Bubble Watch: Evaluating this year’s very large (and very soft) group of bubble teams
The final week of the regular season is upon us. The first conference tournament begins on Monday with the Atlantic Sun kicking off its festivities with four quarterfinal games, and the calendar turns to March on Wednesday. The madness is here.
Consider SI.com your one-stop shop for all things bracket and bubble over the next two weeks. We will be updating our field of 68 and Bubble Watch every day from now through Selection Sunday. The Bracket Watch will focus on games with major seeding implications for teams assured of a trip to the dance, while the Bubble Watch will look at all the games that day with implications at the backend of the field. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for a college basketball fan. Celebrate right here with us.
Tuesday’s bubble games (all times Eastern, bubble teams bolded, locks italicized)
Georgetown at Seton Hall, 6:30 pm
The Pirates did exactly what was necessary the last two weeks, picking up wins over Creighton and Xavier. That has them in striking distance for their second straight trip to the dance, but they remain a bubble team. Not only do they need one more resume-building win, they cannot afford a damaging loss. Georgetown may not be on the at-large radar, but the Hoyas have wins over Oregon, Butler, Creighton, Marquette and Syracuse this season. This is a tricky game that’s all risk, no reward for the Pirates.
Indiana at Purdue, 7 pm
We’re being generous to Indiana by including them, but it’s better to cast a wide net with this year’s soft bubble. At 16–13 overall, the Hoosiers likely can’t afford another loss in the regular season. We’ll get into this further in the conference-by-conference breakdown, but no team has earned an at-large bid with more than 14 losses. The Hoosiers upward climb continues at in-state rival Purdue, which is coming off a 12-point loss at Michigan. If the Hoosiers lose, which is likely, it’ll be Big Ten tournament champs or bust.
DePaul at Providence, 8:30 pm
No team has done more for its at-large candidacy over the last two weeks than Providence. The Friars have knocked off Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette in succession, giving them an inside track to a tournament berth. So long as they avoid bad losses the rest of the way, they should be dancing.
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 9 pm
Vanderbilt is one of our First Four Out, and one of the most interesting bubble teams. The Commodores are 8–3 in their last 11 games, with wins over Florida, Iowa State, South Carolina and Arkansas in that stretch. On the down side, they already have 13 losses, and still have games left with Kentucky on Tuesday and Florida over the weekend. At the very least, they must split those two games. If 14 losses is the breaking point, the Commodores have to beat the SEC’s two best teams this week.
Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech, 9 pm
The Yellow Jackets and Vanderbilt are in a similar predicament. They’ve proved their ability to beat high-level tournament competition with wins over North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame and VCU. They’re also at the 13-loss mark with two games to play before the ACC tournament. If they’re in the at-large discussion on Selection Sunday, it means they picked up a loss in the conference tournament. Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh is a must-win.
Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 9 pm
It might be more accurate if half of Oklahoma State’s name were bolded and the other half were italicized. The Cowboys likely have one foot securely in the field of 68 with wins over West Virginia (on the road), Wichita State (ditto) and Arkansas, 20 total wins (including nine in a top-two conference in America), an RPI of 26 and kenpom.com ranking of 19. They’d remove any doubt with a win in Ames on Tuesday.