College Basketball Bubble Watch
Bubble teams falling by the wayside
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Wednesday, March 4.
How fluid is the NCAA tournament bubble heading into the final weekend of the regular season?
Six teams from the six major conferences -- Cincinnati, Miami (Fla.), Georgetown, Kansas State, Kentucky and Notre Dame -- are no longer under consideration for at-large bids.
The Hoyas and Fighting Irish had been teetering on the brink of elimination for weeks, and losses to St. John's and Villanova, respectively, all but ended their bubble hopes this week.
Kentucky's string of 17 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament is in jeopardy, too, after the Wildcats lost to woebegone Georgia 90-85 at home Wednesday night. The Wildcats will have to win the SEC tournament in Tampa, Fla., to earn a spot in the NCAA's 65-team field.
The Bulldogs had lost 14 of their past 16 games, including each of their previous seven SEC road games. But with Kentucky's postseason hopes on the line, the Bulldogs beat the Wildcats in Lexington for the first time since 2004.
With so many teams from the six major conferences falling by the wayside, teams from smaller conferences are suddenly back in the hunt. Davidson and Siena are back in at-large contention, although they might need to win their respective conference tournaments to feel good on Selection Sunday.
Leagues that have historically been one- or two-bid leagues, such as the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West, are in position to receive more at-large bids. The Mountain West has five teams battling for at-large spots, and the Atlantic 10 has three teams fighting for their postseason lives.
Here is this week's Bubble Watch:
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Boston College, Maryland, Virginia Tech|
North Carolina can win the ACC's regular-season title if it beats Duke in Chapel Hill on Sunday. But the real battle is happening in the middle of the ACC, where four teams might be battling for as many as three at-large bids. Miami ruined its bubble chances by losing at Georgia Tech 78-68 on Wednesday night. Boston College lost at NC State 74-69, but the Eagles had much more room for error. Maryland and Virginia Tech face must-win games this weekend at Virginia and Florida State, respectively, if they're going to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Boston College [20-10 (8-7), RPI: 55, SOS: 55] Even after losing at NC State on Wednesday night, the Eagles seem to be in better shape than the ACC's other bubble teams. They beat North Carolina on the road and toppled Duke and Florida State at home. BC is 4-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 8-8 against top-100 foes. It is 5-5 in road games and 7-5 in its past 12 games. As long as the Eagles beat Georgia Tech at home in Saturday's regular-season finale, they will be fine on Selection Sunday.
Maryland [18-11 (7-8), RPI: 58, SOS: 19] Maryland lost to Wake Forest 65-63 on Tuesday night, dropping its record in ACC play to 7-8. But the Terrapins might be making up ground in terms of the bubble because Miami and Virginia Tech keep losing. The Terps close the regular season at Virginia on Saturday. Last season, a 91-76 loss at Virginia in the regular-season finale -- and a 71-68 loss to Boston College in the first round of the ACC tournament -- went a long way toward keeping Maryland out of the NCAA's 65-team field. Obviously, the Terps can't afford another loss in Charlottesville, and probably need to win at least one game in the ACC tournament to feel confident about their at-large chances. Maryland beat North Carolina and Michigan at home and beat Michigan State on a neutral court. The Terps split games against Miami and beat Virginia Tech, but lost to Boston College. Maryland is 3-8 against RPI top-50 foes, 8-10 against the top 100 and 2-5 in road games.
Virginia Tech [17-12 (7-8), RPI: 62, SOS: 29] The Hokies are in serious bubble trouble after losing five of their past six games, including an 86-78 loss to North Carolina at home Wednesday night. But we're not ready to write off Virginia Tech just yet. If the Hokies can win at Florida State on Sunday, they'll finish 8-8 in ACC play. It also would be their third victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, after they won at Wake Forest and Clemson earlier this season. Virginia Tech is 2-7 against RPI top-50 opponents, 5-9 against the top 100 and 5-5 in road games. It will have to overcome three sub-100 losses: at RPI No. 184 Georgia, a 14-point loss at RPI No. 107 Virginia and a neutral-site loss to No. 105 Seton Hall.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M|
Oklahoma's chances for a No. 1 seed have taken a hit in the past two weeks, as the Sooners have lost three of their past four games, including a 73-64 loss at Missouri on Wednesday night. The Sooners and Tigers trail Kansas by one game in the Big 12 standings after the Jayhawks were routed 84-65 at Texas Tech on Wednesday night. On Saturday, Texas will play at Kansas, Oklahoma will host Oklahoma State and Missouri will visit Texas A&M, where the Aggies will try to keep their at-large hopes alive.
Oklahoma State [20-9 (9-6), RPI: 24, SOS: 10] The Cowboys have won six games in a row and suddenly seem to be in very good shape for an at-large bid. The Pokes won what might have been a Big 12 bubble elimination game Tuesday night, beating Kansas State 77-71 in Stillwater. Oklahoma State closes the regular season at rival Oklahoma on Saturday. Oklahoma State has a very good computer profile and owns a couple of significant victories to support it, perhaps none more important than a 68-59 win over Texas on Feb. 28. The Cowboys also beat Siena (neutral court), Texas A&M (home) and Rhode Island (neutral court). The Pokes are 0-5 against RPI top-25 opponents, 4-8 against the top 50 and 8-9 against the top 100. If Oklahoma State loses the Bedlam Series game against the Sooners, it probably would need one or two victories in the Big 12 tournament to feel safe.
Texas A&M [22-8 (8-7), RPI: 35, SOS: 51] The Aggies have won five games in a row , including a 72-66 victory at Colorado on Wednesday night, to resuscitate their at-large hopes. Texas A&M might need to beat Missouri at home Saturday, which would secure a 9-7 record in Big 12 play, or win at least two games in the Big 12 tournament. The Aggies are 4-5 against RPI top-50 opponents, beating Oklahoma State, Texas and Arizona at home and LSU on a neutral court. Texas A&M is 5-5 in road games and 7-5 in its past 12 games. The Aggies don't have a loss against a team ranked outside the top 80 of the RPI ratings, and four of their eight losses came against teams ranked inside the top 25.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Providence|
The country's largest college basketball conference seems assured of getting at least seven teams into the NCAA tournament. But the Big East's hopes of getting an eighth team in the Big Dance took several hits this week, with Georgetown losing at St. John's, Cincinnati losing at South Florida and Notre Dame losing by 17 at home to Villanova. Providence, which plays at Nova on Thursday night, seems to be the league's last hope for another at-large bid.
Providence [18-11 (10-7), RPI: 69, SOS: 56] The Friars haven't played since winning 73-66 at Rutgers on Sunday, but they've still won big this week. With Georgetown, Cincinnati and Notre Dame losing, Providence has the best chance of becoming the Big East's eighth participant in the NCAA tournament. It has won four of its past six games, including a stunning 81-73 upset of then No. 1-ranked Pittsburgh on Feb. 24. The Friars are 3-7 against RPI top-50 opponents, 5-11 against the top 100 and 4-5 in road games. Providence closes the regular season at Villanova on Thursday night, but it already is guaranteed of finishing at least 10-8 in Big East play. An upset of Villanova would go a long way toward locking up an NCAA at-large bid. Even if Providence loses in Philadelphia, it probably could earn an at-large bid by winning one or two games in the upcoming Big East tournament in New York. The Friars swept two games against Cincinnati, plus beat Syracuse and Rhode Island at home.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern|
The Big Ten might really benefit from the struggles of bubble teams in the other five major conferences. Three Big Ten teams have locked up at-large bids, but six others are still contending for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State seem to be in decent shape for at-large bids, but Michigan and Penn State will need to finish strong. Red-hot Northwestern needs to win in Columbus on Sunday and make something happen at the conference tourney. Depending on what happens between now and Selection Sunday, it's not unrealistic to think that four (or even all six) of the Big Ten's bubble teams will make the NCAA's 65-team field.
Wisconsin [18-11 (9-8), RPI: 31, SOS: 6] The Badgers dropped an important game Wednesday night, losing at Minnesota 51-46. The victory gave the Gophers a two-game sweep of Wisconsin, which might end up hurting the Badgers on Selection Sunday. But Wisconsin still seems to be in OK shape for an at-large bid, as long as it beats Indiana in Saturday's regular-season finale. The Badgers are 4-9 against RPI top-50 opponents, beating Illinois and Ohio State at home and sweeping two games against Michigan. The Badgers played the country's sixth-toughest schedule, which will work in their favor; they also swept games against Penn State.
Minnesota [21-8 (9-8), RPI: 32, SOS: 43] The Gophers' five-point victory over Wisconsin on Wednesday night was only their third victory in their past eight games. But sweeping the Badgers will be important, along with a neutral-court victory over Louisville and home wins over Illinois and Ohio State. Minnesota is 5-6 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-8 against the top 100. The Gophers close the regular season Saturday against Michigan at home, and a win over the Wolverines would give them a 10-8 finish in Big Ten play. That should be good enough on Selection Sunday.
Ohio State [19-9 (9-8), RPI: 40, SOS: 32] The Buckeyes avoided disaster by sneaking past Iowa 60-58 on the road Tuesday night. Ohio State had lost four of its past five games and desperately needed another road victory. The Buckeyes have five victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Butler, Minnesota and Purdue at home and sweeping two games against Michigan. Ohio State split games with Minnesota, but lost at Wisconsin. Five of the Buckeyes' nine losses came against opponents ranked in the RPI top 25. Ohio State closes the regular season against Northwestern at home Sunday. As long as the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats, they should be in very good shape for an at-large bid.
Michigan [18-12 (8-9), RPI: 47, SOS: 11] The Wolverines have more impressive top-end victories than the other Big Ten bubble teams, beating Duke, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue at home and UCLA on a neutral court. But Michigan is only 8-9 in Big Ten play heading into Saturday's regular-season finale at Minnesota. The Wolverines might really be haunted by their 60-55 loss at Wisconsin on Sunday. Michigan was swept by Wisconsin and Ohio State, split games against Penn State and beat Minnesota. The Wolverines also will have to overcome their 2-8 record in road games.
Penn State [20-9 (9-7), RPI: 66, SOS: 111] The Nittany Lions might need to beat Illinois at home Thursday and Iowa on the road Saturday to have a chance at an at-large bid. If Penn State wins both of those games, it would finish 11-7 in Big Ten play. That probably would be enough to overcome PSU's mediocre computer profile and laughable nonconference schedule (ranked No. 314 nationally). The Nittany Lions have five victories over RPI top-50 opponents, including impressive road wins at Illinois and Michigan State. They also beat Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan at home. The Nittany Lions split games against Minnesota and Michigan, but lost at Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Northwestern [17-11 (8-9), RPI: 70, SOS: 64] Look, we would've never guessed it, either. But after winning four of their past five, including Wednesday night at Purdue, aren't the Wildcats at least worth being discussed as a bubble team -- especially after others on the bubble keep stumbling? Of the six Big Ten bubble teams, do you know which one has the most wins against the RPI top 50? You guessed it. The guys in purple. They have road wins at Purdue and Michigan State and home wins over RPI No. 17 Florida State (by 14) and over fellow bubble teams Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State. We're not saying the Wildcats don't have some work to do, but what if they win at Ohio State on Sunday and complete a sweep? Suddenly, that would put them at .500 in the Big Ten (18-11 overall), give them seven wins over the RPI top 50 and complete a 5-1 stretch to end the regular season. That at least gets you on the committee's board.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Work left to do: San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico|
Three teams -- BYU, New Mexico and Utah -- are tied for first place in the Mountain West Conference standings with one regular-season game to play. All three contenders split season series against the other two. The Cougars play Air Force at home Saturday; the Utes play TCU in Salt Lake City; and the Lobos play at Wyoming. Saturday's game between the fourth- and fifth-place teams in the MWC standings might be the most significant. UNLV plays at San Diego State, and the winner probably will stay in the race for an at-large bid.
San Diego State [20-8 (10-5), RPI: 46, SOS: 70] The Aztecs are one game better than UNLV for fourth place in the Mountain West standings, but they probably will have to beat the Rebels in San Diego on Saturday to have any chance at an at-large bid. An 11-5 finish in the highly competitive MWC probably would catch the selection committee's attention, but UNLV and New Mexico have much better bodies of work than San Diego State in terms of quality victories. The Aztecs have only two RPI top-50 victories, having beaten Utah at home and UNLV on the road. San Diego State also split games with fellow MWC bubble team New Mexico. The Aztecs were competitive in their three toughest nonconference games, losing 59-52 to Arizona State at home, 69-56 at Arizona and 67-64 against Saint Mary's on a neutral court.
UNLV [21-8 (9-6), RPI: 50, SOS: 92] The Rebels struggled in a 46-43 victory over Air Force at home Wednesday night, but they managed to keep their at-large hopes alive by avoiding a loss to a team that hasn't won since Dec. 28. UNLV currently sits in fifth place in the MWC standings but could finish in a fourth-place tie by winning at San Diego State on Saturday. The Rebels can't afford to lose twice to the Aztecs, who won at UNLV 68-66 in overtime on Feb. 3. UNLV has much better high-end victories, winning at Louisville, beating Utah and Arizona at home and sweeping games against BYU. The Rebels are 5-3 against RPI top-50 opponents and 9-6 against the top 100. That's why it's so hard to figure out how the Rebels lost at TCU and Colorado State.
New Mexico [20-10 (11-4), RPI: 63, SOS: 84] The Lobos' 77-71 victory over Utah at The Pit on Tuesday night puts them right back in the bubble picture. New Mexico is in a three-way tie for first place in the MWC, and it split games against BYU and Utah, the other first-place teams. New Mexico has four top-50 RPI victories, all coming at home in MWC play -- over Utah, BYU, San Diego State and UNLV. The Lobos' nonconference schedule is rated No. 150 nationally, and their best nonconference victory came against RPI No. 73 Ole Miss 103-70 in Albuquerque. The Lobos have three sub-100 losses: at Texas Tech, home against Central Florida and against Drake on a neutral court. New Mexico closes the regular season at Wyoming on Saturday.
|Teams that should be in: California|
Work left to do: Arizona
The Pac-10 should get at least four teams into the NCAA tournament, and possibly five as long as Arizona doesn't keep losing. The Wildcats have lost three road games in a row, but they play California and Stanford at home over the next three days. As long as the Wildcats win at least one of those games, it will be hard to keep them out of the 65-team field.
California [21-8 (10-6), RPI: 39, SOS: 52] The Bears probably would make the 65-team field even if they lost their last two regular-season games: at Arizona on Thursday night and at Arizona State on Saturday. California is 6-4 against RPI top-50 opponents, having beaten Utah and UNLV on the road, topped Arizona and Arizona State at home, and swept two games against Pac-10 leader Washington. The Bears are 10-5 against RPI top-100 foes, and four of their eight losses came against teams ranked in the RPI top 25. California has won five of its past seven games and probably would need only one victory in the Pac-10 tournament even if it loses both games in Arizona this weekend.
Arizona [18-11 (8-8), RPI: 45, SOS: 33] The Wildcats have lost three games in a row, all on the road, dropping their record to 2-9 in games played outside of Tucson. Although the NCAA selection committee typically looks for better road records, it's going to be hard to ignore Arizona's five victories over RPI top-50 opponents. The Wildcats beat Kansas, Washington, UCLA and San Diego State at home and beat Gonzaga on a neutral court. The Wildcats are 5-8 against RPI top-50 opponents and 9-10 against the top 100. Their last two regular-season games are at home -- against California on Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday.
|Work left to do: South Carolina, Florida|
The SEC has had at least five of its teams play in the NCAA tournament in every season since 1996-97. But with only one regular-season game to play, it's looking more and more likely that the SEC will be fortunate to get even four of its teams into this year's NCAA tournament. Kentucky, after losing to Georgia 90-85 at home Wednesday night, is on the verge of missing the NCAAs for the first time since 1991. Florida lost at Mississippi State 80-71, leaving the Gators in danger of missing the NCAAs for the second season in a row. And although still a long shot, Auburn has won seven of its past eight, and a win at LSU this weekend would get the Tigers to 10-6 in the SEC and at least back into the bubble discussion.
South Carolina [20-7 (9-5), RPI: 41, SOS: 83] The Gamecocks can win the SEC East title by beating Tennessee at home Thursday night. The game might be even more important to South Carolina's at-large hopes because it no longer has an RPI top-50 victory, thanks to the recent struggles of Florida and Kentucky. The Gamecocks are 0-3 against RPI top-50 opponents, losing at home to Clemson and on the road at Tennessee and LSU. They're 7-6 against RPI top-100 foes, sweeping games against Kentucky and splitting games with Florida. South Carolina's best nonconference victory -- an 85-84 win at Baylor on Jan. 2 -- isn't as strong as it once seemed, either. But as long as the Gamecocks split their last two regular-season games -- after hosting the Vols, they play at Georgia on Saturday -- they should be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid. If the Gamecocks beat Tennessee, they probably will lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Florida [21-9 (8-7), RPI: 52, SOS: 96] After losing three consecutive games, the Gators are in big bubble trouble and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row. Florida lost at Mississippi State 80-71 on Wednesday night, its fifth consecutive road loss. Overall, the Gators are 2-7 on the road. They're only 2-6 against RPI top-50 opponents, beating South Carolina at home and Washington on a neutral court. Florida won't get much help from its strength of schedule (No. 89 overall and No. 245 nonconference), either. The Gators close the regular season at home against Kentucky on Saturday. It could very well be an elimination game for Florida.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Dayton|
Work left to do: Siena, Utah State, Creighton, Rhode Island, Saint Mary's, Davidson
The recent collapses by teams such as Florida, Kentucky, Georgetown and Notre Dame are good news for teams from the smaller conferences. Dayton is close to joining four other teams as locks for NCAA at-large bids, and Creighton and Saint Mary's probably can do the same by performing well in their respective conference tournaments. Siena is back in the at-large discussion, too, because of its strong computer profile. But the Saints might need to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament to make the 65-team field.
Dayton [24-5 (10-4), RPI: 27, SOS: 109] The Flyers probably can wrap up an at-large bid by winning at Xavier on Thursday night, which would give them a sweep of the Musketeers. Dayton has three RPI top-50 victories, beating Xavier and Temple at home and Marquette on a neutral court. The Flyers also beat George Mason at home and Auburn on a neutral court. Dayton is 3-2 against RPI top-50 opponents, 7-2 against the top 100 and 5-5 in road games. Dayton has three sub-100 losses, losing at No. 111 Saint Louis, No. 169 Massachusetts and No. 193 Charlotte. Even if Dayton loses at Xavier, it will be in good shape as long as it beats Duquesne at home Saturday.
Siena [23-7 (16-2), RPI: 28, SOS: 62] Siena is back in the at-large discussion because teams from the major conferences are dropping like flies. The Saints are ranked No. 28 in the RPI ratings. Only two teams with RPI ratings of No. 29 or better have been left out of the NCAA's 65-team field since 1994 (No. 21 Missouri State in 2005-06 and No. 29 Texas Tech in 1996-97). But Siena still might need to win the upcoming MAAC tournament to make the NCAA field. The Saints don't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent. Their best wins came against No. 57 Niagara and No. 71 Northern Iowa. The Saints lost at Pittsburgh by 13 points, at Kansas by seven, against Tennessee by 14 (neutral court) and against Oklahoma State by nine (neutral court). They have two sub-100 losses, losing at No. 126 Rider and against No. 164 Wichita State on a neutral court.
Utah State [26-4 (13-2), RPI: 29, SOS: 131] The Aggies are back on the bubble because of the carnage in the major conferences more than anything else. The Aggies are ranked in the top 30 of the RPI, but are still in a precarious situation. They have only one RPI top-50 victory, having beaten Utah 66-64 at home on Dec. 22. The Aggies have lost three of their past five games and, worse, 20 of their 25 victories came against opponents ranked outside the RPI top 100. Utah State closes the regular season at home against San Jose State on Saturday. It probably still will have to win the upcoming WAC tournament in Reno, Nev., to make the NCAA field.
Creighton [25-6 (14-4), RPI: 38, SOS: 110] The Bluejays beat Illinois State 74-70 on Saturday to earn a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship. Creighton is the No. 2 seed in this week's MVC tournament in St. Louis, and on Friday will play the winner of an opening-round game between Wichita State and Missouri State. The Bluejays have won 10 games in a row, but they might need a victory or two in St. Louis to lock up an at-large bid. They have only one win over an RPI top-50 opponent, having beaten Dayton 77-59 at home on Dec. 10. The Bluejays also have victories over George Mason (home), New Mexico (home) and Northern Iowa (road). They also will get help from their more than respectable 8-4 record in road games.
Rhode Island [22-8 (11-4), RPI: 48, SOS: 132] The Rams have won six games in a row and 10 of their past 12 to climb into the bubble discussion. Rhode Island has two home victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Dayton 93-91 in overtime on Feb. 25 and Temple 67-59 on Jan. 28. It also beat Virginia Commonwealth at home and Penn State on a neutral court. The Rams probably need to beat Massachusetts at home Saturday, and maybe win one or two games in the upcoming Atlantic 10 tournament. Rhode Island is 2-5 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-6 against the top 100. It will get help from its stellar 9-5 record in road games.
Saint Mary's [24-5 (10-4), RPI: 49, SOS: 181] Saint Mary's takes a five-game winning streak into the upcoming West Coast Conference tournament, where, as the No. 2 seed, it will receive a bye until the March 9 semifinals. The Gaels received good news this week when coach Randy Bennett announced that star point guard Patty Mills will be available to play in the West Coast tournament after missing nine games with a broken right hand. The Gaels did a decent job of playing without Mills, going 6-3 after he was hurt in a 69-62 loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 29. Saint Mary's has two victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Utah State 75-64 at home on Feb. 21 and San Diego State 67-64 on a neutral court on Dec. 13. They also beat Providence 81-75 on a neutral court on Nov. 30.
Davidson [25-6 (18-2), RPI: 67, SOS: 171] We still think the Wildcats face long odds in earning an NCAA at-large bid, but they might indirectly get themselves back into contention because teams from the six major conferences keep falling by the wayside. But unless the NCAA selection committee really wants to see Stephen Curry back in the NCAA tournament, Davidson's easiest path is to win this week's Southern Conference tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. Since losing to Butler 75-63 at home on Feb. 21, Davidson has beaten three Southern Conference opponents by an average of 25.3 points. But UNC Greensboro, Georgia Southern and Elon have an average RPI rating of 298. Davidson has one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, having beaten West Virginia 68-65 on a neutral court on Dec. 9. Its second-best victory came against RPI No. 96 NC State 72-67 at home on Dec. 6. Frankly, that's not enough to earn an NCAA at-large bid.