The Bubble is officially lit as major conference tournaments are underway. Today, we’ve seen Arizona State’s implosion continue with an opening round loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament, Louisville jumping all over Florida State with their back to the wall, and NC State losing to Boston College. Tonight, we’ll get Notre Dame and Oklahoma State in what would appear to be must-win games against teams that are in the field, to keep hopes alive. Syracuse, who may or may not be safe, also gets a chance at a statement against North Carolina.
I’ve got 38 teams locked into the field because I don’t think results will affect anything but seeding. And yes, one of them is NC State. I believe that today’s loss cost them a chance to move up and may knock them to a #10 seed, but they are in on the strength of wins that include Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, and Arizona, and going 11-7 in the ACC.
Those 38 include 10 projected auto bids, though that number could shrink based on some upsets by bid thieves in Conference USA, the Mountain West, or the Atlantic 10. Here are my 8 final teams in as we stand entering tonight:
PROBABLY GOOD NOW
#10 seed UCLA – probably okay after winning at USC, as long as they face Stanford and not California, though a win to get to the semis seals it.
#10 seed Louisville – yes, today’s win was huge as I had them right on the cut line entering the week.
#11 seed Providence – resume is squarely on the bubble but I think the Xavier and Villanova wins get them across.
#11 seed Texas – the win over West Virginia was huge, don’t want to follow it with a loss to 10th place Iowa State.
SQUARELY ON THE BUBBLE
#11 seed (First Four game) Syracuse – They might be okay. But the resume lacks huge wins. They would remove all doubt, and perhaps importantly, get out First Four consideration, with a big win against North Carolina.
#11 seed (First Four game) USC – The Trojans have a decent number of Quadrant 1 wins, but all are right on the lower end. They finished 2nd in the Pac-12, but the best win is one of: at Utah, at Oregon, at Colorado, or against quality mid-majors Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State at a neutral site. They can’t lose to a team they should beat in the Pac-12 tourney and may need to reach the finals to feel safe. With a game against Washington/Oregon State and then probably Utah or Oregon, they are in a precarious spot.
#11 seed (First Four game) St. Mary’s – The bad news for St. Mary’s is they are done. We could see the bubble shrink with bid thieves. We could see other teams win below them. They are not in an enviable spot and I will revisit their placement once the results from others are in. They have a great road win at Gonzaga but not much else to go with their 28-5 record. Teams like them have often been sent to Dayton, and occasionally left out.
#11 seed (First Four game) Marquette – For now, I’m moving Marquette in. They can’t lose to DePaul tonight. They might need to beat Villanova in the next game. They will not be sleeping well if they don’t.
Baylor (1st Out): They lost to Kansas State on Saturday. They are 6-12 against teams I have in the field. West Virginia is a big one. A win and they are definitely in. A loss and I’ll be reviewing their case, along with Marquette and St. Mary’s, and they will be at risk of bid thieves as well.
Arizona State (2nd Out): The collapse is complete. Now, we see if it puts them out or barely has them in. At one point, Arizona State was ranked Top 5, had wins over Xavier (neutral) and Kansas (road), and were 12-0 heading to a showdown with Arizona. They are now 20-11 and eliminated from the Pac-12 tournament before a third rematch with Arizona, by losing by 12, and giving up 97 points, to Colorado.
Recent record is not an explicit factor for the committee, but they closed by losing 5 of 6. The only win was at home over a very bad Cal team. The losses include at Oregon State, at home against Stanford, and now to Colorado on a neutral court. The RPI is now 65, and they have only 3 Quad 1 wins (at Utah being the other). They have some high-end Quad 2 wins (Kansas State-N, vs UCLA and USC at home), but the resume gets thin after the Xavier/Kansas results. And they’ve lost 9 games now to teams that won’t be in the tournament field. That has to matter. That’s why, unlike some others, I have them out now.
Alabama (3rd Out): I think Alabama should be out. But they can get back in if they beat Texas A&M in a rematch from last Saturday. If they lose, they will be 17-15 and have an RPI outside the top 65. At some point, those losses have to matter even though they have 6 Quad 1 wins.
Notre Dame (4th Out): There is going to be a Notre Dame debate. Ultimately, we don’t know how the Committee will be willing to bend on the Notre Dame question. This is a team that lost a Conference Player of the Year candidate in Bonzie Colson for a large chunk of the conference season. They also played two weeks without Matt Farrell during that span, and lost every game. Fully healthy, they are a top 30 team. They won the Maui Classic over Wichita State with both. They pushed Virginia last week on the road.
But I think they need to evaluate the resumé. I know this isn’t the pros, but the Packers don’t get to argue they should get in over a team with two more wins because Aaron Rodgers is just coming back from injury. The results have to matter. Now, if two teams are truly neck-and-neck, then I think taking Notre Dame is reasonable in a tiebreaker based on their best games.
So they have to win tonight against Virginia Tech. That would get them inside or near the Top 60 in RPI, get them a 3rd Quad 1 win. That puts them in the conversation. A win over Duke would complete it and make it moot.
Middle Tennessee (auto bid projection, #11 seed): The Blue Raiders will be trying to win the Conference USA Tournament, but both Western Kentucky and Old Dominion are capable of beating them. If they don’t win the auto bid, they have a decent at-large case. I think they might be preferred over St. Mary’s, for example, in a comparison of mid-majors based on non-conference scheduling.
Oklahoma State (5th Out): They have some really big wins. They are 7-13 against teams I am projecting in the field. The RPI is too low based on some non-conference dregs. They would be a historically low RPI if they got in now. Big wins weren’t enough for Syracuse last year, and I think the Cowboys need some more now to move up.
Here’s a list of teams I think have a lot to accomplish, but could get in that discussion for a final at-large spot if they advance very deep in the conference tournaments:
Pac-12: Utah, Oregon, Washington
SEC: Mississippi State