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: February 25, 2017

As March knocks on the door, and the bubble continues to feature increasingly uninspiring resumes, life is actually a little easier on those teams who Should Be In but who last week still needed to clean things up. Why is that, you ask? Think of this way. You can clear your path to an NCAA bid by either winning your way in or by watching those around you fall further behind. The Selection Committee will send 36 at-large invitations. Whether by default or merit, the higher you are on the list, the less likely your invitation misses its destination. So, in the spirit of Madness, let’s go …

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

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

  • Projected Locks (23): Teams projected to earn an at-large bid, if necessary.
  • Should Be In (10): Teams that should be in based on the current at-large landscape.
  • Bubble: (30): Teams who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection but who’s outcome is uncertain.
Atlantic 10
Lacking its traditional depth, the A-10 hasn’t offered its top contenders many opportunities for Top 50 or even Top 100 wins. As a result, it’s tough to put anyone into lock status, although Dayton is close after rallying to win Friday night at Davidson. Get through this week and it should be a done deal.

Locks: None

Should Be In: Dayton

Bubble: Rhode Island, VCU

  • Rhode Island | RPI: 47 | SOS: 57 | SOR: 64 | URI benefits from the ongoing bubble mediocrity. Even so, Saturday’s visit from VCU is the Rams last chance to add a notable win before the regular season ends.
  • VCU | RPI: 25 | SOS: 78 | SOR: 37 | VCU took care of business against Davidson and Saint Louis, setting up a opportunistic road swing through Rhode Island and Dayton. Given where we’re at, winning one of those games should move VCU away from the bubble. They’ll probably end up okay either way, but why create any type of ripple heading into the A10 tourney.
ACC
Virginia is mired in one of those stretches that cause one to sit back, say hmmm, and then move on without trying to over-think things. The Cavaliers’ resume is solid enough to turn the other way and believe there’s nothing to see here. In Miami’s case, winning at Virginia last week moves them up. The closing slate is incredible tough, but unless the Hurricanes go winless and lose their first ACC game, it’s looking pretty good.

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

Should Be In: Virginia Tech, Miami-FL

Bubble: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest

  • Clemson | RPI: 59 | SOS: 20 | SOR: 53 | If there’s a blessing for a team that’s 4-11 in the ACC, with 13 losses, it’s this: the Tigers close with three winnable home games. Knowing that a team with with 15 losses has never earned an at-large bid, their margin for error is, in essence, one game. If the Tigers get to 7-11 (in league play) heading into the ACC tourney, they’ll have a shot. Anything less and the math becomes a bit tough.
  • Georgia Tech | RPI: 88 | SOS: 51 | SOR: 55 | Tech enters the weekend 2-8 in road games, and their closing stretch includes trips to Notre Dame and Syracuse. That’s a tough ask for a squad who owns some good wins but a highly questionable RPI and suspect non-conference schedule.
  • Pittsburgh | RPI: 63 | SOS: 10 | SOR: 56 | Much like Clemson, Pittsburgh is here solely because the bubble offers so little. The Panthers are also 4-11 in the ACC with 13 losses. Can they win out in advance of the ACC tournament? We’re about to find out.
  • Syracuse | RPI: 77 | SOS: 50 | SOR: 52 | As big as last week’s win over Duke was for the Orange it wasn’t, in and of itself, a bid-sealer. Syracuse still has 12 losses and closes with a trip to Louisville followed by a home date with Georgia Tech.  If the Orange take a step back and stumble into the ACC tournament, there could still be a lot at stake.  There’s no doubt this team is playing at an NCAA level right now, but their overall body of work requires them to seal the deal.
  • Wake Forest | RPI: 40 | SOS: 18 | SOR: 43 | Can Wake win another Top 50 game against a tournament-level opponent? They host Louisville and travel to Virginia Tech. Their periphery numbers are solid. But there’s no way to fix their lack of quality wins except by winning a few. It’s really that simple.
AMERICAN
Seeding for Cincinnati and SMU is debatable. But here’s what we do know: it’s impossible to envision a scenario in which the Bearcats or Mustangs miss the NCAA tournament.

Locks: Cincinnati, SMU

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Houston

  • Houston | RPI: 58 | SOS: 84 | SOR: 67 | The Cougars fell to SMU last week and still haven’t beaten an at-large team in the current bracket. Unless they can win at Cincinnati in advance of the AAC tourney, it’s highly likely they’ll need to win the league’s automatic bid.
BIG EAST
If you predicted that Villanova would have only three losses and two of those would be to Butler, raise your hand? I thought so. Me neither. The surprising Bulldogs are not only a lock, but a team pushing for a three seed on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, if there are some frayed nerves around the Xavier campus, its understandable. The Musketeers have endured a variety of injuries, illnesses, and the loss of point guard Edwin Sumner. There’s also a four-game losing streak to mull about. Butler and Marquette visit the Cintas Center next. Winning one of those should calm the waters.

Locks: Villanova, Butler

Should Be In: Creighton, Xavier

Bubble: Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall

  • Marquette | RPI: 69 | SOS: 62 | SOR: 48 | It was a good week for the Golden Eagles, who grabbed wins over Xavier and St. John’s. Now, it gets serious. Marquette closes with trips to Providence and Xavier, followed by a home finale against Creighton. The table is set, so to speak.
  • Providence | RPI: 55 | SOS: 32 | SOR: 45 | It’s amazing what a trio of wins over Butler, Xavier, and Creighton (the latter on the road) can do for a resume while several other bubble teams flounder around. The Friars closing slate is more than manageable. Winning all three would push them to 10-8 in league play heading into the BE tourney.
  • Seton Hall | RPI: 48 | SOS: 38 | SOR: 39 | The Pirates stand pat after splitting a pair of home games – which is a nice way of saying they missed a chance against Villanova. If SHU can continue treading water against DePaul and Georgetown, they’ll get another marquee shot at Butler to close the regular season.
BIG 10
Although the Selection Committee’s mid-February’s rankings gave us an insight into how they view the top of the Big Ten, Minnesota has done enough to officially join the lock party. Northwestern is still hovering above the fray, but a second loss to Illinois this week adds some additional pressure to a team trying to make its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Locks: Maryland, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Should Be In: Northwestern

Bubble: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State

  • Indiana | RPI: 101 | SOS: 47 | SOR: 72 | Letting last week’s game at Iowa slip away was another brutal blow. Struggling Northwestern arrives in Bloomington this weekend. The Hoosiers close with trips to Purdue and Ohio State. Win all three and we’ll talk. The cache from those early wins against Kansas and North Carolina is about to officially run out.
  • Michigan | RPI: 53 | SOS: 41 | SOR: 44 | The Wolverines survived their trip to Rutgers to post a second true road win (2-7). They get Purdue in Ann Arbor this weekend before heading back on the road to Northwestern and Nebraska. Beating Purdue might seal it. If they can win both road games? That might too. We’ll see, but there aren’t many quality resumes pushing for slots.
  • Michigan State | RPI: 44 | SOS: 16 | SOR: 40 | Game one without Eron Harris ended up as W for the Spartans; injuries are always heart-breaking. Wisconsin arrives in East Lansing this weekend. That’s followed by trips to Illinois and Maryland. With 11 losses, the Spartans need to hold on. Winning two of three probably does the trick.
BIG 12
If it seems like this is about the Big 3 and everyone else, that’s pretty much true. Kansas collected its 13th straight B12 title, an incredible feat. Baylor and West Virginia are locks. Iowa State and Oklahoma State should be okay unless they really regress in the next two weeks. That leaves Kansas State, TCU, and Texas Tech fighting for survival.

Locks: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia

Should Be In: Iowa State, Oklahoma State

Bubble: Kansas State, TCU, Texas Tech

  • Kansas State | RPI: 61 | SOS: 40 | SOR: 48 | K-State is hanging on because of road wins at Baylor and Oklahoma State. They close with trips through Oklahoma and TCU, followed by a home finale with Texas Tech. None of those are going to move the needle, so to speak, but all three are important. KSU needs a strong close.
  • TCU | RPI: 56 | SOS: 28 | SOR: 50 | Riding a four-game losing streak, the Horned Frogs host West Virginia and Kansas State before finishing up at Oklahoma. Beating West Virginia would be huge for a team with just two Top 50 wins (Iowa State, Illinois State). TCU needs wins, and like K-State above, needs a strong close.
  • Texas Tech | RPI: 100 | SOS: 83 | SOR: 58 | As close losses mount, the window into an NCAA bid shrinks for the Red Raiders. Monday, TTU lost by two at home to Iowa State – coming off a 2-OT loss at West Virginia. This team can’t catch a break. Despite a trio of quality wins, Tech’s inability to win away from home and a 300-plus NC SOS drag the Red Raiders’ profile to the near brink of elimination.
MISSOURI VALLEY
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.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Illinois State, Wichita State

  • Illinois State | RPI: 33 | SOS: 141 | SOR: 41 | For a team with an iffy at-large profile, the RPI continues to fuel the Redbirds. An outright MVC title would help, but it’s unlikely given ISU’s split with Wichita State in the season series. While the margin for error is small, it gets increasingly better as those around them continue to struggle. Right now, it’s about avoiding any miscues ahead of a potential tiebreaker with the Shockers.
  • Wichita State | RPI: 42 | SOS: 152 | SOR: 31 | Wichita State is 1-4 vs. Top 50 teams (2-4 vs. Top 100). Normally, that would keep someone on the wrong side the bubble. But the Shockers’ advanced metrics suggest a team far better than its profile. Avoiding a bad loss until the late rounds of Arch Madness will give the Committee one of those gut-check decisions: solid mid-major vs. middling major.
MOUNTAIN WEST
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 there’s enough on the slate to keep them in the mix.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

Bubble: Nevada

  • Nevada | RPI: 39 | SOS: 117 | SOR: 59 | The Wolfpack have five Top 100 wins, but none against what we consider at-large contenders. They’ve also been swept by Fresno State and lost at Utah Valley. It still looks like a long shot, but Nevada could at least be considered if they reach 25 or 26 wins. We’ll see.
PAC 12
One has to believe the Big 3 will end up as Top 4 seeds on Selection Sunday. Whether USC or Cal can stay afloat and join the party is another matter. USC’s overall resume is a bit better, but neither can coast to the finish line.

Locks: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA

Should Be In: None

Bubble: USC, California

  • California | RPI: 51 | SOS: 48 | SOR: 61 | After a slow start, Cal pulled away from Oregon State Friday night and takes a breath before their closing two-game road swing. Cal has 10 league wins but only one (USC) against a team in contention. Add in the fact they they’re a mere 4-11 vs. Top 100 teams and their profile looks even more questionable. Did we mention they finish up at Utah and Colorado? Neither adds much, but a loss to either likely puts Cal behind the 8-ball heading into the P12 tourney.
  • USC| RPI: 30 | SOS: 59 | SOR: 33 | The Trojans finished up their recent stretch at 0-3 vs. the league’s heavyweights. So much for adding another high-level win to a resume that’s still light in that category. There’s nothing bad to see, but USC needs to make sure it stays that way. In other words, deal successfully with a trip to Arizona State and home dates with the Washington schools.
SEC
Alabama was a reach last week, so this week we’ve removed the Tide, along with Georgia. We’ll see if either can make a renewed appearance with a late-season run. For all sorts of whacky bubble reasons, Vanderbilt joins the party. This team has some similarities to the Georgia team that once received an at-large bid with 14 losses due to its No. 1 strength of schedule. The Commodores could also exit stage left in a hurry.

Locks: Florida, Kentucky

Should Be In: South Carolina

Bubble: Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

  • Arkansas | RPI: 35 |SOS: 64 | SOR: 35 | A solid four-game stretch has alleviated much of the anxiety around Fayetteville. They close with trips to Auburn and Florida, then home with Georgia. Winning two of three should eliminate any lingering doubts. Winning at Florida would do the same thing.
  • Tennessee | RPI: 64 | SOS: 9 | SOR: 70 | We’ll keep this brief because the Volunteers already have 13 losses. Their margin is small. Their 2-10 mark vs. Top 50 teams could also indicate this team isn’t quite ready for recurring NCAA-level competition. Credit them with an incredibly tough schedule. The closing stretch? Road trips to South Carolina and LSU, followed by a home finale against Alabama. Can they win all three?
  • Vanderbilt | RPI: 46 | SOS: 2 | SOR: 68 | Sound familiar: Vandy has 13 losses and a strong SOS, along with some good wins (at Florida, in particular). They also have one really bad loss (at Missouri). But the basic math is the same. The Commodores need a winning streak to close the season.
WEST COAST
We’ll make this short and sweet. Gonzaga is a lock. Saint Mary’s is a quality team that should probably be a lock even though their quality win total is light.

Locks: Gonzaga

Should Be In: Saint Mary’s

Bubble: None

BEST OF THE REST
Ultimately, we removed Akron from the list. Recent losses to Kent State and Bowling Green are simply too much given the Zips lack of anything resembling a quality win (0-2 vs. Top 100 teams). That leaves us – for now -with five other mid-major programs who have a chance to be considered.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

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

  • Middle Tennessee State | RPI: 32 | SOS: 128 | SOR: 38 | If the Committee accounts for the Blue Raiders’ Top 20 NC SOS, there’s certainly hope. MTSU is a three-point loss at VCU from being 5-0 vs. the Top 100. That’s solid for a mid-major in Conference USA. The ugly is a landmine loss at UTEP. Assuming the Blue Raiders can avoid another such profile drag, they should be in play on Selection Sunday.
  • Monmouth | RPI: 43 | SOS: 167 | SOR: 50 | The Hawks closed out their MAAC season at 17-2 Friday night. They are 1-3 vs. Top 100 (beating Princeton), so 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. We’ll see how they look if they reach the MAAC finale and lose a close one.
  • UNC Wilmington | RPI: 36 | SOS: 147 | SOR: 42 | 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: 34 | SOS: 130 | SOR: 51 | 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 from last week.
  • Valparaiso | RPI: 65 | SOS: 186 | SOR: 65 | The Crusaders escaped Wright State with a win Friday night and now close with a trip to Northern Kentucky. At this point, it’s all about winning to the Horizon League finale. If Valpo can manage that, we’ll see how early wins against Rhode Island, Alabama, and BYU help their case.
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