Bubble Watch: Virginia Tech, Nevada, Texas and Missouri Lead List of Teams With Work To Do
The second edition of Bubble Watch comes with an assist from the Selection Committee. It revealed its top 16 teams to date over the weekend, giving us a window into how the country’s best teams shape up against one another. What’s more, the committee helped us out with our lock category for Bubble Watch purposes. Plenty of scenarios are in play, but it’s awfully hard to imagine a team the committee views as one of the 16 best right now can play its way out of the field in one month’s worth of basketball. As such, we have all 16 of those teams as locks, joined by a couple of our No. 5 seeds in the latest Bracket Watch.
Given the Selection Committee’s emphasis on the new quadrant system for valuing wins, we have included Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 records, where applicable. The Q2 records don’t matter nearly as much for teams that are safely headed to the dance, so we only included them for the true bubble teams.
Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Xavier
Spots remaining: 28
68 total spots — 18 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 28
Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.
Rhode Island (20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 1-3)
Rhode Island’s seeding is almost guaranteed to be controversial to at least one subset of fans. If they’re high, say a No. 5 or better, the quality-win crowd is going to point out that they have just one victory against a likely at-large team (Seton Hall). If they’re a No. 6 or lower, the a-win-is-a-win people will wonder how a team that pushed 30 wins and dominated its conference got so little respect. It’s just a matter of time, though, until the Rams are a lock.
Texas A&M (17-8, RPI; 17, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5-5)
This might seem a bit aggressive for a team that was once 0-5 in its own conference, but the Aggies are back on the trajectory they set during their impressive run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. They’ve won six of eight, including a huge win at Auburn. Even without Duane Wilson for the rest of the season, the Aggies once again look dangerous.
Florida (17-8, RPI: 47, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 5-2)
Florida’s RPI is ugly, and while the committee no longer takes it as gospel, it does still matter. Florida will be a major beneficiary of the change to the quadrant system, though, thanks to big wins over Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Gonzaga, all of which were on the road or neutral floors. The Gators are nearing lock status.
Safer Than Most
Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.
Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 20, SOS: 6, Q1 record: 2-5)
The Wildcats have lost three straight games and they could be staring disaster straight in the face. Their next four games are at Auburn, home for Alabama, at Arkansas and then home against Missouri. A split would be a success and push them closer to lock territory, but there’s a reason why they’re still stuck in this group. This Kentucky team features just the brand of inconsistency that could make the next two weeks a nightmare. If we’re talking about a team on a seven-game losing streak in a later edition of the Bubble Watch, all bets are off.
Arizona State (19-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 78, Q1 record: 3-3)
The Sun Devils are coming off a strong week with wins over USC and UCLA and have an opportunity to essentially lock up an at-large bid by beating Arizona at home on Thursday. An uneven start to Pac-12 play clouded Arizona State’s status, but wins over Xavier on a neutral floor and at Kansas are always going to shine bright. They’re only loss below Quadrant 2 was to Oregon at home, so even most of their missteps have been forgivable.
Creighton (18-7, RPI: 22, SOS: 49, Q1 record: 2-6)
The Bluejays nearly scored a huge win over Xavier last weekend, but a questionable foul call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game ultimately helped the Musketeers pull out the victory. Breaking down the bubble is more about numbers than anything else, but there was no way to watch Creighton in that game—or really almost any game it has played this season—and not come away impressed. The 2-6 record in Q1 games hurts, but the Bluejays are 6-1 in Q2 games, including home victories over Butler and Providence and a neutral floor win over UCLA. Not only are the Bluejays safer than most, they’re nearly in the solid selections group.
Saint Mary’s (24-3, RPI: 29, SOS: 129, Q1 record: 2-0)
Gonzaga evened the season series with Saint Mary’s last weekend, cruising to a 78-65 win. Had the Gaels won that game, we likely would have made them a lock. Still, their path to lock status is free of any serious impediments. They have four games remaining in the regular season, against San Francisco, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. San Francisco is the best of those four teams, and is ranked 168th in RPI and 155th on kenpom.com. Saint Mary’s would need to drop multiple games to be in any real jeopardy of missing out on the dance.
Seton Hall (17-8, RPI: 27, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4-5)
There’s reason to be down on the Pirates after losses to Marquette (at home) and Georgetown, but don’t let the recency of those games blind you to the entire resumé. The Pirates own a neutral floor win over Texas Tech, road wins at Butler and Louisville and a home victory over Creighton. They understandably tumbled down a few seed lines in our latest Bracket Watch, but they’re not yet in any real danger of having a tense Selection Sunday. For that to happen, they’d have to lose another game or two to the also-rans in the Big East while not offsetting those losses with any wins. They experience the two extremes of the conference this week, playing at Xavier on Wednesday then hosting DePaul on Sunday.
Florida State (17-8, RPI: 45, SOS: 67, Q1 record: 5-4)
Saturday’s road loss to a Notre Dame team still without Bonzie Colson hurt, but (as is the case with Seton Hall) the Seminoles have banked up too much goodwill to worry just yet. Wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech have gotten stronger as those two teams have picked up huge wins, while road wins over Florida and Louisville will always add to the bottom line. The Seminoles also don’t have any losses outside of Q1 or Q2 and that will come into play for the last batch of at-large teams. Zero Q3 or Q4 losses separates Florida State from the true bubble teams. They have a great chance for a resumé-building victory when they host Clemson on Wednesday.
Alabama (16-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 6-3)
I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the solidity of Alabama’s resumé when I was putting together the Bracket Watch on Sunday. The Tide’s six Q1 wins are more than every team in the country other than Kansas (nine), Villanova (eight), and Virginia, Xavier and North Carolina (all with seven). The nine losses means there’s little room for error, but just one of them is outside the first two quadrants and the committee is going to give the Tide plenty of leeway with wins over Auburn, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all of which are top-16 teams for the moment. Alabama does have a brutal remaining schedule, starting with games against LSU and Kentucky this week, but at this point, it’d be a major surprise if they didn’t get back to the dance for the first time since 2012.
Butler (17-9, RPI: 31, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-9)
If you scan the details next to Butler’s name, something should jump out at you. All nine of their losses are in Q1. Their worst loss, as defined by the Selection Committee, was at Maryland. That’s also their only loss to a team unlikely to earn an at-large bid. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of two teams to beat Villanova and also took down Ohio State on a neutral floor. The computers love them, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 20th and 30th in the country. The Bulldogs may not have a huge ceiling in the tournament, but they take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat and every so often they punch above their weight. That’s typically the identity of a team that doesn’t have much to worry about on Selection Sunday.
Wichita State (19-5, RPI: 19, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-3)
“We’re going to learn a lot about Team X after this game,” is almost always a trite phrase, no matter the team and no matter the sport. That means I go into this next sentence with eyes wide open. We’re going to learn a lot about Wichita State this week. On Thursday, the Shockers host Temple, which already beat them and also took down Auburn and Clemson. They then wrap up their week with a trip to Cincinnati, the first of two games they have with the Bearcats in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Shockers best win of the season to date was at home against Houston, meaning it’s entirely possible they do not yet have a win against a team that ultimately earns an at-large bid. It’s a better bet that Wichita State is safely in the dance by Selection Sunday then on the outside looking in, but it needs to prove it can show up against at-large quality teams.
Miami (18-6, RPI: 25, SOS: 76, Q1 record: 3-4)
Miami basically checks every box for a team headed comfortably for an at-large bid, but it’s easy to paint a realistic picture of its season going off the rails. The Hurricanes own wins over Middle Tennessee State, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia Tech, all of which are in our latest Bracket Watch. None of them, however, are high-level at-large teams, and that could be a problem for the Hurricanes if they lose a few more times in the regular season. While they own an admirable volume of solid wins, there’s not one victory on the resumé that qualifies as a signature achievement. They could remedy by beating Virginia at home on Tuesday. The good news for the Hurricanes, though, is that they don’t need a silver bullet to get into the dance. If they merely stay the course, they’ll get an invite with relative ease.
TCU (17-9, RPI: 24, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 3-8)
TCU’s home win over Texas on Saturday may not seem all that important at first glance, but it was the Horned Frogs first win over a team firmly in the mix for an at-large bid in three weeks. It was also one of the most winnable resumé builders they had remaining on the schedule, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage of the opportunity. TCU’s resumé is a middle-class version of Butler’s, which we discussed earlier. Butler has a win over Villanova and zero losses outside of Q1. TCU doesn’t have quite as strong a win, but it did beat Nevada on a neutral floor, and it has just one loss outside of Q1, which is in Q2. The computers are even more bullish on the Horned Frogs, with kenpom.com, BPI and Sagarin all ranking them between 19th and 22nd. Monday’s loss at West Virginia doesn’t change their at-large calculus. They’re still in a good spot and have a chance to reel off a few wins with their next three games against Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.
Michigan (19-7, RPI: 38, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 2-5)
It seems logical that Michigan’s seed—assuming it can maintain its pace and get into the field of 68—will be hurt by the Big Ten’s down year. Yet, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State were all inside the committee’s top 16 in its early bracket reveal over the weekend. In other words, they haven’t suffered because of a weak Big Ten and Michigan owns a road victory over the Spartans. The Wolverines last chance to jump up the seed list in the regular season is this weekend, when they host Ohio State.
True Bubble Teams
Teams that are without a doubt part of the bubble picture.
Nevada (21-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 42, Q1 record: 1-3, Q2 record: 5-0)
I struggled with where to place Nevada, vacillating between this section and the previous one. With a road game looming at Boise State, the Wolfpack still have to be considered a true bubble team. Gaudy record and strong RPI notwithstanding, the Wolfpack simply haven’t done enough to earn a spot with the teams in the prior group. Their best win was at home over Rhode Island. That’s their only win against a likely tournament team, with a victory over Boise State the first time the teams met their only other win against a team capable of securing an at-large bid. That is nowhere near enough to overlook losses to San Francisco, Wyoming and, most recently, UNLV at home. If the Wolfpack lose at Boise State on Wednesday, their Selection Sunday will not be comfortable without winning the Mountain West tournament.
Texas (15-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 14, Q1 record: 5-7, Q2 record: 2-4)
After Monday’s loss to Baylor, the Longhorns have now dropped three straight games to fellow bubble teams. Offense was an issue in all three of those games and it will be what keeps the Longhorns out of the dance, should they fall short. Three of their five remaining games are against tournament locks—Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia. The first two of those are on the road, with the trip for Norman scheduled for Saturday. If they win just one of the three, split their meetings with Kansas State and Oklahoma State and don’t flame out in the Big 12 tournament, they should be a happy bunch on Selection Sunday. But the margin for error that existed a week or two ago is gone.
Missouri (16-8, RPI: 23, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 4-1)
The Tigers have upped their profile over the last two weeks, with a road win at Alabama and home victories against Kentucky and Mississippi State. They’ve struggled through bland performance against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but have taken advantage of the best SEC season in years to build a solid NCAA tournament resumé. Nothing is guaranteed for any teams in this section of the Bubble Watch, but Missouri is likely in a position where it can now get into the dance simply by avoiding bad losses the rest of the season. They’ll get a chance to score another big victory on Tuesday with Texas A&M in town and there’s talk of a Michael Porter Jr. return. Things are looking up in Columbia.
Providence (16-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 24, Q1 record: 5-5, Q2 record: 2-1)
It’s nearly impossible to explain Providence’s 17-point home loss to DePaul from last weekend. The Friars’ consecutive wins over Butler and Creighton, which came on January 15 and 20, feel like ages ago. They remain in a decent spot, but it’s easy to see how things could unravel for them in short order. They host Villanova and visit Butler this week. After that they play Seton Hall and Xavier in two of their final four games. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that they lose all four of those. They’d likely need to do some serious damage in the Big East tournament to get into the dance in that scenario.
Arkansas (17-8, RPI: 35, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 2-1)
The Razorbacks took care of business against South Carolina and Vanderbilt last week, though neither of those games did much to strengthen their resumé. They have one more such game to kick off this week, with a trip to Mississippi on Tuesday. After that, they’ll embark on a five-game stretch to end the regular season that will likely decide whether they make the tournament. Their five opponents in those games? Texas A&M, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 2-3 record in those five could be good enough and 3-2 would almost certainly get the job done.
Virginia Tech (18-7, RPI: 56, SOS: 110, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-1)
If the world were perfect, statistics would be entirely black and white. One simply needs to look at the Hokies body of work to know that isn’t the case in the real world. A strength of schedule of 110 is undeniably bad. But even that metric has nuance. Does it matter that, as it stands, 109 teams have played a harder schedule than the Hokies if the Hokies own wins over Virginia (on the road) and North Carolina? USC, by contrast, has played the 47th-hardest schedule in the country, but their best wins were neutral court victories over Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State. Whose SOS plus two best wins are better? I’ll take the Hokies’ combination, 10 times out of 10. This is another big week with a trip to Duke on tap Wednesday.
Washington (17-8, RPI: 46, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-3, Q2 record: 0-3)
The Selection Committee showed us in the early bracket reveal that it will weigh the new quadrants heavily in its bracket-building process. That’s great news for Washington, which has the RPI of a classic bubble team and an ugly record in Q2, but five Q1 wins, with Kansas and Arizona among its victims. The Huskies had a bad week with losses to Oregon and Oregon State, undoing much of the good they accomplished by sweeping the state of Arizona the prior week. The Huskies don’t have any regular season games remaining against teams likely to get an at-large bid, which means the pressure is on them to hold serve against competition they should be able to handle if they deserve an invite to the dance. This week, that includes home games with Utah and Colorado.
Louisville (18-8, RPI: 41, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 1-2)
The Cardinals did what they needed to do last week, pounding Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh by a combined 57 points. Now comes the hard part. Their final five games of the regular season are all against certain or possible tournament teams, starting with a home date against North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals spend all of next week on the road, visiting Duke and Virginia Tech. After that, they wrap up their season by hosting Virginia and taking a trip to North Carolina State. If Louisville can pick off one of the three big boys and split games with Virginia Tech and NC State, they should be in a position to get into the dance by avoiding a bad loss in the ACC tournament.
Houston 19-5, RPI: 30 SOS: 114, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 2-2)
Houston’s final chance in the regular season to earn the sort of win that would take them off the bubble and move them firmly into solid at-large position is on Thursday against Cincinnati. Two weeks ago, the Cougars held an 18-point lead over the Bearcats on the road and then watched as the AAC’s behemoth outscored them by 28 points the rest of the way. While that was a missed opportunity, it should give the Cougars confidence that they can protect their home floor against one of the best teams in the country. It isn’t a must-win game with respect to their at-large hopes, but it’s the one game that can vault them up a section or two in the Bubble Watch.
UCLA (17-8, RPI: 53, SOS: 71, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-3)
The Bruins scored a major coup last week, going into Tucson and knocking off Arizona. They may have just two Q1 wins, but few bubble teams are going to be able to say they won games away from home over teams like Arizona and Kentucky. Add to that wins over fellow bubble teams Washington and USC, and UCLA is starting to craft a resumé worthy of one of the last spots in the field of 68. Even with those wins, however, the Bruins don’t have much margin for error. They need to keep things clean against Oregon State and Oregon this week.
NC State (16-9, RPI: 72, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 1-0)
The Wolfpack dropped games to Virginia Tech and North Carolina last week, and while there’s no shame in either loss and both games were close, as we say in this space time and time again, no team can lose its way into the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack are still one of our Last Four In the field of 68, thanks to the strength of those four Q1 wins. The volume is impressive in its own right, but when the wins come against the likes of Duke, Clemson, North Carolina and Arizona, volume alone doesn’t tell the story. Thanks to those wins, the Wolfpack are in better position than a typical No. 72 RPI team would be at this stage of the season. Three of their final six games are against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech, all of which are without the slightest at-large hopes. If they take care of business in those three and go at least 1-2 against Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville, there should be enough here to earn an at-large bid.
Syracuse (17-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 1-4, Q2 record: 5-3)
If last weekend’s bracket reveal was any indication, Syracuse needs more Q1 wins to feel good about itself on Selection Sunday. Luckily for the Orange, they’ll have no shortage of opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season. In addition to getting a shot at a solid resumé builder against NC State on Wednesday, they have individual games remaining with Miami, North Carolina Duke and Clemson, all of which will be Q1 games. We should have a great idea about where Syracuse stands with respect to their bubble brethren going into the ACC tournament.
Kansas State (17-8, RPI: 66, SOS: 103, Q1 record: 4-6, Q2 record: 2-1)
All things considered, a win at Texas and loss at home to Texas Tech is a net-positive week for the Wildcats. The single best thing the Wildcats could do for themselves the rest of the regular season—other than win out, of course—is win one big road game. The victory in Austin was their best road win of the season, but the Longhorns aren’t likely to be much better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and there’s still a realistic scenario where they fall out of the field of 68. If the Wildcats can prove themselves dangerous enough to beat a guaranteed tourney team on the road, they might leave the Selection Committee no choice but to include them in the field. They have one, and possibly two, such games remaining, with trips to Oklahoma and TCU scheduled for the last few days of February.
USC (17-9, RPI: 50, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3)
The Trojans are set to test the new quadrant system for what appears to be the bad side. Their best wins of the season to date came against New Mexico State and Middle Tennessee State. While both of those teams are expected to make the tournament as favorites to land the automatic bids from the WAC and Conference USA, respectively, neither may have what it takes to earn an at-large bid should they fall short in their conference tournaments. USC’s only remaining regular season game with a potential at-large team is the finale against UCLA, unless you want to extend some extreme courtesy to Utah’s fledgling case. Even if USC wins both of those games, it may not have a win over an at-large team. The Trojans can’t even say they’ve avoided bad losses, with a Q4 loss to Princeton—which is 204th in the RPI and 184th on kenpom.com—staining their resumé. The bet here is that the Trojans will need to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament, to get into the dance.
Temple (15-10, RPI: 40, SOS: 11, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 4-1)
Talk about a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. Temple is 7-6 against the top two quadrants, which mirrors the combined Q1 and Q2 records of many teams that look like safe bets for the field of 68. What’s more, Temple owns big-time wins over Auburn and Clemson on neutral floors, as well as another solid victory against Wichita State. At the same time, the Owls have four losses in Q3 and Q4, falling to Tulane, Memphis, LaSalle and George Washington. This week could determine whether Temple remains on the at-large radar: the Owls visit Wichita State on Thursday and host Houston on Sunday.
Baylor (15-10, RPI: 61, SOS: 27, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)
Baylor has now won four straight games after Monday’s dramatic double-overtime win at Texas. The Bears were once 12-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. They kept their season alive by beating Kansas over the weekend, and now that they have the road win over Texas to go with it, they’re a few more wins away from serious at-large consideration. They have great opportunity over the next few weeks, with games left against tourney locks Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and individual meetings with TCU and Kansas State, both of which are in the at-large mix. If they manage to go 3-2, they could sneak into the field.
Boise State (19-5, RPI: 37, SOS: 126, Q1 record: 0-2, Q2 record: 5-3)
We don’t know this for sure, but I feel relatively safe assuming the Selection Committee isn’t going to bestow an at-large berth upon a team that doesn’t have any Q1 wins, even if that team is 19-3 in the other three quadrants with less than a month left in the regular season. It would sort of defeat the purpose of the new quadrant system if a team could get in without beating any Q1 teams. With that in mind, Boise State’s home game with Nevada on Wednesday is enormous. Unless the Broncos meet the Wolfpack again in the Mountain West championship, it will be their last Q1 game of the season. And, of course, their at-large bona fides won’t matter if they win the Mountain West tournament. If the Broncos lose on Wednesday, their only path to an at-large bid includes every other bottom-tier bubble team experiencing a worst-case scenario.
Mississippi State (17-7, RPI: 57, SOS: 107, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 3-1)
The Bulldogs nearly picked up a huge road win at Missouri, but a dubious foul call in the final seconds negated what would have been a go-ahead three pointer and they ended up falling 89-85. They’re still in position to make a late-season charge into the field of 68, but they’ll now almost certainly have to win one of their two remaining games against certain or likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Tennessee). Neither of those are this week. The Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday and host Mississippi on Saturday.
Nebraska (19-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 118, Q1 record: 0-6, Q2 record: 3-2)
Again, I have a lot of trouble believing a team without a Q1 win is going to get an at-large bid. Nebraska beat Michigan at home, but that’s its only victory against a team anywhere near the at-large picture. The Cornhuskers next best win was at Northwestern, which is essentially meaningless. The Huskers could be push or reach 25 wins by Selection Sunday, but that doesn’t mean much when the Big Ten is as bad as it is this season. The problem for Nebraska is that it is done with Q1 games for the regular season. What they need is a run in the Big Ten tourney that includes at least one, and possibly two, wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Oklahoma State (15-10, RPI: 89, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 1-2)
The Cowboys have plenty of work to do. There’s no doubt about that. Still, if you win at Kansas and West Virginia, beat Oklahoma and Texas at home, take down Florida State on a neutral floor and still have three weeks and two potentially huge resumé builders on the schedule, we’re going to put you in the Bubble Watch. It’s unlikely, but it was also unlikely that the Cowboys would beat Kansas and West Virginia on the road in a three-game stretch after starting Big 12 play 3-6. It could be nothing more than a short-term bout of competence, but for now, we have to take their bubble candidacy seriously. They host Kansas State and visit TCU this week.
St. Bonaventure (18-6, RPI: 43, SOS: 106, Q1 record: 3-2, Q2 record: 3-2)
Remember that talk a little earlier about even statistics having nuance? That applies to the Bonnies Q1 record, as well. They’re 3-2 in Q1 games, which is great for a team firmly on the bubble. Those three wins, however, came against Buffalo, Syracuse and Vermont, all of which could prove unworthy of an at-large bid. They’re still in a better spot than, say, Nebraska, which doesn’t have any Q1 wins, but the heavy lifting is still in front of them. That lifting could come in the form of a win over Rhode Island this weekend. The Rams head to New York to take on the Bonnies on Friday in what could make or break the latter’s at-large hopes. A win could lead to them winning out and bullying their way into one of the final spots in the field.
LSU (14-10, RPI: 77, SOS: 50, Q1 record: 5-4, Q2 record: 1-4)
LSU’s five Q1 wins are as many as Texas and Washington, and more than any other team in this section of the Bubble Watch. So why are the Tigers all the way down here, while the Longhorns and Huskies are both in the field of 68 in our latest Bracket Watch? All the good the Tigers have done with their 5-4 Q1 record is largely negated by a 1-4 Q2 record, and 2-2 Q3 record. The five Q1 wins, which include road victories over Texas A&M and Arkansas, certainly form the foundation for an at-large bid, but the Tigers have more work to do to offset their volume of unsightly losses. They can start this week with games at Alabama and home against Missouri.
Marquette (14-11, RPI: 65, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2)
If Marquette misses out on the dance, which is looking likelier by the week, it’ll remember a six-game stretch from late January through early February in which it went 1-5 as its downfall. None of the first four losses was egregious, and a loss at St. John’s doesn’t look nearly as bad after the Red Storm took down Duke and Villanova, but Marquette has essentially showed the committee that it will struggle to beat tournament-quality competition with consistency. The Golden Eagles still have time to turn things around, but they have just two games remaining in the regular season against teams in the at-large picture, both against Creighton.
On the Fringe
Bottom tier teams that are still alive, but are close to dropping out of the at-large picture.
SMU (15-10, RPI: 79, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 2-4, Q2 record: 3-5)
The Mustangs have wins over Wichita State and Arizona, so they’re likely in the best position of any of these fringe at-large contenders. They also have losses to Tulane, Tulsa, Connecticut and Northern Iowa, which complicates matters just a bit. They do have home games with Wichita State and Houston left on the schedule, and wins in those games could get them back in the thick of things.
Georgia (13-11, RPI: 83, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 2-6, Q2 record: 5-2)
Recent losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kansas State crushed what once looked like promising season in Athens. They remain in the Bubble Watch thanks to the opportunity afforded them, and every other team, in the SEC. Their remaining schedule includes games against Florida, Tennessee (twice) and Texas A&M.
Maryland (16-10, RPI: 59, SOS: 36, Q1 record: 0-8, Q2 record: 1-2)
The committee will give the Terrapins some credit for their non-conference schedule, as well as the fact that they’ve yet to lose a Q3 or Q4 game, but, at some point, you have to beat someone who matters. Maryland has one noteworthy win, over Butler at home. This team needs to run roughshod through the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid.
South Carolina (12-12, RPI: 76, SOS: 31, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-4)
Remember less than one month ago when South Carolina ripped off wins over Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a four-game stretch? It’s hard to remember that was even this season, let alone just a few weeks in the past. The Gamecocks have lost five straight since then. Like Georgia, they’re still on the fringes of the at-large picture thanks in part to their remaining schedule. They’ll play Auburn twice and Tennessee once in their final six games of the regular season. So long as they have those opportunities on the table, we can’t write them off.
Utah (15-9, RPI: 60, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 2-8, Q2 record: 2-0)
Utah is done with certain and likely tournament teams in the regular season, though it does have bubble teams Washington, UCLA and USC remaining on the schedule. The Utes likely need all three of those to have any real at-large hopes going into the Pac-12 tournament.