Welcome back to another year of Stone Cold Locks & Bubble Talk. I had planned on starting this article a little earlier than I did last year by writing the first one in early February instead of late February, but with my beloved Packers making the Super Bowl, it just wasn't going to happen.
Still, we've got three weeks until Selection Sunday, so there's plenty of time left on the schedule to get an idea both of where teams are in relation to the tourney and what they need to do to secure a spot.
As I did with last year's initial article, I'm going to give a breakdown of how the now 68-team NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament field is filled.
If you're a bracket-head like myself and already know, feel free to skim past to the heart of the piece.
The 68-team field will be drawn from two sections:
-automatic qualifiers given to each conference's end-of-season tournament champion (except in the case of the Ivy League, which has no end-of-season conference tournament;
-the regular season winner of the Ivy League earns the league's automatic bid), and at-large selections made by the Selection Committee.
There are 32 Division I men's basketball conferences. However, due to rules regarding the probationary period for newly created conferences, the Great West Conference, now in its second year, will not have an automatic bid (nor will it until at least 2020).
That means of the 68 overall bids, 31 belong to automatic qualifiers.
The remaining 37 spots will be filled by the Selection Committee, a group composed of athletic directors and conference commissioners. In addition, the Selection Committee determines seeding for the entire tournament.
Now we start filling out spots in our bracket. First, we have to deal with the automatic qualifiers, so we know who won't need an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.
Since, as we mentioned, in every case but one the automatic bid goes to the conference's end of season tournament champion, we don't actually know who will fill these spots.
For now, I'm going to fill them with the team that is currently in first in the given conference. Ties will be broken by head-to-head record, then overall record.
Based on where I think the teams at the top of each league are, I'm going to break the conferences into four groups:
- conferences that are going to be one-bid leagues
- conferences that are going to be one-bid leagues if the current leader wins the conference tournament
- conferences that aren't definitely multiple-bid or one-bid as of right now
- and, multiple-bid conferences
One-Bid Conference Leaders (Conference, Conference Record, Overall Record)
Vermont (America East, 13-2, 22-6)
Belmont (Atlantic Sun, 17-1, 25-4)
Montana (Big Sky, 11-3, 19-8)
Coastal Carolina (Big South, 15-1, 25-3)
Long Beach State (Big West, 11-2, 17-10)
Harvard (Ivy, 9-1, 20-4)
Fairfield (Metro Atlantic, 14-2, 22-5)
Miami (OH) (Mid American, 9-3, 14-13)
Bethune-Cookman (Mid Eastern, 10-3, 16-11)
Long Island (Northeast, 14-2, 22-5)
Murray State (Ohio Valley, 12-4, 21-7)
Bucknell (Patriot, 11-1, 20-8)
Charleston (Southern, 13-2, 21-7)
McNeese State (Southland, 8-4, 16-9)
Texas Southern (Southwestern, 12-1, 14-10)
Oakland (Summit, 15-1, 20-9)
Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt, 11-3, 19-9)
At-Large Contenders From Otherwise One-Bid Conferences
Utah State (Western, 12-1, 25-3)
Leaders From In-Between Conferences
UTEP (Conference USA, 8-3, 20-6)
Cleveland State (Horizon, 12-4, 23-6)
Missouri State (Missouri Valley, 13-3, 21-7)
Saint Mary's (West Coast, 10-2, 22-6)
Leaders From Multiple-Bid Conferences
Xavier (Atlantic 10, 11-1, 20-6)
Duke (Atlantic Coast, 11-1, 24-2)
Texas (Big XII, 11-1, 23-4)
Pittsburgh (Big East, 12-2, 24-3)
Ohio State (Big Ten, 12-2, 25-2)
George Mason (Colonial, 14-2, 23-5)
San Diego State (Mountain West, 12-1, 27-1)
Arizona (Pacific-10, 12-2, 23-4)
Florida (Southeastern, 10-2, 21-5)
Now we move on to the main event: the teams fighting for the 37 at-large berths.
First, we have the Stone Cold Locks: the teams that are almost certain to make the tournament regardless of what happens with the rest of the season.
Stone Cold Locks
Temple (Atlantic 10, 11-2, 21-5)
North Carolina (Atlantic Coast, 10-2, 20-6)
Kansas (Big XII, 10-2, 25-2)
Texas A&M (Big XII, 8-4, 21-5)
Missouri (Big XII, 7-5, 21-6)
Notre Dame (Big East, 10-4, 21-5)
Georgetown (Big East, 10-5, 21-6)
Villanova (Big East, 9-5, 21-6)
Louisville (Big East, 9-5, 20-7)
St. John's (Big East, 9-5, 17-9)
Syracuse (Big East, 9-6, 22-6)
West Virginia (Big East, 8-6, 17-9)
Connecticut (Big East, 8-6, 20-6)
Purdue (Big Ten, 11-3, 22-5)
Wisconsin (Big Ten, 10-4, 20-6)
Brigham Young (Mountain West, 11-1, 25-2)
Vanderbilt (Southeastern, 8-4, 20-6)
Kentucky (Southeastern, 7-5, 19-7)
Next, we have the Master Locks. These are teams that are definitely in if they don't avoid a major collapse in the last few weeks of the season.
Florida State (Atlantic Coast, 9-3, 19-7)
Kansas State (Big XII, 6-6, 18-9)
Old Dominion (Colonial, 12-4, 22-6)
Tennessee (Southeastern, 6-6, 16-11)
Then we have the Top of the Bubble. These are the teams that have played their way in to this point, but could find themselves on the wrong side if they don't take care of their business down the stretch.
Top of the Bubble
Cincinnati (Big East, 8-6, 21-6)
Illinois (Big Ten, 7-7, 17-10)
Michigan State (Big Ten, 7-7, 15-11)
UNLV (Mountain West, 8-5, 20-7)
UCLA (Pacific-10, 10-4, 19-8)
Georgia (Southeastern, 7-5, 18-8)
Now we come to the real show: The Bubble.
These teams are living and dying game to game: a big win, and you can secure a spot; a questionable loss, and you may have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
Richmond (Atlantic 10, 10-3, 21-7)
Virginia Tech (Atlantic Coast, 7-5, 17-8)
Boston College (Atlantic Coast, 6-6, 16-10)
Nebraska (Big XII, 6-6, 18-8)
Marquette (Big East, 7-7, 16-11)
Minnesota (Big Ten, 6-8, 17-9)
UAB (Conference USA, 9-4, 19-7)
Memphis (Conference USA, 8-4, 20-7)
Colorado State (Mountain West, 8-4, 18-8)
Washington (Pacific-10, 10-5, 18-8)
Gonzaga (West Coast, 19-9, 9-3)
Finally, we come to the Bottom of the Bubble.
The bad news for these teams: right now, you're definitely out. The good news: you're close enough that if you play well enough down the stretch, you can punch your ticket.
Bottom of the Bubble
Duquesne (Atlantic 10, 9-3, 17-8)
Clemson (Atlantic Coast, 7-6, 18-9)
Baylor (Big XII, 6-6, 17-9)
Colorado (Big XII, 5-7, 16-11)
Oklahoma State (Big XII, 4-8, 16-10)
Michigan (Big Ten, 7-8, 17-11)
Penn State (Big Tenn, 7-8, 14-12)
Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial, 12-4, 21-8)
Southern Miss (Conference USA, 9-4, 20-6)
Butler (Horizon, 12-5, 20-9)
Wichita State (Missouri Valley, 13-3, 22-6)
Washington State (Pacific-10, 7-8, 17-10)
California (Pacific-10, 7-8, 14-13)
Alabama (Southeastern, 10-2, 18-8)
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 wins 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.