NCAA Tourney Projection: Stone Cold Locks And Bubble Talks—Third Edition

Tom DavisCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2010

LAS VEGAS - JANUARY 13:  Kawhi Leonard #15 of the San Diego State Aztecs brings the ball up the court during a game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center January 13, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rebels defeated the Aztecs 76-66.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Now that Championship Week is getting underway, I'm going to be doing more regular updates to Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talks.

There's going to be a lot of movement in this final week, and I'm going to do my best to keep up with it, so without further ado, let's get right into the groupings.

The first group makes its first appearance on Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talks. It is the teams who have locked up an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The teams, their conferences, and regular-season conference and overall records are as follows:

East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun, 13-7, 20-14)

Winthrop (Big South, 12-6, 19-13)

Cornell (Ivy, 13-1, 27-4)

Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley, 15-3, 28-4)

Murray State (Ohio Valley, 17-1, 30-4)

WHAT'S NEW: Did anyone want the automatic bid from the Atlantic Sun? There was a four-way tie atop the standings at the beginning of the conference tournament. Lipscomb, Belmont, and Campbell all lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, then Jacksonville lost to Mercer in the semifinals.

Sixth-seeded Mercer went on to lose to fifth-seeded East Tennessee State in the A-Sun Championship 72-66, netting the Bucs their second straight trip to the NCAA's. Even though ETSU was only a game behind that four-team tie-up, you have to expect the Bucs to be in the play-in game on March 16th.

A small-college team that has earned a lot of name recognition as a Cinderella in recent years, third-seeded Winthrop took out top seed Coastal Carolina on their own floor 64-53 to earn the bid from the Big South.

This team will probably get a better seed than it deserves because of that prior success, but don't expect much from these Eagles. Before the conference tournament they were on a 1-3 slide, and were at a mediocre 17-14 overall.

Cornell became the first team to lock up an NCAA bid this season by beating Brown 95-76 Friday night. This is good news to bubble teams, as Cornell was good enough to earn bubble consideration, and now won't be looking for an at-large.

Ditto for Northern Iowa, who turned it on in the second half and locked up an automatic bid by beating Wichita State 67-52 in the Missouri Valley title game.

Murray State pulled away late to beat last year's champion Morehead State 62-51 to win the Ohio Valley. In doing so, the Racers avoid the distinction of being a 29-win team that likely would miss the tournament. On an unrelated note, this is a bitter loss for fans of dirty puns everywhere, as there will be no Morehead in the NCAA Tournament.


Then there are the assumed automatic qualifiers from one-bid leagues. A few of these leagues are already into their conference tournaments, and so a few of these teams are different from Monday's edition:

Vermont (America East, 12-4, 24-9)

Weber State (Big Sky, 13-3, 19-9)

UC Santa Barbara (Big West, 12-4, 18-9)

Kent State (Mid-American, 13-3, 23-8)

Morgan State (Mid-Eastern, 15-1, 24-9)

Quinnipiac (two-way tie) (Northeast, 15-3, 23-8)

Lehigh (Patriot, 10-4, 21-10)

Wofford (Southern, 15-3, 25-8)

Sam Houston State (Southland, 14-2, 22-7)

Jackson State (Southwestern, 17-1, 19-11)

Oakland (Summit, 17-1, 24-8)

Troy (two-way tie) (Sun Belt, 13-5, 19-11)

WHAT'S NEW: Stony Brook was upset by fifth seed Boston University 70-63 in the semifinals of the America East tournament, ending their shot at a bid. BU goes on to play their replacement on the list, second-seeded Vermont, in the final on Saturday.

Kent State got a big win at Akron Friday night 74-61 to lock up the regular season MAC championship. The Golden Flashes will play Ohio in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament on Thursday.

Quinnipiac is into the finals of the Northeast tournament, where it plays second seed Robert Morris on Wednesday.

Lehigh is also into the finals in its conference tourney. The Mountain Hawks play third seed Lafayette for the automatic bid from the Patriot League on Friday.

Wofford won convincingly in its two early-round games, and now plays Appalachian State, the top seed from the opposing division in the SoCon, in the final on Monday.

Oakland won 85-70 in its opening round Summit matchup against UMKC, and now plays IPFW in the semifinals Monday night.

The three-way tie atop the Sun Belt is now a two-way tie, as sixth seed Denver beat third seed Middle Tennessee 73-58 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. They play North Texas in the semifinals, the team that was on this list from the Sun Belt until it was discovered that Troy was the higher seed in the conference tournament. The Trojans play Western Kentucky in the other semifinal, both of which are on Monday.


On to the third category: teams from one-bid leagues if they win out, but could be two-bid leagues if they are upset in the conference tourney. They are:

Old Dominion (Colonial, 15-3, 25-8)

Butler (Horizon, 18-0, 27-4)

Siena (Metro-Atlantic, 17-1, 26-6)

California (Pacific-10, 13-5, 21-9)

Gonzaga (West Coast, 12-2, 26-5)

Utah State (Western, 14-2, 25-6)

WHAT'S NEW: Old Dominion survived a scare against fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals of the Colonial tournament, winning 73-69 in overtime. They now play former Bottom O' The Bubble dweller and third seed William & Mary in the final on Monday.

Butler defeated Milwaukee in the Horizon semifinal and now play second-seeded Wright State in the final on Tuesday.

Siena is also through to their conference final. The Saints play second seed Fairfield for the Metro Atlantic crown on Monday.

Gonzaga is through to the finals of their conference tournament after handling Loyola Marymount 77-62. They play Bottom O' The Bubble team Saint Mary's in the final on Monday.


Next are the automatic qualifiers from multi-bid leagues. Most of these teams had their final regular season games over the weekend, and begin tournament play later in the week.

Temple (two-way tie) (Atlantic 10, 14-2, 26-5)

Duke (two-way tie) (Atlantic Coast, 13-3, 26-5)

Kansas (Big XII, 15-1, 29-2)

Syracuse (Big East, 15-3, 28-3)

Ohio State (three-way tie) (Big Ten, 14-4, 24-7)

UTEP (Conference USA, 15-1, 24-5)

New Mexico (Mountain West, 14-2, 28-3)

Kentucky (Southeastern, 14-2, 29-2)

WHAT'S NEW: None of the teams at the top were upended last week, but Duke ended up in a tie with Maryland atop the ACC after losing 79-72 to the Terps on Wednesday. The Blue Devils will still be the top seed for the conference tournament based on tiebreakers.


Now we start talking about at-large contenders. First on the list are the Stone Cold Locks. These teams are in no matter what happens.

Xavier (Atlantic 10, 14-2, 23-7)

Richmond (Atlantic 10, 13-3, 24-7)

Maryland (Atlantic Coast, 13-3, 23-7)

Kansas State (Big XII, 11-5, 24-6)

Baylor (Big XII, 11-5, 24-6)

Texas A&M (Big XII, 11-5, 22-8)

Villanova (Big East, 13-5, 24-6)

West Virginia (Big East, 13-5, 24-6)

Pittsburgh (Big East, 13-5, 24-7)

Purdue (Big Ten, 14-4, 26-4)

Michigan State (Big Ten, 14-4, 24-7)

Wisconsin (Big Ten, 13-5, 23-7)

Brigham Young (Mountain West, 13-3, 28-4)

Vanderbilt (Southeastern, 12-4, 23-7)

Tennessee (Southeastern, 11-5, 23-7)

WHAT'S NEW: Georgetown is no longer an SCL. I don't see a way they miss the tournament, but after losing four of six to close the season, I don't consider them to have done enough to not have to worry if they lose to the South Florida/DePaul winner in their first game in the Big East Tournament. All other teams remain unchanged going into Championship Week.


Next come the Master Locks. These teams are pretty solidly in the tournament, but are a tier below the SCLs, and with a loss to the wrong team in a conference tournament, could be sweating out selection Sunday.

Wake Forest (Atlantic Coast, 9-7, 19-9)

Missouri (Big XII, 10-6, 22-9)

Texas (Big XII, 9-7, 23-8)

Marquette (Big East, 11-7, 20-10)

Louisville (Big East, 11-7, 20-11)

Georgetown (Big East, 10-8, 20-9)

UNLV (Mountain West, 11-5, 23-7)

WHAT'S NEW: The aforementioned Hoyas drop down a level. Wake Forest was about to do the same, but salvaged their Master Lock status with a home win against Clemson, stopping their four-game skid.

Texas continues to lose games against tough in-conference foes, but also continues to do just enough to remain a Master Lock going into the Big XII tourney. For their sake though, I wouldn't chance it by losing to Iowa State in their first-round game.


Next comes the Top O' The Bubble. These teams have played their way in to this point, but could miss the tournament with an unfortunate loss and some unexpected events during Championship Week.

Clemson (Atlantic Coast, 9-7, 21-9)

Florida State (Atlantic Coast, 10-6, 22-8)

Virginia Tech (Atlantic Coast, 10-6, 23-7)

Notre Dame (Big East, 10-8, 21-10)

Oklahoma State (Big XII, 9-7, 21-9)

WHAT'S NEW: Goodbye Georgia Tech and Illinois, hello Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

The Hokies righted the ship quickly, following a three-game skid up with victories against NC State and a big win at Georgia Tech. Even playing an easy schedule in what is perceived to be a down ACC, coupled with a very weak non-conference slate, it's hard to imagine the committee leaving out a team four games over .500 in a traditional power conference.

Notre Dame faced a true gauntlet in its final four games and came through it unscathed, winning against Pitt, at Georgetown, UConn, and at Marquette. While it is true that their non-conference slate leaves plenty to be desired, a committee that tends to favor teams that get hot at the end of the year would be hard-pressed to find a reason to leave out the Irish.


Next we have The Bubble. These are the teams who can prolong or end their season with their play in their conference tournament.

Rhode Island (Atlantic 10, 9-7, 21-8)

Dayton (Atlantic 10, 8-8, 19-11)

Georgia Tech (Atlantic Coast, 7-9, 19-11)

Illinois (Big Ten, 10-8, 18-13)

Memphis (Conference USA, 13-3, 23-8)

UAB (Conference USA, 11-5, 23-7)

San Diego State (Mountain West, 11-5, 22-8)

Florida (Southeastern, 9-7, 20-11)

WHAT'S NEW: Georgia Tech and Illinois fall in from the Top O' The Bubble, Memphis moves in from the Bottom O' The Bubble after earning a sweep of UAB, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame move from here up to the Top, and Mississippi State, Charlotte, Connecticut, and Cincinnati all move to the Bottom.

Rhode Island helped in killing Charlotte's at-large chances by crushing them 80-58 on Wednesday, but then suffered a puzzling last-second loss to UMass on Saturday. That's two questionable losses in the Rams' last three games (having also lost to St. Bonaventure on Feb. 27th).

They've got a high-quality win over Oklahoma State on a neutral court, but that won't save their season if they lose to St. Joe's in the opening round of the A-10 tourney. In fact, they would likely have to at least get to the semifinals by beating Saint Louis to not be on the wrong side of the bubble come selection Sunday.

Dayton lost at Richmond and against Saint Louis this week, two games they could have really used a win in. With the losses they drop to 8-8, placing them seventh in a conference that may only end up with four bids. They too probably need to get to at least the A-10 semis, a path that would include beating George Washington and netting a second victory over Xavier, to ensure they are on the right side of the bubble.

Georgia Tech finished with losses at Clemson and against Virginia Tech to finish the year on a 3-6 slide. They've got wins against Clemson and Duke on their resume, but with a 7-9 record in what is believed to be a down ACC, they too may have to make a conference semifinal (which means wins over North Carolina and Maryland) to make it into the field.

Illinois lost two chances to get a marquee victory with losses at Ohio State and Wisconsin this week, which puts them squarely on The Bubble. They're in better shape than many of the teams out there, with four great wins (at Clemson, Vanderbilt, Michigan State, and at Wisconsin), but their RPI is surprisingly weak, which is hurting their prospects. They must win their quarterfinal game, a rubber match against Wisconsin, to guarantee their safety on Selection Sunday.

Memphis moves up from the Bottom O' The Bubble by completing sweeps of UAB and Tulsa and taking second place in Conference USA by two games. The Tigers don't really have a marquee victory, whiffing on chances against Kansas, Tennessee, at Syracuse, and Gonzaga, but they have a number of good wins and with the sweep of UAB appear to be second in line in Conference USA. A likely semifinal matchup against the Blazers in the C-USA tourney is basically a play-in game for the Big Dance.

UAB really didn't do itself any favors in losing twice this week. Granted, those losses were to the two top teams in Conference USA and were both close, but getting swept by Memphis puts the Blazers behind them in the C-USA pecking order. They're going to ride that win over Butler as far as they can, but it seems that if they want to play themselves in they must beat the Tigers in the C-USA tournament semis.

San Diego State held the course this week, winning against Colorado State and at Air Force. While those wins don't do anything for them, a loss in either could have been catastrophic. The Aztecs get the Rams again in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament, but will need to beat New Mexico for a second time in the semifinals to feel safe on selection Sunday.

Florida missed on two chances to move to the Top O' The Bubble, losing against Vanderbilt and at Kentucky. They play Auburn in the opening round of the SEC tournament and if they win will face Mississippi State. That game may be a play-in game for the NCAA tournament.


Finally, we come to the Bottom O' The Bubble. These are teams who need to do a lot of work in their respective conference tourneys to have a prayer of making the field.

Saint Louis (Atlantic 10, 11-5, 20-10)

Charlotte (Atlantic 10, 9-7, 19-11)

South Florida (Big East, 9-9, 19-11)

Seton Hall (Big East, 9-9, 18-11)

Connecticut (Big East, 7-11, 17-14)

Cincinnati (Big East, 7-11, 16-14)

Arizona State (Pacific-10, 12-6, 22-9)

Washington (Pacific-10, 11-7, 21-9)

Mississippi State (Southeastern, 9-7, 21-10)

Ole Miss (Southeastern, 9-7, 21-9)

Saint Mary's (West Coast, 11-3, 25-5)

WHAT'S NEW: Saint Louis continues to fall one step short of being on The Bubble, losing to Temple but then winning at Dayton. In order have a chance to make the NCAA's as an at-large it seems likely they're going to have to make the A-10 final, beating URI and Temple along the way.

The same can be said of Charlotte after losing at Rhode Island and against Richmond. They'll need to make the A-10 final to get a look at an at-large. That would mean wins over UMass, Richmond, and likely Xavier, which would be more than enough to merit consideration.

Were it not for a 1-4 run late in Big East play, South Florida might be higher on the bubble right now. Two great wins over Pitt and at Georgetown more than outweigh a bad loss against Central Michigan.

You hate to point at one game, but if they had beaten St. John's at home, they'd have a winning record in the Big East, which would change their resume's whole complexion. As it is, they will have to beat Georgetown a second time in the Big East tournament in order to get a decent chance at the NCAA's, and even then may have to play Syracuse close.

Seton Hall beat up on two bottom-feeders to make it to .500 in Big East play. Apart from some home wins over Big East opponents (the best being Pitt and Louisville) and a win at Cornell, there isn't much for Seton Hall to crow about. They'll probably have to make the Big East semifinals, beating Notre Dame and Pitt, in order to have a shot.

I don't care who you are, what conference you play in, or who you've beaten, getting into the tournament as an at-large when four games under .500 in-conference and with 14 losses is nearly impossible. UConn is in a huge hole in spite of their great wins, and will likely have to make the Big East final (beating St. John's, Marquette, Villanova, and probably Syracuse) to have a prayer.

I waffled on whether or not to drop Cincinnati altogether, but considering their two losses to end the season were to Villanova and at Georgetown, who are both RPI Top 15 teams, I thought that would be hasty. That being said, they're in the same boat as UConn, needing four wins in four days (over Rutgers, Louisville, West Virginia, and probably Pitt) to get back into the tournament picture.

Arizona State and Washington stood pat last week each beating two weak teams. They enter the Pac-10 as the second and third seeds, respectively, meaning they would meet in the semifinals if both won their quarterfinal game. That game would be a veritable bubble play-in game if it were to happen.

Mississippi State dropped to the Bottom O' The Bubble after losing at Auburn and against Tennessee. They also dropped into a tie atop the SEC West with Ole Miss at 9-7. Both teams seem to share the same fate: they can get back on the bubble with an SEC semifinals appearance (the Bulldogs will likely play Florida, while the Rebels will likely meet Tennessee), and would be in the tournament with a finals appearance (which means a win over probably Vanderbilt for Mississippi State and probably Kentucky for Ole Miss).

Many people, including Joe Lunardi, have Saint Mary's in the tournament, and they may be in right now. I'm projecting forward when I leave them on the Bottom. If they win the WCC tourney Monday night, then they have an automatic bid, and all of this becomes moot. If not, they will have been beaten by Gonzaga three times without a great win anywhere else on their schedule to counter-balance it. That is why I think that if they don't get the automatic bid, they'll be left out in the end.


Here, as I have placed at the bottom of every Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talks, is my disclaimer:

This is a list based on my own knowledge and weighing of stats (I tend to focus on RPI Top 50 records more than anything else, but I try to take into account a lot of variables), but since I'm not on the selection committee, I may be completely off-base. However, if you do have a question about why a team is in a certain spot, be sure to leave a comment, and I'll do my best to explain my position. Thank you.


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