It’s that time of the year again, which means that we are diving head first into our annual NCAA tournament bubble watch.
The way that it will work is simple: We’ll be looking at every team that our Dave Ommen, the best bracketologist in the business, considers in the mix for an at-large bid. In an effort to keep this somewhat manageable, we are going to assume that the top 36 teams in the field — every team that is a No. 9-seed or above — is “off the bubble”. This does not mean those teams are a lock to dance, it just means that they have given themselves enough room for error that we can take them out of the conversation until they do something dumb.
So with all that in mind, let’s get into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch:
TOP 9: Louisville (NBC: 2), Duke (NBC: 2), Florida State (NBC: 3)
VIRGINIA (NET: 55, NBC: 11): Virginia landed an overtime win over Notre Dame (53) on Tuesday night, their fourth win in the last five games and their fifth win in the last seven games. The Wahoos are now 16-7 overall with a 6-6 mark against the top two Quads thanks to this win. They do have three Quad 1 wins, but just one of them — Florida State (14) at home — is a surefire Quad 1 win to go along with a Quad 3 loss at Boston College (145). Perhaps the biggest issue is that UVA has just two potential Quad 1 wins left on their schedule. They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use a win over Duke (6) or Louisville (7) next month.
N.C. STATE (NET: 60, NBC: Play-in game): The Wolfpack landed their third Quad 1 win of the season by going into the Carrier Dome and picking off Syracuse (69) on Tuesday night. N.C. State has just one win over a top 50 team, but they do have those three Quad 1 road wins and a home win over Wisconsin (33). Two Quad 3 home losses weigh things down, but they’ll earn their tournament bid in the next three games: they have to go on the road to Boston College (141) before hosting Duke (6) and Florida State (14) next week.
TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8)
WICHITA STATE (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): The power of a narrative is strong. After back-to-back last-second losses to Tulsa (84) and Cincinnati (48), Wichita State got absolutely trucked by Houston (26) on the road on Sunday. What was a couple of competitive, tough-luck losses has suddenly turned into an inflection point in the season, and now Wichita State’s standing as an NCAA tournament team looks pretty precarious. The good news is they snapped that losing skid on Thursday night with a win at UCF (124). They have beaten VCU (42) and Oklahoma (45) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just three potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — the Shockers need to get hot, and soon.
MEMPHIS (NET: 59, NBC: First four out): The Tigers saw their three-game losing streak get blown up on Saturday when they lost at home to South Florida (115), and they followed that up by blowing a 10-point lead in the final six minutes in their biggest game of the season, at Cincinnati (48). They’ve now lost four of their last seven and six of their last 11 games, they are playing without D.J. Jeffries, their second-leading scorer, they have more Quad 3 losses (two) than Quad 1 wins (one) and the two best teams that they have beaten on the season are slated to play in a play-in game in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket. I don’t think this ends well for Memphis.
CINCINNATI (NET: 48, NBC: Play-in game): The Bearcats bounced back from a tough, overtime loss at UConn (74) to beat Memphis (59) in overtime in a come-from-behind win at home on Thursday. They’ve won six of their last seven games and eight of their last ten, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are two major problems with Cincinnati’s resume right now: They don’t have an elite win and the best win available to them during league play is at Houston (29) in three weeks. They do have a pair of Quad 1 wins and an 8-5 mark against the top two Quads, but with three Quad 3 losses to their name, there is still some ground for them to makeup if they want to feel comfortable. They need to keep on winning, but the Bearcats are now within striking distance of the NCAA tournament. My gut says they do enough to get there.
TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)
VCU (NET: 42, NBC: Next four out): The Rams are in serious trouble after losing at home to a George Mason (154) team that entered the game sitting at 2-8 in the league with four straight losses. VCU now has as many Quad 4 losses as they do Quad 1 wins; they beat LSU (27) at home on Nov. 13th. They are now just 3-5 overall against the top two Quads. They are in a bad, bad spot, but the good news is that their next three games are all Quad 1 games, which means the next eight days are the most important stretch of their season: at Richmond (55), Dayton (5), at Saint Louis (74). The Rams have a ton of work left to do, but the fact that their worst loss is against Tennessee (65) up is a good thing. They need to get hot.
RHODE ISLAND (NET: 34, NBC: 11): In a battle for first place in the Atlantic 10, Rhode Island lost at Dayton (5) on Tuesday night. No shame in that, and the truth is that URI’s resume is currently strong enough to withstand it. They’re 18-6 overall and they have just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-5 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (236) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton at home in March.
RICHMOND (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead. I cannot see how they are going to be able to get enough wins to jump six or seven teams that play in tougher leagues with a schedule that includes a bunch of bad teams and a home game against VCU (35). I’ll leave them here for now since our Dave Ommen has the Spiders as one of the next four out.
TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 3), Texas Tech (NBC: 7), Oklahoma (NBC: 9)
TEXAS (NET: 70, NBC: Off the bubble): Texas had three chances to land a marquee in the last two, and they lost at Kansas (4) and to both Texas Tech (16) and Baylor (3). At this point, there just isn’t enough good on this resume to keep them in the mix. They’re 2-8 in Quad 1 opportunities and 3-10 against the top two Quads. This is the last time they’ll be in this space without some kind of winning streak.
Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 4), Butler (NBC: 4), Creighton (NBC: 4), Marquette (NBC: 6)
XAVIER (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The Musketeers had their three-game winning streak snapped at Butler (12), which is hardly the worst loss in the world. After that loss, they are 8-9 against the top two quads with the two Quad 1 wins I mentioned above. They also have just one sub-Quad 1 loss, and it’s a Quad 2 loss at Wake Forest (100). They suddenly have the resume of a team that might have some room to spare. With home games left against Butler (12) and a visit from Villanova (22), the Musketeers still have a couple of more chances to improve their resume as well.
GEORGETOWN (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Georgetown is now 14-10 on the season after beating DePaul (67) at home on Saturday. I’m not quite ready to give up on this team yet. They do have three Quad 1 wins now that SMU (72) and Oklahoma State (71) have jumped into the top 75, and their “worst” loss came at home to UNCG (61). Plus, Mac McClung has missed some of Georgetown’s losses and there’s the complicating factor of Georgetown’s ugliest losses coming while they were dealing with personnel issues in the first month of the season. There are plenty of elite wins left on their schedule as well.
TOP 9: Maryland (NBC: 2), Penn State (NBC: 4), Michigan State (NBC: 5), Iowa (NBC: 6), Ohio State (NBC: 6), Illinois (NBC: 7), Michigan (NBC: 7), Wisconsin (NBC: 8), Indiana (NBC:9), Rutgers (NBC: 9)
Given how tough the remaining schedule is for both Minnesota and Purdue, I thought it was prudent to share this, from our Dave Ommen: “Historically, the most losses we’ve seen for an at-large team is 15. And it’s extremely rare for teams to receive at-large bids when their overall record isn’t at least four games above .500. Something to keep in mind, especially with losses mounting for several teams in the Big 10. Last year’s Indiana team finished 19-16 with six Quad 1 wins and 9 Quad 1/2 wins and was one of the teams to just miss – largely because of a 3-9 road record and 4-10 record away from home overall.”
PURDUE (NET: 61, NBC: 10): Purdue got worked over at home on Tuesday by Penn State (18), dropping them to 14-11 on the season. The Boilermakers are 4-8 against Quad 1 opponents with seven Quad 1 and 2 wins and just one Quad 3 loss, at Nebraska (168). They do have a 29-point home win over Michigan State (11) and a 36-point home win over Iowa (30), but their only top 150 road win came at Indiana (58) last weekend. Their remaining schedule is brutal: at Ohio State (23), at Wisconsin (31), Michigan (28), Indiana (58), at Iowa, Rutgers (32). The note above? That is very relevant to this team.
MINNESOTA (NET: 40, NBC: Off the bubble): The Gophers have lost three of their last four and four of their last six games. They are 4-9 against Quad 1 opponents and sit at 6-11 against the top two Quads. Their 12-11 record on the season is certainly a problem, but their “worst” loss is DePaul (67) at home. The biggest red flag with Minnesota is that they have just one win away from home on the season — at Ohio State (15). They need to start winning, but they are in a place where getting hot for two weeks will be enough to get them up as high as a No. 8 seed.
TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 5), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7), USC (NBC: 8)
STANFORD (NET: 33, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal lost their third straight game on Thursday night at home against Arizona State (49). It was their sixth loss in the last seven games. Their best player, Oscar da Silva, missed the game because of a head injury he suffered over the weekend. They have an ugly Quad 3 loss to Cal (155) and just two Quad 1 wins. Saturday’s game against Arizona (9) is absolutely enormous.
ARIZONA STATE (NET: 49, NBC: 10): The Sun Devils won their fourth straight game on Thursday night, winning at Stanford (33). They’re now 4-6 against Quad 1 opponents with three of those wins coming on the road. They are 7-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents and their “worst” loss is a Quad 2 loss at Washington State (107). Should I mention that they are tied for the lead in the Pac-12 with four other teams? Arizona State is in a good spot right now.
UTAH (NET: 78, NBC: Off the bubble): Utah had a two-game winning streak snapped on Thursday, falling at Oregon State (64). They still have a lot of work left to do if they are going to have a real chance at getting into the tournament, and they can start on Sunday by winning at Oregon (25). The Utes have beaten Kentucky (24) on a neutral and BYU (21) at home, which keeps them in the conversation. Their issue? The three ugly losses: at UCLA (103) and then Tulane (186) and Coastal Carolina (200) in South Carolina.
TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), Auburn (NBC: 4), LSU (NBC: 6)
FLORIDA (NET: 38, NBC: 10): The Gators could not afford to lose to Texas A&M (133) on Wednesday night, and they got the win they needed, beating the Aggies by 17 in College Station. As it stands, Florida’s resume is more or less built on a home win over Auburn (13) and a neutral court win over Xavier (44). They are 5-9 against the top two Quads without a Quad 3 or 4 loss, but this is still not a very strong resume. With two games left against Kentucky (24) and a home date with LSU (27), the Gators are not as comfortable is it may seem, but they will have chances to improve.
ARKANSAS (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): After getting smoked by Tennessee (65) on the road on Tuesday, the Razorbacks have now lost three in a row, four of their last five and six of their last eight. They have two Quad 1 wins and are currently sitting at 4-8 against the top two Quads. They do have good computer numbers and have won four games on the road this season, but they have just one win over a top 60 team, and it’s at Alabama (39). The biggest issue, however, is the fact that this group has lost Isaiah Joe and had star guard Mason Jones get benched. Can they actually turn it around?
MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 51, NBC: First four out): The Bulldogs took a loss they really couldn’t afford on Tuesday night, losing by 25 points at Ole Miss in a game they led by 13 in the first half. This is a problem because Mississippi State has two Quad 3 losses and just a single Quad 1 win, which came at Florida (45). Making matters worse is the fact that they only have one more potential Quad 1 win left on their regular season schedule, and it’s against an Arkansas (43) team that is fading awfully fast.
ALABAMA (NET: 39, NBC: Off the bubble): The Tide lost for the fourth time in the last five games on Wednesday, falling at Auburn (15) in an overtime game they had a real chance of winning. Alabama is now 13-11 on the season with just a single Quad 1 win and a Quad 3 loss to Penn (151). With a 5-10 mark against the top two Quads and just a single Quad 1 win — Auburn at home — Alabama is in real trouble.
TENNESSEE (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): The Vols landed another solid win on Tuesday, picking off Arkansas (43) at home by 21 points. I’m not going to sugar coat it: This is a team with a lot of ground to make up. But the Vols play a tough schedule down the stretch, getting Auburn (15) twice, Kentucky (24) on the road, Arkansas on the road and Florida (38) at home. They need to get hot.
TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 8), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)
UTAH STATE (NET: 46, NBC: First four out): The Aggies have won three in a row and six of their last seven games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as three weeks ago. Wins over LSU (27) and Florida (38) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.
NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 35, NBC: 11): Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (17) and over South Carolina (66) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but losses at Southern Illinois (148) and Illinois State (202) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago (102) in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large.
EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 41, NBC: 11): The Buccaneers would have a real chance to get into the NCAA tournament as an at-large if they hadn’t lost to Mercer (205) at home in January. They have a road win at LSU (27). They swept UNCG (61). Their only other losses this season came at Kansas (4), at Furman (73) and at North Dakota State (131). Without a Quad 4 loss, they might actually have a chance to get in. They are certainly good enough to be an at-large, but the question isn’t going to be whether they are good enough. It’s whether they have a good enough resume, and if they lose to anyone other than Furman or UNCG in the SoCon tournament, they are likely NIT bound.