After Northern Kentucky, Mount St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, and South Dakota State punched their tickets, 11 automatic bids have been handed out. From a bubble perspective, Wake Forest and Clemson avoided bad losses, while Georgia Tech was unable to do the same and will be NIT-bound as a result.
This provides a snapshot into the current state of locks and bubble teams for each conference, and it will be updated throughout Championship Week.
Automatic Bids (11): Jacksonville State, Winthrop, Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast, UNC-Wilmington, East Tennessee St., Iona, Northern Kentucky, Mount St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, South Dakota State
Locks (8): Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Clemson (17-14) – A laundry list of narrow misses has the Tigers just three games over .500 on the season with a profile featuring a handful of good but not great wins. A deep ACC Tournament run is a must if they want any chance of an at-large, and beating NC State on Tuesday was the first step. Things get much tougher with Duke their opponent on Wednesday.
Syracuse (18-13) – 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. Six Top 50 wins give them a boost over most of their fellow bubblers, but a loss in their first ACC Tournament game against Miami would leave the Orange sweating.
Wake Forest (19-12) – No team did more for its at-large case last week than the Demon Deacons, who picked up a critical home win over Louisville before winning at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Still, they are just 3-8 against the RPI Top 50, but solid KenPom numbers and an impressive non-conference strength of schedule bolster their chances. After beating Boston College on Tuesday, they get another crack at the Hokies on Wednesday.
Locks (5): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia
Kansas State (19-12) – The Wildcats came into the week with three terrific wins against West Virginia at home and on the road against Baylor and Oklahoma State, and they took care of business in games at TCU and home against Texas Tech to finish 8-10 in the league. Even so, 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 puts a lot of pressure on their Big 12 Tournament matchup with Baylor on Thursday.
Locks (3): Butler, Creighton, Villanova
Marquette (19-11) – A home win over Villanova carries some serious weight, which is great news given Marquette’s ugly non-conference strength of schedule. After last weeks wins over Xavier and Creighton, the Golden Eagles have seven Top 50 wins (a number of them against injury-depleted foes), but they are just one game over .500 against the Top 200. They are close to a lock for me at this point, and a win over Seton Hall on Thursday would finalize it.
Providence (20-11) – 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 play Creighton in the Big East Quarterfinals on Thursday with a chance to move closer to locking up an at-large.
Seton Hall (20-10) – A huge road win over Butler gave the Pirates their fourth Top 50 win and their first over a team at full strength. They have just one sub-100 loss and are 12-10 against the RPI Top 200, which is more than some bubble teams can claim. Seton Hall takes on Marquette on Thursday with the winner likely to move to lock status.
Xavier (19-12) – The Musketeers’ RPI is decent, and they have just one sub-100 loss, but they are just 4-6 since losing Edmond Sumner to injury with three of those wins coming against DePaul and St. John’s. They get another matchup with the Blue Demons in their first Big East Tournament game, which is a must-win for Xavier at this point.
Locks (6): Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Illinois (17-13) – Just when you thought Illinois was playing its way in, the Illini lost at Rutgers on Saturday, pushing them back outside the field. A recent sweep of Northwestern plus Wednesday’s win over Michigan State gives them seven victories against at-large hopefuls and 11 Top 100 wins. Even so, a loss to Michigan on Thursday would probable spell the end.
Iowa (18-13) – Perhaps even more surprising than Illinois is the fact that Iowa has played its way into the conversation after beating both Maryland and Wisconsin on the road. The Hawkeyes now boast five Top 50 wins and are 9-11 against the Top 100. Sub-100 losses to Memphis and Omaha contributed to a 13-13 mark versus the Top 200, but a win over Indiana on Thursday would give them another crack at the Badgers.
Michigan State (18-13) – The Spartans would have moved to lock status with a win at Illinois or at Maryland, but they came up short in both. MSU has five Top 50 wins, but a home loss to Northeastern complicates things a bit. Their first Big Ten Tournament game will come against the winner of Penn State and Nebraska, and a win their would give Sparty a chance to beat Minnesota for the third time this season.
Locks (3): Arizona, Oregon, UCLA
California (19-11) – The Bears basically got run off the floor in a 30-point loss at Utah on Thursday night and followed that up by losing at Colorado as well. They have just one win over an at-large caliber team, which came against fellow bubbler USC by a single point. At this point a deep run in the Pac-12 Tournament is a must.
USC (23-8) – 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 took care of business against Washington State and Washington last week, but neither of those wins helped their case. USC faces the Huskies again in their Pac-12 opener, and a win gives them another shot at UCLA in the Pac-12 Quarterfinals.
Locks (4): Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina
Georgia (17-13) – 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 1-8 mark against the Top 50 and no wins over surefire at-large teams. They probably need to win the SEC Tournament at this point, but wins over Tennessee and Kentucky are the first challenges on the way to that goal.
Mississippi (19-12) – The Rebels beat South Carolina at home on Saturday to get into the bubble conversation. At this point they have just two Top 50 wins and a 5-12 mark against the Top 100, but the lack of sub-100 losses works in their favor. Still, they need to get to the SEC Final to have any shot at an at-large.
Vanderbilt (17-14) – 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 did bounce back to sweep Florida on Saturday. They boast the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule, which coupled with five 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 heading into the SEC Tournament. Vandy takes on Texas A&M in their first game, and Florida awaits for a third time if they can take care of business.
Locks (2): Cincinnati, SMU
Locks (2): Dayton, VCU
Rhode Island (21-9) – 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 last week, and a win in the semis against Dayton would enhance their at-large profile.
Locks (2): Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Illinois State (26-6) – The Redbirds finished 17-1 in the MVC, but they have just one Top 50 win and are 2-4 against the Top 100 after getting blown out by Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Championship. A sub-200 loss at Murray State certainly doesn’t help matters, and if I had to guess, I think they wind up getting left out.
Middle Tennessee (26-4) – 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 finished C-USA play at 17-1 after the regular season finale against FAU, and if they can get to the conference finals, I give them a solid chance.
Nevada (25-6) – On paper the seven Top 100 wins look nice, but a sweep of Boise State accounts for their only victories over Top 70 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.
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