Bubble Watch: Locks, Should be, Over, On & Bursting 3/11

Bubble Watch: Locks, Should be, Over, On & Bursting 3/11

Bracketology provides fans provide insight into how the committee sees teams and what the tournament would look like if the season ended that day. But there’s a lot that goes into it, and from only seeing the finished bracket, you don’t get the full picture.

That’s why we’re releasing a bubble watch where our bracketologist (me) breaks down where teams stand from the cutline and what they can do to remain or work themselves into the field of 68.

There are five categories: locks, should be in, over the bubble, on the bubble and bubble bursting.

Locks are teams that could lose the rest of their games and still get an at-large bid. It’s a tricky thing to lock a team up, and so it isn’t done lightly. Just because a team is unlocked doesn’t mean it won’t be in the tournament. It only means there are enough potential losses left that the resume could fall apart and risk being left out.

Should be in teams aren’t quite locks, but they’re looking pretty solid. If Selection Sunday was tomorrow, they would be absolute locks, and there’s a slim chance they play themselves out of the field. But the possibility remains, and so they stay unlocked.

Over the bubble squads are exactly that. They wouldn’t be worried about being excluded if the season ended now, but the resume isn’t strong enough that a few mistakes wouldn’t drop them down onto the bubble.

Those on the bubble are either barely in or barely out. They are receiving significant enough consideration for at-large positions, but in no way could they feel safe if the tournament selection occured now. Finally, bubble bursting teams have enough of a foundation laid that if they collected some quality wins, they could play themselves onto the bubble, but at the time aren’t receiving significant consideration for an at-large bid.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the state of the bubble as of Friday afternoon on March 11th, 2019:

LOCKS

Houston (AAC): 29-2, NET: 4, SOS: 43, vs. Q1: 5-2

Cincinnati (AAC): 25-6, NET: 27, SOS: 53, vs. Q1: 4-4

UCF (AAC): 23-7, NET: 28, SOS: 29, vs. Q1: 2-4

VCU (A-10): 25-6, NET: 31, SOS: 46, vs. Q1: 3-2

Virginia (ACC): 28-2, NET: 2, SOS: 30, vs. Q1: 11-2

Duke (ACC): 26-5, NET: 3, SOS: 2, vs. Q1: 8-4

North Carolina (ACC): 26-5, NET: 7, SOS: 4, vs. Q1: 9-5

Florida State (ACC): 25-6, NET: 19, SOS: 56, vs. Q1: 6-4

Virginia Tech (ACC): 23-7, NET: 12, SOS: 60, vs. Q1: 4-7

Louisville (ACC): 19-12, NET: 22, SOS: 3, vs. Q1: 4-10

Kansas (Big 12): 23-8, NET: 20, SOS: 1, vs. Q1: 10-7

Texas Tech (Big 12): 26-5, NET: 9, SOS: 55, vs. Q1: 6-5

Kansas State (Big 12): 24-7, NET: 24, SOS: 46, vs. Q1: 7-4

Iowa State (Big 12): 20-11, NET: 23, SOS: 31, vs. Q1: 5-7

Marquette (Big East): 23-8, NET: 29, SOS: 27, vs. Q1: 9-5

Villanova (Big East): 22-9, NET: 25, SOS: 16, vs. Q1: 5-6

Michigan (Big Ten): 26-5, NET: 10, SOS: 59, vs. Q1: 8-5

Michigan State (Big Ten): 25-6, NET: 8, SOS: 26, vs. Q1: 11-4

Purdue (Big Ten): 23-8, NET: 11, SOS: 17, vs. Q1: 7-7

Wisconsin (Big Ten): 22-9, NET: 15, SOS: 21, vs. Q1: 9-7

Maryland (Big Ten): 22-9, NET: 26, SOS: 8, vs. Q1: 6-7

Buffalo (MAC): 28-3, NET: 16, SOS: 87, vs. Q1: 2-1

Nevada (MWC): 28-3, NET: 18, SOS: 108, vs. Q1: 1-1

Tennessee (SEC): 27-4, NET: 6, SOS: 65, vs. Q1: 7-4

Kentucky (SEC): 26-5, NET: 5, SOS: 15, vs. Q1: 10-4

LSU (SEC): 26-5, NET: 13, SOS: 20, vs. Q1: 9-2

Mississippi State (SEC): 22-9, NET: 21, SOS: 10, vs. Q1: 8-6

Auburn (SEC): 22-9, NET: 17, SOS: 19, vs. Q1: 3-7

Ole Miss (SEC): 20-11, NET: 34, SOS: 76, vs. Q1: 4-10

Wofford (SoCon): 28-4, NET: 14, SOS: 124, vs. Q1: 3-4

Gonzaga (WCC): 29-2, NET: 1, SOS: 52, vs. Q1: 4-2

SHOULD BE IN

Oklahoma (Big 12): 19-12, NET: 40, SOS: 18, vs. Q1: 4-10

The Sooners were never in the game at Kansas State, but they’re still in a good position for an at-large bid. Wofford has been Oklahoma’s saving grace, with the Terriers’s meteoric rise up the NET rankings providing the Big 12 school with its best win, at least as far as the committee is concerned. Solid numbers and 10 Q1 and Q2 wins have Oklahoma fairly comfortable heading into the Big 12 Tournament, but a loss to West Virginia in the first round, some success around the bubble and bid stealers shrinking the bubble could make it less comfortable at the end of the week. Assuming Oklahoma tops the Mountaineers, though, it will be in the tournament, and likely will even if it loses.

Baylor (Big 12): 19-12, NET: 36, SOS: 38, vs. Q1: 4-8

Might seem odd to move Baylor up a category after losing to Kansas, but other teams around the Bears also lost, and we know they will play Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinals. With likely zero chances to kill the resume remaining, Baylor inches closer to safety. A win over the Cyclones would easily lock the Bears up.

OVER THE BUBBLE

Syracuse (ACC): 19-12, NET: 44, SOS: 9, vs. Q1: 3-8

Syracuse refuses to win that last game to bring it to safety, losing at Clemson in the final regular season game, 67-55. The Orange have now lost four of five since beating Louisville by 20, that only win coming at Wake Forest. But they’re still in good standing for a bid with good numbers, an elite win at Duke and positive road record. Syracuse will play the winner of Boston College-Pittsburgh in its first game of the ACC Tournament, which is why it stays in this category and doesn’t move up like Baylor. If the Orange avoid a bad loss in that game, it will at the very least move up a category.

Seton Hall (Big East): 18-12, NET: 62, SOS: 34, vs. Q1: 6-7

Want to prove to the committee you’re for real? Beat the two best teams in your conference back-to-back to close the regular season. That’s exactly what Seton Hall did, and it finds itself over the bubble as a result. There are still some weaknesses on this resume, so it would be wise to win in the Big East Quarterfinals against Georgetown, but a win isn’t necessarily required to get in. The Pirates have proven they can hang with and beat tournament-caliber teams, and above all else, that’s the most important thing to show the committee.

Iowa (Big Ten): 21-10, NET: 42, SOS: 93, vs. Q1: 4-9

In a normal year, this team would be sweating it on the bubble right now. But this year, even losing four straight and five of six, two of those against non-tournament teams, doesn’t knock you down to the cutline if you have the positives Iowa does. The Hawkeyes didn’t realize how big of a favor they did themselves Feb. 1 defeating Michigan, 74-59, but that win is a major reason why they haven’t dropped down to the bubble yet. There’s a danger of it, though, if Iowa loses to the winner of Illinois-Northwestern in its first Big Ten Tournament matchup. A win in that game and loss to Michigan in the next round would probably be enough to get Iowa in, but the seed is going to be much lower than expected a few weeks ago.

Washington (Pac-12): 24-7, NET: 38, SOS: 61, vs. Q1: 2-4

Washington lost at home to Oregon on Saturday, only mustering 47 points and making it abundantly clear how much this team struggles offensively. The numbers and general dominance over the Pac-12 this season is enough to keep the Huskies over the bubble for now, but in a typical year this team would be extremely nervous right now. Washington should take care of business in its first game of the Pac-12 Tournament against USC or Arizona and in the semifinals to feel like a lock. Unfortunately, with how weak the Pac-12 is, there’s few teams the Huskies could lose to and not feel a blow to their resume. They could get in without winning a game, but it might be very, very close if there are bid stealers and a few bubble teams win some big games in their conference tournaments, and you already know both of those things will happen.

ON THE BUBBLE

Temple (AAC): 23-8, NET: 50, SOS: 78, vs. Q1: 2-6

The game against UCF was a near must-win, and the Owls got it, topping the Knights 67-62 for their second solid Q1 win of the year. It’s not even close to enough for Temple to feel like it’s in the tournament without a solid performance in the AAC Tournament, but it’s at least on the right side of the bubble now. Temple will have to win its first game of the conference tournament against either Wichita State or East Carolina, then a semifinal matchup with likely Cincinnati will either lock the Owls up or keep them right on the edge of a bid. The outlook is better than a few days ago, though.

Clemson (ACC): 19-12, NET: 35, SOS: 35, vs. Q1: 1-9

Clemson took care of business against Syracuse at home, a win it required to avoid needing a big ACC Tournament run for an at-large bid. The Tigers are still going to need to make some noise in Charlotte, though, starting with a huge bubble game with North Carolina State in its first game. It wouldn’t be far fetched to consider that an elimination game, and the reward for the winner will be a date with Virginia. If Clemson loses to NC State, it’ll probably be out. If it beats State and loses to Virginia, it’s going to come down to the line. Two wins in a row and a bid to the semifinals would lock the Tigers up.

North Carolina State (ACC): 21-10, NET: 32, SOS: 215, vs. Q1: 2-8

NC State blasted Boston College, 73-47, in Chestnut Hill to close the regular season, and it means nothing but an avoided disaster. This team still doesn’t have any great wins to boast, other than a 78-71 home victory over Auburn in December, and holds a couple bad losses to boot. The Wolfpack blew eight different opportunities for a great win, and it’s coming back to bite them now. State will face Clemson in the second round of the ACC Tournament in a de facto elimination game. A win wouldn’t be enough to lock NC State, though. It would need a win against Virginia in the next round, too, to feel safe. These are anxious times in Raleigh.

TCU (Big 12): 19-12, NET: 47, SOS: 33, vs. Q1: 3-8

This team seems to have the number of a few opponents in the Big 12. TCU completed the season sweep of Texas on Saturday, winning 69-56 in Austin in a huge win for the Horned Frogs. There’s still plenty of work to be done, first by avoiding an anchor loss to Oklahoma State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, but TCU would be in as long as it makes it to the quarterfinals. A semifinal trip, which would include a win against Kansas State, would put the Horned Frogs in the tournament, but only one victory could be enough. It wouldn’t be enough for Fort Worth to feel comfortable on Sunday, though.

Texas (Big 12): 16-15, NET: 39, SOS: 6, vs. Q1: 5-9

This is one of the stranger scenarios I’ve ever seen. With a loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinals, the Longhorns would finish .500 and with 16 losses, and both would set records assuming they got an at-large bid. But if you ignore the overall record, this resume appears obviously worth of a bid when compared to the rest of the bubble, with a collection of wins versus UNC, Purdue, at Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma that barely anyone can contend with. If Texas beats Kansas, it will be in the tournament, even if people don’t like seeing a 16-loss team earn an at-large. A loss, though, would put it in a very precarious position, and one I think Texas would like to avoid.

Creighton (Big East): 18-13, NET: 54, SOS: 14, vs. Q1: 3-10

After losing four straight in February to fall to .500, Creighton needed to win out to have a shot at an at-large bid. Now a few weeks down the line, and the Bluejays have done just that, finishing the regular season with a 91-78 win against DePaul to extend its winning streak to five. Creighton has a date with Xavier in its first Big East Tournament game, and the loser will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament. If Creighton moves on, it will need to another win and a trip to the Big East Tournament Final to feel safely in, assuming it were to face Villanova in the semifinals. There’s zero major for error at this point, though.

St. John’s (Big East): 20-11, NET: 66, SOS: 74, vs. Q1: 5-6

It is comical how fantastic of a job St. John’s has done throwing away all the good will it built through beating Villanova on Feb. 17, which was its third win against the two titans of the Big East. Since then, the Red Storm have lost four of five, all to non-tournament teams, and rounded out its three-game losing skid to end the regular season by dropping at Xavier, 81-68, on Saturday, it’s second loss to the Musketeers in three games. St. John’s still has a lot of quality wins compared to most of the bubble, and those are cushioning against it’s brutal computer numbers. This team simply cannot afford to lose to DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament, though. It would add another bad loss to the resume, and would secure ending the year with five losses in the final six games to non-tournament teams. The Johnnies could get in even with a loss, but it would certainly not be guaranteed. At this point, St. John’s needs to beat DePaul and Marquette back-to-back to feel comfortably in the tournament.

Georgetown (Big East): 19-12, NET: 76, SOS: 79, vs. Q1: 5-6

We welcome Georgetown back onto the bubble and it won at Marquette in a game it unquestionably had to win after inexplicably getting run out of the building, 101-69, at DePaul the game before. The Hoyas still have work to do, starting with beating Seton Hall in their first Big East Tournament game. A loss will send Georgetown to the NIT, and a win might not be enough to put it over the edge. A win in the semifinals presumably against Marquette would, though. If it’s St. John’s or DePaul instead, though, the Hoyas might have to win the whole tournament to get into the field of 68. But none of that matters without first taking care of the Pirates.

Indiana (Big Ten): 17-14, NET: 51, SOS: 54, vs. Q1: 6-9

While other parts of the bubble continues to lose, Indiana keeps going the other way. The Hoosiers struggled mightily for much of their conference schedule, but now they’ve won four in a row and are hot heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Indiana will face Ohio State in its opening game, a possible elimination game for both teams. The winner will face Michigan State, and a win in both games for a trip to the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals would lock Indiana into the field of 68. The Hoosiers could absorb a loss to Ohio State and still get in, but it would take a whole lot of luck. I would recommend at least making it to at least the quarterfinals.

Minnesota (Big Ten): 19-12, NET: 56, SOS: 42, vs. Q1: 3-9

Minnesota was never in the game at Maryland to close the regular season, getting beat down 69-60 in College Park. But the score looked better than it was, and when you’re on the bubble, every little thing counts. The loss doesn’t hurt the Gophers too much, although a win would have made an at-large bid a guarantee. Now, Minnesota will play Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, an extremely dangerous team that’s been on a tear as of late. A loss would not be crippling, as Penn State’s metrics are much better than its record, but it wouldn’t move Minnesota any further from the cutline. On the other hand, a win would give the Gophers another Q1 or Q2 win (Penn State’s NET straddles right along the cutoff mark) and probably move them off the bubble. If Minnesota could also beat Purdue in the next round, it would unquestionably be a lock.

Ohio State (Big Ten): 18-13, NET: 55, SOS: 58, vs. Q1: 4-9

The Buckeyes could have saved their season with a come-from-behind win against Wisconsin on Sunday, but instead they failed to convert at the end of regulation and couldn’t complete the comeback in overtime. Ohio State is now squarely on the bubble and inching closer to the cutline, and only the Big Ten Tournament remains to make its case. Its first game is against Indiana in a virtual elimination game for both teams. There is good news, though: leading scorer Kaleb Wesson will return for the conference tournament, a much needed to boost to a struggling offense. He and the Buckeyes will be playing in the NIT if they don’t get a W against the Hoosiers, though.

Utah State (MWC): 25-6, NET: 30, SOS: 103, vs. Q1: 3-2

Not much has changed since our last update as Utah State finished its regular season early last week. Now, the Aggies have the MWC Tournament to turn to, which is loaded with anchor loss landmines. Utah State could probably absorb one and make the field of 68, but it would make Selection Sunday more nerve racking than it needs to be. If the Aggies can win their first game against the winner of New Mexico-Wyoming, they could lose to Fresno State in the semifinals and still get in, but it would be close. A trip to the conference tournament championship, especially if it’s against Nevada, would have Utah State feeling good about its at-large chances.

Belmont (OVC): 26-5, NET: 45, SOS: 191, vs. Q1: 2-2

I kept saying not to lose in the conference tournament, but Belmont did it anyway, falling 77-65 to Murray State in the final. Now, the Bruins have to hope a decent NET and wins at Murray State and home and away versus Lipscomb are enough to sway the committee. Let me give you a hint: it won’t be. Rightly or wrongly, Belmont will be playing in the NIT as the bubble shrinks and other teams near the cutline spend the next week winning games that jump them over the OVC regular season champs. All the Bruins can do is sit on the sideline and watch.

Arizona State (Pac-12): 21-9, NET: 67, SOS: 71, vs. Q1: 3-3

Arizona State took care of arch rival Arizona in Tucson, 72-64, completing the season sweep and avoiding what would have been an unfortunate loss to add to this already confusing resume. The highs are high, the lows are low, and we will see how the committee deals with a resume like this in the face of a new selection system. The Sun Devils will now wait to see if their first Pac-12 Tournament game will be against UCLA or Stanford, but either way, that will be a bad game to lose. The Pac-12 is such a mess that it’s hard to say what round Arizona State needs to make in order to get in because in some cases, the higher seeds would make for worse losses than the lower ones. The only chance at a win that would even remotely help its case before the tournament final would be a semifinal showdown with Oregon, but otherwise, it’s nothing to traps for the Sun Devils. They simply need to win as much as possible and hope it’s enough to get them in. There’s no formula for them at this point otherwise.

Alabama (SEC): 17-14, NET: 58, SOS: 23, vs. Q1: 2-9

Alabama: how to tank a season in a week. The Crimson Tide have really been tanking for longer than a week, but their current three-game losing streak has them sitting on the wrong side of the bubble and needing a splash in the SEC Tournament to climb back up. The numbers that previously held this resume up have been seriously harmed through Alabama’s losing, and the team’s inability to beat anyone of note away from Tuscaloosa is not helping either. Alabama must win its first game against Ole Miss in the tournament’s second round to even have a chance, and a victory in the quarterfinals versus Kentucky would likely be required as well. Good luck.

Florida (SEC): 17-14, NET: 33, SOS: 40, vs. Q1: 3-11

In many ways, Florida and Alabama have similar resumes, but the big difference is the numbers. The NET and SOS numbers are keeping Florida afloat, along with its 82-77 win at LSU on Feb. 20, because there isn’t much else here to be excited about. But the bubble is so weak, those few things are enough, at least assuming the Gators take care of Arkansas in their first game of the SEC Tournament. A win in that game wouldn’t lock Florida up as it wouldn’t move the needle for an otherwise blah resume, but a second win over LSU in the next round sure would. A loss to the Razorbacks might not eliminate Florida, but does Gainesville really want to find out?

BUBBLE BURSTING

Davidson (A-10): 23-8, NET: 68, SOS: 127, vs. Q1: 0-3

Dayton (A-10): 21-10, NET: 65, SOS: 94, vs. Q1: 1-5

Lipscomb (A-Sun): 25-7, NET: 48, SOS: 211, vs. Q1: 2-3

Providence (Big East): 17-14, NET: 74, SOS: 57, vs. Q1: 4-7

Xavier (Big East): 17-14, NET: 71, SOS: 48, vs. Q1: 4-8

Oregon (Pac-12): 19-12, NET: 61, SOS: 66, vs. Q1: 2-5

Arkansas (SEC): 17-14, NET: 64, SOS: 50, vs. Q1: 1-8

South Carolina (SEC): 16-15, NET: 78, SOS: 37, vs. Q1: 3-8

UNC Greensboro (SoCon): 28-5, NET: 57, SOS: 115, vs. Q1: 2-5

Furman (SoCon): 25-7, NET: 41, SOS: 182, vs. Q1: 1-5

St. Mary’s (WCC): 20-11, NET: 37, SOS: 28, vs. Q1: 1-6

Justin Meyer

Justin Meyer

I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and have loved basketball for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I have always been too short and Jewish to play at a high level, so I instead settled for watching and reporting from the sideline. I graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Maryland in 2017, co-founding The Left Bench and spending time at The Columbus Dispatch, USA Today and San Antonio Express-News.

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