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Bubble Watch 1/19/23

Projecting the NCAA Basketball Tournament field of 68

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Don’t look now but Texas A&M looks to be one of the more interesting bubble cases again in 2023 after a historic snub in 2022. After a horrendous start in non-Conference play, (8-5 vs. the #214 SOS), an at large bid seemed like a pipe dream. However, a red hot, 5-0 start has the Aggies right back on the bubble. Over the next eight weeks, we will track the bubble around the country and project where the Aggies stand in relation to their bubble competition.

68 spots in the tournament. We will first count the “one-bid leagues”. Essentially no matter what, each of these leagues will be one bid conferences and there is NO chance any team can “steal” an at large. Let’s count up those bids to see how many are left for the bubble to grab.

Locked One-bid leagues

Conference (Projected Champ, Current Net)
1. Atlantic Sun – (Liberty, 68) – if they can come close to winning out this may be worth revisiting.
2. Big Sky (Montana State, 116)
3. Big South (Longwood, 135)
4. Big West – UCSB (89) – don’t be fooled by only 3 losses on the record, this is the #334 SOS and one of the losses is to 3-14 Northern Arizona.
5. America East (UMass- Lowell, 143)
6. Horizon (Youngstown State, 105)
7. Ivy – Cornell (85) – If they win out in the regular season may be worth revisiting.
8. MAAC – Iona (73) – Maybe a .01% chance?
9. MEAC (NC Central, 199)
10. Northeast (Farleigh Dickinson, 275)
11. Ohio Valley (SIUE, 120)
12. Patriot (Colgate, 118)
13. Southland (Texas A&M – CC, 203)
14. Southern (UNC Greensboro, 123)
15. Sun Belt – Marshall (70) only 4 losses but they are to Queens, UNCG, James Madison, Georgia Southern with no good wins to balance it out
16. SWAC (Southern, 196)
17. WAC - Sam Houston State (47) – a really inflated NET ranking for now but that will likely drop in league play.

And just like that we are down to 15 conferences battling for 51 spots.

Likely one-bid leagues

Let’s now count conferences that are LIKELY one bid leagues. For each of these conferences, their most likely tournament team is not in a position for an at large YET, however could potentially go on a run, and then lose in the conference tournament. They will be teams we will track after the #68 Bubble Burst Line.

18. A10 – Dayton (64) Enough talent on the roster to go on a run in league play and be a threat.
19. MVC – Bradley (69) – It is really hard to see either Bradley or Drake securing an at large at this point but I guess its possible.
20. Summit – Oral Roberts (63) – This is a terrible conference outside of Oral Roberts, they will almost certainly need the auto bid, but an outside chance for the at large

For the other 12 conferences, they each have a team that as of right now would make the field and get an at large if necessary. Their conference leader (in NET, for now) will be counted as their auto bid and will be bolded. Eight leagues are almost certainly multi-bid no matter what (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East, MWC, Pac 12 and WCC, although the WCC likely is just a two-bid league and I guess its theoretically possible that St. Mary’s falls off the face of the earth and WCC could possibly be a one-bid league.

The last four conferences, as of right now have one team solidly IN – if they win their conference tournament as of right now, they represent likely one bid leagues, but these three will be the most closely watched bid stealer conferences in March (CAA – FAU, AAC – Houston, CUSA – FAU, MAC- Kent State)

Multi-bid conference/at-large seeds

So, what about the other 48 bids? Let the counting begin…

For now we wont count anyone amongst the “locks” – there are still so many games to play. But as we move into February, the first 10 or so spots will disappear off the bubble. I am not going to spend a lot of energy with a writeup on these near locks at this point.

Net ranking listed by each team name. Bold teams count as the auto bid placeholder.

1 seeds

21. Houston AAC auto bid (1, 18-1) – 18-1 with the lone loss to Alabama. UH will be a top seeded team.
22. Kansas Big 12 auto bid (6, 16-2) – 16-2 in a tough big 12 with quality wins galore
23. Purdue Big Ten auto bid (4, 17-1) – 17-1 with 7 quad 1 wins.
24. Alabama SEC auto bid (3, 16-2) - 16-2 with the #2 SOS.

2 seeds

25. UCLA Pac 12 auto bid (5, 16-2) 16-2 with their last loss in November to Baylor on a NC
26. Tennessee (2, 15-3) The first team on the list that has looked vulnerable at times. The UK loss may end up being an anchor or not so bad. The Colorado loss will never look better. The win over Kansas sure looks nice though.
27. Gonzaga WCC Auto bid (10, 15-3), losses to Texas, Baylor and Purdue but great wins against Xavier and Alabama are going to keep them in great shape all year.
28. Texas (11, 15-3) They may not have a head coach, but they do have wins over Kansas State, Gonzaga, TCU, Oklahoma and Creighton already. Unless they go off the rails they should be in good shape.

3 seeds

29. Kansas State (15, 16-2) The wildcats beat up on the #209 OOC SOS to start the year which may hold them back off the top 2 lines, but they continue to swell their 16-2 overall record and now wins over Kansas, Texas and Baylor.
30. Arizona (13, 15-3) – The 4-3 conference record is not a concern yet given their OOC wins against San Diego State, Creighton, Cincy, Indiana and Tennessee. But they need to start winning games and they have USC and UCLA on tap before heading on the road to Washington State who already beat them once. I don’t think they want to go into February on a 4-game losing streak.
31. Virginia ACC auto bid (14, 14-3) OOC wins over Baylor and Illinois and no bad losses. A 3 seed might be their ceiling with a weaker than normal ACC unless they end up boasting a gaudy record.
32. Xavier Big East auto bid (22, 15-4) – Took a bad loss to Depaul last night, prior to that they were winners of 11 straight including over UConn, Marquette, Creighton and West Virginia.

4 seeds

33. Iowa State (9, 14-3) They didn’t do much OOC other than take an L against Uconn and Iowa, but they did beat North Carolina and are off to a hot 5-1 start in a difficult Big 12.
34. UConn (7, 15-5)- You don’t usually see losers of 5 of 6 and a losing conference record this high, but most of their losses are forgivable and the early season wins over Alabama and Iowa State will carry a lot of weight.
35. Marquette (18, 15-5) – Wins over Baylor, Creighton and now Providence after last night. This is probably the first resume that feels like it may get bubbly if they start to stumble.
36. Baylor (16, 13-5) – The wins over UCLA and Gonzaga are going to continue to boost this resume even with the slow start to conference play.

5 seeds

37. Auburn (21, 15-3) – Auburn learned early in conference play that its tough to win on the road, and their loss to Georgia is an anchor to this profile that still only has 1 quad 1 win (against Arkansas).
38. TCU (29, 14-4) – TCU owns the first really bad loss to a top 17 team losing to Northwestern State at home. Outside of that game however they did beat Iowa and Providence OOC and have in conference wins over Kansas State and Baylor. How much will the #343 OOC SOS come back to haunt TCU? Probably not much if they keep themselves over .500 in the Big 12.
39. Illinois (23, 13-5) – Wins over UCLA and Texas OOC, and no really bad losses yet, the conference schedule gets a lot tougher now, so we will know soon how much danger Illinois is in.
40. Duke (26, 13-5) – OOC wins over Xavier, Ohio State and Iowa will be key for this resume, but a slow start to ACC play may have them in a bit of trouble if they can’t start stringing some conference wins together.

6 seeds

41. Miami (41, 15-3) – The first questionable NET ranking on the list is driven by no wins against the Quad 2. But they do have 5 quad 1 wins over Rutgers, Providence, UCF, NC State and Virginia. As long as they keep beating the teams they are supposed to (no more losses to the Georgia Tech’s of the world), Miami should reach lock status by late February.
42. Rutgers (17, 13-5) – their best win OOC is against a Wake Forest team that likely won’t make the tournament but starting conference play with wins over Purdue and Ohio State certainly shoot the Scarlet Knights up the pecking order.
43. Providence (38, 14-5) They didn’t do anything OOC (no wins against the top 250!!!) but did notch conference wins against Marquette and UConn to have them in pretty decent position heading into the meat of conference play.
44. San Diego State MWC auto bid (30, 13-4) Aztecs have successfully avoided bad losses vs. the #9 SOS but a neutral court win over Ohio State is their only Quad 1 victory so far, so its hard to move them up too much higher than this.

7 seeds

45. St. Mary’s (8, 15-4) The NET looks really out of place considering they have 1 quad 1 win (vs. San Diego State). They are for the most part winning the games they should and if they can keep doing that they should be in ok shape even if they go 0-3 vs. Gonzaga this year.
46. NC State (25, 15-4) Didn’t do much OOC outside of a win over Dayton. Solid start to conference play has them in decent shape with no bad losses.

(This is where the resumes start having some major blemishes)

47. Missouri (49, 14-4) – The Tigers have suddenly started to collect some L’s as the schedule has gotten tougher. Really needed the win over Arkansas to bounce back after losing 3 in a row. Thanks to their OOC record and wins over UCF and Illinois they are in good shape and have some margin for error in conference play. They will need to start taking more advantage of their quad 1 opportunities over the next 8 weeks though.
48. Arkansas (27, 12-6) – The hogs looked dominant OOC going 11-1 vs. the #23 OOC SOS, but they have really struggled so far in conference play starting out 1-5 dropping a few games that were certainly very winnable (LSU, Vandy, Mizzou). They really need to take advantage of a much softer part of the schedule coming up.

8 seeds

49. Michigan State (43, 12-6) The loss to Notre Dame (#182) brings this profile down quite a bit. They also haven’t done much with their opportunities in big games outside of wins vs. Kentucky and @ Wisconsin. Looks like Sparty may be hanging around the bubble well into February.
50. North Carolina (36, 13-6) – Our 1st 6 loss team on the list, but all are defensible A neutral court win over Ohio State is the only Quad 1 win (1-6).
51. Clemson (60, 15-4) – Clemson took a couple of bad losses OOC vs. South Carolina and Loyola Chicago, but they have flipped the script to start conference play at 7-1. Wins over Penn State, NC State, and Duke separate this profile from for example, Texas A&M, but as the season wears on, this may be a resume that gets a lot of comparison to the Aggies.
52. Florida Atlantic CUSA auto bid (12, 15-1) – The November 11 loss to Ole Miss looks more and more like an outlier for this profile that at this point has been dominant against poor competition.

9 seeds

53. New Mexico (31, 16-2) – The win over St. Mary’s is so huge for this resume which otherwise did not challenge themselves OOC and took a couple bad losses to Fresno State and UNLV to start January. A 2-0 record vs. Quad 1 and 2-0 vs. Quad 2 have me a bit higher on the Lobos than many.
54. Wisconsin (65, 12-5) – Just looking at wins and losses this profile feels a lot better than a 63 ranking. Worst loss is to Michigan State and solid wins vs. Penn State, Iowa, Maryland, Marquette, USC and Dayton. I kinda have the feeling this resume may sort itself out by the time March comes around.
55. Iowa (35, 12-6) The worst loss of a potential tournament team goes to the Hawkeyes losing to #337 Eastern Illinois on their home court. The 0-3 start to Big 10 play didn’t help either but they seem to be turning things around with wins over Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland of late.
56. Indiana (32, 11-6) This profile is pretty similar to UNC. 1-5 in Quad 1 but that 1 win at Xavier looks pretty nice. Slow out of the gates in conference play will have them on the bubble until they can get that corrected.

10 seeds

57. Arizona State (39, 15-3) An ugly road loss to Texas Southern #321 is at this point overcome by 15 wins, including 3 quad 1.
58. Boise State (19, 14-4) – The Broncos have the look of a tournament team after recovering from bad early season losses to South Dakota State and Charlotte. Their win over A&M looks better by the day and they have collected 7 quad 2 wins.
59. Maryland (48, 11-6) Wins over Miami, Illinois and Ohio State for now make up for the 6 losses (all to quad 1 opponents)
60. Charleston CAA auto bid (44, 18-1) Gaudy record but the best wins are against Virginia Tech and Kent State. #184 SOS so they will need to keep winning if they want to be able to absorb a conference tournament loss.

11 seeds

61. Creighton (20, 11-8) One of the more interesting profiles this year is Creighton who has 8 losses vs. the #4 SOS and had a stretch of 6 straight losses in December. They seemed to have turned things around notching a few wins over Providence and at Butler but they do have a overall record problem that they need to keep above .500.
62. Pitt (52, 13-6) – Didn’t do much OOC outside of a win at Northwestern. Really good wins in ACC play over Virginia and UNC have them on the right side of the bubble for now.
63. Kent State (37) Will be the MAC Auto bid – all 3 losses to quad 1 (Houston, Gonzaga, Charleston), but on the win side there isn’t a single one vs. a Net top 100 team. And they wont have any more top 100 chances the rest of the way. This will be an interesting debate should they keep winning but falter in the conference tournament. No threat of any MAC team outside of Kent St securing an at large, the golden flashes have won 9 in a row but hopefully they either cool off in February or just go ahead and win their conference tournament.
64. Ohio State (28, 10-8) 8 losses including one inexcusable one on their home court to Minnesota (#216) and last night at Nebraska. Now 5 losses in a row, the Buckeyes are officially in trouble. This resume represents one of my larger variances from some of the “experts”.

12 seeds

65. Memphis (45, 13-5) – Really good win over Auburn in Atlanta and a win over Texas A&M have them on the plus side of the bubble for now. They really need to start winning all the games they are supposed to unless they plan on springing an upset over Houston though.
66. Northwestern (57, 12-5) – Didn’t really do anything OOC but also didn’t take a bad loss. If they can go .500 in conference they will be right on the bubble. Wins over Illinois and Indiana and a lack of bad losses keep this resume above A&M.
67. Penn State (53, 12-6) – Similar to Northwestern they really didn’t do anything in OOC other than avoid bad losses. A .500 record in conference will have them right near the cut line on Selection Sunday. Wins over Iowa and Indiana and a lack of bad losses keep this resume above A&M.
68. Oklahoma (54, 11-7) a 2-4 start to Big 12 play and 7 losses already have Oklahoma in a trouble. Wins over West Virginia and Florida keep them in the discussion but those wont hold up unless they can get some wins coming up over a difficult schedule (Baylor, @TCU, Alabama)

------------------THE BUBBLE BURSTS HERE------------------

69. West Virginia (24, 11-7) Beat Pitt and Florida OOC, started 0-5 in the Big 12 but got a big win against TCU this week to possibly start righting the ship. The conference record needs to improve if they want to work their way into the field.
70. Kentucky (40, 12-6) – Kentucky challenged themselves outside of conference but didn’t win any of them. They did avoid bad losses until they got to conference play and took a bad L at home to South Carolina. Yikes. And then they go on the road to knock off Tennessee in Knoxville. Go figure.
71. Seton Hall (61, 11-8) Won last night vs. UConn for their 3rd quad 1 win (also beat Rutgers and Memphis). On a hot 4 game winning streak to rebound from a slow start to conference play, we will see if they can stay above .500 in the Big East.
72. USC (67, 13-5) Beat Auburn OOC to make up for a stinker L against FGCU. They have mainly been beating up on Quad 2 competition so far, which is good enough to be on the bubble but they haven’t worked their way in yet.

73. Texas A&M (55, 13-5) – The non-conference could not have gone any worse. 8-5 vs. the #215 OOC SOS usually has zero chance for an at large. However, a hot start to conference play certainly makes things interesting. Two wins over Florida and a win over Missouri don’t yet make up for losses to Wofford and Murray State but A&M will have some chances for some quad 1 wins with each of the next two games. It feels like a 12-6 record and top four finish in conference is a must, and to get to that mark it will take picking up some more Quad 1 wins.

74. Nevada (33, 14-5) A split in conference to Boise State is about the best thing this resume has going for it. Tough schedule coming up could make for major movements for the Wolfpack.
75. Oklahoma St (46, 10-8) an ugly overall record but only 1 questionable loss at home to Southern Illinois. The wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma highlight how many chances this team will get to notch impressive wins to boost their profile.
76. Wake Forest (70, 14-5) OOC losses to LSU and Rutgers may hurt them in head-to-head comparisons to other resumes. The loss to Loyola Marymount also really stands out. Started out ACC play hot with wins over Clemson and Duke.
77. Mississippi State (56, 12-6) The neutral court win over Marquette looks good but its not enough to overcome a 1-5 start to conference play. That said 2 of those losses are to Tennessee and one to Alabama so the schedule will get much easier from here.
78. Utah State (34, 14-4) zero quad 1 wins and not very many more opportunities to add to that number. Lost on their home court to Weber State. Utah Aggies will need to put together a long winning streak to work their way into the field.
79. Oral Roberts – Summit League auto bid? (63, 11-4) all 4 lossess are respectable (St. Mary’s, Houston, Utah State, New Mexico). League play will leave basically no margin for error as any loss is a bad loss.
80. Virginia Tech (59, 11-7) Losers of 6 in a row have dropped the Hokies from the field for now
81. UCF (42, 13-5) Wins OOC against Oklahoma State and Ole Miss look a lot less impressive now. They did beat Memphis is a 2 overtime thriller last week but this is still a pretty meh resume for now.
82. Oregon (58, 11-8) Losses to UC Irvine, and Utah Valley have left this profile with very little margin for error in conference play
83. Florida (51, 10-8) Challenging OOC schedule but they didn’t win any of the big games, 2 must wins coming up vs. Miss State and South Carolina before a brutal stretch @ Kansas State, Tenn, @ Kentucky, Alabama.
84. Dayton – A10 Auto bid? (64, 13-6) Best win is against Duquesne. That isn’t going to turn very many heads. Lots of work to do to get into an at large position, they probably need the A10 auto bid.
85. Bradley – MVC auto bid? (69, 12-7) The MVC isn’t what it used to be and 7 losses is already in danger territory for a team lacking a top 100 win. They almost certainly will need the MVC auto bid.
86. North Texas (50, 13-4) 3 of the losses are respectable (St. Mary’s, FAU x2). Right now there isn’t anything to balance a bad loss to UNCW.
87. Colorado (62, 11-8) Maybe the most inconsistent team in the country losing to Grambling state, UMass and Cal but beating Tennessee and Texas A&M. There are probably too many bad losses here to warrant serious consideration unless they can start knocking off UCLA or Arizona in conference.
88. Utah (66, 12-7). Without their win over Arizona to start conference play Utah wouldn’t be on this list. We will keep them here for now but their 3 game losing streak has them headed in the wrong direction.

Keep an eye on: LSU, Washington State, Texas Tech, Southern Miss, Michigan, UNLV. UAB, Saint John’s, Santa Clara, Cincy, VCU, Saint Louis, Butler

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