Breaking down the bubble teams
The season has reached the point where the question "What does my team need to do to make the tournament?" becomes almost a sport unto itself.
The question comes in many forms:
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"How many wins will it take?"
"What if my team loses in the first round of the conference tournament?"
"Will a .500 conference record get my team in?"
"Twenty wins should be automatic, right?"
The simple answer always remains the same: Keep winning. That leaves less and less to chance or to the few elements of subjectivity that sprinkle the selection process.
It is, however, rarely that simple.
That being said, the back end of the at-large pool, affectionately known as the bubble, provided some more clarity this week. Not so much in which teams should be in and which teams should be out, but rather a definition of what each team brings to the table and what might be the best, and most realistic, way to finish the season and outdistance the competition for those last few spots in the NCAA tournament field.
Here's a look at some of the prime bubble players:
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Why they are in: The schedule is good. The Gophers largely challenged themselves all season. There isn't a really bad loss (Hawaii, just outside the top 100, is the worst). This is a top-40 RPI team, and those from power conferences have historically made the tournament.
Why they might not get in: Minnesota still doesn't have a signature win. Chattanooga is the top RPI victory and only top-50 victim.
What likely needs to happen: If the Gophers can't knock off Michigan State on Monday night (that would be that signature win), they had better beat Indiana and Ohio State at home to finish the regular season. Minnesota likely will draw a rematch with the Spartans or Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. A win there might be necessary to protect against surprises in conference tournaments such as the WCC, Conference USA, CAA or Atlantic 10.
Oregon State Beavers
Why they are in: The Beavers are very similar to Minnesota but are playing better right now, with seven straight wins. That recent hot stretch has put Oregon State in a third-place tie in the Pac-12 and been a difference-maker for the profile. That and seven wins against the RPI top 100.
Why they might not get in: Despite an RPI near 30, the Beavers lack a single top-50 win.
What likely needs to happen: Knocking off Arizona State in the season finale would give Oregon State a good win and, likely, a third-place Pac-12 finish. That also would mean a nine-game winning streak, which, this late in the year, would go a long way.
Why they are in: The Cougars also got hot at the right time, winning seven consecutive games, and have three top-50 wins, including one against Gonzaga.
Why they might not get in: The strength of schedule is lacking at 123. Wins against Washington State and Creighton are nice, but might not be enough.
What likely needs to happen: If BYU keeps winning right to the WCC tournament championship game -- and there aren't a bunch of bid stealers emerging -- the chances for a berth should be solid.
Why they are in: The four top-50 RPI wins are more than any of the other bubble teams. The 8-8 record against the top 100 is near the top, too. With two wins over Kentucky, and a good effort Sunday against SEC-leading South Carolina, the Gators have proved they can play.
Why they might not get in: Even with those credentials, the RPI is concerning at 68. Receiving an at-large bid with a number that low would be unprecedented in recent history.
What likely needs to happen: Florida is very much on the fringe. The Gators need at least one win over Vanderbilt or Texas A&M and/or getting to the SEC tournament semifinals to strengthen what is now a tenuous hold on a bid.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Why they are in: The record is gaudy and the Scarlet Knights have largely dominated everyone in the American except Louisville and Connecticut. The win over Georgia still carries some weight, as does the 6-4 mark against the top 100.
Why they might not get in: The schedule has not been good at all. The Lady Bulldogs, Princeton and LSU were the only top-150 nonconference opponents Rutgers faced. The Scarlet Knights are also 0-3 against the Cardinals and Huskies, with an average margin of defeat of 18 points.
What likely needs to happen: An upset of UConn is highly unlikely, but advancing to the American tournament semis and getting another crack at Louisville might help. Rutgers would be extremely vulnerable with any other loss.
Why they are not in: The Bluejays have six losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100.
Why they could be in: The Bluejays also have six wins against teams inside the RPI top 50. Somehow, Creighton has managed not to play a single team all year currently ranked from 51-100 in the RPI, so all of the top-100 wins are top-50 wins. The Bluejays also have victories over Minnesota and Oregon State.
What likely needs to happen: The current three-game winning streak helps, especially the win over St. John's. A golden opportunity exists to make it a six-game streak before the end of the regular season. A final run in the Big East tournament on top of that would make things look good.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Why they are not in: The Chippewas have just two top-100 wins and have two sub-100 RPI losses.
Why they could be in: Central Michigan really challenged itself in the nonconference season, and the SOS is solid. The RPI of 33 would be among the best not to receive an at-large bid.
What likely needs to happen: Anything short of a run of the table until the MAC tournament title game likely would not be enough. Of course, as the co-leaders of the conference right now with Bowling Green, an automatic bid is still very much there for the taking.
Why they are not in: Other than overall record (20-6) and their performance on the road, the Wildcats' résumé is thin. They have one top-50 win and are only 3-5 against the top 100. To have played less than a third of your schedule against the top 100 doesn't help garner strong consideration.
Why they could be in: Like Central Michigan, the RPI is in the top 40. Although it has happened that teams in that range get left out, it doesn't happen often. Villanova's RPI will at least get the Wildcats into the discussion.
What likely needs to happen: This is a smart, well-coached team that still has a regular-season opportunity against DePaul. The Wildcats need a win there and a good showing in the Big East tournament. Then they have to hope that everything else goes according to plan around the country.