College Basketball Bubble Watch
Selection Sunday cram session officially begins
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Tuesday, March 11.
Remember when you were in school? Remember the weekends? The days would be beautiful and the time would disappear, and you'd forget your worries and enjoy every moment. Good times. And then Sunday night would come around and you'd sit down at your laptop and you'd realize you have an exam you forgot about and a term paper due in two days, and that sudden frantic dread would make you feel sick to your stomach?
That's basically where we are in the Bubble Watch timeline: Sunday night, with work to do.
February and early March happen in a blink. There are 10 league games to play, then five, then one more week, and then you look up and the regular season -- and, for the first batch of mid-major leagues, the conference tournament -- is over. Being on the bubble with nothing more than the conference tourney to play is like a Sunday-night exam cram: Even if you do everything right, you might still be out of time.
Because that's the thing about the conference tournaments, especially for bubble teams with work left to do: It's never exactly clear how much the committee will take them into account. Five years ago, when a team's last 12 games were a formalized selection criterion, a deep run into the conference tournament was a plainly valuable thing. Now it's just another couple of games. For some teams, those games might make all the difference. For others, the hole might be too deep. Or maybe the committee, now gathering in Indianapolis and watching conference tournaments around the clock, simply won't be impressed for any number of eye-related reasons. Maybe it is too late after all. You never really know.
Still, there will almost certainly be at least one team that plays its way in without winning the automatic bid this week -- one student who should have started studying sooner but is smart enough to pull off an A-minus anyway. Maybe you were that student; maybe your team is that team. The clock begins ticking now.
Note: In that spirit, Bubble Watch will now be updating on an ongoing basis until Selection Sunday -- especially later in the week and this weekend, as results pour in. So bookmark the page, leave it in an open tab in your browser, and refresh it frequently -- or however you choose to use this vast and wonderful Internet we call home -- to keep up on all of the developments going forward.
Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through March 12.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Dayton, Saint Joseph's|
Good luck figuring out what to do with Saint Louis in your tournament bracket. On one hand, the Billikens play great defense and win close games -- exactly what they did in Sunday's last-second triumph over UMass, and exactly what you're looking for in a deep-bracket tourney pick. On the other, Saint Louis hasn't played its best basketball of late, and one too many one-possession games is all it takes to end a tournament bid early. Choose your own adventure. In any case, congratulations are in order. On Saturday, George Washington survived Fordham, 70-67, thanks in large part to guard Maurice Creek. Creek finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, and he also forced the two key turnovers late in the game that allowed the Colonials to slip past the sub-200 RPI Rams. Avoiding that ugly loss was the last little icing on GW's cake; an upset in the A-10 tourney can't keep them from dancing now. And Creek's story -- the drastically and frequently injured former Indiana guard who transferred this season and finally made good on his huge potential -- is one that deserves more attention in the weeks to come.
Dayton [22-9 (10-6), RPI: 40, SOS: 48] Now here's a team that made a late-season impression. In its final three games, Dayton sandwiched a win at Saint Louis between home victories over UMass and Richmond. For much of January, even allowing for injuries that caused a four-game slide, it was hard to take the Flyers' at-large hopes seriously. But now Dayton has a road win at SLU and a neutral-court victory over Gonzaga (and, to a less-impressive extent, Cal), which are nice distinctions to hold up next to top-50 RPI and SOS numbers. Better yet, it makes those bad losses in December and January look uncharacteristic rather than telling.
Saint Joseph's [21-9 (11-5), RPI: 48, SOS: 68] Two weeks ago, we talked about the different kinds of "work to do" -- teams that needed to maintain their status by avoiding bad losses, and teams that needed to go above and beyond to get on the right side of the bubble by Selection Sunday. Saint Joseph's falls into the former category. The Watch hesitates to say the Hawks should be in, given their season-ending home loss to La Salle -- not to mention their so-so strength of schedule numbers and lack of truly impressive wins. But as long as St. Joe's doesn't suffer a truly horrific loss in the A-10 tournament -- unlikely, given their top-four seed and double-bye status -- their body of work will probably be just good enough to sneak in.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Pittsburgh, Florida State|
The ACC remains straightforward heading into the conference tourney this week. There are just two viable bubble teams in the mix: Pitt, which is flailing its way into the tournament; and Florida State, which got nothing out of Sunday's home game against Syracuse and has to do some serious work in Greensboro, N.C., to earn a hard look from the committee.
Pittsburgh [23-8 (11-7), RPI: 41, SOS: 84] Is it overstatement to say Pitt's season hung in the balance Saturday? Not really: A loss at Clemson would have added yet another so-so defeat to the body of work of a team with just one top-50 win, a 6-8 mark against the top 100, a nonconference strength of schedule ranked 238 and a 3-4 mark over its past seven games. And the Panthers were very close to losing. It took a last-second steal and score by guard Josh Newkirk to force overtime in Littlejohn Coliseum, and took the length of that overtime for Pitt to finally pull away. For most of the season, even as it lacked marquee wins -- and kept missing opportunities to seal them -- Jamie Dixon's team was in fine tournament shape because it didn't have bad losses, either. A loss to Clemson, in addition to last week's home losses to FSU and NC State, would have totally tarnished that impression. As-is, Pitt might be able to avoid a bad loss in Greensboro and get in the NCAA tournament as a 10- or 11-seed, but there are no guarantees. What a weird season.
Florida State [18-12 (9-9), RPI: 58, SOS: 47] The Seminoles are decidedly of the late-night cram-session bubble variety; anything less than a deep run into the ACC tournament will probably doom them to the NIT. First up on Thursday? Maryland.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Xavier, Providence, Georgetown, St John's|
The Big East may be the only conference whose makeup hasn't changed in any meaningful way from the first edition of the Watch to the one you're reading right now. Villanova and Creighton have been locks for months; everyone else has spent the past six weeks scrapping for bids. It's gotten so bad the Watch had to make a "Great Gatsby" reference in Friday's Big East blurb, just to spice things up a little bit. (It didn't work.)
Xavier [20-11 (10-8), RPI: 47, SOS: 40] We were moving toward locking up Xavier after last week's win over Creighton; now we've put it back in the work to do range. What gives? A loss to Seton Hall is what. Thursday's home loss to Villanova wasn't exactly a bad one -- Villanova has lost to exactly two teams (Syracuse and Creighton) all season -- but it was a missed chance all the same. Now the Musketeers are averaging a No. 11 seed in most of the bracket projections we track, which they have to beat Marquette in the first round of the Big East tournament -- at least -- to avoid spending Friday, Saturday and Sunday perspiring heavily.
Providence [20-11 (10-8), RPI: 54, SOS: 77] You're on the bubble with one game left in the regular-season. Here's the good news: You have a chance against a marquee, top-10 RPI program. Here's the bad news: It's at Creighton on senior night. On Saturday, the poor Friars were swept away by the force of nature that is Doug McDermott, who scored 45 points on 25 shots, broke the 3,000-point barrier, and turned his final home game in Omaha, Neb., into an extended Broadway curtain call. That leaves Providence with major ground to make up heading into the tourney this weekend, starting with its opening-round matchup against St. John's on Thursday. The Friars are right on the cut line, and at the mercy of a fickle committee, if they don't do something big soon.
Georgetown [17-13 (8-10), RPI: 55, SOS: 9] Now that the regular-season is over, we can officially give the Georgetown Hoyas this year's "Weirdest/Most Eclectic Bubble Resume" award. John Thompson III's team has a bunch of really quality wins, including neutral court victories over Michigan State and Kansas State and last week's convincing home win over Creighton. They also have a neutral-court loss to Northeastern in November (which is weird, because usually Georgetown loses to teams like Northeastern in March, heyo!) and a Xavier-esque sweep to Seton Hall. The Hoyas' RPI is borderline, but their schedule is top-10. The whole thing is just weird. A loss to DePaul in their first Big East tourney game would be a disaster. They need two wins to get into the tournament -- unless the committee especially favors the big wins and the schedule, which is totally possible. Your mileage may vary.
St John's [20-11 (10-8), RPI: 57, SOS: 52] Nothing like a little bubble drama at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, eh? That's the promise of St. John's first-round matchup with Providence on Thursday, but the reality is the Friars are much closer to a tournament bid than Steve Lavin's team. The Red Storm are 1-7 against the RPI top 50 and 6-9 against the top 100 with mediocre metrics all around. Lots to do between now and Sunday.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Nebraska, Minnesota|
The Big Ten's two remaining bubble teams were big winners Sunday in vastly different ways. Nebraska's win over Wisconsin validated the Cornhuskers' late-charging NCAA tournament hopes and, for that matter, the whole breadth of Tim Miles' fledgling program. It was as good as a good win gets. Minnesota's win over Penn State was more of the good-non-loss variety, but it was a non-loss the Gophers desperately needed all the same.
Nebraska [19-11 (11-7), RPI: 35, SOS: 26] Nebraska is hardly a lock after Sunday's win over Wisconsin, though you can forgive the Cornhuskers for celebrating like it. On Sunday, a sold-out crowd of nearly 16,000 at Nebraska's brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena obeyed Tim Miles' request to stand the entire 40 minutes against Wisconsin -- "No-Sit Sunday," it was called -- and the result was a 77-68 win over a Badgers team that had a shot at a No. 1 seed coming in. Program-wise, that's a win fans will never forget. Bubble-wise, it's the culmination of a hard-charging effort that has Nebraska on the cusp of its first NCAA tournament since 1998. We didn't have this team on our radar at all until Feb. 16's win at Michigan State. Now its profile looks better than many others on the bubble. What a season.
Minnesota [19-12 (8-10), RPI: 49, SOS: 5] The Gophers, for what it's worth, have also beaten Wisconsin on their own floor, though, that win came back when the Badgers were stumbling their way through an uncharacteristic January. (A week later, Wisconsin would lose at home to Northwestern. Still trying to figure that one out.) Handling business against Penn State on Sunday was nice, but they'll have to do it again in four days in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, and then some, if they want to get out of the cut-line mixer before Selection Sunday.
|Teams that should be in: Colorado, Arizona State|
Work left to do: Stanford, California
We've had some dramatic turnarounds in Bubbleville this season, but none comes close to Oregon's. On Feb. 16, the Ducks were 3-8 in Pac-12 play, not guarding anyone and apparently headed to the NIT. Three weeks later, they are a lock for the NCAA tournament. What happened? Seven straight conference wins happened, which turned that 3-8 stain into a perfectly respectable 10-8 mark, including a win at UCLA and, best of all, Saturday's seven-point win over Arizona. All of a sudden, the Ducks are 11-8 against the top 100 and 2-2 against the Top 25 with a top-30 RPI and top-25 strength of schedule. There's nothing to do with Oregon now but lock it up. The Watch admits: It did not see that coming.
Colorado [21-10 (10-8), RPI: 30, SOS: 12] After Saturday's one-point loss at Cal, there may be slight reason for concern. The committee still might look at Colorado's record without Spencer Dinwiddie -- it's 7-8, including the Washington game when he was injured -- and raise an eyebrow. The Watch still thinks the Buffaloes' overall profile is strong enough to overcome those concerns barring anything disastrous in the Pac-12 tournament. A tourney-opening loss to USC on Wednesday might qualify.
Arizona State [21-10 (10-8), RPI: 45, SOS: 56] If there's a way to argue against the Sun Devils' résumé, it's to point out their relative lack of success away from their own building. ASU's best road wins are at Cal, UNLV and DePaul (in that order); none of its top-50 wins (Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford) came on the road; and its nonconference strength of schedule ranks 249th, which hardly helps bolster a team's road-warrior credentials. Saturday's loss at Oregon State fit into this narrative, too. But we think ASU should be in for a reason: Relative to the rest of the bubble, those arguments aren't all that compelling.
Stanford [19-11 (10-8), RPI: 43, SOS: 15] Stanford managed to avoid a home loss to Utah on Saturday, and the Associated Press recap focused mainly on the Cardinals' seeding in the Pac-12 tournament. Their NCAA tournament resume is of more pressing concern, but holding on for a W put the Cardinal at 10-8 in conference play with good-enough RPI and noncon schedule numbers and an excellent strength-of-schedule figure. A win at UConn doesn't look as good as it once did, maybe, but a win at Oregon is starting to look better. Stanford is on the bubble but should get in.
California [19-12 (10-8), RPI: 52, SOS: 31] Cal's profile strikes the Watch as better than a handful of other bubble teams': The Bears have two top-50 road wins (at Stanford, at Oregon) and a victory over Arizona, which is more than we can say for some. And losses to USC and UC Santa Barbara are bad, sure, but lots of teams have a bad loss or two, right? But on the floor, the Bears rank just 68th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which makes it hard to get too worked up at the possibility that they might miss the tournament if they don't win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament this week. They've been OK but rarely more.
|Work left to do: Tennessee, Arkansas|
We've officially taken Missouri off the page. It's a shame: The Tigers have two of the best guards in the country (Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown) in the same backcourt, but they've defended so poorly and played so sporadically down the stretch they're probably not going to get in the tournament. The latest confirmation came Saturday, when the Tigers desperately needed a win at Tennessee to put a good foot forward, and instead got drilled 72-45. They'll need to beat Florida in their half of the SEC tournament bracket to get back in the conversation.
Tennessee [20-11 (11-7), RPI: 46, SOS: 16] Can we call Tennessee's drubbing of Missouri on Saturday an eye test special? Margin of victory doesn't factor in the RPI, and it isn't a tournament criteria in any way, but it would have been impossible for a committee member to watch the Vols' 72-45 win and not be at least a little bit impressed. UT has had its fair share of disappointing results this season, and the Vols have found themselves lacking quality wins after getting swept by Florida and lacking a return game against Kentucky. But they might make up for that -- and maybe then some -- in the SEC tournament later this week.
Arkansas [21-10 (10-8), RPI: 53, SOS: 89] Speaking of the eye test, Arkansas did not exactly show well Saturday at Alabama. The Razorbacks lost 83-58 to the Crimson Tide, the kind of blowout that might give the committee pause after Arkansas' leap into at-large status following Feb. 27's road win at Kentucky. Work to do, to be sure.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Work left to do: BYU, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana Tech|
On Monday -- for the second time in a week -- Gonzaga steamrolled rival Saint Mary's. The latest edition, a 70-54 West Coast Conference semis win, allowed us to finally feel safe about locking in the Zags. After Tuesday's WCC final, a 75-64 Gonzaga win, the Bulldogs are the WCC's auto-bid representative anyway.
BYU [23-11 (13-5), RPI: 32, SOS: 39] The Cougars, on the other hand, have some sweating to do -- but we think they'll probably end up OK. Sure, the WCC finale was not BYU's finest showing. Dave Rose's team was blown out in the first half and in too deep a hole in the second to truly make the title game close, and that came a night after barely surviving against San Francisco in the semis. But BYU still has its top-35 RPI, it's top-40 overall schedule, and a top-five nonconference schedule (as of Tuesday night), as well as wins at Stanford and over Texas on a neutral court (and a regular-season split with Gonzaga). The bad losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Portland are the only things that really call this resume into question. The committee loves great nonconference schedules, so it should be willing to overlook the Cougars' stumbles and reward them in kind, on Selection Sunday.
Southern Mississippi [26-5 (13-3), RPI: 34, SOS: 162] Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are Conference USA's only hopes of at-large tournament bids, and those hopes are exceedingly slim. The merits of the Golden Eagles' profile may be limited to their top-40 RPI, but give credit where it's due: They've had to avoid bad losses left and right just to stay in the conversation, and they did so in advance of the C-USA tournament. Their final regular-season game was Thursday; they'll wait seven full days before they meet the winner of UTEP and East Carolina/Texas-San Antonio.
Louisiana Tech [25-6 (13-3), RPI: 65, SOS: 247] Southern Miss has the shiny RPI; Louisiana Tech, the C-USA tourney's top seed, has a 102-98 win at Oklahoma. That's a huge marker -- plenty of bubble teams with much deeper resumes don't have a road win nearly as good -- and it makes the Bulldogs worth keeping in mind as we cast about for any and all mid-major at-large candidates. As with Southern Miss, it might take a run to the final for Louisiana Tech to get more than a passing at-large glance.