Bubble Watch: Which Teams Have Work to Do in Conference Tournaments?

The final spots in the field of 68 will be determined by this week's conference tournaments.
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Please note (and compliment) the adjusted format as we enter Championship Week. Rather than going conference by conference, we’re going to zero in on the bubble picture itself, so check out the new categories below.

We hope to provide something close to “real-time” updates this week as conference tournaments unfold, so check back often to see where teams stand. –Jim Root

In the Field: 35
Right Side of the Bubble: 12
Outside Looking In: 13

In the Field

Duke, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia, Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Creighton, Seton Hall, Villanova, Butler, Marquette, Providence, Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, USC, Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, Houston, San Diego State, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Dayton, BYU, Utah State, East Tennessee State

The above chunk of teams is good to go even if they never emerge from the locker room this week. Yes, that includes Providence, because dropping a game to Butler is not keeping the Friars and their seven Quadrant 1 wins (plus 5-0 Q2 record) out. The bad losses matter for seeding, but the Friars are in. USC is another notable upgrade; Ky and I agree that a 22-10 Trojans squad would not be left without a Big Dance invitation. Saint Mary’s also ascended to safety after a thrilling (if ugly) win over BYU last night.

That also puts in Marquette and Arizona, two stumbling squads who aren’t exactly peaking at the right time. But neither profile is genuinely at risk of falling out entirely when you consider their season-long bodies of work, so “In the Field” they go. –JR

Right Side of the Bubble

Arizona State, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Xavier, Rutgers, Indiana, Richmond, Stanford, UCLA***, Wichita State***, NC State***

These squads are varying degrees of “in”—I have a hard time seeing ASU, Florida, or Oklahoma fall out, but we continue to be conservative to a fault. For now, we’ll look at each of them individually.

The number of bids these teams are competing for remains up in the air, dependent on conference tournament results in leagues like the AAC, the A-10, and even the Pac 12 and SEC (did someone say bid stealers?). Oh, and the italics/*** indicates teams that Ky and I have split opinions on. –JR

Arizona State (20-11, NET: 52, SOS: 16, Q1: 5-8, Q2: 4-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

ASU’s win over Washington State to close the year following a three-game losing streak likely locked up the Sun Devils for their third straight NCAA tournament appearance. Their NET ranking and low analytical ranking (63rd in KenPom) gives us just enough pause to keep them out of the locked section for now. –Ky McKeon

Florida (19-12, NET: 28, SOS: 20, Q1: 5-9, Q2: 4-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The Gators could have locked things up against a short-handed Kentucky team, but this is 2019-20 Florida we’re talking about, so it blew an 18-point second half lead and continue to have an underwhelming (but probably safe) profile. We’d be stunned to see them left out, but at the same time, the Gators could only blame themselves. –JR

Oklahoma (19-12, NET: 29, SOS: 20, Q1: 5-9, Q2: 6-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Things could have gotten real dicey for the Sooners over the weekend, as they found themselves down 20 points at TCU in the first half. Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves put the team on his back and carried OU to a last-second victory, giving it a 9-9 record in the Big 12 and an all-but-certain tourney berth. –KM

Texas Tech (18-13, NET: 22, SOS: 54, Q1: 3-10, Q2: 4-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Texas Tech has been on a rapid decline toward the brink of the bubble the past few weeks. The Raiders have dropped four straight after being a near-lock to make the Dance. TTU’s résumé is unique in that it boasts one of the best NET rankings in the country despite having just a 7-13 record against Q1+Q2 competition. Its Big 12 quarterfinals bout against Texas could be a must-win for the Raiders, as an 18-14 record will stand out as an eyesore to the committee. –KM

Xavier (19-12, NET: 45, SOS: 12, Q1: 3-11, Q2: 4-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Dropping two games to end the season caused the Musketeers to finish below .500 in the Big East, not a disqualifier from the Dance by any means but certainly a red mark in the back of the selection committee’s minds. A loss to DePaul in the first round of the Big East tourney actually wouldn’t be catastrophic for Xavier, as the Demons’ 87th-ranked NET would make it a Q2 defeat. But, Travis Steele and Co. would be sweating on Selection Sunday if they ended the year 19-13 with just seven combined Q1+Q2 wins and a NET hovering around 50. –KM

Rutgers (19-11, NET: 32, SOS: 41, Q1: 4-9, Q2: 5-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The biggest issue with Rutgers’ résumé is its 2-8 road record, a factor that the committee has given significant weight to in the past. If you took that aspect away, the Scarlet Knights would be a lock to make the Dance, and even still have a very good shot at clinching their first spot in the field since 1991. The good news for Rutgers: its road record cannot get any worse, a loss to Michigan would just be another Q1 defeat, and it finished 11-9 in the toughest conference in America. Steve Pikiell earned that extension and then some. –KM

Indiana (19-12, NET: 59, SOS: 48, Q1: 4-10, Q2: 5-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Rutgers gets all the press for being a brutal road team, but the Hoosiers actually have just as bad a road record as the Scarlet Knights. To boot, IU’s NET is far worse than Rutgers’ and its quality-win record is slightly inferior. A loss against Nebraska in the opening round of the Big Ten tourney could easily keep Indiana out of the field on Selection Sunday. A win probably locks it into the Dance, as its next game would be against a Q1 caliber opponent. –KM

Richmond (24-7, NET: 38, SOS: 84, Q1: 3-4, Q2: 3-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Spiders are almost perfectly bubblicious at this point. A .500 record against the top two quadrants, three Q1 wins and one bad loss all put them squarely in the mix but reliant on the committee being kind to what has been a strong Atlantic 10. Richmond cannot face Dayton before the A-10 final, so the best an at-large profile could look would be 26-9 with added Q2 wins over Davidson and Rhode Island. That does seem like it would be enough, though any less becomes a guessing game. –JR

Stanford (20-11, NET: 31, SOS: 94, Q1: 4-7, Q2: 3-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Cardinal’s résumé does not quite match its NET ranking, meaning that Stanford is not as safe as the 31st-ranked team might seem. The home win over Oregon stands out as a Q1-A victory, but a 7-10 Q1/Q2 record, a shaky non-conference SOS (224), and a bad loss to Cal leave Stanford right on the edge. A second loss to Cal in the Pac-12 tournament’s first round could be catastrophic. –JR

UCLA (18-12, NET: 76, SOS: 53, Q1: 6-6, Q2: 3-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

The Bruins missed out on a Pac-12 title after a close loss to LA rival USC, and that removes a crowning achievement from this team sheet. Without it, UCLA can still point to six Q1 wins and a generally solid 9-10 Q1/Q2 record, plus any sort of intrinsic “current form” the committee may factor in (though it is not supposed to matter). The analytic rankings (76 NET, 78 KenPom, 94 BPI) continue to be an eyesore, and even record metrics (59 in Strength of Record) are not saving graces. A quarterfinal game against Stanford might be an at-large play-in. –JR

Wichita State (23-8, NET: 41, SOS: 69, Q1: 2-5, Q2: 7-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The Shockers dominated Tulsa this weekend, and the only thing missing from this résumé continues to be a signature, top-shelf win (zero Q1-A); Wichita State has no bad losses, very good metrics and an above-.500 record against Q1/Q2. Would beating Cincinnati in the American semifinals do the trick? That game feels like an at-large elimination game, with the winner still on uneasy ground. Of course, a tricky rematch with UConn likely awaits before that. –JR

NC State (19-12, NET: 53, SOS: 66, Q1: 4-5, Q2: 4-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

The Wolfpack took care of business Wednesday, routing Pitt and picking up another Q3 win. Unfortunately, Kevin Keatts and crew aren't out of the woods quite yet, as a loss against Duke may still keep them out of the Big Dance. A win over the Blue Devils probably launches NC State into the field, as it would be its fifth Q1 victory to date. –KM

Outside Looking In

Cincinnati***, Texas, Northern Iowa, Purdue, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Memphis, Saint Louis, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Clemson, Syracuse

Cincinnati (20-10, NET: 51, SOS: 21, Q1: 2-6, Q2: 7-0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 4)

Cincy is one of the more interesting bubble cases out there. The Bearcats clinched the No. 1 seed in the AAC tournament, so Jim included them in the Dance, but they’d likely be out as an at-large if the season ended today. A 9-6 record against Q1+Q2 competition is impressive, but four bad losses ties them with Providence for most demerits on a potential tourney team résumé. Cincinnati 100% needs to beat the winner of UCF vs. USF to have a shot at the tourney, and it might even need to beat the Shockers or Huskies in the semis. – KM

Texas (19-12, NET: 69, SOS: 44, Q1: 5-8, Q2: 2-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Texas looked to be in good shape a week ago after five straight wins and an opportunity to capture third place in the Big 12 outright. Alas, the Longhorns got boat-raced at home against Oklahoma State, a colossal choke job that sent their tourney future into a tumble. Texas has to beat Texas Tech in the Big 12 tourney on Thursday to make the Dance, otherwise Shaka will look to go back-to-back in the NIT. –KM

Northern Iowa (23-6, NET: 48, SOS: 115, Q1: 1-1, Q2: 3-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 3)

As a fan of UNI and mid-majors in general, the Panthers’ MVC loss to Drake hurt on multiple levels. Northern Iowa is a great team and had a great season, but the committee is unlikely to give it a bid the the Dance. The only thing that stands out about UNI’s résumé is its record, but that is almost entirely negated by an average NET and SOS, a low number of quality wins, and three poor losses. Here’s to hoping UNI can make a deep run in the NIT. –KM

Purdue (16-15, NET: 33, SOS: 40, Q1: 4-10, Q2: 5-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Pretty much the only thing separating the Boilermakers from its Big Ten colleagues Rutgers and Indiana is its ugly 15 losses. We talked about it on our latest podcast, but both Jim and I think Purdue makes the Dance if it makes a run to the Big Ten title game. No team has ever made the field of 68 as an at-large with 16 losses, but the Boilers would have seven Q1 wins and a potential top-30 NET. That’s enough for an unprecedented bid to be granted. –KM

Mississippi State (20-11, NET: 50, SOS: 71, Q1: 2-7, Q2: 6-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Miss State earned the No. 4 seed in the SEC, an impressive feat that may attract the committee’s attention. The Bulldogs’ résumé is nothing spectacular, but it’s “just good enough” in nearly every category for MSU to be considered for the NCAA tournament. Two wins in the SEC tournament, the second of which would be against Kentucky, probably puts the 'Dogs in the Dance. A win against Florida might be enough to boost it over other bubble teams, but Miss State would need some help from its fellow fringe squads. –KM

Tennessee (17-14, NET: 63, SOS: 6, Q1: 3-11, Q2: 5-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Vols need to make the SEC tournament championship to punch an at-large bid to the Dance. If they do that, they’ll pick up two more Q1 wins and one more Q2 win to end the season 20-15. It would be a wild run, but Rick Barnes has the horses to pull it off. Freshman phenom Josiah-Jordan James has been excellent of late and the Vols already proved they could beat Kentucky on March 3. –KM

Rhode Island (21-9, NET: 57, SOS: 56, Q1: 1-6, Q2: 7-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Like Richmond, the Rams drew the “non-Dayton” side of the Atlantic 10 bracket, meaning they can’t notch the kind of massive win over the Flyers that would command an at-large without actually winning the tournament and locking up a trip to the Big Dance anyways. Still, adding a possible Q2 win over Duquesne and a Q1 win over Richmond would be enormous for a profile that needs to make up for its lack of elite victories in other ways. The only Q1 achievement to speak of here is a road win at VCU, not exactly a “jump-off-the-page” kind of win. –JR

South Carolina (18-13, NET: 67, SOS: 78, Q1: 3-9, Q2: 6-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 3)

The season-ending loss to Vanderbilt likely ended at-large hopes for the Gamecocks barring a run to the SEC tournament championship. South Carolina nabbed the No. 6 seed, so the “best case” résumé would be a 21-14 overall record with additional wins over Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn. That might be good enough, but anything less probably sends Frank Martin’s group to the NIT. –JR

Memphis (21-10, NET: 58, SOS: 58, Q1: 2-5, Q2: 6-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 3)

Memphis is the bubble version of Kansas: mega-consistency across metrics. The Tigers are 58th in the NET, SOS, and KenPom, while other metrics are slightly warmer (50th in Strength of Record) or cooler (62nd in BPI). The No. 6 seed in the American with three bad losses is a really tough sell to the selection committee, though, and having Tulsa as the quarterfinal opponent does not offer a needle-moving win possibility. Our sense is that Memphis needs to make the championship game with a win over Houston to have a chance. –JR

Saint Louis (22-8, NET: 49, SOS: 89, Q1: 2-5, Q2: 2-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

As the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Billikens are the fortunate bubble team that gets a stab at Dayton before the championship game. They also happen to be the squad that played the Flyers the best in two meetings this season. Would a third end in valiant defeat, like San Francisco against Gonzaga? Or would the third time be a charm? The Bills will likely need to take down St. Bonaventure for the second time in six days to earn the right to find out. –JR

Arkansas (19-12, NET: 47, SOS: 25, Q1: 4-6, Q2: 2-6, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Yet another SEC squad to take a hit to its at-large résumé with a loss to Texas A&M down the stretch, as the Razorbacks fell to a dismal 7-11 in league play following their finale loss in College Station. Even the “Isaiah Joe splits” argument has essentially crumbled, because going 3-2 with losses at Georgia and Texas A&M with him back in the lineup does not exactly demonstrate “NCAA tournament-caliber.” The 6-12 Q1/Q2 record isn’t pretty, either. Rattle off three wins in three days this week and we can maybe start to think about this; four in four would be a better bet. For a team with very little depth, that’s probably asking too much. –JR

Notre Dame (19-12, NET: 56, SOS: 113, Q1: 2-7, Q2: 2-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Notre Dame’s record and NET give it an outside shot at a tourney bid if it were to make a run to the ACC tourney final. Upending Virginia and Louisville will add a little muscle to an otherwise weak résumé, and 22 wins by a Power 6 conference is nothing to sneeze at. –KM

Clemson (15-15, NET: 82, SOS: 57, Q1: 3-7, Q2: 5-6, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

The Orange Tigers pulled away late against Miami (FL) on Wednesday afternoon, checking the first box in a long “to-do” list to truly warrant at-large consideration, and knocking off Louisville on Thursday is up next. Brad Brownell’s boys managed that feat at home on a dramatic drive by Al-Amir Dawes, but doing so on a neutral site will be a much tougher task. –JR

Syracuse (17-14, NET: 64, SOS: 67, Q1: 3-5, Q2: 3-7, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Jim Boeheim has a history of slithering into the Big Dance at the last possible moment, but a loss at Miami to close out the season likely ended the Orange’s shot at repeating that feat in 2020. Cuse can pick up a maximum of two more Q1 wins by beating Louisville and then Virginia. If it pulled that off, a 19-15 record with a below average NET and 9-12 mark against quality competition might be just enough for tourney consideration. Crazier things have happened in March. –KM