BATON ROUGE, LA - JANUARY 05:  Ben Simmons #25 of the LSU Tigers reacts to a dunk against the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half of a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on January 5, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  LSU defeated Kentucky 85-67.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Early NCAA Bubble Watch: More than 30 teams are fighting for just 10 tourney bids

In a year of immense parity in college basketball, when more top-ranked teams have lost before February since 1949, it’s predictable that the bubble would be an absolute mess. There aren’t any great teams in college basketball, and similarly, there isn’t a great bubble, as many teams have found ways to lose to bottom-tier teams and opponents in weaker conferences.

We’re nearing the halfway point of conference season, with just a few more chances for bubble teams to get quality wins. So here’s a look at the NCAA Tournament picture as it stands, so you’ll know exactly who you should root against.

Keep in mind, we’re being very generous with the “bubble,” just in case of any surprise runs to end conference season.


Locks: North Carolina, Miami, Louisville, Virginia

Probably fine: Pitt, Notre Dame, Duke

Bubble: Clemson, Florida State, Syracuse

The ACC is definitely a top two conference this year, and it has a bona fide national championship contender in North Carolina. Aside from the Tar Heels, Louisville, Miami and Virginia are all dark horses in the national title race. Duke is struggling, but the Blue Devils should be okay.

ACC’s bubble is weak, but with strong wins to end the season, Clemson, Florida State and Syracuse could all put together resumes to sneak in.


Big 12

Locks: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia

Probably fine: Baylor, Texas

Bubble: Kansas State, Texas Tech

This is a fairly top-heavy conference, but with a number of teams that will cannibalize themselves. That could cause a long losing streak to send Baylor or Texas to the bubble, or it could help Kansas State and Texas Tech gain quality wins to get on the right side of it.


Big East

Locks: Villanova, Xavier, Providence

Probably fine: None

Bubble: Butler, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Creighton, Marquette

The Big East is an all-or-nothing league. Villanova, Xavier and Providence have been dominant, and they’ll have no problem getting into the tournament, possibly all as top three seeds. The rest of the league is anyone’s guess.

Butler has struggled of late, while Georgetown have chilled in bubble land all year. Creighton and Marquette are stretches, but they have a chance with enough quality wins.


Big Ten

Locks: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue

Probably fine: Michigan

Bubble: Ohio State, Wisconsin

It’s another top-heavy league, as Iowa has rolled through the league to start, while Maryland and Indiana aren’t far behind. Michigan State and Purdue have disappointed in league play so far, but they’re fine, thanks to great non-conference seasons.

The bubble will be interesting here. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin are pretty far away, but they have what it takes to make it. The Buckeyes have a win over Kentucky, and Wisconsin has come on late, with wins over Indiana and Michigan State.



Locks: Oregon, Arizona, USC

Probably fine: Utah, Cal

Bubble: Oregon State, Colorado, Washington, Stanford, UCLA

I really have no idea what to do with these classifications, because the Pac-12 is so damn confusing. Everyone in it is just fine, but nobody is great. That said, this league has the biggest bubble in the country. It should be fascinating to watch play out.



Locks: Texas A&M, Kentucky

Probably fine: South Carolina, Florida

Bubble: LSU, Vanderbilt, Georgia

Even with Texas A&M’s rise, the SEC has struggled this year. Both Kentucky and LSU have been major disappointments, and there are a lot of question marks surrounding everyone. Can South Carolina overcome more losses with its atrocious schedule? Can LSU finally start dominating everyone with Ben Simmons?


Everyone else

Locks: 22 one-bid conference champs

Probably fine: Wichita State, Dayton, St. Mary’s

Bubble: UConn, Cincinnati, George Washington, Tulsa, Gonzaga, Monmouth (if MAAC loss), VCU, Temple, St. Bonaventure, San Diego State, Boise State, St. Joe’s


So here’s the bubble

There are 58 spots taken when you count the 34 teams that are locks or probably fine, 22 more taken of the likely one-bid leagues, then two more taken from the winners of the AAC and Mountain West, which could theoretically be two-bid leagues. There could be more bid thieves from the MAAC and the Missouri Valley, but we won’t count on that.

Remember, one of UConn, Cincinnati and Tulsa will likely get the AAC spot, and one of San Diego State and Boise State will likely get the Mountain West spot.

So here are the teams fighting for those 10 spots. To compare the teams, we’ll use metrics the selection committee uses, including RPI, good wins, bad losses and non-conference strength of schedule.

Bubble Watch

Good wins
Bad losses
Non-conference strength of schedule rank
Boise State13-562OregonMontana98
Cincinnati15-667VCU, TulsaNone158
Clemson12-798Louisville, Duke, Miami, Pitt, Syracuse, Florida StateUMass, Minnesota331
Colorado14-521Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford (x2)None74
Creighton14-793Butler, Georgetwon, Seton HallLoyola (Chicago)290
Florida State13-750Virginia, Florida, VCUHofstra243
George Washington15-433Virginia, Seton HallSaint Louis, DePaul167
Georgetown13-866Wisconsin, Xavier, SyracuseRadford, UNC Asheville71
Gonzaga14-564Washington, UConnNone41
Kansas State12-853Texas Tech, GeorgiaNone118
LSU13-782Kentucky, Vanderbilt, GeorgiaCollege of Charleston263
Marquette13-7117LSU, Wisconsin, ProvidenceBelmont, DePaul280
Monmouth15-537UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, GeorgetownCanisius, Army, Manhattan37
Ohio State13-881KentuckyLouisiana Tech35
Oregon State11-648Tulsa, Oregon, Cal, USCNone111
San Diego State13-655Cal, Boise StateSan Diego, Grand Canyon26
Seton Hall13-652Providence, Wichita State, GeorgiaLong Beach State245
St. Bonaventure12-676NoneSiena, Duquesne210
St. Joseph's16-336NoneNone116
Stanford10-749Utah, Cal, Oregon StateNone31
Syracuse13-854UConn, Texas A&M, DukeSt. John's121
Temple11-765SMU, UConn, Cincinnati (x2)East Carolina201
Texas Tech12-739TexasNone38
Tulsa13-657Wichita State, UConnOral Roberts88
UCLA12-851Arizona, Oregon State, Gonzaga, KentuckyWake Forest, Washington State47
UConn14-560Ohio State, Texas, GeorgetownNone100
VCU15-545St. Joseph'sNone145
Washington13-671UCLA, USC, Texas, ColoradoUC Santa Barbara, Oakland175
Wisconsin12-968Michigan State, Indiana, VCU, SyracuseWestern Illinois, UW-Milwaukee34

For argument’s sake, let’s say Monmouth has no issues in the MAAC, UConn wins the AAC and San Diego State wins the Mountain West. Who’s in the last 10? As of now, here are my choices: Colorado, Butler, Gonzaga, Clemson, Oregon State, Georgetown, Syracuse, UCLA, Florida State, VCU.

There’s a lot of time left in the season, but his is where we stand today. Make sure you know your rooting interests the rest of the way.

Kevin Trahan

About Kevin Trahan

Kevin is a recent graduate of Northwestern, living in Chicago. He mostly covers college football and college basketball, with an emphasis on NCAA issues and other legal issues in sports. He's written for SB Nation, USA Today, VICE Sports and The Wall Street Journal, among others.