Bauer’s Bubble Watch 3.0
The Bubble Watch continues to heat up as the college basketball season rolls on. This week, there are a trio of new locks in North Carolina, Kansas and Texas Tech, eliminations for Creighton, Arkansas and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and a pair of new faces in Furman and Belmont. There’s no shortage of bubble madness to analyze, so let’s hop right in and break down the latest edition of the Bubble Watch:
Locks: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina
Safe for Now: Virginia Tech, Louisville, Florida State
Bubble: Syracuse, North Carolina State, Clemson
There’s no doubt about North Carolina now. After Wednesday’s 16-point win at Duke, the Tar Heels are a lock. Virginia Tech is very close to locking status, and the Hokies certainly would have been there if they could have taken down Virginia last Monday. Instead, they lost by six, so they’ll stay near the top of the “safe for now” category.
Louisville is trending dangerously in the wrong direction, as Wednesday’s blowout loss to Syracuse gives the Cardinals their fourth loss in the last six games. Still, barring an absolute collapse, Louisville should still be in good shape. Florida State is making a very strong argument to be a lock too, as the Seminoles haven’t lost since Jan. 20. A win over North Carolina on Saturday would certainly do the trick.
Just one week after a disappointing loss at NC State, Syracuse rebounded with a 20-point win over Louisville. The schedule certainly doesn’t do the Orange any favors, as Duke and North Carolina are up next, but Syracuse is going in the right direction.
NC State is looking all right as well, and with a relatively easy remaining schedule, there’s a reason to feel hopeful for the Wolfpack, just as long as they don’t play down to the competition like they did Wednesday against Boston College. The same can’t be said for Clemson, which earned its third straight loss on Tuesday. At 15-11 and 5-8 in ACC play, the Tigers need to get the ball rolling again, or they’ll have to settle for the NIT.
Safe for Now: Cincinnati
Bubble: University of Central Florida, Temple
Cincinnati has been playing its competition close as of lately, but as long as the Bearcats keep winning, that’s all that matters. Despite a 19-5 record, UCF is still without a Q1 win and resides on the bubble because of it. The Knights have a golden opportunity to earn that coveted first Q1 victory with a trip to Cincinnati on Thursday. Temple hangs around in the conversation too, thanks to an overtime victory at South Florida. Still, Temple’s KenPom Ranking sits them at 75 and is quite low for a bubble team, so the Owls will need to keep on winning.
Safe for Now: Villanova
Bubble: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler
Villanova just can’t seem to make the jump into lock status. Following a solid home win over Providence, the Wildcats dropped two straight road games to St. John’s and Georgetown. For a team that started 10-0 in conference play, Villanova has been very disappointing these past two weeks.
St. John’s remains a mystery. Right after adding a Q1 victory over Villanova to the résumé, the Red Storm suffered a 19-point loss to Providence. At 19-8 overall and 7-7 in the Big East, St. John's is staying right on the bubble.
Seton Hall’s tournament hopes took a massive hit on Wednesday with a Q3 loss to Xavier at home. There’s still time to turn it around, but with the Pirates being listed as underdogs in all four remaining regular-season games, Seton Hall really needs to kick things up a notch.
On the other hand, Butler is just barely alive, as Wednesday’s loss to Marquette marks a blown opportunity for the Bulldogs to add some serious firepower to their résumé. Villanova is Butler’s last hope to record a quality win.
Locks: Michigan, Michigan State
Safe for Now: Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa
Bubble: Ohio State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana
It’s hard to imagine a world where Purdue misses the tournament, but with 19 wins at the moment, the Boilermakers are still just shy of lock status. Twenty should be the magic number. Likewise, Maryland recorded its first road win over a ranked opponent in over 4000 days and is looking like a sure thing. One more victory should make the Terrapins a lock.
Wisconsin is hanging just below at 18-8, but it seems like smooth sailing from here on out. Iowa couldn’t quite the job is done at home against Maryland, so the Hawkeyes remain in the “safe for now” category for another week as well.
As soon as Ohio State looked like a contender to jump off the bubble, the Buckeyes fell back in with a home loss to Illinois and an 18-point loss to Michigan State. A nice win over Northwestern kept Ohio State from a disastrous 0-3 week, but with Maryland, Iowa and Purdue next up on the schedule, there’s a reason to worry.
Minnesota’s remaining schedule is far from easy, too. With so-so predictive metrics and middling measurables, the Golden Gophers must keep chugging to keep their tournament hopes alive. Nebraska and Indiana are on red alert, as Tuesday’s games against Penn State and Purdue have the Cornhuskers and Hoosiers at 5-11 and 4-11 in conference play, respectively. Both are mere inches from falling off the bubble.
Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech
Safe for Now: Iowa State, Kansas State
Bubble: Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Christian University
At long last, the Big 12 has locks. Kansas was able to turn a 6-4 conference record into 9-4, meaning the Jayhawks are guaranteed to enter their 30th consecutive NCAA tournament. Texas Tech is now a lock too, as the Red Raiders have outscored their last four opponents by a combined 96 points.
Iowa State looked to be in the clear with last Saturday’s win over Kansas State, but Tuesday’s home loss to Baylor means the Cyclones must wait in the “safe for now” section for another week. The same goes for the Wildcats, who are inches away from lock status as well.
It’s odd to think, but the team with 11 losses may be the Big 12’s most likely option for a fifth team. Texas has a very favorable KenPom Ranking at 25 and four Q1 victories to boot. Baylor is just a bit behind, though Tuesday’s win at Iowa State is definitely a massive résumé booster.
After a rough three weeks, Oklahoma finally got back on track with a win at TCU. Still, that ugly 4-9 conference record keeps the Sooners on the bubble. TCU has been falling fast, with Monday’s loss to Oklahoma State putting the Horned Frogs in the 40s in both KenPom and NET. It’s not quite time to hit the panic button in Fort Worth, but a quick turnaround is needed.
Safe for Now: Washington
Bubble: Arizona State
Washington continues to take care of business, as the 21-5 Huskies look to be in good position to enter March Madness regardless of how they perform in the Pac-12 Tournament. Still, a victory at Oregon is likely Washington’s best win at this point, so the lock status evades Washington for another week.
Arizona State is finally trending in the right direction with consecutive wins over Utah and Stanford. The Sun Devils finally have a KenPom Ranking above 60, but the bad losses they’ve accumulated mean they likely reside in “last four in” territory. There’s still work to do.
Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky
Safe for Now: Louisiana State University, Mississippi State, Auburn
Bubble: Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama
LSU was oh-so-close to becoming a lock, but Wednesday’s overtime loss to Florida means that the Tigers wait for one more week. Mississippi State has looked solid recently and will likely soon join LSU as the SEC’s next locks. Auburn’s a bit further back due to the absence of any Q1 wins, but predictive metrics adore the Tigers, so there should be no reason to worry.
Ole Miss looked ready to move up a category, but Tuesday’s 15-point loss to South Carolina keeps the Rebels on the high end of the bubble for another week. Florida has come on very strong lately, recording massive wins at Alabama and at LSU just four days apart. If this trend continues, the Gators’ tournament stock should only continue to rise.
Alabama is quickly letting the season slip away, as Tuesday’s loss at Texas A&M is the most recent in a string of lackluster performances. The Crimson Tide’s metrics are beginning to slide too. Things need to change in Tuscaloosa quickly, or Alabama will receive an invitation to the wrong tournament.
Safe for Now: Nevada, Buffalo
Bubble: Wofford, Virginia Commonwealth University, Utah State, Lipscomb, Furman, San Francisco, Belmont
Results like Wednesday’s loss to San Diego State prove why Nevada is not quite a lock yet. The Wolf Pack may be the best team in the Mountain West, but hardly anything certain when you’re a mid-major. Buffalo should still be in good shape, and Tuesday’s 114-point performance is certainly a good sign. The real key was getting the win in Toledo, which the Bulls did.
Wofford could very well enter “safe for now” territory. The Terriers shrugged off UNC-Greensboro like it was nothing and are sitting pretty at 23-4 with no losses in conference. A win at Furman on Saturday would likely be enough for Wofford to move up. VCU has an incredibly strong case too, as the Rams have rattled off seven straight wins to reach 20-6. Keeping this momentum is key for VCU’s tournament hopes.
Lipscomb’s at-large hopes took a nasty hit with Wednesday’s loss at Florida Gulf Coast. It may soon be Atlantic Sun Tournament victory or nothing for the Bisons. Utah State and San Francisco have hung around by racking up wins, though the former is in much better shape thanks to fewer bad losses and a far more favorable NET Ranking.
UNC-Greensboro may no longer have a legitimate at-large case with yet another blowout loss to Wofford, but fellow SoCon contender Furman could have a chance. An upset win over Wofford on Saturday is likely required to keep the Paladins here, but November’s win over Villanova is looking mighty fine right now.
Finally, there’s Belmont, which has won their last nine to suddenly join the bubble. A conference tournament loss to Murray State is likely the only situation in which Belmont could be considered for an at-large bid, but with the way the Bruins have been playing lately, they deserve to be in the conversation.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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