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:
N.C. STATE (NET: 54, NBC: Play-in game): The Wolfpack got worked over by Duke (6) in Cameron on Monday night, dropping them to 18-12 on the season and 9-10 in the ACC. They now have just four Quad 1 wins, after UNCG (78) fell out of the top 75, and with Syracuse (71) and Wisconsin (30) in danger of dropping into Quad 2 territory, the Wolfpack are in a more difficult spot than it seems at first glance. They have also lost three Quad 3 games. Their saving grace right now is that 22 point win over Duke in Raleigh. They absolutely cannot lose to Wake Forest (100) at home on Saturday, and I think they probably want to win a game or two in the ACC tournament as well.
CLEMSON (NET: 73, NBC: Off the bubble): After the Tigers picked off Florida State (12) at home on Saturday, it is time to start at least talking about the Tigers. They are 15-13 on the season and they do have a pair of Quad 3 losses, but with wins over each of the top three teams in the ACC — FSU, Louisville (9) and Duke (6) — they are, at the very least, in the picture. I still think they need to win at least three more games. Win until the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament and they’ll have a real chance. Getting further, and adding another win over one of the ACC’s elite, will certainly help as well.
WICHITA STATE (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): I’m still not quite sure how they did it, but Wichita State somehow avoided disaster by using a 40-12 surge over the course of the last 15 minutes to erase a 24 point deficit at SMU (81), keeping them in the at-large mix. They have a pair of low-end Quad 1 road wins, they have beaten VCU (56) and Oklahoma (42) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just one potential Quad 1 game left on their schedule — which is on the road — and with just a single top 50 win on the season, I think the Shockers are going to have an uncomfortable Selection Sunday. The fact that they are 9-7 against the top two Quads without a bad loss is something of a saving grace at this point.
MEMPHIS (NET: 60, NBC: Next four out): Memphis needed OT to get it done, but the Tigers knocked off Tulane (174) in New Orleans to get to 20 wins on the season. The Tigers still have just two Quad 1 wins compared to three Quad 3 losses, and they are still playing without D.J. Jeffries, but they have a chance because they end their season like this: Wichita State (47), at Houston (22). If they can win those two games and avoid taking a bad loss in the AAC tournament, then Memphis very well might hear their names called on Selection Sunday.
CINCINNATI (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): The Bearcats missed on a massive opportunity on Sunday afternoon, as they lost at Houston (22) in a game that would have been their best win of the season. Cincinnati has eight wins against Quad 1 and 2 opponents, but as of this very moment, Cincinnati has just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses, all of which came to teams sitting outside the top 100. They’re in a bad spot right now, and they don’t have another top 100 team left on their schedule. I am not sure how Cincinnati gets into the tournament without winning a game or two in the American tournament.
RHODE ISLAND (NET: 40, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island lost for the second time in three games on Sunday, as they got worked over at home by Saint Louis (66), missing on a chance to land a much-needed Quad 2 win. The Rams have just one Quad 1 win on the season — at VCU (56) — and they also have a Quad 4 loss to Brown (251). At this point, I think that URI needs to beat Dayton (3) on Wednesday if they want to get into the NCAA tournament as an at-large. Otherwise, they are going to sweat out Selection Sunday. I don’t think that it will end well.
RICHMOND (NET: 48, NBC: First four out): The Spiders avoided disaster by blowing out UMass (142) on Saturday. The Spiders only have one truly terrible loss to their name — Radford (162) got them on a neutral court — but with only three Quad 1 wins and a 4-6 record against the top two Quads, their margin for error is completely gone. I don’t think they can afford a loss to either Davidson (74) at home or at Duquesne (96).
TEXAS TECH (NET: 23, NBC: 10): It feels weird putting Texas Tech in the bubble conversation considering the fact that they have a top 25 NET, but the truth is that their resume is not quite as strong as you might think. After losing in overtime at Baylor (5) on Monday night, the Red Raiders are sitting at 18-12 overall. They really only have two elite wins on the season. They beat Louisville (8) on a neutral court back in December and they knocked off West Virginia (21) at home. They finish up the regular season by playing Kansas (1) at home in a game where Kansas will be playing for the Big 12 regular season title. If they win, they’re in. End of discussion. But if they end up losing, Texas Tech will be 18-13 on the season with a 3-10 record against Quad 1 opponents heading into the Big 12 tournament. They need to start making some moves.
TEXAS (NET: 58, NBC: Play-in game): The Longhorns may have just played their way into the NCAA tournament. On Saturday, Shaka Smart took down the man that everyone is trying to fire him for as he led the Longhorns into Lubbock to take down Texas Tech (23). Five days ago, Texas took down West Virginia (21) at home. Those are the two best wins that the Longhorns have landed this season. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 18-11 overall and 8-8 in the Big 12. They have four Quad 1 wins and a 6-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name. If they can get two more wins this season — they have at Oklahoma (42), Oklahoma State (68) and the Big 12 tournament left — I think they will be dancing. What a turnaround.
XAVIER (NET: 45, NBC: 10): Xavier picked up a win in the battle of Big East bubble teams on Sunday afternoon, knocking off Georgetown (59) on the road. The Musketeers have a bit of a weird profile. The best thing about their resume is that they really have not taken all that many bad losses. Their worst loss of the season came at Wake Forest (99), which is a Quad 2 loss. It’s the only team ranked outside of the top 35 in the NET that Xavier has lost to. They only have three Quad 1 wins — and one of them is at St. John’s (74) — but they do have a win over Seton Hall (13) in Newark, which helps quite a bit. I personally think that Xavier has to do more work than it looks like. With games at Providence (44) and Butler (19) at home, they’ll have two more chances to land Quad 1 wins. I think Xavier probably should win at least one of those to really feel comfortable.
PROVIDENCE (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The Friars landed their fifth win over a ranked team in the month of February on Saturday as they went into the Wells Fargo Center and knocked off Villanova (16). This comes on the heels of beating Marquette (25) at home, Georgetown (59) on the road, Seton Hall (13) at home, Creighton (12) at home and Butler (19) on the road. Those are six Quad 1 wins. The Friars have three Quad 3 losses and a Quad 4 loss, but they now have a total of eight Quad 1 wins and six wins over top 30 teams. A 17-12 record is not ideal, and they could very well end up with 13 or 14 losses on Selection Sunday, but I think that Providence has to be in the tournament at this point. What a month for Ed Cooley.
GEORGETOWN (NET: 59, NBC: Off the bubble): The Hoyas lost to Xavier (45) at home on Sunday, and for me, that drops them out of bubble contention for now.
RUTGERS (NET: 35, NBC: 11): The Scarlet Knights have one of the weirder resumes on the bubble right now after losing at Penn State (26) on Wednesday. They’re 17-11 overall and they are 9-9 in a Big Ten that is as deep as any league I can remember. They have three Quad 1 wins, just one Quad 3 loss and a 7-10 mark against the top two Quads. Eight of their ten losses are to Quad 1 opponents. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they have some really impressive home wins. The problem? They’ve only won a single game outside of the RAC this year, and that came at Nebraska (189), who is the worst team in the Big Ten. Their season finishes with Maryland (15) and at Purdue (34). Rutgers has some work left to do, and I really think they will want to win both to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
PURDUE (NET: 34, NBC: Off the bubble): Purdue snapped a four-game losing streak when they knocked off Indiana (55) at home on Thursday night. They’re sitting here with a 15-14 record and a 4-11 mark against Quad 1 opponents and an 8-13 record against the top two Quads. They do actually have some pretty good wins, but the issue Purdue is currently facing is the the number of losses, including a Quad 3 loss to Nebraska (189). The most losses an at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 17-15 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Their best road win is at Indiana. They’re in a tough spot, and I think they need to win their last two regular season games and at least one game in the Big Ten tournament to have a real shot at this.
UCLA (NET: 75, NBC: 11): UCLA picked up another enormous win on Saturday, as they beat Arizona (11) at home to move them into — get this — sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. Yes, UCLA has lost 11 games and yes, the Bruins have lost to Hofstra (123) and Cal St. Fullerton (268) at home. But they have now won seven straight games. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 games. They have swept Arizona and Colorado (22). They have six Quad 1 wins and a 9-9 record against the top two Quads. With a trip to USC (39) to close out the regular season, I think all the Bruins need to do is win one more game before Selection Sunday and they will be dancing. Incredible turnaround.
STANFORD (NET: 30, NBC: Play-in game): The Cardinal are now on a four-game winning streak after landing an enormous win over Colorado (20) on Sunday. They are now 5-5 against Quad 1 opponents, 7-8 against the top two Quads and while they do have a Quad 3 loss — at Cal (136) — to their name, they are playing well at the most important time of their season. Stanford gets two more shots at Quad 1 wins next week as they visit the Oregon schools, so there will be chances to improve their resume. The Cardinal will need to capitalize on those to feel good on Selection Sunday, but they are in a pretty good spot right now.
FLORIDA (NET: 33, NBC: 10): The Gators are slowly but surely sliding down the NCAA tournament seed list. They have a bunch of good wins this year — Auburn (27) and LSU (32) at home, Xaiver (43) and Providence (44) on a neutral — and while they have lost 11 games, their worst losses are top 100 road losses in league play to Missouri and Ole Miss. I think that as long as they win at Georgia (83) on Wednesday, they should be in the tournament regardless of what happens against Kentucky (14) in the season finale or in the SEC tournament. We’ll see how it all plays out.
ARKANSAS (NET: 46, NBC: Next four out): The Razorbacks’ NCAA tournament hopes took a significant blow on Saturday, as they fell at Georgia (84). Arkansas is now 18-11 on the season with just a 6-10 record in the SEC. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 5-10 mark against the top two Quads, but the more important record is this: They are now 17-5 on the season with a healthy Isaiah Joe. It will be very interesting to see how the selection committee handles Arkansas.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Bulldogs picked up a win at Missouri (91) on Saturday, which is not inconsequential. That’s a Quad 2 win, the fifth that Mississippi State has earned this season. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 7-8 mark against the top two Quads, but with a pair of Quad 3 losses and exactly zero wins against top 30 opponents, the Bulldogs still have some work to do. The biggest issue right now is that Mississippi State doesn’t have a top 60 opponent left on their schedule during the regular season. They’re likely going to have some work to do in the SEC tournament.
SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 64, NBC: Next four out): This might be the end for South Carolina. The Gamecocks lost at Alabama (40) on Saturday, and while that is hardly a bad loss, it is the last Quad 1 opportunity on the schedule. Beating Mississippi State (52) at home or Vanderbilt (170) on the road isn’t going to change much. The Gamecocks are in trouble.
UTAH STATE (NET: 38, NBC: First four out): Utah State took a loss that they could not afford to close out the regular season on Saturday night. They lost at New Mexico (158), their second Quad 3 loss of the season. That, in and of itself, is not a killer, but the fact that the Aggies have not beaten a top 30 team this season and only have two top 85 wins — Florida (32) and LSU (33) on neutral courts — is a bigger issue. At this point, I think that Utah State probably wants to win the Mountain West tournament if they want to feel good about where they are sitting on Selection Sunday.
EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 41, NBC: 11): The Buccaneers survived Western Carolina (143) on Saturday and will now head into the SoCon tournament as regular season champs with a 24-4 record. They have a win at UNCG (73) and a win at LSU (33), but they do have an ugly Quad 4 loss to Mercer (197) at home. That is the killer. The Buccaneers can only lose to UNCG or Furman (66) in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.
NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 37, NBC: 11): Northern Iowa took care of business at Drake (164), winning the Missouri Valley regular season title. UNI has a win at Colorado (20) and they beat South Carolina (64) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads with a pair of Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is a road game in league play — but I’m not sure they have done enough to beat out some of these power conference teams. My advice: win the auto-bid and make it easy on yourself.