Bubble Watch: Strength in the Big Ten, but not in numbers

The Big Ten's Bubble Watch fortunes have boiled down to this: Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan are locks. Penn State and Nebraska, meanwhile, have not yet played their way into the field.

Naturally, this could change at next weekend's Big Ten tournament, where the Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers could each go on a committee-wowing tear at Madison Square Garden.

They'll certainly have opportunities to do so. Any game on a neutral floor against a member of the league's aforementioned big four will count as a Quadrant 1 opportunity.

But if those chips don't fall in either of their favor, the consequences could be something close to historic. Putting four teams into the NCAA tournament would represent the smallest figure recorded by the Big Ten since 2008.

True, the seeds earned by the conference's top teams are likely to be highly impressive. The Big Ten might actually prefer this "few but proud" approach more than its showing last season, when it flooded the middle of the bracket with seven teams seeded between Nos. 4 and 9.

Still, a four-team Big Ten contingent would have measurable consequences for the rest of the field. Most notably, it creates a bid vacuum that, this season, the ACC and SEC are happily rushing in to occupy.

It didn't used to be this way, and, very likely, it won't be like this next year. Wisconsin, barring an improbable run in the Big Ten tournament, is set to miss out on the tourney for the first time since 1998. Preseason top-25 teams such as Northwestern and Minnesota haven't played to expectations.

The Big Ten will send a small but potent contingent to the NCAA tournament, and USC, Syracuse, St. Bonaventure or some other team stands to benefit.

(Included for each bubble team is its ranking in four metrics: RPI; ESPN's strength of schedule (SOS); Basketball Power Index (BPI), which is a predictor of a team's performance going forward; and strength of record (SOR), which is a measure of a team's accomplishment based on how difficult its win-loss record is to achieve.)

ACC | Big 12| Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | American | Others



Virginia (25-2, 14-1 ACC)
(BPI: 2 | SOS: 20 | SOR: 1 | RPI: 1)

Duke (23-5, 11-4 ACC)
(BPI: 4 | SOS: 18 | SOR: 7 | RPI: 4)

Clemson (20-7, 9-6 ACC)
(BPI: 17 | SOS: 19 | SOR: 15 | RPI: 9)

North Carolina (22-7, 11-5 ACC)
(BPI: 8 | SOS: 2 | SOR: 5 | RPI: 5)

Should be in

Florida State (19-8, 8-7 ACC)
(BPI: 29 | SOS: 48 | SOR: 26 | RPI: 41)

With road games upcoming at NC State and Clemson, Florida State can improve its seed line with one win, or perhaps even two. The Seminoles close the season at home against Boston College.

FSU appears headed for a 10-8 or possibly 9-9 finish in ACC play. Given its wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, as well as a road victory at Florida, this team's on a trajectory to land solidly in the middle of the bracket.

Miami (19-8, 8-7 ACC)
(BPI: 32 | SOS: 56 | SOR: 31 | RPI: 29)

Miami is cruising toward a safe spot in the heart of the field of 68. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, their projected seed is unlikely to improve much, unless one or both of the following two things happen:

First, they could win at North Carolina next week. Second, they could score a neutral-floor win against any opponent in the top half of the league at the ACC tournament. Any such win would qualify as a Quadrant 1 victory, but a win over the Tar Heels would obviously improve Miami's profile and potentially boost it higher than the 8 vs. 9 game.

Virginia Tech (20-8, 9-6 ACC)
(BPI: 26 | SOS: 49 | SOR: 23 | RPI: 53)

The Hokies are seeking their first NCAA tournament win in 11 years and they appear to be headed for a relatively safe spot around the No. 10 seed line. True, if Virginia Tech were somehow to lose each of its remaining three games -- at home against Louisville and Duke, on the road against Miami -- things could get a bit more interesting.

But Bubble Watch says let's see this glass as half-full. Wins over Virginia and North Carolina aren't going anywhere, and a worst-case scenario of 9-9 in the ACC should get the job done this year. Just don't ask Syracuse about its experience at 10-8 last year.

Work to do

NC State (19-9, 9-6 ACC)
(BPI: 52 | SOS: 40 | SOR: 30 | RPI: 55)

NC State's opponents during its three-game winning streak (Syracuse, Wake Forest and Boston College) won't enhance its profile too much, but it provides a safety cushion and keeps alive the possibility the Wolfpack could finish 12-6 in ACC play.

They finish with home games against Florida State and Louisville with a visit to Georgia Tech sandwiched in between. That's a three-game slate bereft of Quadrant 1 opportunities, but taking care of business could potentially move NC State into single-digit seed territory.

Louisville (18-10, 8-7 ACC)
(BPI: 36 | SOS: 51 | SOR: 48 | RPI: 50)

Bubble Watch feels safe in saying this has been the worst few days for Louisville basketball since, well, September. It has been a tough stretch, marked by a 17-point home loss to North Carolina, the disappearance of the 2013 national title banner and a 26-point home defeat at Duke.

The Cardinals' bid is now in serious jeopardy. They finish with road tests at Virginia Tech and NC State and a home game against Virginia. Quadrant 1 opportunities all, but can Louisville seize any of them?

Syracuse (18-10, 7-8 ACC)
(BPI: 50 | SOS: 57 | SOR: 54 | RPI: 37)

Syracuse is no stranger to its current position of precarious bubble placement. A four-point loss at home to North Carolina didn't change those fundamentals the way a win most certainly would have.

The Orange get two more bites at the Quadrant 1 apple, in the form of a road game at Duke and a visit from Clemson. Those two games and the ACC tournament give Syracuse an 11th-hour chance to improve a profile whose best wins are at Miami and at Louisville.

Big 12


Kansas (22-6, 11-4 Big 12)
(BPI: 7 | SOS: 17 | SOR: 8 | RPI: 6)

Texas Tech (22-6, 10-5 Big 12)
(BPI: 11 | SOS: 47 | SOR: 11 | RPI: 13)

West Virginia (20-8, 9-6 Big 12)
(BPI: 9 | SOS: 25 | SOR: 17 | RPI: 25)

Should be in

TCU (19-9, 7-8 Big 12)
(BPI: 18 | SOS: 14 | SOR: 22 | RPI: 21)

The Horned Frogs finish with a homestand against Baylor and Kansas State before playing their season finale on the road at Texas Tech. That, plus the Quadrant 1 feast known as the Big 12 tournament, will give them a shot at a modest boost in their projected No. 9 seed.

On paper, a win in Lubbock still would give this profile a lift, especially with a lack of notable road wins. Bubble Watch and the selection committee alike will be watching to see how healthy and formidable the Red Raiders are by the time that game is played.

Work to do

Oklahoma (16-11, 6-9 Big 12)
(BPI: 42 | SOS: 1 | SOR: 32 | RPI: 31)

There has been no change since Bubble Watch last checked in on the Sooners. The team that was seeded as one of the top 16 entrants in the field by the selection committee in its bracket preview just 12 days ago could conceivably miss the tournament entirely.

Having lost six straight, OU wraps up with a visit to Baylor sandwiched in between home games against Kansas State and Iowa State. Two wins would figure to keep the Sooners in the field. One win would put Oklahoma at 7-11 in conference play and, depending on Big 12 tournament happenings, could give the committee a very interesting challenge.

Kansas State (20-8, 9-6 Big 12)
(BPI: 45 | SOS: 44 | SOR: 21 | RPI: 54)

The game the Wildcats are about to play at Oklahoma represents a fork in the road for two teams traveling in different directions. K-State has won three in a row and the Sooners represent a Quadrant 1 test despite their current struggles.

As an inhabitant of Joe Lunardi's list of "last four byes," Kansas State is in the field but not by a huge margin. A win in Norman would provide a little breathing space, though a victory at TCU in the following game would furnish even more.

Baylor (17-11, 7-8 Big 12)
(BPI: 37 | SOS: 9 | SOR: 40 | RPI: 57)

Home wins over Kansas and Texas Tech and a neutral-court win over Creighton are the highlights of Baylor's résumé. There's also a season sweep of Texas. The Bears' five-game winning streak ended with an 11-point loss to West Virginia, but that doesn't do much to harm or boost their position either way.

A potential Quadrant 1 reward awaits Baylor in the form of a road game at TCU. For a team hanging around the bottom of the bracket to get an opportunity like this is the selection equivalent of an escalator -- if Baylor can win in Fort Worth.

Texas (16-12, 6-9 Big 12)
(BPI: 41 | SOS: 3 | SOR: 41 | RPI: 52)

Stop Bubble Watch if you've heard this before: This Big 12 team may or may not be in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, but membership in nation's strongest conference gives it plenty of chances to play its way into the bracket. It's true!

Right now, Texas is on Lunardi's "first four out" list. A win at Kansas next week changes that equation significantly. One at home in the season finale against West Virginia could help a bit in its own right, though not as much as one (much less two) against similar competition on a neutral floor at the Big 12 tournament.

Big East


Villanova (25-3, 12-3 Big East)
(BPI: 1 | SOS: 43 | SOR: 4 | RPI: 2)

Xavier (25-4, 13-3 Big East)
(BPI: 13 | SOS: 21 | SOR: 2 | RPI: 3)

Should be in

Butler (19-10, 9-7 Big East)
(BPI: 22 | SOS: 24 | SOR: 33 | RPI: 33)

After dispatching Creighton at home (thanks in part to 26 points from Kelan Martin), the Bulldogs will finish the season with two Quadrant 1 games. Road tests at St. John's and Seton Hall will furnish the means to climb up out of the neighborhood of the middle seeds.

The good news for Butler is that said neighborhood could well be the worst-case scenario. One or even two losses on the road against the Johnnies and/or the Pirates are unlikely to hurt the Bulldogs in the eyes of the committee.

Creighton (19-9, 8-7 Big East)
(BPI: 23 | SOS: 46 | SOR: 35 | RPI: 38)

At the risk of oversimplifying everything that has transpired with Creighton since November, the Bluejays now face a one-game season. Win at home against Villanova, and improve your seed from a projected spot on the No. 7 or No. 8 line to something a bit higher.

The alternative is a loss to the Wildcats and, well, very likely a spot on the No. 7 or No. 8 line. This assumes, of course, Creighton wins at home against DePaul. If that happens, the result of a season finale on the road at Marquette is unlikely to move Creighton's seed significantly, win or lose.

Seton Hall (19-9, 8-7 Big East)
(BPI: 33 | SOS: 33 | SOR: 29 | RPI: 22)

It came amid odd circumstances, but Seton Hall's victory at Providence was important. With wins at Louisville, Butler and, now, Providence, the Pirates have an impressive set of true road victories to go along with an 89-79 win over Texas Tech on a neutral floor.

The Pirates have steadied themselves after a four-game losing streak in the beginning of the month. They are in line for a safe middle seed, but they might do even better than that depending on the outcomes of home games against the Bulldogs and Villanova to close the regular season.

Providence (17-11, 8-7 Big East)
(BPI: 78 | SOS: 34 | SOR: 55 | RPI: 35)

The Friars will be glad if they don't see Seton Hall again. The Pirates swept the season series by a combined score of 162-134.

Providence visits Xavier next week, giving it one last regular-season chance to considerably improve its seed. A win there could well be bigger than any single neutral-floor outcome at the Big East tournament.

Work to do

Marquette (16-11, 7-8 Big East)
(BPI: 44 | SOS: 7 | SOR: 43 | RPI: 58)

Marquette is still lurking on the fringes of this discussion. Everything would have to fall just right to get an at-large bid, but it's at least conceivable.

The Golden Eagles need to win on the road against DePaul and Georgetown, setting up a regular-season finale at home against Creighton (and a potential season sweep of the Bluejays). Win those three games, and a Golden Eagles team with a 10-8 Big East record will take their chances to improve their résumé in the Big East tournament.

Big Ten


Michigan State (27-3, 15-2 Big Ten)
(BPI: 5 | SOS: 62 | SOR: 3 | RPI: 15)

Purdue (25-5, 14-3 Big Ten)
(BPI: 3 | SOS: 31 | SOR: 6 | RPI: 11)

Ohio State (23-7, 14-3 Big Ten)
(BPI: 15 | SOS: 42 | SOR: 14 | RPI: 20)

Michigan (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten)
(BPI: 19 | SOS: 54 | SOR: 12 | RPI: 28)

Work to do

Penn State (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten)
(BPI: 27 | SOS: 63 | SOR: 64 | RPI: 75)

Even if the Nittany Lions lose at Nebraska on Sunday, it won't hurt their chances of doing enough good work at the Big Ten tournament to play their way into the field of 68. Still, it's fair to say the game looms larger for PSU than it does for Nebraska. This is a Quadrant 1 opportunity for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State owns a season sweep over Ohio State, but it lacks wins over any other opponent that will or may earn an at-large bid -- with the possible exception of Nebraska.

Nebraska (21-9, 12-5 Big Ten)
(BPI: 61 | SOS: 60 | SOR: 34 | RPI: 60)

Bubble Watch swears the Cornhuskers have been on Lunardi's "next four out" list since the 3-point shot was introduced in 1986-87. Fine, maybe it hasn't been that long, but their profile consistency has been noteworthy.

Guess what: Nebraska likely will stay right there until the Big Ten tournament. Winning or losing at home against Penn State in the season finale likely won't change the equation much for the Huskers.



Arizona (22-6, 12-3 Pac-12)
(BPI: 20 | SOS: 69 | SOR: 24 | RPI: 18)

Should be in

Arizona State (19-8, 7-8 Pac-12)
(BPI: 43 | SOS: 67 | SOR: 50 | RPI: 27)

Watch the Sun Devils rightly get a much better seed than would be expected from a team that's under .500 in major-conference play in late February. (ASU is 7-8 in the Pac-12.) Wins at Kansas and on a neutral-floor over Xavier will continue to work to Arizona State's benefit.

Bobby Hurley's team appears headed for a No. 6 seed or something close to it, as the Devils' remaining schedule (at Oregon State and at home against Cal and Stanford) doesn't figure to have much impact on that bracket position either way.

Work to do

USC (20-9, 11-5 Pac-12)
(BPI: 51 | SOS: 81 | SOR: 63 | RPI: 43)

Andy Enfield's team won at Colorado, and now an even bigger challenge awaits at Utah. Lunardi has the Trojans as one of the last four teams in the field, so a Quadrant 1 win in Salt Lake City would solidify or possibly even elevate that position.

On the other hand, a loss at Utah would expose USC to a higher degree of danger heading into its season finale at home against UCLA. Ordinarily a loss at home to the Bruins wouldn't hurt a profile, but being swept in the season series by a fellow bubble team isn't the best look heading into the postseason.

UCLA (19-9, 10-6 Pac-12)
(BPI: 62 | SOS: 66 | SOR: 57 | RPI: 47)

For a while now, the Bruins have been mainstays on Lundardi's "first four out" list. Losing at Utah kept Steve Alford's team right there.

In at least one respect, however, UCLA is fortunate. The Bruins end the season with a Quadrant 1 opportunity with a visit to the Galen Center to play USC.

Utah (18-9, 10-6 Pac-12)
(BPI: 69 | SOS: 65 | SOR: 59 | RPI: 48)

The Utes' win over UCLA in Salt Lake City sets up what looks like a second consecutive bubble showdown at the Huntsman Center, this time against USC.

Then again, home games against the Bruins and the Trojans don't qualify as Quadrant 1 chances. So, it appears Larry Krystkowiak's team will have work to do at the Pac-12 tournament to play its way into the field, even in the (increasingly likely) event that Utah finishes conference play at 12-6.

Dropped out

Washington (18-10, 8-7 Pac-12)
(BPI: 115 | SOS: 77 | SOR: 73 | RPI: 45)



Auburn (24-4, 12-3 SEC)
(BPI: 14 | SOS: 64 | SOR: 9 | RPI: 7)

Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 SEC)
(BPI: 16 | SOS: 6 | SOR: 10 | RPI: 14)

Kentucky (19-9, 8-7 SEC)
(BPI: 30 | SOS: 8 | SOR: 20 | RPI: 16)

Should be in

Missouri (18-10, 8-7 SEC)
(BPI: 48 | SOS: 55 | SOR: 51 | RPI: 36)

Amid continuing speculation that Michael Porter Jr. might yet return to action, Cuonzo Martin's guys are happy they built their "body of work" so successfully before this week. Losing at home to Ole Miss (even if it went to overtime) is as about as bad as it gets profile-wise in 2018's unusually strong SEC.

Still, the key words there are "unusually strong SEC." One loss at home to the Rebels isn't the end of the world, and, anyway, the league is notably generous in giving its members seed-improving chances this season. Look no further than the Tigers' next game, at Kentucky. Win there, and that projected No. 7 seed could go higher.

Florida (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
(BPI: 34 | SOS: 16 | SOR: 46 | RPI: 63)

The Gators have lost three straight games, but they have the perfect opportunity to recast that losing streak as ancient history. It's all Quadrant 1 from here on out, with home games against Auburn and Kentucky bracketing a visit to Alabama.

A run of top-quality opponents at the end of the season gives UF something close to a win-win proposition. No, losing all three (and going to the SEC tournament on a six-game losing streak) would not be good. But anything short of that will give Florida at least one more value-added bullet point on a résumé featuring impressive road wins (Kentucky, Texas A&M) and neutral-court wins (Gonzaga, Cincinnati).

Alabama (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
(BPI: 46 | SOS: 28 | SOR: 52 | RPI: 30)

Upcoming home games against Arkansas and Florida wouldn't figure to budge a projected No. 7 or No. 8 seed too much either way, but the Tide might be about to catch a break anyway.

Texas A&M may not look like a juggernaut at the moment, but the Aggies clean up well on paper, even in late February. A Quadrant 1 win in College Station on the last day of the season could well impress the committee.

Arkansas (19-9, 8-7 SEC)
(BPI: 39 | SOS: 53 | SOR: 36 | RPI: 34)

The Razorbacks had a shot at a good win over Kentucky, but the Wildcats are suddenly mighty on the offensive glass and left Fayetteville with an impressive 87-72 victory. That likely leaves Arkansas right where it already was, somewhere around the No. 9 line.

With games remaining at Alabama, at home against Auburn and at Missouri, the Hogs can most certainly improve that projected seed. Better still for Arkansas fans, it's not clear that any combination of losses there would harm that bracket position appreciably.

Texas A&M (17-11, 6-9 SEC)
(BPI: 38 | SOS: 5 | SOR: 37 | RPI: 24)

The Aggies own possibly the shakiest projected No. 9 seed in recent selection history.

Yes, Texas A&M has a neutral-floor win over West Virginia and true road victories at USC and Auburn. However, it's also 6-9 in the SEC, has lost three straight and is about to play two of its last three games on the road.

Is the committee really going to hand a No. 9 seed to a team that finishes the regular season, say, 18-13 overall and 7-11 in conference play?

Work to do

Mississippi State (20-8, 8-7 SEC)
(BPI: 56 | SOS: 68 | SOR: 44 | RPI: 62)

No team has come and gone from Bubble Watch this season like the Bulldogs. Here they are again, courtesy of a notably emphatic 93-81 win at Texas A&M.

There's still work to be done -- MSU finishes the season with home games against South Carolina and Tennessee and a visit to LSU. A win against the Volunteers would give the Bulldogs a Quadrant 1 chip and assure them of finishing .500 or better in SEC play.

Georgia (15-12, 6-9 SEC)
(BPI: 84 | SOS: 13 | SOR: 60 | RPI: 65)

Counting locks, Georgia is the 10th SEC team represented in Bubble Watch. These are the best of times in the SEC.

The home contest the Bulldogs will play against Texas A&M will rate out as a Quadrant 1 game. A win there plus one at Tennessee in the season finale would make this long-shot candidacy for an at-large bid less of a long shot.



Cincinnati (24-4, 13-2 AAC)
(BPI: 6 | SOS: 80 | SOR: 13 | RPI: 12)

Wichita State (22-5, 12-3 AAC)
(BPI: 12 | SOS: 76 | SOR: 19 | RPI: 17)

Should be in

Houston (21-6, 11-4 AAC)
(BPI: 24 | SOS: 70 | SOR: 25 | RPI: 19)

Giving up a 13-point lead and losing at Memphis wasn't the best night at the office for the Cougars, but it has been a long, long time since this program had to worry about the seed it will get from its safe at-large bid. All in all, Kelvin Sampson will take this situation.

UH wraps up the regular season with games against East Carolina, SMU and Connecticut. Absent a win against a Cincinnati and/or a Wichita State at the American tournament, the Cougars' might not move much above or below the No. 7 line.

Dropped out

Temple (15-12, 7-8 AAC)
(BPI: 83 | SOS: 27 | SOR: 67 | RPI: 40)



Gonzaga (26-4, 16-1 WCC)
(BPI: 10 | SOS: 114 | SOR: 16 | RPI: 46)

Rhode Island (22-4, 14-1 A-10)
(BPI: 28 | SOS: 85 | SOR: 18 | RPI: 8)

Should be in

Saint Mary's (26-4, 15-2 WCC)
(BPI: 21 | SOS: 235 | SOR: 39 | RPI: 32)

Randy Bennett's team is likely to finish 16-2 in WCC play. Depending on how Gonzaga fares in its season finale at BYU, that might be good enough for a share of the regular-season title.

A third meeting with the Bulldogs in the conference tournament title game would give the Gaels a chance to nudge their seed upward. Absent such a win, however, SMC is probably looking at something close to a No. 8 seed in the field of 68.

Nevada (24-5, 13-2 MWC)
(BPI: 25 | SOS: 110 | SOR: 28 | RPI: 10)

The schedule maker saved two tough games for the end for the Wolf Pack, with road tests coming next week at UNLV and at San Diego State. How much Nevada's projected No. 7 seed might drop in the event of 1-1 or even 0-2 marks there is the kind of thing that interests Bubble Watch, but let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees here.

Nevada is arguably the strongest team to come out of the Mountain West since SDSU earned a No. 4 seed in the 2014 tournament. More importantly, this is a solid, low-drama, at-large profile in the event of unforeseen wackiness at the MWC tournament.

Work to do

Middle Tennessee (22-5, 14-1 C-USA)
(BPI: 47 | SOS: 94 | SOR: 27 | RPI: 23)

No change for Middle Tennessee, which is taking a week off between games. The Blue Raiders show up as a No. 11 or No. 12 seed in most projected brackets.

Translation: They could possibly get an at-large bid if they were to lose in the Conference USA tournament. No, they would not necessarily want to test that theory.

St. Bonaventure (21-6, 11-4 A-10)
(BPI: 58 | SOS: 91 | SOR: 38 | RPI: 26)

Right now, there's a consensus that the Bonnies are in the field, but a better question might be whether they can improve their standing.

The issue is worth considering because the remaining schedule is no cakewalk. The Bonnies will play road dates at VCU and Saint Louis, as well as a home game against Davidson.

Dropped out

Boise State (22-6, 12-4 MWC)
(BPI: 54 | SOS: 118 | SOR: 47 | RPI: 51)

Previous Bubble Watch editions: Feb. 6 | Feb. 9 | Feb. 12 | Feb. 16 | Feb. 20