Breaking down the bubble with only nine bids up for grabs
Four more teams earned automatic bids to the NCAA tournament on Tuesday night, headlined by Gonzaga coming out of the West Coast Conference. North Dakota State finished off a great year in the Summit League with a conference championship, Milwaukee captured the Horizon League title, and Mount St. Mary's, which went just 16-16 on the season, upset top-seeded Robert Morris to win the auto bid from the Northeast Conference and advance to the tournament for the first time since 2008.
Outside of BYU's loss to Gonzaga, action on the bubble was light. That will all change on Wednesday with the Big 12, Big East and Pac-12 tournaments all tipping off. The first bubble game of note pits Colorado against USC at 5:30 ET. The intrigue continues through the rest of the night with Texas Tech-Oklahoma State, Oregon State-Oregon and TCU-Baylor before wrapping up with DePaul-Georgetown. While the first four potential tourney teams in question could likely survive a bad loss, the Hoyas do not need to give their doubters any fodder by falling to the lowly Blue Demons. The ACC, SEC, AAC and Atlantic 10 tournaments begin as well, but there are no bubble teams from those conferences in action.
SI.com will be updating the Bubble Watch every day this week to reflect the most recent developments in the conference tournaments. We will also be updating the bracket right up until the moment when the selection committee ends the suspense and unveils the field and pairings on Sunday. Check back here every morning for the latest.
Could an ACC team still finish as a No. 1 seed? Duke and Syracuse probably took themselves out of contention with ugly losses last week, but regular season champ Virginia might be able to climb to the top line if it wins the conference tournament and gets help elsewhere.
IN THE MIX
Pittsburgh (23-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 75): The Panthers stanched the bleeding with wins in three of their final four games of the season, including a victory at Clemson in the season finale that would have been very damaging. Their non-conference strength of schedule stands at 238, and a bad loss in the ACC tournament could have them nervous on Selection Sunday. They play the winner of Wake Forest and Notre Dame in their first game on Thursday and with a win would face North Carolina on Friday.
Florida State (18-12, RPI: 59, SOS: 40): The Seminoles remain a longshot for an at-large bid, but could conceivably get one if they rip off a few wins in the conference tournament. If they can get past Maryland on Thursday, they would play top-seed Virginia in the quarterfinals. Win that game, and then they can start dreaming of an at-large.
There is debate in some corners as to SMU's worthiness as a lock, but you won't find that here. The Mustangs have four top-30 wins, an RPI of 45 and a KenPom rating of 26. Losses to Louisville and Memphis in the final week of the regular season may have marginally damaged their seeding but didn't jeopardize their spot in the field.
With four teams locked into the tournament and another two currently on the right side of the bubble in our most recent Bracket Watch, it has been a nice year for the slimmed-down Atlantic 10. It probably won't get a team seeded higher than fifth in the tournament but it looks like it could be one of five conferences -- the others being the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 -- with six teams in the field.
IN THE MIX
Dayton (22-9, RPI: 39, SOS: 55): The Flyers likely played themselves into the field with a strong finish to the regular season that included wins over Massachusetts, Saint Louis on the road and Richmond. It would likely take a damaging loss to have them in trouble on Selection Sunday. So long as they get past the winner of George Mason and Duquesne in their first game in the Atlantic 10 tourney, they should be safe, even if they lose to Saint Joseph's, who would be their opponent in the following round.
Saint Joseph's (21-9, RPI: 41, SOS: 68): It was a rough final week of the regular season for the Hawks, who lost both at George Washington (which is fine) and to LaSalle at home (which is not). They're still on the right side of the bubble for now, but they probably want to beat Dayton, their likely opponent in the A-10 quarterfinals, for the third time this season just to be sure.
Speaking of thinned-out conferences doing well for themselves, the first year of the new Big East produced a potential No. 1 seed in Villanova, two legitimate Final Four candidates in the Wildcats and Creighton Bluejays, and as many as five entrants into the tournament field. That's not bad for a conference that waved goodbye to Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Connecticut after last season.
SHOULD BE IN
Xavier (20-11, RPI: 51, SOS: 44): The Musketeers are currently a No. 10 seed in our Bracket Watch, so a loss to Marquette on Thursday could have them sweating come Selection Sunday. If they win that game, however, they will likely be able to rest easy, because it would set up a likely semifinal matchup with Creighton.
IN THE MIX
Georgetown (17-13, RPI: 52, SOS: 10): It's an unpopular opinion to be sure, but Georgetown is one of the last four teams in the field in our up-to-date Bracket Watch. The Hoyas may have 13 losses, but they also have wins over VCU, Michigan State, Kansas State, Creighton and Xavier. Assuming they get by DePaul, they could remove any doubt by beating the Bluejays again in the Big East tourney quarterfinals.
Providence (20-11, RPI: 54, SOS: 61): With just one top-50 win, the Friars left themselves some work to do to earn an at-large bid. They'll have to start by beating St. John's in the Big East quarters, but that alone will not do the trick. A win over Villanova in the semis, however, could have the Friars dancing.
St. John's (20-11, RPI: 56, SOS: 45): The Red Storm have just one top-50 win, are 6-9 against the top 100 and have two losses outside the top 100. Given all the other bubble contenders this year, they likely need to win the Big East tourney to earn a bid.
The Big Ten finished the year as the best conference in the country according to KenPom. Its top two teams, Michigan and Wisconsin, both still have a realistic shot to be a No. 1 seed if either can win the conference tournament. They would probably need some help, notably in the form of Kansas and Villanova losing in their respective tournaments, but it remains within the realm of possibility.
IN THE MIX
Nebraska (19-11, RPI: 42, SOS: 26): By virtue of their win over Wisconsin on Sunday, the Cornhuskers look primed for their first trip to the dance since 1998. They get the winner of Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. A win over the Buckeyes would certainly lock up a bid, though they could, emphasis on could, survive a loss to them.
Minnesota (19-12, RPI: 49, SOS: 6): The Golden Gophers are fighting an uphill battle to get into the field of 68 that might require them to get two resume-building wins in the Big Ten tourney. The first would come against Wisconsin in the quarterfinals, but they'll have to get by Penn State to earn that chance.
Baylor and Oklahoma State, down on their luck as recently as mid-February, have both surged in the final few weeks of the season to lock up bids in the tournament. The Bears have won seven of their last eight, a run that includes two wins over Kansas State and individual victories against Oklahoma State and Iowa State to improve to 8-8 against top-50 teams. The Cowboys, meanwhile, beat Kansas and Kansas State, and nearly knocked off the Cyclones in Ames, losing in overtime.
Oregon lost five of its first six Pac-12 games and was teetering on the bubble before a road win against UCLA at the end of February. That got the Ducks back into a decent spot for an at-large bid, but they removed all doubt by beating Arizona State and Arizona last week. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, got swept on a trip through Oregon, but they've done enough to this point to be considered on solid ground. Arizona's loss to Oregon should not keep the Wildcats off the top line when the bracket is revealed on Sunday.
SHOULD BE IN
Colorado (21-10, RPI: 32, SOS: 14): The Buffaloes may have been deemed a lock had they won at California last week instead of losing by a point, but their win at Stanford still has them in pretty good shape. So long as they avoid what would be a bad loss to USC in their first game in the Pac-12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday.
IN THE MIX
Stanford (19-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 17): The Cardinal are a No. 11 seed in the most recent Bracket Watch, so one solid win in the Pac-12 tournament should be enough to keep them in the field. Assuming they get by Washington State on Wednesday, a win over Arizona State in the quarterfinals would likely do the trick.
California (19-12, RPI: 55, SOS: 30): The Golden Bears actually have a bye to the Pac-12 quarterfinals while Oregon and Colorado, teams deemed in better position to make the tournament, will have to play in the first round. They were the first team left out of the most recent Bracket Watch, but a win over the Buffaloes, their likely opponent in the quarters, would be enough to tip the scales in their favor.
The SEC wasn't expected to be among the best power conferences this year, but it was still a disappointing season for the conference as a whole even by those low standards. Florida is the rightful owner of the No. 1 overall seed in the field of 68, but most of the rest of the conference has underwhelmed. It all starts with Kentucky, the preseason No. 1 team in both polls. It finished the regular season outside the top 25, and likely will not be higher than a No. 6 seed in the tournament. Don't expect more than four bids from this league.
IN THE MIX
Tennessee (20-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 24): The Volunteers' lone top-50 win is a good one over Virginia, but they need to play their way into the field of 68 during the SEC tournament. They have a bye to the quarterfinals on Friday where they are projected to meet Arkansas in what could amount to a de facto elimination game for the big dance.
Missouri (21-10, RPI: 50, SOS: 74): Every bubble team has its flaws, but Missouri's greatest one will probably be too glaring for the committee to ignore: The Tigers have just one win over a team that is guaranteed to make the tournament. They can rectify that by beating Florida in the SEC quarters, but they'll have to first get by Texas A&M, a team they beat by just one point at home last week.
Arkansas (21-10, RPI: 62, SOS: 82): The Razorbacks still own that sweep over Kentucky, but the Wildcats haven't done them any favors of late. Arkansas also hurt itself by losing at Alabama by 25 points on Saturday. The Hogs first game in the SEC tournament is against the winner of Auburn and South Carolina, and a loss in that game could seriously imperil their tournament hopes. They need to win there and then beat Tennessee to be somewhat safe.
The Aztecs and Lobos split their regular season meetings and are on a collision course for a rubber match in the Mountain West tournament championship. Regardless of the outcome of that potential game, or if these two teams even make it there, they will hear their names called on Selection Sunday. In the up-to-the-minute Bracket Watch, San Diego State is a No. 4 seed and New Mexico is a No. 7 seed, but both could move up a seed line by winning the conference tourney.
West Coast Conference
SHOULD BE IN
Gonzaga (27-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 91): The Bulldogs advanced to the West Coast Conference tournament championship with a 16-point win over Saint Mary's on Monday. The ratings system look upon them favorably -- they're 19th on KenPom -- and they can likely earn an at-large bid if they lose in the conference tourney championship. They have just one top-50 win, but are 9-4 against the top 100.
IN THE MIX
BYU (23-10, RPI: 34, SOS: 43): The Cougars survived a challenge from San Francisco in the WCC semis, and will now take on Gonzaga in the championship on Tuesday. Bubble teams are likely cheering for the Zags, but BYU has a resume that could be worthy of an at-large bid. They split their regular season series with Gonzaga, and own a road win over Stanford and neutral-court win over Texas.
Best of the Rest
The above eight teams have all clinched berths in the field of 68 by virtue of winning their conference tournaments or, in the case of Harvard, the regular season championship. Wichita State became the first team since UNLV in the 1990-91 season to enter the tournament with a perfect record, and the Shockers are all but a lock to be the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Harvard could be seeded as high as 12th, and will be a tough out for any No. 5 seed. The Crimson are ranked 34th on KenPom and feature the No. 30 adjusted defense and No. 60 adjusted offense in the country.
IN THE MIX
UW-Green Bay (24-6, RPI: 58, SOS: 146): The Phoenix dominated the Horizon League all season, but fell in the conference tournament semifinals to UW-Milwaukee. That loss also made them Public Enemy No. 1 for all of the power conference bubble teams. They went 4-3 against the top 100, a record that includes a win over Virginia. They're not likely to receive an at-large bid, but they will certainly be discussed when the committee meets on Sunday.
Field of 68
|1. Wichita State |
16. Alabama State/Wofford
|1. Florida |
16. UW-Milwaukee/Coastal Carolina
|8. Kansas State |
9. Arizona State
|8. Oregon |
|4. Oklahoma |
|4. San Diego State |
|5. Connecticut |
12. Southern Miss
|5. Michigan State |
|3. Duke |
|3. Cincinnati |
14. North Carolina Central
|6. Kentucky |
|6. Saint Louis |
|7. VCU |
|7. New Mexico |
|2. Wisconsin |
15. Boston University
|2. Michigan |
15. Stony Brook
|1. Arizona |
16. Utah Valley
|1. Villanova |
16. Weber State
|8. Iowa |
9. Oklahoma State
|8. George Washington |
|4. Creighton |
13. Georgia State
|4. Iowa State |
13. Stephen F. Austin
|5. Ohio State |
|5. North Carolina |
|3. Virginia |
|3. Louisville |
14. North Dakota State
|6. Memphis |
11. St. Joseph's
|6. Texas |
|7. Massachusetts |
|7. UCLA |
|2. Kansas |
15. Mount St. Mary's
|2. Syracuse |
15. Eastern Kentucky