Bauer’s Bubble Watch 4.0
After another exciting week of college basketball action, it’s time for the next edition of the Bubble Watch. There are no new additions this week, though there are two new eliminations in San Francisco and Indiana, as well as five new locks in Virginia Tech, Florida State, Purdue, Maryland, and LSU. The bubble is only getting smaller and smaller, so let’s take another look at which teams are on the edge of glory and which ones may have to settle for the NIT.
Locks: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State
Safe for Now: Louisville
Bubble: Syracuse, North Carolina State, Clemson
Welcome to lock status, Virginia Tech! It seemed like it was coming sooner rather than later, and there’s no better way to become a lock than with a massive win over a powerhouse team like Duke. Florida State becomes a lock too, even with Saturday’s loss to North Carolina, simply because the Seminoles have 22 wins and only three regular-season games remaining. An 0-4 finish before Selection Sunday wouldn’t be enough to kick Florida State out of the field. Louisville is not quite on the same level as these two, taking Ls against Virginia last Saturday and Boston College on Wednesday. The Cardinals now sit at 18-11 overall. Would an 0-3 finish be enough to send them to the NIT? They certainly don’t want to find out.
Syracuse couldn’t jump into the “safe for now” category after failing to grab a road win at North Carolina, but the Orange are still on the high end of the bubble. Finish the regular season 2-1 with the only loss being to Virginia, and Syracuse should be in good shape.
NC State’s lack of Q1 wins is doing damage right now, but an opportunity to tack on a second appears this Saturday at Florida State. The Wolf Pack should thank their lucky stars that the committee no longer uses RPI as a metric, as that ugly No. 88 ranking would be curtains. A No. 30 ranking in NET is definitely much prettier.
Clemson manages to hang around another week, though the Tigers are definitely straddling the line between last four in and first four out. North Carolina and Syracuse are still on the schedule. Clemson needs to kick it into second gear or things could get ugly fast.
Safe for Now: Cincinnati
Bubble: University of Central Florida, Temple
Another week, another trio of close victories for Cincinnati. But with only three regular season games to go, Cincinnati is on the verge of lock status. Even a 1-3 finish down the stretch should send the Bearcats to the promised land.
UCF finally snagged its first Q1 win on Wednesday with a win over South Florida, but that’s all the Knights have going for them. The remaining regular season schedule consists only of Q1 games, so opportunity lies ahead. UCF probably needs to win at least two of these games to earn tournament consideration. Temple has two Q1 wins at the moment, but with a head-to-head loss and far lower KenPom and NET rankings than UCF, the Owls are just below their conference rival on the bubble. Tuesday’s loss to Memphis certainly doesn’t make matters any better. The rematch between the Owls and Knights on March 9 may decide which one is in and which one is out.
Safe for Now: Villanova
Bubble: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler
Villanova has been seemingly one win away from a lock for weeks now, but the Wildcats couldn’t seem to get it, as the previously 10-0 in Big East play Villanova fell 11-4 with three straight losses to St. John’s, Georgetown and Xavier. Finally, the Wildcats got they needed by knocking off Marquette at home. It’s no longer enough to secure Villanova a place in the field following that losing stretch, but barring a total meltdown, the Wildcats should be safe.
St. John’s tacked on a much-needed home win over Seton Hall to their résumé, but with the Red Storm being incredibly unpredictable lately and with red-hot Xavier still on the schedule twice, St. John’s remains on the high end of the bubble. On the flip side, Seton Hall also could have really used that win against St. John’s. The Pirates’ 3-6 Q1 record is respectable, but neither KenPom nor NET has Seton Hall ranked higher than No. 62. A strong finish is a requirement to stay alive.
The same goes for Butler, as the Bulldogs’ metrics are very much on the bubble borderline, while a 15-13 overall record and 6-9 conference record following Tuesday’s loss to Providence are not very pretty. Butler will likely have to snag a win at Villanova on Saturday to have any hope.
Locks: Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Maryland
Safe for Now: Wisconsin, Iowa
Bubble: Ohio State, Minnesota, Nebraska
Twenty is the magic number for Purdue. The Boilermakers are locked in. Maryland also tacked on a nice win over Ohio State last Saturday, so the Terrapins are a lock too, even after being shellacked by Penn State on Wednesday.
Wisconsin wasn’t quite able to get there after losing in double overtime to Indiana on Tuesday, but barring a total collapse, the Badgers should be in. Iowa has looked a little shaky having lost two of its last three, but the Hawkeyes are still far removed from the bubble. There’s no reason to worry right now.
A 1-1 week keeps Ohio State firmly in its position as a team near the top of the bubble. A 20-point win over Iowa does likely outweigh a 10-point loss at Maryland though, so there’s an argument to be made that Ohio State should be safe for now.
Minnesota is back on alert following two straight losses to Michigan and Rutgers. The Golden Gophers need to knock off Northwestern on Thursday to stop the bleeding. Nebraska gave its best effort against Purdue on Saturday but ultimately fell just short, and the Cornhuskers’ tournament hopes are now on life support. With Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa left on the schedule, things are looking bleak.
Locks: Texas Tech, Kansas
Safe for Now: Iowa State, Kansas State
Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Christian University
Iowa State’s wild ride continues, as a 1-1 week keeps the Cyclones in “safe for now” territory. The same goes for Kansas State, which took care of business against Oklahoma State on Saturday but got smacked at Kansas on Monday. Honestly, one more week of winning should get both of these teams over the hump.
Baylor is likely the safest of the Big 12’s bubble teams at the moment following a 2-0 week, but that can change in an instant with the way this season has been going. Oklahoma is the next safest bubble team due to favorable metrics, but that 5-10 conference record is still an unsightly number. Texas’s 15-13 overall record is similar, though four Q1 wins keep Texas from being too close to the edge. TCU has fallen there, as the Horned Frogs backed up a great home win over Iowa State with an atrocious triple-overtime loss at West Virginia. With a No.46 KenPom ranking and only two Q1 wins to the name, TCU needs a quick turnaround to avoid the NIT.
Safe for Now: Washington
Bubble: Arizona State
If not for middling metrics and only one Q1 win, 22-5 Washington would be a lock. Still, a 13-1 conference record is impressive, and it shouldn’t be long until the Huskies are a sure thing. Arizona State is currently doing what bubble teams need to do (win), and with other bubble teams taking losses here and there, the Sun Devils are taking great advantage of the situation. But those ugly non-conference losses will follow Arizona State all the way until Selection Sunday. Best to keep winning just to make sure.
Locks: Kentucky, Tennessee, Lousiana State University
Safe for Now: Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss
Bubble: Florida, Alabama
With Saturday’s home win over Tennessee now on the résumé, LSU is a lock. In fact, the Tigers are currently in the driver’s seat earning wins over both the aforementioned Volunteers as well as Kentucky. A flawless finish ensures LSU the No.1 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Mississippi State is just shy of becoming a lock, though a five-game win streak means the Bulldogs are likely well on their way to an NCAA Tournament bid. Auburn finally has a Q1 win to its name thanks to good play from Washington, though there’s still a bit of uncertainty with a middling conference record and no marquee victories in SEC play, especially after a close encounter with lowly Georgia. Ole Miss jumps into “safe for now” territory thanks to a hard-fought performance against Tennessee, but the Rebels still have work to do before they can secure a tournament invite.
Florida has put together a nice run lately and is likely sitting somewhere in “last four byes” territory. Still, LSU and Kentucky remain a daunting pair of challengers to close out the regular season. Steal one of those games and the Gators are feeling a lot better about their tournament hopes. Alabama has turned around its recent misfortunes by grabbing back-to-back wins vs. Vanderbilt and at South Carolina, but like Florida, the Crimson Tide have a challenging schedule ahead. It will be interesting to see if both of these teams can sneak their way into the field of 68.
Safe for Now: Nevada, Buffalo, Wofford
Bubble: Virginia Commonwealth University, Utah State, Belmont, Lipscomb, Furman
Nevada pulled away from Fresno State to avoid a disastrous second loss, but their projected seed in the NCAA Tournament is already taking a hit. Finishing the season strong should lock the Wolf Pack up. Buffalo is extremely close to becoming a lock, though a winless finish might have the selection committee thinking otherwise. But the way things are going right now, the Bulls really shouldn’t have any worries about a disaster happening.
How about Wofford? The Terriers are now 24-4 and a perfect 16-0 in SoCon play. Tack on rankings of No. 25 in KenPom, No. 20 in NET and three Q1 wins, and you have a mid-major team that appears to be safely in the field. Like Buffalo and Nevada, anything but a disastrous finish should enter Wofford into March Madness.
VCU has at-large hopes too should the Rams fail to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, though they’re a bit more precarious due to two Q3 losses and the best win on the résumé being at Texas. A 22-6 record is difficult to ignore though, thus why the Rams are likely looking at a 9- or 10-seed right now.
The time for Utah State to put up or shut up is now. The Aggies have hung around the edge of the bubble for weeks with solid metrics but now is the ultimate test as Nevada comes to town this Saturday. Win and the Aggies are looking good. Lose and the bubble gets this much closer to popping.
Belmont and Lipscomb are a unique pair of bubble teams. Although both are projected to win their respective conferences, a loss in the conference tournament may not be the dagger. Should the Bruins and Bisons each reach their conference championships and lose to Murray State and Liberty, respectively, there are two mid-major at-large résumés that would be difficult to ignore. However, these are likely the only circumstances that either team gets in as an at-large. It’s best to just win the conference tournament outright. The same goes for Furman, which just couldn’t get it done against Wofford. The at-large hope remains thanks to a weak bubble, but the Paladins almost certainly need to win the SoCon Tournament to reach the big dance.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.