The bubble just keeps shrinking

Editor’s note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through Friday’s games.

The Atlantic 10 has become a highly reliable source of bid thieves. For a third consecutive year, the league is responsible for wiping an at-large bid off the board.

This time around it was Rhode Island that did the deed. URI took down VCU 75-70 in the A-10 quarterfinals.

The bubble had already contracted by one open position when Saint Mary’s defeated Gonzaga by 13 in the West Coast Conference title game. Now, with URI joining the Gaels in the bid thief category, there are two bubble teams that will sit at home or accept invitations to the NIT next weekend.

With rampant thievery reordering the field, here’s how Bubble Watch sees the bracket taking shape. The numbers below show 23 teams competing for 11 available spots. Four of those aspirants are so-called “should be in” teams: Oklahoma, Minnesota, VCU and Utah State.

Those four look extremely likely to make it into the field intact as a foursome, so the “effective” bubble might be thought of in the following terms: 19 teams competing for just seven spots.

In a parallel universe where Gonzaga and VCU both take care of business in their conference tournaments, those same 19 teams are instead competing for nine open bids. Those are the breaks.

Nor, of course, can we be sure that the bubble’s done shrinking. Oregon beating Washington in the Pac-12 final would take away another bid, as would Bowling Green defeating Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference final.

Here’s how we’re projecting the bubble:

Bids from traditional “one-bid” leagues: 20 teams
Locks: 37 teams
The bubble: 23 teams for 11 available spots
Should be in: 4 teams
Work to do: 19 teams

ACC | Big 12| Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | American | Others


Locks: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse
Work to do: NC State, Clemson

Work to do

NC State Wolfpack

A nail-biter of a win against Clemson was followed by a 20-point loss to Virginia, and so NC State’s run in the ACC tournament is finished. Did the Wolfpack do enough between November and March for an at-large bid? When Kevin Keatts’ men tipped off against the Cavaliers, they were ranked in the 30s on the NET and projected as a No. 11 seed that had possibly six teams beneath them in the field of 68. In other words, there could be room here for a safe landing, and, anyway, how much of a penalty is the committee going to impose for losing to the 29-2 Hoos? On the flip side, at 22-11, did NC State really beat the proverbial anyone this season? The best win on the profile is undoubtedly the 78-71 victory at home over Auburn in December. Past that, you’re looking at neutral-floor wins over Penn State and Clemson, and those are your three Quad 1 victories. Last, this team played an exceptionally soft nonconference schedule, statistically speaking. That fact’s already reflected in the NET ranking and in the quadrant records, but, who knows, maybe the committee will want to voice displeasure there. If not, however, the 19-2 record outside Quad 1 and particularly the NET ranking could be sufficient. (Updated: March 14)

Clemson Tigers

After losing by a point to NC State in the ACC tournament, Clemson will be on a few “last four in” and perhaps more “first four out” lists. That’s preferable to “next four out,” certainly, but it’s still a precarious position to occupy in the middle of what is always a wild and tumultuous Championship Week. Even the slightest contraction of the bubble brought about by even a single bid thief, for example, could prove calamitous to the Tigers. Granted, at the end there could still be an at-large bid in the offing for Brad Brownell’s group, which finished its playing days showing up in the 30s in the NET rankings. Stranger things have transpired in the committee room, goodness knows. A more appropriate working assumption for Brownell and his men, however, is that their 1-10 record in Quad 1 games will need to be either completely overlooked by or somehow ingeniously smuggled past the committee in order for this team to get an at-large. (Updated: March 13)

Big 12

Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor
Should be in: Oklahoma
Work to do: TCU, Texas

Should be in

Oklahoma Sooners

The profile is set in stone for the Sooners. Shown as a No. 8 seed heading into a 72-71 loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, Lon Kruger’s group has beaten Wofford at home, taken care of Florida on a neutral floor and stands at 4-10 in Quad 1 games. (For the record, the Sooners are 15-3 in Quads 2 and 3, and 0-0 against Quad 4.) The early exit from the conference tournament could drop Oklahoma to a double-digit seed, but, at 7-11 in the Big 12, the Sooners will gladly become the first team in over 20 years to earn an at-large with fewer than eight wins in an 18-game conference season. TCU might join that club as well. (Updated: March 13)

Work to do

TCU Horned Frogs

The Horned Frogs closed out their profile with a bit of a three-game roller coaster. One game after playing their way onto the No. 12 or even 11 line in mock brackets with a big win at Texas, Jamie Dixon’s team blew a 21-point lead in the second half and nearly lost to Oklahoma State in the first round of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. Fortunately for TCU fans, however, the Frogs escaped 73-70, only to bow out 70-61 to top-seeded Kansas State in the quarterfinals. At 20-13 with a season sweep of Iowa State and a road win in Austin to show in the Quad 1 trophy case, the Horned Frogs may have done enough for a bid. But it’s going to be close. (Updated: March 14)

Texas Longhorns

Bubble Watch has waxed eloquent (naturally) on the subject of not writing off “work to do” teams just because we saw them lose their last game. In the specific case of the Longhorns, however, we’re confronted with a different question entirely. Is the committee going to give a bid to a team with a 16-16 record? That answer has never been “yes” before, whether with respect to the 16 losses or the .500 record. Words like “never” do not sound promising for UT’s tournament hopes. (Updated: March 14)

Big East

Locks: Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall
Work to do: St. John’s, Creighton, Georgetown, Xavier

Work to do

St. John’s Red Storm

St. John’s was projected as a No. 11 seed going into the Marquette game, and Bubble Watch supposes, if a few more bubble teams had won a few more games this week, there could be a discussion on whether this team is now in real trouble. Chris Mullin’s men were blown out 86-54 by Marquette, and the NET ranking attached to the Red Storm even going into a lopsided loss already was in the mid-60s. Now factor in that, in the eyes of the rating system, the Johnnies actually were playing a “home” game at Madison Square Garden when they were hammered by 32 points. Meaning this NET ranking could get ugly. Still, there also are two things going in this team’s favor. First, even after the debacle against the Golden Eagles in the Big East tournament, St. John’s is still 3-2 against Marquette and Villanova for the season. Second, well, the committee does have to get to 68 somehow. (Updated: March 14)

Creighton Bluejays

A two-point loss to Xavier in the Big East tournament probably leaves Creighton just short of the tournament field. The Bluejays covered a good deal of ground to make it that far, and a win against the Musketeers would have changed this picture considerably. Instead, CU has stopped playing at 18-14, leaving it difficult to point to any one facet of the profile that recommends Greg McDermott’s team at the expense of other at-large candidates. Creighton’s NET ranking is in the 50s, which is fine but not great, a description that also might apply to the 3-10 Quad 1 record and the 13-3 mark in Quads 2, 3 and 4. It was a spirited turnaround from 13-13, but it doesn’t appear to be quite enough. (Updated: March 14)

Georgetown Hoyas

Georgetown gave this thing a run for its money when pretty much no one in mid-February saw the run coming, but it appears the Hoyas have come up short. Losing by 16 in your conference tournament quarterfinals (to Seton Hall) when you’re being shown as “next four out” material does not customarily presage receiving an at-large bid. The all-freshman backcourt of James Akinjo and Mac McClung gives the Hoyas all kinds of hope for the future, and who knew before the season that this would be the fastest-paced team in Big East play? Alas, it just wasn’t enough, apparently, to get into the field this time. (Updated: March 14)

Xavier Musketeers

Xavier needed that game against Villanova, and the Musketeers led for roughly 28 minutes of regulation before the Wildcats took the proceedings to overtime. You know the rest: Travis Steele’s men came up short, and the same can almost certainly be said for XU’s shot at at-large bid. At 18-15, the Musketeers are a respectable 4-9 against Quad 1 but just 8-6 against Quads 2 and 3. That, plus a lackluster NET ranking meant this team had to have that win against Nova. It almost happened. (Updated: March 15)

Big Ten

Locks: Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa
Should be in: Minnesota
Work to do: Ohio State, Indiana

Should be in

Minnesota Golden Gophers

At this rate the Gophers are going to end up with a better seed than a nominal Big Ten lock like Maryland. Minnesota needed overtime to turn back Penn State in its first game in the conference tournament, but no extra session was required to notch a far bigger 75-73 victory against Purdue. Jordan Murphy scored 27 points, and the Gophers will play in the Big Ten semifinals for the first time since 2010. We might see this seed improve still further. After all, having two wins over the Boilermakers within 10 days of each other is a nice talking point. (Updated: March 15)

Work to do

Ohio State Buckeyes

At best, Ohio State ended its conference tournament run at a time when the committee was listing it as one of the last four byes in the field. At worst, the Buckeyes were something closer to the last team in the field, period. You’re not on the committee and neither is Bubble Watch, so we don’t know where in that range OSU was located when the team lost 77-70 to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. If the former is closer to correct, Ohio State has a good shot at staying in the field of 68. If, on the other hand, the latter scenario is closer to the truth, then Chris Holtmann’s team is in trouble. Being the last team in the field before VCU fell in the Atlantic 10 tournament (very likely taking an at-large bid off the table) means, effectively, you’re no longer in the field. The Buckeyes will wait until Sunday to find out which of these two assumptions is valid. (Updated: March 15)

Indiana Hoosiers

It would be very much in keeping with an Indiana team that’s confounded every succeeding expectation, both good and bad, throughout the entirety of 2019 if the Hoosiers now not only got a bid but earned a high seed. Alas, it appears instead that this wild and always unpredictable IU roller coaster has finally reached its final turn. With the four-point loss to Ohio State, Archie Miller’s team sits at 17-15. The point of that season sweep of Michigan State, after all, was never that those two games alone would propel Indiana into the field of 68. Rather, the expectation was that two wins against the Spartans would give the Hoosiers the platform to show what they could really do. But a first-game exit from the Big Ten tournament might have brought this conversation to a close at last. (Updated: March 14)


Lock: Washington
Work to do: Arizona State

Work to do

Arizona State Sun Devils

The Sun Devils were being projected as a No. 10 seed when they fell to Oregon in overtime in the Pac-12 semifinals, leaving Bobby Hurley’s team 22-10. ASU has played six Quad 1 games all season and won three of them. In theory a team claiming a victory on a neutral floor over Mississippi State as its best win and with a NET ranking lower than that of any at-large candidate save only St. John’s might feel a bit uneasy right now. In practice, Arizona State isn’t competing with what should be a good profile. This group is instead competing with other bubble teams, and on that basis (and absent any more bid thieves) ASU may well earn an at-large bid. (Updated: March 15)


Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss
Work to do: Florida, Alabama

Work to do

Florida Gators

That should do it. After a 76-73 win over LSU in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, Florida is 19-14. The Gators are 2-1 against the Tigers, and Mike White’s team has four Quad 1 wins (albeit to go with 11 losses). Most notably, UF carries a higher NET ranking than the likes of Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa and Syracuse. It was touch-and-go there for a while, but Florida posted a big win when it was being listed as “last four in” and at a time when other bubble teams seemed to be posting losses right and left. The Gators should be in. (Updated: March 15)

Alabama Crimson Tide

After a tense five-point win over OIe Miss, reality set in for Alabama in the form of an 18-point loss to Kentucky. The Wildcats had Reid Travis back in the lineup for the first time since mid-February and, even though the senior came off the bench, UK played like a team at full strength. As for the Crimson Tide, an 18-14 record with a 3-10 mark in Quad 1 games and a NET ranking in the high 50s will have to be sufficient for an at-large bid. Is that going to be enough? Speaking normatively, it feels a little thin. In comparative terms, however, those numbers are more or less in line with plenty of other bubble candidates. There has been no ticket punched here, to say the least, but Bubble Watch isn’t sure this matter is closed, either. (Updated: March 15)


Locks: Houston, Cincinnati, UCF
Work to do: Temple, Memphis

Work to do

Temple Owls

An 80-74 loss to Wichita State in the American quarterfinals greatly increases Temple’s risk, but might not be enough to knock the Owls out of the field. Fran Dunphy’s men entered the contest being shown as a No. 11 seed, and, to be sure, Temple is now in a position where it needs to count every bid thief carefully. That said, a 23-8 record that includes a win over Houston, even with a 2-6 mark in Quad 1 contests, looks pretty strong next to some of the competing bubble profiles. (Updated: March 15)

Memphis Tigers
A win against Houston in the American semifinals should initiate an honest to goodness at-large conversation around Memphis. Such is the state of affairs at FedExForum after Penny Hardaway’s team beat UCF for the second time in 2018-19. True, those two wins are the sum total of the Tigers’ Quad 1 victories on the season. Still, this is a group that outscored the American by the same per-possession margin as did bubble mainstay Temple, and the Owls and Tigers are also tightly bunched in the NET rankings. (Last thing: Jeremiah Martin is worth the price of admission.) A win against the Cougars would ignite this discussion for real.


Locks: Gonzaga, Nevada, Buffalo, Wofford, Saint Mary’s, Murray State
Should be in: VCU, Utah State
Work to do: Belmont, UNC Greensboro, Furman, Lipscomb

Should be in

VCU Rams

Mike Rhoades’ men are riding a 12-game win streak thanks primarily to outstanding defense. Now, at 25-6 overall and carrying an outright Atlantic 10 regular-season title, VCU has a No. 8 or 9 seed waiting for it in a matter of days if mock brackets are to be trusted. There are no remaining Quad 1 opportunities for the Rams even in any potential A-10 tournament game, but the 54-53 win at Texas in December will continue to fill that need on the profile quite satisfactorily. (Updated: March 8)

Utah State Aggies

The Aggies are in all probability playing to improve their seed at this point, and beating a very good Fresno State team 85-60 certainly helps that along. USU is set to meet San Diego State in the title game after the Aztecs made short work of Nevada. With Craig Smith’s team being projected as taking a spot on the No. 9 or 10 line, it’s now a foregone conclusion that this program will be making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2011. The only question now is whether it will be an automatic or at-large bid. (Updated: March 15)

Work to do

Belmont Bruins

Now, the Bruins must wait. Ja Morant erupted for 36 points, and Murray State beat Belmont 77-65 in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. Rick Byrd’s team hopes the committee will put stock in the positives on this profile. There is, for starters, the NET ranking that was, at least when Belmont stopped playing, higher than those of Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, TCU, Temple, Minnesota, Alabama, Arizona State and the entire Big East bubble (Creighton, St. John’s, Xavier and Georgetown). The Bruins also were short-handed against the Racers and played without Nick Muszynski. Lastly, Belmont was 5-3 this season against Quads 1 and 2. Conversely, Byrd’s men won’t want the committee to linger on a negative like the 3-2 record against Quad 3. In any event, the Bruins profile is set, but the bubble will continue to shift in ways that will either help or hurt Belmont’s chances. (Updated: March 9)

UNC Greensboro Spartans

For 35 minutes in the Southern Conference title game, the Spartans were the superior team against Wofford. Then the Terriers closed the contest on a 20-3 run, and Mike Young’s team captured the automatic bid 70-58. As for at-large possibilities, UNCG actually shares some profile similarities with Wofford. Like the Terriers, Wes Miller’s team has an excellent record (28-6) built on a small number of “good” losses, to LSU, Kentucky, Furman and, yes, Wofford (three times). The Spartans own two Quad 1 wins (at East Tennessee State and over Furman on the neutral floor in the SoCon semifinals), and Francis Alonso & Co. are an immaculate 24-0 in Quads 2, 3 and 4. Could all of the above plus the impressive showing against the Terrier juggernaut (21-0 against SoCon opponents this season) pry an at-large bid from the committee? In Bubble Watch’s estimation, it’s a long shot. (Updated: March 11)

Furman Paladins

The season is in the books for the Paladins after a 66-62 loss to UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference tournament semifinals. Bob Richey’s team sits at 25-7 with the memorable win at Villanova to its credit. Alas, that win (plus a sweet NET ranking in the 40s) might form the sum total of the case for Furman on Selection Sunday. It’s not a bad case, but the Dins might have trouble standing out from the crowd. Saint Mary’s, to take one example, has a NET ranking that’s even sweeter than Furman’s. (Updated: March 10)

Lipscomb Bisons

The Bisons show two Quad 1 wins on their profile, at TCU and at Liberty, and their NET ranking is in the 40s. Those are the elements that kept Casey Alexander’s group in the at-large discussion for weeks, but Lipscomb let its safest chance slip away when it lost 74-68 on its home floor to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun conference title game. An at-large now appears to be a long shot. (Updated: March 10)

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