RTC Bubble Watch: February 4 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on February 4th, 2013


Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is RTC’s new resident bracketologist. According to Bracket Matrix, he ranks as one of the top several bracketologists among those who have produced brackets for more than three years, including two seasons with perfect bracket projections. He updates the field daily on his site, Bracketology Expert, and will be producing a weekly bracket update here at RTC on Fridays. RTC Bubble Watch will publish on Sunday nights and Wednesday afternoons for the rest of the season. 

What is a “Bubble Watch?” Below is my bubble watch. If you are not familiar with my work, this is basically a current look at how things are shaping up for the NCAA Tournament. Each conference is broken down and the teams I am currently considering on the bubble are listed. This makes it easy to figure out how many at-large berths are left for the NCAA Tournament. Remember, 31 automatic NCAA Tournament bids go to the conference tournament winners (and the Ivy champion). The other 37 bids are at-large bids, or bids that the selection committee gives to the best remaining teams that fail to win an automatic bid.

Bracket Math: Below there are 25 locks along the right column. That means if none of my “locks” wins an auto-bid, there are 12 at-large spots available for the NCAA Tournament. It is usually safe to say that an average of six of my locks will win automatic bids, so that means 19 at-large bids will be taken and I project that 18 at-large bids  remain available to the NCAA Tournament. For those wondering, if you take all the teams I have at 70% or higher (six) and include them in my projection there are 31 “locks” and “should be ins”.  At the very least, that leaves six at-large spots available for the NCAA Tournament. If you figure that at least six of my locks/should be ins win automatic bids, there are 12 spots available.

What Does Being a “Lock” Mean? It means that at this point, I see no way that team could miss the NCAA Tournament. Every year I end up having to move at least one team I have locked in back into the at-large pool.

Understanding “At-Large Odds” Percentages: In an attempt to help clarify the bubble picture even more, I have added “at-large odds” to each team below. All of the teams I have “locked” in have a 90% chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament or higher. Basically, teams with a percentage higher than 50% are probably on the good side of the bubble picture right now. Teams below 50% are probably on the wrong side of the bubble picture right now. Teams with a 50% chance of being in the Tournament basically have a coin-flip chance of getting in.  You might see me refer to teams with a percentage of 70% or higher as “should be ins,” referring to teams that should make the field.

  • Odds Improving This Week: Georgetown (now a lock), North Carolina, Kansas State (now a lock), Minnesota (now a lock), Colorado State, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Air Force
  • Odds Decreasing This Week: Florida State, Villanova, Temple, Arizona State, Colorado, Illinois


ACC: Three Locks, Four Bubble Teams LOCKS:duke50x50ncstate50x50miami50x50
ACC Overview: Miami continues to lead the ACC after a late basket pushed the Hurricanes over N. C. State on Saturday. Duke played its best game without Ryan Kelly in its blowout victory against Florida State. Both of those teams are clear locks for the NCAA Tournament. N. C. State remains in the lock column despite the loss.  This may end up being a four bid conference.

North Carolina (15-6, 5-3; RPI: 31): North Carolina has one great win (over UNLV) and two mediocre ones (Florida State, Maryland), but bad losses against Texas and Virginia are not helping the Tar Heels’ resume. Losing to the under .500 Longhorns by 18 points is inexplicable. The next four games are going to decide the Tar Heels’ fate. First, a game against Wake Forest that would be a big blow to North Carolina’s at-large hopes. Then, back to back trips to Miami on February 9 and Duke on February 13.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 75%

Maryland (16-6, 4-5; RPI: 60): Maryland has not played well in ACC play and it might end up costing the Terps an at-large bid. Maryland was swept by Florida State, another ACC bubble team. The Terps have also lost at Miami, at North Carolina, at Duke, and at Florida State. Maryland can’t win on the road and it cannot beat good teams, which typically means NIT. AT-LARGE ODDS: 40%

Virginia (15-5, 5-2; RPI: 95): After wins against Florida State and N. C. State moved the Cavaliers into at-large consideration, Virginia fell to Georgia Tech on Sunday. Virginia needs its RPI to rise quickly and losses like the one to the Yellow Jackets are not helping. Up next are winnable games against Clemson, at Maryland, and Virginia Tech. AT-LARGE ODDS: 35%

Florida State (12-9, 4-4; RPI: 66): Florida State knocked off Maryland on Wednesday to pick up  a fifth win against the RPI top 50 and its second win over the Terrapins. Florida State’s resume makes it look more like a mid major than a major though. The five wins over the RPI top 100 are: BYU, Charlotte, Saint Joseph’s, Maryland (twice). Duke demolished the ‘Noles on Saturday. Chances for big wins come down to hosting Miami on Feb. 13 and Florida State still has home and away contests left with North Carolina State. AT-LARGE ODDS: 30%

Atlantic 10: One Lock, Seven Bubble Teams LOCKS:butler50x50
Atlantic 10 Overview: Butler is clearly the best team in the Atlantic Ten, but the Bulldogs loss to Saint Louis helped the Billikens stay on the bubble. VCU also continues sliding back to the pack. Temple also continues to slide back, although the Owls do have a win over Syracuse under their belt.

Virginia Commonwealth (18-5, 6-2; RPI: 47): I don’t have anything against VCU, but I am convinced more and more every day that 80% of the nation’s bracketologists are overrating the Rams’ resume. This team’s best victory is against Belmont and the second best win is over Memphis. Both of those teams are fringe at-large teams and both had better win their conference tournaments if they want to snag an a NCAA Tournament bid. This week the Rams stopped the bleeding a little bit with wins at Rhode Island and over Fordham. On Saturday, a trip to Charlotte looms large. AT-LARGE ODDS: 65%

Temple (14-7, 3-4; RPI: 55): The Owls are the kind of team that makes a bracketologists’ job very difficult. A win over Syracuse looks fantastic, but losses to Canisius, St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, and Xavier cannot be ignored. Overall, the Owls are 4-4 on the road. Wins over Charlotte and at Dayton this week could jumpstart the Owls’ season.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

La Salle (15-6, 5-3; RPI: 27): La Salle has five wins over the RPI top 100 including victories against Butler and VCU, the Atlantic Ten’s best teams. The Explorers only have one bad loss, which came in mid-November against Central Connecticut State. The next three games on the schedule are all very winnable–Fordham, at St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s–before a huge bubble game at Temple on February 21. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Saint Louis (16-5, 5-2; RPI: 57): The Billikens have made a strong push for an at-large bid over the last week. An upset victory over Butler and a win against Dayton give Saint Louis five straight wins, but now we get to find out how good this team is. Saint Louis will be expected to win at Fordham and at Richmond in back to back games before three straight tough games against Charlotte, VCU, and Butler.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Charlotte (17-4, 5-2; RPI: 50): The 49ers have been in the at-large conversation all along because of a great record and a mediocre RPI, but Charlotte only has two top 50 wins. Wins against La Salle and Massachusetts keep looking better and better and games against Temple, Butler, VCU, and Saint Louis still remain on the schedule. Charlotte has the kind of record you look for in an at-large candidate, but the 49ers need big wins. The upcoming schedule provides plenty of chances for those.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 35%

Massachusetts (14-6, 4-3; RPI: 49): It was an up and down week for the Minutemen, who followed a one point win against La Salle with a one point loss to Charlotte. Games against Rhode Island and Saint Joseph’s are up next. If Massachusetts wins both, a game at VCU on February 14 could be huge for both team’s at-large hopes. AT-LARGE HOPES: 30%

Richmond (14-9, 4-4, RPI: 74): The Spiders entered the conversation after a victory over VCU, but a loss at Temple on Wednesday night was a big shot to the Spiders at-large hopes. A win against Air Force continues to look better and a win against Charlotte might end up being important, depending on how the 17-4 49ers finish the season. On Saturday, a game against Saint Louis could be the season for Richmond. All of the Atlantic Ten at-large teams have to begin separating themselves. AT-LARGE ODDS: 15%

Big 12: Two Locks, Four Bubble Teams LOCKS:kansas50x50
Big 12 Overview: Kansas State joins Kansas in the lock column this week. Kansas lost its first Big 12 game to Oklahoma State, who sees its at-large chances rise a lot because of the victory. The rest of the Big 12 bubble teams continue to play each other, allowing for a little bit of separation.

Oklahoma State (15-5, 5-3; RPI: 30): Oklahoma State now owns the Big 12’s best win thanks to a victory at Kansas that ended the Jayhawks 33 game home winning streak. Add in a win against Big 12 bubble team Iowa State and you’ve got one of the best weeks any team in the country had. AT-LARGE ODDS: 65%

Oklahoma (14-6,5-3; RPI: 23): Oklahoma has two top 50 wins: Oklahoma State and at Baylor.  It was a week of ups and downs for the Sooners. Oklahoma picked up a big win at Baylor but lost by two against Kansas State.  Next up is Iowa State, followed by welcoming Kansas to Norman.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 60%

Baylor (14-7, 5-3; RPI: 45): A two loss week for the Bears (vs. Oklahoma, at Iowa State) was a big blow to Baylor’s at-large hopes. Despite that, there is still a lot of good here. Wins against Kentucky and Oklahoma State are probably victories over NCAA Tournament teams and a win over BYU might end up being one as well.  A game against Oklahoma State is up next. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Iowa State (15-6, 5-3; RPI: 38): The Cyclones’ resume continues to look better and better. Iowa State won two of three against other Big 12 bubble contenders with wins against Kansas State and Baylor. Next up are two more games against Big 12 bubble teams, Oklahoma on February 4 and at Kansas State on February 9. AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Big East: Five Locks, Four Bubble Teams LOCKS:louisville50x50syracuse100x100marquette50x50cincy50x50georgetown50x50
Big East Overview: I may be giving the Big East too much credit here, but obviously Syracuse and Louisville are locks. Marquette, Cincinnati, and Georgetown aren’t on the same level as the Orange or Cardinals, but I have a hard time seeing any of those teams missing the NCAA Tournament.

Pittsburgh (18-5, 6-4; RPI: 38): The Panthers pulled off an upset of Syracuse on Saturday after a three point loss at Louisville on Monday. Pittsburgh has won five of six games and six of its last eight. Wins over the Orange, Georgetown, and Villanova have all come in the last three weeks. This team seems destined for an at-large bid. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Notre Dame (18-4, 6-3; RPI: 40): Notre Dame has seven wins against the RPI top 100 and three victories against the RPI top 50. Still, the only top 40 win for the Irish is at Cincinnati. Wins over Villanova and DePaul this week keep the Irish on the good side of the bubble. It seems every team in the Big East gets Syracuse and Louisville back to back. This week, Notre Dam gets its shot at the Orange and the Cardinals.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 65%

Villanova (13-8, 4-5; RPI: 58) The Wildcats moved into the at-large consideration with wins against Louisville and Syracuse. Losses against Notre Dame and Providence following those two big wins have likely moved the Wildcats onto the bad side of the bubble.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

St. John’s (14-8, 6-4; RPI: 56): The Red Storm have two RPI top 50 wins over Cincinnati and Notre Dame but they need a lot more to get into the NCAA Tournament. Losses to San Francisco and UNC-Asheville in December also don’t help. It almost seems like every Big East team gets Syracuse and Louisville back to back, doesn’t it? The Red Storm get their shot against the Orange and Cardinals (both on the road) on February 10 and February 14. AT-LARGE ODDS: 30% 

Big Ten: Five Locks, Two Bubble Teams LOCKS:michigan50x50indiana50x50ohiostate100x100michiganstate50x50minnesota100x100
Big Ten Overview: I’ve moved Minnesota back onto the good side of the bubble because a top 15 RPI makes it impossible to miss the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, Illinois continues to slide. If the Illni lose to Indiana and Minnesota in their next two games, their at-large chances are pretty much done.

Wisconsin (14-7, 6-3; RPI: 51): Wisconsin has four wins against the RPI top 36 with victories against Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. Even with that, this team has lost three of its last five games. Next up is an Iowa team that already owns a victory over the Badgers, followed by games against Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Illinois (15-8, 2-7; RPI: 36): Illinois has gone from a top 15 team that had wins over Butler, Gonzaga, and Ohio State to a team on the outside looking in at the tournament. The Illini are 2-7 in the Big Ten with six losses in their last seven games. Next up are Indiana and Minnesota.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

Conference USA: Zero Locks, Two Bubble Teams LOCKS: NONE
Conference USA Overview: Memphis and Southern Miss are the only two teams worthy of at-large consideration in a very down Conference USA. Both may be relying on wins over the other in order to get in as an at-large.

Memphis (18-3, 7-0; RPI: 44): The Tigers would be better off taking the easy route into the NCAA Tournament: win the Conference USA Tournament. I can’t remember CUSA down as much as it is this season. Memphis has no top 50 wins and doesn’t get a chance for a good win the rest of the way. Sure, Southern Miss is No. 39 in the RPI, but I would be shocked if they remain at that ranking the rest of the season. Memphis doesn’t even have a top 75 win. Of course, Tigers fans will tell you that Memphis’ three losses are all to teams in the top 50 of the RPI. That’s true, but wins get you into the dance. Right now, Memphis doesn’t have any good ones and doesn’t have a chance to get any. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Southern Miss (18-4, 7-0; RPI: 39): The Eagles are placed here because of their good RPI, but without a sweep of Memphis I don’t see Southern Miss getting a bid. Honestly, even a sweep of the Tigers wouldn’t be all that helpful, because then people would say that Memphis wasn’t even that great in a very down Conference USA. Southern Miss’ best RPI victory is over #107, Denver. At the same time, would the committee leave out an Eagles team that was 26-5 in the regular season, with one victory over Memphis? It might be a great debate if Southern Miss keeps winning. AT-LARGE ODDS: 40%

Missouri Valley: Two Locks, One Bubble Team LOCKS:wichitastate50x50creighton50x50
Missouri Valley Overview: It looks like Creighton and Wichita State are locks at this point to make the field. The only drama is whether or not Indiana State can play its way in over the next two months. The Sycamores victory on Tuesday night over Wichita State definitely made things interesting.

Indiana State (14-8, 7-4; RPI: 54): After a victory last Tuesday against Wichita State, the Sycamores have three tournament quality wins over the Shockers, Mississippi, and Miami (Fla.). Of course, following that win with a loss at Drake keeps this team right at the bubble line. Next up is a monster opportunity against Creighton at home. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Mountain West: One Lock, Six Bubble Teams LOCKS:newmexico50x50
Mountain West Overview: This is the most difficult conference in the country to figure out. It is hard to see New Mexico missing the NCAA Tournament so I have placed the Lobos in lock status. Over the next couple of weeks, we should start to see some separation between the top and the bottom of the league.

UNLV (17-5, 4-3; RPI: 18): UNLV is still lacking a huge win, although victories over Iowa State and San Diego State are more than most bubble teams have. The Rebels are relying on a very good RPI to stay high and in the Mountain West, where seven teams have top 65 RPIs, I like the chances of it staying somewhere in the 20’s. A loss to Boise State on Saturday kept the Rebels in the middle of the Mountain West pack. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

San Diego State (16-5, 4-3; RPI: 32): San Diego State has some fantastic wins: UCLA, Colorado State, New Mexico, and Indiana State. None of the losses were bad before the last two: at Wyoming and at Air Force. The Aztecs keep helping teams behind them in the Mountain West strengthen their resume. That’s not a good thing. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Colorado State (16-4, 5-2; RPI: 16): Colorado State has a strong RPI (#21 is the lowest RPI to ever miss the Big Dance) and a great win against UNLV to highlight its profile. The Rams also own victories at Washington and against Mountain West bubble teams Air Force, Boise State, and Wyoming. The Rams are in great shape right now. AT-LARGE ODDS: 70%

Boise State (15-6, 3-4; RPI: 52): Finally, Boise State has another big win to go with its victory at Creighton on November 28. The Broncos knocked off UNLV on Saturday to  end a two game losing streak. The next four games are all very important: at San Diego State, Wyoming, at New Mexico, and Air Force. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Wyoming (15-6, 2-6; RPI: 63): A 13-0 start has turned into a 15-6 record now that conference play has started in the very competitive Mountain West. Wyoming has two RPI top 50 victories over Colorado and San Diego State, but no other wins against the top RPI 100. The Cowboys have now lost four straight games. AT-LARGE ODDS: 30%

Air Force (14-6, 5-2; RPI: 65): Most people probably thought I was being a little too conservative by including Air Force in my last bubble watch, but now the Falcons have made me look good. A win against San Diego State on Saturday gave the Falcons their first top 50 RPI win. Air Force also has wins over Boise State and at Wyoming. A win at New Mexico on Wednesday would put Air Force very close to the cut-line. AT-LARGE ODDS: 25%

Pac-12: Three Locks, Three Bubble Teams LOCKS:oregonducks50x50ucla50x50
Pac-12 Overview: Arizona and Oregon are going to the NCAA Tournament, and I can’t see UCLA not getting in the field. Therefore, the Bruins are among my locks. The three teams below all have a lot of work to do to get into the field. Colorado is relying on a strong RPI, while the RPI continues to hold Arizona State back despite a good record.

Colorado (14-7, 4-5; RPI: 25): Saturday’s loss at Utah was a big blow for a Buffaloes team that can’t use any bad defeats the rest of the way. Next up are huge games at Oregon and at Oregon State.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Arizona State (17-4, 6-3; RPI: 59): Two nights after holding off Washington State for a four point win, the Sun Devils fell at Washington by four points. Next up are three very winnable games: California, Stanford, and at Utah.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Washington (13-9, 5-4; RPI: 67): Washington’s big win over Arizona State on Saturday night has given the Huskies six RPI top 100 wins. Only one of those wins is against a team currently ranked in the RPI top 50: Colorado. Still, the win over the Sun Devils ended a four game losing streak for the Huskies.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 35%

SEC: Two Locks, Three Bubble Teams LOCKS:missouri100x100
SEC Overview: This conference is Florida and then everyone else. The Gators may end up being the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament field. Missouri lost to LSU this week but with Laurence Bowers on his way back, I’ll leave Missouri in the lock column for now.

Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2; RPI: 44): Mississippi lost two SEC games this week, but that is not as bad as it sounds. The Rebels played Florida closer than anyone else in the SEC has (14 point loss) and lost a competitive game against a hungry Kentucky team. Wins against Texas A&M, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Georgia in the next four would make it really hard to leave the Rebels out of the lock category. AT-LARGE ODDS: 65%

Kentucky (15-6, 6-2; RPI: 46): The Wildcats finally picked up their first big win of the season last Tuesday night at Ole Miss, but lets make sure we don’t give Kentucky too much credit for a resume that looks more like what we see from a mid major than a national powerhouse. The victory over Mississippi gives Kentucky one victory against the RPI Top 50. The second best victory for John Calipari’s club is against Maryland, a team we should know more about in a month. Despite all that, there is some good news. At least the Wildcats found a way to win an overtime game against Texas A&M, because a loss would’ve further complicated this resume.  AT-LARGE ODDS: 55%

Alabama (14-7, 6-2; RPI: 61): Alabama’s win over Kentucky on January 22 is the Crimson Tide’s lone win against the RPI top 50. Losses to Dayton, Tulane, and Mercer in Tuscaloosa have made this profile scream NIT. The Crimson Tide get their shot at the SEC’s big boys in March. They play at Florida March 2 and at Mississippi March 5. Wins against Arkansas and Vanderbilt kept Alabama in the SEC’s race for second place and kept the Tide’s at-large hopes alive. AT-LARGE ODDS: 40%

Others: One Lock, Seven Bubble Teams LOCKS:
“Others” Overview: This is not a great year for “mid-majors”. Saint Mary’s and BYU continue to battle it out for a second bid from the WCC, but neither team has a great profile at this point. Belmont’s RPI is making things interesting but the Bruins better hope it stays in the top 25.

Saint Mary’s (19-4, 8-1; RPI: 62): Saint Mary’s has one top 50 victory, thanks to a buzzer-beating three by Matthew Dellavedova. Outside of that, the Gaels’ at-large resume needs work. Saint Mary’s has three losses against teams lower than #36 in the RPI: Northern Iowa, Pacific, and Georgia Tech. This team lost at Gonzaga by five, but gets a shot at the Zags at home on February 14. A victory there would change this profile immensely. Road games at Santa Clara and at San Diego loom large this week. AT-LARGE ODDS: 50%

Belmont (19-4, 10-0; RPI: 22): The Bruins need a good Bracketbuster matchup (Creighton?) to help their at-large profile. Right now the only RPI top 50 win is against Middle Tennessee, another team hoping to get an at-large bid from a mid-major conference. It is really too bad that Murray State has not been the team we expected, because that would give Belmont (a very underrated team) a better shot at an at-large bid. The Ohio Valley won’t give them any chances, but an undefeated finish might be enough if their RPI stays so strong. Remember, no team with a RPI of 20 of better has ever missed the NCAA Tournament. AT-LARGE ODDS: 45%

BYU (18-6, 8-2; RPI: 42): BYU has played a lot of good teams, but has not won against any of them. Losses to Florida State, Notre Dame, Baylor, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and Iowa State help the RPI but do not add a tally to the “good wins” column. BYU’s loss to the Gaels came on a Matthew Dellavedova buzzer-beating three from half-court. If the Cougars are disappointed on Selection Sunday, they can remember that shot as being one of the reasons why. BYU is 1-6 against the RPI top 100 with the one victory coming at #87 Santa Clara. The Cougars can change that stat when they play Saint Mary’s February 21 and Gonzaga on February 28. AT-LARGE ODDS: 35%

Louisiana Tech (19-3, 10-0; RPI: 48): A victory over Southern Miss is the only top 50 win on the Bulldogs resume.  Teams that lose to Northwestern State and McNeese State usually do not get at-large bids, but you never know. Would 9 more wins down the stretch (to get to 28) and a trip to the WAC Tournament finals be enough for an at-large bid? I’d suggest the Bulldogs make it easy by earning the auto bid. AT-LARGE ODDS: 25%

Middle Tennessee (20-4, 12-1; RPI: 35): Give Middle Tennessee credit for going out and playing teams from power conferences. The Blue Raiders are reaping the benefits of their early season schedule with wins over UAB, Mississippi, UCF, and Vanderbilt. They were blown out by Florida in their only chance for a top 10 win, but the victory over the Rebels continues to look better and better. Nine more games remain, so would 27-5 be enough? Games against Arkansas State and Troy at home this week should not be a challenge. AT-LARGE ODDS: 25%

Bucknell (19-4, 6-1; RPI: 60): As expected, Bucknell’s RPI continues to free fall. The Bison have a win over La Salle that looks great after the Explorers dropped Butler and VCU this week.  Winning out is practically a must until the conference tournament final for Bucknell to even be in the conversation for an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. This team is 16-2 against teams below 100 in the RPI, which shows it has feasted on bad teams. AT-LARGE ODDS: 10%

Stephen F. Austin (18-2, 9-1; RPI: 89): Before falling to Northwestern State, the Lumberjacks’ only defeat was against Texas A&M. That one is relatively excusable. A victory over Oklahoma has them in the at-large conversation but they will likely need to almost win out to get a serious look from the committee. Would a 26-2 regular season plus a trip to the Southland final be enough? Probably not, but it is worth keeping an eye on. AT-LARGE ODDS: 10%

Daniel Evans (60 Posts)

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