Bubble Watch: Evaluating this year's very large (and very soft) group of bubble teams

This year's bubble is a soft one, but that means plenty of teams are vying for the coveted NCAA tournament spots. Here is everything you should know about each candidate.
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Consider SI.com your one-stop shop for all things bracket and bubble during championship week. We will be updating our field of 68 and Bubble Watch every day from now through Selection Sunday. The Bracket Watch will focus on games with major seeding implications for teams assured of a trip to the dance, while the Bubble Watch will look at all the games that day with implications at the backend of the field. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for a college basketball fan. Celebrate right here with us.

Thursday’s five biggest bubble games (all times Eastern, bubble teams bolded, locks italicized)

Big Ten Second Round: Illinois vs. Michigan, 12 pm

There’s no way around this reality for the Illini: If they lose to Michigan on Wednesday, they will not be in the tournament. Unfortunately for them, the exact opposite is not true. A win will not lock them into the dance, but it will at least make an at-large bid a possibility. The winner of this game takes on Purdue in the Big Ten quarterfinals, and an upset for Illinois in that game would make their case a lot more interesting. First things first, however. These teams split their regular season meetings, with both protecting home court. A loss would push Michigan toward the bubble, but wouldn’t land them on it. The Wolverines are safely in the field of 68.

Big East Quarterfinals: SetonHall vs. Marquette, 2:30 pm

Seton Hall played its way into the field and just in front of the bubble in our updated Bracket Watch thanks to a strong February in which it beat Providence, Creighton, Xavier and Butler, the last of which came on the road. Butler beat teams like Villanova and Cincinnati at home this year, so the effect of Seton Hall’s win in Indianapolis cannot be overstated. The bet here is that the Pirates will go dancing even if they lose to Marquette on Thursday, but they would certainly remove any doubt with a win.

SEC Second Round: Texas A&M vs. Vanderbilt, 7 pm

Vanderbilt isn’t cinching its at-large bid by beating Texas A&M, but a loss would preclude them from moving on and getting the win, or wins, they need to be the first 15-loss at-large team in tournament history. The Commodores surged back into the tournament picture by going 9-4 in their last 13 games, with two wins over Florida, and individual victories against Iowa State, Arkansas and South Carolina in that stretch. Should they beat the Aggies on Wednesday, they will meet Florida for a third time. That matchup could very well determine the Commodores’ postseason fate. Remember that they get a boost, with the SEC tournament hosted in Nashville.

Big East Quarterfinals: Xavier vs. Butler, 8:30 pm

Xavier took care of business on Wednesday, handling DePaul in its first game in the Big East tournament. That did nothing to strengthen the reeling Musketeers’ at-large hopes. In fact, the last time they beat a team not named DePaul was the day before the Super Bowl. Now, to be fair to the Musketeers, before Edmond Sumner’s season-ending injury, they were easily on track for an at-large bid, and they still own three top-50 wins, an 8-11 record against the top 100, and one sub-100 loss. The committee will also note that two of their losses during a disastrous six-game losing streak also come without Trevon Bluiett, and that, despite the downturn, they’re still ranked 32nd in RPI.  Still, the only way Xavier will have a tension-free Selection Sunday is by beating Butler on Thursday.

Big 12 Quarterfinals KansasState vs. Baylor, 9 pm

Kansas State is in essentially the same spot as Xavier. The Wildcats have three top-50 wins, though all three pack a punch. The Wildcats won at Baylor and Oklahoma State, and beat West Virginia at home. They’re just 5-10 against the top 100 however, and have two sub-100 losses. A win over Baylor would likely remove any doubt surrounding their at-large candidacy. A loss, while expected, could have them on the outside of the tournament field. For what it’s worth, Kansas State is one of the last four teams in our field heading into Thursday’s action.

Thursday’s other bubble games

SEC Second Round: Tennessee vs. Georgia, 1 pm

Big Ten Second Round: Penn State vs. Michigan State, 2:25 pm

Big 12 Quarterfinals: TCU vs. Kansas, 2:30 pm

SEC Second Round: Mississippi State vs. Alabama, 3 pm

Pac-12 Quarterfinals: California vs. Utah 5:30 pm

Big Ten Second Round: Indiana vs. Iowa, 6:30 pm

SEC Second Round: Missouri vs. Mississippi, 9 pm

Pac-12 Quarterfinals: USC vs. UCLA, 11:30 pm