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. Data noted credited to Warren Nolan and ESPN.

UPDATED:  Saturday, March 9  |   6:30 a.m.

Championship Week is here.  Welcome to the Madness.  The Bubble is as wild as its ever been; resumes near .500 included.  Like every year, there’s a lot on the line in the next seven days – especially in leagues like the Big East, where it seems almost everyone other than Marquette and Villanova is on the bubble.

On to the latest …

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

Automatic Bids (32): None – AQ’s will be determined during Championship Week as conferences hand-out their official NCAA bids to tournament champions.

  • Projected Locks (25): 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.
  • Work to Do: (28): Teams who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection but who’s outcome is uncertain.
Atlantic 10
VCU is easily the league’s best hope for an at-large bid, assuming they can avoid a truly bad loss in the A10 tournament.  Dayton and Davidson are on the periphery of a weak bubble, but one or the other needs a run to the A10 finale before revisiting their profiles.

Locks: None

Should Be In: None

Work to Do: VCU

  • VCU – The Rams’ pluses are a road win at suddenly shaky Texas, a win over bubbly Temple, and a strong non-conference SOS.  Beyond that?  It’s the proverbial “eye test” scenario.  All-in-all, the Rams look to be in good shape, but who knows how Championship Week will shake out.
Despite Louisville’s recent struggles, the Cardinals should be fine.  Then we have Syracuse, which appears to be above the fray, assuming the fray stays where it is.  If it moves, then the whole Syracuse on the bubble could re-emerge for another go-around. As for Clemson and NC State, both could use nice runs at the ACC tournament.

Locks: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech

Should Be In: Louisville

Work to Do: Clemson, NC State, Syracuse

  • Clemson – Plain and simple, the Tigers need tournament-level wins; they are 1-9 vs. Quad 1 opponents.  Without an improvement, it’ll be a long wait until Selection Sunday.
  • NC State – After missing out on their final chance to add a marquee victory at Florida State, the Wolfpack added a second bad loss to their resume by falling at home to Georgia Tech.  The good news is this: the ACC tourney provides ample opportunities to make their case for inclusion.  Historically, they may need it, given their non-conference SOS, which ranks among the worst in college hoops.
  • Syracuse – Syracuse whiffed on opportunities to shore up its profile against Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. The Orange close against desperate Clemson.  And while things look okay for now, what if the Orange fall to the Tigers and exit without a win at the ACC tourney?  It could still get a little too interesting for fans in upper New York who’ve spent recent Selection Sundays in turmoil.
It’s been a good stretch for Central Florida (UCF), who added to huge wins – Houston and Cincinnati – to its coffers in recent days.  That’s enough to make them feel a bit more comfortable.  Temple is hanging in there after avoiding an upset at Connecticut.  Beating UCF this weekend would really help.

Locks: Houston, Cincinnati

Should Be In: UCF

Work to Do: Memphis, Temple

  • Memphis – With slim Pickens along the cutline, the Tigers stick around.  Notable wins are UCF and Temple, along with decent metrics.  The fallback, of course, is that Memphis hosts the AAC tourney; so maybe some home cooking will be their ticket to the Dance.
  • Temple – The Owls are basically living off a home win over Houston; their other victories of note are Davidson, South Florida, and Memphis.  Their clash with UCF this weekend has a really important feel to it.
While its still tough to see St. John’s missing the tournament, having swept Marquette and beaten Villanova, the Red Storm remain a Jekyll and Hyde outfit.  Be confident at your peril.  Beyond that, Seton Hall improved its standing by beating Marquette, and Creighton is back into the picture, too, after a nice little run.  New York is going to be a lot of fun.

Locks: Marquette, Villanova

Should Be In: St. John’s

Work to Do: Butler, Creighton, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Xavier

  • Butler – The Dawgs staved off elimination by holding serve against surging Xavier.  Whether they can build any momentum remains to be seen; next up is a trip to Providence who faces a must-win to remain on the edges of the bubble.  At this point, it’s more about giving themselves a chance next week at Madison Square Garden.
  • Creighton – The Bluejays have won four straight at an opportune time; most notably a road win at Marquette.  Now they need to hold serve against DePaul and find a couple of wins in New York.  A strong schedule helps, but the Jays have a lot of losses and only one that one (Marquette) truly remarkable win.
  • Georgetown – The Hoyas took it on the chin at DePaul, absorbing a tough body blow to an already iffy profile.  Then again, iffy profiles are everywhere.  We’ll see if these Dawgs have enough bite to take down a riled up Marquette group in Milwaukee.  If so, they’ll have a chance to remake their case at the Big East tourney.
  • Seton Hall – Timely wins can make bubble life a bit easier, and Seton Hall grabbed a massive one by rallying late to beat Marquette.  If they manage another against Villanova this weekend, the Pirates can relax a little more next week.  If not, finishing 0-2 would bring the bubble directly back into play.
  • Xavier – A five-game winning streak came to a clunky end at Hinkle Fieldhouse; not ideal for a team trying to climb an already difficult mountain.  Next up, a visit from wildly inconsistent St. John’s.  Either way, Xavier has work to do in New York.
BIG 10
Maryland, Wisconsin and Iowa are locked in – even with the Hawkeyes recent struggles.  Then there’s Indiana, whose late surge has brought all of their good wins back into play.  At this point, the Hoosiers might end up better than Ohio State.  The Buckeyes are moving in the wrong direction and could use a reboot in Chicago.

Locks: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa

Should Be In:

Work to Do: Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State

  • Indiana – Indiana has enough quality wins.  The Hoosiers’ issues developed during a catastrophic losing streak in Big 10 play.  Now, thanks to a middling bubble and three straight wins, they are back in the conversation.  Who knows what to expect in Chicago.  Before that, IU needs to avoid a let down against Rutgers this weekend.
  • Minnesota – Holding off Purdue this past week helped solidify earlier wins over Washington, Iowa and Wisconsin.  Still, after a loss at Maryland Friday night, the Gophers’ 2-9 road record remains unsightly, and could be a factor if the Gophers exit Chicago early.  For what its worth, a 4-0 neutral-court record helps a little.
  • Ohio State – No Big Ten team is trending down quicker than Ohio State, which has absorbed back-to-back body blows from Purdue and Northwestern.  They close with Wisconsin at home; a team that’s never fun to play.  A win would help stabilize an otherwise okay profile.  A loss, on the other hand, would put some pressure on the Buckeyes to make some noise at the Big Ten tournament.
BIG 12
This is the one league with the haves and have nots.  Four locks are rather obvious, but after that?  Baylor and Oklahoma seem to be in pretty good shape.  Texas and TCU are much more iffy and need solid closes to complete their journeys.

Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa State

Should Be In: None

Work to Do: Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, TCU

  • Baylor – The Bears close at Kansas so they could easily be looking at a three-game slide heading into the Big 12 tourney.  All-in-all, it’ll probably work out for them either way, but ending with four straight losses could make the Committee take a closer look at a non-conference profile that includes losses to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin.
  • Oklahoma – Winning four of five has certainly helped ease concerns about the Sooners’ conference record.  And given their overall number of Quad 1/2 wins, it looks pretty solid for OU.  The sticking point is that other than a recent win over Kansas, there aren’t a lot of elite level wins on the docket.
  • Texas – The Longhorn’s biggest issue remains a loss column that too closely remembers its win column in volume.  Three losses in four games has left the Horns in a proverbial must-win situation against TCU this weekend.  And they might need three more wins in all to feel safe.
  • TCU – The Horned Frogs present a classic “average” profile – which may or may not end up being enough to sneak in.  They have a sweep of Iowa State, a non-conference win over Florida, and a few other pieces.  They are also 2-7 away from home and bring very little from the non-conference season – which includes a loss to Lipscomb.  Their trip to Texas this weekend looms large.
The Bulls wrapped a 16-2 league campaign by avenging an earlier loss to Bowling Green on Friday night.  Placing a mid-major into Lock status is never easy because so many things can happen, but with a win at Syracuse, plus non-conference wins against West Virginia and San Francisco, it’s hard to find scenario in which the Bulls won’t be invited.  They also have a Top 20 NET rating.

Locks: Buffalo

Should Be In: None

Work to Do: None

Nevada is a lock, which leaves Utah State as the league’s best hope for an at-large.  Those odds greatly improved when the Aggies beat Nevada last weekend.

Locks: Nevada

Should Be In: None

Work to Do: Utah State

  • Utah State – The computers like Utah State, and last weekend’s win over Nevada was the high-level victory the Aggies need to stabilize a bubbly profile.  There’s not quite enough heft to move them up just yet, but the odds are favorable unless they exit the Mountain West in an untimely and/or ugly manner.
PAC 12
As we stand, Washington feels like a solid at-large bet, even without an NCAA-level win to its credit and that yucky loss to California.  As long as they beat Oregon this weekend and avoid a second ugly loss at the Pac-12 tourney, the coast is probably clear.  As for Arizona State, it’s a game-by-game thing through next week.

Locks: None

Should Be In: Washington

Work to Do: Arizona State

  • Arizona State – Let’s be clear – the Sun Devils’ wins over Kansas and Mississippi State still hold value.  The recent clunker at Oregon hurt, but ASU bounced back to survive Oregon State.  They close this weekend at rival Arizona.  That’s a game they need to win heading into the Pac-12 tourney.
It’s possible that both Tennessee and Kentucky could still end up as No. 1 seeds. One could say the same for LSU, although the team is in some turmoil with the indefinite suspension of head coach Will Wade following news this week about potential recruiting issues.  Auburn’s NET rating and overall volume of solid wins should be enough, so they move up.  We’ll leave Ole Miss where they are, but the Rebels could still find themselves with some work to do if this weekend’s trip to Missouri doesn’t go well.

Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State

Should Be In: Auburn, Ole Miss

Work to Do: Alabama, Florida

  • Alabama – After missing out on two chances at home (LSU, Auburn) to give themselves a little breathing room, the Tide are now faced with a virtual must-win this weekend at Arkansas.  A loss would drop them to 17-14 overall and leave them no working margin in Nashville.
  • Florida – The Gators, too, missed on back-to-back home opportunities – first falling to Georgia and then slipping in overtime to LSU.  The first chalked up a second Quad 3 loss; the latter a chance to post a sweep of the Tigers.  Which leaves the Gators squarely along the cutline, despite solid metrics.  If they can’t find a way to win in Lexington this weekend, there’s work to be done at the SEC tournament.
Gonzaga may have the No. 1 seed in the West Region wrapped up.  Thanks to the NCAA’s NET rankings, Saint Mary’s has an outside shot, but there’s little to help the Gaels’ resume between now and a WCC finals opportunity with the Zags.  It could be an auto-bid or nothing; we’ll see.

Locks: Gonzaga

Should Be In: None

Work to Do: Saint Mary’s

  • Saint Mary’s – If the NET matters, then Saint Mary’s will get a look.  But history suggests the Gaels have an uphill climb.  For starters, they have 11 losses; that’s a tough ask for a mid-major profile.  Second, their best wins are New Mexico State and San Francisco, to go along with three Quad 3 losses.  Honestly, it’s looking like an auto-bid or bust.
Thankfully, we have some quality non-power profiles this season.  Let’s start with Wofford, who Should Be In after posting a perfect run through the Southern Conference.  Like Buffalo, the Terriers boast a Top 20 NET rating and look the part of an NCAA team.  If they reach the SoCon title game, any glimmer of nervousness disappears.

Locks: None

Should Be In: Wofford

Work to Do: Belmont, Furman, Lipscomb, Murray State, UNC-Greensboro

  • Belmont – If you buy the premise that Lipscomb is a solid win, then you have to buy that Belmont is in decent shape to earn an at-large bid if they lose in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game to Murray State.  Whether or not that happens really depends on how the Committee views their two losses to Jacksonville State and an early set-back at Green Bay.
  • Furman – The Paladins are squarely in the conversation.  They have an early win at Villanova and present a solid, season-long campaign.  The biggest detriments are a slightly fading NET and a non-conference SOS in the 260 range.   The latter could ultimately be the most costly.
  • Lipscomb – Fair or unfair, the Bisons’ loss at Florida Gulf Coast dented their NET rating and overall profile.  Yes, they won at TCU, but the Horned Frogs are still trying to make the NCAAs themselves.  A pair of losses to Belmont could be problematic if those two teams are compared against each other.  Still, this is a quality team that deserves consideration.  It could well depend on how the bubble shakes out next week.
  • Murray State – Murray State enter the OVC title game against Belmont with a 24-4 record. Their only blemish is a close road loss at Jacksonville State – which also happened to beat Belmont twice.  The problem for the Racers is that unlike their counterpart in the OVC, their best win is Austin Peay, having lost two close ones to Alabama and Auburn.  Given that 19 of their 24 wins are against Quad 4 teams, the odds may not be in their favor.
  • UNC-Greensboro – The Spartans chances basically come down to this … how does the Committee view the Southern Conference?  UNCG was swept by league frontrunner Wofford and split with Furman. That leaves them with two additional wins over East Tennessee State as their proof of entrance.  If they can reach the SoCon finale, they’ll be in the discussion.


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