Conference Call: Who's on the Bubble?

T.R. PetersonCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2010

As the month of January winds down and teams are well into conference play, it’s time to take a peak at those teams that are “on the bubble.”

Let’s take a quick review of the process for just a moment. 31 teams automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning their respective conference tournament (or in the case of the Ivy League, the regular season champion). The NCAA tournament selection committee then selects the next best 34 at-large teams to produce the 65 teams that participate in the tournament.

The six power conferences should account for a majority of the at-large slots for obvious reasons. That leaves a combination of mid-majors and middle-of-the-road power conference teams vying for those final coveted spots.

Remember, it doesn’t take much for a team to descend from near certain at-large status to a team on the bubble or vice versa. As a result, when talking “bubble teams” this early there is a lot of fluidity.

Every Monday I’ll update the past weeks bubble “winners” and “losers.”  “Winners” are teams that have helped their case as an at-large team, while “losers” are those teams that have hurt their case.

If you have a gripe or just want to talk college basketball leave a message. I would enjoy discussing it with you. Happy bubbling!

Note: Overall record, conference record, RPI ranking, and SOS rankings are listed in that order respectively and are taken from

Atlantic 10 Conference

It’s hard to imagine the A-10 getting five teams into the tournament but, but it would be hard to argue against it right now. That will probably change in another month but at this point Temple , Xavier , Rhode Island , Richmond , and Dayton all look to be in pretty good shape. Dayton’s loss at Xavier on Saturday is a bit of a cause for concern, but they are probably a safe bet for now.


Charlotte (12-5, 2-1, 83, 155) is worth a mention. They have the ability to do some damage in the A-10, but are a long shot at best.


Atlantic Coast Conference

The ACC has five solid teams right now. Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson are locks with Georgia Tech and Florida State right behind. North Carolina (12-6, 1-2, 54, 19) has been shaky lately, losing three of four. With Wake Forest up next, the Tar Heels need a win or they drop to bubble status.

Anyone in this next group could move up with a strong week, but for now they are on the bubble. Virginia (11-4, 3-0, 100, 167) is off to a great start in the ACC but still needs some more marquee wins to gain some respect. Maryland (10-5, 2-1, 59, 31) has decent RPI and SOS numbers but are 0-5 against the top-50. Virginia Tech (13-3, 1-2, 65, 194) is also on the periphery and has a critical week in which two wins are needed. Miami (FL) (14-3, 1-3, 81, 264) has lost two in row and needs wins over Boston College and Maryland this week to stay in the discussion.

Big 12 Conference

Texas , Kansas , and Kansas St. don’t require much press here as they are solid. Baylor (13-2, 2-1, 26, 101) responded to their loss at Colorado by beating Oklahoma St. over the weekend and are safe for now. Texas A&M (11-5, 1-2, 36, 22) lost a tough one to rival Texas in OT on Saturday but are still solid. 

Oklahoma St. (13-4, 1-2, 37, 78) sits on the bubble after the Baylor loss. A win against Colorado is a must this week considering the rough schedule ahead for the Cowboys. Fellow bubble mate Missouri (14-4, 2-1, 47, 113) had won nine straight until Saturdays loss at Oklahoma. The Tigers have Nebraska this week before heading to Kansas.

Texas Tech (12-5, 0-3, 50, 63) is in a precarious situation after starting 0-3 in conference play. The Red Raiders need to sweep games against Iowa St. and Oklahoma this week to remain in the bubble picture. Oklahoma (11-6, 2-1, 58, 73) is showing signs of life after wins against Oklahoma St. and Missouri. The Sooners need wins at Texas A&M and Texas Tech this week to solidify themselves as a bubble team.

Big East Conference

The Big East continues to be the best basketball conference in the country with five teams in the top eleven of the RPI rankings. Syracuse , Pitt , Georgetown , Villanova , and West Virginia are all unquestionable. Even after losing to Michigan on Sunday, Connecticut (11-5, 2-3, 14, 1) is safe for the moment, but have lost four of their last six. The best win on the Huskies resume is against William & Mary.

The middle of the Big East continues to be full of bubble teams. Louisville (12-6, 3-2, 39, 5) let a golden opportunity for a quality win slip away Saturday against Pitt and have lost three of five. St. John’s (12-5, 2-3, 57, 33) recovered from its 0-3 Big East start by beating Cincinnati and DePaul this past week and have a date with struggling UConn on Wednesday. Cincinnati (12-6, 3-3, 45, 26) survived against Notre Dame to stop its three game skid in Big East play. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-2, 64, 112) and Marquette (11-6, 2-3, 76, 27) need to come up with some marquee wins. 

Big Ten Conference

It looks like a down year for the Big Ten. Michigan St. and Wisconsin are locks and  Purdue is still fine despite a three game losing streak. Ohio State , with Evan Turner back, looks to be on their way to solidifying themselves as at-large team after back-to-back wins over Purdue and Wisconsin.

The next four have to start making some noise in conference play. Minnesota’s (12-6, 3-3, 48, 52) loss to Indiana puts the Gophers on the bubble while Illinois (12-6, 4-1, 63, 43) could use a quality win to help its case. Northwestern (12-4, 2-3, 60, 64) is back in the picture after stunning Purdue at home. Michigan , even with its win over Connecticut, still has a lot of work to do.


Mountain West Conference

The MWC looks like it will be a crazy race again this year. BYU and New Mexico are in good position courtesy of their non-conference schedule. UNLV (13-4, 2-2, 41, 65) has three wins against the top-50 so are probably safe even after losing to Utah on Saturday. San Diego St. (11-5, 2-2, 43, 98) doesn’t have much to show except for a win against New Mexico. 

Pac 10 Conference

Luckily, the Pac-10 tournament winner still gets an automatic bid. California (11-6, 3-2, 25, 2) may be the best team in the Pac-10. Still, the Bears don’t have any RPI top-50 wins. Washington (12-5, 3-3, 52, 30) knocked off Cal over the weekend to give the Huskies a much needed quality win. Arizona St . (14-5, 4-2, 61, 100) has won four straight to enter into bubble status.

Southeastern Conference

What a difference a year makes. The disappointment of last year has faded away for the SEC. Kentucky and Tennessee are among the best in the country. Vanderbilt keeps quietly winning games and has to be considered a solid NCAA team at this point. 

Mississippi (13-4, 1-2, 42, 77) dropped two of three to start SEC play and have slipped down to a bubble team. Meanwhile, Mississippi St . (15-3, 3-0, 44, 128) has jumped out to lead the SEC West and grab some bubble attention. Florida , South Carolina , and Alabama are off the bubble picture at this point.


In the WCC, Gonzaga is undoubtedly at at-large team. St. Mary’s (15-3, 3-1, 34, 75) has a resume that it a little sketchy at this point with only one top-50 win. 

Butler is solidly in the field from the Horizon and requires no further discussion at this point. 

The CAA deserves some attention. William & Mary (13-3, 6-1, 28, 86) would have to be strongly considered as an at-large with a 3-2 record against the RPI top-50. However, games against VCU (12-4, 4-3, 46, 105) and Old Dominion (14-5, 6-1, 40, 69) this week will give a little more direction.

In the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa (16-1, 7-0, 15, 96) has done everything it has to do to be an at-large team while Wichita St . (15-3, 5-2, 66, 207) has fallen off by virtue of Saturday’s loss to Creighton.  

It looks like conference USA will have a great opportunity to grab more than one bid this year. UAB (15-2, 3-0, 35, 176) has had a good season so far and would have to be strongly considered as an at-large team at this point. Marshall (13-2, 4-0, 53, 226) and Tulsa (13-3, 4-0, 75, 186) need to rack up wins to have a shot while Memphis is just out of the bubble picture right now.

Siena (14-4, 7-0, 31, 81) may be a bit of a stretch at this point. However, if they run through the MAAC it could be an interesting decision for the committee.

It would be hard pressed for Cornell (13-3, 1-0, 38, 132) or Harvard (11-3, 1-0, 49, 175) to be considered as an at-large due to lack of quality wins. 

Louisiana Tech (17-2, 5-0, 55, 248), like many of the Utah St. teams before it, lacks any quality wins on its schedule.


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