Now that was more like it. Duke won, UNC lost, and Purdue won the Big 10. But it was a fun couple of days for the bubble as well, as we have quite a few locks to give out this week. This is always one of my favorite parts of the watch because not only does the picture get more clear, but I don’t have to type as much. Now that we are in March, it only gets more fun. Without further ado, here is your March 1 Bubble Watch.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Locks: North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech
Work left to do: Syracuse, Wake Forest
Hanging on for dear life: Georgia Tech
Let’s go ahead and give a lock welcome to Virginia Tech. Winners of five of their last six, this team secured yet another win over a tournament team by beating Miami on Monday. With the win over Michigan looking better and better, and only one bad loss (NC State), the Hokies will get in. I think this means Buzz Williams is a better coach for Virginia Tech than Seth Greenburg already.
Syracuse (17-13, 9-8) RPI: 76 SOS: 50 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 to Louisville 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: 45 SOS: 25 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 (17-13, 8-9) RPI: 89 SOS: 55 KP: 76
Part one of two is complete for the Yellow Jackets. Against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the Yellow Jackets hung tough and played excellent defense to win 61-52. The high 80s RPI is still very concerning, as no team has received an at-large berth with an RPI that high. The big wins over UNC, Florida State, Notre Dame, and VCU are still there though, and that’s more than a lot of bubble teams can say. But a loss on Saturday to Syracuse will probably end their bubble hopes.
Big Ten Conference
Locks: Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland
Should be in: Michigan State
Work left to do: Northwestern, Michigan
Hanging on for dear life: Illinois
There was always danger that a home Iowa loss could start a tailspin. But a road win over Rutgers is just what the doctor ordered for Maryland. As a result, with good computer numbers, good wins over Oklahoma State and Minnesota, and no more chances at a bad loss, Maryland is a lock. Not much has changed for the other three, but come Friday, that will not be the case. But we do have one new addition.
Michigan State (18-11, 10-6) RPI: 40 SOS: 12 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: 80 KP: 37
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.
Illinois (17-12, 7-9) RPI: 56 SOS: 15 KP: 64
Ah, what the heck? Illinois hasn’t been on anyone’s radar since being swept by Penn State (yikes). But they do own wins over VCU and Michigan, and a sweep over Northwestern. They also don’t have any bad losses and only 8 games against RPI sub-150 opponents. If they lose to Michigan State on Wednesday they’re gone, but hey, a small shot is better than none at all.
Big 12 Conference
Locks: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Iowa State
Should be in: None
Work left to do: Kansas State, TCU
Nothing has changed for the Big 12 bubble. It was still a fun couple of days though. Kansas almost lost to Oklahoma, Baylor took down West Virginia, and Iowa State won a great game against Oklahoma State. This conference is still a lot of fun, even if the bubble teams have been struggling.
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
The Pac-12 teams don’t play much during the first part of the week, so nothing new here.
California (19-9, 10-6) RPI: 51 SOS: 37 KP: 47
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: 38 SOS: 61 KP: 67
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, South Carolina, Arkansas
This is where the bubble saw the most change. On one hand, we can lock both South Carolina and Arkansas up. South Carolina didn’t blow out Mississippi State but they didn’t have to. Getting the win was enough. One of the country’s best defenses finally has an offense to go with it, and with a good non-conference strength of schedule, the Gamecocks are in. Arkansas doesn’t have as great of a resume, but with no potential bad losses left, and only 7 losses in total, the solidness of the resume is enough. There is a chance of rescindment if they lose their first SEC tournament game, but that chance is small. On the other hand, I’m dropping Vanderbilt off the bubble. They came close, oh so close. A road win over Kentucky would’ve been amazing, and they held a 19-point lead in the first half, and were up 13 in the second half. Alas, Kentucky held on, 73-67, dropping Vanderbilt to 16-14, 9-8 in conference. They have a chance to get back on this page if they beat Florida. But for now, Vanderbilt is gone.
Big East Conference
Locks: Villanova, Butler, Creighton
Should be in: Xavier, Seton Hall
Work left to do: Marquette, Providence
No shifts here. In spite of games involving two bubble teams, no one greatly improved or lost their hopes the past couple days. The action gets really good on Wednesday with Xavier vs Marquette.
Xavier (18-11, 8-8) RPI: 26 SOS: 9 KP: 40
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 on Wednesday doesn’t knock them out, but DePaul on Saturday is now a must win for Xavier.
Seton Hall (19-10, 9-8) RPI: 48 SOS: 57 KP: 58
It was once again a bit too close for comfort, but Seton Hall hung on to beat Georgetown 62-59. The way they’ve been winning hasn’t been dominant, but in a bubble where losses happen frequently, winning is all that matters. A win at Butler wouldn’t lock the Pirates in, but as long as they get a bye in the Big East tournament, the Pirates will be fine.
Marquette (17-11, 8-8) RPI: 69 SOS: 65 KP: 33
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 (19-11, 9-8) RPI: 54 SOS: 42 KP: 56
Well that’s one bottom feeder gone. Providence dispatched DePaul 73-64, earning redemption from being stunned earlier this year. Providence has improved so much that losing to St. John’s on Saturday wouldn’t completely kill their bubble chances. And a win would likely result in the Friars finishing in the top half of the conference. They’re not safe by any definition, but wow what a turnaround.
American Athletic Conference
Locks: Cincinnati, SMU
Hanging on for dear life: Houston
Literally no one has played from the AAC in the past couple days. Nothing new to report.
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
Nothing new here. But turn to CBS Sports Network at 8 on Wednesday to see VCU and Dayton duke it out for first place.
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
Nothing new here, but if you’re wondering why Monmouth and Vermont, winners of 34 straight games combined, aren’t on here, unfortunately it relies entirely on schedule. Monmouth owns one Top-100 win (Princeton), and KenPom has them at 79. Vermont has no Top-100 wins, and a KenPom rating of 69. Those numbers just aren’t enough for a resume. It’s a bummer because there should be more variety, and these teams have won the games they’re supposed to. But instead, we have to root for these teams in their conference tournaments.
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.