College basketball bubble breakdown: Who's positioned to get an NCAA tournament bid in March?
Selection Sunday is three weeks from Sunday.
And just when it appeared predictions were easy to make, Thursday night offered up a reason to believe the NCAA tournament will be as wild and unpredictable as any we have seen in recent memory.
Wisconsin upset Purdue, handing the Boilermakers their third-straight loss and likely sending them off a No. 1 seed line.
Houston helped its cause by beating Cincinnati, but also probably knocked the Bearcats down a peg.
Penn State got the sweep of Ohio State, helping the Nittany Lions but also pushing the Buckeyes possibly down a line and maybe opening up a chance for Michigan State to win the Big Ten.
Washington blew a chance to reinforce its position as a bubble team by losing to Utah by a dozen — at home.
Arizona got yet another quality win — this time on the road at Arizona State — and enhanced its chances to climb higher on a quest to get up to a possible No. 2 seed.
And don’t get ahead to Saturday just yet.
Friday night, St. Bonaventure has a chance to change the narrative on its bid chances if it can upset A-10's undefeated Rhode Island in rocking Olean, N.Y.
Longest current winning streaks— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 16, 2018
Rhode Island 16
Montana 13 pic.twitter.com/j2Jy4rY8kj
Onto the bubble:
America East: Vermont is undefeated at 12-0 in the league. The Catamounts can win an NCAA tournament first-round game. But Vermont doesn’t have the resume to get in without winning the America East tournament.
American: Cincinnati, Houston and Wichita State are in.
I can’t see a scenario where Houston doesn’t get in after beating Wichita and Cincinnati as well as Arkansas at home. I know the Cougars don’t have a quality road win. So, it would help to beat Temple, Memphis or SMU on the road in the final few weeks. But it may not be a necessity. Watch the Cougars. They are going to be in the NCAA tournament.
Temple lost to Wichita State Thursday night. On the road. But the Owls beat Auburn and Clemson on a neutral court. I don’t care that those were in November. Those wins matter. And Temple beat Wichita State at home. The Owls are a NCAA tournament team. Temple gets Houston and UCF at home and then at UConn and Tulsa on the road. Win at least two, maybe three, and there is no debate from anyone.
Atlantic 10: Rhode Island is playing for a top four-line seed.
St. Bonaventure is the only other possible team that could get an at-large berth. But the Bonnies must beat URI Friday night. The next time they would play the Rams could be in the A-10 tournament final. Do that and it’s all moot.
Davidson has the goods to get hot and win the A-10 tournament. But that’s the only entrance into the field. The Bonnies have a backcourt that could do damage in the field with Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. Guards can win games in the NCAAs. But they’ve got to get there first.
ACC: Virginia, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and NC State are safe.
Yes, the Wolfpack are all good. NC State beat Arizona on a neutral, Penn State, Clemson and Duke at home and North Carolina and Syracuse on the road. All are jockeying for seeding.
I’m starting to wonder about Louisville. The Cardinals do own a win over Florida State on the road, Indiana and Virginia Tech at home. But Louisville lost nearly all of its other elite games against Purdue, Seton Hall, Kentucky, Clemson and Miami. Louisville has a brutal schedule down the stretch that could either help or hurt the Cardinals: North Carolina and Virginia at home, Duke, Virginia Tech and NC State on the road. That’s a play your way in or out schedule.
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Virginia Tech’s wins over North Carolina, NC State and the monster one over Virginia in Charlottesville could be the clincher. But look at the final four games after a road game at Georgia Tech: Clemson, Louisville, Duke and at Miami. Those are called opportunities.
Florida State: The Seminoles home win over Clemson in overtime should give them some pause. FSU has the win at Florida, home wins over North Carolina and Miami. Road wins at Virginia Tech and Louisville. That all seems like it’s enough. Playing at NC State and at Clemson in the final four games could help erase any doubt.
Recap of last nights big comeback Win against #11 Clemson pic.twitter.com/w680rYkUEf— FSU Men's Hoops (@FSUHoops) February 15, 2018
Syracuse: The Orange aren’t there yet. Unfortunately, Syracuse played and beat teams that looked good on paper but haven’t turned out to be NCAA teams, like Maryland, UConn and Georgetown. The Orange's best win was at Louisville. Syracuse can play its way in or out over the final five games with chances at Miami and Duke and home games against North Carolina and Clemson.
Big 12: Texas Tech, Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma have all done enough to be in the field and work on seeding.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are making a strong case within the Big 12. Kansas State swept Oklahoma State, won at Baylor and Texas and have a home win over TCU when the Horned Frogs were playing well. Kansas State has three home games left, two on the road. If the Wildcats can just hold serve they should be in the field.
Texas: The Longhorns have only five Big 12 wins, but that's included Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU. The win against Alabama in Birmingham will carry plenty of weight, too. Still, losing four of the last five causes concern. And the schedule is loaded with potholes or chances: at Oklahoma, Kansas State and Kansas, home against Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have great wins at Kansas and at West Virginia. They also knocked off Oklahoma, Florida State on a neutral. They have tournament-type wins. But they need to keep going and the schedule is rough with three road games in the final five games. The two remaining home games are against Texas Tech and Kansas. That’s called a chance to play your way into the field.
"We have to decide who we want to be. This is three weeks in a row where we come out kind of flat and not with the sense of urgency that you need to have success consistently in this league." @thacoachmike after tonight's loss to Kansas State. #okstate pic.twitter.com/X5dRCkcCaN— Cowboy Basketball (@OSUMBB) February 15, 2018
TCU: The Horned Frogs are playing shorthanded and aren’t the same team that beat Nevada and St. Bonaventure earlier in the season. The best Big 12 wins are against West Virginia and at Oklahoma State. TCU plays some separation games coming up against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State. Road games are against Iowa State and Texas Tech. TCU must get at least two of these five.
Baylor: The Bears are back in the at-large picture. Remember, Baylor did knock off a healthy Creighton in November. The Bears have won four in a row, including beating Kansas and winning at Oklahoma State and Texas. The Bears have three of five at home, including Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma. The road games are at TCU and at Kansas State. This is a bid-earning type schedule.
Big East: Xavier, Villanova, Creighton, Providence and Butler are safe.
The Friars' home win over Villanova should erase any doubts. Butler has one of those too. St. John’s doesn’t get on this list yet. The Red Storm have wins over Duke, at Villanova, Marquette and Nebraska. But St. John’s did lose 11 in a row. Let’s talk at the Big East tournament and see if the Red Storm are still relevant.
Seton Hall: The Pirates are suddenly back in this discussion due to four straight losses and six of eight. Seton Hall does own quality non-conference wins over Texas Tech on a neutral, Louisville on the road. But the Big East hasn’t produced the necessary wins outside of the road win at Butler. Seton Hall could use more with games upcoming at Providence and St. John’s and home games against Villanova and Butler.
Marquette: The resume isn’t bad when you look at wins over Vermont, at Providence and at Seton Hall. But losing six of eight isn’t going to cut it. Five games are left and Marquette must win the right three to even be considered. That means beating Creighton at least once and maybe beating DePaul and Georgetown on the road just to get more road wins. It’s a steep climb.
Big Ten: Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan are all safe and working on seeding.
Nebraska: The Huskers have zero standout non-conference wins. So, this is going to get done within the conference. And the win over Minnesota in early December has to be treated differently. The Gophers were ranked 14 at the time due to them being much more healthy and suspension free. Nebraska has a convincing home win over Michigan. The Huskers have four Big Ten road wins. But none were against the upper echelon. The final three games are at Illinois and home games against Indiana and Penn State. Winning out would be critical to their cause. But even at 14-4 in the Big Ten, it’s not a lock. All Big Ten records aren’t created equal. The good news is that Nebraska would likely get a double-bye and play an NCAA-bound team in New York at the Big Ten tournament.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions will have to earn a bid through the Big Ten, just like Nebraska. But that’s doable. Penn State swept Ohio State and has a win over Nebraska. The Nittany Lions won four in a row, six of seven. Penn State can play its way in or out over the final three games: at Purdue, Michigan and at Nebraska.
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Conference USA: Middle Tennessee is the only possible bubble team. The Blue Raiders are 13-1 in the league, 21-5 overall. Middle whiffed on chances against Auburn, USC and Miami. So, if Middle loses in the C-USA final, this will be an interesting case. Watch Middle and you will see they are tournament talented. But will the numbers add up? My prediction is that if Middle loses to Western Kentucky in the C-USA final (Western beat Purdue) then the Blue Raiders will get in. But losing to a lower-level team, or maybe even Old Dominion, could mean the NIT.
Mountain West: Nevada is going to get in, even if the Wolf Pack don’t win the league tournament title, barring a collapse. Why? Nevada beat Rhode Island for its best non-league win. Sure, they lost at Texas Tech in overtime and to TCU in Los Angeles. But the Wolf Pack swept Boise State. Nevada didn’t have its best player Caleb Martin when they lost to UNLV at home. The Wolf Pack can’t afford to lose more than one more game or else my slant will change.
Boise State: The Broncos have looked like an NCAA tournament team. But they have missed out on chances, losing twice to Nevada and suffering a tough loss at Utah State. Boise State cannot lose again. That means knocking off Colorado State and San Diego State at home. Boise could win the AQ in Las Vegas. But if they don’t get an at-large, they will point to multiple missed chances (one-point overtime loss at Wyoming).
Pac-12: Arizona is safe and moving up the seed line.
UCLA: The wins over Arizona and Kentucky could be enough. And a home win over USC helps. But the schedule could get dicey with the final three games at Utah, Colorado and USC. Ultimately, UCLA will probably be fine. But what if they were to lose all three?
USC: The Trojans have quality wins over Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State. And the win over UCSB looks better now that the Gauchos are winning the Big West. But the Pac-12 hasn’t gone to script. Sure, they swept the Oregon schools on the road, but that’s the best USC has to offer right now. The two-point home win over Oregon Thursday night was massive. USC could use a strong finish. It’s all doable with games against Oregon State and UCLA at home wedged around Colorado and Utah on the road.
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Utah: I’m bringing back the Utes. Utah did beat Missouri and have four Pac-12 road wins (Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State and now Washington). The Utes have a real shot to win out with a road game at Washington State and home games against UCLA, USC and Colorado. If that happens then they have to be in the discussion.
SEC: Auburn, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Florida and Kentucky are all in the field and working on seeding. Yes, Kentucky has lost four in a row but wins over Virginia Tech, Louisville, at West Virginia and even the ones over one-bid league leaders Vermont, East Tennessee State and Harvard (if it wins the Ivy over Penn) are enough for now.
Texas A&M: The Aggies’ wild season continues. Non-conference wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Penn State, UCSB, USC and Buffalo should be enough. SEC wins over Mizzou, Arkansas, Kentucky and at Auburn make the Aggies a lock, right? Well, yes, but then suspensions and injuries hit again. The Aggies lost at Mizzou. What happens if the Aggies tailspin again with games at Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Georgia remaining as well as home games against Mississippi State and Alabama. I don’t see it. But we can’t say for certainty just yet with this team.
Arkansas: The Hogs have the win over Oklahoma in Portland and beat Minnesota at home when the Gophers were No. 14 for a reason. The win over Tennessee at home is aging well. So, too, is the home wins over Mizzou and Oklahoma State. But the schedule is brutal down the stretch, allowing Arkansas to choose its own fate. Games against Texas A&M, Kentucky and Auburn at home and road games at Alabama and Missouri. Arkansas will likely win enough of these to get in the field.
Sun Belt: Louisiana is 12-1 in the Sun Belt, 22-4 overall. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be a tough out for any team in the first round. But they don’t have the resume to get in as at-large.
WAC: New Mexico State is 9-1 in the WAC, 22-4 overall. The Aggies are a dangerous first-round opponent. They have a win over Miami. They look like a tournament team. But they lost to Utah Valley and the committee may not give them a break if they were to lose in the WAC final and have two losses within the conference.
WCC: Gonzaga is a lock.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won at Gonzaga and BYU. But then the Gaels got beat badly at home by the Zags. And it just got worse Thursday night. San Francisco knocked off Saint Mary’s 70-63. That’s two losses in a row. Saint Mary’s must win out against at Portland, versus Pepperdine and Santa Clara. And then the only other acceptable loss will be to the Zags again in the WCC final.