Bubble Watch: Power conferences could take hit as mid-majors surge
One of the selection committee's main mantras is "Conferences don't get bids," but what's going on in the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 is very bad news for potential bubble teams from other leagues.
The Mountain West is the No. 2 conference in RPI, and for the most part, the top teams have beaten up on each other with almost all of the games going to the home team. This has created a scenario where teams are reinforcing each other and it seems a virtual certainty that the league will get four teams into the NCAA tournament. The dangerous component brewing is Boise State still has several more opportunities for big wins (with three of its last four games at home). Thanks to the overall strength of the league, the Broncos still have a serious chance of playing their way in. They're a First Four team in today's new bracket.
What's worse for traditional power-conference bubblers is similar action is starting to unfold in the Atlantic 10. The top of the league is playing a quasi-round robin down the homestretch of the season, and teams like Saint Louis and Temple are picking up valuable wins to help their profile. This league also looks pretty likely to get four teams into the NCAAs, with five not an unreasonable ask at this point.
Five bids from two leagues outside the traditional powers? That's historically unheard of, but it's very much in play this season. If that happens, that takes eight at-larges out of the pool, and puts a significant squeeze on bubble teams from the SEC, Big East, Pac-12 and others. That's even before conference tournament upsets could push teams like Memphis, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Akron and Belmont into the at-large pool.
So, with less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, this season's motto is becoming "Bluebloods beware." There aren't going to be as many seats at the table as you're used to.
** RPI information is from RealTimeRPI.com's Monday report. Questions/comments go to
Miami's struggling form finally caught up with the Hurricanes at Wake Forest, but the overreaction to the loss in some quarters was pretty crazy. The Hurricanes can also lose at Cameron on March 2 and still win the league. If they make the ACC final on top of that, they have a very solid chance of keeping a 1-seed. It's hard to imagine them dropping lower than a 2. Why panic over one result, even if it had been coming for several games. If the poorer form continues, we can reevaluate. As for Duke, they continue to leak information that Ryan Kelly will be back before the NCAAs, and it may very well come true, but this remains a "we'll believe it when we see it" issue for the committee.
Saturday's fade at North Carolina is the latest in a growing list of disappointing efforts from the Wolfpack. At just 8-6 in a less-than-robust ACC this season, the Pack are arrowing toward a very undesirable seed line in the NCAAs. They came out of an 11-seed last year to make the Sweet 16, but falling into the 8/9 area might push them into an unfavorable second-game matchup, since they (if they are the third-highest overall seed from the ACC) wouldn't be able to be in Duke's or Miami's regionals.
The Tar Heels reestablished normalcy in their relationship with NC State, handling the Wolfpack at the Dean Dome. Weirdly, given the disparate talk about the two teams, their resumes aren't all that different. Either way, the Heels should feel more comfortable about their NCAA prospects this week, but the work is far from done. They close at Clemson, vs. Florida State, at Maryland, and home to Duke.
The Cavaliers had a chance to take out Miami on the road, but had some bad luck down the stretch. That would have been huge, but they had to settle for a make-up rout of Georgia Tech on Sunday. Now they get Duke at home before road games at Boston College and Florida State and a home finale with Maryland. I wrote a few weeks ago if Virginia got to 12-6, they'd get in, and I still feel that way.
It's not a total offset to the Duke home win, but losing at Boston College in the next game was a giant mistake for a Terps team looking in from the outside. As NC State continues to fade, one of their two marquee wins weakens, as well. They have to be able to handle Georgia Tech on the road next, as they are at Wake Forest (which is
Georgetown continues to impress and surge up the seed list after winning at Syracuse over the weekend. The Hoyas now are in sole possession of first place in the league after Marquette lost at Villanova. How many more Big East teams will get into the field? The group behind these four have been up and down, so relative positioning continues to change.
The Panthers won decisively at St. John's in their only game of the week. That may have been the toughest of their four remaining games, given Road Villanova is nothing like Home Villanova. They host South Florida before the Wildcats, and then close at DePaul.
The Irish routed Cincinnati in their only game of the week, and now they have almost another week before playing at Marquette on Saturday. If any team could use this extended rest, it's the Irish. They probably only need one more win to feel 100 percent secure (if they even need that at this point), with a shot at Louisville waiting in the season finale. Six overtimes, anyone?
A 1-1 week, in a way that actually helps them but still is disappointing. The Wildcats tamed Marquette for another big home win, and then lost a late lead and fell at Seton Hall (suspect officiating not included) for a damaging loss. If they can get a split of the final week (at Pitt and home to Georgetown), they'll have a pretty good profile for a cutline team.
Uh oh. The Bearcats couldn't get either road game at Connecticut or Notre Dame and now a lot of pressure is on the next game: a rematch with UConn at home. If they don't get that one, with a game at Louisville up next, they're looking at an 8-10 league finish. With their quality wins, they'd probably still be OK with that, but this profile is weakening rapidly. If they bomb out early in the Big East tournament, could the Bearcats unexpectedly find themselves very nervous?
The Red Storm were blasted at home by Pitt, which is a dicey move for them at this stage. They have road games at improved Providence and Notre Dame, and then home vs. Marquette to finish. They need to find some wins in that stretch and then do some BET work.
Indiana has taken control atop the league and looks very well positioned to nab the 1-seed in the Midwest regional. Could there be two Big Ten No. 1 seeds? The rest of the season the league tournament will have a ton to say about that, but if someone creates separation from the others and wins the tournament, it's quite possible.
Huge homes wins over Minnesota and Michigan State have the Buckeyes solidly on their way into the field, and likely with a decent seed, to boot. Even with all their best work still coming to home, this profile is much improved from a week ago. Of course, winning at Indiana next week would fix that flaw in a big way.
The Illini got the most likely result for the week, beating Penn State at home and then losing at Michigan. Now they have all week to prep for a game at home against Nebraska. They close at Iowa and Ohio State, so this may be the win that gets them to 8-10, which should be more than enough.
The Gophers still have 11 top-100 wins and three top-25 wins. Breathe, Gophers fans. Breathe. That said, with Indiana coming in on Tuesday, this may get slightly dicier before it gets better. The last three: home to Penn State and then at Nebraska and Purdue, have wins in them. If they can get two of those and get to 8-10, they should be fine.
Iowa fans in my Twitter feed were worried about the game at Nebraska, and apparently with good reason. A loss there has really put the squeeze on the Hawkeyes' hopes. The good news: three of the last four are at home (Purdue, Illinois and Nebraska). If they can't win at Indiana on Saturday, can they win the three home games, make the Big Ten semis and get in? They need (at least) another big win.
Kansas eked out a win at Gallagher-Iba, then revenge-thrashed TCU, and then escaped Hilton Coliseum with a huge OT win (thanks, refs?) to stay atop the league along with the Wildcats. The Jayhawks' sweep has them in tiebreaker advantage for the conference tournament 1-seed as things stand. Oklahoma State is close to joining this category. Will the final number be four, five or six, though?
The Pokes fell at home in double OT to Kansas and dropped a game off the pace, but in terms of NCAA tournament lockdom, they can take care of that this week with wins at TCU and home to Texas. They travel to Iowa State and then host Kansas State in the final week.
A big 2-0 week for the Sooners, including a pounding of Baylor, puts them in solid position. There's zero precedent for a major-conference team with an RPI as good as this being left out. If they get past a trip to Texas this week, they could win out (but they won't need to).
The Cyclones suffered a brutal OT loss to Kansas, with the referees playing a major factor throughout (and definitely down the stretch). Both games against KU really should have been Iowa State wins, but neither became one. A win at Baylor helps the Cyclones separate from the Bears in the league pecking order, though. Now they're at Oklahoma and home to Oklahoma State. If the Cyclones get one of those and handle a trip to West Virginia in the finale, I like their chances.
The Bears are now in a good deal of trouble. They have been swept by both Oklahoma and Iowa State and are definitively "Team No. 6" out of this league. Can they change that? They still host both Kansas schools, so maybe, but room for error is very small at this point.
The intrigue at the top of the league gets a little deeper with Monday's news that Dominic Artis
The Ducks are 5-4 now without Artis in the lineup. Assuming he makes it back either Thursday against Oregon State or for the final road weekend and looks decent, the committee should give the Ducks a seed bump. They were 17-2 with him and the numbers show they are a very different team. Just having the Civil War game on Thursday this week should help the Ducks at this stage of the season, too.
Revenge in the rivalry game with USC keeps the Bruins in a tie for first (in the loss column). Now they get the Arizona schools at home, with the Wildcats on Saturday looming as a major game in the title race. The final weekend has a visit to the Washington schools, which isn't the toughest trip in the league this year.
The Buffaloes dispatched Utah in their only game of the week. Call it a necessary win, not necessarily a helpful one. Now a trip to the Bay Area looms. If CU can get a split there, they should be okay. They still have a home weekend with the Oregon schools left, and anything over .500 probably is good enough.
The Bears continue their late-season surge and have moved into very legitimate NCAA at-large position after sweeping a road weekend at the Oregon schools by a total of three points. They have swept the Ducks (both games without Artis) to go with the win at Arizona to put together a slate of quality Ws better than many other bubble options. Their final three games -- Utah, Colorado, Stanford -- are at home, too.
Will the Sun Devils look back at the home loss to Washington as the one that cost them an at-large? It's possible. The defeat helped push ASU into really untenable RPI territory and now their final three league games are on the road, including games at UCLA and Arizona.
Their final three are at home, so 10-8 is possible, but they will need a deep Pac-12 tourney run to have a case.
They couldn't win at Artis-less Oregon and there really isn't very much hope for an at-large now. If they win their final three, maybe we can take a longer look.
The Gators gacked up a sizable lead at Missouri and now are 0-3 in games decided by single digits. That's a credit to the Gators that they're rarely in close games, but they haven't handled tight situations well this season. Late-game decisions at Arizona and Missouri were poor. We'll see if that rears its head in the NCAAs.
The Tigers stormed back against Florida to get the huge marquee win they needed, but then fell at Kentucky in overtime with a chance to really cement things. Still a positive week for them. Now they need to handle business at South Carolina and then home to LSU and Arkansas. If they avoid a bad loss in the next three games, they should be fine in terms of making the NCAA field.
It may not be dominant or always pretty, but the Wildcats picked up two sorely-needed wins post-Noel, including a national TV overtime win over Missouri on Saturday which is their best win of the season (despite Missouri's terrible road mark). Beating bottomfeeder Mississippi State next is a must. Then they can take a swing at an Arkansas/Georgia road trip and a home date with Florida and see what happens.
The Rebels took a terrible loss at sub-200 South Carolina, a really damaging development for a profile built on a strong league record and little else. I don't know if they can afford another regular-season loss and assume they will get in without some serious SEC tournament work. The game against Alabama in the final week of the season looks huge for both teams.
Here we go again with the Volunteers making a late-season push toward the NCAAs. Have they left it too late? With home games against Florida (Tuesday) and Missouri remaining, this profile could improve radically if Tennessee wins its last four.
The Tide is about finished with a stretch of nine straight games vs. sub-100 league foes (although Arkansas is not in that category anymore), and eating a road loss at LSU wasn't a good idea at this stage. Assuming they can handle Auburn, the trip to Florida and Mississippi will determine how viable this profile is entering the SEC tournament. Right now, it's hasn't got nearly enough good wins and too many bad losses.
The Lobos went into Fort Collins, took a bunch of heavy overhand rights, stood in there, and finished off Colorado State thanks to the game-of-a-lifetime from Kendall Williams, who poured in 46 points with a league-record 10 three-pointers. The Lobos are now two games up on the Rams, with tiebreaker, and look ready to claim yet another regular-season title. Now the question is becoming how high a seed can the Lobos be.
The Rams competed to the death in both games, but fell short both at UNLV (by a deuce) and at home to New Mexico, thanks in massive part to Williams' explosion. Now they need to regroup and take care of business against the bottom half of the league. Finishing second in the league is a big plum for the conference tournament. The 7-seed will be significantly weaker than the 5- and 6-seeds. The road game at Boise on Saturday is a big flex point. Win that one, and they probably will hold on to second.
After slipping past Colorado State on Anthony Marshall's late jumper, the Rebels got a break at Wyoming. The Cowboys were without Leonard Washington, which makes them much less formidable, even at home. The sweep of the week has the Rebels just half a game behind Colorado State.
Two home wins against Wyoming and Nevada have the Aztecs tied for third, a half game behind Colorado State for second, but the schedule isn't favorable for them. Wednesday brings a trip to The Pit, and then the Aztecs close with Air Force (who has beaten them already) and at Boise State (who is still looking for a way into the bracket). Two more wins total probably are enough to book an at-large.
The Broncos won the first two of their three must-wins. Now they have to handle Nevada at home before a final three-game blitz. Colorado State and San Diego State still come to Boise, and the Broncos also have a game at UNLV, so they definitely have a chance to make it five teams from the conference.
After losing at Boise State, this probably isn't going to happen, but the Falcons have some chances left. If they can handle Wyoming at home and then win at Fresno, they'll be 8-6 heading to San Diego State, with New Mexico at home in the finale. Stranger things have happened.
We see you Saint Louis. A sweep of Butler has started to create some separation at the top of the league (finally), but things won't be settled until the final game. The bigger story is the consolidation of teams like Temple. Could the A-10 get a league-record five bids? That quarterfinal loser may have a long couple of days to find out.
The Billikens pounded VCU and then went to Butler and finished off a sweep of the Bulldogs. That's a very strong statement of intent as to who the top dogs in the league are. SLU looks ready to win the conference title, with a schedule that's much more manageable than the other contenders. The only top-50 game left, La Salle, comes at home.
Butler's mini-slip in form continued when Saint Louis came into Hinkle and rallied for a win and a sweep of the season series. Now the Bulldogs head to VCU on Saturday in a mouthwatering style clash. Games at UMass and vs. Xavier to close things out aren't easy, either.
A loss at Temple makes the season-ending game at Saint Louis a little more important, but the Explorers need to handle the next two at home (Duquesne and George Washington) first. If they finish at 11-5, they should be pretty well positioned to lock up a bid with solid A-10 tourney work.
After getting worked over at Saint Louis, the Rams bounced back with a needed win at Xavier. Now Butler comes calling before Richmond and then a trip to Temple closes out the regular season. This profile is still lacking in quality wins, so this game against Butler is pretty important.
Wins over city rival La Salle and at Charlotte have the Owls in much better shape this week. They absolutely need to handle Rhode Island at home and a game at Fordham. Then VCU comes in for the season finale. At 11-5, the Owls would be looking pretty nifty in terms of at-large position.
The loss at St. Bonaventure may be too much to overcome at this stage, but let's see how they handle this week at Xavier and home to Butler.
The 49ers-0">49ers needed to beat Temple at home. There's nothing left that can really help them beyond record enhancement. We'll see where they stand in two weeks heading into the postseason.
With the schedule left, I'll never say never, but it's getting late early for the Musketeers. They have Memphis, UMass and Saint Louis at home before closing at Butler. Winning all four probably is needed.
Creighton's slide continues and they're now behind Wichita State in the overall pecking order. Could the Bluejays really find the NCAA trapdoor? It's not unthinkable. Can Indiana State force its way in still? Can a mystery champ get the league a third bid in a different way?
The Shockers won at Indiana State and then handled Detroit in BracketBusters and look very good for a bid now. There are no truly great wins, but a lot of decent ones in the profile. A share (at least) of the Valley crown should be enough to punch the ticket. And if they beat Evansville midweek, they will have that. Of course, they can totally take care of business by winning at Creighton in the finale.
Let's just say the Bluejays don't want to lose at Bradley on Wednesday. They close at home with Wichita State. Could three more losses actually bounce the Bluejays entirely? This profile isn't that good. This situation is becoming something to keep an eye on.
Edging Iona in BracketBusters was modest consolation for letting Wichita State get away from Terre Haute with a W. Take care of Drake and a trip to Evansville and we can take another look.
The Zags may very well end up as a 1-seed in the NCAAs. They're four wins away from that, it appears. Saint Mary's got the BracketBusters boost it wanted, but will it be enough?
The Gaels got both key home games, giving them a sweep of BYU and a win over Creighton, which makes their resume significantly better. Now what? Is that enough? They can't be an at-large with a win over Gonzaga, so this is basically what they would offer the committee sans auto bid.
The Cougars are now auto-bid or bust, in my opinion, even if they manage to beat Gonzaga on Thursday. They have failed in every game against a quality opponent this season. You can't do that with a WCC slate.
Best of the Rest
The Tigers have won Conference USA and are going to dance. This upcoming three-game road trip to Xavier, Central Florida and UTEP will be important for seed. Even without truly good wins, they have nine top-100 wins and no bad losses. That's plenty this season.
The Bruins put on a show, ripping a good Ohio team in BracketBusters. I'm still not sure they can survive another loss in the Ohio Valley, but they'd have an interesting case based on RPI. Missouri State 2006, anyone?
The Blue Raiders need to navigate two modest road tests to end up 19-1 in the league. Only one top-100 win for the season is a huge minus. So is the loss to fellow bubbler Belmont by 15.
They're at Ohio this week, with the Bobcats trying to pull into a tie for first. Like the other mids on this list, they need to keep winning. The MAC isn't as good in terms of depth as normal, so the gaudy record doesn't carry as much weight even though this is a good team.
Same as it ever was. La. Tech keeps winning, and the Bulldogs will need to handle the season-ending trip to New Mexico State and Denver to have a reasonable case.
Likely auto-bid or bust, but they're going to be the 1-seed in the conference tournament and will have home-court advantage.