Well this weekend was fun. Not for me personally, Duke lost, UNC won, and Purdue lost. But this weekend was a crazy fun weekend on the bubble. Where some teams locked up their spots and others saw their positions border on dangerous. Every bubble team played like their lives depended on it, and the results definitely show. Let’s show great appreciation for teams that locked up their spots in the tournament, and wish better luck next year for the teams that fell.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Locks: North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami
Should be in: Virginia Tech
Work left to do: Syracuse, Wake Forest
Hanging on for dear life: Georgia Tech
One the one hand, Miami is in. Their 55-50 win over Duke was not pretty, but the result was beautiful for the Canes (even if I didn’t care for it). Miami has a combination of size and experience, with a zone thrown in that can befuddle even the best offensive teams (ask UNC and Duke). On the other hand, we bid farewell to Clemson, who once again put up a tremendous fight against a top opponent in Florida State, but fell just short 76-74 after a last attempt fell off the iron. The loss drops them to 14-14 with a 4-12 conference record. If almost wins counted, Clemson would be in great shape. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and Jaron Blossomgame will have to settle for ending his excellent career in the NIT.
Virginia Tech (20-8, 9-7) RPI: 38 SOS: 88 KP: 42
Trailing at halftime is not an optimal position for a bubble team. But that is right where Virginia Tech found themselves on Saturday. Fortunately, Virginia Tech stayed white hot, shooting 67% in a 91-75 win. This team has won four of five after Chris Clarke’s injury, with only a very understandable loss to Louisville being a blemish. A win over either Miami or Wake Forest this week will lock the Hokies in.
Syracuse (17-13, 9-8) RPI: 75 SOS: 48 KP: 51
A post-Duke hangover was inevitable for the Orange, and fortunately they didn’t lose to anyone embarrassing as a result. An 88-68 loss isn’t pretty, but it’s far from the worst loss that could’ve happened. The bad losses haven’t gone away, but the great wins still shine bright, and in a week where some bubble teams lost some mind boggling games (see below) the Orange retained their standing. They don’t play again until Saturday against Georgia Tech. The loser of that game probably gets knocked off the bubble, so having a week to prepare will be huge for the Orange.
Wake Forest (16-12, 7-9) RPI: 44 SOS: 24 KP: 33
Every metric wants to love Wake Forest. Both RPI and KenPom think this is a solid team, with good metrics and tremendous schedule numbers. There’s only one thing this resume is lacking: wins. Wake Forest is 0-8 against RPI Top 25 teams, and their only Top 50 win was a January home win over Miami. They almost got a resume defining with over Duke twice, but the Blue Devils escaped both times. A March 1 home game vs Louisville presents a tremendous opportunity to get the resume defining win. But losses in their last two games will probably do the Deacons in.
Georgia Tech (16-13, 7-9) RPI: 93 SOS: 51 KP: 77
So close. The Yellow Jackets had Notre Dame on the ropes, cutting it to three with 50 seconds left. Unfortunately for them, the Irish pulled it off, and the Yellow Jackets now have a 90s RPI, which is the very unlikely zone for at-large teams to get in, even with wins over North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Florida State. Games against Pittsburgh and Syracuse are both winnable and dangerous, and with the precedent of 15 losses, the Jackets will most likely have to win both to stay on the bubble.
Big Ten Conference
Locks: Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota
Should be in: Maryland, Michigan State
Work left to do: Northwestern, Michigan
Not much has changed here. Michigan State and Michigan pulled off huge wins, while Northwestern and Maryland suffered very unfortunate losses, but no teams earned lock status or fell off the bubble. This week will probably see teams lock up their spots, and this league still has potential to put in seven teams in the tournament.
Maryland (22-7, 10-6) RPI: 28 SOS: 45 KP: 46
The loss on Wednesday to Minnesota isn’t fun, but by no means hurts their resume. The loss to Iowa, on the other hand, does. 83-69 at home, and it was not that close. The loss will probably knock Maryland down an entire seed line in the long run, and raises concern over their long term stay in the Big Dance. But the concern won’t start unless they lose to Rutgers on Wednesday. A win will still lock the Terrapins in.
Michigan State (18-11, 10-6) RPI: 40 SOS: 14 KP: 50
Senior day brings out the best in teams, and Michigan State is no exception. The 84-74 win over Wisconsin on Senior Day not only showcased tremendous ability, but one of the best moments of the season. Eron Harris, who is out for the season with a knee injury, checked in on the last play and kissed the logo at the buzzer. Amazing stuff. Michigan State has shown remarkable resilience this season, and a win over Illinois on Wednesday will lock the Spartans in.
Northwestern (20-9, 9-7) RPI: 50 SOS: 76 KP: 36
Ouch. The Wildcats gave up 22 straight points against Indiana, and still almost won. But the 63-62 loss puts the Wildcats on dangerously thin ice. While Scottie Lindsay is still recovering from an illness, this is still not a good stretch for a team that looks to be gassed. Games against Michigan and Purdue to close out the season are both winnable. But if both are dropped, Northwestern will have to win a game in the Big 10 tournament to avoid the NIT.
Michigan (19-10, 9-7) RPI: 46 SOS: 36 KP: 27
Now that is how a bubble team is supposed to play. Michigan throttled first place Purdue at home 82-70 in a game that was not that close, and now boasts wins over the top two teams in the Big 10, in addition to a great non-conference win over SMU. Games against Northwestern and Nebraska remain, and for a team that has won 5 of their last 6, this has been a remarkable run. Wins over both teams will render the Big 10 tournament as inconsequential for the Wolverines.
Big 12 Conference
Locks: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Iowa State
Should be in: None
Work left to do: Kansas State, TCU
It’s a two for one special in the Big 12. Not one, but two locks for the conference. Oklahoma State handled Texas Tech and kept up their pace as the hottest team in the country. For a team to lose six straight to start conference play, that’s truly remarkable. Iowa State makes the rare jump from work left to do to lock, but that’s what a win over Baylor will do. They now own another great win to pair with the one over Kansas, and with games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia remaining, they have only great opportunities remaining.
Kansas State (17-12, 6-10) RPI: 67 SOS: 53 KP: 37
The one thing that could be said about Kansas State was they had not lost a bad game. Saturday at 10-18 Oklahoma changed that. 81-51. That’s not a typo. Undoubtedly the worst loss for a bubble team, Kansas State has lost 8 of its last 10, and has gone from safe to on the edge of the bubble. With games against TCU and Texas Tech remaining, losses to both will knock them off, and they still probably need to win a game in the Big 12 tournament to secure themselves in.
TCU (17-12, 6-10) RPI: 60 SOS: 23 KP: 40
So close. TCU had West Virginia on the ropes, but ultimately fell 61-60 on a free throw with 5 seconds left. This resume is looking skinny down the stretch, with no bad losses but only one win over a lock team in the Big 12 (Iowa State). With games against Kansas State and Oklahoma remaining, there are no really good opportunities remaining in conference play. TCU could probably still get in with a 2-0 finish and losing their first game in the conference tournament. But doing some damage there would probably be a good idea.
Locks: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA
Should be in: None
Work left to do: California, USC
What a win for UCLA. Their 67-62 win over Arizona served as one of the best games of the weekend, and showed that Lonzo Ball’s team is for real (even if his dad has a big mouth). For the rest of the conference, it was a mixed bag. The Pac 12 will probably get a fourth team in, but it will be close.
California (19-9, 10-6) RPI: 51 SOS: 39 KP: 48
A loss to Oregon State would have been a death knell. But Cal left nothing up to chance, crushing the Beavers 76-46. At this point loss prevention is a necessity at this point, as Cal is playing their way to a bye in the Pac 12 tournament. Splitting with Colorado and Utah will still leave them safe, and Ivan Rabb and company will get a redemptive shot in the tourney.
USC (21-8, 8-8) RPI: 36 SOS: 62 KP: 68
For a team that is one of the luckiest in the nation, the sequence of events at the end of their loss to 139 Arizona State was a reversal of fortune. USC held an 82-76 lead with 35 seconds left, only to watch it go bye-bye and fall 83-82. In spite of the RPI inflation that looks so good to the committee, the four straight losses have definitely left a sour taste. Wins over Washington State and Washington are necessary to stay safe.
Locks: Kentucky, Florida
Should be in: South Carolina, Arkansas
Work left to do: None
Hanging on for dear life: Vanderbilt
Business as usual for the SEC. None of the teams changed their standing too much, and all the games were blowouts. But we will probably get another lock soon.
South Carolina (21-8, 11-5) RPI: 30 SOS: 43 KP: 28
The bleeding finally stopped. South Carolina crushed Tennessee 82-55 on Saturday, not a given in Saturday’s craziness. The non-conference is much stronger than last year, with wins over Michigan and Monmouth, meaning that the Gamecocks will be less likely to fall victim to a Selection Sunday surprise. A win over Mississippi State on Wednesday will lock them in.
Arkansas (22-7, 11-5) RPI: 29 SOS: 69 KP: 41
The win over Auburn isn’t great, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. Not much has changed for Arkansas, who’s computer numbers look solid. The wins over South Carolina and Texas-Arlington are still there, as well as the loss to Missouri. A win over Florida will lock them in, and even if they don’t win, it will be a shock if they don’t get in.
Vanderbilt (16-13, 9-7) RPI: 47 SOS: 3 KP: 43
This is where strength of schedule is everything. Vanderbilt normally shouldn’t even be considered, but that #3 SOS gives them a case to be in. The road win over Florida still looks great. But they also own a loss to Missouri, and that hurts things quite a bit. They have games remaining against both Kentucky and Florida, and with historical precedent showing 15 losses=no NCAA tournament, a loss to both teams will end Vanderbilt’s journey to the tourney.
Big East Conference
Locks: Villanova, Butler, Creighton
Should be in: Xavier
Work left to do: Seton Hall, Marquette, Providence
Not much shifted on the bubble, but this was a very entertaining week for the Big East. Providence and Marquette duked it out, and the league’s seven team potential is still very much there. Meanwhile, the slide of Xavier continues, and this week will make a great prelude to the Big East Tournament.
Xavier (18-11, 8-8) RPI: 27 SOS: 10 KP: 39
A loss to Butler is fine in a vacuum, but it is the fifth straight loss for the Musketeers, who have really suffered without Edmond Sumner. Their hot start continues to carry the weight of the resume, and they still are comfortably in if the season ended today. But it does not. A loss to Marquette doesn’t knock them out, but DePaul on Saturday is now a must win for Xavier.
Seton Hall (18-10, 8-8) RPI: 48 SOS: 55 KP: 57
It was closer than expected, but Seton Hall avoided the DePaul landmine 82-79. This team has won 5 of its last 7, and while the Xavier win has lost a little luster, the Creighton win has not. A loss to Georgetown would not destroy this team’s chances, and the path to tournament redemption is looking more and more likely. Just as long as they don’t play Gonzaga again.
Marquette (17-11, 8-8) RPI: 69 SOS: 67 KP: 32
Well, on the bright side, a loss to Providence is no longer embarrassing. But it still would’ve been nice to pull off a win in the bubble clash. As such, the 73-69 puts Marquette barely in the tournament, and with the rapidly shifting bubble, the Golden Eagles’ lack of defense puts them in a precarious position. Splitting against Xavier and Creighton would put them in much better position, losses to both means winning a game in the Big East tournament is a necessity.
Providence (18-11, 8-8) RPI: 53 SOS: 34 KP: 56
Providence is in a weird position. The win over Marquette puts them on the right side of the bubble, in a remarkable turnaround that only rivals Oklahoma State. On the other hand, their remaining games against DePaul and St. John’s are both potential resume destroyers. If they win both, a win in the Big East Tournament might not be a necessity. A loss to one means being swept by a Big East bottom-feeder, and that would be a hard selection to justify.
American Athletic Conference
Locks: Cincinnati, SMU
Hanging on for dear life: Houston
Let’s welcome SMU to the lock fray. The resume may not have many marquee wins, but there is not a single bad loss on there. Even if they drop both of their remaining games, they have fewer bad losses than the rest of the bubble. Plus, with Cincinnati’s stunning loss to Central Florida, SMU is now in first place in the AAC. Lock them in.
Houston (20-8, 11-5) RPI: 54 SOS: 73 KP: 38
A 72-71 win over Memphis was harder than it should be, but Houston will take it, no matter how close it is. This team is still sitting solid at third place in the AAC, and has a great chance against Cincinnati on Thursday to fortify their chances. It’s still a longshot but Houston is not dead.
Locks: VCU, Dayton
Work left to do: Rhode Island
It looked like Dayton might have to wait a bit to get locked in, as they trailed by 13 against Davidson in the second half. But Dayton rallied back, and Scoochie Smith took over in overtime to lead the Flyers to a win. A March 1 battle with VCU will decide first place, but not who gets in. There’s room for both of them.
Rhode Island (19-9, 11-5) RPI: 42 SOS: 42 KP: 53
The necessary win was taken. Saturday’s win over VCU gives Rhode Island some much needed life on the bubble. The win over Cincinnati still looks really good, and this team is looking like the A-10 contenders they were expected to be. Any loss not to VCU or Dayton will end those chances. But there is life for the Rams.
Locks: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s
Should be in: Wichita State
Work left to do: Middle Tennessee, Illinois State
Hanging on for dear life: Texas-Arlington, Nevada
Major props to BYU for ending Gonzaga’s undefeated run. They fought tooth and nail and executed perfectly down the stretch. But don’t let that distract you from the fact this is the best Gonzaga team Mark Few has had, and will still do damage in the NCAA tournament.
Wichita State (26-4, 16-1) RPI: 41 SOS: 190 KP: 10
This is when metrics really come in handy. Wichita State has an awful schedule, with only 5 Top 150 wins. But the metrics show that they have dominated everyone, and there is not a single bad loss on the resume. Beating Missouri State was old hat for the Shockers. One win in the MVC tournament and they are in.
Middle Tennessee (25-4, 15-1) RPI: 32 SOS: 126 KP: 44
The win over Vanderbilt looks nice, but there is no margin of error for the Raiders. There is no other team in Conference USA that has an RPI above 100, and each game is a landmine. It will probably have to take a sweep to the conference championship game for the Raiders to be safe, thanks to losses to Georgia State, Tennessee State, and UTEP (ugh). At this point it’s all about loss prevention, and judging by their 15-1 conference record, Middle Tennessee has done well.
Illinois State (25-5, 17-1) RPI: 35 SOS: 161 KP: 45
Illinois State has done a similar job to Wichita State avoiding losses like the plague. But they haven’t done that resoundingly, with their past four wins being by a combined sixteen points. The ugly losses to Tulsa and Murray State considerably reduce the margin of error for the Redbirds. A trip to the Missouri Valley Championship game will probably have to happen for the Redbirds’ at-large hopes.
Texas-Arlington (22-6, 12-3) RPI: 34 SOS: 138 KP: 73
The difficult part of being a mid-major is not losing to your conference opponents. The three losses for UTA include losses to Texas State and Troy, both hovering around the 200 mark. The only reason the Mavericks have at-large hopes is a nice road win over St. Mary’s. But one loss will knock them off the bubble.
Nevada (23-6, 12-4) RPI: 43 SOS: 158 KP: 63
Unlike other conferences, the Mountain West can’t blame conference realignment too much for their downfall. All the programs have kind of fallen off the cliff. As a result, Nevada is their only at-large contender, and barely. Wins over Boise State (x2) are the best ones on their resume. It would take a miraculous bubble burst for Nevada to sneak in to the at-large field.
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.