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bubble watch

Bubble Watch: Locks, Should be, Over, On & Bursting 3/14

There are five categories: locks, should be in, over the bubble, on the bubble and bubble bursting. Selection Sunday is getting closer, let’s fire it up.

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 14th, 2019:


* = auto bid

Houston (AAC): 29-2, NET: 4, SOS: 39, vs. Q1: 5-2

Cincinnati (AAC): 25-6, NET: 27, SOS: 47, vs. Q1: 4-4

UCF (AAC): 23-7, NET: 28, SOS: 30, vs. Q1: 2-4

VCU (A-10): 25-6, NET: 31, SOS: 41, vs. Q1: 3-2

Virginia (ACC): 28-2, NET: 1, SOS: 31, 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: 57, vs. Q1: 6-4

Virginia Tech (ACC): 24-7, NET: 11, SOS: 59, vs. Q1: 4-7

Louisville (ACC): 20-12, NET: 21, SOS: 3, vs. Q1: 4-10

Syracuse (ACC): 20-12, NET: 42, SOS: 11, vs. Q1: 3-8

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

Texas Tech (Big 12): 26-5, NET: 9, SOS: 54, vs. Q1: 6-5

Kansas State (Big 12): 24-7, NET: 24, SOS: 43, vs. Q1: 7-4

Iowa State (Big 12): 20-11, NET: 23, SOS: 27, vs. Q1: 5-7

Marquette (Big East): 23-8, NET: 29, SOS: 28, vs. Q1: 9-5

Villanova (Big East): 22-9, NET: 25, SOS: 15, vs. Q1: 5-6

Michigan (Big Ten): 26-5, NET: 10, SOS: 52, vs. Q1: 8-5

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

Purdue (Big Ten): 23-8, NET: 12, SOS: 13, 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: 86, vs. Q1: 2-1

Nevada (MWC): 28-3, NET: 18, SOS: 103, vs. Q1: 1-1

*Murray State (OVC): 27-4, NET: 43, SOS: 214, vs. Q1: 1-2

Tennessee (SEC): 27-4, NET: 6, SOS: 64, vs. Q1: 7-4

Kentucky (SEC): 26-5, NET: 5, SOS: 12, vs. Q1: 10-4

LSU (SEC): 26-5, NET: 14, SOS: 20, vs. Q1: 9-2

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

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

Ole Miss (SEC): 20-11, NET: 36, SOS: 74, vs. Q1: 4-10

*Wofford (SoCon): 29-4, NET: 13, SOS: 108, vs. Q1: 3-4

Gonzaga (WCC): 30-3, NET: 2, SOS: 45, vs. Q1: 4-3

*St. Mary’s (WCC): 22-11, NET: 34, SOS: 18, vs. Q1: 2-6


Oklahoma (Big 12): 19-13, NET: 40, SOS: 22, vs. Q1: 4-10

Well, Oklahoma decided to do the only thing it could to possibly miss the tournament: lose to the worst team in the Big 12 in its first game of the conference tournament. The loss to West Virginia is Oklahoma’s first bad loss of the season, giving it one Q3 defeat on its resume. With the weak state of the bubble, the Sooners are still probably in, but they’re now at the mercy of everyone else. With no more chances at wins, Oklahoma will have to hope not too many bubble teams find quality wins in their conference tournaments to jump them and more bids don’t get stolen. It’s probably fine for an at-large bid, but it’s no longer in Oklahoma’s hands. It could move up or down categories based upon what other teams do.

Baylor (Big 12): 19-12, NET: 37, SOS: 36, vs. Q1: 4-8

Not much has changed since the last entry. Baylor will play its first Big 12 Tournament game against Iowa State on Thursday, and a win would easily lock the Bears up. A loss would put it in a similar situation to Oklahoma: probably in, but given the right (or wrong based upon where you stand) circumstances, it could be jumped enough to miss. At the very least, Baylor’s seed heavily depends on its showing against the Cyclones.


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

Seton Hall will try to build on the momentum it built to end the regular season in its first Big East Tournament game against Georgetown, a must-win for the Hoyas. The Pirates probably don’t have to win to get into the field, but it would be enough to lock them up. Why put it in the hands of other teams when you can make it happen yourself on the court?

Iowa (Big Ten): 21-10, NET: 43, SOS: 92, vs. Q1: 4-9

The Hawkeyes have an unfortunate situation in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament against Illinois. The Illini have played much better than their NET ranking in the final few weeks of the season, but they’re still currently considered a Q3 opponent on a neutral floor. That means a loss would harm Iowa’s resume and a win wouldn’t help much, but the game will probably be more difficult than a normal Q3 one. A win would all but guarantee no more chances for bad losses, though, and probably be enough to lock Iowa up. A loss would allow Iowa to get jumped for the next few days, and who knows what that would mean.

Washington (Pac-12): 24-7, NET: 39, SOS: 58, vs. Q1: 2-4

Washington will play USC in its first Pac-12 Tournament game, a fringe Q2 opportunity that might drop to a Q3 game if USC’s NET dropped enough after the theoretical loss. The Huskies don’t have to win to be in the field necessarily, but it would certainly make them feel much better about their chances if they do. This resume has taken a few hits the last few weeks, and while the bubble is weak enough that absorbing another negative probably wouldn’t kill it, it would leave Washington sweating on Selection Sunday and rooting against other bubble teams and bid stealers the rest of the week. A win could move it up a category.


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

The Owls did themselves a huge favor by beating UCF at home in their final regular season game, but it’s not enough to make them feel safe. Temple will play either Wichita State or East Carolina in its opening AAC Tournament game Friday, and a loss in that game could send it to the NIT. A win would keep the Owls right along the cutline where they sit now, but a second win the semifinals against probably Cincinnati would lock them up. Some huge games upcoming in Temple’s future.

Clemson (ACC): 19-13, NET: 35, SOS: 29, vs. Q1: 1-10

Whether the call at the end of the game was right or not, Clemson still blew an 18-point second half lead and lost a game it couldn’t afford to lose to NC State in its first game of the ACC Tournament. The Tigers will finish 1-10 against Q1 opponents unless there’s some NET movement independent of them, and that’s not enough to get an at-large bid. Their issue all season was losing close games to quality opponents, and it happened again Thursday as a great summary their year. It’ll be a trip to the NIT for Clemson in 2019.

North Carolina State (ACC): 22-10, NET: 32, SOS: 207, vs. Q1: 3-8

The Wolfpack won the game they absolutely had to against Clemson, 59-58, and move on to play Virginia in the ACC Quarterfinals on Friday. While the win over the Tigers helps, it’s not even close to enough for NC State to feel safe. It was only the team’s third Q1 win, and there’s really not much on this resume to like other than the NET. The SOS numbers are horrendous: so horrendous that the non-conference SOS quite literally could not worse. For years, the committee has punished teams with awful non-conference SOS numbers, and right now, State has the prototypical resume that gets punished for it. A win over Virginia would make it all moot. A loss would leave the Wolfpack right on the line for Sunday.

TCU (Big 12): 20-12, NET: 48, SOS: 42, vs. Q1: 3-8

TCU avoided disaster, narrowly escaping Oklahoma State, 73-70, on Thursday to advance to the Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinals. The win doesn’t help the resume much, but a loss sure would have tanked it. Now, the Horned Frogs have a date with Kansas State, and it’s desperation time. A loss might not eliminate them, but they would be in a precarious position, watching from the sideline as other bubble teams and bid stealers squeeze them out. A win would do the opposite, though. Everything is on the line for TCU.

Texas (Big 12): 16-15, NET: 38, SOS: 6, vs. Q1: 5-9

This team remains in a strange situation where its resume looks worthy of a bid but its record does not. Usually, record doesn’t matter, but when you’re in real danger of finishing .500 and setting a record for the most-ever losses for an at-large team, it can become a factor. Texas plays Kansas in its first Big 12 Tournament game Friday. It’s not clear if it can afford another loss, regardless of who it is to. The Longhorns are probably in a must-win situation for at least one game, potentially two depending on what happens across the country.

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

The game against Xavier is an elimination game for both teams, but a win wouldn’t be enough for Creighton to feel comfortable. The Bluejays have to beat Xavier at a minimum, but to feel safe at all, they will need to win another game, preferably against Villanova. It’s an uphill climb, and there’s zero margin for error, but there is still hope.

St. John’s (Big East): 21-11, NET: 64, SOS: 80, vs. Q1: 5-6

Apparently St. John’s is capable of beating the Big East’s worst. The Johnnies took care of DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament, 82-74, to earn a date with Marquette in the quarterfinals. The Red Storm are probably in after beating the Blue Demons, but they can’t feel totally safe unless they beat Marquette on Friday. The end of the season really hurt this resume, and although it’s still tournament-worthy right now, it’s too close to the cutline to assume it will definitely survive the end of the week without another added positive. But in terms of teams on the bubble, St. John’s is sitting better than most.

Georgetown (Big East): 19-12, NET: 78, SOS: 79, vs. Q1: 5-6

The win at Marquette to end the regular season bought Georgetown some more time, but it still has plenty of work to do to get into the field. A win against Seton Hall is absolutely necessary, and a second win and a trip to the Big East Finals might also be required depending upon what happens across the country. It’s make or break time for the Hoyas.

Indiana (Big Ten): 17-14, NET: 51, SOS: 49, vs. Q1: 6-9

Indiana has played its way back into serious tournament contention through a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, but it might be for nothing but a better NIT seed without a win against Ohio State in the team’s opening Big Ten Tournament game Thursday. There’s plenty of good here, but also plenty of bad. If Indiana is to add a 15th loss to its resume, it probably can’t be against fellow bubble squad Ohio State.

Minnesota (Big Ten): 19-12, NET: 56, SOS: 38, vs. Q1: 3-9

The home win against Purdue in the second-to-last regular season game placed Minnesota toward the top of teams still on the bubble, but it wasn’t enough to move the Gophers any higher. Now, Minnesota faces Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, an opportunity for a quality win. Even though the Nittany Lions are the No. 10 seed in the tournament and have a below .500 record, they have a top 50 NET, so a loss to them wouldn’t be a death blow. But it would hurt to not be able to impress the committee again while other teams inevitably do. It isn’t a must win, but it’s about as close as it can get.

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

Finally, Kaleb Wesson is back, and Ohio State will hope that means the offense is back, too. The Buckeyes did not win without their leading scorer, but they can make up for that with a win against Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The committee is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to teams that miss key contributors for a portion of time as long as they’re back for the tournament, so the ugliness of Ohio State’s final few regular season games can be considered less than otherwise. But that’s not going to matter without at least one win in the Big Ten Tournament.

Utah State (MWC): 25-6, NET: 30, SOS: 101, vs. Q1: 2-2

Utah State will play New Mexico in the Mountain West Tournament Quarterfinals, and the Aggies cannot afford to add another anchor loss to their resume. Utah State doesn’t need to do much to get into the tournament at this point. Avoiding any large negatives will be enough to put it in the field, but there is a chance. The MWC will provide a couple of opportunities for losses that could hurt this resume.

Belmont (OVC): 26-5, NET: 46, SOS: 193, vs. Q1: 2-2

Like I’ve been saying, it’s not going to happen for Belmont, and it’s especially not going to happen with bid stealers. St. Mary’s already took away one spot, shrinking the bubble early in the week. More could come, and either way, Belmont has no recourse for bettering its standing in the committee’s eyes. The Bruins should prepare for the NIT, because that’s where they’re going.

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

The Sun Devils will face UCLA to open their Pac-12 Tournament, and it’s a game they have to have. There are enough bad losses on this resume. Arizona State cannot afford another. A win wouldn’t be a huge help, but all wins are positives this time of year. Assuming Arizona State makes a run in the conference tournament and there isn’t too much wildness going on around the country between now and Sunday, it should be enough for a tournament bid. But it’s March and this is college basketball. Of course wild stuff is going to happen.

Alabama (SEC): 17-14, NET: 59, SOS: 23, vs. Q1: 2-9

It’s do or die time for Alabama. The Crimson Tide have played their way onto the wrong side of the bubble, and the SEC Tournament is their last chance to flip the script. It starts with a second round matchup with Ole Miss that Alabama absolutely has to win to avoid the NIT. A second win could be required, too, depending upon what happens around them, but that’s a future worry. The focus has to be on beating Ole Miss first, because nothing will matter otherwise.

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

It doesn’t seem like Florida is in a must-win situation in its opening SEC Tournament game against Arkansas, but adding losses to non-tournament teams this time of year is never a good plan. This resume is on the stronger side when compared to the rest of this disgustingly weak bubble, but it’s certainly nothing to feel comfortable about, especially with a loss to the Razorbacks. A win could move Florida up a category, but a loss would leave it toiling on the bubble and praying the rest of the bubble also loses early in its various conference tournaments.


Davidson (A-10): 23-8, NET: 68, SOS: 125, vs. Q1: 0-3

Dayton (A-10): 21-10, NET: 66, SOS: 96, vs. Q1: 1-5

Lipscomb (A-Sun): 25-7, NET: 47, SOS: 213, vs. Q1: 2-3

Providence (Big East): 18-14, NET: 69, SOS: 56, vs. Q1: 4-7

Xavier (Big East): 17-14, NET: 70, SOS: 50, vs. Q1: 4-8

Oregon (Pac-12): 20-12, NET: 57, SOS: 69, vs. Q1: 2-5

Arkansas (SEC): 17-14, NET: 63, SOS: 46, vs. Q1: 1-8

South Carolina (SEC): 16-15, NET: 81, SOS: 33, vs. Q1: 3-8

UNC Greensboro (SoCon): 28-6, NET: 58, SOS: 100, vs. Q1: 2-6

Furman (SoCon): 25-7, NET: 41, SOS: 186, vs. Q1: 1-5

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