NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch – 3/8/18

Story posted March 8, 2018 in Sports, CommRadio by DJ Bauer

Selection Sunday is just three days away. After another great year of college basketball, we’re almost ready to see which 68 teams will be competing for a national title. A handful of teams have already locked up auto-bids thanks to conference tournament victories (including Michigan, Gonzaga and Loyola-Chicago), and more auto-bids will be secured in the coming days. As for this week’s edition of the Bubble Watch, we have ten new locks (Kentucky, Houston, TCU, Seton Hall, Texas A&M, Miami, Florida, Nevada, Arkansas and Creighton) and three new eliminations (Temple, Maryland and Georgia). Here’s a fresh look at the teams still in at-large consideration:

Locks: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami
Safe for Now: Virginia Tech, Florida State, NC State
Bubble: Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame

Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State all failed to win their first-round games in the ACC Tournament (with losses to Notre Dame, Louisville and Boston College, respectively), but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where any of these teams are left out. Louisville received a huge resume boost with Wednesday’s win over Florida State. Syracuse was not so fortunate, as its ACC play ended with a 19-point loss to North Carolina. Having the No. 44 RPI and No. 13 SOS are attractive traditional metrics, but the Orange can only sit and wait until Sunday, hoping other bubble teams will fall along the way. Notre Dame is still alive, thanks to a 21-point comeback victory over Virginia Tech. There’s still some work left to do, however. Defeating Duke on Thursday night will be no easy task, but the Fighting Irish may have to do so if they want to be seriously considered for an at-large bid.

Locks: Cincinnati, Wichita State, Houston
Safe for Now: None
Bubble: None

Nothing to see here. Temple’s recent losses to Connecticut and Tulsa officially put the Owls out of at-large consideration, while Houston’s impressive 24-6 record, 14-4 conference record and No. 19 RPI are enough to earn lock status. Barring an AAC Tournament championship from a team like Tulsa or UCF, the American Conference will be a three-bid league.

Big East
Locks: Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton
Safe for Now: Butler
Bubble: Providence, Marquette

Butler has been on a bit of a late-season slide, and a loss to Seton Hall on Thursday would have them sweating even more. Even if this occurs, the Bulldogs should still be pretty confident about their chances of going dancing. Providence is almost in the same boat as Butler, but numerous double-digit losses have the Friars a bit closer to the edge. However, its win against Creighton on Thursday will certainly alleviate some of the pressure. Then there’s Marquette, who kept their tournament hopes alive with a narrow victory over DePaul on Wednesday. Next up is Villanova: the biggest challenge the Golden Eagles have had all year. A win might be enough to put them in; a loss would almost certainly mean an NIT appearance, at most.

Big Ten
Locks: Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State
Safe for Now: None
Bubble: Penn State, Nebraska

Did Penn State do enough? That’s all that the Nittany Lions can ask as they sit and wait for other bubble teams to rise or fall. Another win over Ohio State certainly helped the situation, but it may not be enough to push this team into the tournament. If the committee values the eye test and predictive metrics like KenPom and BPI, the Lions have a decent shot. However, if they only look at the resume, it will be tough to make a tournament case for Penn State. Nebraska is quite similar, but a blowout loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament puts the Cornhuskers even farther behind. At the end of the day, it looks unlikely that the Big Ten will yield more than four tournament teams unless some serious collapsing occurs with other bubble teams.

Big 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU
Safe for Now: Oklahoma
Bubble: Texas, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State

Despite losing eight of their last ten, the most recent loss coming in the Big 12 Tournament to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma should still make the tournament thanks to a strong SOS (No. 22) and six Q1 wins. Texas will probably be dancing after avoiding a disastrous loss against Iowa State on Wednesday, but they ought to be keeping their eye on the other bubble teams. Kansas State, meanwhile, has more overall and conference wins, but the metrics are less favorable. Its overtime win over TCU on Thursday though, makes it a lot safer. Baylor finds itself in a similar situation; the Bears may need a victory over West Virginia to stay alive. Last but not least is Oklahoma State, who continues to impress down the stretch. The Cowboys beat Kansas twice earlier in the year but were unable to do so for a third time. All they can do now is hope they've done enough. 

Locks: Arizona
Safe for Now: None
Bubble: USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah, Oregon, Washington

As it has been lately, USC and UCLA have nearly identical resumes. No. 35 and 36 in RPI, No. 43 and 54 in SOS, No. 46 and 49 in KenPom, etc. Despite UCLA’s victory at USC last Saturday, the Trojans have a very slight edge. It’s quite possible that both of these teams with be playing in Dayton. Of course, both teams see their first Pac-12 Tournament action on Thursday; wins and losses here could be the separator. Arizona State was feeling comfortable mere weeks ago but are now sweating worse than any other team. Five losses in the last six games, including Wednesday’s first-round tournament exit against Colorado, have put the Sun Devils right on the bubble. With nothing left to do, Arizona State will just have to sweat it out until Sunday. Utah is still a bit behind in the bubble conversation, but there’s still time for the Utes to make a Pac-12 Tournament run. The same is true for the Ducks, who narrowly dodged a first-round upset against Washington State and will play Utah on Thursday. Washington wasn’t so lucky, as an overtime loss to Oregon State almost kills the Huskies’ tournament chances. Washington has respectable metrics and remains alive because of it, but they’ll likely need some sort of miracle to make the grade.

Locks: Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Florida, Arkansas
Safe for Now: Missouri
Bubble: Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU

Missouri shouldn’t have much to worry about; just beat Georgia on Thursday and any doubts disappear. Alabama still alive after its dramatic win over Texas A&M Thursday afternoon. Mississippi State and LSU continue to barely hang around, and the Tigers’ 21-point win last Saturday kept them alive while bringing the Bulldogs down to their bubble level in the process. Thursday’s matchup has huge implications: winner keeps their slim tournament hope alive, the loser is all but eliminated. Regardless, both of these teams are likely headed to the NIT without a massive SEC Tournament run.

Other Contenders
Locks: Gonzaga, Nevada
Safe for Now: Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure
Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Boise State, Western Kentucky, New Mexico State

Rhode Island’s recent losses to Saint Joseph’s and Davidson are worrisome, but the Rams should still be feeling confident heading into Sunday. St. Bonaventure joins URI in the “safe for now” category. The Bonnies just ought to win down the stretch to remain there. Middle Tennessee’s on the bubble after the loss to Marshall. If they can avoid another bad loss in the C-USA Tournament, the Blue Raiders should be hearing their name called, regardless if they win the conference tournament or not. Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, is hurting after the loss to BYU. After all, their resume is relatively weak. Despite an impressive 28-5 record, the Gaels are far from safe at the moment. Boise State remains alive, but like many other teams, they’ll need to prove their worth in their conference tournament. Western Kentucky’s at-large chances shrunk significantly after the 28-point loss to UAB. The Hilltoppers might need to win the C-USA Tournament to reach the big dance. New Mexico State is quite similar; a WAC Tournament win is the only surefire way that the Aggies receive an invitation.



DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email

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DJ Bauer

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

David “DJ” M. Bauer Jr. is a senior from Valencia, Pennsylvania majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is an editor, writer, producer, and play-by-play announcer for the CommRadio sports department. His writings include the Weekly NFL Game Picks series, Bauertology, and the NCAA Bubble Watch series. He is the co-host of the CommRadio talk show 4th & Long alongside Jeremy Ganes. Alongside Andrew Destin, Andrew Field and Zach Donaldson, he is one of CommRadio’s Penn State football insiders, a group of elite writers who cover Penn State football in depth during the 2020 season. He was also a production intern for the Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things baseball club. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).