Bubble Watch: Who’s in, who’s wriggling?
An updated look at how the field for the NCAA tournament is shaping up as Selection Sunday approaches:
Locks (3): Duke, North Carolina, Florida State.
Bubble (3): Virginia, Miami, NC State.
Virginia (21-6 overall, 8-5 conference, RPI 37, SOS 99): The Cavaliers are probably solid, but they have one really good win (against Michigan) and a bunch of OK wins. That’s a recipe for trouble if they tank down the stretch. If Virginia can split the next two home games against North Carolina and Florida State, the Cavs will be locked in.
Miami (16-10 overall, 7-6 conference, RPI 50, SOS 34): If the Hurricanes get left out, losing a five-point lead late against Maryland on Tuesday will be what did it. They need to beat Florida State in the worst way on Sunday. That game is in Miami, so there’s no excuse. The win at Cameron can only go so far.
NC State (18-10 overall, 7-6 conference, RPI 62, SOS 30): The Wolfpack lost three consecutive great opportunities to get on the right side of the bubble against the top teams in the conference, so now they just have to win out and hope. That would start Saturday at Clemson, and it goes without saying they can’t afford to lose that one.
Locks (5): Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana.
On the Bubble (4): Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota.
Purdue (18-10 overall, 8-7 conference, RPI 49, SOS 24): The loss of guard Kelsey Barlow didn’t matter against Nebraska, but the Boilermakers have two tough road games left, at Michigan and Indiana, sandwiched around a home gimme against Penn State. Winning two of three would almost certainly equal a dance ticket.
Northwestern (16-11 overall, 6-9 conference, RPI 47 SOS 7): Tuesday’s overtime loss to Michigan could be the one the Wildcats remember if they don’t make the field of 68. They really need to win remaining road games at Penn State and Iowa, and a home upset over Ohio State on Feb. 29 would certainly help. Northwestern’s 2-9 record against the RPI top 50 certainly brings into question its ability to beat good teams.
Illinois (16-12 overall, 5-10 conference, RPI 73, SOS 20): It’s basically a full meltdown for Illinois, which has lost nine out of its last 10. Unless they win the conference tournament, the Illini are headed for the NIT.
Minnesota (17-11 overall, 5-10 conference, RPI 79 SOS 46): You can’t say the Gophers didn’t have their opportunities. In the last two weeks, they’ve had chances against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State — all at home — and came up empty. Barring something crazy — like a sweep of the final three games and a run to the conference tournament title game — they’re not going to get a bid.
Locks (4): Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State.
On the bubble (2): Iowa State, Texas.
Iowa State (20-8 overall, 10-5 conference, RPI 42, SOS 64): This is getting closer to a done deal for the Cyclones, though they really need one of their last three games — all against tournament-bound opponents — to put themselves in the Big Dance for certain. It won’t be easy.
Texas (17-11 overall, 7-8 conference, RPI 54 SOS 17): All the statistics and advanced metrics suggest Texas is an NCAA Tournament team, but the resume does not, at this point. Monday night’s home loss to Baylor was a huge blown opportunity, and now the Longhorns are just 3-9 against the RPI top 100. Now, the only game left that can help them is March 3 at Kansas, which will obviously be a tall order. It’s looking like they may need to make a run at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.
Locks (5): Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville.
On the bubble (5): Cincinnati, West Virginia, UConn, Seton Hall, South Florida.
Cincinnati (20-8 overall, 10-5 conference, RPI 74, SOS 114): Last year, the Bearcats closed with a flourish and got into the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed despite being on the bubble much of the year. They are poised to do the same here after Thursday’s win over Louisville. Sunday’s game at South Florida is big for both teams.
West Virginia (17-11 overall, 7-8 conference, RPI 44 SOS 8): Getting blown out at Notre Dame on Wednesday wasn’t a good look for the Mountaineers, who really could go either way right now. It’s not a great profile, but they’ve got two big games left against Marquette on Friday and at South Florida on March 3. They certainly need one and might need to win both to get in.
UConn (17-10 overall, 7-8 conference, RPI 23, SOS 3): Shabazz Napier’s long 3-pointer to beat Villanova on Monday night was huge after an ugly home loss to Marquette on Saturday. The Huskies get Syracuse at home on Saturday, which would be an opportunity to the debate about whether they belong in.
Seton Hall (19-9 overall, 8-8 conference, RPI 32, SOS 27): That was a huge win over Georgetown on Tuesday, and the Pirates are now in great position for a bid. They need to take care of Rutgers at home and DePaul on the road, and they’re pretty much locked in heading into Madison Square Garden.
South Florida (17-11 overall, 10-5 conference, RPI 48, SOS 28): After winning at Pittsburgh on Sunday, South Florida has officially launched itself into the debate. The Bulls’ resume isn’t good. They’re just 1-7 against the RPI top 50, 4-8 against the top 100, and their best win came against Seton Hall. They also got stung by Old Dominion and Penn State at a tournament in November when point guard Anthony Collins was injured, but those are still bad-looking losses. If they win remaining home games against Cincinnati and West Virginia to reach 12 conference wins, can you really leave them out?
Locks (3): Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt.
On the bubble (3): Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU.
Mississippi State (19-9 overall, 6-7 conference, RPI 60, SOS 67): Talk about a program that can’t stand prosperity. Just when you thought this was shaping up to be a rare year for the Bulldogs, who are usually sweating on Selection Sunday, they’ve slid into a very tenuous position. Saturday’s game at Alabama is really shaping up to be a make-or-break moment for both teams. Not sure 8-8 in the SEC is going to be good enough.
Alabama (18-9 overall, 7-6 conference, RPI 29, SOS 15): Beating Arkansas on the road Thursday was a huge boost for the Crimson Tide, who probably need two wins in their last three games to lock up a bid. That’s very doable, with Mississippi State and Auburn coming up at home. It would also be a remarkable achievement for Anthony Grant’s team, given all the off-court drama of late.
LSU (17-10 overall, 7-6 conference, RPI 63, SOS 59): This might be a team to watch down the stretch. The Tigers’ schedule is pretty favorable, and if they can win out to get to 20-10 heading into the conference tournament, they’ll be in the mix. At the moment, though, LSU’s 11-10 record against the RPI top 200 leaves it out, and none of its remaining games really helps enhance its resume.
Locks (2): New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State.
On the bubble (1): Colorado State.
Colorado State (17-9 overall, 6-5 conference, RPI 24, SOS 9): That was quite an important win over New Mexico on Tuesday, since the Rams were basically eliminated from at-large talk without it. Now they face San Diego State on the road and UNLV at home in their next two, so it’s all still on the table.
Bubble (4): California, Washington, Arizona, Oregon.
California (23-6 overall, 13-3 conference, RPI 36, SOS 96): The Bears have won six in a row but haven’t totally shaken free of Washington for first place in the league. Despite their record, it’s still a shaky overall profile without many quality wins, and they would be advised not to slip up coming down the stretch.
Washington (19-8 overall, 12-3 conference, RPI 55, SOS 74): If they get in, the Huskies are a team no higher seed will want to draw because Washington has at least two future NBA players in Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. The Huskies have no good wins and no real bad losses at this point, but will that be enough? Their final three games are on the road and against teams well out of the tournament picture, so they better close strong.
Arizona (20-9 overall, 11-5 conference, RPI 70, SOS 101): Though it shouldn’t, you wonder if the Arizona name will help this team get the benefit of the doubt if it comes down to the final few spots. The Wildcats really can’t afford to lose to either UCLA or Arizona State in their remaining two games. Even winning both won’t put them in a safe position going into the Pac-12 tournament.
Oregon (19-8 overall, 10-5 conference, RPI 51, SOS 76): The Ducks have hung in the Pac-12 race, so they might have an outside shot at an at-large if they run the table in the regular season and get to the conference tournament final. Short of that, their lack of marquee wins keeps them out.
Locks (2): Wichita State, Creighton.
On the bubble: None.
Locks (1): Temple.
On the bubble (4): Saint Louis, Xavier, UMass, Dayton.
Saint Louis (22-5 overall, 10-3 conference, RPI 22, SOS 86): It’s going to be really hard to keep the Billikens out, barring a total meltdown. In fact, given the favorable closing schedule, it’s more likely they’ll win out heading into the conference tournament.
Xavier (17-10 overall, 8-5 conference, RPI 53, SOS 48): The losses are starting to pile up on Xavier, the last coming in fairly convincing fashion at UMass. The Musketeers are going to need a good performance in the conference tournament, at minimum. Right now they’re just 2-6 against the RPI top 50 and 6-9 against the top 100.
UMass (19-8 overall, 8-5 conference, RPI 81, SOS 147): UMass doesn’t have as strong a profile as you’d like to see from a bubble team, but it has beaten Saint Louis, Xavier and Saint Joseph’s with opportunities on the road coming up against Dayton and Temple. Obviously if they lose both, the Minutemen won’t get any at-large love, but for the moment they have a pulse.
Dayton (17-10 overall, 7-6 conference, RPI 66, SOS 58): This is a strange team. The Flyers have wins over Minnesota, Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Temple and Xavier, but also some horrific losses (Jan. 28 to 5-23 Rhode Island, for example). Winning out is a requirement at this point, though the schedule sets up to do just that. Dayton is still in it.
Locks (1): Gonzaga.
On the bubble (2): Saint Mary’s, BYU.
Saint Mary’s (24-5 overall, 13-2 conference, RPI 39, SOS 121): The Gaels can basically move into lock status if they take care of their final regular-season game Saturday at San Francisco. It won’t be easy, though, since San Francisco knocked off Gonzaga last Saturday.
BYU (23-7 overall, 11-4 conference, RPI 46, SOS 91): The Cougars went 1-3 against the league’s top two teams, and they should get one more shot at Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga in the conference tournament semifinals. BYU might make the tournament anyway, but that win would lock it up.
On the bubble (2): Memphis, Southern Miss.
Memphis (20-8 overall, 10-3 conference, RPI 26, SOS 23): The Tigers steadied themselves with a win over East Carolina on Wednesday and took over first place in the C-USA race. There aren’t any gimmes in the closing stretch, however, starting Saturday at Marshall. Memphis has the talent to close out the league title and lock in an at-large bid, but it will have to earn it.
Southern Miss (22-6 overall, 9-4 conference, RPI 16, SOS 50): The state of Texas wasn’t kind to the Golden Eagles, who lost consecutively at Houston and UTEP to fall out of first place in the league. Their at-large bid is in some peril, too, despite the lofty RPI. They can’t lose to either Rice or SMU at home over the next two.
Murray State (27-1 overall, 14-1 conference, RPI 33, SOS 198): With just one regular-season game left, 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, 10-1 conference, RPI 56, SOS 150): Losing its Bracketbuster game at Iona isn’t a bad loss, but from an at-large perspective was pretty damaging. The record is impressive, but there’s just not much heft to the non-conference resume.
Harvard (22-3 overall, 9-1 conference, RPI 38, SOS 193): The Crimson seems unlikely to need an at-large, since the Ivy’s automatic bid goes to the regular-season champion. Still, they haven’t locked it up yet and will need to beat primary rival Penn once more on Feb. 25.
Middle Tennessee (25-4 overall, 14-1 conference, RPI 43, SOS 173): This is a quality team that nobody will want to face in the NCAA tournament, but it unfortunately lacks a strong at-large profile. The Blue Raiders need to take care of business against Western Kentucky on Saturday and get to the final of the Sun Belt tournament. That might be enough if they happen to lose in the championship game.
Long Beach State (20-7 overall, 13-0 conference, RPI 34, SOS 97): Losing a large second-half lead at Creighton in Saturday’s Bracketbuster game is a tough blow to the at-large resume. Still, it’s hard to find many bubble teams better than this one, which beat Xavier and Pittsburgh early in the season. But will the committee see it the same way if it comes to that?
Drexel (24-5 overall, 15-2 conference, RPI 75, SOS 249): The Dragons have won 15 in a row in the Colonial race and appear poised to win the regular-season title over George Mason and 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.
VCU (24-6 overall, 14-3 conference, RPI 68, SOS 199): 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. If they can win their last regular-season game against George Mason and get to the final of the Colonial tournament, there’s at least a chance the committee will give them a look.
Oral Roberts (25-5, 16-1 conference, RPI 45, SOS 172): Given this team’s dominance over the Summit League, it probably won’t need an at-large. But just in case, Oral Roberts has pretty solid credentials and a 4-3 record against the RPI top 100. It belongs in the field regardless.