Bubble Watch: Who's Got Work to Do to Secure a 2020 NCAA Tournament Spot?

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Our inaugural Bubble Watch for the 2020 men's NCAA tournament starts on a conservative note. To be considered a lock basically means you can lose every single game remaining on your schedule and still make the field of 68. The list of locks will grow over the next couple of weeks, and the number of teams “sweating bullets” will shrink as more and more succumb to exhaustion. Jim and I used an arbitrary cutoff NET ranking of 80 to be included in this first write-up, a generous number considering teams with that NET magnitude (and the RPI from days of yore) usually do not sniff the bracket. –KM

Locks: 18
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: 11
Sweating Bullets: 41

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ACC

Locks: Duke, Louisville, Florida State
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: None
Sweating Bullets: Virginia, Notre Dame, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech

Virginia (17–7, NET: 56, SOS: 72, Q1: 3–3, Q2: 4–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Hoos down in Hooville are hanging on to a bid in our latest Bracket Watch by the skin of their teeth. Arizona State’s recent hot play helped UVA pick up another Q1 win, as the Sun Devils now sit at 50th in the NET, the bare minimum qualification for a Q1 neutral win. Virginia’s 9-5 ACC record, the ACC’s reputation and the fact it is the reigning national champ are all helping the at-large bid cause, but a home win against either Duke or Louisville over the next couple of weeks is likely needed to seal the deal. –KM

NC State (16–9, NET: 60, SOS: 89, Q1: 3–2, Q2: 4–4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 3)

NC State has a marginally better NET ranking than the Irish but a decidedly better résumé. The Wolfpack’s seven quality wins, including victories on the road over Virginia, UNC Greensboro and Syracuse and a home win against Wisconsin, has them sitting in our First Four Out as of Monday. However, three bad losses (Boston College on Sunday being the most recent) and a relatively low NET has the Pack sitting on the outside looking in. –KM

Notre Dame (16–10, NET: 61, SOS: 123, Q1: 1–6, Q2: 2–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Notre Dame did itself zero favors with its nonconference scheduling, a slate that currently ranks 312th nationally. The Irish picked up a home win against UCLA, which unfortunately is currently a Q3 victory, and nothing else. The ACC’s overall suckiness also isn’t helping Notre Dame’s cause, but then again Mike Brey’s squad hasn’t really beaten anyone in conference play. Road wins over Syracuse and Clemson are the Irish’s best wins to date. It may take a miracle for Notre Dame to crash the Dance at this point. –KM

Syracuse (14–11, NET: 64, SOS: 42, Q1: 2–5, Q2: 2–5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Jim Boeheim’s days of sneaking into the tourney field are numbered. The Orange have just enough quality wins to be in consideration here, but their NET and overall record are getting into “eyesore” territory. –KM

Virginia Tech (15–10, NET: 76, SOS: 151, Q1: 2–5, Q2: 3–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

It’s amazing that the Hokies are even in this position considering the mass exodus of players and coaches in the offseason. Tech was expected to finish in or near the basement in the ACC but has held its own in conference play behind young gun Landers Nolley. The Hokies have the best win among the ACC “sweating” group with a triumph over Michigan State in Maui, but a 319th ranked nonconference strength of schedule (NCSOS), two bad losses and a recent rough stretch in which they’ve lost six of their last eight will be tough to overcome to punch a ticket to the Dance. –KM

Big 12

Locks: Baylor, Kansas
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: West Virginia, Texas Tech
Sweating Bullets: Oklahoma

West Virginia (18–7, NET: 10, SOS: 2, Q1: 5–6, Q2: 3–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

We’re not letting the Mountaineers off the hook (aka gifting them lock status) until they get eight Big 12 wins, something they should accomplish by next Saturday (vs. Oklahoma State, at TCU). But as it stands, West Virginia could tumble to 6–12 in the Big 12, which is just enough downside to keep it here. –JR

Texas Tech (16–9, NET: 21, SOS: 66, Q1: 2–8, Q2: 5–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Fun with arbitrary numerical cutoffs: Losing to Oklahoma State this weekend added a Q2 win to the Red Raiders’ ledger, as the Cowboys slid up inside the top 75 of the NET, making a prior home win over them a newly minted Q2 victory. But at 16-9, Texas Tech would certainly have been better off just getting the win. The Red Raiders continue to lurk as a terrifying potential 7-10 seed for any non-Baylor, non-Kansas high seed. –JR

Oklahoma (16–9, NET: 47, SOS: 40, Q1: 2–8, Q2: 7–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The Big 12 bubble picture is oddly bleak: After the Sooners, the next-highest teams in the NET are 11-14 Iowa State (which just lost its best player for the season) and 13-12 Oklahoma State, neither of which are anywhere near the field. That leaves Boomer Sooner as the lone true “bubble” team, and even it appears to be in solid shape with a 9-9 Q1/Q2 record and zero harmful losses. The lack of big wins lowers the Sooners’ seed ceiling, but relatively speaking, their bubble is far from popping. –JR

Big East

Locks: Creighton, Seton Hall, Villanova
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: Marquette, Butler
Sweating Bullets: Xavier, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s

Marquette (17–7, NET: 19, SOS: 6, Q1: 5–6, Q2: 6–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Marquette is as close to a lock as you’ll find in one of these sections. In fact, we’re likely being too conservative by including them in this group. However, Jim and I are both CPAs, and conservatism is the foundation of accounting. Eleven wins against Q1/Q2 competition is elite and a top 20 NET plus a sixth-ranked SOS has Marquette flirting with the top 16. Rest assured, the Eagles will likely be locked in, in next week’s edition. –KM

Butler (19–7, NET: 20, SOS: 56, Q1: 8–5, Q2: 5–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Rinse, wash, and repeat with Butler from the Marquette write-up above. Despite a recent Big East skid, the Bulldogs are well-positioned to threaten for a top-16 bid. Only three teams in the country have more Q1 wins than the 'Dogs, and their names are Baylor, Kansas, and Seton Hall. –KM

Xavier (17–9, NET: 39, SOS: 20, Q1: 3–8, Q2: 6–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

At the end of January, Xavier sat at 13-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big East, a disappointing mark to say the least. But, as they did last year, the Musketeers have worked magic in February, rattling off three straight wins before falling to Butler at Hinkle. One of those wins in particular, a road win at Seton Hall, has catapulted the Muskies above the "play-in game." –KM

Georgetown (15–10, NET: 46, SOS: 5, Q1: 5–9, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

We talked about it in our Monday Bracket Watch, but holy smokes, it is amazing what Georgetown has done this season without James Akinjo and, most recently, Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven. The Hoyas jumped from First Four Out to the 9- and 10-line in our most recent Watch in the span of two days. Their final record may not be pretty, but there’s no way to ignore that volume of quality wins, no bad losses and one of the best strengths of schedule in the country. –KM

Providence (14–12, NET: 58, SOS: 17, Q1: 5–8, Q2: 2–0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 4)

Providence’s résumé is the college basketball equivalent of Batman villain Two-Face. One side shows a sparkling 7-8 Q1/Q2 record and a 17th-ranked SOS, the other shows a 14–12 overall record and four bad losses. The Friars have been one of the most inconsistent teams all season, racking up wins against Creighton, Seton Hall, Marquette (away), and Butler (away) while losing to the likes of Long Beach State, Charleston, Penn and Northwestern. –KM

St. John’s (14–12, NET: 67, SOS: 69, Q1: 3–9, Q2: 2–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Johnnies are hanging their hats on two stellar wins in a neutral tilt against Arizona and a home victory over West Virginia. Unfortunately, nothing else about their résumé jumps off the page. With a 3-10 Big East record and Mustapha Heron likely done for the year, Mike Anderson’s crew likely won’t have the juice to pass the other conference foes above it. –KM

Big Ten

Locks: Maryland, Penn State
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa
Sweating Bullets: Rutgers, Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana

Michigan State (17–9, NET: 13, SOS: 43, Q1: 5–8, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The Spartans almost certainly won't miss the NCAA tournament, but they have a bunch of losable games down the stretch, and a disaster “lose out” scenario of 17–15 (9–11) would be extremely dicey. That can happen only with a loss at Nebraska on Thursday night, though, so Tommy and the boys need to dodge the bad-loss bullet, at which point they’d probably ascend to lockdom. –JR

Ohio State (17–8, NET: 18, SOS: 48, Q1: 5–6, Q2: 4–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Ohio State is similarly close to lock status, but until “what’s the worst that could happen?” is no longer six games below .500 in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will remain sub-lock status. I know, I know, conference records don’t matter—especially in this Big Ten—but the eyesore of a 7-13 mark in league play (plus an early B1G tournament defeat) is frightening enough to remain conservative. –JR

Michigan (16–9, NET: 26, SOS: 63, Q1: 5–8, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Michigan With Isaiah Livers is an obvious tournament team, and one that will be a true seeding conundrum for the committee so as to avoid “punishing” a higher seed. Michigan Without Isaiah Livers, though, is 4-5 overall and a major question mark. Word is that Livers looked hobbled toward the end of the Indiana blowout, leaving many Michigan fans wondering why he was even on the court. Juwan Howard’s Monday update put his key junior forward’s status as “day-to-day.” –JR

Iowa (18–8, NET: 28, SOS: 87, Q1: 7–6, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Remember when Luka Garza had a nine-pound cyst removed from his abdomen? I certainly do—every single time I see or hear about Iowa’s star center. At this point, the Hawkeyes' dropping out of the NCAA tournament picture seems tougher than carrying that cyst around all the time, although Hawkeye fans are constantly wary of Fran’s February Fade... –JR

Rutgers (17–8, NET: 30, SOS: 59, Q1: 2–6, Q2: 5–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Would we even bother playing the NCAA tournament if it were held at the RAC? I’m not sure it would even be fun to watch Rutgers spank Kansas, Duke, etc. in Piscataway en route to an easy NCAA championship (just kidding—it would be a blast). Unfortunately, that change won’t be happening anytime soon, and the Scarlet Knights are tremendously unproven (read: record of 1–8) in games away from the friendly confines. Two huge home opportunities remain (Michigan and Maryland), as do three challenging road games (Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue), so while Rutgers is in strong shape, things could get dicey quickly. –JR

Wisconsin (15–10, NET: 31, SOS: 16, Q1: 7–8, Q2: 1–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Badgers' last seven wins: Nebraska 2x (nothing special), Michigan State (10th in KenPom), Ohio State 2x (9th), at Penn State (11th), Maryland (8th). Wisconsin’s collection of wins is probably the best of anyone on the bubble (seven Q1 victories!), but it's also a late-season mini-swoon away from being an NIT team due to sheer volume of losses. The Badgers need to defend home court down the stretch to ensure an NCAA bid. –JR

Purdue (14–12, NET: 33, SOS: 62, Q1: 3–9, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Purdue is the poster child of simply needing wins to ensure a tournament bid. At just 14-12, the Boilermakers cannot afford anything worse than 3-2 down the stretch, and even that would be dicey thanks to that bizarre loss at Nebraska and Texas slowly quitting on Shaka Smart. A bunch of impressive home blowouts have pushed the Boilers’ NET into seemingly safe territory, but they’d be wise to avoid giving the committee an obvious reason (a 17-15 overall record) to leave them out. –JR

Illinois (15–9, NET: 38, SOS: 54, Q1: 5–7, Q2: 2–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

At the end of January, Illinois was 16-5, tied atop the Big Ten standings and threatening for a spot in the committee’s initial top 16 reveal. Four (entirely understandable) losses and a scary and still-mysterious injury to star G Ayo Dosunmu later, and Illinois is now in range of a doomsday scenario where it misses the NCAA field altogether for the seventh straight year. Games against Northwestern and Nebraska should be two comforting wins, but without Dosunmu, will anything come easily? –JR

Minnesota (12–12, NET: 43, SOS: 22, Q1: 4–10, Q2: 2–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Best 12–12 team ever?! That’s probably a “yes,” as the Gophers rank highly in all predictive metrics and possess huge wins over Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State (twice). But nonconference losses at Utah and at home to an ever-decaying DePaul team hurt, and the overall record may simply be too big a dealbreaker for the Golden Gophers. Two remaining games against Indiana will be enormous for both teams. –JR

Indiana (16–9, NET: 63, SOS: 44, Q1: 4–7, Q2: 2–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Speaking of Indiana, the Hoosiers continue to live squarely on the bubble. Over the past two seasons combined, IU is 3-8 in the month of February, and the Hoosiers will need to right the ship ASAP to prevent Archie Miller’s seat from combusting beneath him. A road win or two (Minnesota? Purdue? Illinois) would be especially useful; IU has just one of those (Nebraska) in the entire 2019-20 campaign. –JR

Pac 12

Locks: Colorado, Oregon
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: Arizona
Sweating Bullets: Stanford, USC, Arizona St., Oregon St.

Arizona (18–7, NET: 8, SOS: 7, Q1: 3–5, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

There’s basically a 0% chance that a team with numbers like Arizona’s would get left out of the field, but the schedule holds enough landmines (and the Wildcats’ wins are iffy enough) that a catastrophic slide could result in, well, catastrophe. Had the ‘Cats taken care of UCLA at home, they’d be locked in with their Duck and Buffalo brethren; they’ll be there soon enough if they take care of Oregon State on Thursday night. –JR

Stanford (16–9, NET: 37, SOS: 90, Q1: 2–5, Q2: 2–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Losing seven of eight is not the way to go about securing your first NCAA tournament bid since 2014, so the Cardinal need to find answers quickly. Sure, they’ve been hurt by injuries to Oscar da Silva (now back) and now Tyrell Terry, but that’s not enough to excuse this slide. Stanford’s solid NET is currently masking a very barren résumé that includes zero Q1-A wins, a flimsy 4–8 record against Q1/Q2 competition, and a damaging loss at California. The Cardinal may not need the sweep in the Evergreen State this week, but continuing to drop winnable games will leave Stanford wondering where it all went wrong. –JR

USC (19–7, NET: 49, SOS: 67, Q1: 2–6, Q2: 6–0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Andy Enfield’s army of athletes continues to be in solid shape thanks to its 6–0 Q2 record, and the Trojans just completed an impressive sweep of the Washington schools despite missing freshman phenom Onyeka Okongwu. The always-intimidating elevation road trip to Colorado and Utah awaits, but a split (in either manner) would be plenty to keep the Trojans on the safe(ish) side of the bubble. –JR

Arizona State (17–8, NET: 50, SOS: 25, Q1: 4–6, Q2: 3–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The Sun Devils' torrid last month (they've won seven of eight, including wins over Arizona, USC, and at Stanford) has them in a solid spot right now, and they can continue to improve that standing against Oregon on Thursday night. Careful, though—too many wins would result in ASU's avoiding its natural habitat in Dayton for the First Four. It’s a delicate line to dance, but one that Bobby Hurley has proved adept at toeing. –JR

Oregon State (15–10, NET: 75, SOS: 122, Q1: 4–3, Q2: 1–5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Oregon State is barely clinging to life in Bubble Land, and dropping both games on the Arizona road trip this weekend might be the wave that breaks the Beavers’ dam. (Or something—that’s not a real analogy.) Due to their lacking nonconference schedule/performance, the Beavers likely need to win four of their remaining five games to have a real shot. –JR

SEC

Locks: Kentucky, Auburn, LSU
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: None
Sweating Bullets: Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, South Carolina

Florida (16–9, NET: 35, SOS: 41, Q1: 3–6, Q2: 3–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Florida is probably a tournament team, but boy have the Gators been disappointing. A unanimous top-five team in the preseason and sexy pick to cut down the nets in March, UF has been just a shade above mediocre. Few teams have the talent Florida does on its roster, so perhaps a tourney run into the second weekend or beyond is in the cards. But that journey gets a whole lot tougher the lower the Gators fall down the S-curve. –KM

Alabama (14–11, NET: 36, SOS: 4, Q1: 2–6, Q2: 4–4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Per KenPom, Alabama is one of the unluckiest teams in the country—and that’s without considering the Tide’s awful injury luck this season. Despite this poor luck and a 14-11 record, Nate Oats’s group isn’t dead in the water quite yet. ‘Bama has a lot to like on its résumé and one of the easiest remaining SEC schedules. It is well within the realm of possibility that Alabama finishes out the year with a 20-11 (12-6) record, a mark sure to get it a spot in the Dance. Either way, Roll Tide. –KM

Arkansas (16–9, NET: 48, SOS: 18, Q1: 2–5, Q2: 2–4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Arkansas has taken a tumble down the rabbit hole and now may be in danger of being late for a very important date. The Razorbacks’ four straight losses have left them 4–8 in SEC play, and though not an official committee criteria, conference record does seem to matter to the field of 68 deciders. A strong overall record and strength of schedule has the ‘Backs right on the cusp of the bubble, but a failure to win four of their last six contests will likely result in an NIT berth. –KM

Mississippi State (16–9, NET: 53, SOS: 49, Q1: 2–6, Q2: 3–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

The Bulldogs have one of those résumés that look the same as 20 other teams when doing a blind taste test. Bracketing around the bubble really is an exercise in nit-pickiness, and Mississippi State has just enough nits to pick it out of the field of 68. Two bad losses, so-so quality wins and a mediocre NET and SOS leaves much to be desired. –KM

Tennessee (14–11, NET: 62, SOS: 36, Q1: 1–7, Q2: 5–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Vols are one of a handful of teams whose season could have looked so much different had key players not gone down with injuries. Losing senior Lamonte Turner 11 games into the year was a crushing blow to a young team looking to make a surprise run to the tournament following the exodus of three NBA draft picks. The Vols have fought admirably without Admiral Schofield and crew, but right now they don’t have the top-tier wins required to make up for an ugly record and NET combination. –KM

South Carolina (16–9, NET: 65, SOS: 75, Q1: 3–5, Q2: 4–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

For whatever reason, the Gamecocks have fared lightyears better in SEC play the past two seasons than in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Last year, South Carolina finished tied for fourth in the SEC at 11-7 despite a 16-16 overall record, and this year it's in that same position at 8-4. The difference this year is USC performed just O.K. enough in the nonconference to be a legitimate bubble threat. Home losses against Boston University and Stetson aren’t going away, but the Gamecocks have a fighting chance at an at-large if they can win multiple bouts against Mississippi State, LSU, and Alabama to close out the season. –KM

American

Locks: None
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: Houston
Sweating Bullets: Wichita State, Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU, UConn

Houston (20–6, NET: 27, SOS: 88, Q1: 2–4, Q2: 7–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

No one is safe in the American, and though Houston appears to be the best of the bunch, the Cougars’ lack of Q1 wins makes them susceptible to a quick slide down the S-Curve if their record sours and they take some tough losses against a decently-challenging remaining schedule. Still, 3–2 to close the regular season will probably be enough to get it done. –JR

Wichita State (19–6, NET: 45, SOS: 78, Q1: 2–3, Q2: 6–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The Shockers looked like a sure thing for the tournament until a devastating one-two combination of last-second losses to Tulsa and Cincinnati. They followed that up with an utterly lifeless performance at Houston, and although they’ve gotten back on track with two wins, things are much more in doubt now. Defending home court and going 1–2 on the road (at Cincy, at SMU, at Memphis) might be enough. –JR

Cincinnati (17–8, NET: 51, SOS: 24, Q1: 2–5, Q2: 6–0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 3)

Cincinnati’s surge through the American belies how poor the Bearcats were early in the year, taking three losses outside of the top two quadrants. Cincinnati is right on the cutline at this point, so taking the chances it has coming—Wichita State at home, Houston on the road—would be very advisable. Otherwise, Cincy will be one of the teams intently rooting against upsets in various conference tournaments throughout March. –JR

Memphis (17–8, NET: 59, SOS: 83, Q1: 1–4, Q2: 5–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Penny Hardaway’s much-ballyhooed Tigers have one Q1 win and two Q3 losses; it’s tough to make much of a case for inclusion with that unfortunate imbalance. A three-game losing streak over the past week and a half has trimmed the Tigers’ chances even more, and without a healthy D.J. Jeffries, Memphis may limp across the finish line. With Houston still on the schedule twice, though, the Tigers have opportunities to move the needle.

SMU (18–6, NET: 66, SOS: 168, Q1: 2-2, Q2: 2–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

This is probably a courtesy inclusion because I adore the Mustangs, but that’s O.K. SMU has a few more chances at solid wins (at Tulsa, Wichita State at home), and the Ponies may need 6-0 (or at least 5-1) down the stretch to really make a true case. And the world deserves Kendric Davis in the NCAA tournament, so here’s hoping it happens. –JR

UConn (14–11, NET: 70, SOS: 5–2, Q1: 0–6, Q2: 4–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Had the Huskies stolen two or three of their trio of overtime losses (Xavier on a neutral court, home to Wichita State and Tulsa), UConn might have a more legitimate case. As it stands, though, the lack of needle-moving wins does nothing to balance out the mediocre 14-11 overall record. Add in the sad loss of Akok Akok to a torn Achilles tendon, and this particular campaign looks bleak in Storrs. –JR

Others

Locks: San Diego State, Gonzaga, Dayton
Comfortable, but Not Relaxing: BYU
Sweating Bullets: Rhode Island, Saint Mary’s, Northern Iowa, ETSU, Richmond, Utah State, VCU, Liberty, UNC Greensboro, Saint Louis

BYU (20–7, NET: 23, SOS: 46, Q1: 2–4, Q2: 3–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The selection committee is supposed to give consideration to teams that had a key player miss part of the year due to injury, however the water muddies when it comes to suspensions. BYU’s star forward Yoeli Childs was suspended nine games to start the season due to an NBA draft paperwork issue (yes, seriously). In those nine contests, BYU went a respectable 6-3 with a win at Houston and losses to Kansas, San Diego State and Boise State. Childs also missed four games in early January due to injury. In those four games, the Cougars went just 2-2, losing on the road to conference title contenders Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. With Childs in the lineup, BYU is a pristine 12-2, versus just 8-5 without him. Any eye test would tell you BYU deserves a spot in the Dance, but the résumé isn’t quite yet in lock status. –KM

Rhode Island (19–6, NET: 32, SOS: 45, Q1: 1–4, Q2: 5–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Rhode Island’s recent tear through the A-10, a good-looking overall record and a top 35 NET have the Rams hovering around a No. 9 or 10 seed in current iterations of brackets. However, that spot is awfully precarious when considering URI is one of only two teams in the NET top 50 to have just one Q1 win. That win was a road victory at VCU, a team that currently ranks 52nd in the NET. Five Q2 wins is nothing to sneeze at, so that gives David Cox just enough firepower to have his squad on the right side of the bubble. The margin for error, though, is slim. –KM

Saint Mary’s (20–6, NET: 34, SOS: 71, Q1: 3–3, Q2: 3–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Splitting hairs between the Gaels’ résumé and Rhode Island’s is part of what makes predicting the field of 68 such a challenge. Their records are essentially the same, and URI has a slight NET advantage and a much better SOS. Saint Mary’s, though, has the better wins, and three Q1 wins versus one Q1 win is a significant gap when scrutinizing the bubble. Those two bad losses are another knock on the Gaels when compared to URI, but at this point both teams should feel pretty good about where they are in the bubble conversation. –KM

Northern Iowa (20–4 NET: 40, SOS: 96, Q1: 1–1, Q2: 3–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Ask Colorado how good the Northern Iowa Panthers are this year. Or West Virginia, a team that barely snuck by Ben Jacobson’s squad on a neutral floor. Winning on the road in Boulder is one of the best feats by any team this season, but unfortunately college basketball fans likely won’t get to see UNI in the Big Dance if it fails to win the Missouri Valley tournament. Two bad losses look especially bad if you have only four quality wins. We all know the Panthers are deserving of a spot in the field of 68, but it’s a power conference world. –KM

ETSU (20–4, NET: 42, SOS: 156, Q1: 2–2, Q2: 2–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

East Tennessee State is one of three SoCon teams that can hang with any team in the country. Due to scheduling limitations, though, it’s likely only one will emerge from the plucky mid-major conference. The Bucs have a puncher’s chance at an at-large, and the committee did show favor with Belmont last season with a similar résumé. At the moment, both ETSU and UNI—two teams with nearly identical résumés—sit as No. 11 seeds in our brackets, ahead of the would-be play-in games on the 12-seed line. —KM

Richmond (19–6, NET: 44, SOS: 84, Q1: 2–4, Q2: 2–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The itsy-bitsy Spiders missed their only swing at Dayton, but they’ve tallied a few solid wins (VCU, at Rhode Island, Wisconsin on a neutral) that give them a fighting chance. The remaining schedule is bereft of big chances, so Richmond needs to continue inflating its record, hoping to get another chance at taking down the at-large golden goose that is Dayton in the A-10 tournament. Tricky road games at St. Bonaventure and Duquesne are landmines in the regular season first, though. –JR

Utah State (19–7, NET: 41, SOS: 94, Q1: 2–4, Q2: 2–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The preseason darling in the Mountain West, the Aggies have been upstaged by San Diego State’s bid for perfection, and nagging injuries to stars Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta didn’t do USU any favors. The Aggies held an eight-point halftime lead at San Diego State with a chance to emphatically declare themselves tournament-worthy, but they could not withstand a furious Aztec rally, and USU now finds itself in a precarious position. Craig Smith’s team needs a big win or two, but the opportunities just aren’t there; teams from bigger leagues can continue improving their résumés, while Utah State is essentially stuck where it is. –JR

VCU (17–8, NET: 52, SOS: 68, Q1: 1–5, Q2: 1–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Going 2-7 against the top two quadrants while also losing at home to George Mason is a recipe for bubble disaster, particularly for a team that had such high hopes entering the season (returned all five starters from an at-large team). Of course, everything could change Tuesday with an enormous home game against Dayton, giving the Rams the perfect defibrillator to resuscitate their feeble tournament hopes. Will they use it? –JR

Liberty (22–3, NET: 54, SOS: 312, Q1: 0–1, Q2: 1–0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Liberty has played only one Q1 game and one Q2 game all season, rendering it highly unlikely the Flames get actual consideration. The best-case scenario is a 30-4 record, losing at home to North Florida a second time in the Atlantic Sun championship game, likely adding another Q3 loss. It’s almost certainly auto-bid-or-bust for Liberty. –JR

UNC Greensboro (19–6, NET: 55, SOS: 128, Q1: 2–2, Q2: 2–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

I stubbornly maintain that the committee wants to give out an at-large bid to a true mid-major (à la Belmont last season) as a way of saying “see, this system is totally fair,” even though it’s not. UNI and ETSU are the most likely candidates for that olive branch, but UNCG is right there as well. The win at Georgetown continues to gain value, and a 4–4 Q1/Q2 record is tenable for getting to the Dance. It’s always worth noting, too, that two of the Spartans’ six losses (NC State, Montana State) were via half-court buzzer beaters. –JR

Saint Louis (17–7, NET: 73, SOS: 81, Q1: 1–4, Q2: 1–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Billikens aren’t really in the conversation at this point; this is more of a courtesy inclusion because of how well they played against Dayton in both meetings. If the Bills win out in the regular season, clip the Flyers in the A-10 tournament and then lose to URI, VCU, or Richmond in the final, then it might get interesting.–JR