NCAA Tournament 2013: Every Bubble Team's Magic Number for March Madness Bid

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 6, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: Every Bubble Team's Magic Number for March Madness Bid

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    In sports that don't involve a selection committee, the term "magic number" is used to enumerate how many more games a team needs to win combined with how many its closest competition needs to lose for it to clinch a playoff berth.

    Let's apply that principle to each of the 36 teams still on the bubble.

    On each of the following slides, you'll find a magic number stating how many more games—both in the regular season and in the conference tournament—that team would need to win to have a better than 90 percent chance of making the NCAA tournament.

    Slides are ordered to start with teams that would need to go on a serious tear between now and Selection Sunday, and they will build up to the teams that merely need to avoid a disastrous finish to stay in the field.

    If a team doesn't appear in this slideshow, it either means it's a lock for the NCAA tournament or it could only get in by winning its conference tournament. If you're unsure whether a missing team has clinched a bid or has been eliminated from at-large contention, it might be time to re-establish your grip on reality.

    *All RPI and SOS numbers are accurate as of the beginning of the day on March 5.

Florida State

1 of 36

    Record: 15-14 overall, 7-9 in ACC

    RPI: 91

    SOS: 36

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 5

    Anything short of five consecutive wins—vs. Virginia, vs. North Carolina State and three games in the ACC tournament where they would likely draw Duke and North Carolina in the quarterfinals and semifinals—wouldn’t be enough to get the Seminoles in.

    With five very bad losses and a 0-9 record against teams projected for the NCAA field, it would take something of a miracle to pull off a run like that.

Washington

2 of 36

    Record: 16-13 overall, 8-8 in Pac-12

    RPI: 81

    SOS: 37

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 5

    Even if the Huskies don’t lose again until the Pac-12 championship game, they’re going to need some help from the rest of the bubble. Four losses—three at home, no less—against the RPI Sub-150 is hard to overlook.

Saint Joseph's

3 of 36

    Record: 16-11 overall, 7-7 in A-10

    RPI: 87

    SOS: 102

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 5

    It’s a long shot, but if the Hawks make a run to the A-10 conference championship before bowing out, they would be 21-12 with an 11-11 record against the RPI Top 150. That doesn’t exactly scream “tournament team,” but depending on the level of chaos in the major conference tournaments, it could be good enough. 

Charlotte

4 of 36

    Record: 18-10 overall, 6-8 in A-10

    RPI: 73

    SOS: 104

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 5

    Charlotte is in a boat similar to St. Joseph’s. Losing in the championship game would put the 49ers at 23-11 with an 11-11 record against the RPI Top 150.

    Given they’ve lost four consecutive games by at least 18 points each, let’s just say that’s a highly improbable scenario. 

Texas A&M

5 of 36

    Record: 17-12 overall, 7-9 in SEC

    RPI: 85

    SOS: 33

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 5

    Despite being in 10th place in an SEC conference with only two teams that are a lock for the tournament, the Aggies still have a puncher’s chance.

    They’re already 7-8 against the RPI Top 100 and would potentially be increasing that record to 12-9 by making a run to the SEC tournament championship game.

    Games this week against LSU and Arkansas are both must-wins to keep at-large dreams alive.

LSU

6 of 36

    Record: 17-10 overall, 8-8 in SEC

    RPI: 90

    SOS: 129

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 5

    LSU has a respectable record for a bubble team, but there simply isn’t much to those 17 wins. It seems every SEC team that’s just barely hanging around is doing so by having taken advantage of the fact that Missouri cannot win on the road.

    Wednesday’s game against Texas A&M is an elimination game for both teams—the loser has no chance of earning an at-large bid. If the Tigers win, they would also need to take care of Ole Miss on Saturday before making an inspired run through the SEC conference tournament.

    Crazier things have happened.

Air Force

7 of 36

    Record: 14-11 overall, 7-7 in MWC

    RPI: 84

    SOS: 77

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 4

    It’s not currently a pretty resume, but the Falcons have great opportunities left to add to it.

    They close the season with a trip to San Diego State and a home game against New Mexico—each of which could become their most impressive win of the season.

    Even with wins in those games, they would still need to prove something in the MWC tourney by picking up a quarterfinals win over Boise State before adding a second win over New Mexico in less than a week. That would be more than enough to push them into the field.

St. John's

8 of 36

    Record: 16-13 overall, 8-9 in Big East

    RPI: 66

    SOS: 39

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 4

    After getting destroyed by Notre Dame on Tuesday night, the Red Storm would need to win their season finale against Marquette and three games in the Big East tournament to have any shot at getting into the NCAA tournament.

    A 4-9 record against the RPI Top 100 with four losses to the RPI Sub-100 is going to be difficult to overcome—especially without D'Angelo Harrison.

Stanford

9 of 36

    Record: 17-13 overall, 8-9 in Pac-12

    RPI: 69

    SOS: 38

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 4

    The Cardinal had an unforgiving schedule with 12 games against the RPI Top 50, and they only won two of those games. There’s still a chance they could get in, though.

    A win over Cal on Wednesday could net them the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. And that would be the preferable route, because they would draw either Oregon State or Utah in the opening round rather than Arizona State.

    Either way, they’ll need to win the opening round game and then upset two of the top four seeds in the conference to get to the Pac-12 championship game. That would boost their RPI and record enough to steal a bid.

Maryland

10 of 36

    Record: 20-9 overall, 8-8 in ACC

    RPI: 68

    SOS: 130

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 4

    Maryland hosts North Carolina on Wednesday before traveling to UVA for the final game of the season.

    If the Terrapins lose both games, their at-large dream is finished. They would need to win the ACC tournament to make the NCAA tournament.

    Even if they win them both, they would need to win their opening round game against the ACC’s No. 11 seed and the subsequent game against the No. 3 seed.

Arkansas

11 of 36

    Record: 18-12 overall, 9-8 in SEC

    RPI: 75

    SOS: 79

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 4

    The Razorbacks are terrible away from home, so there’s little concern over what to do if they made a theoretical deep run through the SEC tournament, but let’s play it out anyway.

    With a home win over Texas A&M on Saturday, they would move to 10-8 in conference play, likely securing the No. 7 seed in the SEC tournament. That would give them a potential tournament draw of Texas A&M in the second round, Missouri in the quarterfinals and Kentucky in the semifinals.

    Would those four wins be enough to get an at-large bid? There’s a pretty good chance. Earlier wins over Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri have kept their resume afloat to this point, and they would pair very nicely with those additional conference tournament wins.

Massachusetts

12 of 36

    Record: 18-9 overall, 8-6 in A-10

    RPI: 54

    SOS: 75

    Current Projection: First Four Out

    Magic Number: 3 or 4

    The Minutemen have the trickiest magic number of all.

    If they win their remaining games—vs. Butler, at Rhode Island—they would be in great shape, needing to only avoid an awful first-round loss in the A-10 tournament.

    If they beat Rhode Island and lose to Butler, their resume remains relatively devoid of both key wins and bad losses. They would need to pick up a couple of signature wins in the conference tournament.

    If they beat Butler and lose to Rhode Island, they would need to make up for that bad loss in the A-10 tournament.

    Lose both games and it’s auto bid or bust.

Arizona State

13 of 36

    Record: 20-10 overall, 9-8 in Pac-12

    RPI: 92

    SOS: 132

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 3

    Snapping out of a three-game losing streak by winning a road game against Arizona would be a wise move for the Sun Devils.

    Without winning that game, they would need to make a run to the conference championship game, which could potentially mean consecutive wins over Stanford, UCLA and Arizona.

Baylor

14 of 36

    Record: 16-13 overall, 8-9 in Big 12

    RPI: 67

    SOS: 31

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 3

    A win over Kansas on Saturday would be a big step in the right direction, but it wouldn’t be enough to bring this profile back from the abyss.

    The Bears would also need to pick up wins over the No. 3 seed and—presuming it beats its opponent in the No. 7/10 game—the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Three straight wins against upper echelon teams seems highly unlikely, given their 1-8 record against the top five in the Big 12 to date.

    If they lose to Kansas, only the Big 12 auto bid could save them.

Providence

15 of 36

    Record: 17-12 overall, 9-8 in Big East

    RPI: 77

    SOS: 53

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 3

    The Friars don’t have any great wins, but they do hold a 4-0 record against the other three Big East teams on the bubble. That has to count for something, especially if they advance further in the conference tournament than any of those teams.

    They’ve already clinched no worse than the No. 8 seed and could climb up to No. 7 by beating Connecticut on Saturday, which would be the best win of their season. Adding a win over one of the top two teams in the conference would significantly enhance their resume.

    They could also get the No. 7 seed in a loss if Villanova loses to Georgetown this week, but if they fail to beat Connecticut, they’ll need to pick up an extra win in the Big East semifinals.

Tennessee

16 of 36

    Record: 17-11 overall, 9-7 in SEC

    RPI: 56

    SOS: 25

    Current Projection: First Four Out

    Magic Number: 3

    The Volunteers play at Auburn on Wednesday before hosting Missouri in the season finale.

    Even if they win both of those games, it’s unlikely they could get a bye to the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, and thus would face one of the bottom four teams in the conference. Winning that game isn’t as important as avoiding a loss in that game.

    Should they lose to Missouri on Saturday, they’ll need to pick up a win over one of the top four seeds in the quarterfinals.

    Should they lose to Auburn on Wednesday, that would just be an awful loss and might increase their magic number to four.

Iowa

17 of 36

    Record: 19-11 overall, 8-9 in Big Ten

    RPI: 86

    SOS: 118

    Current Projection: Out

    Magic Number: 3

    If either of their next two games were against a Big Ten team of any value, the Hawkeyes’ magic number might only be one.

    Unfortunately, they finish the season with a home game against Nebraska. With a win in that game, they would earn either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament, drawing either Nebraska or Northwestern in the first round.

    As much as losing to Nebraska or Northwestern would be detrimental, wins in those games won’t do you any favors in trying to claw your way into the tournament field. They’ll need to pull off an upset in the quarterfinals, likely against either Michigan or Michigan State.

Ole Miss

18 of 36

    Record: 22-8 overall, 11-6 in SEC

    RPI: 58

    SOS: 164

    Current Projection: First Four Out

    Magic Number: 2 or 3

    If the Rebels beat LSU on Saturday, they’ll earn a bye in the SEC tournament, significantly reducing the likelihood of facing a team that could decimate their resume with an upset. They might be able to make the tournament without a win in the quarterfinals, but it's a stretch.

    With a loss to LSU, it’s unlikely they would finish in the top four in the SEC. They would need to pick up at least two more above-average wins to help out their resume, which they wouldn’t have a shot at until after winning their first-round game. They would need to make a run to the SEC tournament championship game to get them.

Virginia

19 of 36

    Record: 20-9 overall, 10-6 in ACC

    RPI: 60

    SOS: 133

    Current Projection: Last Four In

    Magic Number: 2 or 3

    After losing to Boston College over the weekend, upcoming games against Florida State and Maryland are critical for Virginia.

    If the Cavaliers win both, they will earn a first-round bye in the ACC tournament. They would likely draw NC State in the quarterfinals for a game in which a loss wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    Should they lose one of their remaining games, they would likely be the No. 5 seed in the ACC tournament. At that point, they would need to win the first round game against the last-place finisher (Virginia Tech?) before knocking off NC State in the quarterfinals.

    Lose both remaining regular-season games, and even a win over NC State wouldn’t be enough. They would need to also upset Miami to get back into the NCAA tournament field.

Temple

20 of 36

    Record: 21-8 overall, 9-5 in A-10

    RPI: 42

    SOS: 51

    Current Projection: No. 11 seed

    Magic Number: 2 or 3

    If the Owls beat Fordham on Wednesday night, they only need one more win to get in—whether it comes at VCU on Sunday or against the No. 12 seed in the A-10 tournament is irrelevant.

    Should they lose to Fordham, however, they would then need to win an extra game to make up for that horrible loss. That means at least two wins in the A-10 tournament and one other game. Whether that extra game comes against VCU on Sunday or against VCU (or Saint Louis) in the A-10 semifinals is irrelevant.

La Salle

21 of 36

    Record: 20-7 overall, 10-4 in A-10

    RPI: 39

    SOS: 95

    Current Projection: Last Four In

    Magic Number: 2

    The Explorers have a very winnable home game against George Washington and a very difficult trip to Saint Louis remaining.

    Provided they beat George Washington, it would only take a win in the conference quarterfinals—likely against Xavier—to make the tournament.

    If they instead lose to George Washington, they’ll have their work cut out for them to pick up two more wins.

Wichita State

22 of 36

    Record: 24-7 overall, 12-6 in MVC

    RPI: 40

    SOS: 100

    Current Projection: No. 11 seed

    Magic Number: 2

    This would be a very bad time to put the finishing touches on another three-game losing streak.

    The Shockers will draw either Bradley or Southern Illinois in the MVC quarters before a likely semifinal showdown with Northern Iowa.

    Losing to Creighton in the championship game should be enough to get an at-large bid, but failing to get that far would be leaving an awful lot up to the discretion of the selection committee.

Kentucky

23 of 36

    Record: 20-9 overall, 11-5 in SEC

    RPI: 51

    SOS: 70

    Current Projection: No. 13 seed

    Magic Number: 2

    The Wildcats travel to Georgia on Thursday before the season finale at home against Florida.

    If they win both of those games, they're getting into the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the conference tournament.

    If they split those games, they'll receive either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament and could clinch their bid with a quarterfinals win over a middling SEC team such as Arkansas or Tennessee.

    Should they lose to both Florida and Georgia, it would take a run to the SEC championship game—which would take three wins if they slip below fourth in the standings—to get them back into the NCAA tournament field.

Villanova

24 of 36

    Record: 17-12 overall, 9-8 in Big East

    RPI: 55

    SOS: 30

    Current Projection: Last Four In

    Magic Number: 2

    If the Wildcats beat Georgetown on Wednesday night, they would probably still get into the tournament even if they lost their first game of the Big East tournament. If they win the No. 7/10 game, it would erase all doubts.

    Should they lose to Georgetown, however, they would then need to play their way back into the field by not only beating their first-round opponent, but by also winning in the quarterfinals—a potential rematch with Georgetown.

Iowa State

25 of 36

    Record: 19-10 overall, 9-7 in Big 12

    RPI: 53

    SOS: 65

    Current Projection: Last Four In

    Magic Number: 2

    The Cyclones host Oklahoma State on Wednesday night before traveling to West Virginia.

    Those are both winnable games, so they could lock up their bid before the Big 12 tournament. A loss in either game means they would need to win their quarterfinals game against Oklahoma to feel safe on Selection Sunday.

    Lose both remaining regular-season games, and they would also need a win over Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals.

Colorado

26 of 36

    Record: 19-9 overall, 9-7 in Pac-12

    RPI: 29

    SOS: 19

    Current Projection: No. 10 seed

    Magic Number: 2

    The Buffaloes finish the season with home games against Oregon and Oregon State.

    A win over Oregon would be great, but they can still sneak in the back door by beating Oregon State and then taking care of the bottom-feeder they draw in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. When you’re already in the field, you really just need to avoid awful losses.

Boise State

27 of 36

    Record: 18-9 overall, 8-7 in MWC

    RPI: 44

    SOS: 89

    Current Projection: No. 11 seed

    Magic Number: 2

    The Broncos almost didn’t make it into this article, as it looked for most of the evening as though they were going to clinch their bid by winning at UNLV. But they haven’t made anything simple all season, so why would they start now?

    Despite the loss and a magic number of more than one, they’re in relatively good shape. They close the season with a home game against San Diego State, having only lost one home game all season.

    A win over the Aztecs is probably enough to get the Broncos into the NCAA tournament, but a second win over the Aztecs in the MWC quarterfinals would clinch it.

Cincinnati

28 of 36

    Record: 20-10 overall, 8-9 in Big East

    RPI: 48

    SOS: 15

    Current Projection: No. 12 seed

    Magic Number: 2

    The Bearcats close the season with a home game against South Florida.

    If they pick up by far their worst loss of the season in that game, they would be the No. 10 seed in the Big East tournament, likely drawing Providence in the first round. Not only would they need to win that game, but they would also need to beat the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals.

    Assuming they beat South Florida, though, they would just need to win their first game in the conference tournament to secure a bid.

Creighton

29 of 36

    Record: 24-7 overall, 13-5 in MVC

    RPI: 35

    SOS: 92

    Current Projection: No. 9 seed

    Magic Number: 2

    A win over either Drake or Missouri State in the MVC quarters would probably be enough, but getting to the championship game by beating either Evansville or Indiana State would seal the deal.

Illinois

30 of 36

    Record: 20-10 overall, 8-9 in Big Ten

    RPI: 34

    SOS: 9

    Current Projection: No. 9 seed

    Magic Number: 1

    The Illini don’t need another win as much as they need to avoid a three-game losing streak with a first-round loss to Purdue in the Big Ten tournament.

    A 20-12 team with only three RPI Top 100 wins since mid-December doesn’t really need to give the selection committee any reason to start doubting it.

San Diego State

31 of 36

    Record: 18-8 overall, 8-6 in MWC

    RPI: 33

    SOS: 41

    Current Projection: No. 10 seed

    Magic Number: 1

    The Mountain West conference might send five teams to the tournament, but it isn’t sending six. Losing remaining games to Air Force and Boise State would drop the Aztecs into sixth place, and likely to face UNLV on its home court in the MWC quarters.

    Even if they lose to Boise State to finish the regular season and then immediately again in the MWC No. 4/5 game, if they can beat Air Force and relegate it to sixth place, they should be OK.

Butler

32 of 36

    Record: 21-7 overall, 9-5 in A-10

    RPI: 26

    SOS: 46

    Current Projection: No. 8 seed

    Magic Number: 1

    Kind of hard to imagine the Bulldogs missing the tournament after the first two-and-a-half months that they had, but it’s a possibility if they close the season with five straight losses.

    They’ve already lost to Saint Louis and VCU, and have upcoming games at Massachusetts, vs. Xavier and a first-round A-10 tournament game against a team like St. Bonaventure or Dayton.

    A tournament team would win all three of those games. We’re just asking them to win one.

Minnesota

33 of 36

    Record: 20-9 overall, 8-8 in Big Ten

    RPI: 16

    SOS: 2

    Current Projection: No. 7 seed

    Magic Number: 1

    The computer numbers are fantastic, but if the Golden Gophers drop to 8-10 in conference play by losing two straight games to Nebraska and Purdue, they could potentially drop to ninth place in the Big Ten. Even in that scenario, a win in the first round of the Big Ten tournament would be enough to keep them in the field.

Oklahoma

34 of 36

    Record: 19-9 overall, 10-6 in Big 12

    RPI: 23

    SOS: 7

    Current Projection: No. 8 seed

    Magic Number: 1

    Oklahoma closes the season with a home game against West Virginia and a road game against TCU. There’s no reason to believe the Sooners won’t win both of those games, but it would only take one win to clinch fourth place in the Big 12 standings and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Colorado State

35 of 36

    Record: 20-7 overall, 9-5 in MWC

    RPI: 17

    SOS: 28

    Current Projection: No. 7 seed

    Magic Number: 1

    The Rams have lost three of their last four, but as long as they don’t extend that streak to six losses in seven games, they’ll get in. Wednesday’s trip to Wyoming could be a challenge, but the home game against Nevada shouldn’t be.

Saint Mary's

36 of 36

    Record: 25-5 overall, 14-2 in WCC

    RPI: 41

    SOS: 126

    Current Projection: No. 10 seed

    Magic Number: 0.5

    It's admittedly somewhat of a cop out to use a half number, but if the Gaels lost to BYU in the WCC semis, it wouldn’t be a bad loss. They would only need to win their semifinal game if BYU is upset by Pepperdine or San Diego in the quarterfinals.