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Andy Katz | Correspondent | February 3, 2018

Bubble breakdown: Who's positioned to get an NCAA tournament bid?

Here’s what we want to do over the next month: Give you an idea of which teams are in consideration for NCAA tournament berths. This is not coming from the selection committee. This is based on where teams stand right now and what they might have to do going forward. Some teams look like locks now while others could emerge as bubble teams in a few weeks. So, this is my view of the pool as I see it week by week.

Remember, there are 32 automatic berths and 36 at-large spots. Some one-bid leagues could be multiple bid leagues if a team emerges over the next few weeks or if there's a different conference tournament winner than expected. The groupings below are by conference for organizational purposes only. The selection committee doesn’t use conference affiliation. Each team is judged independently. This is how I see them now:

1. America East
2. Atlantic Sun
3. Big Sky
4. Big South
5. Big West
6. Colonial
7. Horizon
8. Ivy
10. MAC
12. MVC
13. Northeast
14. OVC
15. Patriot
16. Southern
17. Southland
18. SWAC
19. Summit
20. Sun Belt

The other 48

21. The American

Playing for seeding: Cincinnati and Wichita State
Bubble: Houston, SMU and Temple

I love the Cougars. I’m not sure anyone who watches Houston couldn’t see the Cougars as an NCAA tournament team. The win over Wichita State should give Houston great comfort. So should a victory over Providence on a neutral court. The Cougars could use one more elite win (see: Cincinnati) to put them at ease.

The Mustangs have something Houston doesn’t — a road win over Wichita State. SMU also has a win over Arizona on a neutral court and one over USC. The issues with the Mustangs have been injuries and a losing skid. The loss to Tulsa Thursday night was another example. There is time to recover.

Temple is an intriguing case. Its record won’t wow you and the Owls lost five in a row at one point. But Temple has wins over Old Dominion, Auburn and Clemson on neutral courts to start the season, as well as victories against South Carolina, at SMU and over Wichita State at home. If you just watched Temple beat UConn and Wichita State this past week, you would put them in without question. This is the team to keep an eye on more than any other bubble team.

My prediction: 4

22. Atlantic 10

Playing for seeding: Rhode Island
Bubble: St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies still have life with their neutral court win over Maryland and a road win at Syracuse. Losing four games on the road in the A-10 didn’t help their situation but the Bonnies can still play their way into the field. Beating URI is a must at home.

My prediction: 1

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23. ACC

Playing for seeding: Virginia, Duke, Clemson, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina
Bubble: NC State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Syracuse, Notre Dame

Syracuse is one team that I struggled with on whether to include but at this stage the Orange's resume needs more work and wins against the teams ahead of them in the ACC are a must.

Notre Dame has the Maui Invitational wins, namely over Wichita State, that can be worth keeping. And wins over NC State and at Syracuse have merit. But the Irish aren’t the same team without Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell (when he hasn’t been able to go) and have lost six in a row. Their schedule is daunting but filled with opportunities and that’s why the Irish can’t be dismissed just yet.

The Wolfpack have great wins after beating Duke and Clemson at home, Arizona on a neutral court and North Carolina on the road. The Wolfpack just need to hold serve the rest of the season. Virginia Tech got new life with its home win over North Carolina but the Hokies better get more for their resume. They have two shots against Duke to get one of them, plus they play Virginia on the road — not to mention games against Clemson, Louisville, NC State and Miami. That’s called opportunities. Florida State got the split with Miami and beat North Carolina. The win over Florida will continue to age well.

My prediction: 8

24. Big 12

Playing for seeding: Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas.
Bubble: TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State

The Horned Frogs have had to deal with a crushing injury to Jaylen Fisher. So forgive them if they are inconsistent. But TCU still has good wins over SMU, Nevada and a much-needed win against West Virginia. Kansas State didn’t get a marquee non-conference win, but beating Georgia helps, even if it was at home. The conference wins over Oklahoma and TCU will stand out. Oklahoma State does have an aging-well win over Florida State, but that’s it out of the league. The win over Oklahoma at home was its best in the league. The Cowboys need more.

My prediction: 7

25. Big East

Playing for seeding: Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler and Providence
Bubble: Marquette

OK, maybe I’m being too generous here. But I don’t see a scenario where Butler and Providence don’t get in the field. And Creighton has enough good wins and played well without a key player. Butler has the win over No. 1 Villanova. That isn’t going away. Its win over Ohio State on a neutral court looks great now too. Butler still can’t fall flat, but the Bulldogs look like an NCAA tournament team to me.

Providence has home wins over Xavier, Butler, Creighton and then a neutral court win over Washington is looking stronger too. Marquette has something that could bode well if it could ever get on a roll. The Golden Eagles have four wins away from home, including a true road win at Providence.

My prediction: 6

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26. Big Ten

Playing for seeding: Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan
Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State, Maryland

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Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota would have to go on monster rolls to be in contention. So for now let’s let them lie. Maryland makes the cut list barely, in large part because the Terps have a win over Butler. But there is a lot of work to do for Maryland.

Nebraska is making a late surge. Had the Huskers knocked off Kansas, they would be much more secure. But they lost on the last possession. Nebraska has a home win over Michigan that is the best on its schedule. Winning on the road at Northwestern, Rutgers and Wisconsin helps. But the Huskers need to keep it going with road games at Minnesota, Illinois and Penn State. The problem is Nebraska doesn’t play one of the top four teams the rest of the regular season. The Huskers may need to beat one of them in New York at the Big Ten tournament.

Penn State has the road win at Ohio State. Now the chore is can the Nittany Lions get more to justify a bid? They have opportunities. They blew one after playing well for 20 minutes at Michigan State. Penn State goes to Ohio State and Nebraska and gets Michigan State and Ohio State at home. Win two or three and the Nittany Lions will be in the mix.

My prediction: 5

27. Conference USA

Bubble: Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky

Middle Tennessee has a good road win at Western Kentucky and winning at Vanderbilt should still carry weight. This is definitely a team that could win a game in the NCAA tournament. But will the Blue Raiders get there? Western Kentucky has the neutral court wins over Purdue and SMU that carry a ton of weight. But WKU would have to play Middle Tennessee in the conference title game and then hope both get in if Middle Tennessee were to win the AQ.

My prediction: 1

28. Mountain West

Playing for seeding: Nevada
Bubble: Boise State

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The numbers are too strong for the Wolf Pack. And they definitely pass the eye test. The early win over Rhode Island is their best. But the committee likes to reward teams for winning away from home. Nevada has seven wins away from home already.

Boise State will be an interesting test, too. If the Broncos win out but, say, lose to Nevada in the Mountain West championship game, they would be a strong candidate. The Broncos have five road wins and need to get more in the final month. Beating Nevada at least once is a must.

My prediction: 2

29. Pac-12

Playing for seeding: Arizona
Bubble: USC, Washington, UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Arizona State

This is one of the toughest conferences to predict. Arizona State has the best non-conference wins by winning at Kansas and then taking out Xavier in Las Vegas. But ASU has floundered in the Pac-12, essentially reduced to a team that can’t win more than two in a row, if that.

USC beat New Mexico State in the Diamond Head Classic but blew all its other non-conference opportunities. Still, getting three road wins so far in the league is huge for the Trojans. Washington has the win over Kansas in Kansas City and road wins at USC and Colorado that stand out. Knocking off Arizona State Thursday night at home is yet another potential separation game.

UCLA beat Kentucky in New Orleans but that’s about it for big wins away from home. There are still more opportunities to be had (see the games against the Arizona schools) that the Bruins must get. Stanford had the look of a tournament team after winning five in a row but then it dropped the last three. It’s hard to make a strong case for the Cardinal now. Utah has flirted with being an NCAA tournament team by winning at Arizona State, nearly taking down Arizona and sweeping the Oregon schools.

My prediction: 4

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30. SEC

Playing for seeding: Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida
Bubble: Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina

Auburn’s schedule will get much tougher but I don’t see the Tigers dropping off from lock status. The same is true for Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. Arkansas has a neutral-court win over Oklahoma and the road win at Georgia helped immensely. The home wins are all a big plus.

It would help the Bulldogs if they could get one or two more on the road. Arkansas' schedule will get very difficult down the stretch (at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Kentucky and then ending the season at Alabama, Auburn and at Missouri).

Alabama did what the selection committee wants. The Tide went out and played good teams at home, on the road and at neutral sites, regardless of conference affiliation. I don’t see how this team won’t be in the NCAA tournament based on talent. But the inconsistencies still appear, as was the case against Mizzou at home this week. Their road slate is going to be a tough go, but this team has been tested.

Mizzou’s win at Alabama puts the Tigers in the mix. Missouri already has a win at South Carolina and a home win over Tennessee is looking strong. But Mizzou needs more — much more — to feel comfortable. The Bulldogs had the look of a possible NCAA tournament team early in the season with a win over Saint Mary’s on a neutral court and another at Marquette. But the inability to get on a roll and avoid two- or three-game losing streaks is troubling. The home win over Florida earlier this week was a season-changer and keeps Georgia hanging around. The five remaining road games will be decisive.

Texas A&M will be one of the toughest cases for the committee. Its resume has some great highlights like beating West Virginia on a neutral court, along with wins at USC, over Penn State, against Oklahoma State on a neutral court and against the MAC’s best team in Buffalo. But the suspensions are hard to ignore. And the five-game losing streak stands out. Getting swept by LSU doesn’t help. There are still chances in front of them with games at Auburn, Kentucky and at Mizzou, at Arkansas and at Georgia before also playing host to Alabama. The Aggies can still play their way in or out.

South Carolina has the win over Kentucky. The Gamecocks won at Florida. But South Carolina still needs to pad its resume to have a chance. The road ahead has plenty of opportunities with games at Texas A&M, Arkansas and Tennessee in the next few weeks.

My prediction: 7

31. WCC

Playing for seeding: Gonzaga
Bubble: Saint Mary’s

The Zags played a great schedule and the wins over Ohio State and Texas on a neutral court, a road win at Washington and a home win over Creighton are enough to feel good about a bid. Saint Mary’s didn’t get it done in the non-conference, outside of beating New Mexico State. The conference wins at BYU and at Gonzaga stand out. The Gaels are an NCAA tournament team. Now they just can’t fall forward and lose to teams at the bottom of the league. Their margin for error is always thin but they seem to find a way.

My prediction: 2

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32. WAC

Bubble: New Mexico State

The Aggies are having a fantastic season. New Mexico State knocked off Miami at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. They got a neutral court win over Illinois in Chicago, which may sound better than it looks. And this team has no bad losses — losing at Saint Mary’s, to San Diego at home (a team that is a top-four team in the WCC) and to USC at Diamond Head. I would put them in the field if the Aggies run the table and then lose the WAC championship game.

My prediction: 1

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