Welcome to the most in-depth and comprehensive March Madness Bubble Watch on the internet, at least that I’m aware of, and please feel free to burst my bubble (pun intended) and make me aware of a better one. It can be confusing heading to Bracket Matrix or your favorite bracketologist’s page to try and figure out who may be close to the cut line and who may be solidly in, and why. Hell even as a self-proclaimed bracketologist myself I get lost in the weeds sometimes, so maybe this column is more of a cathartic reprieve and organizational tool for me than it is a source of joy for you but hey, I appreciate you nonetheless. Anyway, enough of the pleasantries let’s dive in…It’s been a wild season up to this point as there is seemingly no dominant, or even elite, teams this season as we’ve now set the record for most AP top-2 losses in one season with over a month to go. March figures to be as wild and unpredictable as ever, but what we can’t allow to be wild and unpredictable is Selection Sunday, and that’s why we’re all here right? I’m going to assign teams to 3 groups – Locks, On the Right Track and Teetering. Any team left out is not even on the radar, so maybe 4 groups for you sticklers out there. The “Locks” are basically teams I don’t see a world they don’t get in. I must admit I’m a below average gambler so I am going to be quite stingy when it comes to assigning locks, ya better have the resumé to lose almost every game left and still get in. The “On the Right Track” group are teams who will need to meltdown in order to not get in, but we’ve all seen a meltdown or two. Generally they are probably on the 6-7 line or higher and have a significant number of Q1 wins and positive momentum sending them in the right direction. Lastly the “Teetering” group, I’m sure at this point you can figure it out but nevertheless these could be teams on the right side or wrong side of the bubble right now that I could see going either direction come Selection Sunday. With every team not in the lock category I will include their record in each Quadrant (per the NET rankings the selection committee will use), SOS (taken from ESPN’s BPI) and a final category Tournament Wins (TW’s) (which will be the total number of wins against teams in the projected field, as calculated by me). Also worth mentioning, obviously any of these teams can get their way in by winning the Conference tourney, I’m assuming with all of these blurbs they will need an at-large bid. So without further ado, let’s get it. All info as of 2/6. Check out my current bracket here.
On the Right Track:
Virginia: 17-4 (9-3) — Q1: (4-4) Q2: (3-0) Q3: (4-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (26) TW’s (4)
The ACC is not providing Virginia with a ton of opportunities to rack up quality wins, but thanks to two huge wins over Baylor and Illinois in the non-conference Virginia is in the best shape of anyone in this Conference. This isn’t as dominant of a defensive team as we’ve seen in the past with Virginia but man they can shoot it, so nobody is going to want to see the Hoos in March. They have 3 road losses to conference teams who are all projected in the field and the home loss to Houston, not bad, they just need to take advantage of every opportunity they can to pick up meaningful W’s. The good news for them is they welcome N.C. State and Duke into town this week and a 2-0 week could move them into Lock territory. The danger of the ACC this year is there are a lot of Q3/Q4 games that don’t add much but can sink a resumé, but for now they sit on the 4 line. This is a huge week for Virginia to try and jump up into the 2-3 conversation and out of any bubble talks.
Miami (FL): 18-5 (9-4) — Q1: (5-4) Q2: (2-0) Q3: (5-1) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (57) TW’s (6)
An ugly loss to Georgia Tech is really the only thing holding the Canes back as they continue to rack up wins over quality teams, beating Providence/Rutgers/NC ST/Virginia/Va Tech/Clemson all of whom are in my projected field. A victory over Duke at home this week likely locks things up as they also welcome lowly Louisville after that. I can’t see 20-5 Miami missing the field. This is one of the most elite offenses in the Country so they just need to keep taking care of business. As far as resumé building goes they just improved tremendously with a win @ Clemson and climb into 5 seed territory. With 5 of their final 7 at home Miami is poised to finish strong and be one of the better resumés the ACC has to offer.
Duke: 17-6 (8-4) — Q1: (2-6) Q2: (5-0) Q3: (2-0) Q4: (8-0) SOS: (49) TW’s (5)
The Blue Devils are starting to play better and looked good down the stretch in the win over UNC, but as difficult of a week as there is in the ACC awaits them as they head to Virginia and Miami back-to-back. With only 2 Q1 wins over Xavier and Iowa, these are 2 massive opportunities to stamp their ticket, but they certainly wouldn’t be out of it if they go 0-2. Still, 2-8 in Q1 games will not look good come seeding time and they may find themselves dropping toward the teetering line should that be their reality. The schedule softens up a bit after that, with the only Q1 opportunity of the regular season after this week being UNC the last game, so finding a way to pull one of these out could be huge for where they end up on Selection Sunday.
Pitt: 16-7 (9-3) — Q1: (4-2) Q2: (4-4) Q3: (1-0) Q4: (7-1) SOS: (61) TW’s (5)
Pitt is one of those classic play to the level of your competition teams as they have a number of impressive wins including UNC x2, Virginia, Miami and N.C. State. However, they also have some befuddling losses like most recently at home to Florida St who is really struggling. The NC SOS is not great, but the wins cannot be ignored and if they can just avoid any additional horrific losses then they should be comfortably in. The somewhat bad news for this team is there are a laundry list of potential land mines waiting for them, as they have the bottom 5 ACC teams all left in February and only Miami and Va Tech on the road as potential chances to improve the resumé. They can lose those two, but if they start racking up more losses to the bottom feeders it could get dicey. I see a bad loss but a Q1 road win in store because it’s Pitt, and that’s what they do. Why make it easy?
N.C. State: 19-5 (9-4) — Q1: (3-4) Q2: (2-1) Q3: (4-0) Q4: (10-0) SOS: (82) TW’s (3)
N.C. State continues to rack up wins over bad teams, and while they don’t have any bad losses at some point they are going to need to notch another top tier win to feel secure. A trip to Virginia presents just that opportunity, but as we’ve discussed if they don’t capitalize the ACC just doesn’t provide many Q1 chances so thing will get interesting down the stretch. They are playing really good basketball and really just need to continue to win the games they are supposed to and they should get in, but a road win over Virginia or Duke later this season would lock things up. As of now they’re sitting in that 8-9 seed territory, so some work to do to make things comfortable.
North Carolina: 15-8 (7-5) — Q1: (1-6) Q2: (5-1) Q3: (3-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (21) TW’s (1)
This team, with so many of the pivotal pieces back from last year’s runner up finish, having this record and genuinely being on the bubble in February is an abomination. The good news, if there is any, is that there are actually quite a few opportunities ahead for the Tar Heels, with another matchup with Duke, as well as Miami, Virginia and N.C. State give them ample opportunities to pick up some quality wins. I genuinely am not sure if 1 Q1 win is going to be good enough to get the Tar Heels in the dance, despite all of the talent we know the roster has. They go to Wake Forest this week and then welcome Clemson which gives at minimum 2 Q2 chances with Wake teetering on the line of Q1. There’s really no bad losses on the board, but their best win is a neutral court win over a reeling Ohio St team who isn’t even really in contention to make the dance. They HAVE to pick up some quality wins or they may be NIT bound. Yes, you read that right.
Clemson: 18-6 (10-3) — Q1: (3-2) Q2: (4-0) Q3: (4-1) Q4: (7-2) SOS: (94) TW’s (5)
Clemson’s non-conference was a joke, with their best win being a home win over Penn St and 2 losses to South Carolina and Loyola (Chi), both 200+ ranked teams. However, they still are 7-2 in Q1-2 games which is impressive. It is a weird resumé to seed quite frankly because of the 3 horrific losses juxtaposed with that solid record against quality teams. They have 3 more Q1 opportunities with UNC, NC St, and Virginia all on the road, but lose all 3 of those and all of a sudden you are 3-5 in Q1 with those 3 horrible losses. If they go 4-3 down the stretch it is going to be a very important ACC tournament for the Tigers. They will undoubtedly be squarely on the bubble. However, 5-2 with a road win over one of those 3 and things look much safer. Huge stretch run to say the least.
Virginia Tech: 14-9 (4-8) — Q1: (3-5) Q2: (2-3) Q3: (3-1) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (54) TW’s (4)
The Hokies just put themselves back in the conversation with a home win over Virginia. Stack that on top Duke, Oklahoma St and UNC wins and you have a tournament worthy resumé brewing. 3 straight games against the bottom feeders in the ACC await, absolute must wins, and if they accomplish that then back-to-back home games with Pitt and Miami will offer up the golden ticket to the Dance. Is 5 wins more wins in a row too much to ask for? I’m not sure, but when your season is on the line with each passing game, you would hope that’s a realistic goal. If they can go 7-1 down the stretch, with the lone loss at Duke, I think this team is dancing. 6-2 and there’s still hope, anything short of that is likely a trip to the NIT. It’s go time.
Wake Forest: 15-9 (7-6) — Q1: (2-6) Q2: (2-2) Q3: (4-1) Q4: (7-0) SOS: (63) TW’s (4)
Wake finally snapped their 4 game skid with a win over Notre Dame, but frankly that doesn’t do much for the resumé. At this point they are on the wrong side of the bubble, but they have some opportunities, including a home game against UNC this week to make a push. Road games against Miami and N.C. State are the other 2 Q1 chances, but if they’re 2-9 in that category that’s all she wrote. I think they need to find a way to win 2 of those 3 to feel safe, 1 to even stay in the conversation. We have seen now after last year that late runs in a Conference tournament might not be much of a factor (shout-out Texas A&M), so you have to get yourself situated in the regular season. It’s not out of the question just yet, but they have to be near perfect from here on out.
On the Right Track:
Illinois: 16-7 (7-5) — Q1: (3-6) Q2: (4-1) Q3: (3-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (38) TW’s (5)
The Illini have had some ups and downs throughout the season, highlighted by big wins over UCLA and Texas in the non-conference. However, some puzzling blowouts at the hands of fellow bubble teams Penn St and Mizzou forces everyone to pause and wonder who exactly is Illinois? Brad Underwood clearly is wondering the same thing and actually skipped their halftime last week altogether in an attempt to get his teams attention. Some consistency down the stretch should get the Illini in the field, but with the difficulty that the Big Ten presents it’s a bit too early to grant them lock status just yet. This week they need to take care of Minnesota at home before they welcome in Rutgers in what is a huge Q1 opportunity for both teams on Saturday.
Rutgers: 16-7 (8-4) — Q1: (4-4) Q2: (4-2) Q3: (1-1) Q4: (7-0) SOS: (37) TW’s (4)
Rutgers has been a menace ever since they got their full lineup back in order and if they just didn’t have that black stain in the loss to Temple on their resumé they would be the closest to lock status behind Purdue. What they do have that nobody else in the country does is a win over those Boilermakers in Mackey Arena, so as long as they handle their business at home they should be dancing come March. But, as we know, the Big Ten offers very few respites, and this week is one of the toughest imaginable as this group heads to Indiana followed by a trip to the aforementioned Illini. They do say defense travels and the Scarlet Knights have proven that already winning in Mackey, but they would have to feel ecstatic to even pull off one of these this week. The good news, an 0-2 week won’t sink the ship, and more opportunities await.
Indiana: 16-7 (7-5) — Q1: (3-6) Q2: (4-1) Q3: (3-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (18) TW’s (6)
Trayce Jackson-Davis is the story for the Hoosiers as his increased level of play has turned this ship around. In the middle of January this team was 10-6 and mired by injuries. Since then TJD has put the team on his shoulders and carried them to a 6-1 record while averaging 24.2 ppg and 14.5 rpg. He has looked like an All-American and is right behind Zach Edey in the CPOY race and a certain 1st team All-Big Ten guy. All of that culminated in them getting the signature win they’ve been after as they beat #1 Purdue and put themselves in great position to be comfortably in come Selection Sunday. It is more of a conversation about what seed they’ll be now as they fall somewhere in the 5-6 range. However, they can’t relax in the Big Ten as 6 of their final 8 are Q1 games. An absolute gauntlet. 2-6 down the stretch and it’s a much different tune.
Iowa: 15-8 (7-5) — Q1: (7-5) Q2: (3-2) Q3: (0-0) Q4: (5-1) SOS: (15) TW’s (7)
Iowa has quietly racked up 7 Q1 wins now after a home win over Illinois and is only behind Purdue in the Big Ten in that category, and only behind Kansas and Texas nationally. The home loss to 352nd ranked E. Illinois is the one thing keeping them down in the 5-6 range seed wise, but the wins are starting to rack up in a way that can’t be ignored. They have a trip to Purdue up next and 5 of their final 8 are on the road, but if they can go 4-4 down the stretch they will be comfortably in. Lose any more than that and things will start to get dicey I imagine, but that pile of Q1 wins is really going to be the shining star. It is also worth noting the bad loss was without star Kris Murray, so I don’t see another loss like that happening.
Maryland: 16-7 (7-5) — Q1: (3-7) Q2: (4-0) Q3: (2-0) Q4: (7-0) SOS: (31) TW’s (4)
Maryland joins Purdue as the only Big Ten teams without a loss outside of Q1, so the resumé is clean as of today. For them it is about racking up a few more big time wins down the stretch, and this week they get a big opportunity as they head to East Lansing. That is followed up by a home tilt with Penn St before the biggest opportunity of the season comes to town in Purdue. That will be the game that I have circled for them, win that game at home after beating Penn St as well and the Terrapins are well on their way. Especially since after that game they get Nebraska/Minnesota back-to-back. Of course things rarely go as planned, but a loss to Sparty isn’t devastating so long as they just take my advice and beat Purdue. Easy enough right?
Michigan St: 14-9 (6-6) — Q1: (4-7) Q2: (3-1) Q3: (3-1) Q4: (4-0) SOS: (6) TW’s (4)
A few weeks ago nobody would have thought Sparty would be in danger of falling out of the field but this last 7 game stretch has seen them go 2-5 in a gauntlet of a schedule. Positive momentum is not how I would describe this situation for Tom Izzo and company, but we all know February is when Izzo led teams always start hitting their stride. I would expect this group to bounce back this week as they get a home game against Maryland and then travel to Ohio St who is talented but absolutely free-falling right now. A 2-0 week and Michigan St will add at least 1 Q1 dub with the Maryland win likely a Q2. That would sure make everyone in East Lansing a bit more at ease as they head into the final stretch.
Northwestern: 16-7 (7-5) — Q1: (4-4) Q2: (2-3) Q3: (3-0) Q4: (7-0) SOS: (61) TW’s (5)
Northwestern is a confusing bunch, and after getting blown out at home by Michigan they just went on the road and beat Wisconsin. No idea how good the Cats are, but with 4 Q1 wins now they are still on the right side of the bubble. They also are headed into a stretch of 6 out of 8 games being Q1 opportunities so they have a chance to play themselves in or out depending on how it goes. If they can just take care of business at home then they’re likely in, but that also means beating Purdue, IU and Iowa…tall task. Maybe they can pick off Ohio St on the road, but there is a world I see them going 2-6 to finish the season and being in big jeopardy on Selection Sunday. The weak NC SOS could really hurt them, so finding a way to win 1 or more of those Q1 home games is vital. This week it’s @ Ohio St and then Purdue walks in. Big time week.
Wisconsin: 13-9 (5-7) — Q1: (4-6) Q2: (3-3) Q3: (1-0) Q4: (5-0) SOS: (6) TW’s (4)
Just when I thought the Badgers were going to right the ship they lose at home to Northwestern. They are now 2-7 over the last 9 games and it can no longer be written off to the Tyler Wahl injury, they may just stink? They went 0-3 without him, but he’s been back for 6 games now and you simply can’t lose at home to NW and still think you’re a good team (no offense to them of course). Still, thanks to a strong start to the season that includes wins away from home over Marquette and USC, the Badgers have a resumé that keeps them in consideration. Just like with every Big Ten team they have opportunity after opportunity to stack up some quality wins, and this week is no exception as they head to Penn St and then Nebraska. Two winnable games and I would argue you absolutely can’t go 0-2. Split those 2 and you’re still alive, and that is what it’s all about for these bubble teams in February.
Penn St: 14-9 (5-7) — Q1: (2-6) Q2: (3-3) Q3: (4-0) Q4: (5-0) SOS: (37) TW’s (3)
Penn St is on the outside looking in, especially after losing to Nebraska, even if it was on the road. The good news for the Nittany Lions is they have 4 home games left against Wisconsin/Illinois/Rutgers/Maryland plus a trip to Minnesota which sets them up nicely to go 5-3 down the stretch. Do that and I think they find themselves on the right side of the bubble discussions. Anything worse than that and Selection Sunday is going to be a nail-biter. They have some good wins, including on the road against Illinois and home wins over IU and Iowa, it’s just losses like this last one to Nebraska that is keeping them from feeling safe. This week they get Wisconsin at home before going to Maryland, so a 1-1 week keeps them on target. Go 0-2 though and it might be all she wrote for this group, so Wednesday really is nut up or shut up time.
On the Right Track:
TCU: 18-5 (6-4) — Q1: (5-4) Q2: (3-1) Q3: (4-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (30) TW’s (6)
If the Wildcats could have just held serve at home against Texas this past weekend they would be a lock, but now losses in 3 of the last 4 puts a tiny haze of doubt over this group. I still think they are too good to really enter a free-fall, but nevertheless I am giving them another week to play themselves off of this bubble watch. A home tilt with TCU offers a perfect bounce back chance and then a road venture to desperate Texas Tech again offers a winnable but difficult matchup. There are no nights off in the Big 12, we all know that, but at some point you have to take care of business and these are 2 of the “easier” games they will have. 2-0 this week and we’ll be done writing about K-State, but another loss will keep that shred of doubt lingering. Either way, I’m still assuming they’ll get in and they sit in the 3-4 seed range right now, but you know how that can go.
TCU: 17-6 (6-4) — Q1: (5-4) Q2: (4-0) Q3: (0-0) Q4: (8-1) SOS: (27) TW’s (6)
The wild thing about the Big 12 is almost every night is a Q1 game, and TCU is likely to finish the season playing 16 Q1 games total and that’s average compared to other Big 12 teams. Absolute madness. The Frogs are mired by injuries right now as 2 of their starters Mike Miles and Eddie Lampkin have missed time over their last 4 games, so going 2-2 over that stretch is impressive. However, this week is brutal as they head to K-State and then welcome white hot Baylor, so if they’re not healthy an 0-2 week is on the table. I don’t think that would really put them near the true cut line by any means, but it would certainly start to mount some pressure. And don’t worry, the week after is just a trip to Iowa St where the Cyclones are undefeated this season. Again, no nights off. Get the Frogs healthy and they are a dangerous team, but if those guys continue to miss time the slide could continue. Again, like with K-State I expect this group to get in, it’s just so tough in the Big 12 to feel safe, especially with that loss to Northwestern St lingering out there..
Baylor: 17-6 (6-4) — Q1: (7-6) Q2: (3-0) Q3: (0-0) Q4: (7-0) SOS: (5) TW’s (5)
Baylor is one of the hottest teams in the Country right now and just welcomed back Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua who promptly had 8 and 4 in limited minutes. Once he’s fully back and healthy he could play starters minutes at the 5 and provides a better scoring threat than they’ve had there all season. And that’s for an offense that was already top-10 in the Country. The Bears are also right on the fringe of putting into lock territory, and if they continue to roll like they have over the last 8 games it won’t be long before we aren’t discussing them anymore. If 7-1 becomes 9-1 in their last 10 lock em up. This week they get Oklahoma at home and then head to TCU in a massive matchup next Saturday. It’s more of a when not if for Baylor, who in almost all scenarios will hear their name called on Selection Sunday, but there’s still that outside chance..
Iowa St: 16-6 (7-3) — Q1: (7-6) Q2: (2-0) Q3: (1-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (8) TW’s (6)
The Cyclones are undefeated at home and flexed their muscle again this weekend with a beatdown over Kansas. It’s really hard to separate this group of 4 teams in the Big 12 behind Texas and Kansas, and in all likelihood they are all going to be in the field come March, but as I’ve discussed with the others the Big 12 is so difficult any of these teams could hit a slide that could bury a resumé. Iowa St has it a little bit easier with only 6 of the final 8 being Q1 games, yeah you read that right, but a 2-6 finish could put them more in the bubble discussion. I still think it would be good enough to be in, so I’m pretty confident in the Cyclones, but better to be safe for 1 more week. They head to Morgantown and then get Oklahoma at home, so a 1-1 week really is just holding serve and they don’t lose at home so I can’t see them going 0-2. Also I’m a bad gambler so I may have just spoken this into existence, sorry Cyclone fans.
W. Virginia: 14-9 (3-7) — Q1: (5-9) Q2: (2-0) Q3: (1-0) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (7) TW’s (3)
Bob Huggins is starting to round this group into form as they’ve now gone 4-2 over their last 6. They have 4 home games left on the docket, go 4-0 in those games and they should be in the field. Drop even 1 of those and now you’re talking 6-12 in league play and 17-14 overall. It will start to get dicey at that point. So, with that being said Wednesday against Iowa St is as close to a must win game as there is. The difficult thing with these Big 12 bubble teams is imagining what they would do with a weaker schedule, say in the Mountain West. Obviously the records are ugly, but you’re playing almost 20 Q1 games to say a Boise State’s 5 or so. I am not sure in recent years if we’ve seen a Conference so loaded top to bottom, so just how these Big 12 teams with lopsided Conference records are seeded will be interesting. I think 3-5 down the stretch could still get them in, but 4-4 and you punch the ticket in my mind.
Oklahoma St: 14-9 (5-5) — Q1: (4-7) Q2: (2-1) Q3: (3-1) Q4: (5-0) SOS: (9) TW’s (3)
The Pokes just had a massive week and played themselves onto the right side of the bubble in my opinion with huge wins @ Oklahoma and then over TCU at home. All of these Big 12 blurbs are likely sounding nauseatingly similar though as once again the schedule down the stretch is brutal, but if they just hold serve at home I think the Cowboys will be dancing comfortably. Now, that does mean beating Kansas, Kansas St and Baylor…sounds much easier to just say hold serve at home. There is a world where I genuinely see Oklahoma St beating Texas Tech at home this week and then losing 7 straight games. I’m not saying I’m predicting that, but I wouldn’t be shocked. They have to at least go 2-6 to even be in the conversation, but 1-7 and they’re out of it. It starts Wednesday with Tech at home, but the trip to Iowa St Saturday could be the beginning of the end.
Oklahoma: 12-11 (2-8) — Q1: (4-8) Q2: (2-3) Q3: (0-0) Q4: (7-0) SOS: (2) TW’s (2)
The Sooners have felt like a tournament quality team at times this season, no more than 2 Saturdays ago when they busted up Alabama. However, they just have racked up too many losses at this stage and certainly find themselves on the outside looking in. The good news for them is there is opportunity every night to pick up Q1 wins, so I’m setting their number at 5 wins down the stretch to still be in consideration. If they go 4-4, they will need to do some work in the Conference tourney to feel safe. Again though it’s hard not to wonder what they would look like in one of these weaker conferences, I mean they beat Bama by 24…The 3 Q2 losses though I think are just too much to overcome right now, but again the opportunities are out there. It starts this week with a trip to Baylor and then Kansas comes to town. It’s nut up or shut up time in Norman right now.
On the Right Track:
Uconn: 18-6 (7-6) — Q1: (4-5) Q2: (3-0) Q3: (5-1) Q4: (6-0) SOS: (32) TW’s (4)
After starting the season 14-0, racking up blowout wins over Alabama and Iowa St along the way, the Huskies looked like one of the best teams in the Country. However, 4-6 over the last 10 now makes them one of the more confusing teams to gauge in the Country. Are they just showing their true colors? Or maybe just got relaxed after such a hot start? We’re going to find out, but for now they continue to battle for positioning and sit on the 5 line heading into this week. A home game against red hot Marquette gives this team an opportunity to prove they are who we once thought they were, but another Q1 loss could start to test the resumé. Especially considering this is 1 of only 3 remaining Q1 games. It is hard to imagine a world Uconn doesn’t make it, but maybe I’m stuck in the past. The Uconn we’ve seen over the last 10 games could continue to free-fall and an 0-2 week isn’t out of the question as they travel to Creighton as well. Just beat Marquette and put my mind at ease would ya please?
Creighton: 15-8 (9-3) — Q1: (2-5) Q2: (4-2) Q3: (6-1) Q4: (3-0) SOS: (23) TW’s (2)
It is looking better by the day for Creighton and my eyeballs tell me Creighton is one of the better teams in the Country, but the fact remains that they only have 2 Q1 wins so you absolutely can’t feel comfortable right now if you’re the Blue Jays. It’s been essentially a 3 chapter season for this team, starting 6-0 then losing 6 straight to now have gone 9-2 over their last 11 to get the train back on the tracks. I would say they’re entering a 4th chapter now, as they have 5/8 games on the road to finish things out and 5 total Q1 games left. A pretty difficult stretch, but one where they absolutely need to capitalize and pick up some big time wins. It starts this week with a trip to Seton Hall and then Uconn coming in, so going 1-1 is a great start to really wrapping up this rebound story from that 6-6 team. 0-2 though and things are dicey again.
Providence: 17-6 (9-3) — Q1: (3-5) Q2: (2-1) Q3: (4-0) Q4: (8-0) SOS: (52) TW’s (2)
Providence is another team that I think is better than their resumé shows but ultimately that is what they’ll be judged on so it’s time to start capitalizing. A close loss last week in OT @ Xavier was so close to being the exact win they needed, but for now they cling to home wins over Marquette and Uconn. The non-conference was weak and they lost the 3 decently difficult games they played, so it’s all about the Big East resumé at this point. This seems like a must go 2-0 week as they host Georgetown and then head to St. John’s. If you are who you say you are then you win these two games, as you should not be playing with any sense of comfort. The real opportunities come later on, but for now it’s just about holding serve.
Seton Hall: 15-9 (8-5) — Q1: (3-5) Q2: (2-3) Q3: (5-1) Q4: (4-0) SOS: (19) TW’s (3)
The Pirates have scratched and clawed their way back into the discussion after starting the season 8-8 and now find themselves just on the outside looking in. The 7-1 stretch over the last 8 hasn’t exactly been a murderers row but the home win over Uconn showed the improvements they’ve made. That loss to Siena is brutal right now, but it can be overcome as they now have 5 Q1 opportunities awaiting them. They have a shot to play themselves into the field, and that’s all you can really hope for after starting the season so woefully. 7 games left, 4 at home, so the recipe is take care of those and go 4-3 and I think they will have a legitimate case to be in. 5-2 leaves no doubts. It all starts this week with Creighton coming to town, so as we say, it’s nut up or shut up time for Seton Hall.
On the Right Track: N/A
USC: 17-6 (9-3) — Q1: (3-3) Q2: (4-2) Q3: (4-0) Q4: (6-1) SOS (58) TW’s (2)
For the Trojans it’s all about quality wins, especially with the Q4 loss to Florida Gulf Coast out there. Right now they’re clinging on to home wins over Auburn and UCLA, and that’s really it. That has a lot to do with how bad the Pac-12 has been this year, but it is what it is and they simply can’t afford to lose games at this point. They get a road test against fellow bubble team Oregon and then it’s back to Q3/4 games for a while. I’m not saying it’s a must-win over Oregon but it would definitely make things more comfortable and get them on the right track (category and all). The last 4 are all opportunities to build a case for the committee, but the next 4 has to be 3-1 worst case. Another team that I think is talented enough to be dancing but just needs to execute and take advantage of the few opportunities it has left.
Oregon: 14-10 (8-5) — Q1: (3-6) Q2: (4-2) Q3: (3-2) Q4: (4-0) SOS (13) TW’s (2)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Dana Altman and this Oregon program down as bad as they have been over the past 2 seasons. However, they are climbing back into the bubble discussions and despite an ugly record I think the resumé could stack up if they get some much needed wins this week. They were ravaged by injuries in the middle part of the season but are as healthy as they’ve been all season and just picked up a huge win @ Arizona St. USC and UCLA both come to Eugene this week and if they’re sitting at 16-10 with those 2 wins added to the resumé I think they get themselves on the right side of the bubble. It’s hard to believe after they were just 9-8 a few weeks ago but never count out a Dana Altman team, and the talent is there now that it’s healthy. Biggest week of the season upcoming for the Ducks.
Arizona St: 16-8 (7-6) — Q1: (3-2) Q2: (2-5) Q3: (5-0) Q4: (6-1) SOS (71) TW’s (1)
What a fall from grace for the Sun Devils as they’ve gone just 1-5 over their last 6 taking them from a nice looking 15-3 to the wrong side of the bubble in no time. They sit now clinging tight to a neutral site win over Creighton and a road win over Oregon as their best wins, so they have little to no room for error as we head down the stretch. The next 4 are simply must win and frankly won’t add much to the resumé but they end the season with 3 roadies against Arizona/UCLA/USC. Go 5-2 the rest of the way and they could find themselves back on the right side. I just don’t have much confidence they won’t slip up against one of these average teams they have upcoming, much less to expect them to win one of those tough road games. They deserve to still be in the conversation but I don’t think it will last much longer.
Utah: 16-9 (9-5) — Q1: (1-5) Q2: (2-3) Q3: (3-1) Q4: (10-0) SOS (77) TW’s (1)
Some may say including Utah in this bubble conversation is a stretch, but there’s a part of my optimistic brain that sees a path forward for the Utes despite the not so great resumé. Why? Well because it is without a truly ugly loss and there are ample opportunities to pick up big wins as they close out the season. Home games against UCLA and USC provide 2 big time chances and road games against Arizona and a reeling Arizona St team are opportunities as well. Sure they could go 0-4 and no longer be part of this discussion, but what if they go 3-1 only losing at Arizona. They already have a win at home against the Wildcats, add USC and UCLA to that mix and suddenly the resumé looks legit. It’s not probable but it’s also not improbable. First things first take care of Colorado at home, don’t make me look stupid please.
On the Right Track:
Missouri: 17-6 (5-5) — Q1: (3-6) Q2: (4-0) Q3: (3-0) Q4: (7-0) SOS (41) TW’s (3)
Mizzou is about as consistently inconsistent as you can get, as they can seemingly beat anybody at home but man when they go out of town all bets are off. Bama and Kansas did go into Columbia and win, but wins over Iowa St, Kentucky and Arkansas have given the Tigers enough of a resumé to feel comfortable (plus that non-con W over Illinois to sweeten the pot). If the tournament started today they’re in for sure, and I would promptly be picking them to lose in the 1st round, however they still have some time and opportunities to prove me wrong. This week starts easy with a must win home game against S. Carolina but then they head off to Knoxville in a game that could get ugly…As bad as I talk about Missouri though they sit in this category for a reason, they don’t lose to teams they shouldn’t, and with 0 losses outside of Q1 and 3 Q1 wins to boot they have a worthy resumé.
Auburn: 17-6 (7-3) — Q1: (1-4) Q2: (6-2) Q3: (6-0) Q4: (4-0) SOS (47) TW’s (2)
Auburn is still somewhat comfortably on the right side of the bubble but they’ve lost 3 of 4 and are hanging on to only 1 Q1 win right now. This week offers no reprieve for the Tigers as they head to fellow bubble team Texas A&M and then welcome Alabama into town. 1 of those 2 games really need to be a W or else they start entering first 4 in Dayton territory. Beat Alabama at home though and you can take a deep breath for at least another week but Auburn is walking on thin ice right now. Having 0 bad losses is really a saving grace, so continuing to take care of business against bad teams and just picking off maybe 2 more Q1 wins should get them in. The good news for them is they get Tennessee at home as well later on so just win your home games (and @ Vandy) and you’re in. Easy peasy.
Kentucky: 16-7 (7-3) — Q1: (1-6) Q2: (6-0) Q3: (3-0) Q4: (6-1) SOS (48) TW’s (1)
Clearly this Kentucky team is much better than its earlier iterations, especially the one that lost at home to S. Carolina. Ever since that game though they are 6-1 with wins over Tennessee, A&M and Florida. What they need to do to feel secure is rack up a few more Q1 wins, 1 ain’t gonna get it done come selection Sunday. They have 4-5 opportunities to do so down the stretch and just need to continue to win the games they should. This week they get Arkansas at Rupp and then head to Georgia. No time for slip ups at this stage of the season so a 2-0 week is imperative to not slide to the wrong side of the bubble. What I do know is if they continue to play this well nobody is going to want to see the Wildcats in that 7-10 range in March. With as wide open as the field is this year Calipari throwing it back to 2014 when he took 8 seed UK to the Natty is not out of the realm of possibilities. Man I can’t wait for March.
Arkansas: 16-7 (5-5) — Q1: (1-5) Q2: (4-1) Q3: (6-1) Q4: (5-0) SOS (54) TW’s (2)
The Hogs are in the field in the opinion of many of the so-called “experts”, I happen to disagree at this stage. The SOS is not good, only 1 Q1 win and 2 losses outside of Q1 doesn’t quite make the cut for me, but they’re certainly close. 7 of their last 8 are all Q1/2 games, so we’re going to find out down the stretch who they really are, but if they don’t add at least 1 or 2 more Q1 wins I’m not sure they’ll get in. That’s ultimately what it comes down to, and while the NET and Kenpom like the Hogs, it is more about building a resumé than looking pretty to the computers. The committee has said they don’t factor in rankings when seeding the field, Arkansas may just put that to the test this year. They can also make it easy by winning some big time games, starting this week with a trip to UK and then Mississippi St at home.
Mississippi St: 15-8 (3-7) — Q1: (2-5) Q2: (3-3) Q3: (2-0) Q4: (8-0) SOS (40) TW’s (3)
We’re really splitting hairs now as we get to these mid-level SEC teams who are fighting for the last spots but I have the Bulldogs in the field right now playing in Dayton. The quality wins is where they beat out Arkansas for me, most notably a neutral site win over Marquette and then these last 2 home wins over TCU and Mizzou. They had a tough stretch earlier in the season in which they went 1-8 and most people wrote em off, but I do think the resumé overall still gives them a fighting chance to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. What you ideally do is win your home games, which would give them wins over Kentucky and A&M to add to the pile of wins. They have a legitimate shot to go 6-2 down the stretch and if they do that I think they’re in comfortably. 5-3 would still be good enough to be in the conversation in my mind so things are looking up in Starkville, just have to take care of business.
Texas A&M: 16-7 (8-2) — Q1: (2-4) Q2: (2-1) Q3: (4-1) Q4: (8-1) SOS (77) TW’s (2)
Listen there’s no denying that once again Buzz Williams has his team playing really good basketball down the stretch. However, 2 things can be true at once and the losses early in the season to Wofford and Murray St (both 200+ ranked teams) are a major black stain on the resumé. Once again A&M will be challenging the committee to leave out a clearly talented team due to early season struggles, but I think they would have to again if the season ended today. Luckily for the Aggies it just so happens the season doesn’t end today, and there’s still ample time to build a solid enough Q1/Q2 record that those losses can’t keep them out. All 8 of their remaining games will fall into that category it appears, so the opportunities are there to rack up important wins, and they need several. It starts this week with a home tilt against Auburn. Nut up or shut up time in College Station.
Florida: 13-10 (6-4) — Q1: (2-8) Q2: (1-2) Q3: (6-0) Q4: (4-0) SOS (14) TW’s (3)
Listen, the record for Florida is ugly but similar to Oklahoma the SOS is so difficult there still remains a pathway for Florida to make it. It’s just time to start winning some of these Q1 games, and they did that last week by knocking off Tennessee at home. That got them back in the conversation, and while they are as fringe of a bubble team as it gets on this list, the opportunities are there and with the lighter schedule to finish they could finish 12-6 in the SEC. That will be hard to ignore, especially if they can knock off Kentucky at home. It’s hard to imagine a team that is 2-10 in Q1 games making it though, so I would understand a scoff at seeing Florida on this list, but who knows maybe they go to Bama or Arkansas and win? Yeah I laughed at that too, but still, the path is there, however difficult it may seem.
On the Right Track:
San Diego St: 17-5 (6-4) — Q1: (2-4) Q2: (5-1) Q3: (9-0) Q4: (1-0) SOS (72) TW’s (3)
The Mountain West is a two-tier league, with 5 teams having legitimate cases for at-large bids and 6 teams that are pretty bad. That makes it tough to pick up quality wins for the Aztecs, as the only real top tier wins come on the road. They had been hanging their hat on a non-conference win over Ohio St, but as you noticed the Buckeye’s are no longer even in the bubble conversation after free-falling these last few weeks so every win is getting more important for this group. The last game was a drubbing of fellow contender Boise St, which helped get them in this category. However, with only 3 Q1 opportunities left, all on the road, there can’t be any slip ups. Stealing one of the roadies could help lock it up for em, and it starts this week as they head to Utah St.
Nevada: 18-6 (8-3) — Q1: (2-4) Q2: (6-2) Q3: (5-0) Q4: (4-0) SOS (74) TW’s (3)
The Wolfpack have done enough to be in the field as of today, but their schedule sets them up to be leap frogged by several major conference teams down the stretch who simply have way more opportunities. 5 of Nevada’s final 7 are Q3/4 games, with 2 road games at New Mexico and Utah St being their only shots to improve the resumé. Not an ideal scenario, but if they can somehow steal one of those and finish 6-1 I think they have a good shot at making it, 5-2 though they are going to probably be in that First 4 conversation and maybe headed to the NIT depending on how the MWC tourney goes. It’s tough sledding in mid-major conferences trying to get an at-large bid, but the path is certainly still there for this group. Next up is @ New Mexico in a gigantic matchup for both teams.
New Mexico: 19-4 (6-4) — Q1: (3-2) Q2: (2-0) Q3: (7-2) Q4: (6-0) SOS (126) TW’s (3)
New Mexico is leading both the categories of best wins this conference has to offer and also maybe the worst losses. The road win over Saint Mary’s is aging like a fine wine, and combined with a road win over San Diego St and a home win over Boise St you get a nice 3-2 Q1 record. What hurts is those 2 Q3 losses that stick out like a sore thumb. The good news for the Lobos is they get Nevada and San Diego St at home still, plus a couple road games that could land as Q2 wins. Add 4 more Q1/Q2 wins to the resumé and don’t lose any additional games you shouldn’t and New Mexico should find their way in. Of any of the MW teams the Lobos have the most to gain in front of them, so they have to feel good about both where they are and where they could be if they handle their business.
Boise St: 18-6 (8-3) — Q1: (1-3) Q2: (6-1) Q3: (5-1) Q4: (5-1) SOS (81) TW’s (1)
Boise finds themselves on the outside looking in, despite a 7-4 Q1/2 record they have a couple of bad losses and really only 1 win against tournament teams in Nevada. The Broncos do have a couple more opportunities though to get a few more good wins to try and outweigh those bad losses as they host both New Mexico and San Diego St. Win both of those and they may have a better case to make come Selection Sunday. I don’t think all 5 MWC teams get in, especially as they beat each other up down the stretch, so honestly going 6-1 to close out the season may be what it takes for the Broncos to get in. A great way to start is to not lose to Colorado St or Wyoming this week because another bad loss may put a fork in this team’s chances to go dancing.
Utah St: 18-5 (8-3) — Q1: (0-3) Q2: (6-0) Q3: (9-0) Q4: (3-2) SOS (102) TW’s (1)
The Aggies are about as far out of it as you can be and still make it on the bubble watch but they are 18-5 and are 6-0 in Q2 games so I think they’re talented enough to make a run. Still I think they may have to run the table to make the dance, and frankly they have a damn good shot at doing so. Of the 7 remaining games 4 are at home and the 3 on the road are against the bottom half of the Conference. Win your home games, especially against San Diego St, Nevada and Boise St and all of a sudden you’re 25-5 and can’t be ignored. The one loss they could maybe withstand is @ UNLV, but anything worse than 6-1 to close it out and I don’t think they make the in consideration board. Starts on Wednesday as the Aztecs come to Logan, Utah. All eyes on the Mountain West my friends.
On the Right Track: N/A
Memphis: 17-6 (7-3) — Q1: (2-2) Q2: (4-3) Q3: (5-1) Q4: (6-0) SOS (69) TW’s (1)
It’s beginning to be desperation time for Memphis, as they now sit on the wrong side of the bubble for the 1st time in a long while after a home loss to Tulane. They have home games against Cincy and UCF left and still have a home/home with Houston to rack up some wins. I think if they go 3-1 in those games and take care of the rest as well they will get themselves back on the right side. That would put them at 24-7 with 3 Q1 wins, which should be enough. Anything less than that and it’s going to be a nervy Selection Sunday if they don’t win the conference tourney. March 5th at home against Houston could be the season on the line for the Tigers, but they have to hold serve against the rest of the Conference to set themselves up for that moment. No more losses to the likes of Tulane.
On the Right Track:
Gonzaga: 18-5 (8-2) — Q1: (3-4) Q2: (5-0) Q3: (4-1) Q4: (6-0) SOS (57) TW’s (4)
It’s hard to imagine a world where the Zags don’t get in at this point but it was also hard to imagine Gonzaga losing at home to Loyola Marymount, so we’re gonna hold off maybe 1 more week. This is the first time since 2016 that Gonzaga has lost multiple games in the WCC, and are in line to lose the regular season title outright for the first time since 2012. However, the non-conference slate was an absolute gauntlet so they gave themselves a few huge wins over Alabama, Xavier, Michigan St and Kentucky to really make it hard to keep them out. It was more me wanting to write about Gonzaga that I kept them out of Lock territory, but a 2-0 week this week should go ahead and do it. With 5 of 7 at home to close things out, I could see the Zags winning out and getting their revenge on both Loyola and Saint Mary’s.
Saint Mary’s: 20-4 (10-0) — Q1: (2-1) Q2: (5-1) Q3: (9-2) Q4: (4-0) SOS (123) TW’s (2)
The Gaels are getting a ton of love Nationally, especially now that they knocked off mighty Gonzaga, but this resumé still has holes in it with only 2 Q1 wins and those nasty Q3 losses. I expect them to get in, but a really tricky game is upcoming on the road against Loyola Marymount who has already beaten Gonzaga this year. Coming off that huge win the Gaels may find themselves in some trouble. In actuality, they probably go 5-1 to close out the season, and who knows maybe they take out the Zags on the road too and finish undefeated in WCC play. I doubt it, but even 5-1 should be plenty to get themselves in and if they take out Loyola and Portland this week they’ll likely be locked into the field. Fun year for Randy Bennett and co.