We often talk about teams playing their way in or out of the NCAA Tournament during the final month of the regular season. With a very large – and weak – bubble in front of the us, comparing various teams becomes even more tedious. Basketball minds can differ on what’s most important to a team’s resume; that’s why there is an extensive voting process used by the actual NCAA Selection Committee.
Ultimately, the Committee has to answer one of two questions … 1) Why should we invite Team A? … 2) Why should we leave Team A out?
Plenty of teams on the current bubble have a least one reason to potentially leave them out: non-conference strength of schedule. In a given season, teams have no control over who they play within their conference. But teams do have a choice when building their non-conference schedule. We acknowledge certain mid-major difficulties with regard to home-and-home games, but we’ve seen programs such as Gonzaga and Butler work through these issues. As the Selection Committee pours over data in Indianapolis, here is a look at some potential bubble teams whose non-conference SOS might give the Committee a reason to leave them out – we credit CollegeRPI with the SOS data …
- Non-conference SOS | 150-200 … Maryland (153), UAB (159), Washington State (162), Utah State (170), Missouri State (191), Richmond (192)
- Non-conference SOS | 200-250 … Marquette (210), New Mexico (221), Florida State (228), Clemson (236), Southern Mississippi (243)
- Non-conference SOS | 250-plus … Baylor (251), Alabama (263), Cincinnati (280), Colorado (307)
Certainly, a team’s overall performance, including conference record, quality wins, and road success can override taking a month or two off in November and December. Then again, we’ve seen how that choice ended for Virginia Tech last year. Something to keep in mind between now and Championship Week. If teams give the Committee a reason to leave them out, it might just happen.
Crunch the numbers, consider teams that appear to be NCAA tournament locks, throw in handful of those that should be in, and we’re left with 37 teams on the bubble in our latest Bubble Banter. Those 37 teams are competing for 15 spots. The race toward Selection Sunday is in high gear.
For now, Butler, Rhode Island, California, and Northern Iowa leave the bubble. Minnesota, Washington, and Alabama join. The difference is that Minnesota and Washington are falling, while Alabama is climbing. Given matchups and schedules, the next two weeks should be telling for many of those with uncertain NCAA status.
Some quick notes …
- The Big Ten could end up with as few as four bids or as many as seven. Best guess is somewhere in between, most likely five. Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Penn State are all question marks. Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin are the only solid candidates as of this update.
- Arizona leads the Pac-10 but has a resume light on quality wins. Washington’s resume is very similar, but the Huskies are now two games back in the league standings. Depending on Washington, Washington State, and UCLA, the Pac-10 could be a two to four-bid league. Five if something weird happens in the conference tournament.
- The SEC East is strong, the SEC West is not. Alabama is taking full advantage and also has wins over Kentucky and at Tennessee. The Crimson Tide will be worth watching the next couple of weeks. Read more…
Bubble Banter will officially launch on Tuesday, February 1. In preparation and ahead of our newest bracket projection on Monday (Jan. 24), here is an overview of how Bubble Banter is shaping up …
ATLANTIC 10 – With Temple falling behind the pace of early leaders Duquesne and Xavier, there are no secure spots in the A-10. Xavier has a history of winning the regular-season title, with the Owls grabbing the tourney title and automatic bid. It might be the only way the A-10 earns multiple bids.
- Locks: None
- Should Be In: Temple
- Bubble: Xavier, Richmond, Dayton, Duquesne
ACC – It’s pretty much Duke and everyone else. Now, the ACC will earn more than two bids, but exactly who fills those spots is a long way from being determined.
- Locks: Duke
- Should Be In: North Carolina
- Bubble: Florida State, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland Read more…
While a number of teams are trying to play their way onto or off the NCAA bubble, let’s give a quick congrats to the following schools who’ve put themselves into the Dance … Xavier, Richmond, Baylor, Texas A&M and Tennessee are now Locks. We also recognize … Maryland, Oklahoma State, Clemson and Marquette for vaulting forward as part of those who Should Be In. In all, 33 teams are now securely in the Field of 65. A lot more will be added during Championship Week.
Overall, there are 31 automatic bids and 34 at-large spots available. A quick break down of our Bubble Math reveals that 54 spots in the Field of 65 are taken. That leaves 11 remaining spots for 29 bubble teams. We may lose a few more bubble teams by this weekend. We might also add one or two in the coming week as conference tournments gain momentum.
The Big East (5) and Atlantic 10 (4) have the most bubble representatives. Several play each other this week and upcoming weekend. I will try and update the Bubble picture again Friday night into Saturday. You can follow conference tournament action under Conference Tourneys. Previews of larger conference tournaments will be posted early next week once the brackets are finalized. Rebounds are always welcome.
The one problem with updating Bubble Banter is that it’s always a few hours away from being outdated. That said, the latest edition is now available for review – for games played through Tuesday, February 23.
Both the Big East and Atlantic 10 continue to offer the most questions. We clearly have two well defined groups in each league. You have the Big East heavyweights and then a large group (7) of teams whose future remains uncertain. Certainly, Connecticut helped itself the most with recent wins over Villanova and West Virginia, but the Huskies can’t let up. In the A-10, Temple, Xavier and Richmond are in great shape. Then you have an interesting group comprised of Charlotte, Dayton, Rhode Island and St. Louis. Should be an interesting A-10 tournament. The ACC has five (5) teams on the bubble, but at this point there isn’t the quite the same sence of urgency.
Overall, we are projecting 20 locks and another 8 teams that should be in. There are 36 teams currently on the bubble. Depending on this week’s results, we could see some drastic changes in how those numbers look by next Wednesday. Several teams are close to moving up (and off) the bubble, while others are close to falling off. Take a look. Rebounds are always welcome.
Teams often play their way out of NCAA Contention. It’s just not always this early in February. After a less-than-stellar week for many bubble teams, we start Week 2 of Bubble Banter with 38 teams on the Bubble. Of course, that can – and will – change.
Let’s look at changes from last week … Teams that moved up to Locks: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Temple, Butler, Gonzaga … Teams moving to Should Be In: Richmond … Teams moving onto the Bubble: Cornell (down), Seton Hall (up), St. Louis (up) … Teams leaving the Bubble: Minnesota, Northwestern, Virginia, VCU, South Carolina, Tulsa. The Bracket Math looks like this …
- Locks: 18
- Should Be In: 11
- There are 31 automatic bids. We have to subtract 11 knowing that some of the locks will be automatic bids. That means if you add the 20 remaining automatic bids (likely one-bid leagues) and the 18 locks, we have 38 of 65 bids taken. If you add in the 11 teams that Should Be In, we’re now at 49. Subtract 49 from 65 and you have 16 spots available. We currently have 38 teams on the Bubble. So less than half will ultimately make the Field of 65.
Is this the year the Big East breaks the 8-team barrier? Perhaps, but there is a developing separation in the Big East standings; not a good thing for team’s below the breakline. If the Big East number reaches or surpasses eight (8) it will be because two or three teams currently below the breakline put winning streaks together.
It’s looking more and more like five (5) max from the Big 10. Minnesota lost at Northwestern who subsequently lost to Penn State at home. Again, there is a clear breakline between the top and bottom tier. The SEC is much less defined. Whether or not teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State can slide up remains a question. It doesn’t help that Arkansas leads the SEC West. Florida continues to live on the edge, too. In the Mountain West, once solid UNLV has slipped. Yet, the real question remains San Diego State. Plenty of possibilities from the Colonial, too. Old Dominion has the best profile, William & Mary has a stronger non-conference effort, and Northeastern co-leads the conference. How about the Atlantic 10? Rhode Island, Charlotte and Dayton are losing league ground the upstart St. Louis.
Count on some interesting moments in conference tournaments … and in this weekend’s BracketBuster games. Remember, teams earn bids, not conferences. What matters is having one of the best 34 at-large resumes come March 14.
The NCAA Tournament bubble is expanding right now. That’s probably not a big surprise. History suggests it might even become more fluid in the next seven days before teams play their way in or out heading into conference tournaments. More on the tournaments to come.