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That NCAA tournament bubble’s getting awfully crowded

Feb 28, 2011, 6:40 PM EDT

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We’ve slowly started to weed through some bubble teams.  Not that we won’t have any more surprises.  It’s been challenging to pare teams down and provide some separation.  As we head into March, Kansas State, UCLA, and George Mason move off the bubble as teams that should be in the Field of 68. 

Fortunately, we added Colorado back to the bubble before the CU’s victory over Texas.   Maryland missed a chance to join the conversation by falling at North Carolina on Sunday.  Washington State picked up a road win at Washington Sunday night and now owns a sweep of the Huskies.  Both remain on the bubble with two games left before the Pac-10 tournament.  Teams falling off the bubble at this point: Wichita State and Minnesota

Expect a few more teams to leave the bubble as we head into Championship Week.  We may not have a clear picture about the bottom of the bracket until the Friday or Saturday before the bracket is released. 

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com.

UPDATED: Monday, February 28

Automatic Bids (31): None decided | Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (9): These teams are teams in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates.
  • Spots available (12): Number of projected available openings for the bracket.
  • Leaving the Bubble: Kansas State (SBI), UCLA (SBI), George Mason (SBI), Wichita State (off), Minnesota (off)
  • Joining the Bubble: None
  • Notes: RPI and SOS data are through 10 p.m. ET (Feb. 27) | Washington/Washington State were updated Feb. 28.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Xavier, Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Richmond
  • Richmond (22-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 138 | – Not much has changed for the Spiders. Their win Saturday at Charlotte holds them steady. The win over Purdue continues to be a major helping point, and wins at Dayton and over VCU are okay, too. Richmond can’t afford a loss at St. Joseph’s before a final home date with Duquesne. It may still take a run to the A-10 tournament final depending on what happens around them.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
  • Boston College (17-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 18 | – The Eagles won at Virginia to avoid an untimely bad loss. Next up is a trip to Virginia Tech – which just upset Duke. BC has still lost 6 of 9 and remains just 1-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams (Texas AM). The Eagles need to beat Tech and then take care of Wake to improve their standing heading into the ACC Tournament. A loss in either will put some added pressure on the Eagles to win a couple of games in the league tourney.
  • Clemson (19-9 | 8-6) | RPI:69 | SOS: 97 | – After taking care of Wake Forest, it’s off to Duke before a home date with Virginia Tech. Both are critical games, and you have to figure the Blue Devils are going to be feisty after losing at Virginia Tech on Saturday. That said, beating Duke is Clemson’s last chance for a marquis victory. Other than a home win over Florida State, the resume is very average. Clemson has non-league losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina.
  • Florida State (20-8 | 10-4) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 88 | – Overall, Florida State remains in pretty good position given its strong ACC record. A weak non-conferense SOS (no. 227), could still be concerning if FSU stumbles down the stretch. The Seminoles are just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams, but they do have a home win over Duke. They also beat Baylor in Hawaii. Finishing third in the ACC standings will likely be enough. At this point, that looks promising. FSU closes with North Carolina at home and NC State on the Road.
  • Virginia Tech (19-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 85 | – Beating Duke gives the Hokies the type of marquis victory they missed last season. It’s not enough to take VT off the bubble, but their tournament odds certainly improved Saturday night. The Hokies are 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams to go along with three sub-100 RPI losses. Next up, BC arrives before a trip to Clemson. Both have their own spots on the bubble. Winning both would make the ACC Tournament a whole lot easier. A split means that Va. Tech would need to avoid a first-round upset in the league tournament.
BIG EAST
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, St. John’s | Should Be In: West Virginia | Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette
  • Cincinnati (22-7 | 9-7) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 81 | – The win at Georgetown gave UC’s profile a huge boost. It also guaranteed the Bearcats at least a 9-9 finish in the Big East. That’s why Sunday’s loss at home to Connecticut isn’t cause for alarm – provided the Bearcats don’t begin a free-fall that ends in a first-round exit in the Big East Tournament. UC is 4-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams (Xavier, St. John’s, Louisville, G’town) – a pretty solid mark. While the albatross of a horrible non-conference schedule (No. 281) still lingers, the Bearcats have done enough within the Big East to lessen its impact. One more win should be enough for UC to secure a spot and move off the bubble.
  • Marquette (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 30 | – After a huge win at Connecticut on Thursday, Marquette kept it rolling with a strong home victory over Providence on Sunday. That’s three straight for MU. The Golden Eagles are 4-10 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – an amazing number of high-level games. A schedule like that helps – if you can find enough victories. Up next is a visit from Cincinnati before a closing contest at Seton Hall. Winning both should be enough to move the Golden Eagles off the bubble. A split wouldn’t be horrible, but it would create some urgency to win at least one game in New York.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State
  • Illinois (18-11 | 8-8) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 17 | - Illinois avoided major problems by taking care of Iowa at home Saturday. Up next is a trip to Purdue – a very difficult challenge. Then, it’s home to Indiana. As long as the Illini take care of the Hoosiers at home, their propsects are favorable heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A loss would put a lot of pressure on Illinois to win a couple of games in Indy. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. If it’s a close call among Big Ten teams, the Illini beat both Michigan and Minnesota – teams they played only once in the Big Ten rotation. The loss at UIC is a major sore point.
  • Michigan State (15-12 | 8-8) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 5 | The Spartans were dominated at home Sunday by Purdue after winning two straight. That makes the last two games (Iowa, at Michigan) very important. Michigan State is now just 3-9 vs. Top 50 teams – thanks to Minnesota’s free-fall. Can MSU get to 10 league wins? That might be what it takes to have a chance heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A strong schedule will help, but MSU is squarely on the cutline as we move into March.
  • Michigan (17-12 | 8-9) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 20 | Winning at Minnesota wasn’t a great win, but it knocked the Gophers off the bubble and keeps the Wolverines in the conversation. While there’s not a lot to love about the Wolverine’s profile (2-8 vs. Top 50 teams), they have won 7 of 10 and were a last-second banked-in three pointer at the buzzer from beating Wisconsin. Michigan closes at home against Michigan State. A weak bubble continues to help. Much like Marquette, Michigan has several close losses and a solid strength of schedule. On another note, Michigan lost to Illinois in its only matchup with the Illini; just something to keep in mind. On the flip side, the Wolverines swept Penn State.
  • Penn State (15-12 | 8-8) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 9 | Surprisingly, Penn State gained some bubble ground with its win at Northwestern. For one, it was the Lions’ second road win. It also moved them back to .500 in league play. Penn State has three solid victories at home (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State). That’s more than some other teams at the cutline. The flip side is that PSU was swept by Michigan and is still just 2-8 in road games. Up next is a visit from Ohio State, followed by a trip to Minnesota. A split would keep PSU in the conversation heading to the Big 10 Tournament. A pair of losses probably ends the Lions’ run.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas | Should Be In: Missouri, Texas AM, Kansas State | Bubble: Baylor, Colorado
  • Baylor (17-10 | 7-7) | RPI: 72 | SOS: 48 | – Baylor has been a hard team to figure out. Major talent with very average results. Last week the Bears lost a home game to Texas Tech and were blown out at Missouri. Then on Saturday, Baylor took care of Texas AM at home, giving the Bears a season sweep of the Aggies. Most likely, that’s a match-up issue. Either way, Baylor is just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams – both of those the wins over Texas AM. Against the Top 100, the Bears are 5-7 – a lower win total than some other bubble teams. Out of conference, the Bears failed to win a Top 100 RPI game and their non-league SOS ranks No. 209. Now, it’s off to Oklahoma State before a closing game at home with Texas. Winning both would be huge. A split will require the Bears to do some work at the Big 12 Tournament. Two losses would be a major blow.
  • Colorado (17-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 73 | – Home wins don’t get much bigger than beating a potential No. 1 seed – ask Virginia Tech. The Buffs certainly improved their at-large hopes with a win over Texas on Saturday. It gives Colorado a 5-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams – a pretty solid total – especially compared to a team like Baylor. Elswhere, however, CU has struggled as a 9-11 mark vs. Top 200 teams suggests. The problem is a horrific non-conference SOS (No. 322). That could give the Selection Committee a reason to leave the Buffaloes at home. Up next is a trip to Iowa State before a home date with Nebraska. Winning both would be advised. A split will keep CU in the at-large picture. Among Colorado’s achievements is a sweep of Kansas State.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: BYU, San Diego State | Should Be In: UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (17-10 | 8-6) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 38 | – The Rams’ at-large hopes took a major hit after the loss at Air Force on Saturday. CSU’s best wins are UNLV and Southern Miss and the Rams’ once strong Mountain West record has fallen a bit. It’ll likely take a win at San Diego State on March 5 to stay in the at-large picture. A loss to Utah in between would be devastating. CSU is 2-5 vs. the Top 50 and 4-7 vs. the Top 100. Early losses to Sam Houston and Hampton remain obstacles.
PAC 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Arizona, UCLA | Bubble: Washington, Washington State
  • Washington (19-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 64 | – The loss to Washington State at home could put the Huskies on a dangerous path. UW has now been swept by the Cougars and other than a couple more league wins, their profiles are starting to become very similar. Once a solid tournament team, the Huskies are just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 6-7 vs. the Top 100. Remaining home games with Southern Cal and UCLA are very important now. Winning both might be enough, a split would mean there’s work to do at the Pac-10 Tournament to secure a spot.
  • Washington State (18-10 | 8-8) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 93 | – After pulling an upset in Washington Sunday night, the Cougars now own a season sweep of the Huskies. It also keeps WSU in the at-large discussion. With a weak bubble, who knows. Overall, WSU is still just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams (both Washington) and 6-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Other notable wins are Gonzaga and Baylor. UCLA and Southern Cal visit to close the season. WCU might need both. A split would keep them in the at-large conversation heading into the Pac-10 Tournament.
SEC
Locks: Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
  • Georgia (19-9 | 8-6) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 29 | – The Bulldogs’ win at Tennessee last week added another Top 50 win to a resume in need of quality wins. After a loss at Florida, Georgia rebounded to beat South Carolina at home – a key victory. Up next is LSU before a road trip to Alabama. A loss to LSU would be problematic. A split would keep Georgia on the right side of the cutline, but might require win or two at the SEC Tournament. Winning out would put Georgia in good position.
  • Alabama (19-9 | 11-3) | RPI: 89 | SOS: 139 | – Losing at Ole Miss Saturday wasn’t a killer, but it does lessen the Tide’s margin down the stretch. How much wiggle room Alabama has depends largely on how the Committee views an overall dominant performance in the SEC West. The Tide’s closing games are at Florida and home to Georgia. Winning both would be best, a split would be testy, and losing both would mean the need for a long run at the SEC Tournament. Whether the Committee will overlook the Tide’s poor start (losses to St. Peter’s, Iowa, Seton Hall) largely depends on how the Tide finish.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: George Mason | Bubble: Butler, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Old Dominion, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah State
  • Butler (20-9 | 13-5) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 79 | – Butler finished its regular season with 7 straight wins to earn the 2-seed and double bye in the Horizon League Tournament. A win over Florida State in Hawaii could still help, but the victory over Washington State isn’t what it once was – although the Cougars could rally. It’s the five league losses – including a sweep by Milwaukee – that’s holding Butler back. Getting to the Horizon League final would put BU right on the cutline.
  • Cleveland State (22-7 | 13-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 107 | – Vikings have to reach the Horizon League Tournament final to stay on the bubble.
  • Missouri State (23-7 | 15-3) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 126 | – Missouri State wrapped up the Missouri Valley title by beating Wichita State a second time on Saturday. That helps. However, the Bears’ best non-conference win is Pacific, and they have only two Top 100 RPI wins (both Wichita State). MSU has to reach the MVC Tournament final. After that, we’ll see.
  • Memphis (21-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 40 | – A lopsided loss at UTEP after being upset by Rice has knocked the Tigers’ profile down a few pegs. Memphis was also blown out in their prime-time matchups with Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee. Even with a sweep of both UAB and Southern Miss, the Tigers can’t afford another C-USA loss before the conference tournament. The win at Gonzaga may help, but the Tigers have lost a lot of momentum.
  • UAB (20-7 | 10-4) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 71 | – Thanks to UAB and Memphis losing – and a win at Houston on Saturday – UAB finds itself back on top of Conference USA. An outright title might be necessary to be a solid at-large candidate on Selection Sunday. UAB is 0-5 vs. Top 50 teams but 7-6 vs. the Top 100. Their only bad loss is at Arizona State in November – so that’s somewhat a plus. UAB closes at Southern Miss and hosts East Carolina this week.
  • Southern Mississippi (18-7 | 9-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 87 | – After winning 6 of 7, Southern Miss lost at Central Florida to fall out of the C-USA lead. Finding a way to win the outright C-USA title remains USM’s best hope for at-large consideration. The Eagles have a win at California and beat UAB in their first meeting. Southern Miss hosts UAB this week in what could be an elimination game. USM is still just 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 6-6 vs. the Top 100. Losses to Colorado State and Mississippi won’t help; neither will a non-conference SOS ranked No. 240.
  • Old Dominion (24-6 | 14-4) | RPI: 27 | SOS: 74 | – ODU ended its regular season by beating William & Mary. The Monarchs finished tied for second in a good Colonial conference. While ODU is in good shape, we’ll leave them here until they win a game or two in the CAA Tournament. Good wins include Xavier, George Mason and Cleveland State. ODU played the No. 15 non-conference schedule and came within 3-points of beating Georetown.
  • VCU (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 108 | – After losing 4 of 5 down the stretch, VCU is barely holding onto a bubble spot.  Any loss before an appearance in the CAA final will end the Rams’ hopes.
  • Gonzaga (20-9 | 11-3) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 94 | – Gonzaga has won 8 of 9 and moved above the immediate cutline after winning at St. Mary’s in OT on Thursday. The ‘Zags followed it up with an easy win over San Diego on Saturday. They have wins over Xavier, Marquette, and Baylor. The Zags’ home loss to Memphis could still hamper the Bulldogs’ at-large chances, but a strong non-conference strength of schedule bodes well. A 2-6 mark vs. Top 50 RPI teams is somewhat concerning, but a 7-7 mark vs. the Top 100 helps.
  • St. Mary’s (21-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 113 | – The Gaels are a perfect example of why we don’t rush to move teams off the bubble. St. Mary’s lost three straight before beating Portland on Saturday. That leaves SMU in a tie with Gonzaga atop the West Coast Conference. An early win over St. John’s helps, and St. Mary’s split with Gonzaga. But the rest of the resume is light (1-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-6 vs. the Top 100). In the at-large discussion, the Gaels would currently fall behind Gonzaga.
  • Utah State (25-3 | 13-1) | RPI: 19 | SOS: 102 | – The Aggies have two remaining WAC road games. Win both and it could be hard to leave the Aggies out unless they trip up early in the WAC Tournament. What’s holding USU back is a very light 2-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams – and one of those is Long Beach State (No. 92 on Sunday). That’s why the BracketBuster win at St. Mary’s was huge. Even so, we can’t put USU in the Field of 68 right now.
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