Bauer’s Bubble Watch 2.0
With another week of college basketball now in the past, it’s time for the second edition of the Bubble Watch. Though there has been plenty of drama, not much has changed in terms of the bubble.
Two teams couldn’t keep up and see their bubbles get popped (Arizona and Georgetown) and a new team throws its hat into the ring (UNC-Greensboro). With a handful of new locks and plenty of bubble talk to discuss, let’s jump into this week’s watch:
Locks: Duke, Virginia
Safe for Now: North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Florida State
Bubble: North Carolina State, Syracuse, Clemson
No movement in the ACC this week. North Carolina had its chance to become a lock with a win over Virginia, but the Tar Heels couldn’t pull it off. They must wait another week before they can jump a rank.
Likewise, Louisville couldn’t take care of business, as an 0-2 week saw an overtime loss to Florida State and a 23-point choke to Duke. There’s still some work to be done before the Cardinals can assure themselves a tournament bid.
Virginia Tech has a similar situation, as Saturday’s loss at Clemson keeps the Hokies from lock territory as well. Florida State is starting to put itself together a nice résumé, as recent wins over Syracuse and Louisville have the Seminoles squarely in the “safe for now” category too. Within in the next week or so, we should start to see some of these teams earning lock status.
NC State and Syracuse make for an interesting pair of bubble teams. The former has better predictive metrics and a recent win over the latter, but the Orange may have the best win in the nation with January’s victory at Duke.
For now, both teams hang on the high end of the bubble. Clemson looked like it had finally established firm footing in bubble territory by earning its first quality win of the season (Saturday versus Virginia Tech), but the Tigers followed that up on Wednesday with their first bad loss of the season (at Miami). This isn’t a killer to the Tigers’ postseason hopes, but there’s a lot of catch-up work to be done before season’s end.
Safe for Now: Cincinnati
Bubble: University of Central Florida, Temple
Following Houston’s big wins over two tournament hopefuls in UCF and Cincinnati, the 23-1 Cougars are now a lock to play in March Madness. Cincinnati’s loss in Houston marks a blown opportunity for the Bearcats to add a Q1 win to their résumé, but with a NET Ranking of No.24 and a KenPom Ranking of No.29, Cincinnati is still sitting pretty.
UCF did not play its best game vs. Houston, though the Golden Knights were able to rebound with a nice win at Southern Methodist University. It’s not enough to keep UCF from being right on the teetering point, but at least the Golden Knights are still right in the heat of the conversation.
The same might not be true for Temple, as Saturday’s 18-point loss at Tulsa is inexcusable for a bubble team. Predictive metrics certainly aren’t doing the Owls any favors, so a strong showing down the stretch is a must if this teams wants to remain in the conversation for a tournament invite.
Safe for Now: Villanova
Bubble: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler, Creighton
A win over Marquette would have put Villanova in lock territory, but the Wildcats just couldn’t get it done, so they stay in the “safe for now” category for another week. If Villanova continues to play like it did Wednesday versus Providence though, it won’t be long before a tournament bid is secured.
St. John’s continues to be wildly unpredictable as solid wins over Marquette and Butler this week sandwiched an ugly 14-point loss to Providence. The Red Storm haven’t been able to escape the bubble, but most projections still have them in the field right now.
Seton Hall continues to hang around, as back-to-back wins over Creighton and Georgetown in the past week have the Pirates feeling a lot better about their tournament hopes. Seton Hall’s NET Ranking of No.69 and KenPom Ranking of No 61 aren’t very pretty though.
Butler got a win over Georgetown too, but that overtime loss to St. John’s stung. All things considered, the Bulldogs are most likely on the outside looking in right now.
Creighton is in an even worse position as three straight losses have the Bluejays clinging for dear life. A 13-12 total and 4-8 conference record simply won’t cut it. The semi-favorable metrics are the only stats keeping Creighton in the conversation right now.
Locks: Michigan, Michigan State
Safe for Now: Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa
Bubble: Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska
With the win at Wisconsin, Michigan State is now a lock. Purdue couldn’t get there thanks to Maryland, which also inches closer and closer to lock status.
Wisconsin is not trending in the right direction with back-to-back losses in the past week, but with a significantly easier schedule down the road, the Badgers are doing just fine. Iowa’s comeback win over Northwestern means the Hawkeyes are still soaring at 19-5, and they’ll most likely enter the NCAA Tournament after missing it two years in a row.
Ohio State is making a strong case to jump into the “safe for now” category, but a very difficult schedule in the final month means the Buckeyes are no sure thing. A recent win over fellow bubble team Indiana has them feeling good though.
Indiana is not nearly as comfortable, as the Hoosiers are 4-9 in Big Ten with only an overtime win at Michigan State breaking up a nine-game losing skid. Like Ohio State, it doesn’t get any easier from here on out.
Minnesota is collapsing at the wrong time, as the Golden Gophers have dropped their last four straight games. The most recent loss came to Nebraska, who stays alive in the bubble conversation thanks to the seven-game slide finally coming to an end. For a conference that hoped that to have 10 teams in the tournament, there’s a very real possibility that the Big Ten will only end up with as few as seven when it’s all said and done.
Safe for Now: Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State
Bubble: Texas Christian University, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma
Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State are all very close to becoming locks. The first three all have excellent NET Rankings and predictive metrics, and Kansas State has now beaten every team in the Big 12. The conference is often a treacherous minefield in which even the bottom feeders can create havoc, but all things considered, the Big 12 should have four bids at minimum.
TCU has been playing solid basketball ever since stomping Baylor. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Horned Frogs jump into the “safe for now” section soon. Baylor is right there too, and only an ugly non-conference showing is keeping the Bears from being at the next step.
Texas missed a huge opportunity to snag a Q1 win from the visiting Wildcats last Tuesday, but there are still plenty of chances down the road to strengthen that résumé before the final whistle.
Then there’s Oklahoma, which is in complete free fall. The Sooners have lost their last five and now stand at 3-9 in conference. Despite this fact, Oklahoma still has a legitimate chance at a tournament berth. A strong finish is a must, however.
Safe for Now: Washington
Bubble: Arizona State
The weak continues to get weaker. Even after Arizona State knocked off Washington 75-63 in Tempe last Saturday, it’s looking like the Huskies might be the Pac-12’s only hope. Why? Because Arizona State insists on bookending good wins with downright horrible losses.
Last Thursday’s 21-point home thrashing at the hands of Washington State is the Sun Devils’ worst all year, and Wednesday’s loss at Colorado isn’t too pretty either. Neither KenPom nor NET have the Sun Devils ranked higher than No.64, so their bubble could be bursting soon if they don’t get themselves in order.
Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky
Safe for Now: Louisiana State University, Mississippi State, Auburn
Bubble: Ole Miss, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas
An argument could be made that LSU should be a lock at this point with the win at Kentucky. The Tigers are almost there; one more victory should be the green light.
Mississippi State is looking like a safe bet too with a strong outing versus Kentucky and a great game against Alabama in the past week. Auburn is starting to slide, as back-to-back losses to LSU and Ole Miss have put the Tigers on edge, but as long as this trend doesn’t continue, Auburn should be okay moving forward.
Following a two-week winless stretch, Ole Miss is back on the upswing with three consecutive victories, including an impressive 60-55 win at Auburn on Wednesday. A bit more of that should remove the Rebels from the bubble.
Alabama remains stuck right on the heart of the bubble, just like it has all season. The Crimson Tide can’t let Tuesday’s ugly 81-62 lost to Mississippi State hang over their heads.
Florida is still barely alive despite a 13-11 record, thanks to very favorable predictive metrics, but a rough week ahead could spell disaster for the Gators.
Arkansas’ tournament argument is starting to get very weak, as the Razorbacks have yet to record a quality win outside of LSU. A lackluster non-conference schedule and 14-10 record don’t provide much hope for Arkansas.
Safe for Now: Nevada, Buffalo
Bubble: Wofford, Virginia Commonwealth University, Lipscomb, Utah State, San Francisco, University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Gonzaga is really, really good, and Saturday’s 94-46 stomping of Saint Mary’s proves it. The Bulldogs are a lock.
Nevada is very close, with only that ugly loss to New Mexico keeping the Wolf Pack from perfection. The problem here is that Nevada lacks quality wins, but as long as they keep dominating the Mountain West, that shouldn’t matter too much.
Buffalo doesn’t have many quality wins, but 21-3 is hard to ignore. Friday’s bout in Toledo is likely the Bulls’ last chance to earn a Q1 win before the MAC Tournament.
Wofford continues to strengthen its impressive résumé, as the Terriers still have yet to lose a conference game. Lipscomb was headed in that direction, too, but an unfortunate loss to Liberty on Wednesday proved to be a massive blow to the Bisons’ tournament hopes.
VCU, meanwhile, is coming together quite nicely. Like many mid-majors, the Rams lack standout wins, but they have blown out their last two opponents by a combined 51 points. If VCU stays hot, a tournament bid is likely even if the Rams don’t win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Utah State’s loss to San Diego State last Saturday was incredibly disheartening, but with a NET Ranking of No.38 and KenPom Ranking of No.42, hope remains alive in Logan. San Francisco was handed a 30-point trouncing at Gonzaga, but crazier things have happened.
UNC-Greensboro now adds its name to the bubble with a stellar 22-3 record, but the Spartans’ best win is East Tennessee State. Throw in a 29-point loss to Wofford and UNC-Greensboro means they are far from safe. The Spartans may have to complete the daunting task of defeating Wofford in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Saturday if they want to be considered for an at-large invite.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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Sophomore / Broadcast Journalism