NCAA Tournament 2014: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Week 17
With about 400 hours to go until Selection Sunday, it's time to take a look at the bubble to find out who is on the rise and who is playing their way into the NIT.
By my count, there are 34 teams fighting for 23 spots. There are another 15 teams that aren't on the bubble, but could conceivably play their way onto it in the next two weeks. You'll find those teams listed under "Coveting the Bubble" on the following slides.
And the math behind those 23 spots is assuming (foolishly) that conference leaders or teams that are locks to make the tournament will secure automatic bids. For every rogue conference-tournament winner, the bubble will further shrink.
It's a changing, amorphous situation and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Win-loss records on the following slides exclude games played against opponents not in D-I and are current through the start of play on Thursday, Feb. 27. All Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rankings (via ESPN) and KenPom (KP) rankings (via KenPom.com) are current through the start of play on Wednesday, Feb 26.
Definitely Dancing: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia
On the Bubble: Florida State and Pittsburgh
Coveting the Bubble: Clemson, Maryland and North Carolina State
Florida State (16-11, RPI: 57, KP: 32)
If we can look past the sheer number of losses, Florida State is in pretty good shape to snag an at-large bid.
A loss in the next seven days to either Boston College or Georgia Tech would change that considerably. But if it wins the games that it should, and at least puts up a fight in the season finale against Syracuse...let's just say there are worse profiles being considered these days.
After Sunday's win over Pittsburgh, Florida State now has three RPI Top 50 wins—all away from home, no less. Virginia has just three RPI Top 50 wins. Wichita State and VCU have two. Gonzaga has one.
Pittsburgh (21-7, RPI: 45, KP: 18)
I'll say this much for the Panthers: They have figured out the secret to keeping in the good graces of Ken Pomeroy.
At the end of last season, KenPom.com had Pittsburgh rated as the 11th-best team in the country, but the Panthers received a No. 8 seed in the tournament. Right now, they're rated No. 18 in the KP ranks and might be lucky to even make the tourney.
Pittsburgh is 0-6 vs. the RPI Top 50. A neutral-court win over Stanford back in November is the best thing about this resume, and that win may very well have been washed out by Sunday's home loss to Florida State.
It's easy to be impressed by the Panthers' lofty win total, but they only played two non-conference games against the RPI Top 100 and haven't beaten anyone of note in ACC play. Even if they close out the regular season with a 24-7 record, they might need another win in the conference tournament to feel safe about their bid.
Definitely Dancing: Cincinnati and Louisville
On the Bubble: Connecticut, Memphis and Southern Methodist
Coveting the Bubble: None
Southern Methodist (22-6, RPI: 37, KP: 22)
The Mustangs had one of those "bubble nightmare scenario" losses two weeks ago, stumbling on the road at Temple. But they also have wins over Cincinnati, Memphis and, most recently, Connecticut in the month of February, so they're still in great shape.
As long as they beat UCF on Saturday, the Mustangs will be in the tournament.
Connecticut (22-6, RPI: 30, KP: 24)
The win over Florida obviously counts, but imagine if Shabazz Napier hadn't converted that incredible putback jumper at the buzzer. Aside from a couple of wins over a slumping Memphis, the Huskies would be winless against the RPI Top 50.
Because of that early-December win over the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25, Connecticut is still very safely in the tournament field today. However, failing to hold a lead for even one second at home against Southern Methodist this past weekend was a bit disconcerting.
Similar to SMU, Connecticut is merely a home win over an AAC bottom feeder (Rutgers) away from clinching a tournament berth. The days of projecting the Huskies as a No. 5 seed appear to be long gone, though.
Memphis (20-6, RPI: 36, KP: 38)
In the past two weeks, Memphis has lost to Connecticut and barely escaped with wins against Rutgers, Temple and UCF.
The Tigers' computer numbers haven't changed much at all during that stretch, but they are miserably failing the all-important eye test. They are now 4-6 vs. the RPI Top 150 with games remaining against Louisville, SMU and Cincinnati.
Even assuming they beat Houston on Thursday night, if they close out the season with three straight losses, they'll be smack-dab on the cut line entering the conference tournament.
Definitely Dancing: Saint Louis and Massachusetts
On the Bubble: George Washington, Saint Joseph's and VCU
Coveting the Bubble: Dayton and Richmond
Saint Joseph's (20-7, RPI: 34, KP: 57)
The Hawks have won seven out of their last eight games, including wins over Massachusetts, VCU and a sweep of Dayton.
As a result, they are somewhat surprisingly alone in second place in the A-10 standings. As long as they don't close out the season with three straight losses to St. Bonaventure, George Washington and La Salle, they should be headed back to the tournament for the first time since 2008.
George Washington (20-7, RPI: 28, KP: 40)
VCU (20-7, RPI: 23, KP: 23)
We're grading these two teams together, because they have identical records and each has lost three out of its last four games.
Neither is in any immediate danger of missing the tournament, but they both have an upcoming road game against Fordham that could create quite a problem.
Definitely Dancing: Creighton and Villanova
On the Bubble: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's and Xavier
Coveting the Bubble: None
Marquette (16-11, RPI: 73, KP: 55)
The Golden Eagles are on the rise, but they're still pretty far from actually making it into the tournament discussion.
Fortunately, a road win over Villanova this coming Sunday could serve as their express pass to the field. In addition to that game against the Wildcats, they have three games remaining against the "bubblicious" Georgetown, Providence and St. John's.
They are 4-1 in their past five games with the sole loss coming against Creighton—an opportunity lost, but not a bad loss by any stretch of the imagination.
Providence (18-10, RPI: 60, KP: 52)
After a five-game winning streak in January that included victories over Creighton, Georgetown, St. John's and Xavier, I had Providence projected as a No. 10 seed.
Since then, though, the Friars are 3-5—and all three of the wins came against the two worst teams in the Big East.
They missed out on a golden opportunity in the double-overtime loss to Villanova last week, but they'll still have a chance to play their way into the tournament. A 3-0 finish against Seton Hall, Marquette and Creighton would be way more than enough.
Xavier (19-9, RPI: 51, KP: 44)
The Musketeers got a much-needed road win against St. John's on Tuesday night, but entered that game having lost five out of the past eight games, including a resume-crippling home loss to Seton Hall.
In their final three games, they'll be seeking revenge on Seton Hall in between home games against Creighton and Villanova. As long as they win one of those games, they should be OK, but I don't imagine the Musketeers will be the favorite in any of them.
Little of Both
Georgetown (16-11, RPI: 62, KP: 56)
St. John's (18-11, RPI: 63, KP: 37)
Compared to where they were at the end of January, Georgetown and St. John's are in fantastic shape.
However, they have both dropped considerably in the past 10 days.
Georgetown was smashed on the road by St. John's and Seton Hall before rebounding with a 22-point home win over Xavier. I dare you to make sense of that stretch of three games. I also dare Georgetown to stay on the bubble with this remaining schedule: at Marquette, vs. Creighton and at Villanova.
St. John's has a much more forgiving slate of games to end the season. The Red Storm also play a road game against Marquette, but the only other regular-season game left on their schedule is at home against DePaul. If they can win them both to get to 20-11 overall and 10-8 in the Big East, it might not matter that they have lost back-to-back games to Villanova and Xavier.
Definitely Dancing: Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma
On the Bubble: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas
Coveting the Bubble: West Virginia
Baylor (16-10, RPI: 40, KP: 39)
They lost to Texas on Wednesday night, but the Bears have done more than enough in the past two weeks to be trending upward.
They needed overtime to win home games against Kansas State and Oklahoma State, but they won the games, which is all that matters. Baylor followed up those crucial wins with a 13-point win at West Virginia.
The Bears are now 7-9 vs. RPI Top 100. That's a lot of losses, but if BYU is on the bubble with a 7-6 record vs. RPI Top 100 and four losses to teams outside the RPI Top 100, it's hard to argue that Baylor should be lower on the totem pole than the Cougars.
Oklahoma State (18-10, RPI: 48, KP: 27)
They're still squarely on the bubble, but the Cowboys have looked very good in their two games against TCU and Texas Tech since getting Marcus Smart back from his three-game suspension.
Truly, this is going to be the toughest team to read over the next two weeks. It's not a surprise that they struggled after losing Michael Cobbins and Stevie Clark, but things really snowballed out of control for about six weeks.
In November and December, Oklahoma State was one of the best teams in the country. In January and February, it was perhaps the most disappointing. What the Cowboys do in the first two weeks of March will be huge.
They absolutely must win one of their three remaining games against Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State unless they want their tournament fate hinging on a deep run in the Big 12 conference tournament.
Texas (21-7, RPI: 24, KP: 35)
The Longhorns have lost three straight road games, and didn't look good in any of them. With a 12-7 record vs. RPI Top 100, they're still in very good shape. However, their seed is slipping, and they still have games remaining against TCU and Texas Tech that could be landmines.
Kansas State (19-9, RPI: 39, KP: 43)
The Wildcats narrowly escaped with wins over TCU and Texas Tech in the past week. Even if they lose their remaining games (vs. Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, vs. Baylor), it's getting difficult to imagine a scenario in which they miss the tournament.
However, their stock has very much plummeted since the wins over Texas and Kansas in the first 10 days of February. Those November losses to Charlotte and Northern Colorado aren't helping matters, either.
Definitely Dancing: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin
On the Bubble: Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska
Coveting the Bubble: Illinois and Indiana
Nebraska (16-11, RPI: 47, KP: 50)
With the exception of Saint Joseph's, no bubble team has gained more steam over the past three weeks than the Cornhuskers—at least until Wednesday night's loss to Illinois.
After losing to Purdue on Jan. 12, they were 8-8 overall with an 0-4 record in conference play.
Since then, they are 8-3 with five wins against the RPI Top 100. And, bizarrely enough, their resume gets a boost from a November win over Georgia, as the Bulldogs have steamrolled their way to third place in the SEC.
As long as Nebraska can avoid losing to Northwestern or Indiana in the next week, it will have a very strong case for at an at-large bid, regardless of what happens in the season finale against Wisconsin.
As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan wrote in his Bubble Watch earlier this week:
Conference record is never as big a deal as many in the public often think, but it's a lot easier to sell a team with a record better than .500 in the Big Ten, and last week's home combo got Nebraska two games up for the time being.
With wins over Northwestern and Indiana, Nebraska would lock up that above-.500 conference record.
Iowa (19-8, RPI: 38, KP: 12)
Iowa is 4-5 since Jan. 22, and three of those four wins have come against the bottom three teams in the conference standings.
Neutral-court wins over Xavier and UTEP on back-to-back days in November account for the Hawkeyes' only nonconference RPI Top 100 wins. And, if you'll recall, Xavier had a double-digit lead midway through the second half before losing its leading scorer to leg cramps.
Had Iowa lost that game, it never would have played UTEP or Villanova. It would have been Tennessee and either Wake Forest or USC in the consolation bracket of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Going down the "what if?" rabbit hole of the early-season tournaments is an exercise in futility, but it bears mentioning that Iowa didn't intentionally challenge itself in the first two months of the season, outside of in-state rivalries with Iowa State and Drake.
That wasn't a problem when the Hawkeyes were 15-3 and beating the pants off of Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State, but now that they're struggling, it's becoming a point of contention.
Iowa might not quite be in danger of actually slipping out of the field, but it has certainly kissed a spot on the top five lines goodbye for the time being.
Minnesota (17-11, RPI: 43, KP: 49)
The win over Iowa on Tuesday night was absolutely massive, but the Golden Gophers have still lost six out of their last nine, which includes three losses against Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue.
Let's assume they lose at Michigan and win at home against Penn State to close out the regular season. That puts the Gophers at 18-12 overall with a sub-.500 conference record and a 2-2 nonconference record against the RPI Top 100—the two wins were against also-on-the-bubble Florida State and Richmond.
That would likely give Minnesota the No. 7 seed in the B1G conference tournament, meaning a first-round game against Northwestern before a second-round game against either Michigan State or Wisconsin.
Would 19-13 with a 6-11 record vs. RPI Top 100 be enough? Stay tuned.
Definitely Dancing: San Diego State
On the Bubble: Boise State and New Mexico
Coveting the Bubble: UNLV and Wyoming
New Mexico (22-5, RPI: 21, KP: 33)
The Lobos have won 10 out of their last 11, including a huge home win over San Diego State this past weekend.
Yet, they're still hovering in the vicinity of a No. 7 seed in most projected brackets—perhaps subconsciously due to last year's disappointing second-round exit against Harvard.
It's pretty unlikely that they will lose either of their upcoming games against Nevada and Air Force, but they would be in a little bubble trouble if they happened to lose them both. That's the only thing keeping New Mexico from being a lock, though. One more win and the Lobos are in.
Boise State (16-10, RPI: 50, KP: 66)
We're scraping the bottom of the bubble by including Boise State, but the Broncos recently won three in a row, including crucial home wins over New Mexico and UNLV.
Unfortunately, they have also suffered their three worst losses of the season in February road games against Fresno State, UNLV and Utah State.
They still only have two RPI Top 100 wins, which puts them in a tie with Toledo and North Dakota State for the fewest among RPI Top 50 teams. Even though they nearly won both games against San Diego State and the neutral-court game against Iowa State, that lack of quality wins will likely be the death blow to their tournament dreams.
If they can win their remaining games against Wyoming, Nevada and Air Force, though, they would at least have a remote shot at making the tournament. A win over New Mexico or San Diego State in the MWC tourney would be a gigantic help.
Definitely Dancing: Arizona and UCLA
On the Bubble: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon and Stanford
Coveting the Bubble: Oregon State, Utah and Washington
Stanford (18-9, RPI: 42, KP: 29)
Saturday's win over UCLA pushed Stanford pretty comfortably into the field, but the Cardinal have no room to relax. They were beaten soundly by Arizona State on Wednesday night and still play a road game against Arizona and two home games against Colorado and Utah.
They should absolutely win those home games, but who knows what will happen? Losing four straight to end the season could leave them in dire straits.
Colorado (20-8, RPI: 26, KP: 59)
If we can ignore how badly they were beaten in recent games against Arizona and UCLA, things are actually looking up for the Buffaloes.
They have won five out of their last seven to improve to 9-6 in the Pac-12.
The win over Kansas is still carrying a metric ton of weight, but perhaps the biggest conundrum on the entire bubble is how the committee goes about discounting that win because it occurred when Colorado still had Spencer Dinwiddie.
The last few chapters of this story have yet to be written. Colorado closes the regular season with road games against California, Stanford and Utah. Lose all three, and the Buffaloes are probably headed for the NIT. Win all three, and their computer profile might be strong enough to merit a No. 6 seed.
Oregon (18-8, RPI: 41, KP: 36)
The Ducks are 1-6 vs. RPI Top 50, but they have come so painfully close in their last three chances, losing by just two points to each of Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA. Had they gotten a few more friendly bounces, they'd be on an eight-game winning streak right now.
But, despite the current three-game winning streak, Oregon is 6-8 in the Pac-12 and still squarely on the bubble without anything resembling a quality win in the past two months.
In the next 10 days, the Ducks will have an opportunity to avenge each of those two-point losses. In order to make the tournament, they'll likely need to win at least one of those games—as well as the road game against USC.
Arizona State (20-8, RPI: 32, KP: 42)
The Sun Devils have lost two of their last three games, but surrounded those losses with season-defining wins over Arizona, Oregon and Stanford.
They didn't do themselves any favors by only playing two nonconference games against teams in the RPI Top 100, but who would have guessed that their win over UNLV wouldn't count as a quality win?
They've done more than enough in conference play to belong in the projected field at the moment, though. They're now 9-6 in the Pac-12 with home wins over four of the top six teams in terms of RPI.
California (18-10, RPI: 52, KP: 51)
The Golden Bears beat Arizona, but what else have they done in the past month? And at what point do we really start to focus more on the latter portion of that question?
California has lost six out of 10. The Golden Bears were swept convincingly by UCLA, beaten by 11 points at home by both Arizona State and Stanford and lost on the road to a USC team that still only has one win in Pac-12 play. Can a last-second win over Arizona really undo all of those wrongs?
Definitely Dancing: Florida and Kentucky
On the Bubble: Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee
Coveting the Bubble: None
Georgia (16-11, RPI: 82, KP: 81)
The Bulldogs still have some work to do before legitimately entering the tournament discussion, but it's pretty hard to ignore a third-place team in a power conference.
With the exception of Tennessee, Georgia has at least one win against each of the SEC teams on the bubble. If Georgia isn't actually on the bubble, how bad does that look for the rest of the conference?
In the month of February, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee have a combined record of 19-20. Arkansas is the only one of the bunch with a winning record, but four of the Razorbacks' five wins have come against the bottom five teams in the SEC standings.
All five teams rank between 49 and 79 in RPI. Tennessee (26—thanks in very large part to its 35-point thrashing of Virginia in December) is the only team with a KenPom rank in the top 50.
Someone eventually has to emerge from the .500 muck, though, right?
The smart money is on Tennessee getting a third tournament bid for the SEC, but it's impossible to trust a team that has already been swept by Texas A&M this season.
Definitely Dancing: Wichita State
On the Bubble: BYU, Gonzaga, Green Bay, North Dakota State, Southern Miss, Stephen F. Austin and Toledo
Coveting the Bubble: Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee
North Dakota State (18-6, RPI: 44, KP: 72)
The bubble is so weak (How weak is it?!) that the Summit League could conceivably send two teams to the NCAA tournament.
The Bison, bless their hearts, have played 15 true road games this season. The road win over Notre Dame doesn't look like much anymore, but it was pretty impressive in mid-December—back when the Irish were at full strength and nearly winning games away from home against Iowa and Ohio State.
There's certainly no guarantee that the Bison would get in by avoiding another loss until the Summit championship game, but their resume would be nearly identical to the one that sent Iona to the First Four in 2012.
BYU (19-10, RPI: 35, KP: 46)
The Cougars have won seven out of their last eight games, including back-to-back crucial wins over Saint Mary's and Gonzaga. They have two hurdles remaining: at San Diego on Saturday, and whichever low-ranking WCC team (perhaps San Diego again) they should happen to draw in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Win both of those games and BYU should officially become a bracketologist's worst nightmare, as we have to make sure not to put the Cougars in a region or subregion that will play games on a Sunday.
Stephen F. Austin (23-2, RPI: 69, KP: 69)
The strength of schedule is ugly as sin, as the Lumberjacks are 0-1 vs. RPI Top 100. However, it has now been more than three months since their last loss. They might never be seriously considered for an at-large bid, but they'll at least get mentioned in the conversation.
Green Bay (19-5, RPI: 58, KP: 54)
The Phoenix have lost two out of their last seven games, but their RPI has actually improved a little bit thanks to the continued rise of Virginia and Wisconsin—each of which Green Bay played in the first month of the season.
If they lose to Cleveland State in the Horizon championship game, they'd still have some life in the at-large discussion. Lose to anyone else, though, and it would be their third loss to a team outside the RPI Top 150.
Gonzaga (22-6, RPI: 29, KP: 30)
Gonzaga has lost three consecutive road games and has another two in the next few days against Pacific and Saint Mary's. The Bulldogs are still in the field for now, but what happens if they lose these last two games and fail to win the WCC championship?
They have that brand-name strength from 15 straight NCAA tournament appearances, but if they end up with nine losses and just one RPI Top 50 win (vs. BYU), what exactly is distinguishing the Bulldogs from a team like Clemson or Utah?
Southern Miss (21-5, RPI: 33, KP: 68)
Just two weeks ago, the Golden Eagles were in fantastic position. They were 21-3 with a 3-1 record vs. the RPI Top 100.
But then they were spanked in back-to-back road games by UAB and Middle Tennessee.
They're still in decent shape, but one more regular-season loss or an early exit from the C-USA tournament, and it could be curtains.
Toledo (22-5, RPI: 31, KP: 98)
More often than not, the RPI and KP ranks are much more similar than the RPI haters care to admit.
In the case of Toledo, though, there's a great schism between the two ranking systems. This is largely because Toledo has made quite the habit of winning close games against inferior teams.
In 25 games against teams that don't rank in the Top 60 of either ranking system, the Rockets have four losses and 13 wins by 10 or fewer points. They haven't won a single game by more than 15 points in nearly two months.
The MAC is an OK conference by mid-major standards, but you would hope that an at-large type of team would have some decisive blowouts over the teams at the bottom of the standings. And now that they have four conference losses, it's getting harder to see the Rockets earning an at-large bid if they slip up in the MAC tournament.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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