15 College Basketball Teams Already on the NCAA Tournament Bubble
Non-conference play is an essential part of a college basketball season. Teams that have weak schedules early in the year are typically met with a rude awakening come NCAA tournament time.
A great example of this is Louisville, a team that came into the season dominating opponents like IUPUI and Fairleigh Dickinson, and has now lost five of their last seven.
During their run, the Cardinals were ranked in the top five, and are one bad loss away from falling out of the top 25.
Louisville is still considered to be in the NCAA tournament, but with more games like the 90-59 drubbing they received at Providence, Rick Pitino's squad may be on the outside looking in.
Here are 15 teams that are already on the tournament bubble.
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Key Wins: none
Key Losses: vs. Oregon, at UCLA, vs. San Diego State
Arizona started the season ranked inside the top 20. With six losses, they have dropped from the rankings and have yet to win a game on the road against a noteworthy opponent.
Arizona is currently 1.5 games out of first place in the Pac-12, and have 12 games remaining. Half of those are on the road, so the Wildcats will have plenty of chances to prove themselves worthy (or unworthy) of making the Big Dance.
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Key Wins: vs. Oregon
Key Losses: at Utah State, vs. Loyola Marymount
BYU once again has a solid squad, and a great 5-1 start to conference play had them in good shape to be playing in March. However, a recent loss to Loyola Marymount at home is disappointing to say the least.
Two games with Gonzaga remain, as well as a home game against St. Mary's. The Cougars have an experienced team that could definitely make some noise, but will need to gain some key wins if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.
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Key Wins: at Oregon, at Washington
Key Losses: at Oregon State
California was ranked at the start of the year, but a quick loss to Missouri and then another to San Diego State knocked them out of the top 25.
Currently, this team has only one "bad loss"—to Oregon State, albeit on the road. Cal is currently on top of the Pac-12 and looks to be in good shape to make the NCAA tournament. However, they finish the season with three road games.
These games will be crucial in determining whether or not the Golden Bears make the tournament.
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Key Wins: vs. Texas A&M, vs. Florida State, vs. Arizona
Key Losses: at Rutgers, at Tennessee
On Christmas day, Florida was seemingly in good shape. They had only two losses, to two great teams, both on the road. They had beaten Arizona, Texas A&M and Florida State, and looked poised to finish their non-conference schedule with a hefty win streak.
Rutgers had other plans.
The Scarlet Knights shocked Florida in an 85-83 double-overtime loss, and Florida's stock dropped. Another loss in their first SEC game against Tennessee, and suddenly it seemed as though Florida could not win on the road.
Florida is new to the bubble, and will stay there until they put their road woes behind them.
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Key Wins: vs. North Carolina, at Virginia Tech
Key Losses: vs. Princeton, at Clemson
Florida State's dominance of North Carolina in their 90-57 win was both surprising and uncharacteristic.
Those were the most points they had scored all year, against one of the best defensive teams they had played. Four of their six losses have come to teams that are or were ranked in the top 25, so their 12-6 record is deceiving.
The Seminoles need another big win to cement their status in the NCAA tournament, and they need to avoid being upset by teams like Georgia Tech or Miami at home.
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Key Wins: at Cincinnati
Key Losses: vs. Akron, vs. Ohio
Marshall is a surprising team with few "bad losses" and a great win on the road at Cincinnati. They kept their game with Syracuse close, and are currently at the top of Conference USA.
Two meetings with Memphis still lie ahead for Marshall, and if they can split those games, they should be in line for a tournament bid.
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Key Wins: at Indiana
Key Losses: vs. Iowa, vs. Dayton
Tubby Smith has had a turbulent season so far. After losing his star senior Trevor Mbakwe seven games into the year, he led the team to a 12-1 record before conference play.
Not too shabby.
But then, Minnesota dropped their first four games in Big Ten play and found themselves in the conference cellar. At a new season low, Minnesota proceeded to win two games on the road, one against upstart Indiana.
The Golden Gophers are now squarely "on the bubble." They need to win their home games and impress with road wins to make the tournament.
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Key Wins: vs. Texas A&M, vs. Arizona, vs. West Virginia
Key Losses: vs. Akron, at Arkansas, at Mississippi
Mississippi State's season has been as turbulent as Minnesota's.
They have quality wins against quality opponents, almost gave Baylor their first loss of the year and were widely considered to be the best team in the SEC West.
But losses to Arkansas and Mississippi have the Bulldogs sitting at a mediocre 2-2 in conference play, with games against Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky and Alabama yet to come.
They have the talent to make the tournament, but consistently play down to their opponent's skill level.
North Carolina State
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Key Wins: vs. Texas
Key Losses: vs. Georgia Tech
North Carolina State doesn't wow you with any of their wins or losses, but have put up a solid 14-5 record and are sitting at 3-1 in ACC play. Seven of their last 12 games are on the road, so they will need to be on their game if they expect an NCAA berth.
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Key Wins: vs. Providence, at Iowa State, vs. Iowa
Key Losses: at Bradley, vs. Evansville, at Illinois State
Northern Iowa has very impressive wins for a 13-7 squad that is near the bottom of their mid-major conference standings.
They have work to do, but their non-conference schedule strength should not be overlooked. If they can put together a win streak at the end of the year, they may have a chance to make the Dance.
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Key Wins: vs. LSU, vs. Seton Hall, vs. Michigan State
Key Losses: none
No key losses.
That is very important for a bubble team. Northwestern has lost to Baylor, at Creighton, at Ohio State, vs. Illinois, at Michigan and at Wisconsin.
Their key wins are impressive, and should keep them on the bubble through the rest of the year, barring a major collapse.
Their upcoming game at Minnesota will be a great display of two teams that need big wins, particularly in the Big Ten conference.
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Key Wins: at Tennessee
Key Losses: vs. Rutgers, at DePaul, vs. Wagner
Quite frankly, this team needs to win. With the way Pittsburgh is playing, they have no shot of making the NCAA tournament. A stunning 0-6 mark in conference play says it all.
Fortunately, Jamie Dixon is a great coach, and Pittsburgh has the talent to turn it around. They are on here because of that potential, and are one or two big upsets away from being right back "in the bubble."
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Key Wins: vs. Texas A&M, at UCLA
Key Losses: vs. Oregon State
Texas has been a tough team to figure out this year. Their wins aren't overly impressive, but their losses aren't "bubble-popping."
The Big 12 is loaded with ranked teams, and Texas still has plenty of chances to prove they can hang with the big boys like Kansas, Baylor and Missouri.
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Key Wins: at Vanderbilt, at Butler, vs. Cincinnati
Key Losses: vs. Oral Roberts, at Hawaii, at La Salle
An 8-0 record to start the year was exactly how coach Chris Mack envisioned this year beginning. The eighth win, however, proved to be costly.
The next six games, Xavier dropped five. They dropped out of the top 25 and are now focused on winning a very tough Atlantic 10 conference.
Focus will be a very important issue for Xavier moving forward, and if they expect to make the tournament, they can't implode like they did after their game against Cincinnati.
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Key Wins: vs. UNLV, at Purdue
Key Losses: vs. Iowa
Nothing about Wisconsin is exciting or impressive, but under Bo Ryan, they consistently get the job done. At 15-5, this year is no different.
They may not be the elite team we thought they were at the start of the year, but they are still a threat to Big Ten powerhouses like Michigan State and Ohio State.
If the Badgers keep their losses low, they should be dancing in March.