I’ve decided that my Top-25 rankings are pretty much useless now that we have entered March, and nobody cares about anything but March Madness and the NCAA Tournament Bracket. So instead of a new Top-25 this week, I’m giving you, my loyal readers, another edition of Bubble Watch!
This week, I’ll be giving you a look at the teams on the Bubble in the same way I look at them when putting together a Bracket projection. First will be my “Last Four Byes,” which are the last four teams that I have getting into the Tournament that would not have to play a play-in game in Dayton.
Following that will be my “Last Four In,” which is the four teams I would have playing in the Tuesday-Wednesday play-in games in Dayton.
After that is my “First Four Out,” which is the four teams I have closest to getting in, but would currently be out.
Finally, we’ll have my “Next Four Out,” which are the next four teams out of the field, but that I think still have an outside shot at securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Enough explanation, here we go starting with the “Last Four Byes.”
Last Four Byes:
Michigan State (18-11, 10-6 B10)
The Spartans picked up a huge win Sunday on Senior Day over Wisconsin, which for now puts them in fairly safe territory. They finish with two road games against Illinois and Maryland. A loss to Illinois would be cause for a little concern, but a win at Maryland could make them a lock for the Tourney. I say one more win, regardless of when or against who, gets them into the field.
Syracuse (17-13, 9-8 ACC)
I don’t feel good about how high I have Syracuse in my bracket projection, but I think all factors considered, they’d be in right now. They have a bad RPI ranking, but on a soft Bubble, a team with a winning record in ACC play is worthy of a Tourney berth. That being said, I could easily see them being left out. A win in their regular season finale at home against Georgia Tech on Saturday could be a must-win.
Arkansas (22-7, 11-5 SEC)
The Razorbacks have won five games in a row to get themselves into the conversation, and it includes their best win of the season at South Carolina. The issue is other than that win, their only other wins against teams I have in my bracket projection are against UT Arlington (12-seed) and Mount St. Mary’s (16-seed, play-in game). A loss at Florida on Wednesday will not hurt, but a win would probably be enough to get them in. A loss at home to Georgia in their finale could be harmful to their Tourney hopes though.
California (19-9, 10-6 P12)
A win over Oregon State on Friday snapped a three-game losing streak for the Golden Bears, but that win won’t do much for their resume. They close out the regular season with road games against Utah and Colorado, and I believe a win in one of those two games, in addition to at least one win in the Pac-12 Tournament should be enough for Cal to make the field.
Last Four In:
Marquette (17-11, 8-8 BE)
In most other seasons, a team with Marquette’s resume would probably be further down on the list. But the Golden Eagles have the ultimate resume-defining win over the defending National Champs, Villanova. Marquette faces Xavier on the road and hosts Creighton to end their season. 1-1 in those games and a win in the Big East Tournament, and I think they’re in good shape.
Wake Forest (16-12, 7-9 ACC)
The Demon Deacons have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, so they’ve had no shortage of opportunities to pick up big wins that can get them into the Tourney. Problem is that they haven’t been able to take advantage. Their best win is over Miami, and I’m not sure if that’s enough to get them in. They have a HUGE home game against Louisville on Wednesday. A win in that game is exactly what Wake’s resume needs.
Providence (19-11, 9-8 BE)
The Friars are getting hot at the perfect time. They’ve now won five straight, including wins over Butler, Xavier, Marquette and Creighton, four likely Tournament teams. Losses to DePaul and Boston College aren’t great, but I think they have done enough to overcome that. Avoid a letdown in their regular season finale at St. John’s, and Providence should feel pretty good about their chances.
Illinois State (25-5, 17-1 MVC)
The mid-majors aren’t likely to receive a whole lot of love from the Committee this year, but if Illinois State can’t win the Missouri Valley Tournament, I think they still deserve to get in, as long as they make it to the Championship game, and as long as the loss in that game is to Wichita State. The best case scenario for the Redbirds is to just win the conference tournament and get the league’s auto-bid. But if they can’t get it done, I think they still have a good chance to get in as an at-large.
First Four Out:
Rhode Island (19-9, 11-5 A10)
The Rams were expected to be a favorite to win the Atlantic-10 this year, but they have underachieved for the better part of the season. Despite that, they still are right on the cusp of the Tournament cut-line, thanks to a win over VCU on Saturday. They can’t afford any more slip-ups though. They must beat St. Joe’s and Davidson to close out the regular season, then a nice run in the A-10 Tournament, and Rhode Island has a decent chance to make the field of 68.
Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9 ACC)
I really do think that Georgia Tech is a good enough team to make the NCAA Tournament. The issues lies in their RPI, which is in the 90s, and teams that have RPI’s that high do not make the Tournament as at-large teams. It just doesn’t happen. That is why Georgia Tech is among the First Four Out, and not the Last Four In. They might need to win at Syracuse on Saturday to have a shot at getting in. Lose that game, and they’ll need to pull off multiple upsets in the ACC Tournament to have a shot at getting in.
Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8 SEC)
They were up 19 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and it was looking like they were going to win that game and it was going to be exactly what they needed to solidify their spot in the Big Dance. Then the biggest comeback in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky happened, and Vanderbilt lost a huge chance to enhance their resume. But not to worry! They close the regular season Saturday at home against Florida, who they beat in Gainesville earlier this season. A win in that game might be enough to push the Commodores into the Tournament.
TCU (17-12, 6-10 B12)
While other teams are getting red-hot down the stretch, Jamie Dixon’s TCU team is doing the exact opposite. The Horned Frogs have lost five straight games, but those games were all to the top five teams in the conference. The unfortunate thing is that a win in just one of those games would have definitely had TCU higher on the list right now. They might need to win three games in the Big 12 Tournament just to have a shot at an at-large bid, and I just don’t see that happening.
Next Four Out:
Tennessee (15-14, 7-9 SEC)
Pretty crazy that a team with those records still has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but that’s the case this season. They have a win over Kentucky, and that might be the only thing keeping them in the conversation. I don’t see them being considered without a run to at least the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. They probably need to get the auto-bid, but I’ll leave open the slim possibility of an at-large berth.
Georgia (17-12, 8-8 SEC)
I kinda feel bad for the Bulldogs. They have been so close this year, and just haven’t been able to secure that big win that their resume sorely lacks. They took Florida and Kentucky to overtime, and they nearly beat Kentucky again the second time they played them. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so the SEC auto-bid might also be the only shot for Georgia to go dancing.
Houston (20-8, 11-5 AAC)
The American is a pretty weak conference this year after Cincinnati and SMU. Houston has had a decent season, but I’m not sure that they’ve done enough to get into the Tournament. They play at Cincinnati on Thursday, and a win in that game is absolutely crucial to Houston’s at-large hopes. Otherwise, they’ll need to win the American Championship.
Clemson (14-14, 4-12 ACC)
I don’t think Clemson has a shot at the Tournament unless they win the ACC, but I’m putting them here because they have been extremely unlucky this year, and I truly believe they could be capable of making an unlikely run to the ACC Championship game. The craziest thing is that 8 of their 12 losses in ACC play are by five points or less. Win half of those games and they are 8-8 in conference play and would probably be in a great position right now.