The Road to an NCAA Bid For Select Bubble Teams

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 8th, 2016

As the mid-major conference tournaments excite and entertain college basketball fans everywhere this week, teams on the bubble correspondingly shake in fear as coveted NCAA Tournament spots are snagged by pesky bid thieves. Northern Iowa (MVC), Iona (MAAC) and Green Bay (Horizon) have already collected conference tournament victories that are likely to impact the bubble equation. Power conference teams residing on the bubble still have some control over their destiny, as they are inevitably presented with multiple opportunities to bolster their resumes without having to win an entire tournament. A single victory over a fellow bubble team or an upset of a highly-ranked conference foe can provide the boost needed to rest a lot easier on Selection Sunday. Chances will vary for each of the following bubble teams, but here a few teams in need of victories this week along with a path with which to do so.


Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have The Tournament In Sight...But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have the NCAA Tournament In Sight… But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Its Path: Beat UCLA and Utah

On January 13, USC was 15-3 with wins over Arizona and UCLA in Pac-12 play along with non-conference wins over Monmouth, Wichita State and Yale. The wheels have since fallen off the Trojans, as Andy Enfield’s squad lost eight of its final 13 games to plant itself firmly on the bubble. The rigors of conference play hit his squad harder than expected, knocking the Trojans right to the edge of the NCAA Tournament. USC begins this week’s Pac-12 Tournament with its bid-clinching work clearly laid out ahead of it. Wins over UCLA (which they swept this season) in the first round and Utah (RPI #8) in the quarterfinals would safely launch the Trojans into the field.

Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Cincinnati, UConn: “Play-In Game” Participants

Its Path: Beat a fellow bubble team

The college basketball gods are usually kind enough to provide a few early conference tournament games which pit bubble teams against each other. The losers of this week’s Pittsburgh-Syracuse (ACC) and Cincinnati-UConn (American) games are likely to watch their at-large chances disappear, while the winners will be well-positioned for good news on Selection Sunday. Another treat for the winner of the AAC elimination game is that the winner will move on to face Temple, yet another team on the fringe of NCAA Tournament consideration. The winner of the ACC matchup will get a date with North Carolina and the opportunity that comes with that.


Its Path: Win the AAC Tournament

The Golden Hurricane aren’t as lucky as some of the other teams dancing the bubble tightrope this week. Tulsa will have to play Memphis in the quarterfinals and (likely) Houston in the semifinals, neither of which carry much juice in terms of resume enhancement. Beating both would put Tulsa in the title game of the American, where it would likely meet Temple, Cincinnati or UConn. If the Hurricane make it that far, they might as well just win the darn thing and secure the automatic bid in the process.

St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure Will Have Reason to Celebrate If It Can Get Two Wins (USA Today Images)

St. Bonaventure Will Have Reason to Celebrate If It Can Get Two Wins (USA Today Images)

Its Path: Win two games

The Bonnies enter the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the #3 seed and aren’t likely to face an NCAA Tournament team until the semifinals. In order to get that far, they’ll need to avoid disaster against one of Davidson, Duquesne or LaSalle in the quarterfinals before a likely matchup with VCU in the semifinals. A Bonnies’ win on Saturday would likely mean they’d be dancing for the first time since 2012.


Its Path: Beat Northwestern and Indiana

The Maize and Blue have one of the simplest and most direct roads to an at-large bid. Win its first round game against Northwestern followed by toppling one of the nation’s hottest teams and the outright Big Ten champion, Indiana. The conference schedule offered the Wolverines only one crack at the Hoosiers this season, but Tom Crean’s group stole a victory in Ann Arbor. If Michigan can even the score with some revenge in Indianapolis, the Wolverines will almost assuredly go dancing.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at and has contributed to and Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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