A Bubble Examination

We are ONE WEEK from Selection Sunday, so turn up the Barenaked Ladies to get you in the mood, and throw on some Luther Vandross for good measure.

Because we are so close, I am adjusting the Tournament Picture to give a clearer view of where the teams on the bubble really stand. For most bubble teams, yesterday was a victory. That sounds great, and it sure beats losing. But because most bubble teams won yesterday, the day actually had a negative impact on some bubble teams who won over lesser competition, as other bubblers won big games over top 50 opponents, sometimes on the road.

So, here we go.

There are 32 automatic bids to the tournament, and nine conferences that already have at least two locks. So 24 of the 36 at-large bids are already spoken for by:

A-10 (1) – Dayton

AAC (2) – Cincinnati, SMU

ACC (8) – Florida State, UNC, Louisville, Virginia, Notre Dame, Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech

Big XII (5) – Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State

Big East (3) – Villanova, Butler, Creighton

Big Ten (5) – Wisconsin, Maryland, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State

SEC (4) – Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas

Pac-12 (3) – UCLA, Oregon, Arizona

WCC (2) – Gonzaga, St. Mary’s

There are then seven teams that should be in the tournament, but aren’t locks. If they all make it, the bubble would be down to five spots left. The following teams can likely lose out and make the field, but it’s not guaranteed:

Michigan – The Wolverines visit Nebraska today and then have the Big Ten tournament in Washington, DC. A loss to the Huskers on the road wouldn’t be very damaging. But a win on the road? That would move Michigan into the field.

Providence – The Friars won their last six regular season games to dramatically change their tournament outlook. A quarterfinal win in the Big East tournament (over Creighton) would do it. But even a loss there should result in a dance ticket for Providence.

Xavier – The Musketeers certainly don’t look like one of the country’s 36-best at-large teams. But the resume is still pretty strong, and they stopped their skid at DePaul. Xavier gets DePaul again in the Big East tournament first round. Winning that won’t lock Xavier in without other results going their way. But a win in the quarters over Butler would certainly do it.

Marquette – Of all the teams on this list, these guys should feel the most confident about a tournament bid. A Big East quarterfinal win over Seton Hall would be more than enough for a lock, and barring exceptional results elsewhere, a loss will likely be enough to lock them in by the end of the night Thursday.

Seton Hall – The Pirates picked up the most surprising bubble win yesterday, winning at Butler. Winning over Marquette in the quarters will lock them, but this team should be dancing regardless.

VCU – Of all the teams on the “should be in” list, this is the one with the most to worry about. It’s not that the Rams haven’t put together a tournament worthy season; they have. But if power conference teams keep rolling in their conference tournaments and VCU exits the A-10 tournament early, then VCU can simply get passed by multiple schools.

Northwestern – The Wildcats should make it. While a win over Purdue today will lock them, any Big Ten tournament win should do it, as well.

So, we get to the next tier of teams, those in good shape:

Wake Forest – The Deacs changed their whole outlook with wins over Louisville and at Virginia Tech. They start the ACC tournament with Boston College. They should make it in if they win that, but a win over BC and a win over Virginia Tech in the next round would certainly do it. That said, losing to BC is the only way Wake should be in serious jeopardy of missing out on the NCAAs.

Vanderbilt – The Dores are in better shape than most believe. Simply beating Texas A&M in the SEC tournament 7-10 game will probably be enough. Winning on Friday over Florida would lock them. Even a loss to A&M on Thursday would put Vandy right near the cut line, and more likely in than out.

The next tier are those truly on the cut line. All probably need at least one conference tournament win (except WSU and ISU, who play today’s Valley final):

Illinois, Syracuse, USC, Middle Tennessee, Wichita State, Illinois State

The next tier is those who are well on the outside looking in. Strong upset wins are needed in the conference tournament:

Kansas State, Rhode Island, Clemson, Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana, Cal, Georgia

The last tier is a non-power conference champion needing a shocking committee decision to include them:


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