NCAA Tournament 2017: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Week 12
It's possible that no bubble team has ever had a better week than the one Marquette just had, knocking off No. 1 Villanova three days after a road win over No. 7 Creighton.
Meanwhile, Michigan State's dreams of dancing took a major hit with a pair of losses to Indiana and Purdue, while the team that handed the Spartans their two best wins of the season (Minnesota) extended its losing streak to four games.
While everyone else obsesses over four of the top six teams in the AP Top 25 poll suffering losses in the span of 24 hours, we're more interested in what the teams on the bubble have been doing. Which are playing their way into the NCAA tournament field, and which are seemingly dedicated to playing in the NIT?
Using Monday night's projected bracket as a loose guide for who is and isn't on the bubble, these are the up-in-the-air teams that have moved up or down the most since our last bubble stock watch Jan. 17.
Be sure to note this isn't meant to cover every single team on the bubble. For instance, California is smack-dab on the bubble, but the Golden Bears aren't worth mentioning in this stock watch when all they have done since the last update is lose to 18-2 Oregon and beat 4-16 Oregon State.
We're only looking for the teams that have moved the needle with their recent results.
Stock Up: Marquette Golden Eagles
Computer Resume: 14-6, RPI: 39, KP: 32, SOS: 41
Recent Games: W 102-94 at Creighton; W 74-72 vs. Villanova
Position in Monday's Bracket: No. 9 Seed
Just a few days ago, Marquette's resume epitomized the bubble as we know it. The Golden Eagles had a couple of decent wins over Georgia and Seton Hall, but they had let a few too many opportunities slip away, resulting in six losses. It was a nondescript situation where one good win could push them comfortably into the field, but one bad loss could temporarily remove them from the bubble conversation altogether.
Marquette chose door No. 1, and did so twice, knocking off both Creighton and Villanova in the span of three days.
Seven Golden Eagles scored in double figures in the road win over Creighton, as they shot 50 percent from three-point range and 66.7 percent from inside the arc. Were it not for the 14 turnovers, it would have been one of the most efficient offensive performances by any team this season. But that's nothing new, as Marquette has quietly had one of the best offenses this year, ranking fifth in the nation in effective field-goal percentage.
The Golden Eagles weren't nearly as lethal in the win over No. 1 Villanova—thanks in large part to starting point guard Markus Howard playing seven minutes without recording any stats other than a missed shot, two turnovers and five fouls. But just a few weeks after the Wildcats shot 14-of-23 from downtown against them, the Golden Eagles were fortunate enough to catch Villanova on one of its off nights (6-of-34).
Regardless of how the wins came, they were massive. Marquette is now 5-3 in the Big East and has already played the majority of the tough games in that schedule. Even if the Golden Eagles were to get swept by Xavier and lose home games to Butler and Creighton, winning the other conference games would put them at 11-7 and easily in the NCAA tournament.
Stock Down: Michigan State Spartans
Computer Resume: 12-9, RPI: 53, KP: 53, SOS: 7
Recent Games: L 75-82 at Indiana; L 73-84 vs. Purdue
Position in Monday's Bracket: No. 9 Seed
It's a little early in the season to play the blind resume game, but put a name like La Salle or New Mexico at the top of Michigan State's profile and see if anyone even entertains the idea that it might be worthy of a trip to the NCAA tournament.
After losing three in a row and four of the last five, the Spartans have fallen to 12-9 overall with a mediocre 4-4 record in Big Ten play. Their best nonconference wins came against Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast—neither of which seems likely to get an at-large bid. Their best conference wins have come against Minnesota and Northwestern—neither of which anyone is buying as a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four.
Factor in the home loss to Northeastern, and we're talking about the eighth-best resume in a conference that may only end up with six bids.
The only reason the RPI and KenPom.com ranks are as decent as they are is because of the early-season losses to Arizona, Baylor, Duke and Kentucky. But in order for close losses against quality opponents to have any value, you have to occasionally beat a quality opponent, too.
The Spartans still play road games against Maryland and Purdue and get Wisconsin at home. If they were to lose those three while winning every other remaining game, it would put them at 19-12 overall heading into the Big Ten tournament, praying the season sweep over Minnesota (RPI: 18) still holds as much value on Selection Sunday as it does today.
It seems like everyone is freaking out over trying to figure out whether Duke can turn things around in time to contend for a title, but it's beyond time to start wondering whether Michigan State will even make the tournament this year.
Stock Up: Tennessee Volunteers
Computer Resume: 11-9, RPI: 52, KP: 42, SOS: 5
Recent Games: W 91-74 vs. Mississippi State; W 82-80 vs. Kentucky
Position in Monday's Bracket: On the Horizon
Despite their nine losses, I had the Tennessee Volunteers listed as one of the teams "On the Horizon" in Monday night's projected bracket, because not one of the nine losses was bad. Maybe they should have won the home opener against Chattanooga or the road game against Ole Miss, but all nine losses came against the RPI top 65, with seven of them coming against the RPI top 30.
In order for Tennessee to remain in the conversation, though, it had to do one big thing: win the home game against Kentucky.
When your best wins of the season come against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech, quality losses only go so far. But beating the Wildcats brought Tennessee's at-large dreams back from the dead in a hurry.
For all the commotion about Kentucky's freshman phenoms, Tennessee had a pair of first-year guys go nuts against the Wildcats. Grant Williams went for 13 points with six rebounds, six assists, four blocks, three steals and no turnovers. Lamonte Turner came off the bench for 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in the marquee two-point win.
There's a lot of work left to be done, though. The win maybe bumps Tennessee into "First Five Out" territory. But the Volunteers already have a lot of losses and still play road games against Kentucky and South Carolina, leaving their margin for error at slim to none.
Their odds of dancing aren't great, but they're a heck of a lot better than they were before the win over Kentucky.
Stock Down: Clemson Tigers
Computer Resume: 11-8, RPI: 50, KP: 35, SOS: 17
Recent Games: L 60-92 at Louisville; L 81-82 vs. Virginia Tech
Position in Monday's Bracket: No. 10 Seed
The Clemson Tigers entered January on a nine-game winning streak, including quality wins at South Carolina, at Wake Forest and vs. UNC-Wilmington. They also beat Georgia in the season opener. Thanks to those wins, the Tigers entered play Wednesday as one of just 17 teams in the country with at least four RPI top-50 wins—and the other 16 are all comfortably inside the projected NCAA tournament field.
But those other 16 teams aren't currently mired in a six-game losing streak like Clemson is.
The Tigers are 1-6 in the ACC, tied for last place with Pittsburgh. Those two square off Saturday in what may as well be an elimination game. Clemson still plays Florida State twice and plays Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech on the road. Even with a win at Pittsburgh on Saturday, getting to 8-10 in ACC play is going to be an uphill battle. Losing to the Panthers would make that journey all but impossible.
As a stand-alone metric, conference record doesn't matter. With the proper nonconference schedule and the right wins in ACC play, a 7-11 team could make the tournament. Conversely, a team like Miami, Syracuse, Georgia Tech or NC State that had a dreadful nonconference schedule could be left out with a 9-9 conference record if those nine wins don't come against the right teams.
But in Clemson's case, 8-10 seems like the bare minimum for inclusion, which means no worse than 7-4 the rest of the way. The resume is still good enough to fall on the right side of the bubble today, but it wouldn't take much for that bubble to pop.
Stock Up: Kansas State Wildcats
Computer Resume: 15-5, RPI: 43, KP: 27, SOS: 73
Recent Games: W 96-88 at Oklahoma State; W 79-75 vs. West Virginia; L 65-70 at Iowa State
Position in Monday's Bracket: No. 9 Seed
Like so many others on the bubble, Kansas State entered last Wednesday without any great wins or bad losses.
The Wildcats had a 13-4 record, but they were 0-4 against the RPI top 100. However, because three of the four losses came by a one-possession margin, while 12 of the 13 wins came by a double-digit margin, they were in great shape in the margin-of-victory rankings and got a lot of respect from the AP voters. They just needed a quality win or two to get RPI working in their favor.
They did just that with a road win over Oklahoma State and a home win over West Virginia.
Despite entering the week committing turnovers more frequently than the national average—they're still slightly worse than average at 19 percent—the Wildcats were plus-seven in turnover margin in each of the wins against two of the better turnover-forcing defenses in the country.
More importantly, they dominated the battle for two-point buckets. Kansas State shot 51-of-88 (58 percent) from inside the arc while limiting Oklahoma State and West Virginia to 31-of-74 (41.9 percent).
The Wildcats weren't quite able to get the trifecta at Iowa State on Tuesday night—despite battling back from a 20-point deficit to take the lead in the final five minutes—but two out of three was a good stretch for a team in desperate need of top-100 wins.
Kansas State has a nonconference SOS rank of 263 and didn't beat anyone better than Colorado State before Big 12 play began. As a result, the Wildcats might need to get to 10-8 in conference play to have a strong enough resume. KenPom.com projects them to go 9-9 but also lists them as the favorites to win six of the remaining 10 games, which would get them to 10-8. Should be a photo finish.
Stock Down: TCU Horned Frogs
Computer Resume: 14-6, RPI: 37, KP: 36, SOS: 33
Recent Games: L 69-75 at Texas Tech; L 53-62 vs. Baylor; L 76-89 at Oklahoma State
Position in Monday's Bracket: No. 8 Seed
Somehow, TCU's weak nonconference schedule turned into its biggest strength. Wins over Illinois State (RPI: 30), Arkansas State (RPI: 78), Texas Southern (RPI: 97) and even Jacksonville State (RPI: 117) are more valuable than anyone could have guessed. Even the lone loss to SMU is growing more forgivable by the day, as the Mustangs entered Wednesday as winners in 13 of their last 14 games.
But the Horned Frogs have already racked up an uncomfortable quantity of losses in Big 12 play.
The loss at West Virginia from a few weeks ago is no big deal. Baylor and Kansas have both lost there, and no one expected TCU to pull off that upset. And, in a vacuum, TCU's home losses to Baylor and Kansas weren't that bad, either. In fact, the Horned Frogs were right there in both games, leading the Bears with five minutes remaining and never letting the Jayhawks open up a double-digit lead.
However, if you're going to lose those games at home, you need to make up for them with road wins against the bottom half of the league. TCU failed to do that this past week, losing at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to drop to 3-5 in Big 12 play.
Maybe the Horned Frogs can pull a fast one on the road against Baylor, Kansas or Iowa State, but let's presume they don't. That gives them eight conference losses without accounting for toss-up games versus West Virginia, versus Oklahoma State and both battles with Kansas State.
Though the nonconference resume is more impressive than expected, if they enter Selection Sunday with nothing better than a home win over Illinois State, 9-9 in the Big 12 isn't going to cut it. Save for those three aforementioned road games, TCU almost needs to win out from here in order to remain in the field.
Stock Up: North Carolina State Wolfpack
Computer Resume: 14-7, RPI: 60, KP: 75, SOS: 53
Recent Games: L 88-93 vs. Wake Forest; W 84-82 at Duke
Position in Monday's Bracket: First Five Out
It's kind of wild how much of a difference one possession can make for a team's season.
If Jayson Tatum had come down and hit the game-winning three-pointer for Duke on Monday night, North Carolina State's at-large hopes would have been dead as a doornail. The Wolfpack entered the game with losses to Miami (RPI: 82), Georgia Tech (RPI: 94) and Boston College (RPI: 182) and only a few pseudo-quality wins (vs. Virginia Tech and vs. Pittsburgh). A loss to Duke would've left them at 13-8 overall and four games below .500 in the ACC.
Instead, Tatum dribbled the ball off his own foot and gave North Carolina State one of the 10 best true road wins of the year.
Of course, putting it all on Tatum would be a disservice to NC State's three-headed assault on Cameron Indoor Stadium. Dennis Smith Jr. exploded for 32 points and six assists, Abdul-Malik Abu had 19 points and nine boards, and Ted Kapita came out of nowhere—he had two points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of action over the previous six games—for 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Even with Omer Yurtseven a complete non-factor and Terry Henderson struggling from the field, the Wolfpack's star power was enough to shock the Blue Devils. It was the type of performance we expected to see a lot of this season, as NC State has eight guys who are probably going to play pro ball one day.
If this win over Duke was the catalyst to finally wake this sleeping giant, it could be a fun two-month ride in Raleigh.
Stock Down: Georgia Bulldogs
Computer Resume: 12-8, RPI: 48, KP: 41, SOS: 32
Recent Games: L 62-63 at Texas A&M; L 60-80 vs. Alabama
Position in Monday's Bracket: First Five Out
For most of the season, Georgia preyed on middling teams. Sure, the Bulldogs were 0-5 against the RPI top 50 and had a bad loss to Oakland, but through their first 18 games, they were 7-0 against teams in the RPI 51-125 range. It was the perfect formula for impressing no one yet somehow producing a computer profile worthy of a bid.
But that 7-0 record dropped to 7-2 this week against Texas A&M (RPI: 77) and Alabama (RPI: 92).
Complain all you want about Georgia getting screwed over by the timekeeper in the loss to Texas A&M, but the Bulldogs deserve a lot of blame for blowing what was a 13-point lead by shooting 1-of-7 from the field over the final 10:29. And it's highly unlikely the selection committee will even take that ending into consideration, since there's no guarantee Georgia would have won the game anyway.
The more disturbing result was the home loss to Alabama in which head coach Mark Fox got ejected in the first half and the Crimson Tide led by double digits for the entire second half. Yante Maten had a solid performance with 20 points, three blocks and three steals, but he was the only Bulldog to show up for a home game they needed to win.
The Dawgs now have serious work to do. They were among our First Five Out before the loss to Alabama. At this point, they probably need to win two of their four remaining games against Kentucky (twice), Florida and South Carolina.
Stock Up: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Computer Resume: 12-8, RPI: 45, KP: 28, SOS: 19
Recent Games: L 88-96 vs. Kansas State; W 83-64 at Texas Tech; W 89-76 vs. TCU
Position in Monday's Bracket: On the Horizon
Wins over TCU and Texas Tech pale in comparison to the quality wins picked up by the other four "Stock Up" teams on this list. For Oklahoma State, though, they were a long-overdue step in the right direction.
The Cowboys fared well in nonconference play, winning at Wichita State by a 17-point margin and beating Connecticut and Georgetown on a neutral floor. Granted, not one of those wins came against a team projected to make the tournament, but taken together with a road win over Tulsa, they look all right. At any rate, their only nonconference losses came against Maryland and North Carolina, which is no harm done.
But they took all that good momentum and flushed it down the toilet by starting 0-6 in Big 12 play, including losing at Texas and dropping home games to Iowa State and Kansas State. The computer profile is still strong—partially because they were competitive in road losses to Baylor and Kansas—but that start meant they would need to win nine of their final 12 conference games just to get to .500.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Oklahoma State took two small steps this past week. The Cowboys still host Baylor and Kansas and need to play at West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State, so going 7-3 the rest of the way will be quite the challenge.
At least Jawun Evans finally snapped out of his funk in the win over TCU, finishing with 27 points and eight assists. If he continues playing well alongside Jeffrey Carroll and Phil Forte, the Cowboys still have a chance to dance.
Stock Down: Houston Cougars
Computer Resume: 14-7, RPI: 73, KP: 52, SOS: 79
Recent Games: L 67-70 vs. Memphis; L 64-85 at SMU; W 65-51 vs. Tulane
Position in Monday's Bracket: Not Mentioned
Back in late December, Houston had one of those "no great wins; no terrible losses" resumes that didn't necessarily belong in the projected field but that we all had somewhere on our tournament radar.
When the Cougars lost their nonconference finale at home against Harvard, though, their journey to an at-large bid went from unlikely to borderline inconceivable. Their only chances for quality wins in AAC play were Cincinnati and SMU, and a loss to any other team in the conference would fall somewhere between "slightly problematic" and "downright atrocious" on the bad-loss scale.
As a result, anything short of 15-3 in the AAC wasn't going to be good enough, and even 16-2 might be necessary.
Getting out to a 3-0 start in conference play was nice. Losing four of the next five was not.
Houston's at-large hopes probably vanished for good when it lost at UCF two Saturdays ago. But just to make sure it didn't ever re-enter the bubble conversation, Houston also lost to Memphis and SMU in the past week.
The 14-7 record will keep us glancing at the resume, but it's beyond difficult to envision a scenario where the Cougars make it into the projected field.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.