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College Basketball: Bubble Breakdown


As we enter the final days of February, the Madness of March is knocking on the door. The regular season of college basketball is coming to a close, with many of the smaller conferences wrapping things up this weekend. In the next two-plus weeks we will then be treated to the intensity that is conference tournaments. But while some teams can enter those conference tournaments with high hopes, others will be entering with everything at stake.

After months of action, some teams find themselves on the dreaded bubble. Everything they have done to this point needs to be put behind them, as what is done is done. Each game is even more crucial than the last. It might only take one more slip-up that costs them their NCAA Tournament berth.

Before we get into the breakdown of who these teams are, let’s get a feel for how many spots they will be competing for. The Big Dance will feature a total of 68 teams. There are 22 small conferences that I feel confident in saying will be getting only one bid, which will go to the conference tournament winners.

[Kenny]

That leaves us with a total of 46 slots. Now we need to account for the teams that are a given (The Gonzaga’s and Villanova’s) as well as the ones who are fairly safe bets (The Iowa State’s and Creighton’s). After we take out those team, who should be in whether they win their conference tourneys or not, we are down to a total of 13 spots.

Those 13 spots are what we will be calling “the bubble” this season. As things stand right now, we have roughly 22 teams fighting for those remaining slots. So who will fight and claw their way in, and who will be left on the outside looking in? Let’s take a closer look at our 22 contenders, broken down by conference!

American Athletic Conference

Houston – Houston currently sits with a 19-8 record, which is honestly not that bad. But that thing that is really holding them back is the lack of any signature wins. Their best win comes in the form of a victory over fellow bubble team Rhode Island, but they have not capitalized in the three games they have faced Cincinnati and SMU (x2). They have three more games left in regular season play, one of which comes on the road in Cincy. Given they already have bad losses, they are going to need to win out, plus a strong showing in the AAC Tournament to help raise their hopes.

A10

Rhode Island – The Rams are sitting in third in the A10 while sporting an 18-9 record on the year. They are in a very similar position as Houston, as they have some ugly losses and a lack of signature wins. But they do have a leg up on the Cougars. Rhode Island took down Cincinnati early in the season and played a fairly strong non-conference schedule, in which they played the likes of Duke and Cincy, as well as some of the better smaller conference teams in Belmont and Valpo. With three games left, Saturday’s game against VCU is their last big chance. A win against VCU should put them in the field, but they would need to avoid any bad losses after that to stay in.

ACC

Virginia Tech – This 19-8 team is probably looking pretty good at the moment. Yes, they have their handful of bad losses, but for each of those, they also have a quality win. Playing in the ACC certainly helps, as they hold wins over the likes of Duke, Virginia and a bunch of the following ACC bubble teams. They do not face any top tier teams in their remaining three, so they just need to avoid a bad loss (Boston College) and be mindful of the other bubble teams they take on (Miami and Wake Forest). Unless they tank the rest of the way, they are likely in.

Miami – Like Va Tech, the Hurricanes are 19-8. Their overall resume is pretty straight forward to be honest. Almost all of their losses have come to tourney quality teams, or teams that are also on this bubble. But with that, they do not have a ton of great wins. Their biggest came at home against UNC, which will certainly give them a leg up on most, followed by one a few days ago at Virginia. Now Virginia is going downhill fast right now, but that one will still likely be enough to help Miami when all is said and done. Their last three games come against Duke, Va Tech and Florida State, so they will have plenty of chances to seal this up for good.

Clemson – Let’s keep this simple. Clemson is 14-13. Of those 13 losses, their worst came against Oklahoma. The rest came against tourney level teams. But with no real signature win outside a road victory over South Carolina, those 13 losses are going to hurt. 14 losses is usually the magic number for getting cut. Florida State could very well deliver that blow on Saturday. Clemson needs to win out and make a run in the ACC Tournament to feel good come Selection Sunday.

Syracuse – Everyone was praising Syracuse following their win over Duke. But with 12 losses, things are not a lock for the Orange. Their final two games come at Louisville and home to Georgia Tech. If they beat Louisville, I think they are good. But a loss there followed by either a loss to Georgia Tech or a one and done in the ACC Tournament and they need to sweat out Selection Sunday. They have some real quality wins, but they need to show up for their remaining games to lock things up for good.

Wake Forest – Another 12 loss ACC team! But with their best win being against Miami, Wake Forest finds themselves a notch below the rest of the ACC teams in my eyes. They have Louisville and Virginia Tech left. Two wins to close the season would make them a much better contender. Even one win plus a decent showing in the ACC Tournament could be enough. But as things stand right now, they are just on the outside looking in for me.

Georgia Tech – Ok I promise, this is the last one. Georgia Tech is also sporting a 12 in the L column thus far. They also have themselves some quality victories on the season to help boost their resume. Not only did they beat VCU on the road, but they also took down UNC, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and Syracuse. But those big wins also come with roughly four or five bad losses, which is why the Yellow Jackets find themselves here on the bubble. If they lose at Notre Dame on Sunday, they will likely be needing wins against Pitt and Syracuse to close things out.

B12

Kansas State -K-State currently sits with a 17-11 overall record. While most brackets have them in the 8-9 range right now, they really do not have an overly impressive resume. Their non-conference schedule was nothing special, and they really didn’t beat anyone of note until they got to Big12 play. Three games remain, with two being on the road, and two against the next two teams listed. They are boosted by wins over the likes of Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State (two of which were on the road), but they need to win at least two more to feel a little better going forward.

TCU – TCU has the exact same record as Kansas State, so what makes them different? For starters, they played all of one quality non-conference game in which they lost to SMU. Since then they have picked up a win against Iowa State. So to answer that question, not much. They have just won fewer big games, placing them firmly behind the Wildcats. Their game at West Virginia on Saturday is hands down their most critical of the year.

Texas Tech – Like we had in the ACC, the Big12 bubble teams follow a pattern. Once again we have a 17-11 club who played a weak non-conference schedule. Theirs may be the worst of them all though. They have taken down West Virginia and Baylor, but it may be the eye test that helps Tech out in the end. They have played a number of solid games against the likes of the conference’s biggest names. Unfortunately, they have fallen more than they have won, which will hurt. Two of their three remaining games come on the road against tourney/bubble teams. Those games against Oklahoma State and K-State will be insanely important.

Big East

Seton Hall – Seton Hall should be in fairly decent shape right now with their 17-10 record. During non-conference play they went up against the likes of Florida, California and South Carolina. They won the latter two games, while also putting up a good fight against the Gators. Their worst loses came to St. Johns and Stanford, with the rest of their losses coming to quality opponents. They have three games left, with DePaul, Georgetown and Butler. They need to avoid bad losses against the first two, while a win at Butler may be what they need to solidify their tourney hopes.

Marquette – Something about bubble teams in the same conference having the exact same record. Marquette also sits with a 17-10 record. But unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, their resume does not look quite as impressive as Seton Hall’s. In non-conference play, their only real challenge came in the form of Wisconsin, in a game they lost. They too have a loss to St. John’s as well as Georgetown, with their marquee wins coming in the form of several conference games. They have taken down most of the Big East tourney level teams, with wins over Seton Hall, Villanova, Creighton and Xavier. They have three games left, and all of them would be considered good win. If they take down at least two of Providence, Xavier and Creighton, Marquette can start to feel pretty good. But those wins are far from a given.

Providence – Finally, a different record! Although not by much, as the Friars are 17-11. Non-conference play saw them play two noteworthy games, losing to Virginia and winning against bubble-mates Rhode Island. Losses to Ohio State and Boston College are not going to help however. Then they entered Big East play, and things got off to a rough start, with losses to the some of the conference’s big bads, Xavier and Butler. You can then add in bad losses to DePaul as well as St. Johns. But they have picked up their fair share of big wins, including their latest three game win streak that has garnered them some extra bubble attention. At the end of the day, they do hold wins over the likes of Seton Hall, Marquette, Butler, Xavier and Creighton. Three games remain, with the biggest coming on Saturday against Marquette. They will need to avoid a bad loss in their last two however, as a loss to either DePaul or St. Johns could be enough to sink their ship.

B10

Michigan – Michigan is one of those teams that appear to be near the top of the bubble. In non-conference play they took on the likes of Marquette, SMU, South Carolina, Va Tech and UCLA. Of those five games, they walked away with two wins, beating both Marquette and SMU. During conference play, they were handed three losses to teams they should have beaten, with Iowa, Ohio State and Illinois all knocking them off. Their only big win within the conference came not that long ago, bringing down Wisconsin. Given Wisconsin is moving in the wrong direction, that win may be a little overvalued. With their remaining three games, a home game against Purdue is huge. A win there could go a long way into helping get them in. That will be followed up with a road game against Northwestern, who we are considering in the field of 68 (hope I didn’t get ahead of myself on that one). Then they need to avoid a bad game to end the year with a visit to Nebraska, who is near the bottom of the conference.

Michigan State – This is not your typical Michigan State team. They opened the year with high hopes, but loses to Kentucky and Arizona to open the year showed us this was not going to be the Spartans we are used to seeing. As non-conference play continued, they would fall to Baylor and Duke as well, but they did pick up a win over Wichita State. Their biggest win came over Minnesota, but they simply have too many bad losses for my liking. Losses to the likes of Northeastern, Penn State and Ohio State paired with the season ending injury to Eron Harris are enough to keep them out right now in my eyes. But their tough non-conference play will be in their favor. With three games remaining, they have two more chances at quality wins, with games against Wisconsin and Maryland, who are both fading a bit.

Missouri Valley Conference

Wichita State/Illinois State – Ok, these two are listed as a joint entry for a reason. They currently sit one-two atop the Missouri Valley Conference, both with a 16-1 conference record. More likely than not, one of these teams wins the conference tournament, which is already accounted for in the numbers presented above. The team who does not earn the automatic qualifier will be squarely on the bubble. Wichita State would have the leg up, as they played a decent non-conference schedule and have no bad losses. Illinois State on the other hand, did not play a ton of quality opponents this season and have loses to the likes of Tulsa, San Francisco and Murray State. Each team has one game remaining in the regular season. If things ended now, I think Wichita State would get in, while Illinois State is going to need to win the conference tournament.

P12

California – The Pac12 has four teams that a solid bets to make the NCAA Tournament. Their one question mark, the Golden Bears of California and their 18-9 record. Non-conference play saw them face two quality opponents, losing both games (Seton Hall and Virginia). They also dropped a game to San Diego State which is not going to do them any favors. Once in conference play, they have not been able to take down any of the big three, with their only big win coming on the road against USC, the conference’s fourth best team. Three games remain and there is no chance for a marquee win. So Cal is going to need to pick up at least one signature win in the conference tournament for me to have confidence in them on Selection Sunday.

SEC

Alabama – The Crimson Tide are not nearly as good at basketball as they are in football. This team has a 16-11 record, and are lacking in the quality win department while having a handful of bad losses. Yes they beat South Carolina, but all of their other games against quality opponents ended in a loss. Add on losses to the likes of Texas, Clemson, Auburn (twice) and Georgia, and this is a shaky resume. Their lack of offense is not going to help matters, and neither will the lack of big wins they can earn in their final three games. A run in the SEC Tournament will likely be their saving grace, as I do not see them in the field of 68 as of today.

Arkansas – Arkansas seems to have an edge over their fellow SEC bubble-mates. They currently have a 21-7 record and are arguably the third best team in the conference along with South Carolina. However, they did not play much of a non-conference schedule, with a win over Houston being their only decent win before conference play started. In conference play they have beaten the likes of Alabama and South Carolina. But outside of that, there really isn’t much to see here. Of their three games left, two are games they need to win easily. But the big one comes at Florida. If they can win that game, they will get a major boost. But right now, things are looking very bubbly for the Razorbacks.

Ole Miss – Ole Miss is sitting here with a 17-11 record. Outside of the conference, they did take on Creighton and Va Tech, but were unsuccessful in taking home a victory. They also fell to Middle Tennessee, who is also looking like a Tourney team, but will likely need to win Conference USA as they to avoid the small conference stigma of being passed over. Ole Miss has not picked up any quality wins in conference play either, simply adding in some bad losses. Things are not looking good for Ole Miss right now, and even a win against South Carolina in their last regular season game likely won’t be enough.

Tennessee – I am going to keep this simple. Tennessee has 13 losses. They will need to win out (at South Carolina, at LSU and home against Alabama) plus make a nice run in the SEC Tournament in order to make it to the Field of 68.

So there you have it, this years bubble breakdown.  Which of these 21 clubs do you think will make the field of 68? Tell us in the comments!

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Ken Magner
A college kid who loves baseball, NCAA basketball, Marvel movies, Game of Thrones and much more.

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