Bubble Watch: How Each Team on the Edge Can Secure a Spot in NCAA Tournament Field

Analyzing the latest NCAA tournament bubble picture, including solid selections, true bubbles and teams on the fringe, plus a look at the biggest bubble games of the day.
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Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field, and what they’ll have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.

Sunday's Bubble Games

Atlantic 10 Finals: Davidson vs. No. 25 Rhode Island, 1 pm, CBS

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Locks (63)

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Butler, Bucknell, Buffalo, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Davidson, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Georgia State, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Maryland-Baltimore County, Marshall, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Montana, Murray State, Nevada, New Mexico State, North Carolina, NC-Central, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn, Purdue, Providence, Radford, Rhode Island, San Diego State, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, Texas Southern, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier

Spots remaining: 4

(68 total spots — 63 locks — 1 remaining unaccounted for automatic qualifier = 4)

St. Bonaventure (25-7, RPI: 21, SOS: 87, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 6-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

St. Bonaventure fell to Davidson in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday, which has to make every bubble team nervous, present company included. Despite all the good press the Bonnies have received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which appears unlikely to be in the field. Pair that with three ugly losses, and the Bonnies can’t be sure of anything. The committee would be totally justified in leaving out the Bonnies.

Oklahoma State (19-14, RPI: 87, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 5-12, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.

Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Virginia on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.

USC (22-11, RPI: 33, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 6-4, sub-100 losses: 2)

USC may have advanced to the Pac-12 championship game, but didn't really strengthen its résumé in the process. The Trojans beat Oregon State and Oregon before falling to Arizona in the title game on Saturday night. Being one of the final teams in action in Championship Week always seems good, but it was mostly empty calories for the Trojans. They'll have to hope their accomplishments in the regular season were enough to earn an at-large bid. The RPI and SOS numbers will help, but it's worth noting that were all against teams unlikely to get at-large bids.

UCLA (21-11, RPI: 37, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Friday's loss in the Pac-12 semifinals to Arizona gives way to a tense couple of days for the Bruins. There's no shame in losing to Arizona, of course, but a win would have all but guaranteed them an at-large bid. Now, they have to hope that they did enough before bowing out of the Pac-12 tournament. Their three Q1 wins were against Arizona, Kentucky and USC, and even after the loss the Bruins have a strong RPI. The SI.com Bubble Watch Committee would put them in the field, but it's not a slam dunk case.

Saint Mary’s (28-5, RPI: 41, SOS: 193, Q1 record: 2-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field. Nevada's loss in the Mountain West tournament really hurts the Gaels.

Marquette (19-13, RPI: 58, SOS: 30, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. If we had to bet, we’d guess that Marquette ends up as a top seed in the NIT.

Arizona State (20-11, RPI: 64, SOS: 84, Q1 record: 3-4, Q2 record: 5-6, sub-100 losses: 1)

Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.

Baylor (17-14, RPI: 65, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-12, Q2 record: 3-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.

Syracuse (20-13, RPI: 44, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.

Notre Dame (19-14, RPI: 67, SOS: 46, Q1 record: 2-9, Q2 record: 5-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.

Middle Tennessee State (23-6, RPI: 34, SOS: 76 Q1 record: 2-3, Q2 record: 3-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.