10 Bubble Teams Most Likely to Get Snubbed on Selection Sunday
About 20 teams are still hovering precariously on the bubble as Selection Sunday approaches. Obviously some of them will fail to land one of the 36 at-large berths available in the 68-team NCAA tournament field.
Which teams are the most likely to get snubbed when the field is announced March 16?
The remaining conference tournaments will have a major impact in sorting out the bubble field. Of course, teams can earn an automatic berth by winning their conference tournament. But the fate of others on the fringe will rest with their results in the conference tournaments as well as results in conference tournaments around the country.
To gauge the current status of teams, we enlisted the aid of four reliable media sources that project the NCAA tournament field based on results to this point: ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, SI.com and USA Today.com.
Based on that and expectations of how teams will fare in conference tournaments, we list 10 bubble teams we expect to get snubbed.
St. John's has a sizable advantage in the Big East tournament because it is being played at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm's home court. However, St. John's may need to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA tournament. A berth in the conference finals would seem to be a requirement to earn consideration as an at-large team, and we just don't see that happening.
St. John's opener against Providence is a virtual NCAA tournament elimination game for both teams. Even if St. John's gets past the Friars, it would probably have to knock off Villanova in the semifinals to be in position to land an at-large NCAA bid. St. John's lost both regular-season games against the Wildcats, and although both were close, the Red Storm are unlikely win a third meeting either.
St. John's needs the kind of signature win a victory over Villanova would provide. Without it, St. John's resume has too many holes, most noticeably losses to Penn State and DePaul. The win over Creighton cannot cover those blemishes for a team that enters the conference tournament with 11 losses and a 1-7 record against Top-50 RPI teams.
A win over Providence would keep St. John's in the conversation for an at-large berth, but too many things would have to happen in the Red Storm's favor across the country for that to be enough to get them in. It would take a win over Villanova as well, and that is not going to happen.
Missouri has one of those bland resumes: No big wins to get the selection committee excited, but no awful losses to take them out of the at-large discussion. Usually that is a recipe for getting snubbed when selections are announced.
Quite simply, Missouri needs a big win in the Southeastern Conference tournament to get the committee's attention. The Tigers will get their chance for such a victory if they win their opening game against Texas A&M. That would lead to a game against Florida, a game Missouri would have to win to retain a shot at an at-large berth. Even that might not be enough. In fact, the Tigers might have to win the SEC tournament to get an NCAA berth, but a win over Florida would at least restore the Tigers' hope for an at-large bid.
Without a win over Florida, Missouri does not have much to show the committee. Wins over UCLA and Tennessee were the high points for the Tigers, whose 21-10 record while playing in the relatively weak SEC is not going to impress anyone.
Pinning their postseason hopes on beating the nation's No. 1 team makes the Tigers a long shot.
Southern Mississippi is 26-5 with an impressive RPI ranking of 33, and it finished in a tie for first place in Conference USA. That would seem to be enough for an at-large berth in a conference that got two NCAA tournament bids three of the past four years. But conference heavyweight Memphis is gone now, and Conference USA is looking very much like a one-bid conference this time.
The Golden Eagles will get consideration for an at-large berth regardless of what they do in the Conference USA tournament, and a berth in the finals will improve their chances.
However, enough seems to be working against Southern Miss that it is probably destined to wind up in the NIT. All four bracketology outlets have the Conference USA champion as a No. 12 seed in their projections. That means those teams would not make the field as at-large teams at the moment. Just as significant is that the Golden Eagles probably will open conference tournament play against UTEP on the Miners' home court in El Paso. Although Southern Miss beat UTEP in their only regular-season meeting, that game was in Hattiesburg, Miss. The Miners finished just a game behind Southern Miss in the standings and would have an edge on their home court.
The Golden Eagles' biggest problem, though, is that they just don't have any significant wins. Despite the nice RPI, Southern Miss' best win was a victory over North Dakota State. In their only game against notable foe, the Golden Eagles lost to Louisville by 31 points. Add in the bad loss to Western Kentucky and a 24-point loss to UAB, and there is nothing the selection committee could use to rationalize including Southern Miss in the field.
Opinions on Georgetown's status are all over the map. SI.com has the Hoyas in the 68-team field, albeit barely, while ESPN.com not only has Georgetown on the outside looking in, but does not even have Georgetown among its first four teams out.
Georgetown's resume is difficult to interpret. It has a number of good wins, most notably Michigan State, Creighton and Virginia Commonwealth. But it has an ugly loss to Northeastern, a pair of damaging losses to Seton Hall and a rather mediocre 17-13 overall record. Being 8-10 in the Big East isn't going to impress anyone either, even if that is not supposed to be a factor in the selection process.
A loss to DePaul in its first-round game of the Big East tournament would end Georgetown's NCAA chances on the spot. But the Hoyas would also need to beat Creighton in the second round to get the additional signature victory needed to have any reasonable shot at an NCAA berth. Even that might not be enough. The Hoyas split their two games with Creighton during the regular season, so the Hoyas have an outside chance to beat the Bluejays.
But two things work against the Hoyas: They are unlikely to beat Creighton, and even if they do, it may take a victory in the semifinals as well to earn an at-large berth.
There are just too many conflicting aspects of Georgetown's resume for the committee members to agree that the Hoyas are an NCAA tournament team now. The Hoyas don't seem to have the wherewithal to do what is needed in the conference tournament.
On a personal note, I believe Green Bay should be in the NCAA field. The Phoenix are better than some of the teams that will receive at-large bids.
On an objective note, though, it appears the Phoenix have little chance of getting an at-large berth after losing in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament.
Green Bay has a good argument that it should be included. It beat Virginia and lost to Wisconsin by just three points. A loss to Harvard is nothing to be embarrassed about either, and the Phoenix's 24-6 overall record looks pretty good from any perspective.
However, three losses to conference foes Milwaukee (twice) and Valparaiso stand out as ugly defeats likely to doom the Phoenix.
Green Bay's poor strength of schedule and an RPI ranking of No. 60 cannot overcome the Phoenix's decent 4-3 record against RPI Top-100 teams. Three of Green Bay's wins came against non-Division I teams, and that won't help either.
None of the four NCAA tournament-field projections being used here have Green Bay close to being in the NCAA tournament field.
Richard Pitino has done a pretty good job in his first season as Minnesota's head coach. However, being the son of Rick Pitino is not going to sway the selection committee, which will not see enough in the Gophers' results to warrant inclusion in the field.
The Gophers probably need to get to the Big Ten tournament semifinals to have any chance for an at-large berth, and even a berth in the conference finals might not guarantee Minnesota a spot in the 68-team field.
Given Minnesota's lackluster performances at the end of the regular season, it's hard to imagine the Gophers beating Wisconsin in the second round of the conference tournament, and that seems like a prerequisite for at-large consideration. Minnesota conceivably could lose to Penn State in its opener.
Without those two conference tournament wins, Minnesota's record does not stack up favorably. The Gophers are 6-10 against Top-100 RPI teams, and their one signature win, against Wisconsin, came amid the Badgers' midseason slump. More significant to the selection committee is Minnesota's road record. The Gophers lost seven of their last eight road games, the only victory coming against a Northwestern team that was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.
With a 19-12 record and losses in seven of their last 11 games, the Gophers have to give the committee a good reason to choose them. Victories over Wisconsin and Michigan State in the conference tournament might do the trick, but it's unlikely Minnesota can pull that off.
When Cal beat Washington on Jan. 18 to improve to 14-4 overall and 5-0 in the Pac-12, the Bears seemed to be a shoo-in for an NCAA tournament berth. When they beat then-No. 1 Arizona on Feb. 1 to end a three-game losing streak, any mounting doubts that Cal was an NCAA tournament team seemed to be erased again.
However, Cal inexplicably fell apart after that win over Arizona. The Bears dropped five of their next eight games, and two of those wins were over the teams at the bottom of the standings, USC and Washington State. The Bears had to go to overtime to beat Washington State.
Cal stayed in the bubble discussion by beating Colorado in its final regular-season game, rallying from a nine-point, second-half deficit to win in overtime even though the Bears did not make a single field goal in the final 2:42 of regulation or the entire overtime period.
Cal finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Pac-12, but earned a No. 4 seed for the conference tournament by way of tie-breakers. As a top-four seed, the Bears earned a bye into the quarterfinals, which may end up being a curse. The Bears need wins, and their opening game in the conference tournament is likely to be against Colorado, which controlled much of the game on the Bears' home court in their only regular-season meeting.
Cal must win that game to have a shot at an at-large NCAA berth, and it probably also needs to win a semifinal game, probably against Arizona. Without those two wins, including a second victory over the Wildcats, Cal's resume does not measure up.
The Bears are just 8-11 against Top-100 RPI teams, and their RPI ranking of 53 does not impress anyone. Their victory over Arizona is offset by a loss to last-place USC, and the Bears have no other wins that distinguish them. Although the committee no longer uses a team's record over the final 10 games as a selection criterion, the committee members have to notice that Cal is not playing particularly well at the moment.
All four of the projections from the major outlets have Cal out of the tournament field at the moment, and the Bears are likely to stay on the outside.
It seems likely that Arkansas or Tennessee will make the NCAA tournament field. It seems unlikely both will make it, though.
It is a virtual tossup, but the guess here is that Tennessee will get left out, even though it finished ahead of Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference standings and beat Arkansas in their only regular-season meeting.
The key to the Vols' hopes is a potential game between Arkansas and Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament. If Arkansas wins its opener, it would face Tennessee, with the winner of that game likely to get into the NCAA tournament and the loser likely to be left out. The selection committee would have a lot explaining to do if it put the loser of that game in the NCAA field and not the winner, considering how close their resumes are.
Tennessee has one outstanding mark on its resume: a 35-point victory over Virginia on Dec. 30. That result is what is keeping the Vols in contention for an at-large berth. A neutral-court victory over Xavier is also helpful, but both wins were a long time ago. More recently, Tennessee has two losses to Texas A&M and no signature wins in the SEC. By contrast, Arkansas beat Kentucky twice, and that gives the Razorbacks the upper hand in a head-to-head comparison with Tennessee.
It may well come down to the Arkansas-Tennessee matchup in the SEC tournament, assuming the Razorbacks beat the Auburn-South Carolina winner to earn a shot at the No. 4-seeded Vols. Both Arkansas and Tennessee are playing pretty well at the moment, but Arkansas and its pressure defense should come out with the win. That may doom Tennessee.
Dayton players and coaches will be on the edge of their seats on Selection Sunday, because it may come down to the Flyers and one or two other teams for the final spot in the NCAA tournament.
The prediction here is the Flyers will just miss making the tournament.
Dayton is in much the same situation as Xavier, needing a strong showing in its conference tournament to get an at-large NCAA berth if it does not win the tournament. We are guessing Xavier will do enough in its conference tournament to make the NCAA field, and Dayton won't.
What happens in other conference tournaments around the country will matter almost as much as what Dayton does in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.
Assuming it gets by George Mason or Fordham in its opening tournament game, Dayton would have to face St. Joseph's in the next round. That game may decide the Flyers' postseason fate. A win against the Hawks may be enough to spring the Flyers into the NCAA tournament while putting St. Joseph's NCAA hopes in jeopardy. However, St. Joseph's won both regular-season games against Dayton, including a 26-point shellacking on Feb. 26.
We have to assume St. Joseph's will beat Dayton a third time, leaving the Flyers with a resume that may not be good enough. The Flyers' RPI ranking of 39 is solid, and the road win over Saint Louis in their final regular-season game put them in the running for an at-large NCAA bid. However, when comparing Dayton with several other finalists for the last few at-large spots, the selection committee won't be able to dismiss the Flyers' losses to Rhode Island, Illinois State and USC, the latter on the Flyers' home court.
Dayton would benefit if a team's record over its final 10 or 12 games were still a selection criterion, because the Flyers have won nine of their last 10 games. But late-season results no longer carry more weight, so the Flyers may be NIT-bound.
A victory over St. John's in Providence's Big East tournament opener may be enough to get the Friars into the NCAA tournament, but results across the country would all have to go in Providence's favor for that to be sufficient.
The Friars probably also need to beat Villanova in the Big East semifinals to get into the 68-team NCAA field, and winning both games may be too much to ask. Only one of the four NCAA tournament projections we use has Providence in the NCAA tournament field entering the conference tournament, and that one, CBSSports.com, has the Friars among its last four teams in.
Providence is 20-11 and finished tied for third place in the Big East. In past years that would be more than enough to ensure a place in the NCAA tournament. But with Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Connecticut no longer in the conference, the Big East does not provide the strength of schedule it once did. The Big East ranked first or second in conference RPI from 2009-2010 through 2011-2012, but it is only fourth this year.
Providence's only eye-catching win was against Creighton, and the Friars are 6-10 against teams in the RPI Top 100, including 2-6 against the Top 50. The Friars beat Xavier, which is a nice win, but also lost to the Musketeers this season. It leaves the Friars needing another win against an elite team, something they could achieve with a win over Villanova. But the Wildcats won both regular-season meetings with Providence, and there is no certainty Providence will get by St. John's to have a shot at Villanova.
The Friars still have a chance at their first NCAA berth in 10 years, but the odds are against it.