It's all about the bubble during Champ Week.
The first games of the 2017-18 season were played on Nov. 10, and sometimes it seems we still haven't really settled anything.
Selection Sunday is here and we still don't know every team that will play for a national championship. Those last bids are still there for the taking.
The monthslong preamble to the NCAA tournament is almost over. It all gets decided now.
Locks: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech
Should be in
NC State (21-11, 11-7 ACC)
(BPI: 46 | SOS: 55 | SOR: 40 | RPI: 63)
Boston College jumped on the Wolfpack from the opening tip and hung on for a 91-87 win in the ACC tournament second round. Bubble Watch expects the loss still won't be enough to knock NC State out of the field of 68, but failing to even make the ACC quarterfinals could drop it to a double-digit seed.
The Wolfpack have been a great story this season, and the lift Kevin Keatts gave the program in Year 1 has already been dramatic. Still, this is a defense that benefited from opponents missing an unusually high percentage of their 3s in ACC play. If NC State does get in and makes a run in the field of 68, it will likely be a highly entertaining series of shootouts.
Florida State (20-11, 9-9 ACC)
(BPI: 39 | SOS: 46 | SOR: 39 | RPI: 50)
Florida State went 9-9 in the ACC, but that so-so mark is offset by the fact that FSU owns a win over North Carolina, as well as road victories at Florida and Virginia Tech.
The Seminoles missed a chance for a Quadrant 1 win against Louisville in the ACC quarterfinals, and thus, a chance to improve its seed.
Work to do
Louisville (20-13, 9-9 ACC)
(BPI: 30 | SOS: 30 | SOR: 43 | RPI: 38)
The Cardinals faced what everyone agreed was a "win-and-you're-in" situation against Virginia, so what happens when you lose 75-58? The simple answer is David Padgett's team could be in the tournament anyway, but it will be very close.
With a profile that includes a road win at Virginia Tech, road and neutral-floor victories over Florida State and a .500 record in ACC play, the Cards present a classic bubble look. Their fate now will depend on what happens with the rest of the bubble, but that "strategy" invariably means tense moments. There are always teams that clearly play their way in. Louisville just missed being such a team.
Notre Dame (20-14, 8-10 ACC)
(BPI: 33 | SOS: 34 | SOR: 53 | RPI: 64)
That was an impressive late-season run by Bonzie Colson and Notre Dame, but it appears it won't be enough to earn an at-large bid. Even after beating Virginia Tech on Wednesday, the Fighting Irish are on the outside looking in at the field of 68.
Then again, maybe the committee will make a special exemption for a team that was missing a potential national player of the year for the balance of the conference season. It appears it will indeed be necessary. Teams as varied as Alabama, Providence and UCLA were simultaneously improving their respective positions, and spots in the field are limited. This profile would usually fall short, but we'll have to see if the committee recognizes a Bonzie Factor.
Syracuse (20-13, 8-10 ACC)
(BPI: 54 | SOS: 43 | SOR: 48 | RPI: 41)
Bubble Watch will cut to the chase: Syracuse could still be alive, even after a loss to North Carolina. No, it's certainly not a sure thing, and, yes, beating the Tar Heels would have sent this discussion in a far more hopeful direction.
But the Orange entered their game against UNC right on the cut line, and it's not clear that losing on a neutral floor to one of the best teams in the country will change that status dramatically for the worse. Stay tuned.
Also, is Syracuse planning to do this bubble thing every year from now on?
Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU
Should be in
Kansas State (22-10, 10-8 Big 12)
(BPI: 44 | SOS: 28 | SOR: 23 | RPI: 60)
The Wildcats' thrilling 66-64 win in overtime against TCU in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals might have been more important than we'll know. Bubble Watch suspects K-State would have made the field of 68 even with a loss to the Horned Frogs, but the victory should now put it into the bracket with room to spare.
The Wildcats swept Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State during the regular season, and they've won five of their last seven games. True, K-State struggles on the glass at both ends of the floor, but it makes its 2s and excels at forcing opponents to commit turnovers. This group can make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
Work to do
Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12)
(BPI: 42 | SOS: 3 | SOR: 38 | RPI: 44)
The Sooners have made things interesting -- for themselves and the committee -- by losing to Oklahoma State. Make no mistake, part of the selection difficulty here is the good part of OU's profile. Which is to say Oklahoma should be really happy it beat Wichita State and TCU on the road.
Those are top-quality wins, even if they were recorded in December. Since Jan. 1, Oklahoma has not won a game outside of Norman, a streak that extended to 10 games after losing to the Cowboys. There's probably a bid waiting for the Sooners anyway, but there might not be a long tournament run around the corner.
Baylor (18-14, 8-10 Big 12)
(BPI: 36 | SOS: 4 | SOR: 45 | RPI: 55)
An amazing turnaround after a 2-7 start in Big 12 play put the Bears in contention for a bid. Losing four of their last five games, however, may have taken them right back out of the running. A bid now looks unlikely.
No, nothing's final until Sunday evening, but Baylor's 78-65 loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament leaves Scott Drew's team 18-14 overall. That's not a record that customarily leads teams to take a relaxed "let's see what seed we get" attitude toward Selection Sunday. (Yes, Oklahoma's also right to be nervous at 18-13.) BU looked to be in pretty good shape two weeks ago, but the Bears couldn't sustain their February momentum.
Texas (19-14, 8-10 Big 12)
(BPI: 40 | SOS: 2 | SOR: 33 | RPI: 45)
The Longhorns could have erased every last bit of doubt with a win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament. That didn't happen, and now there is some doubt. But maybe not that much.
Texas was a near-universal projection as a double-digit seed before the loss to the Red Raiders. Now it's likely a little closer to the cut line than it was before, but the chances are still good that this team is going to be in the field of 68. If it does turn out that way, the essential games in the sequence were the season-finale, overtime victory over West Virginia in Austin and the Big 12 tournament win over Iowa State.
Oklahoma State (19-14, 8-10 Big 12)
(BPI: 58 | SOS: 5 | SOR: 43 | RPI: 83)
An amazing late run by the Cowboys has come to an end in the form of an 82-68 defeat at the hands of Kansas. Now the battle cry from anyone advocating on behalf of a bid for OSU is likely to be: "If you take Oklahoma at 18-13 and 8-10 in the Big 12, you have to take Oklahoma State at 19-14 and 8-10 in the Big 12, right?"
Here's why Bubble Watch doesn't think that will work, and it's actually very simple (and quite unfortunate). The committee still uses the RPI. It will go to any lengths necessary to avoid speaking its name, but it's there. Well, the Cowboys' RPI is up around 80, far lower than OU's and measurably weaker than that of any other tournament-track Big 12 team.
OSU came achingly close, but it looks like the Cowboys came up just short.
Locks: Villanova, Xavier, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall
Should be in
Providence (21-13, 10-8 Big East)
(BPI: 66 | SOS: 16 | SOR: 32 | RPI: 40)
The only bubble matter at issue in what turned out to be a thrilling Big East tournament title game was whether the Friars' bid would be automatic or an at-large. Turns out it will be the latter. Barely.
PC's third consecutive overtime game at the Big East tournament brought Ed Cooley's men their first loss of the weekend. But the Friars are now sitting pretty, with a projected seed as high as No. 9 or possibly even No. 8. It was a highly entertaining and even more productive 135 minutes of basketball for Providence.
Work to do
Marquette (19-13, 9-9 Big East)
(BPI: 49 | SOS: 14 | SOR: 41 | RPI: 53)
Bubble Watch nominates the Golden Eagles as the ultimate bubble boundary team of 2018. After losing to Villanova in the Big East tournament, they're almost perfectly positioned to be either the last team in or the first team out when the bracket is announced Sunday night.
With plenty of Champ Week basketball still to be played, the above description should spell bad news for Marquette. There should be plenty of eager bubble rivals still playing who are poised to bump the Golden Eagles out of the bracket.
With some cooperation from the hoops gods, Marquette may yet sneak in.
Locks: Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan
Work to do
Penn State (21-13, 9-9 Big Ten)
(BPI: 27 | SOS: 60 | SOR: 58 | RPI: 84)
Welcome to the suspenseful delights of an early conference tournament, Nittany Lions. It's like you're in a coma but aware of everything going on around you. There's nothing you can do to control events, but you see everything.
All Penn State can do is wait out Champ Week and hope for the best after losing to Purdue in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. It will be tough to get an at-large bid. Three wins against Ohio State -- and no other Quadrant 1 victories to go with eight Q1 losses -- might not be enough to get the job done.
Nebraska (22-10, 13-5 Big Ten)
(BPI: 63 | SOS: 59 | SOR: 35 | RPI: 56)
On more than one occasion in recent years, the committee has shown itself capable of surprising us utterly and completely. Whether it was the bid UCLA received in 2015 or the one that Tulsa snagged in 2016, it has almost seemed at times that the committee affirmatively enjoys zigging when every other projected bracket zags.
Which brings Bubble Watch to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers likely need a Tulsa-level hand grenade from the committee in order to get into this field. They have a home win against Michigan, and that's it in terms of victories against at-large-level opponents.
As Tim Miles himself pointed out, that one-point loss to Kansas in Lincoln in December looms rather large.
Should be in
UCLA (21-11, 11-7 Pac-12)
(BPI: 55 | SOS: 65 | SOR: 54| RPI: 37)
The "raise this newly safe at-large team's seed" project came to an abrupt halt, and the Bruins lost to Arizona 78-67 in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals in overtime. The key terms there are "safe at-large team," because, with due allowance for the future tense and for past committee craziness, Steve Alford's team appears to be safe.
Brackets aren't fair, so taking the top seed of your conference tournament to OT but losing could cost UCLA a seed line. Even so, that would drop the Bruins to perhaps only a No. 10 seed in the field of 68. Alford will take that. It wasn't too long ago that his team was instead showing up on "first four out" or even "next four out" lists. The Bruins look as if they got the job done.
USC (22-11, 12-6 Pac-12)
(BPI: 43 | SOS: 73 | SOR: 59 | RPI: 35)
For weeks, Bubble Watch has talked in terms of a Trojans team that is demonstrably good at basketball but was carrying a deceptively so-so profile. The Pac-12 tournament changed that, even with a title game loss to Arizona. Now, USC's level of performance and its tournament résumé are in much closer alignment. Which is to say this team will almost certainly get its bid and will likely earn a spot around the No. 10 seed line.
If it does play out that way, Andy Enfield's team can most certainly make life interesting for a No. 7 seed in a matter of days.
Work to do
Arizona State (20-11, 8-10 Pac-12)
(BPI: 45 | SOS: 77 | SOR: 68 | RPI: 62)
For weeks now, Bubble Watch has been wondering if the Sun Devils are as safe as everyone seems to think they are. Well, that question is more timely than ever now that Arizona State lost to Colorado 97-85 in the Pac-12 tournament first round.
ASU went 8-10 during the conference season and has now lost five of its last six games. Yes, it does have the road win at Kansas and the neutral-floor victory over Xavier. Could a team with wins like that really miss the field entirely? Yes, it could happen, and, even if it doesn't, it's going to be really close.
Dropped out: Utah, Washington
Should be in
Missouri (20-12, 10-8 SEC)
(BPI: 47 | SOS: 54 | SOR: 50 | RPI: 33)
The loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament second round will probably cost the Tigers a seed line or two. That's it. Missouri would doubtless prefer not to be a double-digit seed, but with Michael Porter Jr. now available, there are certainly higher seeds that would prefer not to see the Tigers.
Missouri is a dangerous perimeter team, even if it did not show this aspect of its game against the Bulldogs. The Tigers hit 39 percent of their 3s in SEC play, and with Porter Jr. on the floor alongside a host of perimeter threats, facing this particular "low" seed will be no easy task.
Alabama (19-15, 8-10 SEC)
(BPI: 52 | SOS: 23 | SOR: 55 | RPI: 54)
Collin Sexton and the Crimson Tide ran up against the irresistible force known as Wenyen Gabriel's 3-point shooting, and, surely, we all saw that coming. Fine, Bubble Watch is being facetious, that was a surprise. The even larger surprise, though, is how solid Alabama's position has become in the bracket in a very short time.
Barring the most epic of Selection Sunday surprises, Avery Johnson's men will get their bid. Moreover, Alabama has boosted its seed all the way up to single-digit territory. It's been a remarkable ascent, and always remember it started with Sexton's game-winner against Texas A&M.
Locks: Cincinnati, Wichita State, Houston
Locks: Gonzaga, Rhode Island, Nevada
Should be in
St. Bonaventure (24-6, 13-4 A-10)
(BPI: 57 | SOS: 81 | SOR: 34 | RPI: 23)
The Bonnies fell short of an Atlantic 10 tournament championship matchup against Rhode Island, instead losing to Davidson in the semifinals. That's not a shocking upset in basketball terms, and, anyway, St. Bonaventure was without both Courtney Stockard (hamstring) and Josh Ayeni (who injured his leg in the first half). In other words, the team still figures to be safely in the NCAA tournament.
It's not even clear that losing to the Wildcats will inflict any damage on the seed Mark Schmidt's team is about to receive. The Bonnies may yet earn a single-digit seed, and, even if they don't, they'll still be giving the program its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.
Work to do
Middle Tennessee (24-7, 16-2 C-USA)
(BPI: 48 | SOS: 110 | SOR: 47 | RPI: 28)
For the entirety of February, Bubble Watch speculated on whether the Blue Raiders could get an at-large bid if they lost in the Conference USA tournament.
That hypothetical is now an urgent question facing Middle Tennessee after it lost to Southern Miss in the C-USA tournament quarterfinals. The two Quadrant 1 wins recorded by the Blue Raiders were at Murray State and at Western Kentucky. Then there's the fact that they were dominant for much of the regular season, reeling off 11 consecutive wins.
Will that be enough for an at-large bid? If it is, and it's going to be close either way, a very good RPI will have been a big help.
Saint Mary's (28-5, 16-2 WCC)
(BPI: 26 | SOS: 232 | SOR: 51 | RPI: 47)
Losing to BYU in the WCC tournament semifinals doesn't necessarily end Saint Mary's chances of earning an at-large bid. It does, however, put the Gaels in a tough spot.
SMC's profile is now frozen as is. That includes a huge win at Gonzaga, yes, but it also shows a 1-1 record in Quadrant 1 games. Will that be enough for an at-large bid? The boundary between "in" and "out" will be shifting the rest of the week, and all the Gaels can do is watch.