NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch

Story posted February 15, 2018 in CommRadio, Sports by DJ Bauer

It’s almost that time of year again: March Madness. Last Sunday, the selection committee gave a quick preview of the tournament by revealing their current top 16 teams, giving us an idea of what to expect in terms of evaluation going forward. So, with about a month to go before the they reveal the full bracket of 68 teams competing for the national title, let’s take a look at the which teams we may see in the field come Selection Sunday.

For this analysis, all teams in consideration will be split into three categories: locks, safe for now, and the bubble. As this is the “Bubble Watch,” the focus will be on the bubble teams. This analysis will also be divided into the sections for the seven major conferences (ACC, American, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC), as well as a section for the at-large contenders from the mid-major conferences.

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

A win over Clemson has Florida State feeling a lot better about their tournament hopes. A couple more key wins down the road should have the Seminoles in the tournament. Virginia Tech scored a big overtime win on Saturday over Virginia, giving a much-needed boost to their dancing hopes, but one good win may not be enough. Fortunately for the Hokies, there are plenty of opportunities down the road to grab quality wins, most coming at home. Louisville has been falling fast in the past few weeks, and it doesn’t get easier as they’ll host UNC on Saturday before traveling to Durham. They’ll need to come up big down the stretch to avoid missing the postseason. Wednesday’s matchup between NC State and Syracuse had huge implications on the ACC bubble, as a road win had the Wolfpack trending up (and the Orange trending down).

Finally, there’s Notre Dame, who’s been clinging to dear life in the competitive ACC. Being No. 40 in KenPom helps their odds; being No. 71 in RPI does not. It’s going to take a lot in the final month for the Fighting Irish to snag a bid.

Locks: Cincinnati
Safe for Now: Wichita State
Bubble: Houston, Temple, SMU

Houston’s on the right side of the bubble with a 19-5 record, 9-3 conference record, and No. 29 RPI. Still the committee may point out their No. 101 SOS as a weakness, so winning the right games from here on out is key to staying on top of the bubble crowd. After a weak start to conference play, Temple has been on a roll with five straight wins. Their 15-10 record is a bit low for a bubble team, but their No. 14 SOS makes up for it. With Wichita State and Houston still on the schedule, Temple has the potential to make a run for the tourney. No team has had worse luck than the SMU Mustangs, who have been plagued by injuries. After four straight losses, SMU is on the wrong end of the bubble. With six games to go, the Mustangs need to a strong turnaround to have a shadow of a chance.

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

Butler was looking like a safe bet until last week, when the Bulldogs began a three-game losing streak. A win against Providence on Saturday would be a step back in the right direction. Speaking of Providence, the Friars have been crazy inconsistent lately, losing to lowly DePaul by 17 at home, then topping Villanova by five four days later. More of latter and less of the former should put Providence in the field. Then there’s Marquette, who’s a bit behind the curve. With two games against Creighton still on the schedule, the Golden Eagles have a golden opportunity to capitalize and get back into serious consideration.

Big Ten
Locks: Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State
Safe for Now: Michigan
Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State, Maryland

Despite having 20 wins and an 11-4 conference record, Nebraska is still on the outside looking in, due to the fact that their best win is a Q2 home win over Michigan. The only other opportunity for a quality win on the schedule is the final regular season game against Penn State, but finishing the season with less than ten wins and 12 or more conference victories would be hard for the committee to ignore. Penn State is right on Nebraska’s tail, but a weak RPI (No. 85) and SOS (No. 110) has the Nittany Lions farther removed. On the plus side, Penn State finishes the season with four prime opportunities to raise those metrics. A 3-1 finish would give them a pretty strong resume. Even farther out is Maryland, whose two recent losses to Penn State and Nebraska are looming large. The Terrapins will likely need to win out and grab some victories in the Big Ten Tournament to have a shot at the big dance.

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

The Big 12 is incredibly deep this year, as nearly the whole conference is in consideration for a tournament bid. TCU is at the top of the Big 12 bubble, thanks to a nice RPI and the No. 10 SOS. Baylor’s four-game win streak has them in the conversation too, especially with five more opportunities for Q1 wins down the line. Then there’s Kansas State and Texas, who are nearly identical in RPI. The Wildcats have a better conference and overall record, but the Longhorns’ SOS is much better. Kansas State won the first matchup between these two, but another game will be held in Austin next week. It may end up deciding which one gets an at-large bid and which one is left out. Last is Oklahoma State, who has huge wins over the likes of Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma, but a 5-8 conference record and No. 98 RPI are keeping them down. Like Baylor, there are plenty of opportunities left for the Cowboys to raise that stat.

Locks: Arizona
Safe for Now: Arizona State
Bubble: UCLA, USC, Washington, Utah, Oregon

The Pac-12 is an interesting case, as this league could have two teams in the tourney as easily as it could have five teams. UCLA and USC are both 8-5 in the Pac-12 and have similar RPIs. If they play similarly the rest of the way, there’s an argument to be made if these teams will be a package deal: both in or both out. Washington’s a bit of an oddity, as the No. 44 RPI and No. 96 KenPom held by this team are completely contradictory. For all the close quality wins this team has, there are almost as many blowout losses. The Huskies will make for an interesting discussion on Selection Sunday if they continue the current pattern. Utah’s in the same boat as UCLA and USC, but their losses to both of these teams as well as a lower RPI have them lower on the bubble. Finally, there’s Oregon, coming to life by winning five of their last six after a slow start to conference play. But like with many other teams mentioned before, the Ducks will need to raise their RPI and SOS metrics in order for the committee to give them a look.

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

Based on the sheer quantity of Q1 wins, Alabama is barely a bubble team. A win at Kentucky on Saturday would almost certainly mean a jump into the “safe for now” category. Arkansas has a fine win streak going, but the real test comes now as they face five Q1 teams to finish the regular season. Mississippi State’s resume took a big hit after Wednesday’s loss to Vanderbilt, but they’re not out yet. With Texas A&M, Tennessee, and LSU on the schedule, the Bulldogs can make still make a final push for the tournament. As for LSU, a 15-point loss at Alabama has the Tigers on life support. A deep SEC Tournament run may be a requirement for this team. The one saving grace is the five Q1 wins.

Other Contenders
Locks: None
Safe for Now: Rhode Island, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Nevada
Bubble: Boise State, St. Bonaventure, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State, Western Kentucky

Boise State missed out on a chance for a big resume booster with Wednesday’s loss to Nevada. The Broncos’ great RPI and lackluster SOS will certainly be discussed in March. St. Bonaventure is in a very similar situation. The Bonnies host Rhode Island on Friday. A win would be absolutely massive. At the moment, Middle Tennessee is projected to win the C-USA, as is New Mexico State with the WAC, but losses in the conference tournament would place these teams on the bubble. Both teams have top 50 RPIs, but the committee may not feel comfortable putting two teams from the C-USA or WAC in the tournament. This argument hurts C-USA at-large possibility Western Kentucky, whose win over Purdue back in November is piloting their case. A major matchup on the first of March with Middle Tennessee may be monumental in determining who has the edge in the C-USA bubble talk.

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).