Bubble Watch: March 6

Ugh… now that I have recovered from Duke losing to UNC, let’s talk about the bubble. This weekend offered plenty of excellent matchups, and did not disappoint. Plenty of locks, plenty of big wins, crushing losses, serving as an excellent warmup to conference tournament season. At this point it’s final exam time, and games this late will have more weight, fair or not. Let’s see who aced, who scrapped by, and who failed.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Locks: North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech

Should be in: Wake Forest

Work left to do: Syracuse

Alas, in the matchup between two bubble teams, one had to lose and to be knocked off the bubble, and Georgia Tech was the unfortunate victim. Andrew White III blitzed them for 40 points and Cuse cruised to a needed 90-61 win. While Georgia Tech still has excellent wins, their 90s RPI number is too much to overcome, as well as the 14 losses. It’s still been a better season than expected, and Josh Pastner took a well-earned ACC Coach of the Year award. But the result will have to be the NIT, at least for now.

Wake Forest (18-12, 9-9) RPI: 28 SOS: 13 KP: 30

In one week, Wake Forest tripled their number of Top 50 wins. They followed up their stunning win over Louisville with a convincing road win over Virginia Tech 89-84. The great schedule numbers were always there, now Wake is getting the quality wins at the right time. John Collins earned a well-deserved All-ACC first team selection and had a legit argument for ACC Player of the Year. They’re not a lock because Boston College is their first round opponent, and a loss to them would be a death blow. But considering where this team was a week ago, this is a huge step up.

Syracuse (18-13, 10-8) RPI: 80 SOS: 61 KP: 44

The week off proved to be key for the Orange. Their obliteration of Georgia Tech exacted revenge for a February 19 loss, and kept them from playing on Tuesday in the ACC tournament. This team is very similar to last year’s: underachieving with some baffling losses and big wins. Of course, last year’s team snuck into the tournament and made it to the Final Four, so it’s not the worse position to be in. Syracuse opens with Miami in the ACC tournament. A win their gives them a massive opportunity in North Carolina. This team isn’t safe but has to feel pretty good.


Big Ten Conference

Locks: Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern

Should be in: Michigan

Work left to do: Michigan State

Hanging on for dear life: Iowa

As I said last time, a loss to Rutgers ends bubble hopes very quickly. Unfortunately, Illinois showed that’s the case. Their 62-59 loss was very close and featured an absurd go-ahead three, but still was a loss to Rutgers. If they win a couple games in the Big 10 tournament, the Illini have a shot to get back on the sheet. But that’s a big if.

Michigan (20-11, 10-8) RPI: 46 SOS: 40 KP: 25

That’s how to play against non-tournament teams. Michigan took on Nebraska on Sunday and throttled them 93-57, taking out all the frustration from the Northwestern loss. Winning 6 of their last 8 have put the Wolverines in an excellent position, and metrics show this is a dangerous team. Winning their first game against Illinois would put Michigan up against Purdue, which offers no downside. Beating the Illini will lock them in.

Michigan State (18-13, 10-8) RPI: 47 SOS: 9 KP: 50

That was a heck of a shot by Melo Trimble, wasn’t it? Unfortunately, the result is a 63-60 loss to Maryland for the Spartans, who dropped their last two games. This team is still in relatively good position, with excellent schedule numbers and only one bad loss (Northeastern). But a loss to Nebraska or Penn State in the Big 10 tournament will put this team on thin ice.

Iowa (18-13, 10-8) RPI: 69 SOS: 46 KP: 65

Winning three straight games has gotten Iowa on this page. Their losses to Memphis and Omaha still aren’t pretty, but the non-conference win over Iowa State looks great, and five Top 50 wins is more than a lot of teams on the bubble. Peter Jok has done a great job carrying an otherwise mediocre team to this point. This is a very tenuous position, and losing to Indiana on Thursday will end their hopes. But win a couple games in the Big 10 tournament, and who knows?

Big 12 Conference

Locks: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Iowa State

Work left to do: Kansas State

The bubble has not shifted much, but there was still some fun action in the conference. The Big 12 tournament might be the most insane of the week.

Kansas State (19-12, 8-10) RPI: 58 SOS: 54 KP: 35

The 61-48 win over Texas Tech was nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. Heading into the Big 12 tournament with a little momentum was a necessity for these Wildcats, who have only three Top 50 wins. Fortunately, the tournament gives them many a chance to add quality wins, starting with Baylor on Thursday.

Pac-12 Conference

Locks: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA

Work left to do: USC

Hanging on for dear life: California

This week was quite something for the Pac 12 bubble, and not in a good way. It’s a bummer, because they’re top 3 teams are legit contenders, but will be penalized in the seeding because of the weakness of the conference.

USC (23-8, 10-8) RPI: 38 SOS: 77 KP: 59

Part two is complete. USC handled a Markelle Fultz-less Washington 74-58 to close out the season with back to back wins. This resume is solid, and is particularly good at avoiding losses. Losing the rematch to Washington in the Pac 12 tournament ends the dream, but winning gives them a game against UCLA, offering no downside.

California (19-11, 10-8) RPI: 55 SOS: 36 KP: 55

This was a chance for California to grab some momentum. Instead, for the second straight game they scored under 50 points in a 54-46 loss to Colorado, who’s RPI is around the 100 mark. There are no quality wins on this resume except for USC, and there’s now a second sub-100 loss. They need to win at least two games in the Pac 12 tournament to even have a shot at the NCAAs.


Southeastern Conference

Locks: Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas

Work left to do: Vanderbilt

Well unfortunately Georgia did fall to Arkansas, so their stay on the bubble was very brief. But we do have a new bubble team, a team that may be able to defy history.

Vanderbilt (17-14, 10-8) RPI: 44 SOS: 3 KP: 40

Hello Vanderbilt, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. A 73-71 win over Florida puts Vandy back on the page, as they now own a sweep over them. This team has great schedule numbers, and 5 Top 50 wins. They also have 14 losses, which is the most a team has had for an at-large bid, one of which was a 20-point loss to Missouri. But if they make a run to the SEC semifinals, they have a legit chance to make history.


Big East Conference

Locks: Villanova, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall

Should be in: Marquette, Providence

Work left to do: Xavier

You know how I said a win over Butler wouldn’t lock Seton Hall in? I lied. A 68-64 win at Butler gave the Pirates a 20-10 record, 10-8 in conference, and wins in their last 4 games. With their first opponent being Marquette, a loss there wouldn’t hurt their resume too badly. The Pirates are getting in.

Xavier (18-12, 8-9) RPI: 31 SOS: 8 KP: 46

For those wondering why locks are not handed out easily, Xavier is why. Everyone knew this team would struggle without Edmond Sumner, but six straight losses was beyond anyone’s comprehension. The latest loss, a 95-84 home loss on Senior Day to Marquette, showcases an inability to defend in addition to offensive struggles. The strong start should help, but the committee has shown that they will evaluate a team as they are, not how they were, which does not help the Musketeers out in the slightest. A win at DePaul on Saturday is now a necessity.

Marquette (19-11, 10-8) RPI: 56 SOS: 57 KP: 28

This team still can’t defend much, but they can sure score. A 91-83 win over Creighton gives Marquette 8 Top 50 wins, one of the best totals on the bubble. They’ve won 4 of their last 5, and still own that phenomenal win over Villanova. A loss to Seton Hall on Thursday would still leave them in good position, although it would take a little sweating on Selection Sunday. If they beat Seton Hall, that leaves them with a no-lose situation against Villanova. They’d be a lock with a win on Thursday.

Providence (20-11, 10-8) RPI: 52 SOS: 50 KP: 53

And that’s two bottom feeders taken care of. Providence took care of St. John’s 86-75, earning more redemption. This team owns six straight victories, making an amazing comeback onto the bubble and earning the number 3 seed in the Big East tournament. A loss to Creighton would still leave them in a strong position. But a win would lock the Friars in, an improbable statement as recently as a month ago.

American Athletic Conference

Locks: Cincinnati, SMU

Alas, it is time to say au revoir to Houston. If they had put up more of a fight they’d still be on the bubble, but losing 65-47 in a game that was not that close ultimately does the Cougars in. If they upset one of the top two teams in the AAC tournament they could get back on the page, but for now they are gone.

Atlantic-10 Conference

Locks: VCU, Dayton

Work left to do: Rhode Island

Nothing new, but this conference does have some exciting games in the A-10 tournament coming up.

Rhode Island (21-9, 13-5) RPI: 42 SOS: 55 KP: 51

They made it close, but Rhode Island survived Davidson 73-70 in overtime to finish with 5 straight wins. As other bubble teams kept falling, the Rams have been steady, and now could legitimately get in as an at-large. A loss to anyone not Dayton or VCU in the conference tournament ends those hopes, but a win over one of them might actually get them in. It all depends on the rest of the bubble.


Locks: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Wichita State

Should be in, but can’t do anymore: Illinois State

Work left to do: Middle Tennessee

Hanging on for dear life: Nevada

Out of all the bubble teams, Wichita State is the easiest lock to make. A 71-51 win over Illinois State on Sunday gave the Shockers the MVC Championship, giving them an auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. Whatever 1 or 2 seed that gets them in the second round is in trouble. On the other hand, UT-Arlington’s loss to UL-Lafayette ends their bubble hopes. They’ll have to win the Sun Belt tournament to get in the NCAAs.

Illinois State (27-6, 17-1) RPI: 36 SOS: 155 KP: 49

This paragraph will not change the rest of the week. The Redbirds cannot do anymore to help their hopes. They have 1 Top 50 win, and an ugly loss to Murray State. None of that can change. They are completely dependent on the rest of the bubble. The NCAA committee tends to not favor mid-major at-larges, which does not bode well and I think is rather unfair. But with the collapse of many bubble teams already, there is still a shot for Illinois State.

Middle Tennessee (27-4, 17-1) RPI: 39 SOS: 160 KP: 52

Middle Tennessee crushed Florida Atlantic 93-59, but the big story was Reggie Upshaw being surprised on Senior Day by his brother, who’s in the army and had been on deployment. Have I ever mentioned I really love Senior Day? With seven straight wins, the Raiders are in strong position. A loss before the championship game would end their hopes, but they’ve built up a solid enough resume to survive a surprise loss in the championship game.

Nevada (25-6, 14-4) RPI: 34 SOS: 149 KP: 57

Beating Colorado State 85-72 gave the Wolfpack the outright MWC title. This resume still does not have a single Top 50 win, and the conference tournament does not give them any chances to change that. They might be able to make it if it’s a close loss in the championship game, but anything before that and they’re done.


If you’ve read this far, thank you. I am amazed at your reading skills and patience. I’ll be doing this article every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until Selection Sunday.

Mark Stouffer
Senior at Purdue studying Statistics. Also a life long Duke fan.

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