that jumps off the page. Only a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by George Mason stands between VCU and a 15-game win streak, and if momentum counts for anything, the Rams have a bunch of it. Won’t a lot of people hold their breath if VCU ends up going back to the First Four? It’s very much in play right now.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: On the bubble. The CAA was down this year compared to recent years and VCU played a good but not great non-conference scheule. It won a bunch and has the look of a tournament team but will have to sweat if it can’t win the conference tournament this weekend.

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DREXEL (25-5, 16-2)

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BEST WINS: VCU, George Mason

BAD LOSSES: Norfolk State, at Delaware

BODY OF WORK: They haven’t lost in almost two months, but the overall body of work still isn’t great. The Dragons are peaking, but they’d still be wise to win the CAA Tournament. The computer numbers and strength of schedule don’t add up, but it would be hard to argue that the Dragons aren’t one of the 37 best at-large teams out there.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Complicated. The Dragons will be a 27-win team if they get to the conference tournament final and then get their streak snapped. They had two bad losses early without their full roster. Let’s say Drexel is squarely on the bubble.

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IVY LEAGUE

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: None

THE LONE CONTENDER…

HARVARD (24-4, 10-2 in Ivy League)

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BEST WINS: Florida State, Central Florida, at Loyola-Marymount, St. Joseph’s

BAD LOSS: at Fordham

BODY OF WORK: Solid. Those wins over Loyola-Marymount and St. Joseph’s look much better now than they did six weeks ago. Harvard has the look of a very dangerous 12 seed.

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: In. Things are different in the Ivy because there’s no postseason conference tournament. Look for the Crimson to keep winning and lock up an NCAA Tournament berth.

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METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

TOURNAMENT LOCKS: None

THE LONE CONTENDER…

IONA (24-6, 15-3 in MAAC)

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BEST WINS: Nevada, St. Joseph’s, at Denver, at Richmond, Loyola-Maryland

BAD LOSSES: at Hofstra, Manhattan, at Siena

BODY OF WORK: Good, but not tournament at-large worthy. The Gaels can really score, but their strongest wins aren’t overly strong and their strength of schedule numbers are weak.  

CURRENT TOURNAMENT STANDING: Wrong side of the bubble. The Gaels simply have a loss or two too many even though they look dangerous. If they win the MAAC Tournament, they’ll be dangerous.