Written by Chris Canada, Gatorsfirst.com Co-Founder
The last weekend in February made the waters a bit clearer heading into the final week of the regular season. Here is my updated bubble watch for the upcoming NCAA tourney.
The first set of conference tourneys starts this Tuesday, Mar. 3. Most of the major conferences don't start theirs until Mar. 10-12. Therefore, most teams have about two games left to impress the committee before starting conference tournament play.
Remember, there are 65 spots available, comprised of 31 automatic bids to conference champions and 34 at-large bids. Here is a comprehensive look at the major leagues in Division I (full rankings are current AP poll).
From the results that follow, I predict that at this point 56 teams are safe, which includes 31 automatic berths and 25 at-large bids. Out of thees 56 teams, 29 come from major conferences and 27 from minor ones. Mar. 15 is approaching rapidly, so teams need to bunker down and play hard to make the field of 65.
This means that there are nine remaining at-large bids that will go to the "bubble" teams that I have listed.
If I were to choose from the remaining bubble teams that are listed below, my last nine in, in order, would be: Oklahoma State, UNLV, St Mary's, Miami, Penn State, Providence, Arizona, Florida, and Michigan.
My first four out would be Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Virginia Tech. And my next four out would be Rhode Island, New Mexico, Kansas State, and Texas A&M.
This ordering is based on where they stand now, and how I predict them to finish down the stretch. These ranking could change dramatically over the next week, and during next week's conference tourneys.
Look for my picks for these crucial bubble-watch games at the end of each conference's analysis. My picks will be italicized.
SEC (3) Championship Mar. 12-15 in Tampa, FL
Locks: No. 12 LSU (25-4, 13-1)
Should be in: No. 35t South Carolina (20-7, 9-5), Tennessee (18-10, 9-5)
Bubble: Kentucky (19-10, 8-6), Florida (21-8, 8-6), Auburn (19-10, 8-6)
Analysis: The Gators' loss to Georgia a few weekends back was crushing. And the loss to Tennessee at home was brutal to watch. Their remaining schedule includes Mississippi State on the road and Kentucky at home.
LSU is the clear leader of this somewhat tame SEC. After a win at home against Florida and a road win at Kentucky, the Tigers are now 13-1 in conference play and look poised to make a tourney run.
South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee are just a step ahead of Florida in regard to tournament seeding.
Tennessee looked great this weekend against Florida, making just about every three it put up. UT got the big road win it needed and is pretty much set for a berth.
South Carolina has beaten Kentucky twice, so they seem more likely to make the tourney.
Kentucky is in a similar position as Florida. Even though it played tough against a really talented LSU team, it still lost another game at home this weekend when it really needed a win. I think the loser of the Florida/Kentucky game next weekend will probably have to settle for the NIT.
Auburn is a long shot at best. But, it did win again this weekend at Mississippi, and a win next weekend at home over LSU would open some eyes.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): LSU won at Kentucky, South Carolina lost at Vanderbilt, Tennessee won at Florida.
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Tuesday—9 p.m. ET: Auburn at Alabama (ESPN); Wednesday—8 p.m. ET: Vanderbilt at LSU, 8 p.m. ET: Georgia at Kentucky (ESPN360), 9 p.m. ET: Florida at Mississippi State (ESPN360), Thursday—7 p.m. ET: Tennessee at South Carolina (ESPN)
ACC (6) Championship Mar. 12-15 in Atlanta, GA
Projected Champion: North Carolina
Locks: No. 2 North Carolina (25-3, 11-3), No. 7 Duke (24-5, 10-4), No. 10 Wake Forest (22-5, 9-5), No. 18 Clemson (22-6, 8-6), No. 24 Florida State (22-7, 9-5)
Should be in: No. 40t Boston College (20-9, 8-6)
Bubble: Miami (17-10, 6-8), Maryland (18-10, 7-7), Virginia Tech (17-11, 7-7)
Analysis: The top teams in the ACC have all stumbled as of late, but I believe that they will be focused and ready for the tournament. I expect North Carolina to win the ACC tournament at the Georgia Dome. Florida State is now a lock with an impressive home win over Clemson. Boston College should be in with a win or two.
The bubble is more complex. Miami hit a bad spell in the middle of conference play, but has rebounded nicely with wins over Boston College and Virginia. The Hurricanes challenged UNC and Duke on the road, and beat Wake Forest at home. If they take care of business and win out, they will make the tourney. And they should with remaining games against Georgia Tech and N.C. State.
Maryland has also played well as of late and is right on the edge. Maryland defeated UNC at home last week, and took care of N.C. State on the road this weekend. So the Terrapins have left a big impression with the committee late in the season.
Virginia Tech lost to Duke at home this weekend and made it dicey to say the least. Out of the three remaining bubble teams, I think Virginia Tech has the lowest chance.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): Clemson lost at Florida State, Duke won at Virginia Tech, Maryland won at N.C. State.
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Tuesday—7 p.m. ET: Virginia at Clemson, 8 p.m. ET: Florida State at Duke (ESPN360), 9 p.m. ET: Wake Forest at Maryland; Wednesday—7 p.m. ET: North Carolina at Virginia Tech (ESPN), 7 p.m. ET: Boston College at North Carolina State (ESPNU), 7:30 p.m. ET: Miami (FL) at Georgia Tech
Big East (7) Championship Mar. 10-14 in New York, NY
Locks: No. 1 Connecticut (27-2, 15-2), No. 3 Pittsburgh (26-3, 13-3), No. 6 Louisville (23-5, 14-2), No. 11 Villanova (23-6, 11-5), No. 13 Marquette (23-6, 12-4), No. 25 Syracuse (21-8, 9-7), No. 31 West Virginia (20-9, 9-7)
Should be in:
Bubble: No. 35t Providence (17-11, 9-7), Cincinnati (18-10, 8-7), Notre Dame (16-11, 7-8)
Analysis: Clearly the most competitive conference, and the deepest, the Big East should have some major firepower in the big dance. I have UConn taking the title, but Pitt, 'Nova, Louisville, and Marquette could all jump up and grab it.
Syracuse and WVU needed one more win each to secure their bids, and did so.
As for the bubble, Providence took big steps this week by knocking off No. 1 Pitt last week. The Friars took care of Rutgers on the road this weekend, and will be in if they win at Villanova on the road on Thursday.
Cincy pretty much ruined its chances at a bid with a pathetic performance at Syracuse.
Notre Dame lost a crucial game at UConn this weekend. To me, they seem destined for the NIT.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): Notre Dame lost at UConn, Marquette lost at Louisville, Cincinnati lost at Syracuse, Providence won at Rutgers, West Virginia won at South Florida.
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Monday—7 p.m. ET: Villanova at Notre Dame (ESPN); Tuesday—7 p.m. ET: Cincinnati at South Florida (ESPNU), 9 p.m. ET: Rutgers at Syracuse (ESPNU); Wednesday—7 p.m. ET: DePaul at West Virginia (ESPN360), Seton Hall at Louisville (ESPN360), 7:30 p.m. ET: Marquette at Pittsburgh (ESPN2); Thursday—7 p.m. ET: Providence at Villanova (ESPN2)
Big Ten+1 (5) Championship Mar. 12-15 in Indianapolis, IN
Projected Champion: Michigan State
Locks: No. 8 Michigan State (23-5, 13-3), No. 23 Illinois (23-7, 11-6), No. 19 Purdue (22-7, 11-5)
Should be in: Wisconsin (18-10, 9-7), Ohio State (18-9, 8-8)
Bubble: Minnesota (20-8, 8-8), Penn State (20-9, 9-7), Michigan (18-12, 8-9)
Analysis: The Big Ten+1 is weird because I could see as many as eight teams making it, and as low as four teams making it. As of now, Michigan State is the favorite to win the conference tourney. However, the Spartans have been wildly inconsistent and could easily be upset by fellow locks Illinois and Purdue.
Wisconsin is playing really well right now, and a win against Michigan this weekend makes its chances pretty solid.
Ohio State had been playing really well lately, but a bad loss against Purdue halted its good fortune. OSU should still make the tourney with a win or two.
As for the bubble, Minnesota, Penn State, and Michigan are all similarly positioned.
Minnesota started of the season something like 17-1, but the Gophers have played miserable ball as of late and now find themselves having to play great from here on out.
Penn State has surprised a whole lot of people and has continued to be in the discussion for a tournament berth, including a recent win over Illinois. I think a win in the first round of the conference tourney would seal the deal. The Nittany Lions defeated Indiana at home this weekend.
Michigan is also playing well as of late, including a home win over Purdue. The Wolverines' early season split with Duke, their wins against UCLA and Illinois, and their strong showing against UConn should be enough for them to make the tourney. But their loss at Wisconsin this weekend will really hurt.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): Ohio State lost at Purdue, Indiana lost at Penn State; Michigan lost at Wisconsin, Michigan State won at Illinois
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Tuesday—7 p.m. ET: Michigan State at Indiana (ESPN), 9:05 p.m. ET: Ohio State at Iowa; Wednesday—6:30 p.m. ET: Northwestern at Purdue, 8:30 p.m. ET: Wisconsin at Minnesota; Thursday—9 p.m. ET: Illinois at Penn State (ESPN)
Big 12 (4) Championship Mar. 11-14 in Oklahoma City, OK
Locks: No. 4 Oklahoma (26-3, 12-2), No. 9 Kansas (24-5, 13-1), No. 15 Missouri (24-5, 11-3)
Should be in: No. 32t Texas (19-9, 8-6)
Bubble: No. 39 Oklahoma State (19-9, 8-6), Kansas State (20-9, 8-6), Texas A&M (21-8, 7-7)
Analysis: You can see the importance of Blake Griffin to the Oklahoma Sooners, who got back on track by beating Texas Tech this weekend. With him playing, they are a beast. I expect them to get him back and win the conference title.
Kansas and Missouri are locks with their stellar play all season. Kansas dominated Mizzou this weekend, and looks primed for a tourney run.
Texas stumbled for a short period, but has regrouped with big wins, including Oklahoma. However, the Longhorns lost on the road this weekend to Oklahoma State.
The real question is with their bubble teams, which include Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M.
OSU has played really well lately, including the aforementioned Texas win, and could clinch a spot with one more win.
A&M was 14-1 to start the season, but had a dreadful start to the conference schedule. The Aggies had been playing well as of late, but will need some help to make the dance. Taking care of business against Iowa State didn't hurt this weekend.
Kansas State had some big wins early in the conference play, but has faltered lately. However, the Wildcats scored a huge bubble win over Nebraska this weekend.
Nebraska's loss ends its chances at an at-large bid.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): Iowa State lost at Texas A&M, Oklahoma won at Texas Tech, Texas lost at Oklahoma State, Nebraska lost at Kansas State, Missouri lost at Kansas
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Monday—9 p.m ET: Baylor at Texas (ESPN); Tuesday—7:30 p.m. ET: Kansas State at Oklahoma State (ESPN2); Wednesday—9 p.m. ET: Oklahoma at Missouri (ESPN360), 9 p.m. ET: Texas A&M at Colorado (ESPNU), 9:30 p.m. ET: Kansas at Texas Tech (ESPN2)
Pac-10 (4) Championship Mar. 11-14 in Los Angeles, CA
Locks: No. 16 Washington (22-7, 13-4), No. 20 UCLA (22-7, 11-5), No. 21 Arizona State (21-7, 10-6)
Should be in: No. 34 California (21-8, 10-6)
Bubble: No. 38 Arizona (18-11, 8-8), No. 37 Washington State (16-13, 8-9)
Analysis: The Pac-10 is completely up for grabs, with the clear favorites being Arizona State, Washington, and UCLA. At one point, I thought that UCLA was the clear class of this league. A late-season swoon made me rethink my pick and choose Arizona State. However, ASU lost twice last week. So my new pick is Washington.
California is also pretty secure with its spot in the tourney, and a close loss against UCLA didn't hurt all that much.
There are two bubble teams: Arizona and Washington State. Arizona has a much better chance that Wazzu.
I felt pretty comfortable about Arizona before this weekend because I thought it could pull of an upset of Washington. However, the Wildcats' loss gives them a lower chance of making the tourney.
Washington State has kind of risen from the dead lately with some huge wins over quality opponents. A big home win against ASU this weekend still keeps the Cougars alive. However, the only realistic shot of an at-large bid is to win out and then make the finals of the Pac-10 tourney.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): Arizona lost at Washington, Arizona State lost at Washington State, USC lost at Stanford, UCLA won at California
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Tuesday—11 p.m. ET: Seattle at Washington; Thursday—8:30 p.m. ET: Stanford at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m ET: Oregon State at UCLA, 10:30 p.m. ET: California at Arizona
Other Conferences (27)
Projected Champions (must win conference): Vermont (America East), Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun), Weber State (Big Sky), Radford (Big South), Cal State Northridge (Big West), VCU (Colonial Athletic), Cornell (Ivy League), Siena (MAAC), Buffalo (Mid-American), Morgan St (MEAC), Robert Morris (Northeast), Tennessee-Martin (Ohio Valley), No. 40t American (Patriot League), Stephen F Austin (Southland), Alabama St (SWAC), North Dakota St (Summit League), Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt)
Locks: No. 17 Xavier (23-5, 11-3, Atlantic 10), No. 5 Memphis (26-3, 14-0, Conference USA), No. 22 Butler (25-4, 15-3, Horizon League), No. 28 Utah (20-8, 11-3, Mountain West), No. 14 Gonzaga (23-5, 14-0, West Coast)
Should be in: No. 30 Dayton (24-5, 10-4, Atlantic 10), No. 26 Creighton (25-6, 14-4, Missouri Valley), No. 27 BYU (22-6, 10-4, Mountain West), No. 32t Davidson (24-6, 17-2, Southern), No. 40t Utah St (26-4, 13-2, Western Athletic)
Bubble: No. 40t Rhode Island (22-8, 11-4, Atlantic 10), George Mason (20-9, 13-5, Colonial Athletic), Tulsa (20-9, 10-4, Conference USA), UAB (20-9, 10-4, Conference USA), Houston (18-9, 9-5, Conference USA), Niagara (22-7, 12-4, MAAC), Northern Iowa (20-10, 14-4, Missouri Valley), UNLV (20-8, 8-6, Mountain West), New Mexico (19-10, 10-4, Mountain West), San Diego State (19-8, 9-5, Mountain West), No. 29 St. Mary's (24-5, 10-4, West Coast)
Analysis: There are many great teams out there that aren't in any of the big six major conferences. I have broken up the projected conference champions by their ability to make the tourney regardless of whether they won their conference title or not.
Memphis is the clear-cut contender for the national title out of this group.
Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga, Creighton, Utah, Davidson, and Utah State will be very dangerous come tournament time.
Dayton at 23-5 in the A-10, and BYU at 21-6 in the Mountain West seem like they should be able to hold on for tournament spots if they fail to win their own tournaments. They both scored big wins this weekend and are more or less locks for the tourney. I think one win for each of them cements their bids.
As for the bubble, I have added 17 teams for which a limited number of spots remain.
From the A-10, Rhode Island has an okay shot after defeating a tough Duquesne squad on the road. Temple should be out of the running after a weekend loss to Dayton.
From the Colonial Athletic, only George Mason has a shot at an at-large bid. However, it is a very, very slim shot at that. The Patriots did win at home against Towson this weekend.
From Conference USA, Tulsa, UAB, and Houston are still alive. Tulsa and UAB may have a better shot than Houston, but they are all long shots at this point. All three took care of business this weekend.
From the Horizon, both Wisconsin-Green Bay and Cleveland State have good records. But both of them lost this weekend and their bid chances should be shot.
From the MAAC, Niagara is still alive. I'm sure a win over Siena on Friday put an impression in the eyes of the committee. However, an at-large spot is very unlikely.
From the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa is still in the hunt. However, the MVC is down from its usual spot as mid-major stalwart. I doubt more than one team will make it. Illinois State's loss this weekend ends its at-large journey.
From the Mountain West, UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State are still alive. I've already stated that Utah and BYU should be in, and I've heard reports that all five teams that I've mentioned might get in. That would be huge for a mid-major conference.
From the West Coast, St. Mary's seems like the logical choice to make it, with a 24-5 record. Portland's at-large chances are done after two straight losses.
From the Western Athletic, Nevada lost late Thursday night to end its chance, even though it ended up beating league-leader Utah State at home this weekend.
Last weekend's results (Feb. 27-Mar. 1): Siena lost at Niagara, Illinois State lost at Creighton, Evansville lost at Northern Iowa, Georgia Southern lost at Davidson, Temple lost at Dayton, Utah lost at BYU, St. Mary's won at Loyola Marymount, New Mexico won at Colorado State, Utah State lost at Nevada; Siena won at Canisius, Rhode Island won at Duquesne, San Diego State won at TCU, Georgia State lost at VCU, Towson lost at George Mason, Houston won at Rice, UAB won at East Carolina, Tulsa won at SMU, Butler won at Cleveland State, Wisconsin-Green Bay lost at Wright State, Portland lost at Santa Clara
Games this week (Mar. 2-5): Tuesday—9 p.m. ET: USC Upstate at Gonzaga, 9 p.m. ET: Utah at New Mexico; Wednesday—8 p.m. ET: UCF at Tulsa, Memphis at Houston, 8 p.m ET: Brigham Young at Wyoming, 9:05 p.m ET: UAB at UTEP, 10 p.m. ET: Colorado State at San Diego State, Air Force at UNLV; Thursday—9 p.m ET: Dayton at Xavier (ESPN2)
Next update: Friday, Mar. 6.
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