Bubble Watch: Musical Chairs

This time of year, the focus always remains on the bubble, but just how many spots are there?

That’s a loaded question, as that depends on who wins their conference tournaments and whether or not any of those champions would have been left out of the field without their title.  We call those situations “bid-stealers”, and they are a bubble team’s worst nightmare.  In this game of musical chairs, a space is removed nearly every day at this point in the season, so who will be left standing?  Let’s find out.

The teams have been broken down into four categories, as described below:

  • Locks:  These teams have, for all accounts and purposes, earned their NCAA berth
  • In the Gym:  These teams are in pretty good shape (get it?)
  • Blowing Bubbles:  These teams are squarely on the bubble
  • Grass is Greener:  These teams are on the wrong side of the NCAA Tourney fence

One-Bid Leagues:

America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit, Sun Belt, WAC.

Total “Locked” Bids (19)


Locks (1):  Southern Methodist

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (3):

  • Cincinnati Bearcats (21-9, 12-5 AAC) — RPI:  38 — KenPom:  37 — SOS: 101

After a dominant road win at Tulsa this week, the Bearcats are in good shape in comparison to some others on the bubble, but their resume shouldn’t have them breathing easy just yet.  Non-conference wins vs. San Diego State and @ NC State will be staples of their resume along with their season sweep over SMU.  Losses at East Carolina and Nebraska, and a recent home loss to Tulane are definite warts.  Avoid a home loss to Memphis in the regular season finale, and the Bearcats are probably safe.

  • Temple Owls (21-9, 12-5 AAC) — RPI: 36 — KenPom:  58 — SOS: 96

Temple is definitely taking advantage of their non-conference win vs. Kansas right now.  They have beaten two teams in the RPI top 150 since the first week of conference play, and are just 1-5 against the other teams at the tops of the league.  They remain just 9-9 vs. RPI top 200 opponents, the worst of any program currently on the bubble.

  • Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (21-8, 14-3 AAC) — RPI:  46 — KenPom:  74 — SOS:  118

Tulsa is now in a world of hurt despite being 14-3 in league play after getting blown out at home by Cincinnati.  Yes, they swept Temple and own an 8-3 road record.  Trouble lies ahead though, as they close the conference season @ SMU, find a win somehow and they are probably in, lose, and they will have stumbled enough to make people remember that they lost to a Division II opponent earlier this season.

Grass is Greener (0):

Atlantic 10:

Locks (2):  Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (1):

  • Davidson Wildcats (21-8, 13-4 A-10) — RPI:  31 — KenPom:  28 — SOS:  103

Davidson is currently in possession of one of the top slots in Joe Lunardi’s “Last 4 In” category, so you could say they are the face of the bubble mayhem right now.  After dropping back to back games against St. Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure it looked like the Wildcats were done, but they’ve since won 8 straight including a sweep of George Washington, a win @ Rhode Island, and, most recently, a dominating win over depleted VCU.  Avoid a horrible loss at Duquesne this weekend, and the Wildcats will be in good shape.

Grass is Greener (0):


Locks (5):  Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (1):

North Carolina State Wolfpack (18-12, 9-8 ACC) — RPI:  47 — KenPom:  41 — SOS:  20

After this week’s win @ Clemson, the Wolfpack are in pretty good shape.  They now have road wins vs. Louisville and North Carolina along with wins against Duke and Boise State. Unfortunately, in the past month they’ve also lost @ Boston College and Wake Forest  A home win vs. Syracuse this week would place them “in the gym”, but a loss would be another blemish that would keep them on the bubble.

Grass is Greener (2):

Miami FL (19-11, 9-8 ACC) — RPI:  65 — KenPom:  63 — SOS:  49

Miami won at Pittsburgh this week without star PG Angel Rodriguez, keeping them alive in the bubble race.  They are still on the outside looking in, but a run in the ACC Tournament could push the Hurricanes on the right side of the fence depending on what happens to the team’s in front of them.

Pittsburgh (19-12, 8-9 ACC) — RPI:  62 — KenPom:  77 — SOS:  52

Simply put, after that disastrous home loss to Miami, the Panthers will need to win at Florida State and at least make the ACC semis to even crawl back into the discussion.


Locks (5):  Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (2):

Oklahoma State Cowboys (18-11, 8-9 Big XII) — RPI:  41 — KenPom:  32 — SOS;  7

After dropping four in a row, including bad road losses to TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys were able to right the ship a bit by beating TCU at home this week.  They are in pretty good shape overall, having played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, and owning 3 top 10 RPI wins.  Unless they find a way to win @ WVU in their finale, they will finish conference play under .500, can the committee overlook that and see their overall body of work?

Texas Longhorns (18-12, 7-10 Big XII) — RPI:  46 — KenPom:  21 — SOS:  8

The Longhorns are still alive after a crucial OT win at home against Baylor.  Before that, Texas hadn’t beaten a Tournament team since mid-January, and even with that result, Texas is just 6-12 vs. RPI top 100 opponents.  Their best resume bullet point?  No bad losses, they’ve lost to just one team ranked outside the RPI top 50 (Stanford at home).

Grass is Greener (1):

Kansas State Wildcats (15-15, 8-9 Big XII) — RPI:  78 — KenPom:  81 — SOS:  5

A win @ Texas in their season finale could garner them some late interest because of their number of quality top-end wins, but Kansas State is just 10-15 vs. the RPI top 200 and 1-9 away from home, so it would be a pretty significant miracle for them to be selected by the Committee at this point.

Big East:

Locks (4):  Butler, Georgetown, Providence, Villanova

In the Gym (1):

St. John’s Red Storm (21-9, 10-7 Big East) — RPI:  34 — KenPom:  31 — SOS:  43

St. John’s is now approaching “lock” status for me.  After avoiding a bad road loss at Marquette, St. John’s closes at Villanova, which will do no damage to its resume should it leave with a loss.  They’ve clinched an above .500 league record, they own three top 25 RPI victories, and nine RPI top 100 wins.  I see no reason they should be left out.

Blowing Bubbles (1):

Xavier Musketeers (18-12, 8-9 Big East) — RPI:  42 — KenPom:  27 — SOS:  18

Xavier’s resume is actually somewhat similar to Kansas State’s, but they’ve found a way to get a few more crucial wins along the way.  They own three RPI top 25 wins, five RPI top 50 wins, but they’ve also lost neutral court to Long Beach State, @ Auburn, @  DePaul, and at home to Creighton, all bad losses.  Their finale is at Creighton, a loss would put the Musketeers in serious jeopardy.

Grass is Greener (0):

Big Ten:

Locks (4):  Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin

In the Gym (1):

Iowa Hawkeyes (20-10, 11-6 Big Ten) — RPI:  39 — KenPom:  21 — SOS:  35

The Hawkeyes are in great shape, currently sitting T-3 in the Big 10 standings with their lone “bad” loss of the season coming at Northwestern.  Their win at Indiana this week gives them five RPI top 100 ROAD wins this season, if that doesn’t get you in, I’m not sure what would.

Blowing Bubbles (3):

Illinois Fighting Illini (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten) — RPI:  58 — KenPom:  53 — SOS:  64

Illinois has a bit of a bland resume overall, owning just five RPI top 100 victories, but with just a single bad loss @ Nebraska.  They do own wins vs. Baylor, Maryland, and @ Michigan State, which hold some weight.  Their finale @ Purdue could certainly act as a NCAA Tournament play-in game.

Indiana Hoosiers (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten) — RPI:  53 — KenPom:  56 — SOS:  68

Indiana has taken a turn for the worst down the stretch of the season.  Once a mortal lock for the Dance, they have since failed to beat a Tournament team in nearly 2 months, and are 3-5 in their last 8 conference games, with a bad loss to Northwestern to top it all off.  It would be hard to imagine a team with wins over SMU, Butler, and Maryland, along with five additional RPI top 100 wins getting left out, but the Committee does take momentum into account when determining worthy inclusions in the field, and lately, the Hoosiers have not played like a Tournament team.

Purdue Boilermakers (19-11, 11-6 Big Ten) — RPI:  61 — KenPom:  48 — SOS: 57

It is pretty incredible that a team with home losses to North Florida and Gardner Webb could be in this position in March, but you can’t ignore a team T-3 in the Big 10 standings, especially when they sweep Indiana.  They also own non-conference wins against bubble teams NC State and BYU, which will help them when it comes down to comparing team by team.  Take care of business of Illinois at home, and the Boilermakers will be in pretty good shape on Selection Sunday barring an early exit from the Big 10 Tournament.

Grass is Greener (0):

Conference USA:

Locks (0):

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (0):

Grass is Greener (1):

Old Dominion (23-6, 12-5 C USA) — RPI:  45 — KenPom:  65 — SOS:  191

Old Dominion is hanging on by a thread after failing to win the Conference USA regular season title.  Their lone RPI top 100 win since beating Richmond, LSU, and VCU in a week-long stretch in November, is a home win over LA Tech.  Over that stretch, they also acquired bad losses @ Western Kentucky, @ Middle Tennessee State, @ UAB, and @ UTSA.  With their signature wins both sputtering to the finish, the committee may fail to be impressed with the Monarchs’ overall resume.

Missouri Valley:

Locks (2):  Northern Iowa, Wichita State

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (0):

Grass is Greener (0):

Mountain West:

Locks (1):  San Diego State

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (2):

Boise State (23-7, 13-4 MW) — RPI:  35 — KenPom:  37 — SOS:  124

What Boise State has done since dropping their first three league games is incredibly impressive, sweeping San Diego State along the way and likely earning a #1 seed in the MWC Tourney assuming they take care of business at home vs. Fresno State in their finale.  The Broncos do own bad losses at Fresno State, at home vs. Utah State, and a neutral court loss to Loyola Chicago.  With just five RPI top 100 wins overall, they are far from a lock to make the Dance, but avoid a bad loss down the stretch and it would be hard to leave the Broncos out after how they’ve closed the season.

Colorado State (25-5, 12-5 MW) — RPI:  27 — KenPom:  66 — SOS: 158

What Colorado State has done well compared to everyone else on the bubble is acquire wins.  Unfortunately, few of them have come against quality opponents, as they own 11 wins over teams with 200+ RPIs, the committee doesn’t like that.  They didn’t beat anyone in non-conference play that will catch the committee’s eye, and their best road win is at New Mexico State, so the Rams will have to avoid a bad loss to remain on the right side of the bubble most likely.

Grass is Greener (0):

Ohio Valley:

Locks (0):

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (0):

Grass is Greener (1):

Murray State Racers (26-4, 16-0 OV) — RPI:  67 — KenPom:  71 — SOS:  303

Here’s the thing, yes, they’ve won 24 straight games, that’s great.  The problem is, they’ve played one of the easiest schedules in the country, they are 67th in the RPI, and their lone RPI top 100 win is home vs. Illinois State.  It would be a huge mistake for this team to earn an at-large berth, period.


Locks (2):  Arizona, Utah

In the Gym (1):

Oregon Ducks (23-8, 13-5 Pac-12) — RPI:  30 — KenPom:  49 — SOS:  67

It would be hard to imagine a scenario that the Ducks get left out at this point, but the Pac-12 is so weak and their top-end resume is so average I can’t quite bring myself to put them in “lock” status yet.  That said, what they’ve done after the off-season they went through is nothing short of a miracle, Dana Altman has to be the national coach of the year.

Blowing Bubbles (1):

UCLA Bruins (19-12, 11-7 Pac-12) — RPI:  51 — KenPom:  50 — SOS:  26

The Bruins will now be in “wait’ and see” mode after finishing up conference play among the top four in the Pac-12.  They’ve played a brutal schedule, and their two “bad” losses come to Oregon State and Colorado on the road, both teams who are very difficult to beat at home traditionally. They are 3-1 vs. Oregon and Stanford, which the committee will take into account.  Unfortunately, despite all the talent they played in the non-conference portion of their schedule, they weren’t able to beat any of those teams, losing to Oklahoma, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Alabama.

Grass is Greener (1):

Stanford Cardinal (18-11, 9-8 Pac-12) — RPI:  64 — KenPom:  42– SOS:  62

After falling late at Arizona State last night, the Cardinal are in ominous territory.  They are just 3-6 in their last 9 Pac-12 games, including losses at Washington State and Colorado, and their only chance to finish above .500 in league play is @ Arizona.  Good luck with that.  Of course, that is a huge opportunity to finish with a huge resume-boosting win, but I wouldn’t say the odds are in their favor to pull that off.  It would be hard to put a team with a 9-9 record in a bad league into the Tournament, especially when they finish 3-7.


Locks (2):  Arkansas, Kentucky

In the Gym (3):

Georgia Bulldogs (19-10, 10-7 SEC) — RPI:  33 — KenPom:  36 — SOS:  17

The Bulldogs are about as close to “lock” status as you can be now.  After inexplicable back-to-back home losses to Auburn and South Carolina, the Bulldogs rattled off consecutive road wins at Alabama and Ole Miss, and played Kentucky down to the wire this week in a fun battle.  They own 8 RPI 100 wins and are 7-4 on the road, they’ll be in the Tournament.

LSU Tigers (21-9, 10-7 SEC) — RPI:  56 — KenPom:  44 — SOS:  77

How frustrating is this team?  Getting blown out at home by Tennessee?  Seriously?  No one is as inconsistent as LSU, but the fact remains, they are 10-5 vs. the RPI top 100 and are 7-3 on the road.  They’ll be in the Dance.

Ole Miss Rebels (20-10, 11-6 SEC) — RPI:  44 — KenPom:  35 — SOS:  44

Ole Miss has quietly put together a very solid resume as wel after posting bad home losses to Charleston Southern, TCU, and Western Kentucky early in the year.  They also own a neutral court win over Cincinati, they won at Oregon and Arkansas, and swept Florida.  Should they avoid a bad home loss to Vanderbilt to close the regular season, I’d be surprised to see them left out come Selection Sunday.

Blowing Bubbles (0):

Grass is Greener (1):

Texas A&M Aggies (20-9, 11-6 SEC) — RPI:  48 — KenPom:  43 — SOS:  54

No one is more mad at LSU than the Aggies, who now own 0 RPI top 50 wins after LSU’s latest embarrassment.  They are just 6-9 vs. the RPI top 100 as well, so they are now in precarious position despite posting 20 wins and a top half finish in the SEC.  Of hose 6 RPI top 100 wins, only the sweep of LSU come against teams who will be in the Tournament.

West Coast:

Locks (1):  Gonzaga

In the Gym (0):

Blowing Bubbles (1):

BYU Cougars (23-8, 13-5 WCC) — RPI:  40 — KenPom:  26 — SOS:  80

It was mighty nice of Gonzaga to take their final regular season game off and give BYU their lone RPI top 25 (and top 50) win of the season just in time for the close of the year.  With Stanford and Umass falling off, it will likely represent their only win vs. a Tournament team, so the Cougars would be wise to avoid a bad loss in WCC Tournament play.

Grass is Greener (0):


To crunch the numbers, there are 48 “locks” to date, which leaves 20 open spots for the teams among the other three categories.  There are 28 teams currently “on the bubble”, that it to say, they are listed in the “In the Gym”, “Blowing Bubbles”, or “Grass is Greener” categories.  That means there will be eight teams left out of the Tournament from these categories come Selection Sunday, who are your picks to feel “snubbed”?

It is going to be a wild final week in college hoops, enjoy the madness!

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