Bauer’s Bubble Watch 5.0
This week’s edition of the Bubble Watch takes an interesting turn. In most years, the bubble shrinks over time, as teams fall out of favor with losses that equate to résumés too weak to compete for an at-large selection. However, that isn’t the case this season. If anything, the bubble is expanding. This is because current bubble teams like Seton Hall, Arizona State, TCU and Clemson are continuing to lose, opening the door for teams previously thought to be dead.
Although we say goodbye to Nebraska and Butler this week, we welcome the return of Indiana, Creighton, and Georgetown. It’s rare for teams to jump back onto the bubble this late in the season, but with how weak the bubble is this year, it just so happens to be the truth. With that out of the way, let’s take another look at which teams are fighting to hear their names called on Selection Sunday.
Locks: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech
Safe for Now: Louisville
Bubble: Syracuse, North Carolina State, Clemson
No movement in the ACC this week. One could argue that Louisville deserves to be a lock after ending a three-game losing streak with a nice home win over Notre Dame, but with Virginia and a tough ACC Tournament still, on the schedule, the Cardinals are about one victory shy of being totally safe. They’ll stay “safe for now” for the time being.
The only other team that could earn discussion about jumping categories is Syracuse. Many bracketologists project Syracuse to be safe, though it’s worth noting the Orange have lost three of their last four. Granted, those games were against Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke, but losses are losses, after all. Saturday’s bout with Clemson should decide a lot about the safety of this team.
NC State is starting to sweat, as the Wolfpack missed their chance to tack another Quadrant 1 win onto the résumé at Florida State last Saturday, then lost to lowly Georgia Tech on Wednesday. NC State does have a favorable NET ranking (No.31) and KenPom ranking (No.40), but one has to wonder if the lack of quality wins and middling conference record will factor into the selection committee’s decision.
Finally, there’s Clemson, which missed an opportunity to earn a second Q1 win against North Carolina in heartbreaking fashion. At 18-12 overall and 8-9 in the conference, the records don’t look especially pretty, though a solid NET ranking of No.40 and favorable KenPom ranking of No.29 keep the Tigers in the heart of the bubble discussion. It’s do-or-die time for Clemson.
Safe for Now: Cincinnati
Bubble: Central Florida, Temple
Should Cincinnati be a lock? It’s a very close call. At 25-4, the Bearcats should be fine, though an 0-3 finish could be a cause for concern. Still, it’s hard to imagine a world where Cincinnati is left out of the NCAA Tournament.
Likewise, UCF has a serious argument to be placed in “safe for now” territory after handing Houston its first home loss in 33 games. It is the Knights only Q1 win though, so there’s still some work to do. Perhaps a home win against Cincinnati on Thursday would do the trick.
Temple has a huge test ahead, as the Owls sit squarely on the bubble with two regular-season games remaining. Thursday’s trip to Connecticut is a must-win, while Saturday’s encounter with UCF would be a premium addition to the résumé should the Owls win. Temple’s tournament case is going to come right down to the wire.
Locks: Marquette, Villanova
Safe for Now: None
Bubble: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Creighton, Georgetown
Villanova finally earns that long-desired lock after following up last Wednesday’s win over Marquette with a 21-point stomping of Butler. Nothing will prevent the Wildcats from hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.
What on earth is St. John’s? After knocking off Seton Hall and looking like a solid tournament pick, the Red Storm went 0-2 this week with losses vs. Xavier and at DePaul. The excellent wins over VCU, Villanova and Marquette twice still hold firm, but those bad losses will linger too. St. John’s needs to get its act together fast in order to avoid a nosedive into the NIT.
Seton Hall is a similar case, as the Pirates possess wins over Kentucky and Maryland alongside an uninspiring metrics and a mediocre 17-12 overall and 8-9 conference record. Wednesday’s win over Marquette was huge in breaking up a three-game losing streak, but Villanova still looms on the schedule before the Big East Tournament. It’s time to put up or shut up.
Creighton is suddenly back in the conversation after knocking off Marquette in Milwaukee, but there’s still work to be done. A five-game win streak to finish the regular season would put the Bluejays at 18-13 overall and 9-9 in conference. Add a nice showing in the Big East Tournament and Creighton suddenly has a real shot at receiving an at-large invitation to the big dance.
Georgetown has returned to the bubble too, but NET and predictive metrics are not as kind to the Hoyas as other Big East bubble teams. An 18-12 overall and 8-9 aren’t eye-catching, and Wednesday’s loss at DePaul was killer. A strong finish could put Georgetown in serious consideration for the tournament, but there is ground to be made up. These next two weeks of Big East play are going to be fascinating.
Locks: Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland
Safe for Now: Iowa
Bubble: Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana
Like Purdue and Maryland, 20 is the magic number for Wisconsin. Thanks to a win over Penn State, the Badgers are a lock.
Iowa has been on a slide recently, dropping three of the past four. The Hawkeyes now have a two-game road trip to Wisconsin and Nebraska before conference play starts. Winning one of those two should earn them total safety.
Ohio State put up its worst performance of the season at Purdue back on March 2, then followed that up with a stinker at Northwestern. The situation is starting to look grave for the Buckeyes. They should plan on performing well in the Big Ten Tournament to erase any doubt from the minds of the selection committee.
Minnesota is starting to feel a lot more comfortable. After losing six of seven, the Golden Gophers got two very nice victories at Northwestern and at home against Purdue. If they can keep this momentum going forward, there’s a good chance they’ll be playing in March Madness.
Indiana returns to the bubble in spectacular fashion. It’s hard to argue a tournament invite for a team that loses 12 of their 13, but it’s also hard to ignore back-to-back home wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State. That’s six Q1 wins for Indiana. Aside from St. John’s, every other team with that many is safely in the field. The Hoosiers deserve to be in the discussion. Now let’s see how they finish.
Locks: Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State
Safe for Now: Iowa State
Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Christian
Kansas State put up a 2-0 week and becomes a lock because of it. Iowa State, meanwhile, got stomped at Texas and at West Virginia. Looks like it’s one more week in “safe for now” land for the Cyclones.
Baylor might deserve to be safe for now too, but those two early Q4 losses will never disappear from the résumé, and recent home to lose to Oklahoma State certainly doesn’t help. Let’s see another win or two before moving the Bears up a rank.
Following a rough stretch in early February, Oklahoma has rebounded nicely to win four of the last five, including Tuesday’s destruction of Kansas. That so-so 7-10 conference record is really the only thing keeping the Sooners on the bubble.
It’s strange to think, but a 14-loss team is right in the conversation for an at-large bid. A 16-14 record doesn’t look pretty, but Texas does boast five Q1 wins, a No.26 KenPom ranking and a No.35 NET ranking. Those are tournament numbers. Regardless, 14 losses are a lot, and Texas needs to look impressive down the stretch to stick around.
Things are starting to get messy for the Horned Frogs. TCU is 1-6 since mid-February, and every metric is starting to sour. TCU probably needs to grab a win or two in the Big 12 Tournament to stay on the plus side of the bubble. Let’s not forget the final game of the regular season: at Texas on Saturday. There might be no bigger bubble game all season.
Safe for Now: Washington
Bubble: Arizona State
College basketball is weird. Washington was ready to lock itself into the tournament field with a 22-5 overall and 13-1 conference record. Then, disaster struck as winless-in-conference-play Cal knocked off the ranked Huskies.
Lightning almost struck twice as Stanford came a bucket short of handing Washington its second straight loss, then again when Washington needed overtime to top Oregon State at home. There’s not much reason to worry about Washington missing out on a tournament invite, but results like these are enough to express a little uncertainty.
After three wins a row, Arizona State took a nasty hit to the tournament hopes with a 28-point decimation at the hands of Oregon. The Sun Devils did follow it up with a win at Oregon State, but that’s not enough to keep them from landing around “last four in” territory. Will those top-tier victories over Kansas, Utah State, and Mississippi State be enough to overcome many embarrassing losses? We’ll just have to wait to find out.
Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana State
Safe for Now: Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss
Bubble: Florida, Alabama
You can’t really blame Mississippi State for dropping a tight one at Auburn and getting crushed at Tennessee, but those losses are enough to keep the Bulldogs from becoming a lock for another week.
Auburn, meanwhile, is quickly approaching “lock” status with back-to-back wins vs. Mississippi State and at Alabama. A home win over Tennessee on Saturday would absolutely cement the Tigers into the postseason.
That’s three straight heartbreakers for Ole Miss, as the Rebels lost to Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kentucky by a combined seven points. They played well in all those games, and they have four Q1 wins to the name, so the Rebels should still be feeling fine.
Ouch, Florida. Five straight wins have all been put in jeopardy with an ugly, ugly home loss against Georgia, followed by an overtime loss against LSU. Kentucky certainly doesn’t make for an easy regular season finale. The Gators may need to rely on the SEC Tournament for additional wins.
Things are getting desperate for Alabama. The 17-13 Crimson Tide took another loss on Tuesday against Auburn, and they don’t rank above No.50 in either KenPom or NET. Alabama must beat Arkansas on Saturday, and a strong showing in the SEC Tournament is probably required too.
Safe for Now: Buffalo, Nevada, Wofford
Bubble: Virginia Commonwealth, Utah State, Belmont, Lipscomb, Furman
It may seem stingy, but Nevada’s loss at Utah State prevents the Wolf Pack from becoming a lock for another week. Buffalo is right there with them, though the absence of any recent losses and one more Q1 win may have the Bulls feeling even safer.
Wofford’s 18-0 conference record and No.14 NET ranking also point to a tournament lock. So, what gives? These three teams all elude lock status this week simply because of the mid-major reputation. If Wofford loses its first game in the SoCon Tournament, should the Terriers still be included in the field of 68? Yes, but can you say with 100 percent certainty that they will be? No. The same precedent applies to Nevada and Buffalo.
VCU continues to dominate the Atlantic 10 with 11 straight wins. It might not be long before the Rams move into “safe for now” territory.
Utah State closed regular season play with a massive home over Nevada and a scary overtime road win at Colorado State. The Aggies are in good shape at the moment, but with only two Q1 wins, Utah State needs to avoid a first-round loss in the Mountain West Tournament to feel safe.
Belmont and Lipscomb have taken care of business so far, but there’s still work to do. A loss to Murray State in the Ohio Valley championship game is likely the only way Belmont remains considered for an at-large, and the same is true for Lipscomb versus Liberty in the Atlantic Sun. Winning the conference tournament outright will eliminate any need to worry for either team.
With only one Q1 win and a 13-5 conference record, Furman is clinging to life. The Paladins must perform in the SoCon Tournament to have a fighting chance, and that may entail defeating almighty Wofford. Furman needs to win and other bubble teams to lose in order to have any chance at an at-large bid. Of course, the Paladins could just win the SoCon Tournament and remove any doubt. But that’s easier said than done.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.