Bubble grows toward NCAA Selection Sunday

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Entering last weekend there were three conference tournaments that had the potential for disrupting the hopes of at least one at-large team with NCAA tournament hopes. The conferences include the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and Sun Belt.

The Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley -- though hotly contested -- proved true to form with regular-season conference champions holding serve. The Sun Belt did not, however, and it sent yet another team to bubbleland.

Middle Tennessee State (28-5) finished the regular season 19-1 in conference play and are very competitive for an at-large spot. But the Blue Raiders were upset in the Sun Belt semifinals and could miss the NCAA tournament. It's a shame that perpetual one-bid conferences prefer to devalue four months of games in exchange for two compelling hours of ESPN airtime. Winning a regular-season conference championship means very little compared to a tournament title in about 30 conferences. But that's something for another day.

Middle Tennessee State has entered the bubble field and I've added two more teams: Charlotte and UMass. Not that I think either have value, but both have been mentioned by "experts" as a potential bubble squad. So here is a breakdown of the 22 squads considered for about eight spots in next week's NCAA tournament:

BUBBLE TALK

BUBBLE GAMES THAT MATTER WEDNESDAY

  • Cincinnati vs. Providence (Big East tournament)
  • Arizona State vs. Stanford (Pac-12 tournament)
  • Boise State vs. San Diego State (Mountain West tournament)

BUBBLE GAMES THAT MATTER THURSDAY

  • Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (Big 12 tournament)
  • Iowa State vs. Oklahoma (Big 12 tournament)
  • Charlotte vs. Richmond (A-10 tournament)
  • St. Joseph's vs. Xavier (A-10 tournament)
  • Wake Forest vs. Maryland (ACC tournament)
  • Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas (SEC tournament)
  • George Washington vs. UMass (A-10 tournament)
  • Northwestern vs. Iowa (Big Ten tournament)

BUBBLE RESUMES

VIRGINIA 20-10, 10-7 ACC

  • RPI: 66; Strength-of-schedule: 132
  • Record vs. top-100: 8-3 (2-2 vs. top-25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Duke, North Carolina State, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Maryland (twice), North Carolina
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Clemson, Old Dominion, Wake Forest, Boston College, Delaware, George Mason, Florida State
  • Looking ahead: ACC tournament (N.C. State/Virginia Tech)
  • The latest: After beating Maryland on Sunday, Virginia can clinch an at-large spot with two wins and possibly get in with one.

MARYLAND 20-9, 8-9 ACC

  • RPI: 83; Strength-of-schedule: 116
  • Record vs. top-100: 3-9 (1-4 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Duke, North Carolina State
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Kentucky, Florida State (twice), Boston College, Georgia Tech, Virginia
  • Looking ahead: ACC tournament (Wake Forest)
  • The latest: Sunday's loss at Virginia all but eliminates the Terrapins barring an ACC tournament title appearance. The Terrapins clearly are outside the tournament right now.

CINCINNATI 21-10, 9-9 BIG EAST

  • RPI: 46; Strength-of-schedule: 26
  • Record vs. top-100: 8-10 (1-4 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Marquette, Pittsburgh, Xavier, Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State, Villanova, UConn
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Providence, St. John’s
  • Looking ahead: Big East Tournament (Providence)
  • The latest: The Bearcats don’t have a loss to a team with a losing record and have played a competitive schedule. Cincinnati should get in with little difficulty.

PROVIDENCE 17-13, 9-9 BIG EAST

  • RPI: 82; Strength-of-schedule: 62
  • Record vs. top-100: 5-9 (0-5 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Villanova (twice)
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): DePaul, Brown, Penn State, UMass, Cincinnati
  • Looking ahead: Big East Tournament (Cincinnati)
  • The latest: The early losses were horrific and although there are some decent wins as of late, the overall record and resume will keep Providence out of the NCAA tournament. Only a deep run in the Big East Tournament -- the Friars open with Cincinnati -- will get Providence back in the conversation.

IOWA 20-11, 9-9 BIG TEN

  • RPI: 76; Strength-of-schedule: 127
  • Record vs. top-100: 5-8 (1-6 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Purdue
  • Looking ahead: Big Ten Tournament (Northwestern)
  • The latest: The lack of a big road win coupled with a subpar non-conference schedule means Iowa must do some work in the Big Ten tournament. A defining second-round league tournament win against Michigan State gets the Hawkeyes in the conversation. A semifinal victory probably gets them in.

IOWA STATE 21-10, 11-7 BIG 12

  • RPI: 47; Strength-of-schedule: 64
  • Record vs. top-100: 7-8 (2-5 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Baylor (twice), Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Iowa, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Texas
  • Looking ahead: Big 12 Tournament (Oklahoma)
  • The latest: Iowa State appears almost a lock, although a near-collapse at West Virginia on Saturday could have turned some heads. Bottom line is a win against Oklahoma makes the Cyclones automatic.

BAYLOR 18-13, 9-9 BIG 12

  • RPI: 62; Strength-of-schedule: 21
  • Record vs. top-100: 5-10 (2-5 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Kansas
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): College of Charleston, Northwestern, Iowa State (twice), Texas
  • Looking ahead: Big 12 Tournament (Oklahoma State)
  • The latest: No team helped itself more on Saturday than Baylor, which dominated Kansas by 23 points. Baylor clearly is in the conversation but a loss to Oklahoma State could have the Bears outside looking in.

ARIZONA STATE 20-11, 9-9 PAC-12

  • RPI: 90; Strength-of-schedule: 122
  • Record vs. top-100: 5-8 (0-2 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Arkansas, Colorado (twice), UCLA, California
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): USC, Utah, DePaul, Washington (twice)
  • Looking ahead: Pac-12 Tournament (Stanford)
  • The latest: Barring a deep run in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Sun Devils just don't have a better resume than any other team on this list.

KENTUCKY 21-9, 12-6 SEC

  • RPI: 50; Strength-of-schedule: 65
  • Record vs. top-100: 7-9 (1-3 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Maryland, Florida
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Baylor, Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Looking ahead: SEC tournament (Vanderbilt-Arkansas winner)
  • The latest: Kentucky's inconsistent season was perfectly defined last week with a 10-point loss at Georgia followed by a win against SEC regular-season champ Florida. The Wildcats look like a low-level NCAA team barring an SEC tournament loss to the Arkansas-Vanderbilt winner.

TENNESSEE 19-11, 11-7 SEC

  • RPI: 54; Strength-of-schedule: 38
  • Record vs. top-100: 9-9 (1-2 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, Xavier, Wichita State, Missouri
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Kentucky, Alabama, Ole Miss (twice), Georgia (twice), Arkansas, Virginia
  • Looking ahead: SEC tournament (South Carolina-Mississippi State winner)
  • The latest: The Volunteers won nine of their last 12, including wins against Florida and Missouri. An SEC tournament victory against South Carolina-Mississippi State probably gets Tennessee in the NCAA; two wins makes it automatic (second-day opponent is Alabama).

OLE MISS 23-8, 12-6 SEC

  • RPI: 56; Strength-of-schedule: 153
  • Record vs. top-100: 7-6 (0-1)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Alabama, Tennessee (twice), Arkansas, Missouri
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Mississippi State, Indiana State, Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas A&M
  • Looking ahead: SEC tournament (Missouri-Auburn/Texas A&M winner)
  • Prognosis: Like the rest of the SEC, Ole Miss’ fate could come down to the conference tournament. A Friday loss (likely to Missouri) means a probable NIT spot.

ALABAMA 20-11, 12-6 SEC

  • RPI: 60; Strength-of-schedule: 91
  • Record vs. top-100: 7-7 (0-2 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Villanova
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Mercer, Tulane, Dayton, Cincinnati
  • Looking ahead: SEC tournament (Tennessee-Mississippi State/South Carolina)
  • Prognosis: Alabama beat Georgia by three points Saturday on an amazing half-court buzzer-beater to keep its NCAA hopes alive. But the Crimson Tide ’s resume is weaker most of its fellow SEC bubble competitors so it must win a couple head-to-head battles in the SEC tournament, like against Friday's probable opponent, Tennessee.

ARKANSAS 19-12, 10-8 SEC

  • RPI: 78; Strength-of-schedule: 82
  • Record vs. top-100: 6-10 (2-3 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Arizona State
  • Looking ahead: SEC tournament (Vanderbilt)
  • Prognosis: Arkansas just has too many losses to mediocre or comparable opponents, coupled with three defeats in the last five. A 30-point road loss at Missouri on Tuesday probably sealed its postseason fate barring at least three wins in the SEC tournament.

BOISE STATE 21-9, 9-7 Mountain West

  • RPI: 38; Strength-of-schedule: 69
  • Record vs. top-100: 8-7 (2-5 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Colorado State, UNLV, Creighton, San Diego State
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Nevada, Air Force, Utah
  • Looking ahead: vs. San Diego State (Mountain West Tournament)
  • Prognosis: Boise State took out San Diego State on Saturday to pad its NCAA resume. The Broncos have a nice middle-of-the-road resume with a couple decent wins and a few regrettable losses. One more win probably gets Boise State in the NCAA while two likely clinches it.

LA SALLE 21-8, 11-5 Atlantic-10

  • RPI: 39; Strength-of-schedule: 88
  • Record vs. top-100: 6-7 (2-1 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Villanova, Butler, VCU
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Temple, UMass, Xavier, Central Connecticut, Bucknell
  • Looking ahead: A-10 tournament (George Washington)
  • The latest: A 24-point loss at St. Louis hurts the Explorers' chances of staying in the conversation. La Salle might need at least two or three A-10 tournament wins to gain consideration outside of East Coast experts.

XAVIER 17-13, 9-7 Atlantic-10

  • RPI: 79; Strength-of-schedule: 54
  • Record vs. top-100: 5-8 (2-2 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): St. Louis, La Salle, Temple, Memphis, Butler
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): UMass, Dayton, Tennessee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Charlotte, St. Joseph’s, Wofford, Vanderbilt, Pacific, Wake Forest
  • Looking ahead: A-10 tournament
  • Prognosis: Xavier lost at Butler and now must advance deep in the A-10 tournament to have any shot. The Muskateers have the perfect NIT resume.

TEMPLE 23-8, 11-5 Atlantic-10

  • RPI: 36; Strength-of-schedule: 59
  • Record vs. top-100: 10-5 (2-3 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Villanova, Syracuse, La Salle, St. Louis, VCU
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Canisius, Xavier, Duquesne, St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure,
  • Looking ahead: Atlantic-10 Tournament
  • Prognosis: Of the A-10 bubble teams, Temple has the best case. There are a few concerning losses, but the Owls have won seven straight games and have 10 top-100 wins.

ST. MARY’S 27-6, 14-2, West Coast Conference

  • RPI: 33; Strength-of-schedule: 104
  • Record vs. top-100: 6-4 (0-3 vs. top-25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Creighton
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Northern Iowa, Pacific, Georgia Tech
  • Looking ahead: Season complete
  • Prognosis: Other than a win against Creighton, it’s a pretty nondescript campaign for the Gaels. There are more losses to non-NCAA tournament teams than wins against solid competition. When you add in three losses to Gonzaga (plus possible NCAA sanctions, another NCAA heartbreak is possible.

SOUTHERN MISS 23-8, 12-4 Conference USA

  • RPI: 37; Strength-of-schedule: 79
  • Record vs. top-100: 5-7 (0-3 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): None
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Marshall, Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State
  • Looking ahead: C-USA tournament
  • Prognosis: Southern Miss has a nice record but offers little else compared to the high-major teams who have played — and beaten — competitive teams in and out of conference play. It should take a Conference USA tournament title to clinch an NCAA berth.

UMASS 19-10, 9-7 Atlantic-10

  • RPI: 57; Strength-of-schedule: 83
  • Record vs. top-100: 8-8 (0-3 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Providence, La Salle, Xavier
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Tennessee, Charlotte, Temple
  • Looking ahead: A-10 Tournament (Georgetown)
  • The latest: To read some blogs, the Minutemen are very competitive for an at-large spot. I think they'd make a nice rematch for Providence in the NIT.

CHARLOTTE 20-10, 8-8 Atlantic-10

  • RPI: 63; Strength-of-schedule: 113
  • Record vs. top-100: 7-7 (1-2 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Butler, UMass, Xavier, La Salle
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Temple (twice)
  • Looking ahead: A-10 Tournament (Richmond)
  • The latest: Some smart people have tried to make a case for Charlotte as an at-large team. I don't see it.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 28-5, 19-1 Sun Belt

  • RPI: 28; Strength-of-schedule: 135
  • Record vs. top-100: 2-3 (0-2 vs. top 25)
  • Good wins (includes bubble teams): Ole Miss
  • Bad losses (includes bubble teams): Akron, Belmont, Tennessee State, Florida International
  • Looking ahead: Season complete
  • The latest: The Blue Raiders are very competitive for an at-large spot because of their RPI and overall record. They're 2-1 against the SEC, including a head-to-head win against Ole Miss. But they have a tenuous position, especially if the other teams on this list get hot in their conference tournaments.

 

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