The number of slots that would seem to be claimed is increasing, and the actual bubble is going to shrink dramatically. I’ve got 31 teams as locks, where I am confident putting them in the field regardless of what else happens. Those teams are:
ACC (6): Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU
SEC (6): Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Big East (4): Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton
Big Ten (4): Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan
Pac 12 (1): Arizona
American (3): Cincinnati, Wichita State, Houston
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
Mountain West (1): Nevada
Atlantic 10 (1): Rhode Island
That’s 10 conferences, and if the auto bids all come from that group, that would mean 21 of the 36 at-large spots accounted for (though bid thiefs are likely to shrink those auto bids and claim a few at-larges). So if we think we are looking at between 12 & 15 at-large spots remaining, here’s how I assess it.
ONE MORE WIN AND IN (7)
Oklahoma: They play the last place team, Iowa State, at home. Win that and they are 8-10 in conference, have 18 total wins, secure an RPI in the Top 50, and have 6 Quadrant 1 wins. But lose it? All bets are off heading into a game against the 9th place team and rival Oklahoma State in the conference tournament.
Missouri: Missouri might be in now after the win at Vanderbilt. There will be no doubt if they beat Arkansas on Saturday at home. Losing at home leaves the door slightly open, with Missouri likely needing to avoid a bad loss.
Florida State: The Seminoles play BC at home. A victory secures a Top 50 RPI and a 9-9 ACC record. It would put them in the 8/9 or 7/10 game in the ACC tournament, so no risk of a bad loss. If they lose it, though, the risk is there, and they probably have to play on the first day of the ACC Tournament.
Butler: Butler is another team that might be in anyway. If they can win at Seton Hall there is no question. They don’t want to get into a 7 vs 10 game in the Big East against DePaul or St. John’s that could be costly, so a Saturday win would be huge.
Middle Tennessee: If the Red Raiders avoid a bad home loss to Marshall to close the regular season, they will finish 17-1 in Conference USA and have an RPI in the Top 25. I think they are then just playing for seeding.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils have big wins over Kansas and Xavier, so they just don’t want to give the committee a reason to second guess them. A home loss to Stanford and a losing record in the Pac-12 might do that. But handle business and I think they are okay.
NC State: The game against Louisville is huge. A win and they are in for sure. A loss and they would have another toss-up game against a good opponent. They don’t want to go to Selection Sunday on a three-game losing streak.
PROBABLY OKAY WITH ANOTHER WIN (3)
Providence: The Friars probably lock it up with a win over St. John’s at home. They already have wins over Xavier and Villanova. A loss could pitch them into the 7-10 game depending on tiebreakers and then one more win might not be enough.
St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies are 22nd in the RPI and have some wins over some other bubble type teams that should keep them insulated. A win over St. Louis to close the regular season could be enough. Reaching the semis could be enough. They can’t lose both to St. Louis and then take a bad loss in the A-10 tourney.
USC: I’ve seen USC in the last four in by several listings, but they have an RPI inside the Top 35 and are gonna finish 2nd in the Pac-12. A win over UCLA might be enough and certainly reaching the Pac-12 semis should be.
NON-POWER CONFERENCE WILD CARDS (2)
St. Mary’s: The Gaels are highly rated in predictive systems. They are 27-4. But, they only have the two games against Gonzaga as Quadrant 1, going 1-1. The RPI is right on that non-power cutline, in the mid-30’s. If they lose before the final, they could be nervous. If they face Gonzaga again, I think they have to be in with 29 wins.
Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers have a road win at Florida that could be the difference in getting a bid if they don’t win the MVC Tournament. They will be right on the cutline if they don’t claim the auto bid. Some teams like them have been put in Dayton, others sent to the NIT.