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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
[table id=bubble1 /]
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.