Bubble & Bracket Watch: UCLA looks to snag one of last four spots
Chaos reigned supreme on the bubble in Thursday’s tournament games. Three teams that entered the night as either one of the last four in or first four out—Mississippi, Illinois and Texas A&M—suffered bad losses that will have them very uncomfortable until Selection Sunday. In the case of both the Illini and the Aggies, they were likely reversals that will send them to the NIT. That’s the harsh reality of the life bubble teams live. One loss, especially to a .500 team like Michigan (by 18 points) or a sub-.500 team like Auburn, and you might be forced to put away your dance card for another year.
The bottom of the bracket is starting to come into focus, as there could realistically be as few as seven teams heading into Sunday that will realistically be hoping to get the last four spots in the field of 68. Among those teams—BYU, Miami, Mississippi, Temple, Texas, Tulsa, UCLA—only Temple, Tulsa and UCLA are still alive as of Friday in their respective conference tournaments. For all of them, this weekend is going to be anything but relaxing.
Friday’s key bubble games
Temple: Defeated Memphis, 80-75
Tulsa: Defeated Houston, 59-51
VCU: Defeated Richmond, 70-67
Big 12: None
Big East: None
Purdue: Defeated Penn State, 64-59
Indiana: Lost to Maryland, 75-69
UCLA: Lost to Arizona, 70-64
Last Four In
1. Texas: Rick Barnes and the Longhorns just refuse to make their lives easier, don’t they? There would be no question about their at-large case if they held their lead over Iowa State on Thursday. After allowing the Cyclones to go on a 12-0 run to end the game and come away with a two-point victory, Texas will have only nervous moments between now and Selection Sunday
2. Temple: The Owls have just two top-50 wins, but one is over Kansas. They also have a strong RPI ranking (31) and non-conference strength of schedule (45), as well as 23 wins overall. If they avoid a bad loss in the AAC tournament—and losing to No. 20 SMU in the semifinals on Saturday would hardly qualify—they deserve a bid.
[daily_cut.college basketball]3. Miami: The Hurricanes fought for their tournament lives in an impressive second-half comeback against Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinals, but the Irish counterpunched and sent Miami to the very brink of the at-large pool. They’re one of our last two teams in for now, but if a team like UCLA or Tulsa can get a big win or two, the Hurricanes will be in trouble.
4. Mississippi: You know what Mississippi really couldn’t afford to do? Lose to South Carolina. That’s exactly what the Rebels did on Thursday, however, and now they’re cheering for anyone who plays Temple, Tulsa and UCLA the rest of the week, and against any surprise conference champions. We’re keeping Mississippi in the dance for now, but they’ll be the first team on the chopping block.
First four out
3. Tulsa: A win over Houston on Friday didn’t change the Golden Hurricane’s tournament standing. It could change, however, if they advance to the conference championship game with a win on Saturday.
Next four out
These teams are extreme longshots to make the field, but we’ll keep them here in case something unexpected happens.
1. Illinois: The Illini’s loss to Michigan was about the worst impression they could have left on the committee heading into Selection Sunday.
2. Texas A&M: The Aggies’ at-large case blew up in the second half against Auburn on Thursday. After falling to the Tigers, the Aggies no longer have a shot for an at-large bid. Two wins over an LSU team that is just barely off the bubble itself doesn’t get you a dance card.
3. Murray State: The Racers had a great regular season, but they didn’t play anyone in the non-conference, meaning they really had to win the Ohio Valley tournament to get a bid. They didn't, so they won't.
4. Old Dominion: The Monarchs had a nice at-large case entering conference play, thanks to wins over VCU and LSU. Six losses in Conference USA made it unlikely and Thursday's defeat to Middle Tennessee made an at-large all but impossible.
Locks: SMU, Cincinnati
IN THE MIX
Temple (23-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 69): The Owls remain one of our last four teams in the field of 68, but a mini-run in the AAC tourney could make them a whole lot more comfortable on Selection Sunday. They’ll meet SMU in Saturday's semifinals. If they can knock off the Mustangs, they’d be in excellent shape. A loss in the AAC semis would have Temple sweating, but they should still get in.
Tulsa (22-9, RPI: 44, SOS: 89): Tulsa entered the AAC tournament needing at least two wins to earn an at-large bid. They got the first on Friday. If they can get one more on Saturday, they’ll be in the discussion and, of course, keep themselves alive to win the tourney and snag the automatic bid.
Locks: Davidson, Dayton, VCU
IN THE MIX
Richmond (19-13, RPI: 59, SOS: 50): The Spiders built a decent at-large case during the second half of the A-10 schedule, sweeping VCU and splitting with Davidson. We have them as one of the First Four Out of the field, so they likely had to impress in the conference tourney, and perhaps get some help in other pockets of the country. They nearly got a third win against VCU but fell just short, losing by three. They'll present an interesting case to the selection committee but it probably won't be enough.
Rhode Island (21-8, RPI: 70, SOS: 130): The Rams likely don’t have much of an at-large case. They don’t have a top-50 win, are just 5-5 against the top 100 and lost twice to teams outside the top 120 in RPI. Even if they lost in the A-10 championship game, they’d almost certainly have just one win against a potential at-large team. If Rhode Island goes dancing, it’ll be because it won the A-10 tournament.
IN THE MIX
Miami (21-12, RPI: 61, SOS: 76): And now, the Hurricanes wait. They rallied back from an 18-point halftime deficit to actually take a slim lead on Notre Dame in the second half on Thursday, but the Irish got it together and pulled away in the game’s waning minutes. Miami remains one of our last four teams in the tournament, but it is going to land in the 34-to-38 range among at-large teams. That’s the most uneasy place to be leading into Selection Sunday.
IN THE MIX
Texas (20-13, RPI: 41, SOS: 15): We’re not calling Texas a lock, but after taking care of Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, the Longhorns really should be a tournament team. In spite of their 13 losses, the Longhorns beat Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa this season. All but one of those defeats came to teams locked into the tournament, as well. They could have removed all drama by beating Iowa State on Thursday, but even with that two-point loss at the buzzer this is still a worthy at-large team. Losses by Miami and Mississippi later on Thursday had to help lessen the sting for Texas at least a little bit.
Oklahoma State (18-13, RPI: 46, SOS: 14): The Cowboys should be safe thanks to six top-50 wins, including a victory over Kansas and a sweep of Baylor, but they sure made their lives a whole lot more tenuous over the last month. They've now lost seven of their last eight, including a 15-point defeat to Oklahoma in their first and only Big 12 tournament game. They likely did enough to earn an at-large bid, but they may not get a ton of sleep until Sunday night.
IN THE MIX
Indiana (20-13, RPI: 55, SOS: 27): A win over Maryland in the Big Ten quarterfinals would have locked Indiana into the NCAA tournament, but it was hardly a must-win game. This team boasts wins over SMU, Butler, Maryland and Ohio State this season. No matter the Hoosiers late-season slide in the conference, they’ll hear their name called on Sunday.
Purdue (21-11, RPI: 56, SOS: 67): If someone told you six weeks ago that the Boilermakers would be in a better spot than both Indiana and Illinois heading into the Big Ten tournament, you would have thought that person was crazy. That’s exactly where we are though, as Purdue appears to have done enough to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament. The Boilermakers are 4-5 against the top 50, including wins over Iowa, Ohio State and NC State. They also swept the Hoosiers, split with the Illini and won nine games against the top 100. Purdue earned a double bye in the conference tournament and beat surprising Penn State in the quarterfinals, which should lock them in. Expect them to be dancing for the first time since 2012.
Illinois (19-13, RPI: 71, SOS: 61): When the Illini's schedule stepped up in weight class over the final three weeks of the season, they just couldn't hang. They went 2-4 in their last six regular season games, losing to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue, while beating sub-.500 teams Northwestern and Nebraska. They needed, at the very least, one win in the Big Ten tournament. Instead, they got run out of the United Center by Michigan in an 18-point loss. They're almost certainly headed to the NIT.
Locks: San Diego State
IN THE MIX
Colorado State (27-5, RPI: 26, SOS: 118): While the Rams have been in the field for every edition of our Bracket Watch this season, they can’t breathe easy just yet. They have only two top-50 wins on the year, one fewer than their number of sub-100 losses. After clearing the bad-loss hurdle by beating Fresno State in the conference tournament quarterfinals, the Rams should be safe.
Boise State (25-8, RPI: 37, SOS: 115): The Broncos should be on tourney-bound, but there won’t be many easy moments between now and Selection Sunday after they lost to Wyoming in the Mountain West tournament. Their sweep of San Diego State, along with a third top-30 win over Colorado State, should be enough to get them an at-large bid, but they’re not safe by any means.
IN THE MIX
UCLA (20-12, RPI: 63, SOS: 40): The Bruins and Ducks actually have pretty similar résumés. The major difference is Oregon has eight top-100 wins to UCLA’s four, and those are the types of wins that matter when you’re firmly on the bubble. The Bruins may have put themselves in a position where they’ll have to upset Arizona in the Pac-12 semifinals to earn an at-large bid. We currently have them as one of the First Four Out of the field and wouldn’t move them in unless they beat the Wildcats, or a whole slew of bubble teams suffer bad losses in their respective conference tournaments.
IN THE MIX
Georgia (20-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 36): After finishing third in the SEC, the Bulldogs really should be safe, but their résumé isn't unassailable, and a bad loss could have them sweating on Selection Sunday. They have just two top-50 wins, and both of those were against Mississippi. They’re 9-8 against the top 100, and have two sub-100 losses. They open SEC tournament play on Friday against a South Carolina team that swept them during the regular season. One win locks Georgia into an at-large bid, but it may already be safe enough that it could survive a loss. It does not want to find out the answer to that question, however.
LSU (22-10, RPI: 49, SOS: 79): Even after losing to Auburn in the SEC quarterfinals, LSU should be in decent shape heading into Selection Sunday, They have three top-50 wins, and won at West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi. What’s more, they have an impressive 13-5 record against the top 100. With all that in their favor, as well as teams that entered championship week on the bubble like Illinois, Texas A&M and Mississippi falling early, the Tigers should earn an at-large invite.
Mississippi (20-12, RPI: 50, SOS: 44): Six weeks ago, the Rebels weren’t really all that close to the bubble. Now they’re in a whole lot of trouble after losing to South Carolina in the SEC tournament on Thursday. They may have wins over Arkansas, Cincinnati and Oregon, but they have five losses outside the top 80, three of which were at home to teams with RPIs worse than 100.
IN THE MIX
BYU (West Coast, 24-9, RPI: 37, SOS: 71): After losing to Gonzaga in the WCC championship, the Cougars have to hope they did enough this season to earn an at-large bid. Their regular season win over Gonzaga was their only top-50 win, and they had just four against the top 100. Three combined losses to Pepperdine and San Diego may prove too much for an invite. More likely than not, BYU is going to be one of the most dangerous teams in the NIT.