NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch

Story posted February 22, 2018 in Sports, CommRadio by By DJ Bauer

Another week of college basketball in this final month means it’s time for another edition of the Bubble Watch. Since last week, there’s been quite a bit of movement, including two new locks (North Carolina and Gonzaga), one elimination (SMU), two teams being brought back into consideration (UCF and Georgia), and a few teams moving from the bubble to the “safe for now” category or vice versa. Without further ado, let’s get to the analysis.

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

Virginia Tech is inching ever closer to “safe for now” status. A big home win over Clemson on Wednesday puts VT at 20-8 overall and 9-6 in conference. One or two more wins should have the Hokies feeling good about their tournament chances. Miami, meanwhile, has fallen to the bubble after three straight losses. A tight win at Notre Dame on Monday night alleviates the situation for now, but the Hurricanes need to keep it up the rest of the way in order to avoid disaster. NC State has similar numbers and quality wins to Virginia Tech, but a head-to-head loss between the two has the Wolfpack a little bit more in the bubble. NC State has a good chance at finishing 12-6 in the conference, and that would be hard for the committee to ignore. Louisville continues its nosedive, and a 26-point loss to Duke doesn’t make things any better. The Cardinals have three possible Q1 wins remaining in the regular season; two out of three should suffice. Syracuse won at Miami but missed out on a big home against North Carolina, putting the Orange squarely on the bubble. Similar to Louisville, there are a bounty of opportunities down the stretch. Finally, there’s Notre Dame, who are still hanging by a thread after Monday night’s loss to Miami. A tournament run for Notre Dame would likely require a massive upset of No. 1 Virginia in early March.

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

Temple had opportunities last week but just couldn’t capitalize, losing a heartbreaker at Wichita State then getting stomped at home by Houston. A decent RPI (No. 44) and fantastic SOS (No. 9) are keeping the Owls alive, but they’re running out of opportunities. Then there’s UCF, who looks like a long shot at best, especially after an ugly loss to Tulsa on Wednesday, but as with many other teams, there are opportunities ahead for the Golden Knights, including a trip to Temple and a home bout with Wichita State.

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

Once again, Providence proves to be inconsistent by losing by 15 at Butler mere days after toppling Villanova. An odd delay pushes back Wednesday’s game with Seton Hall to Thursday, but a win would be absolutely key for the Friars. Marquette still has life with wins over Creighton and St. John’s, but a light schedule the rest of the way will make it hard for the Golden Eagles to make the field of 68 without a deep Big East Tournament run.

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

Sunday’s loss at Illinois was bad, but it wasn’t bubble-popping for Nebraska. After all the Huskers are 12-5 in conference with Tuesday’s win over Indiana, and the final game of the regular season against Penn State would be another quality win. All things considered though, Nebraska’s middling RPI (No. 59) and weak SOS (No. 101) point to a resume that needs to be strengthened with Big Ten Tournament wins. Speaking of tournament teams with weak resumes, there’s Penn State. Penn State missed out on two prime opportunities to add quality wins to their resume against Purdue and Michigan. Having the No. 84 RPI and No. 83 SOS certainly doesn’t help their case. The Nittany Lions’ predictive metrics may be strong (No. 26 in BPI, No. 27 in KenPom), but the current tournament outlook is looking pretty bleak. A win in Nebraska and two or three Big Ten Tournament wins looks like a necessity to remain on the committee’s radar. Finally, there’s Maryland, who’s certainly a distant third place in the Big Ten bubble conversation, but as was with Nebraska and Penn State, a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament could put the Terrapins back in the right direction.

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

TCU is quite close to “safe for now” status, as wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State give the Horned Frogs the No. 21 RPI and No. 41 SOS, as well as the No. 23 KenPom. Taking care of business where necessary down the stretch should certainly put TCU into the field. Kansas State is on the upswing after three straight wins, two coming over bubble teams. Having the No. 55 RPI and No. 73 SOS doesn’t really help the Wildcats but having the third best conference record in the incredibly tough Big 12 is a huge boost. Baylor finally fell back to Earth with Tuesday’s loss to West Virginia, but the Bears are still looking like strong tournament hopefuls with a stretch opportunity to finish the season. Texas is quietly slipping out of the conversation with four losses in their last five games. The Longhorns need a quick turnaround to avoid heading to the NIT. Last is Oklahoma State, who refused to die after defeating Texas Tech on Wednesday. A tournament bid is ultimately unlikely for the Cowboys, but at least their hat is still in the ring.

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

UCLA stays staunchly in the bubble conversation after two necessary wins over Oregon State and Oregon last week, putting the Bruins at 10-5 in conference play. USC, of course, followed suit by doing the exact same thing. The case for including or excluding both of these teams is getting stronger and stronger. The regular season finale between these two could be the decider. Utah is still alive with a four-game win streak and having two games next week with fellow bubble adversaries UCLA and USC certainly makes things interesting in the Pac-12. Washington avoided a season derailment with a much-needed win against Colorado, but there are still four games and a conference tourney to go before the Huskies can make a strong tournament case. Oregon is behind the curve with an 0-2 showing last week, but with the insane parity in the Pac-12 this year, a big conference tourney run could easily happen to the Ducks.

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

Missouri falls back to the bubble with losses to LSU and Ole Miss but winning two of their final three should have the Tigers in the tournament. Arkansas snagged a huge win over Texas A&M, then proceeded to lose by 15 to Kentucky at home, gaining no ground for the Razorbacks overall. Florida is now in the danger zone, falling to 17-11 overall and 8-7 in conference thanks to a trio of losses over the last week. A tough schedule down the stretch only makes this collapse look even worse. LSU clings onto their tournament hopes with another pair of wins, and Mississippi State turned negated a bad loss to Vanderbilt by winning in Texas A&M on Tuesday. Last is Georgia, who have talked themselves back into consideration after knocking off Florida and Tennessee back-to-back. Still, a loss to South Carolina right after makes Georgia’s tournament case a rather shaky one.

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

Middle Tennessee continues to climb the ranks of the C-USA with two more wins, putting the Blue Raiders at 22-5 overall and 14-1 in conference. The No. 22 RPI means that Middle Tennessee should still snag a tournament bid even if they don’t win their conference tournament, but they had better keep on winning just to make sure. St. Bonaventure continues to roll with a huge resume-boosting win over Rhode Island. Avoiding disastrous losses at this point should be the main priority. Boise State is still hanging around too, but it definitely hurts that there are no real chances for quality wins left on the schedule. The Broncos will have to hope the committee will be satisfied with just one Q1 win. Western Kentucky avoided disaster against North Texas last week, but the at-large hopes still remain relatively low. New Mexico State has now dropped two conference games in a row after previously going 9-0, likely putting the Aggies out of at-large conversation. Only a super strong finish can save New Mexico State should they fail to win the WAC Tournament.

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).