Wednesday proved to be an eventful night on the bubble with Northwestern moving into the lock list by virtue of a miraculous full court pass and bucket at the horn to knock off Michigan.
This will provide a snapshot into the current state of locks and bubble teams for each conference, which I’ll plan to update after each night’s games.
Locks: Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Clemson (15-14) – A laundry list of narrow misses has the Tigers just one game over .500 on the season with a profile featuring a handful of good but not great wins. They avoided disaster by holding off NC State at home, and since the finale against Boston College won’t move the needle either, a deep ACC Tournament run is a must.
Georgia Tech (16-13) – Tuesday’s win over Pitt keeps the Jackets in the conversation despite an RPI hovering in the mid-90s. They boast four Top 25 RPI wins, but those are offset by a weak non-conference strength of schedule and a 2-9 road record, which means they need to find a way to win at Syracuse this weekend.
Syracuse (17-13) – Normally wins over the likes of Duke, Virginia, and Florida State would make you a lock, but Syracuse has a trio of sub-100 losses and an ugly 2-10 mark in road and neutral games. Their lone remaining game comes at home against fellow bubbler Georgia Tech.
Wake Forest (17-12) – The Demon Deacons picked up a critical home win over Louisville on Wednesday but are still just 2-9 against the RPI Top 50. They have solid KenPom numbers and an impressive non-conference strength of schedule, but a win at Virginia Tech this weekend would be huge for their at-large case.
Locks: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia
Kansas State (18-12) – The Wildcats came into the week with three terrific wins against West Virginia at home and on the road against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Wednesday night’s trip to TCU was essentially an elimination game, and the Wildcats came out on top. Still, they are just 5-10 against the Top 100, were recently blown out by 30 at Oklahoma, and have a less than impressive non-conference strength of schedule, which means they can’t afford to slip up against Texas Tech at home on Saturday.
TCU (16-13) – Jamie Dixon’s club is just 2-10 against the RPI Top 50 and has only three wins over at-large caliber teams. The Horned Frogs have lost six straight heading into the regular season finale at Oklahoma.
Locks: Butler, Creighton, Villanova
Marquette (18-11) – A home win over Villanova carries some serious weight, which is great news given Marquette’s ugly non-conference strength of schedule. After Wednesday’s win at Xavier, the Golden Eagles have six Top 50 wins (a number of them against injury-depleted foes), but they are just .500 against the Top 200. Even so, I think a home win against Creighton to close out the season makes them a virtual lock.
Providence (19-11) – The good news is the Friars have six Top 50 wins. The bad news is they’ve lost to St. John’s, DePaul, and Boston College, although a 10-8 mark against the Top 100 helps to offset those blemishes. They took care of business at home against DePaul on Tuesday and need to do the same at St. John’s in the regular season finale.
Seton Hall (19-10) – Three top 50 wins are nice, but each of those came against teams missing key players. The Pirates have just one sub-100 loss and are 11-10 against the RPI Top 200, which is more than some bubble teams can claim. They managed to hold off Georgetown on Tuesday night and wrap up the regular season at Butler.
Xavier (18-12) – The Musketeers’ RPI is decent, and they have just one sub-100 loss, but injuries have played a significant factor in their current six-game losing streak. Saturday’s game at DePaul has suddenly turned into a must-win.
Locks: Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Illinois (17-12) – Even a few weeks ago I would not have expected to still be talking about the Illini, but here we are. A recent sweep of Northwestern plus Wednesday’s win over Michigan State gives them five victories against at-large hopefuls and 11 Top 100 wins. Even so, they can ill afford to slip up at Rutgers to close out the regular season.
Michigan (19-11) – Despite the loss to Northwestern, the Wolverines boast 11 Top 100 victories and have no sub-100 losses, which leaves them close to a lock heading into the regular season finale at Nebraska this weekend.
Michigan State (18-12) – The Spartans would have moved to lock status with a win at Illinois, but now things get interesting with a weekend trip to Maryland on tap. MSU has six Top 50 wins, but a home loss to Northeastern complicates things a bit.
Locks: Arizona, Oregon, UCLA
California (19-9) – The Bears are 10-6 in the Pac-12, but they have just one Top 50 win, which came against fellow bubbler USC by a single point. They missed a golden opportunity to knock off Oregon last week, which puts a ton of pressure on this week’s road trip to Utah and Colorado.
USC (22-8) – A pair of Top 20 wins over UCLA and SMU are keeping the Trojans alive for now, but there isn’t much else on their profile. They easily dispatched of Washington State on Wednesday, and there’s no reason to think Washington will put up much more resistance this weekend.
Locks: Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina
Arkansas (22-8) – The Hogs are nearing lock status, but sub-100 losses to Mississippi State and Missouri have them still on the bubble for now. A 10-6 mark against the Top 100 helps, and a home win against Georgia on Saturday would be enough to lock up a bid.
Georgia (17-12) – Selfishly I’d love to see J.J. Frazier get the Bulldogs to the tournament, but that seems like a long shot thanks to a 1-7 mark against the Top 50 and no wins over surefire at-large teams. If they lose at Arkansas on Saturday, they will likely need to win the SEC Tournament.
Vanderbilt (16-14) – Vandy jumped out to a big lead at Rupp Arena against Kentucky but couldn’t hold on for what could have been a critical victory. The Commodores boast the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule, which coupled with four Top 40 wins gives them a compelling case. That said, a 20-point loss at Mizzou, as well as the 14 total losses are potential issues, which makes this weekend’s game against Florida essentially a must-win.
Locks: Cincinnati, SMU
Houston (20-8) – Thursday’s trip to Cincinnati is huge for the Cougars, whose best wins have come against Rhode Island and Vermont. Three sub-100 losses leave no margin for error at this point.
Rhode Island (20-9) – Saturday’s win over VCU gave URI a much-needed quality win. The Rams now boast a pair of Top 25 victories, but they are just 4-7 against the Top 100 with two sub-100 losses. They took care of business at Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday and must hold serve at home against Davidson this weekend.
VCU (23-7) – A win at Rhode Island or Dayton would have locked up a bid in my eyes, but the Rams came up short in both. Still, VCU is in decent shape with a pair of Top 50 wins, a 7-5 mark against the Top 100, and a Top 25 RPI of its own. They have to beat George Mason at home on Saturday, and a win in the A-10 Tournament wouldn’t hurt either.
Locks: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Illinois State (24-5) – The Redbirds finished 17-1 in the MVC, but they have just one Top 50 win and are 2-3 against the Top 100. A sub-200 loss at Murray State certainly doesn’t help matters, which means a run to the Valley Finals is a must.
Middle Tennessee (24-4) – If not for a loss at sub-200 UTEP, the Blue Raiders would be close to a lock thanks to a 4-1 mark against the Top 100 and a great non-conference strength of schedule. They should finish C-USA play at 17-1 after winnable games this week against FAU and FIU. If they can get to the finals, I give them a solid chance.
Nevada (24-6) – On paper the five Top 100 wins look nice, but a sweep of Boise State accounts for their only victories over Top 80 teams. In the end I don’t think the resume is strong enough to get an at-large, but I suppose winning out until the MWC Finals could make things interesting.
UNC-Wilmington (24-5) – There isn’t a Top 50 (or even a Top 60) win among those 24 victories, which means the Seahawks have slim at-large hopes even if they make the finals of the CAA Tournament.
UT-Arlington (20-6) – A pair of sub-200 losses may prove too much to overcome, even though one of them came with star Kevin Hervey sidelined. UTA’s road win at Saint Mary’s keeps them in the mix for now, but they can’t lose again until the Sun Belt Finals at best.
Wichita State (26-4) – The Shockers missed opportunities for quality wins in the Battle 4 Atlantis but have no losses to teams outside of the Top 50. They have just one Top 50 win but are hovering around the Top 10 on KenPom, which suggests they are probably safe so long as they make the MVC Finals.
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