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Thursday, February 13
Updated: March 16, 11:04 AM ET
 
Bubble teams' eyes on Buckeyes

ESPN.com

Bubble Breakdown
Projected One-Bid Conferences: 19
Projected Multi-Bid Conferences 12 (As of 11 a.m. ET, Saturday)

Available spots 65
Automatic bids 31
At-large bids 34
Projected Locks 45
Open spots 1
"Locks" include 12 multi-bid conference champions (projected or claim bids), leaving 33 at-large "locks" and just 1 open at-large spot for bubble teams.
Last Four In?
Butler
North Carolina State
Texas Tech
Southern Illinois
Last Four Out?
Boston College
UNLV
Auburn
Tennessee
No. 1 Seeds? Kentucky
Arizona
Kansas
Pittsburgh/Oklahoma
(depending on Big 12 final)

Forget about sweating out Selection Sunday. Bubble teams first had to endure a stressful Saturday.

Would UAB, Temple, Texas Tech, USC, Colorado State or UNLV secure those precious automatic bids? And if they did, who on the bubble would feel the effect?

Could Ohio State make things interesting all the way into Sunday's title games? And if they did, who wouldn't feel safe until Selection Sunday's final verdicts?

Yes, the questions outnumbered answers. The bubble won't become stable until the upsets stop. And that means a restless night for even the best bubble teams.

As Saturday's game ended, ESPN.com's projections showed just one -- yes, one -- of the 34 at-large bids had yet to be "locked up." And that one bid could be stolen by Ohio State if it wins the Big Ten title game. While the Buckeyes would get an automatic bid, it would mean all five projected "locks" in the Big Ten would become at-large teams.

The day before official bids will be handed out, teams were still switching spots. At-large bids that looked available 48 hours ago, suddenly were spoken for already, which was bad news for teams like Southern Illinois, Seton Hall and Auburn.

The biggest areas of concern for bubble teams? All eyes were on the A-10, Pac-10 and MWC title games. And at least two of three broke the right way for bubble teams.

Temple and USC -- each poised to steal automatic bids and place more qualified teams into the at-large pool -- lost conference title games. Colorado State, meanwhile, stole the MWC's bid after finishing sixth in the conference. UNLV is left to wonder "what if" and sweat on Sunday.

Yes, it all carries into Sunday when Ohio State plays for the Big Ten title. If the Buckeyes can beat Illinois, another bubble team's future will be affected. But which one? The last team projected "in" is Tennessee. The first team projected "out" is Auburn. See, the SEC still isn't settled.

N.C. State, which beat Wake Forest in the ACC semifinals, was the one team Saturday that helped itself the most. And even the Wolfpack isn't the safest "lock" in the land.

A least Louisville helped bubble teams by beating UAB in the C-USA title game. Texas Tech's overtime loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 semifinals also helped everyone but the Red Raiders.

Once all the automatic bids have been claimed Sunday, there will be 34 at-large spots to hand out. Remember, there are 65 spots in the NCAA Tournament bracket. No more, no less. As for the formula, remember there are 31 conferences with automatic bids. ESPN.com's projections show 19 conferences will send just one school to the field of 65: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Big Sky, Big West, Colonial, Ivy, Mid-Con, MAC, MAAC, MEAC, NEC, OVC, Patriot, Southland, Southern, SWAC, Sun Belt, WAC.

Taking those 19 bids out of the equation leaves 12 conferences capable of collecting their 12 automatic bids, plus 34 at-large bids. Add it all up and there are 46 bids available, creating the 65 total number of teams eligible for the 2003 NCAA Tournament. But remember, the No. 65 and No. 64 ranked teams must play Tuesday, March 18 in Dayton, Ohio to earn a spot in the 64-team bracket.

Here is the analysis of bubble teams and projected at-large locks by conference through games played on March 15.

Atlantic Coast Conference
IN: Wake Forest, Maryland, Duke, North Carolina State
BUBBLE:

Beating the regular season champion to reach the ACC final -- that says it all about the Wolfpack's at-large case. Not to mention a 9-7 ACC regular season. Those bad losses are an afterthought, and the RPI isn't an issue.

Atlantic 10
IN: Xavier, Dayton (automatic bid), Saint Joseph's
BUBBLE: None

Big East
IN: Pittsburgh (automatic bid), Notre Dame, Syracuse, Connecticut, Boston College
BUBBLE: Seton Hall

Neither Boston College or Seton Hall can feel as safe about their at-large chances with all the upsets happening around them in other conference tournaments. But the Eagles, who lost to Pittsburgh in the semifinals Friday, are in a little better shape. The Pirates (17-11), meanwhile, are one of those teams that has slipped back on the bubble to no fault of their own this week. Sunday. Boston College (18-11) won the East Division title, and it would be hard to believe a division champion wouldn't get an at-large bid. Still, the Eagles have just one top 50 win to show for in their overall mark and RPI in the mid-40s. As for the Pirates, the resume includes victories over Pittsburgh and Notre Dame and an RPI right at 40.

Big Ten
IN: Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana
BUBBLE: None

Indiana's run to the Big Ten semifinals should be enough to get the Hoosiers back to the Dance, considering its marquee wins among 20 overall victories.

Big 12
IN: Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado
BUBBLE: Texas Tech

Texas Tech pushed Oklahoma into overtime, but its at-large chances may be over despite the spirited showing in Dallas. At 18-12, the committee was watching and could make a judgement call based on how the Red Raiders played the past 48 hours, instead of the past three months. But that RPI still is right at 50 and Tech mananged just a 6-10 conference mark before notching two wins in the tournament.

Conference USA
IN: Louisville (automatic bid), Marquette, Cincinnati, Memphis
BUBBLE: Saint Louis

A fifth bid out of C-USA isn't likely, but we can't overlook what Saint Louis accomplished to at least get into the at-large conversation. The Billikens won eight straight games before running into C-USA spoiler UAB on Friday. And even in losing, the Billikens didn't go quietly, rallying froma 20-point second-half deficit to tie the game in the final minute. The Billikens aren't out of the dance yet, but getting to the final would have been huge.

Horizon League
IN: Wisconsin-Milwaukee (automatic bid), Butler
BUBBLE: None

Of the three mid-majors that won regular-season title, but lost in conference title games, Butler is in better shape than either Gonzaga or Southern Illinois. The Bulldogs' fate is once again in the hands of the NCAA selection committee, but this year will be a different story than last year's snub. The 25-5 record and much stronger RPI (35) suggests two Horizon League teams will dance this year.

Missouri Valley Conference
IN: Creighton (automatic bid)
BUBBLE: Southern Illinois

It used to say here: "Creighton and Southern Illinois will both go dancing." Well, we're not so sure now. That last impression the Salukis left -- an 80-56 loss to the Jays in the MVC title game -- may be the difference. A 24-6 record will be tough to ignore on Selection Sunday, so will a RPI of 36. The problem is there may not be enough bids to go around after the upsets force major teams to use up at-large bids. History is also on the side of the Salukis, who would be the first of the last 10 MVC regular season champion not invited to the dance. Then again, that's history.

Mountain West Conference
IN: Utah, BYU, Colorado State (automatic bid)
BUBBLE: UNLV, Wyoming

It was pretty simple: UNLV (21-10) had to win Saturday's final to get in. Losing the title game to Colorado State all but ended UNLV's at-large hopes. Wyoming (20-10, RPI 61) appears destined for the NIT.

Pacific-10
IN: Arizona, California, Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon (automatic bid)
BUBBLE:

SEC
IN: Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, LSU, Tennessee
BUBBLE: Auburn, Alabama

It seems no matter what Auburn does, the computer doesn't give it nearly the credit it deserves. Auburn (20-11) lost to Kentucky on Saturday in the semifinals, but it was one of the "last four out" even before being ousted from the SECs. Whether the numbers seal Auburn's fate is another story. "That should be it," said a confident Cliff Ellis after the Tigers beat Tennessee (a team the computer loves, and committee will likely allow into the Dance). "Whatever has been said about the West (Division) ... we've got three wins (Friday)."

West Coast Conference
IN: San Diego (automatic bid), Gonzaga
BUBBLE: None

The Zags won the regular season title, but for the first time in four years won't get the league's automatic bid. Gonzaga (23-8, RPI 42) should, however, get an at-large nod -- barely. Monday night's title game loss to San Diego was its third in the WCC, but shouldn't ruin the Zags' overall record, which is a little deceiving for a mid-major program after playing and losing to the likes of Kentucky, Georgia, Stanford, Saint Joseph's and Indiana during the non-conference. The committee should reward the Zags for the schedule, not punish 'em for losing to quality teams. We'll see if they do on Sunday.






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