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Bubble Watch: Is Late-Season Drama To Come?

Virginia boosted its stock with a win over Duke, but took a hit with a loss to Boston College. (Steve Helber/AP) Virginia boosted its stock with a win over Duke, but took a hit with a loss to Boston College. (Steve Helber/AP)

So close, yet so far away. That's the feeling of today's Bubble Watch and bracket update on the day conference tournament play begins in a handful of smaller conferences. We're now 12 days away from Selection Sunday, and four days away from the first automatic bids being dispensed. We can taste the madness. The NCAA tournament picture feels like it's nearly developed, but we know better.

This week's cutline for the bracket seemed very soft and shockingly uncomplicated. In the end, I was only really considering seven teams for the final six spots in the bracket, and there weren't very many options beyond that that seemed to even have a good shot. Maryland ended up as the second team out of the field this week, but that gap between being on the right and wrong side of the line felt a lot bigger than that for the Terps. But Maryland still has time. Many teams do. The picture's not going to stay exactly like this. Not by a longshot.

Many major-conference hopefuls have at least three or four games remaining. The cutline will move. The bubble will tighten. The at-large pool is going to grow. Smaller-conference tournaments will break the wrong way. Power conference teams will grab big wins. In a way, this is my least favorite edition of Bubble Watch each season because it's so illusory. It feels like we're there, but we've only just begun.

The question isn't whether there's going to be late drama during the two weeks of conference championship play. It's how much will there be? In two weeks, we will be able to look back on this update with a bit of a smile. There are a lot of data points in place, and the general look and feel of the seed pool may remain intact come March 17, but we know there are a lot of twists left in the tale, too. There always are, and that's the beauty of March.

** RPI information is from RealTimeRPI.com's Monday report. Questions/comments go to @AndyGlockner on Twitter or bubblewatch@gmail.com.**

ACC

Locks: Duke, Miami

Miami has at least a share of the league's regular-season crown, and should win it outright, but Ryan Kelly's explosion in his return after missing 13 games makes this dynamic very interesting in terms of NCAA seeding. I thought Saturday's game, in which the Blue Devils won by three when Miami missed a three at the buzzer, flattered both teams in their quest for a No. 1 seed. Assuming one of them wins the ACC tournament, that team looks good to go. If they meet in the final, the loser has a strong chance, too, especially if it's Duke, which remains unbeaten with Kelly in the lineup. The league is looking stronger to get several more teams in, as well.

SHOULD BE IN

North Carolina State (21-8, 10-6; RPI: 24, SOS: 23)

The Pack beat a couple of lower division teams and faces one more (Wake Forest) at home before traveling to Tallahassee in the finale. The Seminoles, despite fading at-large hopes, won't be easy at home. It would be nice to see NC State take care of business there heading into the postseason.

GW: UConn (N), Duke, North Carolina, UMass?

BL: at Wake Forest

IN THE MIX

North Carolina (20-8, 11-5; RPI: 20, SOS: 15)

Let's leave the Heels here one more week, even though their resume is pretty similar to NC State's, due to the week ahead. Carolina is at Maryland (a game the Terps absolutely need) and then come home to host Duke. It seems likely the Tar Heels would make it even if they didn't win again, but a split this week would pretty much do the deed.

GW: UNLV, NC State, at Florida State?

BL: at Texas

Virginia (20-10, 10-6; RPI: 64, SOS: 119)

Virginia is for bubblers. The Cavaliers got the massive win they needed by handling Duke at home, and then gave back a lot of that credit by losing by one at Boston College on Sunday. The danger with a loss like that is the committee may start looking at the earlier bad losses as more legit. Had they handled BC, a split this week may have had them in decent shape. Now, I'm not so sure.

GW: Duke, at Wisconsin, NC State, North Carolina, at Maryland?

BL: Delaware, Old Dominion (N), at Wake Forest, at Clemson, at Georgia Tech, at George Mason, at Boston College

Maryland (20-9, 8-8; RPI: 70, SOS: 113)

I said on Twitter after Saturday's win at Wake Forest that I think the Terps need four more wins in any combo to make it. Sweep this week vs. North Carolina and at Virginia, then make the ACC semis. Or split and make the final. Otherwise, win the auto bid. Their first ACC tournament game won't help at all. They're going to need that quarterfinal game (at least) to make it. What they need beyond that depends on the next six days. The finale at Virginia now looks massive for both teams.

GW: Duke, NC State

BL: At Boston College

Big East

Locks: Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse

There's building buzz about Georgetown as a 1-seed. I'm not there yet, but that could change in the next week and a half. Syracuse's slide down the seed list continues. Beyond that, teams continue to shuffle their ordering. It wasn't a great week for the bottom of the contender list.

**Reminder: Connecticut is ineligible for postseason play this season.**

SHOULD BE IN

Pittsburgh (23-7, 11-6; RPI: 38, SOS: 53)

The Panthers handled their two home games, staving off Villanova in overtime, and are set to dance. They have two or three quality wins and a bunch of other decent ones. We'll leave them here for now for computer-number and general reader interest, but for all extents and purposes, they're in.

GW: at Georgetown, UConn, Syracuse, at Cincinnati

BL: None, really (but three home league losses)

Notre Dame (22-7, 10-6; RPI: 47, SOS: 73)

The Irish fell at Marquette and now the home date with shorthanded St. John's is more important. With a finale at Louisville, the Irish don't want to be messing around heading into the postseason. This resume isn't that good, even though it's hard to see a 68-team bracket without them at this point.

GW: Louisville, at Pitt, Sweep of Cincinnati, BYU (N)?, Kentucky (with Noel)?

BL: at Providence

IN THE MIX

Villanova (17-12, 9-8; RPI: 55, SOS: 31)

That may be a costly missed opportunity at Pitt, where the Wildcats fell in overtime. Nova has beaten three of the league's four heavyweights at home already and may need to add Georgetown to that list in the finale. Committees aren't very friendly to borderline, home-heavy resumes with bad losses on it.

GW: Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, at Connecticut

BL: Columbia, Swept by Providence, at Seton Hall

Cincinnati (20-10, 8-9; RPI: 49, SOS: 20)

UConn beat the Bearcats in a game of "Give the ballgame away" Chicken, which means the Bearcats grabbed a home win they had to have. Then they were handled at Louisville. Now they close with last-place South Florida at home, trying to get to .500. Where does that leave them heading into the Big East tournament? Not 100 percent comfortable, that's for sure.

GW: Oregon (N), Marquette, at Pitt, Iowa State (N)?, Xavier (N)?, UConn?

BL: at Providence, St. John's?

Note: St. John's vanishes with the season-ending suspension of its leading scorer. Providence is much improved since its roster became fully intact, but lacks the quality of wins at this point for consideration. If they sweep to get to 10-8, another look will be warranted, but the Friars need big wins in NYC.

Big Ten

Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State

Results have broken the right way for Indiana, which can clinch an outright regular-season crown Tuesday at home against Ohio State. The Hoosiers may also get a break if the 8-seed in the Big Ten tournament gives them an easier quarterfinal matchup than anyone else. Michigan and Michigan State also retain chances for 1-seeds in the NCAAs should they win the conference tournament. We'll see. This league looks pretty simple at this point. Seven will dance.

SHOULD BE IN

Minnesota (20-9, 8-8; RPI: 16, SOS: 2)

That's a way to stanch the bleeding. A win over Indiana and a pounding of Penn State put the Gophers very nicely back into the safety zone. Getting to .500 with a split at Nebraska and Purdue should be plenty. If they end up 8-10 and then somehow lose their first-round tournament game? I don't see any real concerns now, but we'll have to see what the landscape looks like if that scenario plays out.

GW: Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Memphis (N), at Illinois, at Florida State?

BL: at Northwestern, at Iowa (by 21)?

Illinois (20-9, 8-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 9)

This is basically the same scenario as Minnesota, where both teams appear to have done enough. If the Illini can get a split of the road trip this week (at Iowa and Ohio State), that should be plenty. Even if they don't, it's hard to see how they don't make it with their quality wins and stabilization down the stretch.

GW: Butler (N), at Gonzaga, Indiana, Ohio State, at Minnesota

BD: at Purdue?, Northwestern?

IN THE MIX

Iowa (18-11, 7-9; RPI: 86, SOS: 102)

It looks unlikely after the Hawkeyes couldn't win at Indiana, but they have two winnable home games this week. If they sweep, let's see what their Big Ten tournament draw looks like before assessing odds.

GW: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa State?

BL: At Virginia Tech, at Purdue, at Nebraska

Big 12

Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State

Kansas continues to trend toward a 1-seed, which remains amazing after its three-game skid in February. Oklahoma State joins this group. There's no way a 12-win team from this league is going to get left out, especially with a win at Kansas.

SHOULD BE IN

Oklahoma (19-9, 10-6; RPI: 22, SOS: 6)

The Sooners got an important home win (in decisive fashion) over Iowa State and now things are looking very good. If they sweep vs. West Virginia and at TCU this week, it's hard to see how they would miss, even with a relative paucity of quality wins.

GW: Kansas, Sweep of Baylor

BL: Stephen F. Austin

IN THE MIX

Iowa State (19-10, 9-7; RPI: 53; SOS: 62)

The Cyclones are starting to take on the look of "that team" that everyone thinks is pretty good but doesn't make the NCAAs. The home date Wednesday with Oklahoma State is now massive. Winning at West Virginia in the finale does nothing except avoid a crippling loss. This isn't a great profile right now.

GW: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Sweep of Baylor, BYU?

BL: at Texas Tech, at Texas

Baylor (16-13, 8-9; RPI: 69, SOS: 33)

Last-second inbounds follies against Kansas State and then a loss at Texas have the Bears arrowing hard toward the NIT. They close at home to Kansas and have to win that one to have any real chance at an at-large heading into the conference tournament.

GW: Oklahoma State, at Kentucky (with Noel), BYU?

BL: Northwestern, College of Charleston, at Texas

Pac-12

Locks: Arizona, UCLA

This is not the season where the Pac-12 regular-season champ has to worry about getting in, and UCLA is pretty well positioned to claim at least a share of the crown. Both the Bruins and Oregon (tied at 12-4) have road trips on the final weekend, with one soft-ish game and one tester. Ben Howland has done a very nice job getting this team to this spot. Oregon will move into this group soon, as long as Dominic Artis continues to seem OK and the Ducks look solid with him.

SHOULD BE IN

Oregon (23-6, 12-4; RPI: 49, SOS: 104)

Dominic Artis came back, the Ducks staved off in-state rival Oregon State, and things look, well, ducky. They're only here at the moment because of computer-related/Artis-related reasons. They have a chance to claim a league crown with a road sweep. They'll get at least a share if they win at Colorado and Utah.

GW: at UNLV, Arizona, at UCLA

BL: None

California (20-9, 12-5; RPI: 43, SOS: 35)

Allen Crabbe likely is the league's player of the year. He and Justin Cobbs have played very well down the stretch to get the Golden Bears into position to share the title should they get some help elsewhere. I don't know if they need another W, but I'm sure beating Stanford in the finale appeals to them anyway.

GW: At Arizona, UCLA, Sweep of Oregon, Colorado?

BL: Harvard, Washington?

Colorado (19-9, 9-7; RPI: 27, SOS: 20)

This continues to be "not a great profile, but likely more than enough" after a split in the Bay Area. The offense looked ugly at Cal. Beating Oregon at home on Thursday would ease whatever nerves exist.

GW: Arizona, Baylor (N), at Oregon, Colorado State, Murray State (N)?

BL: at Utah

IN THE MIX

Washington (16-13, 8-8; RPI: 74, SOS: 27)

The Huskies need to sweep the L.A. schools to get to 10-8 and then have a deep Pac-12 tourney run to have a case.

GW: Saint Louis, Colorado

BL: Albany, Nevada, Utah, at Oregon State

Stanford (17-13, 8-9; RPI: 72, SOS: 38)

The home loss to Colorado probably ends any legit at-large hopes.

GW: Oregon, at Arizona State?

BL: Swept by USC

Arizona State (20-10, 9-8; RPI: 94, SOS: 121)

After getting swept in L.A., things look very bleak for the Sun Devils. Their awful nonleague schedule is really hurting them at this point. If they can win at Arizona, maybe the picture changes a bit more than it appears at this point.

GW: Sweep of Colorado, UCLA

BL: DePaul, Stanford?, Washington?

SEC

Locks: Florida

The Gators got outworked by Tennessee in Knoxville to drop a surprising third SEC game of the season. They're still going to be a very good seed, but they're starting to slip out of the discussion for a 1-seed. With geography not in their favor, the Gators could end up in some odd locations in the NCAAs. Missouri is looking more settled to make it in as the second team from this league. And then ...

SHOULD BE IN

Missouri (21-8, 10-6; RPI: 33, SOS: 53)

The Tigers won two games they should have won, which in this league has become the exception rather than the rule. They close home to Arkansas and at Tennessee. They'd probably be OK with one more win.

GW: Florida, VCU (N), Illinois (N), Mississippi?

BL: at LSU

IN THE MIX

Kentucky (20-9, 11-5; RPI: 51, SOS: 59)

The Cats handled Mississippi State easily at home but then were felled at Arkansas in a "show me" game for the committee. Now a trip to Georgia looms as really important ahead of a home date with Florida to wrap things up. Kentucky has to show the committee it can do more than beat bad teams (or win in OT) at home with this Noel-less lineup. Any road win would be a big one at this point.

GW: Missouri, Maryland (N)?, at Ole Miss

BL: at Tennessee

Tennessee (17-11, 9-7; RPI: 56, SOS: 38)

The Vols got a huge home win over Florida and looked like they were pushing toward at-large contention and then they lost at Georgia to take a step back. They need to win at Auburn now and then handle Missouri at home for another good win.

GW: Florida, Wichita State, UMass (N)?, Kentucky?

BL: Georgia

Mississippi (21-8, 10-6; RPI: 58, SOS: 132)

Big oops for the Rebels, who fell to in-state rival Mississippi State for another terrible loss. This is just a bad profile at this point. The final week has a home date with Alabama and then a trip to LSU. Both appear to be must-wins at this point. 11-7 in this league with one decent win total isn't very good.

GW: Missouri

BL: at South Carolina, at Mississippi State

Alabama (18-10, 11-5; RPI: 60, SOS: 88)

The game at Mississippi Tuesday is now huge. The loser is in extremely grave condition.

GW: Kentucky?

BL: Mercer, Tulane, at Auburn, at LSU

Mountain West

Locks: New Mexico

New Mexico already is the champ of the league with two games left and is thrusting itself into the picture for a 1-seed in the NCAAs. The scrum for positioning below the Lobos continues, but this league is almost certain to get four teams in and may very well get five.

SHOULD BE IN

UNLV (21-7, 9-5; RPI: 13, SOS: 17)

The Rebels looked good at Nevada in their final road game of the season. Now they have two home games (Boise State and Fresno State) and then the league tournament in their building.

GW: Sweep of San Diego State, New Mexico, Colorado State, Iowa State?, at Cal

BL: At Fresno State

Colorado State (20-7, 9-5; RPI: 17, SOS: 25)

The Rams held off Fresno State at home and then lost at Boise State, which helps the Broncos' cause. Derrick Marks' 33-point second half is the latest evidence that MWC teams have figured out how to exploit the Rams on the perimeter. This has been going on since the Nevada game and should have Rams fans worried and looking even closer at possible NCAA matchups.

GW: UNLV, San Diego State, at Air Force?, at Washington?

BL: At Illinois-Chicago

IN THE MIX

San Diego State (18-8, 8-6; RPI: 32, SOS: 29)

The Aztecs couldn't handle The Pit and now are in an interesting position. If they handle Air Force at home, do they need to win again? They close at Boise State (tough) and then would face an equally challenging MWC quarterfinal. Maybe against the Broncos. Hmm...

GW: UCLA (N), Indiana State (N), Colorado State, New Mexico

BL: None

Boise State (18-8, 8-6; RPI: 44, SOS 67)

So far, so good for the Broncos. I thought they needed to get all three home games, and they nailed the first two, including a strong win over Colorado State. Now they get a shot at UNLV and then close at home to Sad Diego State. Get a split here, and they may -- emphasize may -- be able to absorb a quarterfinal loss. If they win two more, I don't see how the committee keeps them out.

GW: at Creighton, UNLV, Colorado State, sweep of Wyoming??

BL: at Utah?, at Nevada

Atlantic 10

Locks: Saint Louis

The Billikens are in, and they can win the league outright with wins at Xavier and home to La Salle. If they can't get that done, VCU has a chance to grab a share. The Rams look pretty good to go. Butler's still fine, although seeding (and perception) are taking a dent. How much deeper will it go?

SHOULD BE IN

VCU (23-6, 11-3; RPI: 31, SOS: 62)

When Havoc meets a slower team that's loose with the ball, Saturday happens. The Rams obliterated Butler in a national TV showcase of their prowess. If they can handle Richmond, they'll head to Temple maybe with a chance at grabbing some of the league crown. No great wins, but enough good ones and the eye test in their favor.

GW: Memphis (N), Butler, Belmont?, Alabama??

BL: None, really

Butler (21-7, 9-5; RPI: 28, SOS: 45)

Let's just forget that happened, shall we? The Bulldogs have a trip to UMass and a home date with Xavier left to get back on the right track after the VCU debacle. Too many great wins to be in any trouble, but seeding is slipping.

GW: Indiana (N), Marquette (N), North Carolina (N), Gonzaga

BL: None

IN THE MIX

Temple (21-8, 9-5; RPI: 42, SOS: 48)

It's been a crazy season in North Philly, and the late nonleague tilt with Detroit wasn't any different. The Owls ended up pulling that one out and also beating Rhode Island. Now they have to handle themselves at Fordham before hosting VCU in a very important finale.

GW: Syracuse (N), Saint Louis, La Salle?, at UMass?, at Charlotte??

BL: Canisius, St. Bonaventure

La Salle (20-7, 10-4; RPI: 45, SOS: 89)

Picked up a "win for bulk" against Duquesne, and faces a similar home date with George Washington. Then the Explorers head to Saint Louis for a marquee shot at the possible league champs. Getting that one would be huge. If they can't, we'll see what the A-10 bracket brings.

GW: Butler, at VCU

BL: Central Connecticut State

Massachusetts (18-9, 8-6; RPI: 54, SOS: 69)

The Minutemen won at Xavier to keep their hopes alive. Now they host Butler on Thursday and then have to go to Rhode Island two days later to close.

GW: at La Salle?

BL: George Washington, at St. Bonaventure

Missouri Valley

Locks: None

What a difference a week makes. Wichita State's unexpected home loss midweek opened the door for Creighton, which stormed through the opening and beat the Shockers for the league title in the season finale. Both teams should make the field of 68. Can a surprise winner make three? Indiana State clearly is capable, despite dumping five of six down the stretch. So are Northern Iowa, Evansville and others.

SHOULD BE IN

Creighton (24-7, 13-5; RPI: 36, SOS: 81)

Two wins and holders of a solo championship, the Bluejays should be good to go. There are no great wins, but enough solid ones to go with winning the league.

GW: Wisconsin (N), Arizona State (N), Wichita State, at Cal?, Indiana State?

BL: at Drake, Illinois State

Wichita State (24-7, 12-6; RPI: 38, SOS: 94)

Whoops. The Shockers ate two losses, including the league-deciding verdict at Creighton, and have to settle for a surprising second-place finish. Now what? The Shockers have some decent wins and probably will make it as an at-large, but what happens with an exit before the league title game? Perhaps fortunately, the Purple Aces are on the other side of the bracket.

GW: at VCU, Creighton, at Air Force?, Southern Miss, at Indiana State?

BL: Swept by Evansville?, at Southern Illinois

IN THE MIX

None.

West Coast

Locks: Gonzaga

The Zags very well may be two wins away from a 1-seed in the NCAAs. Can Saint Mary's feel OK with things without an auto bid? It's starting to lean toward yes.

SHOULD BE IN

None

IN THE MIX

Saint Mary's (25-5, 14-2; RPI: 37, SOS: 115)

The Gaels did what they had to do, winning out and finishing without a WCC blemish besides two losses to Gonzaga. The Creighton win has picked up value, too. They're one semifinal win away from (assumedly) a third shot at the Zags in Las Vegas. Can they absorb that loss and six more days of bubble teams doing work once they're done?

GW: Creighton, sweep of BYU

BL: Pacific (N), Georgia Tech (N)

BYU (20-10, 10-6; RPI: 59, SOS: 96)

The "None" sitting one row below this equals "Go win three games in Vegas."

GW: None

BL: at San Diego, San Francisco

Best of the Rest

Locks: None

SHOULD BE IN

Memphis (25-4, 14-0; RPI: 18, SOS: 71)

The fact that the Tigers are rolling through the league and have flopped more often than not outside of it isn't great news for the modest at-large hopes of Southern Miss. The Tigers smell like an 8/9 game candidate again.

GW: Sweep of Southern Miss, at Tennessee?

BL: None, really

IN THE MIX

Belmont (22-6, 13-2; RPI: 23, SOS: 87)

The Bruins won the Ohio Valley by two games in their debut season. Now what? Can they eat a loss in their hometown and still get in? Seems unlikely despite the computer numbers, but we'll see.

GW: Middle Tennessee State?, at Stanford?

BL: Northeastern (N), at Murray State?

Middle Tennessee State (27-4, 19-1; RPI: 25, SOS: 127)

The Blue Raiders have done what they had to do to make any at-large case. They won the league by five games and went 19-1. They're rooting hard for Belmont and Akron to auto-bid in case they need an at-large. I hate this kind of situation, though. We need three more games to prove MTSU is the best Sun Belt team this season? They slaughtered the league. Just let them go to the NCAAs.

GW: Mississippi

BL: at Arkansas State

Louisiana Tech (25-3, 16-0; RPI: 48, SOS: 208)

OK, here we go. At New Mexico State on Thursday. At Denver on Saturday. If they get both, this starts to become intriguing.

GW: Southern Miss?

BL: at Northwestern State?, At McNeese State

Akron (22-5, 13-1; RPI: 46, SOS: 138)

It's unfair to expect perfection in the MAC, but getting Buffalo'd by a sub-200 team at this stage probably wasn't a good plan. They have two more home games against modest foes and then the league tournament, which they probably have to win, fair or not.

GW: Middle Tennessee State?

BL: at Coastal Carolina, at Buffalo

Bucknell (24-5, 12-2; RPI: 52, SOS: 180)

They won the league by two games and are the 1-seed, with home-court advantage. Hard to see how they can overcome a loss, but again, let's see how the entire picture looks in another week.

GW: La Salle?

BL: At Penn State, at Lafayette
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