College basketball bubble breakdown: Who's positioned to get an NCAA tournament bid in March?
The top 16 bracket will be unveiled Sunday by the NCAA tournament selection committee. They’ve got that covered. So, no need to delve into the seeding right now.
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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 36 at-large and 32 automatic qualifiers. And my opinion hasn’t changed from last week that there are 20 one-bid conferences — as of now:
1. America East
2. Atlantic Sun
3. Big Sky
4. Big South
5. Big West
20. Sun Belt
Let’s break down the other conferences (the order is strictly for organizational purposes since the committee doesn’t look at conference affiliation).
21. The American
Playing for seeding: Cincinnati and Wichita State
Bubble: Houston, SMU and Temple
Houston split the road games last week at Cincinnati and UCF. That’s fine. Road wins just matter more. The Cougars have a chance to build on their resume over the next week games at home against Tulane and then next Thursday against Cincinnati. Get all three and the Cougars should be a in a strong position. SMU has been in a tenuous position. Losing at Tulsa didn’t help. Losing at Houston Thursday was another missed opportunity.
The Mustangs can certainly help their cause Sunday against Cincinnati and change the narrative for a tenuous spot. Temple is trending in the right direction. The hill is still steep but the Owls have won four in a row, including a win over Wichita State. Getting a split on the road at South Florida and Wichita State is a must.
22. Atlantic 10
Playing for seeding: Rhode Island
Bubble: St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies have won five in a row, including the last two road games. All of that helps the cause as they try to rewrite the story after losing four of five. The Bonnies have zero room for error against non-URI teams in the A-10. Beating the Rams on Feb. 16 is looking more and more important.
Playing for seeding: Virginia, Duke, Clemson, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina
Bubble: NC State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Syracuse, Notre Dame
I firmly believe the Wolfpack will get in the field. But they will stay on the bubble for now after losing at Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack have a chance for a season sweep of North Carolina this weekend, which essentially make them a lock. The Hokies blew a chance to help themselves by losing to Miami but then bounced back with the home win over the Wolfpack. Now comes make or break for the Hokies. They are on the road for three straight: Virginia, Duke and Georgia Tech. If the Hokies could steal two of those games they can start making plans. But go 0-3 and the mountain grows maybe too tough to climb.
Florida State has lost two of three but in the middle the Seminoles won at Louisville. And once again, I will sound repetitive, but road wins matter more. The Seminoles can continue to help that aspect of the resume with a win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The game that looms large comes up next week against Clemson. Syracuse looked out a week ago after losing at Georgia Tech and at home to Virginia. But then just when the Orange could be dismissed the win at Louisville brings them back. The Orange cannot, repeat, cannot afford to lose home games to Wake Forest and NC State with games still looming at Miami and Duke and one at home against North Carolina.
The Irish stopped the bleeding with a win over Boston College. That ended a seven-game losing streak. The games ahead could change the direction of a possible bid with Florida State and then a road game at North Carolina.
24. Big 12
Playing for seeding: Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas
Bubble: TCU, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
TCU is dangerously heading off the bubble after losing twice last week in games that could have really helped them against Texas Tech and at Kansas. Texas (yes I have the Longhorns in) and a game at West Virginia. Win those or at least one and the Horned Frogs continue to hang on.
The Wildcats were fading, too, after losing to Kansas and at West Virginia — badly — but then they turned around and won at Texas for their third Big 12 road win. Kansas State is back in business, all before hosting Texas Tech and traveling to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys put themselves in the mix with a road win at Kansas last week, but then lost at home to Baylor. Thud. And the next game is at West Virginia? Yikes. The home game against Kansas State will be critical next week.
25. Big East
Playing for seeding: Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler, Providence
The Golden Eagles weren’t a player for a bid after losing four in a row, but then stunned Seton Hall by three on the road. Suddenly, the Golden Eagles have a chance. Playing at St. John’s Saturday becomes a huge game after what the Red Storm have done against Duke and Villanova.
26. Big Ten
Playing for seeding: Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan
Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State, Maryland
The Huskers keep winning. That’s what they needed to do. And best yet, they won two in a row on the road and three overall on the road. The Huskers end with four of five at home, with the one road game at Illinois. There is a good chance Nebraska could win out. But all Big Ten records are not created equal. And the best Big Ten win is at home against Michigan.
Penn State rebounded from the loss at Michigan State by beating Iowa and Maryland at home. That’s what Penn State needed to do, essentially not blow games at home. So now comes the hardest part — the stretch run. The Nittany Lions are on the road for three of the final five, beginning with Illinois before hosting Ohio State. A sweep of the Buckeyes would be hard to dismiss but it won’t be enough by itself. Penn State has to overcompensate for the bad losses early in the season.
Maryland’s case is being harder to make. The Terrapins did beat Wisconsin but then lost at Penn State for the sixth loss in the last eight games. Games against Northwestern twice, at Nebraska and at home against Michigan could rewrite the last chapter on the season.
27. Conference USA
Bubble: Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders continue to win and beat rival Old Dominion on the road. They can’t afford to lose to any other team outside of Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers dropped off my list after losing at UT San Antonio. They are still dangerous, but they cannot take any other losses and still have a shot.
28. Mountain West:
Bubble: Nevada and Boise State
Nevada dropped down to the bubble after losing at home to UNLV. Caleb Martin didn’t play due to a foot injury. That’s a danger situation for the Wolf Pack. Their home game against San Diego State looms large. So, too, does the road game next week at Boise State. Watch Nevada — with Caleb Martin — and this team should be in the NCAAs; but without him, and if there are losses, the Wolf Pack will sweat a bit.
Boise State continues to survive after coming back to win at New Mexico in a chaotic game. The Broncos go to Utah State before hosting Nevada. Once again, watch Boise State and it should be in the field. But the Broncos cannot afford slip-ups to teams not named Nevada or San Diego State.
Playing for seeding: Arizona, Washington
Bubble: USC, UCLA, Arizona State
I’m moving Washington up to playing for seeding. The Huskies’ wins over Arizona State and Arizona gave them two more wins in the first two quadrants. Washington now has a 4-3 quadrant 1 record. That’s in the field in my book. The 33 RPI also doesn’t hurt. And I’m OK saying this even after the loss at Oregon Thursday night. USC lost at UCLA by three. That shouldn’t be a shock. But it did end a six-game win streak for the Trojans. This is a huge week upcoming for the Trojans with games against Arizona State and Arizona. And Thursday night USC Lost in the final possession at ASU.
The Sun Devils haven’t won two in a row in 2018! They still need to sweat out this next month. They will go for a weekend sweep against UCLA. UCLA had won three in a row — all at home — before heading out to Arizona and Arizona State. Thursday night, the Bruins won at Arizona. That is the kind of win that could move the Bruins into lock status. Stanford stays in the mix with a sweep over the Oregon schools.
Playing for seeding: Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Alabama
Bubble: Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina
Mizzou is in the field now. The Tigers have five Quadrant 1 wins. Five. Cuonzo Martin has done a tremendous job with this program after losing Michael Porter Jr., before the season. I moved Alabama up too. The Tide are 5-4 in Quadrant 1 and 4-4 in Quadrant 2 with an RPI of 42. The Tide did everything the selection committee wanted teams to do by playing anyone, anywhere. I can’t see them falling out.
I’m close to dumping Georgia, but the Bulldogs still have two Quadrant 1 wins and four in Quadrant 2. Yet, Georgia has lost two in a row and five of six. Playing Auburn next is critical. South Carolina is hanging by a thread too with three wins in Quadrant 1 and two in Quadrant 2. The Gamecocks have lost four in a row. It’s hard to make the case unless they win their next two against Florida and at Tennessee.
Arkansas stopped a two-game losing streak with a home win over South Carolina. Vanderbilt comes calling next. But the Hogs could use at least one more road win amid the final games at Ole Miss, Alabama and Missouri. The Aggies are making a strong late surge to earn a bid after starting SEC play 0-5. Texas A&M is now 5-6 in the SEC after a win at Auburn. The Aggies play Kentucky Saturday before going to Missouri and Arkansas next week. The schedule is in front of Texas A&M to play its way in or out of the field.
Playing for seeding: Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s
The Gaels are going to be in the field. They are 2-0 in Quadrant 1 and both are road wins at Gonzaga and BYU. Their win over New Mexico State is their best non-conference win, and that’s still pretty good.
I don’t see a bubble here. Both Saint Mary's and Gonzaga should/will get in the field. Gonzaga boasts a 4-3 Quadrant 1 record and 1-1 in Quadrant 2, and the overall strength of schedule is all good even if the Zags don’t win the WCC.
Bubble: New Mexico State
The Aggies are 1-2 in Quadrant 1 and don’t have a Quadrant 2 game on their slate. They are 45 in the RPI and have three losses overall. Watch New Mexico State play and you will want the Aggies in the field. But they have to get to the WAC final and lose for the only real chance at getting an at-large bid if they don’t snag the AQ.