Bubble Talk

Bubble Talk highlights the teams currently on the NCAA Bubble, teams that have locked up spots in the Field of 68, and teams that Should Be In but are not yet locks at the time of the update. RPI and SOS/NC-SOS data is credited to Warren Nolan. SOR (Strength of Record). Data credited to ESPN.

UPDATED: March 3, 2017 | 10:45 p.m. (ET)

Have you ever spun a top and watched it dance around before falling over? That’s kind of what our bubble picture is like. Spin, swirl, and glide around until toppling, only to repeat the process again and again. A month ago it looked like Championship Week might well determine the final few spots in the bracket. It looks like that theory still holds. With that, let’s go …

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (32): None – will be determined during Championship Week.

  • Projected Locks (27): Teams projected to earn an at-large bid, if necessary.
  • Should Be In (7): Teams that should be in based on the current at-large landscape.
  • Bubble: (25): Teams who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection but who’s outcome is uncertain.
Atlantic 10
It’s time to lock Dayton into this year’s Field of 68. With an A-10 title, the Flyers will be Dancing. We’ll see if VCU can hold on and whether or not Rhode Island can sustain its late momentum.

Locks: Dayton

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Rhode Island, VCU

  • Rhode Island | RPI: 43 | SOS: 61 | SOR: 58 | URI got it’s must-needed win at home against VCU and then took care of St. Joseph’s. They close with Davidson. Get that one and we’ll see how the A10 tourney unfolds next week.
  • VCU | RPI: 23 | SOS: 64 | SOR: 43 | For all of its positives, VCU’s light number (2) of Top 50 wins (Dayton, Middle Tennessee) is a sticking point, along with a loss to Fordham. Next up, they need to take care of George Mason. The Rams may be okay, but their resume isn’t as strong as their RPI suggests. VCU still needs to seal the deal.
For all practical purposes, Virginia Tech and Miami are in the field. Why not lock them in? In Tech’s case, it’s an NC SOS approaching 300. Miami’s is a little better (250ish) but still a bit squeamish. Both should wrap things up this weekend, but let’s be 100 percent sure they do.

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

Should Be In: Virginia Tech, Miami-FL

Bubble: Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Wake Forest

  • Georgia Tech | RPI: 92 | SOS: 55 | SOR: 55 | The numbers are starting to work against the Yellow Jackets despite their quality wins at home. Their RPI is hovering around 90 and their non-conference SOS is in the 260-ish range. Neither of those bodes well for a bubble team. Let’s see if they can fix the former.
  • Syracuse | RPI: 80 | SOS: 46 | SOR: 53 | As big as the win over Duke was for the Orange, it wasn’t, in and of itself, a bid-sealer. After falling at Louisville, the Orange finish with Georgia Tech at home. With 13 losses on their resume, the margin is tight. No team with 15 losses has ever earned an at-large bid.
  • Wake Forest | RPI: 39 | SOS: 12 | SOR: 36 | Wake got what it needed most, a marquee win, beating Louisville in Winston-Salem. We’ll see if the Deacons can carry it forward. Next up, a trip to Virginia Tech. Beating the Hokies on the road would look especially good for a team that’s had so many close losses.
Even with Cincinnati’s loss at UCF, there’s nothing new to see here. If the AAC is going to earn a third bid it will likely require someone other than Cincy or SMU to win the automatic bid.

Locks: Cincinnati, SMU

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Houston

  • Houston | RPI: 53 | SOS: 72 | SOR: 61 | The Cougars lost at Cincinnati Wednesday and now hold an 0-4 mark against the two teams above them in league play. With a marginal resume, that probably not good enough. We’ll keep them here, but Houston probably needs to win the league’s automatic bid.
Creighton is going to make it, so let’s go ahead and lock in the Bluejays. Xavier is an opposite story. The Musketeers have dropped six straight, including two straight at home (Butler, Marquette). Point guard Edwin Sumner isn’t coming back and the Committee will have to account for his absence. The first step toward correcting its trajectory is winning at DePaul this weekend.

Locks: Villanova, Butler, Creighton

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Xavier

  • Marquette | RPI: 57 | SOS: 57 | SOR: 47 | Marquette got a road win at reeling Xavier this week and closes at home against Creighton. Win that and the Golden Eagles ride into the Big East tournament with a little extra momentum. With nine Top 100 wins, including a win over Villanova, the path for Marquette is improving.
  • Providence | RPI: 54 | SOS: 38 | SOR: 44 | It’s amazing what a five-game winning streak can do, right? During their current span, the Friars have successive wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton, and Marquette. Their final hurdle is a trip to St. John’s this weekend. The Friars already have three bad losses – St. John’s, Boston College, DePaul – adding a fourth would be less than ideal.
  • Seton Hall | RPI: 49 | SOS: 51 | SOR: 35 | The Pirates continue to stand pat, having taken care of Georgetown and DePaul. Up next, a chance to earn a marquee victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
  • Xavier | RPI: 32 | SOS: 7 | SOR: 37 | While their numbers still look good, we noted the issues for Xavier above. The Musketeers need to change course in a hurry. We’ll see if they can. While not obsolete, their early profile has to be evaluated against the team currently on the floor.
BIG 10
The huge sigh of relief coming from Evanston remains palpable. As the Wildcats celebrated their two-point, last-second victory over Michigan, angst about Selection Sunday began leaving the building. Unless something unexpected occurs in the next eight days, Northwestern will put on its dancing shoes for the first time.

Locks: Maryland, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Should Be In: Northwestern, Michigan

Bubble: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State

  • Illinois | RPI: 56 | SOS: 16 | SOR: 52 | What was that we said about late-season winning streaks? Oh yeah, they really help a bubble team’s profile. Work remains, but the once-forgotten Illini are squarely back in the race after beating Michigan State at home. While the Illini lack a truly marquee win, something they might still need, they do have 10 Top 100 wins on their resume and a Top 20 SOS. Next up … winning at Rutgers. That seems like a must. Then it’s off to Washington, DC.
  • Iowa | RPI: 74 | SOS: 43 | SOR: 64 | Since everyone else is joining the party, we have to include Iowa. Every team on the bubble has its flaws, so let’s talk about what gives the Hawkeyes a chance. After winning at Wisconsin on Thursday, the Hawkeyes own victories over Purdue, Maryland (road), Iowa State, and Wisconsin (road). They’ve also beaten Michigan and Ohio State. We’ll see if they can keep it going.
  • Michigan | RPI: 48 | SOS: 34 | SOR: 41 | This is precautionary. But until the Wolverines win another game, there’s a sliver of concern for a team with a 2-8 road record. Beating Purdue in Ann Arbor should lock it up, as should avoiding an early loss to open the B10 tourney.
  • Michigan State | RPI: 45 | SOS: 10 | SOR: 39 | Sparty’s loss in Champaign Wednesday should be nothing more a bump in the road. It’s hard to imagine a team with 10 Big Ten wins and 12 Top 100 victories missing the tournament. But if MSU were to lose its next two, the Spartans would finish 18-14. That could make things a little less certain for the folks in East Lansing.
  • Ohio State | RPI: 66 | SOS: 36 | SOR: 67 | The Buckeyes are further behind but close enough to add in. Hey, why not? Outside the league, they have a win over surging Providence, but also a hideous loss at home to Florida-Atlantic. It could take three more wins. Their final push begins this weekend at home against Indiana.
BIG 12
Iowa State cemented its berth in March Madness by beating Baylor on Saturday. Oklahoma State is this close, which says something about the Cowboys following an 0-6 start to Big 12 play. With Kansas State and TCU reeling, opportunities for additional league bids are slipping away.

Locks: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State

Should Be In: Oklahoma State

Bubble: Kansas State

  • Kansas State | RPI: 58 | SOS: 48 | SOR: 48 | After noting that K-State needed a strong close, the Wildcats went and lost at Oklahoma. They did rebound with a win over TCU, a victory that could have tossed the Horned Frogs to the curb. Now they get Texas Tech in advance of the Big 12 tourney. A nice little run would sure help.
It’s been a down year by Valley standards. Only two teams – Illinois State and Wichita State – are ranked in the Top 100 of the RPI. Which means the league offers little help to its contenders. Even so, the Redbirds and Shockers have separated enough to warrant at-large consideration.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Illinois State, Wichita State

  • Illinois State | RPI: 30 | SOS: 140 | SOR: 42 | A solid RPI continues to fuel the Redbirds. While their margin for error appears smaller than Wichita State’s, it gets increasingly better as other bubble teams struggle. ISU got through the MVC quarterfinals. Reaching the MVC finals is the next step.
  • Wichita State | RPI: 40 | SOS: 151 | SOR: 31 | Wichita State rolled through its MVC Quarterfinal and looks to be on a collision course with Illinois State in the tourney final. Get there and things look good for the Shockers who have been dominant since mid-January.
Unless Nevada falls in the Mountain West finale to say Colorado State or Boise State, it’s probably a one-bid scenario for the Mountain West. It might be a one-bid league either way. Nevada’s profile doesn’t invigorate one’s senses but it’s good enough to be a part of this year’s bubble group.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Nevada

  • Nevada | RPI: 41 | SOS: 130 | SOR: 59 | The Wolfpack have five Top 100 wins, but none against at-large contenders. It may be a long shot, but Nevada will be considered if they reach 26 or 27 wins.
PAC 12
One has to believe the Big 3 will end up as Top 3 (or 4) seeds on Selection Sunday. Whether USC or Cal can join the party is another matter. USC’s overall resume is better at this point, but their loss at Arizona State makes the water more murky for the Trojans.

Locks: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA

Should Be In: None

Bubble: USC, California

  • California | RPI: 55 | SOS: 41 | SOR: 66 | Cal has 10 league wins but only one (USC) against a team in contention. Add in the fact they they’re 4-9 vs. Top 100 teams and their profile is even more questionable. That’s why Thursdays lopsided loss at Utah really hurts. The Bears already had a small margin for error. Next up, a trip to Colorado. Lose that one, and it could quickly turn into a Pac-12 title or bust.
  • USC | RPI: 37 | SOS: 70 | SOR: 40 | The Trojans missed all three chances against the league’s heavyweights and then failed to dispatch of Arizona State. They close with Washington at home, a game they most certainly need. On a closing note, the Trojans have five (5) Top 100 wins and only two (SMU, UCLA) against tournament teams.
Arkansas doesn’t have a “Wow Me” profile, but it’s solid enough to warrant a step-up from the bubble. Given where we’re at, it would take a strange turn of events for the Razorbacks to miss the Dance. Until something like that unfolds, the Razorbacks should be fine.

Locks: Florida, Kentucky

Should Be In: South Carolina, Arkansas

Bubble: Georgia, Vanderbilt

  • Georgia | RPI: 52 | SOS: 17 | SOR: 51 | Four wins in five games – even if not against the best competition – is enough to resurrect the Dawgs’ chances. Although Vanderbilt is their best win (another bubble team), UGA does have nine (9) Top 100 wins overall. The Dawgs close with Arkansas. Get through this weekend and the SEC tournament will be an open opportunity.
  • Vanderbilt | RPI: 50 | SOS: 5 | SOR: 65 | After coughing up a lead at Kentucky, the numbers get tougher for the Commodores. They have 14 losses. A team with 15 losses has never before earned an at-large bid. Maybe it’s time for a new record, we’ll see. Vandy does own the nation’s No. 1 non-conference schedule and No. 4 overall SOS. They host Florida this weekend, most likely a must win.
Gonzaga is a lock. So is Saint Mary’s at this point. Despite a shortage of high-end wins, the Gaels are safe.

Locks: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

Should Be In: None

Bubble: None

Valparaiso slips off the list after losing at Northern Kentucky. It’s tough to see a seven-loss (would be eight without a Horizon title) Crusaders team earning an at-large bid. That leaves us – for now -with four other mid-major programs who have a chance.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Middle Tennessee State, Monmouth, UNC-Wilmington, UT-Arlington

  • Middle Tennessee State | RPI: 35 | SOS: 147 | SOR: 38 | If the Committee accounts for the Blue Raiders’ Top 20 NC SOS, it’ll help. MTSU is a three-point loss at VCU from being 5-0 vs. the Top 100. That’s solid. The ugly duckling is a loss at UTEP. Assuming the Blue Raiders can avoid another such profile drag, they should be in play on Selection Sunday. Thankfully, they avoided such an incident Thursday night against Florida International. Phew!
  • Monmouth | RPI: 42 | SOS: 173 | SOR: 46 | The Hawks closed out their MAAC season at 17-2 last Friday night. It’s a bit of a reach to think this year’s crew will receive an at-large bid when last year’s didn’t, but every year is different. We’ll see how they look if they lose a close one in the MAAC final.
  • UNC Wilmington | RPI: 33 | SOS: 136 | SOR: 45 | The Seahawks are a good team whose profile is as bubbly as they come. Quality numbers, but nothing that stands out. Avoiding another bad loss keeps them in play. Then it all comes down to everyone else around them.
  • UT Arlington | RPI: 36 | SOS: 146 | SOR: 50 | Could a win at Saint Mary’s carry a team with six losses, three to sub-150 RPI teams? It’s probably a long shot, but there’s no reason to change their outlook from last weekend.
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