NCAA Tournament Projections: Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talk

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NCAA Tournament Projections: Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talk
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Do any of these bubble teams actually WANT to make the tournament? In the past two days alone, we have seen a number of teams' bubble runs end, and the only ones who seem to be holding form are the ones who haven't had the chance to play yet. Without further ado, here's the latest Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talks.

Automatic Bid Recipients (Conference, Conference Record, Overall Record)

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

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

Montana (Big Sky, 10-6, 22-9)

Old Dominion (Colonial, 15-3, 26-8)

Butler (Horizon, 18-0, 28-4)

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

Siena (Metro Atlantic, 17-1, 27-6)

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

Robert Morris (Northeast, 15-3, 23-11)

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

Wofford (Southern, 15-3, 26-8)

Oakland (Summit, 17-1, 26-8)

North Texas (Sun Belt, 13-5, 24-8)

Saint Mary's (West Coast, 11-3, 26-5)

WHAT'S NEW: A little less than half of the automatic bids have been handed out, with the remainder to be handed out this weekend. While the teams who have won to this point haven't shrunk the bubble too much, there are plenty of teams with games to play with a chance to steal a bid.

Anthony Johnson's back is going to be sore Thursday after he put Montana on his shoulders and carried them to a victory in Wednesday's Big Sky final. The fourth seeded Grizzlies came back from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat top seed Weber State 66-65, led by Johnson's tournament record 42 points.

Old Dominion saved a bubble spot by defeating third seed William & Mary 60-53 in the Colonial final on Monday. The Monarchs have already beaten Georgetown on the road this year, so they are definitely a mid-major team to keep an eye on in the tournament.

Butler is another team that saved a bubble spot by handling Wright State 70-45 on Tuesday. The Bulldogs have long been the class of the Horizon League, but have often slipped in their conference tournament in recent years. Their dominance in this year's final is a welcome change as far as the bubble teams are concerned.

Siena was probably on the wrong side of the bubble, so it was definitely to their benefit to lock up the automatic bid with their 72-65 win over Fairfield in the Metro Atlantic final. Now the Saints won't have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Robert Morris locked up the Northeast Conference bid by upsetting top seed Quinnipiac on the road 52-50. That the Colonials have earned their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance is the good news; that this year's tournament run will, like last year's, likely be very short-lived is the bad news.

Wofford held on in the second half after leading by 15 at halftime to beat Appalachian State 56-51 on Monday. The SoCon Champion Terriers will be making their first ever appearance in the NCAAs.

Before the Montana Grizzlies won the Big Sky championship, the Oakland Grizzlies continued their dominance of the Summit League. Oakland beat second seed IUPUI (without looking, I believe that is Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis) 76-64 in the Summit final to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.

Second seed North Texas upset top seed Troy 66-63 on Tuesday to take the bid from the Sun Belt. The Mean Green had the better overall record, but were underdogs based on tiebreakers, and now will be going to the NCAA Tournament for the third time.

Saint Mary's took no chances this year after narrowly missing last year's tournament. The Gaels got their first win against top seed and West Coast rival Gonzaga in impressive fashion 81-62, ensuring themselves the bid they thought they deserved last year.

One-Bid League Leaders

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

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

Akron (Mid-American, 12-4, 23-9)

Morgan State (Mid-Eastern, 15-1, 25-9)

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

Sam Houston State (Southland, 14-2, 23-7)

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Southwestern, 14-4, 15-15)

WHAT'S NEW: With the recent rash of bubble teams losing early in their conference tournaments, I was considering moving Kent State and the MAC into the "league leaders who will be bubble candidates if they lose in their conference tourney" category. Then Kent State went on to lose to Ohio 81-64 in their quarterfinal MAC matchup.

The beneficiary of the Golden Flashes' loss, as well as the loss by second seeded Central Michigan, is third seed (but second best team) Akron. The Zips play seventh seed Western Michigan, who upset the Chippewas, in the semifinals on Friday.

Morgan State dominated North Carolina A&T 84-57 in their MEAC quarterfinal, and now will play Hampton in the semifinals on Friday.

Sam Houston State squeaked past Southeastern Louisiana 88-85 on Thursday, earning them a spot in the Southland final. The Bearkats will take on Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.

Top seed Jackson State was upset by eighth seeded Grambling State in their SWAC quarterfinal game. That means that second seed Arkansas-Pine Bluff takes their place on our list, though with no remaining team more than three games over .500 for the year, the winner of this conference tournament is almost assured to be playing in the play-in game in Dayton on Tuesday.

At-Large Contending League Leaders From Otherwise One-Bid Leagues

UTEP (Conference USA, 15-1, 25-5)

Utah State (Western, 14-2, 26-6)

WHAT'S NEW: Most of the leagues that were in this category have already determined their champion, but one league moved out for other reasons, which will be discussed later on.

With UAB and Memphis both suffering losses in the quarterfinals, Conference USA is looking like a one-bid league unless UTEP loses somewhere in the tournament. The Miners play tournament host Tulsa in the semifinals Friday.

Utah State crushed eighth seeded Boise State in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament. The Aggies will face Louisiana Tech in the semifinals on Friday.

League Leaders From Multi-bid Leagues

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, 30-2)

West Virginia (Big East, 13-5, 25-6)

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

New Mexico (Mountain West, 14-2, 29-3)

California (Pacific-10, 13-5, 22-9)

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

WHAT'S NEW: Temple will open tournament play against St. Bonaventure in their quarterfinal A-10 matchup. Meanwhile, Duke opens with its quarterfinal ACC game against Virginia.

Kansas pulled away late to win its quarterfinal matchup with Texas Tech 80-68. The Jayhawks will face Texas A&M in the Big XII semifinals on Friday.

With Syracuse's and Pittsburgh's losses in their quarterfinal games, West Virginia becomes the top remaining seed in the Big East tournament with their 54-51 buzzer-beater win over Cincinnati. The third seeded Mountaineers will play seventh seed Notre Dame in their semifinal game on Friday.

Ohio State opens Big Ten tournament play on Friday. The Buckeyes will square off against archrival Michigan in their quarterfinal matchup.

New Mexico pulled out a Mountain West quarterfinal win against Air Force 75-69. They play bubble team San Diego State in the semifinals on Friday.

With bubble teams falling left and right, it seems inevitable that the Pac-10 will get two teams into the NCAA tournament, so they move over from the probable one-bid league group. Conference leader California defeated eighth seeded Oregon 90-74 in their quarterfinal matchup, and will now face UCLA in the semifinals.

Kentucky opens SEC tournament play on Friday against Alabama.

 

I've decided that since most teams' fates are now relatively certain, I'm going to rearrange the categories a little bit. First, I'm going to combine the Master Locks and the Top O' The Bubble into the Stone Cold Locks.

Stone Cold Locks

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

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

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

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

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

Clemson (Atlantic Coast, 9-7, 21-10)

Wake Forest (Atlantic Coast, 9-7, 19-10)

Kansas State (Big XII, 11-5, 25-6)

Baylor (Big XII, 11-5, 25-6)

Texas A&M (Big XII, 11-5, 23-8)

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

Texas (Big XII, 9-7, 24-9)

Oklahoma State (Big XII, 9-7, 22-10)

Syracuse (Big East, 15-3, 28-4)

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

Pittsburgh (Big East, 13-5, 24-8)

Marquette (Big East, 11-7, 22-10)

Louisville (Big East, 11-7, 20-12)

Notre Dame (Big East, 10-8, 22-10)

Georgetown (Big East, 10-8, 22-9)

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, 29-4)

UNLV (Mountain West, 11-5, 24-7)

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

Tennessee (Southeastern, 11-5, 24-7)

Gonzaga (West Coast, 12-2, 26-6)

 

That's a total of 28 at-large bids taken. Now to the teams of interest. First, the six teams currently on the Right Side of the Bubble.

The Right Side of the Bubble

Dayton (Atlantic 10, 8-8, 20-11)

Georgia Tech (Atlantic Coast, 7-9, 20-11)

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

San Diego State (Mountain West, 11-5, 23-8)

Washington (Pacific-10, 11-7, 22-9)

Florida (Southeastern, 9-7, 21-11)

WHAT'S NEW: You've got to be pleased if you're Dayton or Illinois. Through the poor performances of other bubble teams, you've earned a spot in the tourney by default. Now it's on you to keep it. Dayton faces rival Xavier in the A-10 quarterfinals, while Illinois faces Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Win those games, and you punch your tickets.

Georgia Tech, San Diego State, Washington, and Florida were all bubble teams who actually won games on Thursday. Each of them now looks to be in good shape for a tournament bid.

However, these teams should all keep trying to win, because there are still a few teams that that have games to play and are In The Hunt:

In The Hunt

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

Rhode Island (Atlantic 10, 9-7, 22-8)

Minnesota (Big Ten, 9-9, 19-12)

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

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

WHAT'S NEW: These are teams that are still alive in their conference tournaments who can take a bid with a good performance.

Saint Louis and Rhode Island play each other Friday in the A-10 quarterfinals. The winner could be very close to making the field, depending on how Dayton and Illinois do in their quarterfinal matchups. If the winner then goes on to beat Temple, then they'd be solidly in the field.

Minnesota won handily over Penn State 76-55 in their opening round Big Ten championship game, and now face Michigan State in the quarterfinals. The Gophers will likely need a finals appearance to steal a bid at this point.

Mississippi State will get some credit for splitting the SEC West title with Ole Miss, but will likely be out without a win over Florida in Friday's quarterfinal. The story is the same for the Rebels, who likely need to beat Tennessee on Friday to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament.

Finally, there's the Walking Dead, teams that are done and need practically every bubble to burst to have a shot at making the tournament.

The Walking Dead

South Florida (Big East, 9-9, 20-12)

Seton Hall (Big East, 9-9, 19-12)

Memphis (Conference USA, 13-3, 23-9)

UAB (Conference USA, 11-5, 23-8)

Wichita State (Missouri Valley, 12-6, 25-9)

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

WHAT'S NEW: Seton Hall and South Florida both fell short of what was thought to be needed of them, losing in the second round of the Big East tournament to Notre Dame and Georgetown respectively. Now they're both praying for some bubble chaos to tilt the scales back in their favor.

Memphis, UAB, and Arizona State are all very much on the outside after losing quarterfinal conference tournament matchups to Houston, Southern Miss, and Stanford. Unless the powers that be decide to expand to a 68-team tournament in the next few days, there's almost no chance they'll go dancing.

Wichita State is an interesting case. They've got nine RPI 100 wins (by comparison, Memphis has seven, Seton Hall and South Florida six, UAB five, Arizona State three), and yet I hear almost nothing regarding them getting an at-large bid. Yes, they have some bad losses (Creighton, Drake, Bradley, and Evansville), but these were all road games at conference opponents.

They have an RPI comparable to many of the bubble teams currently under consideration, and as I have shown have more quality wins than most of them. I wouldn't put them in right now, but don't be surprised that if this bubble upheaval continues that the Shockers start getting some mentions for an at-large.

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, my valuations of the various teams have no guarantee of being right. 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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