SI's latest look at the NCAA tournament bracket, including bubble teams that need big wins on Thursday.
Just one team received its ticket to the Big Dance on Wednesday, with Lafayette taking down American for the Patriot League championship. The bubble largely remained status quo, but that all promises to change on Thursday, the first day of full-throated action for the power conference tournaments.
A whopping 10 bubble teams were in action on Thursday. While they’re all sequestered with the teams in their respective conferences in different corners of the country, each of the nine necessarily affects all of the others. Illinois’ result against Michigan matters to Miami, while you can bet Mississippi will have its eye on what the Hurricanes do against Notre Dame, and UCLA will certainly be paying attention to the Rebels’ performance against South Carolina. This time of year, bubbles are crashing into each other like protons inside an atom. The chaos truly begins on Thursday, and we will be updating the bubble picture throughout the day to reflect the latest changes; the projected bracket, meanwhile, will be updated at the end of each day.
Thursday's key bubble games:
Miami: vs. Notre Dame, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
George Washington: vs Duquesne, 9 p.m.
Illinois: Lost to Michigan, 73-55
Indiana: Defeated Northwestern, 71-56
Texas: Lost to Iowa State, 69-67
Oklahoma State: Lost to Oklahoma, 64-49
Xavier: vs. Butler, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Boise State: Defeated Air Force, 80-68
Colorado State: vs. Fresno State, 11:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN
UCLA: Defeated USC, 96-70
Oregon: Defeated Colorado, 93-85
Stanford: vs. Utah, 11:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Texas A&M: Lost to Auburn 66-59
Ole Miss: vs. South Carolina, 10 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Illinois: With their tournament lives on the line, the Illini turned in a truly embarrassing performance against Michigan in their opening Big Ten tournament game on Thursday, falling behind big early and losing 73-55. The selection committee will still have a discussion about them on Sunday, but it will be a short one.
Texas A&M: The Aggies needed at least two wins in the SEC tournament to make it to the Big Dance as an at-large team. It got zero. Say hello to the NIT, A&M.
Old Dominion: The Monarchs were barely on the fringes of the at-large picture heading into the Conference USA tournament. Their loss to Middle Tennessee State on Thursday knocked them into the NIT for good.
[daily_cut.college basketball]Pittsburgh: The Panthers got routed by NC State in their ACC tournament opener on Wednesday and are now 19-14. That's not good enough to reach the Big Dance.
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, the Longhorns 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 22 wins overall. If they avoid a bad loss in the AAC tournament, they deserve a bid.
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 bring of the at-large pool. They’re our last team 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 do? Lose to South Carolina. That’s exactly what the Rebels did, and now they’re cheering for anyone who plays UCLA, Temple and Tulsa in the rest of the week, as well as 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
1. UCLA: The Bruins took care of business against USC, but only bad things could happen to them in that game. They’ll meet Arizona in the Pac-12 semis. A win there would make it awfully hard to leave them out of the tournament.
Next four out
These teams are extreme longshots but we'll keep them here in case something unexpected happens.
1. 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 doesn’t get you a dance card.
2. Old Dominion: The Monarchs needed to win the auto bid. They didn't. They won't get an at large.
3. Illinois: The Illini stumbled down the stretch, blowing a big first-half lead in a loss to Purdue last Saturday and then getting blown out by Michigan in their Big Ten tourney opener. Don't expect to see them in the bracket on Sunday.
IN THE MIX
Temple (22-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 68): 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 Memphis in their first game on Friday, and a win there would set up a likely meeting with SMU. If they can knock off the Mustangs, they’d be looking good. A loss in the AAC semis would have Temple sweating, and a loss to the Tigers would have Fran Dunphy's team headed to the NIT.
Cincinnati (22-9, RPI: 34, SOS: 62): The Bearcats finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak, punctuated by a road win over Tulsa last week. With six top-50 wins, three of which came on the road, they should be able to survive a bad loss in the conference tournament. If they win their first game, though, which will be on Friday against the winner of Connecticut and South Florida they’ll move into the lock category.
Tulsa (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 90): An at-large berth was there for the taking for the Golden Hurricane last week, and they failed to take advantage. After losing to Cincinnati and SMU, they fell to 2-6 against potential at-large teams. If Temple fails to make the Big Dance—a realistic possibility—Tulsa would be 0-6 against tournament teams. At the very least, Tulsa needs to make it to the conference championship game—it opens against the winner of Houston and Tulane on Friday—and would probably need some help from fellow teams on the bubble to get an invite.
IN THE MIX
Davidson (23-6, RPI: 32, SOS: 108): An active nine-game winning streak gave the Wildcats the outright A-10 regular season title and top seed in the conference tournament. Realistically, that should be enough to guarantee the first at-large bid in the program’s history. They’d be wise to win at least one game in the conference tournament, but they should hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
Dayton (23-7, RPI: 33, SOS: 112): Despite 23 wins and a strong RPI, Dayton can’t afford to slip up in the A-10 tournament. The Flyers have just two top-50 wins on the year and are 7-6 against the top 100. They’ll be in the Dance so long as they can stay away from a bad loss, but if they drop their first game, on Friday against the winner of St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph’s, they could be in trouble on Sunday.
Richmond (19-12, RPI: 63, SOS: 56): 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 Next Four Out of the field, so they’ll likely have to impress in the conference tourney, and perhaps get some help in other pockets of the country. The good news for Richmond is that its path to the championship game would likely feature games with VCU and Davidson. If the Spiders beat both of those teams again, they would have a very interesting case for the Selection Committee.
Rhode Island (21-8, RPI: 71, SOS: 125): 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: 60, SOS: 68): 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, but the Irish got it together and pulled away in the game’s waning minutes. The Hurricanes remain one of our last four teams in the tournament, but they’re going to land right in the 34-to-38 range among at-large teams. That’s the most uneasy place to be leading into Selection Sunday.
Pittsburgh (19-14, RPI: 66, SOS: 36): The Panthers lost their first-round ACC tournament game to N.C. State, thus completing their disastrous slide to end the season. They are no longer worthy of at-large consideration.
IN THE MIX
Texas (19-13, RPI: 42, SOS: 10): 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.
Oklahoma State (18-13, RPI: 45, SOS: 13): The Cowboys should be safe thanks to six top-50 wins, including a victory over Kansas and sweep of Baylor, but they sure made their lives a whole lot more tenuous over the last month. They lost six of their last seven games of the season, and lost comfortably 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.
Big East, St. John’s, Villanova
IN THE MIX
Xavier (19-12, RPI: 39, SOS: 17): Like a lot of other teams, the Musketeers open Championship Week looking relatively safe. They have six top-50 wins, including a sweep of Georgetown, a road win over Cincinnati and individual victories against Butler and Providence. Even with four sub-100 losses on their résumé, that should be good enough. Their first game in the Big East tournament is against Butler on Thursday, so Xavier can't even suffer a bad loss this week. Win or lose against the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs, the Musketeers should hear their name called on Sunday.
IN THE MIXIndiana (20-12, RPI: 56, SOS: 29):
Purdue (20-11, RPI: 57, SOS: 66): 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 N.C. 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, setting up a likely quarterfinal game against Iowa. A win there would lock the Boilers in, but they should be dancing for the first time since 2012.
Illinois (19-12, RPI: 59, SOS: 60): 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 (26-5, 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 just two top-50 wins on the year, one fewer than their number of sub-100 losses. They’ll definitely get in as long as they can avoid a bad loss in the MWC tourney, but we can’t consider them a lock until they clear that hurdle. A win over Fresno State on Thursday would likely do that.
Boise State (24-7, RPI: 40, SOS: 116): The Broncos earned a share of the regular season MWC championship with San Diego State, and their sweep of the Aztecs granted them the top seed in the conference tournament. They have three top-50 wins, including a road upset of then-No. 24 San Diego State on Feb, 28. In all likelihood, they’re going to be in the field when it is announced on Sunday. Wyoming looms as a dangerous challenge in the semifinals (the Cowboys beat the Broncos in their only meeting this season), but Boise State has the look of a tournament team.
IN THE MIX
Oregon (24-8, RPI: 29, SOS: 63): The Ducks appeared safe heading into the Pac-12 tournament after finishing the season with a flourish that included a home win over Utah and road win over Stanford. After avoiding what would have been a bad loss and eliminating Colorado on Thursday, Oregon can rest easy. The Ducks will be dancing.
UCLA (20-12, RPI: 52, SOS: 35): 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.
Stanford (18-12, RPI: 58, SOS: 50): How the seemingly mighty have fallen. Stanford was widely seen as the third-best team in the Pac-12, but that all changed during a three-week stretch in which it lost to Washington State, UCLA and Colorado at midseason. Losing at home to Oregon and at Arizona State preceding a blowout loss against Arizona to close the regular season certainly didn’t help the Cardinal's case, either. Stanford heads into the Pac-12 tournament as the No. 6 seed and needs to make a run to the conference championship game, beating Utah and Oregon along the way, just to get on the committee’s radar. Don’t expect that to happen.
IN THE MIX
Georgia (20-10, RPI: 41, SOS: 39): 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 don’t play in the conference tournament until Friday and are likely to get a third meeting with the Rebels in that game. One win locks them into an at-large bid, but they may already be safe enough that they could survive a loss. They do not want to find out the answer to that question, however.
LSU (22-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 78): The Tigers may have a worse RPI than—as well as two losses two—Texas A&M, but their résumé remains superior. LSU owns five top-50 wins, including road victories over West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi. What’s more, it has an impressive 12-5 record against the top 100. With all that in their favor, the Tigers should be safe heading into the conference tournament, where they have a double-bye. Not so safe that they wouldn’t be nervous if they lose their first game of the tourney—that will come against the winner of the Texas A&M-Auburn game—but it would take a lot to knock them out of the field at this point.
Mississippi (20-12, RPI: 50, SOS: 46): 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, Oregon and Cincinnati, but they have five losses outside the top 80, three of which were at home to teams with RPIs worse than 100.
Texas A&M (20-11, RPI: 55, SOS: 78): The Aggies keep on gaining and losing a pair of top-50 wins, depending on the movements of LSU in the rankings, and don't have any sub-100 losses this year, but their opening-round SEC tournament loss to Auburn seals their fate as an NIT team.
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.