College Basketball Bubble Watch
With just one week left of regular season college basketball remaining, many teams are either fighting for better seeding in the tournament, or trying to scrap their way into the field of 68. Power 6 schools in particular need to make deep runs in their conference tournament and impress in the final week of the regular season in order to put themselves in a prime position to enter the NCAA Tournament.
Nearly all bubble teams are normally out of the Power 6 conferences (I’m lumping the Big East into the Power 6), so I’ll delve into each bubble team from the Power 6 and examine their NCAA Tournament likelihood.
Syracuse (19-10, 9-7 ACC)
This perennial NCAA Tournament powerhouse may not even receive a bid in this year’s dance. The Orange are currently on the outside looking in, but they have a chance to pad their resumé tonight against North Carolina. With the win, the Orange would improve to 3-4 against teams in the RPI top 25.
If Syracuse was to lose any of their final two games, their chances of making the tournament would be little to none. They’ll close their regular season against Florida State, and a loss could singlehandedly keep them out of March Madness.
The Orange need to string together at least two wins in the ACC Tournament to even have interest in the selection show on March 13. They have a weak non-conference strength of schedule, and their loss to 7-22 St. John’s hurts. They are the 55th ranked team according to the RPI, and they’re just 7-7 against RPI top 100 teams.
Syracuse is not out of it, but they have a lot of work to do in order to get into serious contention to make the tournament.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat UNC and Florida State, win three games in ACC Tournament
Providence (20-9, 8-8 Big East)
Most people see Providence as a team with a 50/50 shot to win the tourney, but I like them more than that. The mighty Friars are 20-9, but that record can be misleading. Their non-conference strength of schedule is embarrassingly outside the top 200, which is probably why they didn’t lose their second game of the season until January 5.
With wins over Villanova, Arizona, and Butler (twice), Providence looks solid. However, being swept by Marquette and losing to DePaul won’t help their cause. They also were swept by Seton Hall, and had they won just one of the two, they’d be a shoo in for the tournament.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Creighton and St. John’s, win two games in Big East Tournament
Butler (19-9, 8-8 Big East)
The Butler Bulldogs are currently sitting pretty. They’ve got wins over Purdue, Seton Hall, and Cincinnati, and their worst loss is at Marquette.
Butler’s only problem is their inability to win against teams that are better than them. Butler is 4-7 against teams with a higher RPI ranking, proving they struggle against respectable opponents. Even with this problem, I still expect to see Butler in the tourney, unless they collapse in their final games.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Marquette or Seton Hall, win one game in Big East Tournament
Michigan (20-10, 10-7 Big Ten)
With a deep conference tournament run, I expect to see Michigan in the NCAA Tournament this March. They need pad their resumé with some more wins against high quality teams, which is something that is missing from the Wolverines’ resumé.
Michigan only has one more regular season game, so they need to rely on a B1G Tournament run to be sure of a bid. The Iowa Hawkeyes will travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Saturday, and Michigan has a week to prepare. Iowa won’t be looking to drop another game, as they’ve been sliding as of late and suffered an upset loss to Ohio State on Sunday.
At just 5-10 against RPI top 100 teams, Michigan hasn’t been able to get the job done against better teams. They’ve toppled Maryland, Purdue, and Texas, but aside from those wins, don’t have much to boast about. Against teams will a RPI ranking of 33 or higher, Michigan is just 3-8.
Michigan has some catching up to do, and I’ve got them as one of my first four teams out of the tournament. Right now, they will be an eight seed in the conference tournament, unless Michigan beats Iowa and Purdue loses out. In the tournament format, Michigan would have to face the number one seed if they win in their first game.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Iowa, advance to semifinals in conference tournament OR advance to conference tournament final
Ohio State (19-11, 11-6 Big Ten)
#THE Ohio State University Buckeyes are in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, when they won the NIT Tournament. Their best wins are over Kentucky and Iowa, and they don’t have any other big time wins other than those two.
Ohio State lost to Memphis by five early in the season, and had they won, they’d have a much better shot at earning a tourney bid. The Buckeyes are 4-9 against RPI top 100 teams, and 7-10 when ranging out to teams in the top 150.
Ohio State needs a miracle to enter the tournament, but we’ve seen things like that happen before. The itinerary for OSU is simple, but not easy. They have to at least get to the B1G Tournament semifinals, and receive help from other teams for any chance of making the tourney. If not, I guess they’ll have to win the NIT, again.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Michigan State, advance to conference final
Let it be known: The Pac 12 has a special place in my heart for being the only conference with the same amount of teams as their conference name indicates. Learn out to count, Big 12 and Big Ten.
USC (19-10, 8-8 Pac 12)
On the western side of the continental United States, there’s a few Pac 12 teams who await their fate. The USC Trojans should slide into the tournament if they continue to perform the way they have.
The best thing USC can boast is that they have zero losses against teams outside the RPI top 100. However, inside the top 100, USC is 10-10. The Trojans’ best win is over Arizona, and they don’t have any other highly notable wins on the season, which is why they’re on the bubble.
USC faces teams from Oregon to end their regular season, with bouts against Oregon State and Oregon. USC and Oregon State will be a #BattleOfTheBubbles, and the game has huge NCAA Tournament implications. If USC can win each of their final two games, they should be a virtual lock in the tournament.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Oregon and Oregon State, win one conference tournament game OR Beat Oregon/Oregon State, win two games in conference tournament
Oregon State (17-10, 8-8 Pac 12)
The Oregon State Beavers are looking to make an NCAA Tournament run, but first they’ll have to gain a bid. Oregon State, like USC, has no losses to teams outside the RPI top 100. That must be a Pac 12 thing.
Oregon State and aforementioned USC have very similar resumés, as the Beavers are 9-10 against the RPI 100, compared to USC’s 10-10. I like each teams’ shots of making the tournament equally, but if Oregon State can beat USC, I like the Beavers more. That is unless USC beats Oregon even if they lose to Oregon State (headaches).
As long as Oregon State can do what USC does, both teams should find their way into the tournament.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat USC and UCLA, win one conference tournament game OR Beat USC/UCLA, win two games in tournament
In simpler terms, USC and Oregon State need to win any combination of three games to clinch the NCAA Tournament
Washington (16-13, 8-9)
The odds of making the NCAA Tournament for Washington are about as high as Ohio State’s, so the Huskies have a lot of work to do. They own a win over Texas, but have lost to Oakland.
If I were the selection committee, I’d never give a bid to a team with at or below a .500 conference winning percentage. That means that, in theory, that Washington would have no shot at the tournament unless they win the conference tournament. I am not, however, the selection committee, so the Huskies still have a chance.
The lone game left for Washington is a battle with Washington State over umbrellas, or whatever people from Washington value. This game is an absolute must win for the Huskies. They’d also need to fight through many powerful Pac 12 teams in the conference tournament to be considered for a bid.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Washington State, advance to conference final and at least lose by less than six points
Vanderbilt (18-11, 10-6 SEC)
At 18-11 and owning wins over Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Florida (twice), Vanderbilt doesn’t need to do too much to earn a tournament bid. Their worst loss isn’t necessarily bad, as they lost at Mississippi State.
Vandy has dropped six games to RPI top 25 teams, but they should be in the clear. They have Tennessee and Texas A&M still on their schedule, so winning out would pretty much guarantee a March Madness appearance for Vanderbilt.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Tennessee and Texas A&M, win one conference tournament game OR Beat Tennessee/ Texas A&M, win two conference tournament games
LSU (17-12, 10-6 SEC)
Even with Ben Simmons, LSU probably won’t make it to the big dance. They’ve taken down Kentucky, Texas A&M, Florida, and Vanderbilt, but they’ve also lost to Wake Forest.
LSU’s out of conference strength of schedule is ranked 189th, and they only went 7-6. That alone nearly keeps LSU from making the tournament. LSU still has to play Missouri and Kentucky, so winning out would be substantial and could propel LSU to higher contention.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Missouri and Kentucky, advance to conference tournament final
Conspiracy alert: If LSU makes the tournament with a resumé worse than other teams, it’s because the NCAA will get more money from games with Ben Simmons in it than in any other bubble team’s game. I mean, c’mon, can you really see Ben Simmons not in the tournament?
Alabama (17-11, 8-8 SEC)
It’s no secret that Alabama is better at football than they are basketball, but head coach Avery Johnson has the Crimson Tide on the verge of a NCAA Tournament appearance. Bama has wins over Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and Wichita State, to name a few. They’ve also lost to Auburn.
I’ve got Alabama as one of my last four teams in due to their strong strength of schedule. Rather than playing East Western Central Community College- South Campus Online like their football team enjoys to do, their basketball team has the 24th hardest non-conference schedule, and the 29th hardest schedule total.
Alabama is 6-9 against RPI top 100 teams, which doesn’t separate them from the rest of the pack. They can still easily defeat Arkansas and Georgia, which would make it hard for them not to make the tournament if coupled with a conference tournament win or two.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Arkansas and Georgia, win three conference tournament games
Florida (17-12, 8-8 SEC)
Alas, the final team. Florida has a better shot than Alabama and LSU at making the big dance, thanks to a similar record yet a dauntingly harder schedule. Only 13 teams have battled through a harder schedule, and only four have trudged through a harder non-conference schedule.
Florida does have wins over West Virginia and St. Joe’s, but those are their only notable wins for this entire season. 11 of their 12 losses have come to teams inside the RPI top 100, with their worst being against Tennessee.
Florida still has to play Kentucky and Missouri, and wins against both would help mightily. However, if Florida can’t take down either, or if they can’t make a run in the conference tournament, expect to see the Gators in the NIT this March.
To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Kentucky and Missouri, advance to conference tournament final