NCAA Tournament Teams from Last Year That Are Already 'On the Bubble' for 2017
Michigan State has been in every single NCAA tournament since Titanic was released in December 1997, but the Spartans are one of the many teams from the 2016 NCAA tournament that are definitively on the bubble for Selection Sunday 2017.
It might seem like the same teams are in the NCAA tournament every year, but that isn't the case. In fact, since the field expanded to 68 teams in 2011, there have consistently been 16-19 quality tournament teams* that don't dance the following season.
Of last year's 46 quality tournament teams, there are already eight that have slim to no chance of making the 2017 NCAA tournament, and there are 11 others that are looking all sorts of bubbly.
It's only December, so there's plenty of time left for these teams to turn things around and secure a spot in the field. Based on what they have done in nonconference play and how their remaining schedules look, though, their prospects for the NCAA tournament fall somewhere between iffy and improbable.
*Quality tournament teams defined as teams that earn a No. 11 seed or better, or otherwise get into the tournament as an at-large or a major-conference champion. There were an average of 47.6 such teams from 2011-15 with 36.1 percent of them failing to reach the tournament the following March.
Computer data and records on the following slides current through the start of play on Tuesday, Dec. 20.
More than half of last year's quality tournament teams (27 of 46) are safely in the field at the moment. That isn't to say we can lock up their bid and throw away the key. There are still nearly three months of hoops left to be played. But if the season did end today, their spot in the field wouldn't be in any jeopardy.
There are also 11 teams that we'll be discussing for the rest of this slideshow that are quite on the bubble.
But that leaves eight teams so far gone from the tournament picture that it would be offensive to quality teams to even suggest these ones are currently on the bubble:
Connecticut Huskies (5-5): They're showing signs of life in December, beating Syracuse, blowing out North Florida and nearly winning at Ohio State. But Connecticut was so bad in November that it's going to take a Herculean effort in AAC play to go dancing without an auto bid.
Iowa Hawkeyes (6-5): Like the Huskies, the Hawkeyes appear to have turned a corner, soundly beating both Iowa State and Northern Iowa in the past two weeks. However, you don't start 3-5 with a home loss to Nebraska Omaha and suddenly get projected for the NCAA tournament by finally beating a couple of KenPom Top 275 teams. There's much work to be done for Peter Jok and company.
Northern Iowa Panthers (5-5): Though they scored a neutral-court win over Oklahoma, the Panthers would almost need to beat North Carolina on Wednesday and go at least 17-1 in Missouri Valley play to really get into the at-large conversation. Early losses to George Mason, Wyoming and Iowa have already put them in quite the hole.
Oregon State Beavers (3-9): The Beavers have yet to beat a KenPom Top 300 team and have lost their last four against Charlotte, Savannah State, Long Beach State and Portland. Thanks in large part to Oregon State's horrendous play, the bottom third of the Pac-12 is unequivocally the worst basement among the major conferences.
Saint Joseph's Hawks (5-5): The Hawks lost all three of last year's leading scorers and have been without fourth-leading scorer James Demery due to a foot injury. Thus, their struggles are none too surprising. Doesn't change the fact they're nowhere near the bubble, though.
Texas Longhorns (5-5): Average on defense and terrible on offense, Texas might be the worst shooting major-conference team in the country. It's hard to fathom, but the Longhorns could finish in dead last in the Big 12.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane (5-4): The only one of the bunch with fewer than five losses, but let's not pretend that means they're in any better shape than the rest. Tulsa lost its home opener to Jacksonville State and is currently 1-3 against the KenPom Top 200.
Vanderbilt Commodores (6-5): Of these eight teams, this is the one I could see rallying for a bid. The Commodores are 6-5, but they have decent wins over Chattanooga, Belmont and Tennessee State and were competitive in neutral-court losses to Butler and Minnesota. But they had better learn how to make two-pointers (45.5 percent on the season) if they expect to turn things around.
California Golden Bears
Computer Profile: 93 RPI, 201 SOS, 47 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Princeton (neutral court)
Bad Losses: vs. San Diego State (neutral court)
As we start out with a pair of Pac-12 teams and have a total of three on this list, it (Golden) bears mentioning that this conference as a whole is in nowhere near the same condition it was last year.
In 2016, this league got No. 1, 3, 4 and 6 seeds. As things currently stand, that's roughly where UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and USC would be, respectively. But it also got a No. 7 and two No. 8 seeds largely because of how strong its collective RPI was at the start of January.
Even though Colorado, Oregon State and USC were painfully average in conference play, the Pac-12 was always going to send at least six teams to last year's tournament. Of the 12 teams, 11 finished with an RPI better than 100, as every team in the league had nonconference RPI and overall SOS ranks of 102 or better.
This year, the Pac-12's nonconference situation is a 12-car pileup. UCLA is the only team with more than two RPI Top 100 wins. Outside the top four teams, the Pac-12 is a combined 4-21 against the RPI Top 100 with 14 losses to teams worse than that—eight of which come courtesy of Oregon State, who has an almost incomprehensible RPI rank of 345.
The league has just one big opportunity remaining to try to correct some of those errors: Wednesday night's home game for California against Virginia.
Individually, the Golden Bears badly need this game, too. Princeton is nowhere near as good as we thought it would be, and its resume isn't going to get any better in the Ivy League. When a neutral-court victory over that team is your best win of the season, 9-2 just isn't cutting it.
But a win over the Cavaliers would give California's resume a major boost. Suddenly, the loss to San Diego State—played without Jabari Bird and with Ivan Rabb and Grant Mullins both in their first game back from injury—doesn't look so bad. Nor does the neutral-court loss to Seton Hall feel like a major missed opportunity.
Lose to Virginia, though, and the Golden Bears are a 9-3 team with one borderline good win, one loss to a team that has not yet beaten another KenPom Top 250 team this season and a conference schedule where they only play UCLA and USC once each, both on the road. At that point, even a 10-8 record and a fifth- or sixth-place finish in the Pac-12 likely wouldn't be enough for a bid.
Computer Profile: 77 RPI, 125 SOS, 57 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Xavier, vs. Texas (neutral court)
Bad Losses: vs. Colorado State, at BYU
Keeping in mind the aforementioned woes for the Pac-12, Colorado's situation isn't much better than California's. The Buffaloes do have a great home win over Xavier and a decent neutral-court win over Texas, but they also have more and worse losses than the Golden Bears.
In-state rivalry or not, losing at home to Colorado State is a bad look that got even uglier when the Rams lost a home game to Loyola Marymount Monday night. They are projected to go 8-10 in Mountain West play, which would only make that loss grow worse as the season progresses.
Even losing at BYU isn't nearly the forgivable transgression it usually is, but bad things are going to happen when Wesley Gordon and Josh Fortune combine to score three points in 48 minutes of action.
Heck, Colorado also got a bit of a scare from Fort Hays State last weekend, only emerging with the 10-point home win over the D-II school by outscoring the Tigers 31-9 from the free-throw line.
Despite getting the second-best win of any team in this conference—though a very distant second-best behind UCLA's road win over Kentucky, which might be the best win any team gets all season—there's an uphill battle ahead of the Buffaloes. Like California, they only get UCLA and USC once each, but at least they face those teams at home. Colorado also only plays one game against Arizona on the road.
As a result of that unbalanced schedule, the Buffaloes will need a better conference record than most major-conference teams do in order to dance. Even if they go 7-0 in their games against Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State, that portion of the season is going to hurt their computer profile.
They'll need to win all of those games and go at least 5-6 in their remaining 11 games against the rest of the Pac-12. Anything short of 12-6 would likely put their postseason ceiling at the NIT.
Michigan State Spartans
Computer Profile: 111 RPI, 69 SOS, 55 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Wichita State (neutral court)
Bad Losses: vs. Northeastern
A few days ago, Michigan State would have been in the safe zone. The Spartans missed out on four opportunities against Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke, but no one was going to fault a young team for losing those games away from home.
Then they lost at home to Northeastern, and now we're legitimately concerned about this team's future.
Michigan State was in a similar situation two years ago, though. They entered Big Ten play with a 9-4 record, missing on big chances against Duke, Kansas and Notre Dame before losing a home game to Texas Southern. Its best nonconference win that season was a neutral-court game against Marquette, which wasn't saying much.
But that was a veteran team, led in minutes played by two seniors and three juniors that was able to rebound for a 12-6 conference record and a run to the Big Ten Championship Game to earn a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Can this young team make that type of turnaround, especially with Miles Bridges still sidelined by an ankle injury?
Even before the loss to Northeastern, the Spartans weren't looking great. They were pushed to the limit at home by Florida Gulf Coast, Oral Roberts and Tennessee Tech. They also struggled with St. John's in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
KenPom is currently projecting Michigan State to go 8-10 in conference play. We trust in Tom Izzo enough to believe it won't be quite that bad—particularly with only one game each against Indiana and Wisconsin—but another 12-6 season might be asking too much, even if they get Bridges, Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter back at full health as soon as possible.
wComputer Profile: 183 RPI, 204 SOS, 52 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Clemson (neutral court)
Bad Losses: vs. Northern Iowa (neutral court), vs. Memphis
It's still a little early in the season to be stressing too much about RPI and SOS numbers, but, man, those are gross.
(Wait until you see Utah's, though.)
After losing Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler, Dinjiyl Walker and Akolda Manyang, it's no huge surprise that Oklahoma is struggling a bit. Jordan Woodard is a great lead guard, but the supporting cast is too inexperienced.
That said, Christian James has been great as a sophomore, shooting 55.6 percent from three-point range and ranking second on the team in scoring. Rashard Odomes has also stepped up considerably and already has nearly three times as many points as he scored last year. Kristian Doolittle and Kameron McGusty are making moderately impressive contributions as freshmen.
But it has been just barely not enough.
The above losses to Memphis and Northern Iowa both required overtime and were games that the Sooners led almost the entire way. The loss to Wichita State was by a three-point margin. Outside of the 20-point loss to Wisconsin, it has been a lot of "close but no cigar."
The end result, though, is a resume with four losses and only one win over a KenPom Top 225 team. That has "Win at least 11 Big 12 games or else" written all over it, and even that might only be enough for a spot in the First Four.
Computer Profile: 25 RPI, 41 SOS, 58 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Marquette (neutral court), at Maryland
Bad Losses: vs. Duquesne (neutral court)
There are several ACC teams on the bubble. We have seven teams (Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Miami, Florida State and Notre Dame) safely in for now. But if we can agree the ACC is likely a 10-bid league with the potential for 11, that leaves six other teams battling for either three or four spots.
Pittsburgh is one of those teams, and if it ends up on the wrong side of the bubble, it can likely thank its hideous nonconference loss.
Excluding Boston College and Georgia Tech, the entire ACC has but one loss to a team outside the KenPom Top 90—Pittsburgh's neutral-court loss to No. 204 Duquesne.
The Panthers have had their share of poor shooting performances in recent years—most infamously the 0-of-11 three-point outing in a loss to Georgia Tech last March that darn near cost them a spot in the NCAA tournament—but going just 3-of-22 against the Dukes was a brutal low point for this year's team.
It was more than just the long ball, though, because they were a combined 9-of-35 from downtown in the wins over Marquette and Maryland. The real problem is that starting point forward Jamel Artis was suspended for the game for an undisclosed reason.
Artis is averaging 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He and Michael Young are clearly the two most important players on this team in one order or the other.
But do we treat suspensions the same way as an injury and discount this loss because Artis wasn't playing, or is this a full-value loss to a team that may well finish in dead last in a not-great Atlantic 10?
What we do know is the Panthers drew the short straw of the unbalanced ACC schedule and will play two games each against Louisville, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia while also playing their one game against Duke on the road. That is a rough 50 percent of a conference slate that they're entering smack dab on the bubble.
Computer Profile: 31 RPI, 48 SOS, 50 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Rhode Island
Bad Losses: None
The bubble is a disappointment for most of these teams, but it is more than I thought possible for the Friars back when I projected them to finish eighth in the Big East this year.
But, come on, did anyone seriously have Emmitt Holt penciled in for 13.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his return to D-I basketball?
Ed Cooley is no stranger to giving guys second chances and watching them thrive. Rodney Bullock was suspended for the entire 2013-14 season after being accused of sexual assault. He then missed the entire 2014-15 season due to injury. But when he finally made his debut, he was Providence's third-best player last season and has been its star this year, averaging 20.1 points and 7.0 rebounds as the replacement for Ben Bentil.
Holt also had some legal baggage, as he was the freshman who accidentally hit teammate Devin Davis with a car two years ago at Indiana before posting lackluster numbers that season. After his second alcohol-related citation the following August, Holt was dismissed from the program. He went the JUCO route for one year, putting up modest numbers (11.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG) at Indian Hills before committing to Providence.
Despite all that, this is one of the weaker 9-2 records in the country. They only have one win away from home in a hideous neutral-court game against Memphis in which neither team could buy a bucket. Their only quality win was a home game against Rhode Island, and even that one doesn't feel as strong as it once did.
It's a decent start, but Providence will need to do a significant amount of damage in Big East play in order to pick up a bid. 10-8 might do the trick, considering the depth of talent in that league, but might want to make it 11-7, just in case.
Computer Profile: 158 RPI, 174 SOS, 29 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Monmouth
Bad Losses: vs. Connecticut (neutral court)
Don't let the KenPom ranking or Monday night's 105-57 win over Eastern Michigan trick you into believing the Orange are in great shape for the NCAA tournament. They have yet to beat a single major-conference opponent, nor have they won a single game away from home.
In addition to a dearth of quality wins, Syracuse has the aforementioned bad loss to Connecticut and a home loss to Georgetown—and the jury is still out on whether that's an acceptable loss or an ugly one.
It's natural to want to believe Syracuse is good enough for the tournament, because it usually is. But if you put "Nebraska" at the top of this resume instead of "Syracuse," not a single person outside of the Cornhusker State would believe it to be worthy of a bid.
But the Orange have a plethora of opportunities before them in ACC play.
They do have two games each against Boston College and Georgia Tech that should result in four wins that do nothing for their resume. They'll likely need to go at least 7-7 in the other 14 games, which includes two games against Louisville, home games against Duke, Virginia, Miami and Florida State and road games against North Carolina, Notre Dame, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Whatever the opposite of a cakewalk is (a pie run?) that's what Syracuse will need to excel against for the next couple of months.
When Andrew White III and Frank Howard are playing well, the Orange have a chance against anyone. In the seven wins, White is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 45.3 percent from three-point range while Howard is averaging 9.1 assists per game and a 4.3 assists-to-turnover ratio. In the four losses, though, White's numbers are 12.5 and 30.3 and Howard's are 3.0 and 1.2, respectively.
Computer Profile: 34 RPI, 8 SOS, 85 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. West Virginia (neutral court), vs. Florida State (neutral court)
Bad Losses: vs. New Hampshire, vs. George Washington, at Massachusetts
What is the acceptable ratio of good wins to bad losses?
That's the one question we try to figure out every single year, as there's always some bubble team with at least a handful of each. (Shout out: 2015-16 Clemson, 2014-15 Oklahoma State, 2013-14 Nebraska and 2012-13 Temple.)
That's right. The Owls were in a similar boat four years ago when they picked up nonconference wins away from home against Syracuse and Villanova, but they had ugly home losses to Canisius, St. Bonaventure and Duquesne that necessitated a seven-game winning streak at the end of the regular season to get into the dance.
They've more or less matched that resume already with great wins over WVU and FSU and a trio of not-so-great losses.
The kicker in 2012-13 was that they were able to pick up several quality wins in conference (then with the Atlantic 10) while finishing the season with just the three bad losses. If the Owls can win their home games against Cincinnati and SMU while avoiding any more eyesores against the likes of East Carolina, Tulane and South Florida, they'll probably be in good shape for the tournament.
However, if they don't win at least 15 AAC games, it means they either whiffed on their big chances or they picked up some more bad losses.
If they go 0-4 against Cincinnati and SMU but win every other conference game, would 23-8 with two great nonconference wins and three bad losses be enough? What about 22-9 with a road loss to a team like Houston, Memphis, Connecticut or UCF factored in?
That's the problem in the AAC this year. There are a lot of potential losses to decent teams, but few opportunities for quality wins. It's a lot like BYU's situation in the West Coast Conference, needing wins over Gonzaga and Saint Mary's to improve its resume while also making sure not to get upset by anyone else at any point in the next two months.
Best of luck to the young Owls in that tightrope walk.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Computer Profile: 74 RPI, 255 SOS, 30 KenPom
Quality Wins: None
Bad Losses: vs. Auburn (neutral court)
There are quite a few one-loss paper tigers who have not yet beaten anyone of value. Kansas State, Rutgers, TCU and Texas Tech are a combined 41-4 with a 1-4 record against the KenPom Top 100. Of the bunch, though, Texas Tech is the only one seeking a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament.
That nonconference resume isn't about to get any better for the Red Raiders, either, as their only remaining games come against Longwood and LSU. There's a real chance they'll enter Selection Sunday without a single game played against a RPI Top 100 team.
Fortunately, they'll have plenty of opportunities to bolster their resume in Big 12 play, but they'll actually need to win at least 10 of those games to even get into the at-large conversation.
They might be able to pull that off. The schedule has been garbage, but the Red Raiders have made mincemeat of most of it, getting eight of their 10 wins by a margin of at least 19 points. They're currently No. 1 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and are also leading the nation in percentage of shots blocked on offense.
But there's a fine line between putting up those numbers against the likes of Incarnate Word and Nicholls State and doing so against Big 12 opponents. We'll see how well those percentages hold up when they're facing Jo Lual-Acuil, Khadeem Lattin and the all-out physical assaults of Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Computer Profile: 199 RPI, 301 SOS, 65 KenPom
Quality Wins: None
Bad Losses: None
So much for the theory that Utah had learned its lesson from a few years ago.
Back in 2013-14, the Utes went 21-12 and were ranked 40th on KenPom, but they had one of the worst nonconference schedules in the entire country and were left out of the NCAA tournament because of it.
Over the next two seasons, they scheduled much more aggressively. They set up home-and-home series with San Diego State, Wichita State and BYU. They battled Kansas two years ago. They scheduled Duke last December and played in one of the more challenging early-season tournaments.
This year, though, their only noteworthy games were against Butler and Xavier, and they lost them both. Utah does still play in the Diamond Head Classic later this week, but their best-case scenario there is three wins over San Francisco (KenPom: 187), Illinois State (KenPom: 79) and San Diego State (KenPom: 69).
Getting that done would certainly help improve a resume that currently has no wins away from home and none against a team better than Utah Valley, but regardless of what happens in Hawaii, the Utes are going to have some of the worst nonconference RPI and SOS numbers among .500-or-better teams on Selection Sunday.
The good news is they're finally at full strength with transfers David Collette and Sedrick Barefield becoming eligible this past weekend. The bad news is they did absolutely nothing to help themselves out without those guys.
This means they'll need to do some serious work in Pac-12 play, which could be a challenge, as they only play one game each against Arizona, UCLA and USC—all three of which come in the first half of January.
Don't be surprised if Utah gets the South Carolina treatment this year. The Gamecocks were left out of the 2016 tournament despite a 24-8 overall record and an 11-7 record in the SEC.
Computer Profile: 27 RPI, 13 SOS, 56 KenPom
Quality Wins: vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. Princeton
Bad Losses: vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Illinois (neutral court)
It's fitting that VCU comes last alphabetically on this list, because it's the most confusing resume of the bunch.
Right now, the Rams have great RPI and SOS numbers. However, they close out nonconference play with no good, very bad games against Louisiana-Monroe and Howard. Also, several of their nonconference games are going to inevitably lose quite a bit of value over the course of the season.
We love Middle Tennessee, but if you think the Blue Raiders are going to remain at No. 7 in RPI for the entire season, think harder. Likewise, there's a near-zero percent chance UNC-Asheville remains an RPI Top 75 win for VCU after the Bulldogs have played 19-21 games against Big South teams. Even VCU's loss to Illinois is probably going to get worse, as the Illini are generously ranked at No. 42 in RPI.
Take a step back from the computer profile and just look at what VCU has done, though, and we find a team with a few good wins over potential No. 12-13 seeds and a pair of losses against Illinois and Georgia Tech, who might win a combined total of 10 conference games this season.
Long story short, don't expect the Rams' nonconference profile to look this pretty in three months.
They should be one of the best teams in the A-10, but how much value does that distinction hold this year? The six best teams in that conference (VCU, Dayton, Rhode Island, Davidson, St. Bonaventure and La Salle) hold a combined record of 1-13 against the KenPom Top 55 with eight other losses against decidedly less impressive foes.
Once the nonconference resume comes back to earth, anything less than a 14-4 conference record might not be enough for VCU to dance for a seventh consecutive year.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.