The bubble picture got a lot clearer over the past week with teams proving on the court whether they do or do not belong in the field.
With just 13 days left until Selection Sunday, I believe there are 14 teams fighting it out for seven remaining spots in the tournament.
I like to break teams down into three categories:
1. Wallflowers are bubble teams. Everyone wants to get into the Big Dance, but not all of them have the guts to ask a girl out onto the dance floor.
2. An elite team that is safely in is "Dancing with a Hottie," and this group has been expanded to include all teams that could lose the rest of their games and still make the field.
3. A school in the middle is "Dancing with Its Sister." This category has been expanded as well to include anyone that just needs to beat the teams it should in order to dance.
I'll begin with the First Four at-large-bid games:
(12a) Tennessee vs. (12d) Southern Miss
(12b) Villanova vs. (12c) Kentucky
First Seven Teams Out: Iowa State, Virginia, St. Mary's, Alabama, Baylor, Maryland, Ole Miss
The projections are presented in slideshow format, with each major conference receiving its own slide.
First up is the ACC.
Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (No. 1 seed), Miami (1)
Dancing with Its Sister: North Carolina (8), NC State (9)
Wallflowers: Virginia (second team out), Maryland (sixth team out)
Despite its loss at Virginia on Thursday—a game it was favored to lose—Duke is the overall No. 1 seed in my latest projections. That's because the Blue Devils bounced back to beat Miami on Saturday and remain No. 1 in RPI and strength of schedule. Coach K's team is also 5-1 versus the RPI top 25 and 8-2 against the top 50.
And you now have to evaluate Duke based on its play with Ryan Kelly. The senior forward returned in a big way, scoring 36 points on 7-of-9 shooting from long distance against Miami. The Blue Devils are 16-0 when he plays.
But the Hurricanes stay on my top line as well. This late in the season, a loss does not automatically knock you down, especially not a loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Miami still leads the ACC by two games and is top four in the country in RPI, SOS and nonconference SOS. The U is 4-2 versus the RPI top 25 and 13-3 against the top 100.
North Carolina keeps winning and is up to a No. 8 seed this week. The Tar Heels have reeled off five straight and are ranked 20th in the RPI with the 15th-toughest schedule.
Oh, Virginia. The Wahoos went from being on the cusp of lockdom following a 73-68 win over Duke back to squarely on the bubble after a 53-52 loss at Boston College. UVa is 7-2 against the top 100, but now has seven sub-100 losses, and with its nonconference schedule strength continuing to hover around 300, things are still very much up in the air for the Cavs.
This week's games at Florida State and home against Maryland are absolute musts.
That Virginia-Maryland showdown Sunday could be a play-out game. The Terps lost at Georgia Tech on Wednesday, and I may be doing them a favor just by including them here. The computer numbers are bad (RPI 70, SOS 113), and they, too, have to win their last two (UNC, at Virginia) to have any shot.
Dancing with a Hottie: Louisville (2), Georgetown (3), Syracuse (4), Marquette (4), Pittsburgh (6), Notre Dame (7)
Dancing with Its Sister: Cincinnati (9)
Wallflowers: Villanova (12b)
Louisville has fought its way back to a No. 2 seed after running its win streak to five with a huge victory at Syracuse on Saturday.
Meanwhile, over the past two weeks, the Orange have dropped from a Final Four contender to a team that may be lucky to escape the first weekend of the tournament. SU has dropped three straight, including two in a row at the Carrier Dome after winning 38 straight at home. Over that losing streak, senior guard Brandon Triche has gone a dreadful 1-of-13 from three-point range, and point guard Michael Carter-Williams is 11-of-30 from the field.
Marquette is one of those teams that has defeated Syracuse over this stretch, and the Golden Eagles beat Notre Dame last week as well to climb to a No. 4 seed.
Cincinnati momentarily stopped the bleeding with a 61-56 victory over UConn on Saturday, but the Bearcats better not lose to South Florida this Saturday or they could be in a lot of trouble. UC has dropped five of seven and is tied for ninth in the Big East.
Like Virginia, Villanova was cruising toward being locked up for a spot until it lost at Seton Hall on Monday. Now the Wildcats are back in the mess with everyone else. The loss at Pitt on Sunday is understandable but Wednesday's game at home against Georgetown is huge. For now, 'Nova remains in thanks to a 3-1 record versus the RPI top 25 and a strong schedule, but this is another team that will be very nervous on Selection Sunday.
St. John's has mercifully been removed from consideration after its loss at Providence on Saturday.
Dancing with a Hottie: Indiana (2), Michigan (3), Michigan State (3), Ohio State (4), Wisconsin (5)
Dancing with Its Sister: Minnesota (7), Illinois (8)
Come at me, Indiana fans, because I'm dropping your team back down to a No. 2 seed following the Hoosiers' loss at Minnesota on Tuesday. IU's 7-1 mark against the RPI top 25 is in a class of its own, but the rest of the resume does not compare well to the other nine teams currently in the hunt for a top seed. Indiana's computer numbers are just OK (RPI seven, SOS 16, nonconference SOS 63) and it is only 7-4 against the top 50, 10-4 versus the top 100 and 8-3 away from home.
Michigan falls to a No. 3 seed thanks to its horrendous 84-78 loss at Penn State, a team that is 1-15 in conference.
Wisconsin also slips a bit after a curious 69-56 setback at home to Purdue on Sunday.
I have a hard time seeing Illinois miss the tournament even if it loses at Iowa and Ohio State this week, but we'll be extra safe by keeping the Illini out of lock territory for now. The computer numbers are great (RPI 35, SOS 9), and the team has four RPI top-25 wins.
Overall, it's a pretty safe bet the Big Ten will get exactly seven teams in the field.
Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Kansas State (4), Oklahoma State (5)
Dancing with Its Sister: Oklahoma (8)
Wallflowers: Iowa State (first team out), Baylor (fifth team out)
Kansas takes Indiana's spot on the top line. The Jayhawks have won six straight since that historic three-game losing streak and are now ranked fourth in the RPI with six RPI top-25 victories and nine over the top 50.
Oklahoma drops to a No. 8 seed after losing at Texas. The Sooners bounced back with a nice win over Iowa State on Saturday and should feel pretty safe as long as they don't lose to West Virginia or TCU.
Iowa State lost a heartbreaking overtime game (with some questionable officiating down the stretch) to Kansas on Monday and then fell at Oklahoma on Saturday to slip from last team in to first team out. Those are not bad losses by any means, but they do represent missed opportunities.
The Cyclones' computer numbers (RPI 53, SOS 62) are barely acceptable, as is their 2-6 mark against the RPI top 25 and 2-7 record versus the top 50. But 5-8 against the top 100 is not good and neither is a 4-9 record away from home. ISU has Oklahoma State at home on Wednesday and travels to West Virginia on Saturday. Those are pretty much must-wins.
Baylor is barely in the discussion at this point following another missed chance at home against Kansas State on Saturday. The Bears are just 1-8 versus the top 50 and 4-10 against the top 100. They absolutely have to beat Texas and Kansas this week.
Dancing with a Hottie: Arizona (3), Oregon (6)
Dancing with Its Sister: UCLA (7), California (8), Colorado (10)
Watch out for UCLA in the tournament. This team is hitting its stride at the right time, winning four straight, including a victory over Arizona on Saturday.
And keep an eye on California, too. The Golden Bears were the only ones to beat the Bruins in February, and they've won seven in a row.
Arizona State didn't enjoy its visit to SoCal last week, losing at both UCLA and USC to be removed from consideration.
Dancing with a Hottie: Florida (2)
Wallflowers: Missouri (11), Tennessee (12a), Kentucky (12b), Alabama (fourth team out), Ole Miss (seventh team out)
While most conferences are pretty cut and dry at this point, the SEC remains a mess. It could get two teams in or it could get five teams in. There's still a lot to figure out.
Missouri is in the best shape among the bubble teams from this league. The Tigers are 33rd in the RPI with three top-50 wins, eight top-100 victories and no bad losses, but they are a dreadful 2-7 in true road games and currently reside behind Kentucky and Alabama in the SEC standings. Just beat Arkansas and Tennessee and they should be fine.
That game at Tennessee on Saturday will be huge. The Vols suffered a bad loss at Georgia last week, but remain in the field thanks to good SOS figures (39 overall, 36 nonconference), wins over Wichita State and Florida and an 8-9 mark against the top 100. They absolutely must win at Auburn on Wednesday and then a spot could be on the line against Mizzou.
Like Virginia and Villanova, Kentucky was trending upward until getting tripped up on the road. Arkansas was the culprit and now the Wildcats sit squarely on the bubble.
Their computer numbers are barely acceptable (RPI 51, SOS 59, nonconference SOS 57), and they don't have any bad losses, but their biggest win is over Missouri, which isn't that impressive. They are 6-9 against the top 100. UK definitely has to win at Georgia on Thursday, and then it could come down to the finale against Florida.
Alabama and Ole Miss both have uninspiring resumes: RPIs around 60, SOS figures north of 85, no RPI top-25 wins and a combined 1-7 mark against the top 50. Appropriately, they square off Tuesday in what should be an elimination game.
Dancing with a Hottie: New Mexico (1), UNLV (6)
Dancing with Its Sister: Colorado State (10), San Diego State (11)
Wallflowers: Boise State (11)
New Mexico picked up two more top-100 wins last week over San Diego State and Wyoming, increasing the Lobos' season total to a nation-best 17. In fact, they have four more top-100 victories than second place and seven more than Indiana. UNM remains ranked in the top five in RPI, SOS and nonconference SOS, has no bad losses, is 10-3 away from home and 8-3 against the top 50. If the Lobos win their last two games and win the Mountain West tournament, there's no reason why they shouldn't be a No. 1 seed.
UNLV has won four straight to improve to a No. 6 seed. There's no way the Rebels miss the tournament.
Colorado State's loss at Boise State on Saturday was both great for the Broncos and bad for the Rams. CSU is now just 3-6 against the top 50 and has lost three of four, but it should be fine as long as it wins its last two against Wyoming and Nevada.
San Diego State should be fine as long as it doesn't lose at home to Air Force on Wednesday, but the Aztecs' seed has taken a hit over the past few weeks, losing at Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico. Those certainly aren't easy places to prevail, but SDSU has shown they can't win the big ones.
Boise State has put itself in very good position over the past two weeks, winning four straight to climb into the top 50 and a tie for fourth place in the top-rated conference in the RPI. A loss at UNLV Tuesday would be understandable, but a home date with San Diego State on Saturday will be big for both teams.
Dancing with a Hottie: Butler (5), VCU (5), Saint Louis (6)
Dancing with Its Sister: La Salle (10), Temple (10)
Wallflowers: UMass (11)
VCU crushed Butler, 84-52, on Saturday to climb to a No. 5 seed and drop the Bulldogs down a peg.
La Salle has won six of seven, and Temple has run off five in a row to put both teams in pretty good shape heading into the final week of the regular season.
I haven't seen UMass in a lot of people's projections, but the Minutemen have a better overall resume than teams like Maryland, Alabama and Ole Miss. They are 54th in the RPI with a top-75 nonconference SOS to go along with eight top-100 wins and a 9-6 road/neutral mark. Massachusetts has won its last two games, including a victory at Xavier, which had just beaten Memphis.
The game at home against Butler on Thursday is enormous.
Dancing with a Hottie: Gonzaga (2), Memphis (7)
Dancing with Its Sister: Creighton (9), Wichita State (9)
Wallflowers: Southern Miss (12d), Belmont (12), Middle Tennessee (12), Saint Mary's (third team out)
It's official: Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the AP poll, but its resume is only worthy of a No. 2 seed. The Zags are an incredible 14-1 away from home and don't have any bad losses, but their schedule is ranked just 72nd, and they are a mere 5-2 against the top 50.
Memphis' loss at Xavier on Tuesday raised the spirits of a lot of people who called the Tigers overrated. Nevertheless, Conference USA's best team is getting in. They've won 19 of 20 and are ranked 19th in the RPI.
Creighton beat Wichita State, 91-79, to win the MVC regular-season title. Both teams will be dancing, but try not to lose your first game in the conference tournament.
Southern Miss may be the most interesting team on Selection Sunday. The Golden Eagles are 0-5 against the top 50 and 3-6 versus the top 100, but they have a good RPI (34), just one sub-100 loss, an 11-6 road/neutral record and a nonconference SOS (105) that is better than a lot of other bubble teams. The wins aren't there, but we've seen teams get in with similar resumes before (UAB '11, Iona '12).
Saint Mary's will be another team talked about in 13 days. The Gaels also have a good RPI (37), and they have seven top-100 wins. But two bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech, along with weak SOS figures (114 overall, 145 nonconference) leave them out of my field.
No. 13 Seeds: Bucknell, Valparaiso, Louisiana Tech, Akron
No. 14 Seeds: South Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin, Stony Brook, Davidson
No. 15 Seeds: Robert Morris, Princeton, Long Beach State, Montana
No. 16 Seeds: Niagara, Mercer, Northeastern vs. Charleston Southern, Norfolk State vs. Texas Southern
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