Bubble Teams 2013: 10 Squads Likely to Squeak into NCAA Tournament

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IMarch 17, 2013

Bubble Teams 2013: 10 Squads Likely to Squeak into NCAA Tournament

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    With the exception of one or two squads, all of the bubble teams are finally done making their case for an at-large spot, and the selection committee can now begin separating the pretenders from the dancers. 

    In the words of that one bad guy from Taken, "good luck."

    This year's college hoops season has been totally unpredictable, and as such, there are more similar teams with similar resumes fighting for fewer spots than we're used to.

    To make things even worse, most of those polarizing teams have gotten a chance to lock up a spot in the past week, and most have answered with a loss. 

    With Selection Sunday just hours away and the bubble now clear as mud, let's take a look at the teams most likely to sneak their way into the Field of 68.

    Note: All RPI and SOS numbers come from BBState.com

Temple Owls

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    Temple entered the Atlantic 10 tournament in a safe position, and although Fran Dunphy's squad was upset by UMass in the quarterfinals, that hasn't changed. 

    Despite a fairly tough strength of schedule (64), the Owls are an impressive 23-9 and 5-3 against the RPI top 50. That includes superb wins over Syracuse, St. Louis and Villanova, and a positive seven-point loss at Kansas. 

    Throw in a 10-6 record against the top 100, something that no other team on the bubble can boast, and even three bad home losses can't prevent Temple from cracking the Field of 68. 

Villanova Wildcats

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    The top of the Wildcats' resume reads like that of a potential No. 1 seed. 

    Jay Wright's squad has knocked off Louisville (RPI: 3), Georgetown (RPI: 10), Marquette (RPI: 11) and Syracuse (RPI: 12), and has a strength of schedule of 16. 

    There are still a few concerns, however.

    After those four staggering wins, the 'Cats (RPI: 50) are just 5-8 against the top 50 and 8-11 against the top 100. Of those wins, only victories over postseason-ineligible Connecticut and inconsistent St. John's have come on the road. 

    Throw in losses to Seton Hall (RPI: 136) and Columbia (RPI: 280), and there still might be a little bit of sweating prior to Selection Sunday.

    Nevertheless, with such a weak bubble, the selection committee would have to be bonkers to leave out a team that has proven time and time again it can beat the nation's elite. 

Boise State Broncos

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    San Diego State got revenge against Boise State in the Mountain West quarterfinals, but the Broncos' job is already complete. 

    In addition to solid computer numbers (RPI: 37, SOS: 42), Leon Rice's team has beaten Colorado State, UNLV, San Diego State and Creighton, with the last of those coming on the road. It is also a solid 8-8 against the top 100. 

    Much like many other bubble teams, the Broncos have two ugly losses on their resume (Utah and Nevada), but they are a legitimate contender in one of the best conferences in the country and have showcased some of their best basketball in March. 

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Lon Kruger's squad easily has the resume to be a tournament team. 

    It has an RPI of 38, a SOS of 18, has beaten Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State and is 9-9 against the RPI top 100. Moreover, three of those victories have come away from home. 

    As with all bubble teams, of course, there's a big ol' "but" coming. 

    The Sooners are stumbling into Selection Sunday, and that's putting it nicely. 

    After beating Kansas and TCU in February, they proceeded to go 4-4 in their next eight. That includes losses to Texas (RPI: 113), TCU (RPI: 237) and Iowa State in their first game of the Big 12 tourney. 

    While this can sometimes be a "What Have you Done for Me Lately?" league, Oklahoma still has the necessary overall body of work to avoid the NIT. 

Wichita State Shockers

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    It seems like an eternity ago when Wichita State fell to Creighton in the Missouri Valley championship, and at the time, with so many bubble teams still alive, it appeared the Shockers could be in trouble.

    The losses of everyone else, however, have been Wichita State's gain. 

    Gregg Marshall's team has 26 wins in a very competitive MVC, sparkling computer numbers (RPI: 39, SOS: 100) and one of the best records (8-5) against the RPI top 100 of any bubble team in America.

    Moreover, its best win—a two-point victory over Shaka Smart and VCU—came on the road. 

    There was a chance that a bunch of bid thieves could have pushed the Shockers out of the tournament field, but that's no longer a possibility.

La Salle Explorers

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    La Salle can also thank some of Saturday's losers for its spot in the Field of 68.

    The Explorers were right on the edge of the bubble, but with some potential bid thieves now out of the picture, they should be safe. 

    Their computer numbers (RPI: 43, SOS: 78) are very good, they have wins over Butler, VCU and Villanova and they are one of very few bubble teams to have just one loss outside the RPI top 100. 

    Additionally, the Explorers have proven to be tough away from home, going 8-7 on road and neutral courts, including an eight-point win against VCU. 

    Steve Zack's injury status could help determine the selection committee's final decision. 

Saint Mary's Gaels

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    The Gaels missed three opportunities to get a signature win against Gonzaga, but other than those losses, their resume is extremely clean compared to other bubble squads.

    They own just one top-50 win (against Creighton), but they are 5-1 against teams ranked 51-100 in the RPI and have lost just twice to squads outside the top 100. Moreover, one of those two "bad" losses was against Pacific, which, with an RPI of 102, isn't exactly as ugly as it seems on the surface. 

    With an RPI of 32 and 26 wins overall, Randy Bennett's squad should feel safe on Sunday. 

Ole Miss Rebels

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    The Rebels can put all doubt to rest by beating Florida in the SEC championship on Sunday, but they should feel safe either way.

    After knocking off Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, they earned their 25th win of the season, and no major conference team with that many victories has ever missed a bid.

    While there is certainly a first for everything (just ask the 2011-12 Washington squad), the Rebels have enough of a resume to suggest history won't be made this weekend.

    Their RPI is only 51, but they have two top-50 wins and, more importantly, are a quietly impressive 8-6 against the RPI top 100. Two atrocious losses (South Carolina, Mississippi State) on the road shouldn't overturn those accomplishments, especially with bubble teams all around the country stumbling. 

Tennessee Volunteers

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    The Volunteers made things more difficult for themselves by losing to Alabama on Friday night, but one ill-timed loss shouldn't reverse a very solid resume. 

    While an RPI of 61 isn't exactly promising, the Vols have a solid SOS (59), three wins in the top 50 and eight in top 100. Moreover, they only have two losses outside the top 100, and both of those have come at the expense of Georgia (RPI: 137). Nearly every other team on the bubble has worse losses. 

    Finally, despite the slip-up in the SEC tourney, Tennessee is playing some of its best basketball lately, going into Selection Sunday at 8-4 with wins over Florida, Missouri and Kentucky in its last 12. 

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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    And boom goes the dynamite. 

    After losing in the Sun Belt tournament, Middle Tennessee State has become one of the bubble's most controversial teams. 

    On the one hand, the Blue Raiders have an RPI of 31, have been much better against teams ranked 51-200 in the RPI (16-2, including a win over Ole Miss) than other bubble dwellers and have an impressive 28 overall wins.

    On the other, they played in the Sun Belt and were unable to knock off any of their three top-50 opponents, although they came close to winning at Akron when the Zips had Alex Abreu. 

    But with so many teams stumbling with countless opportunities to improve their resume, I see no harm in giving the Blue Raiders, owners of one of the most ferocious, efficient defenses in America, an opportunity in a first-four game.