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Bubble Watch: 1/29/23

Projecting the NCAA Basketball Tournament field of 68

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Phew - the Aggies eked out a win in a game that was much closer than it should have been, at home against Vandy. So where does that leave Texas A&M in relation to the rest of the bubble? Well, certainly in better shape than had they lost that one, as dropping one to an SEC bottom feeder would have been devastating to the at-large chances. “A win is a win” and an ugly win is better than a “good loss” any day of the week.

Luckily the Aggies continued forward momentum to work towards securing an at-large bid after a terrible start to the season in non-conference play. If you are wondering why 2nd place in the SEC (7-1) isn't considered a lock for the tournament, it is because the Aggies dug such a deep hole in non-conference play (8-5 vs. the #214 SOS). So much of a hole that at the start of January an at large bid seemed highly unlikely. The 7-1 start to conference play has changed that narrative in a hurry. But with a back-loaded schedule difficulty, the Aggies probably still need (at least) a 5-5 finish over the last 10 games, so this may come right down to some nervous moments on Selection Sunday once again.

Of course, what A&M does and exactly how many wins they need won’t happen in a vacuum, after all, there are 362 other Division 1 teams that have a goal of making the field of 68 also. This column will attempt to track the most relevant of those, meaning those which have a chance to get one of the 36 at large bids available to the NCAA Tournament.

Before we get into tracking those 36 at large bids, lets count the automatic bids starting with 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” at large. After accounting for these we have a better picture of how many bids are truly up for grabs.

One-bid leagues

Conference (Projected Champ, Current Net)

  1. A10 (VCU, 70) - maybe a .1% chance at an at large but it’s not worth tracking right now.
  2. Big Sky (Montana State, 107)
  3. Big South (Longwood, 150)
  4. Big West – UCSB (82) – don’t be fooled by only 3 losses on the record, this is the #338 SOS and one of the losses is to 3-14 Northern Arizona.
  5. America East (UMass- Lowell, 145)
  6. Horizon (Youngstown State, 119)
  7. Ivy – (Cornell, 88)
  8. MAAC – (Iona, 77)
  9. MEAC (Norfolk State, 181)
  10. MVC (Bradley, 70) maybe a .1% chance at an at large but its not worth tracking right now.
  11. Northeast (Wagner, 301)
  12. Ohio Valley (SIUE, 186)
  13. Patriot (Colgate, 114)
  14. Southland (Northwestern State, 182)
  15. Southern (Furman, 108)
  16. Sun Belt – Southern Miss, 67 - Maybe a .1% chance? Not worth tracking further for now.
  17. SWAC (Grambling State, 206)
  18. WAC - Sam Houston State (49) – a really inflated NET ranking for now but that will likely drop in league play.

And just like that we are down to 14 conferences battling for 50 spots.

Likely one-bid leagues

Three additional conferences that as of now do not have any teams with a profile good enough for an at large. We will track their place holder auto bid now and then discuss each when they appear after the #68 Bubble Burst Line. They would need a great February and then a loss in the conference tournament for their conference to be anything but a 1 bid league.

19. Atlantic Sun – (Liberty, 46) – Continuing to win impressively and the NET is skyrocketing. Zero margin for error with no top 100 teams left on the schedule.
20. MAC - (Kent State, 55) - Took a bad loss to Northern Illinois last week to for the moment knock them below #68. Hopefully they secure the auto bid, and we don’t have to worry about it.
21. Summit – Oral Roberts (47) – 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.

11 conferences for 47 spots...

Multi-bid conference/at-large seeds

For the other 11 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)

The last three 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 – Charleston, AAC – Houston - although for now Memphis is also in, CUSA – FAU)

So, what about the other 47 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

22. Purdue Big Ten auto bid (4, 20-1) –20-1 with 8 quad 1 wins.
23. Houston AAC auto bid (1, 20-2) – Took their 2nd loss since the last update but are still in good shape for a 1 seed with a month to go.
24. Tennessee SEC auto bid (2, 18-3) - Big win on Saturday and they now have wins over Texas and Kansas OOC in addition to a 7-1 mark in conference.
25. Alabama (3, 18-3) - An ugly loss on Saturday but still an impresive body of work vs. the #2 SOS.

2 seeds

26. Kansas Big 12 auto bid (9, 17-4) – The 3-game losing streak is over after winning Saturday. It was enough to knock the Jayhawks off the 1 seed line, but they are obviously still in great shape.
27. Arizona Pac 12 auto bid (11, 19-3) – The win over UCLA since the last update moves them up to the #2 line. OOC wins against San Diego State, Creighton, Cincy, Indiana and Tennessee.
28. Virginia ACC auto bid (15, 16-3) OOC wins over Baylor and Illinois and no bad losses and now dominating the ACC.
29. Baylor (14, 16-5) – Won 6 in a row including Kansas and Arkansas the last 2 to go with their OOC wins over UCLA and Gonzaga.

3 seeds

30. UCLA (5, 17-4) Slipping down to the 3 seed line after their 14 game winning streak came to an end with back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC.
31. Texas (8, 17-4) 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.
32. Gonzaga WCC Auto bid (12, 17-4) Since the last update they took a surprising loss to Loyola Marymount. The overall resume is still in great shape with wins over Xavier and Alabama.
33. Kansas State (18, 18-3) 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 rack up impressive wins over Kansas, Texas and Baylor and then added their first good OOC win over Florida on Saturday.

4 seeds

34. Marquette Big East Auto bid (16, 17-5) – Quietly putting together the best resume in the Big East. Wins over Baylor, Creighton, Providence and no bad losses.
35. Xavier Big East auto bid (23, 17-5) – 5 quad 1 wins (UConn x2, Marquette, Creighton, West Virginia) and 9-2 in the Big East. 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.
36. UConn (7, 16-6)- Continuing to struggle, losing 6 of 8 but the schedule gets a lot easier coming up and the OOC wins over Alabama and Iowa State will continue to carry them.
37. Iowa State (10, 15-5) After taking another OOC loss to Mizzou their non-conference really looks unimpressive. Luckily for them they are 6-2 in the Big 12 including wins over Kansas State, Texas and TCU.

5 seeds

38. TCU (13, 16-5) – Lost a tough game in the SEC Showdown to Mississippi State. The wins at Kansas, at Baylor, and over Providence and Iowa OOC are really impressive though and enough to give TCU a mulligan of a really bad November loss to Northwestern State at home (A much worse loss than anyone on the top 4 seed lines). How much will the #324 OOC SOS come back to haunt TCU? Probably not much if they keep themselves over .500 in the Big 12.
39. Illinois (28, 15-6) – Wins over UCLA and Texas OOC, and no really bad losses yet. Winners of 6 of their last 7 to ease concerns of their once poor Big 10 record.
40. Duke (32, 15-6) – 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.
41. St. Mary’s (6, 18-4) 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.

6 seeds

42. Rutgers (20, 14-6) – 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 (35, 16-5) 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 (24, 16-4) Aztecs have successfully avoided bad losses vs. the #13 SOS but a neutral court win over Ohio State is their only Quad 1 victory so far, so it's hard to move them up too much higher than this.
45. Indiana (22, 15-6) One of the biggest upward movers since the last update with 4 wins including at Illinois, and over Michigan State and Ohio State. That’s now 3 quad 1 wins when you include their OOC win over Xavier.

7 seeds

46. Miami (37, 16-5) – Blew the game at Pitt this weekend for their 4th road loss of January. They do have 4 quad 1 wins over Rutgers, Providence, UCF, and Virginia.
47. NC State (43, 17-5) 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.
48. Auburn (30, 16-5) – Auburn learned early in conference play that it's tough to win on the road, and their loss to Georgia is an anchor to this profile that still only has 2 quad 1 win (against Arkansas & Northwestern).
49. North Carolina (31, 15-6) – Won 6 of 7. Still just 1-6 vs. Quad 1 competition (beat Ohio State) but no bad losses have them in pretty decent shape headed to February.

8 seeds

50. Missouri (53, 16-5) – Huge win over Iowa State on Saturday. Much easier schedule the next 3 games, if they can still say in mid-February that their worst loss is to Florida then they should be in good shape. They do have OOC wins over UCF and Illinois.
51. Florida Atlantic CUSA auto bid (17, 19-1) – Now winners of 20 in a row, 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. If they can finish strong in February they will not have to sweat out the conference tournament.
52. New Mexico (29, 18-3) – 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 3-1 record vs. Quad 1 and 2-0 vs. Quad 2 have given the Lobos a bit of margin for error headed to February.

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

53. Michigan State (40, 14-7) Collected a couple nice wins over Iowa and Rutgers recently to go with their wins over Kentucky and Wisconsin. The loss to Notre Dame (#183) is a bad one but as long as they continue to stay above .500 in the Big 10 they will be fine.

9 seeds

54. Arkansas (26, 14-7) – Missed a big opportunity on Saturday to get right and instead lost to Baylor for their 5th loss in 7 games. They can’t afford for their conference record to sag much more, or they will be in real danger.
55. Clemson (56, 18-4) – Now 10-1 in conference the Tigers continue to cruise. The NET still hasn't caught up with their record but if they keep winning in conference the committee will be able to overlook bad losses OOC vs. South Carolina and Loyola Chicago.
56. Creighton (19, 13-8) One of the more interesting profiles this year is Creighton who has 8 losses vs. the #7 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 and then scored a major victory beating Xavier on Saturday.
57. Boise State (21, 16-5) – 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 6 quad 2 wins.

10 seeds

58. Maryland (38, 14-7) Wins over Miami, Illinois and Ohio State for now make up for the 7 losses (all to quad 1 opponents)
59. Memphis (39, 16-5) – Looking like clearly the 2nd best team out of the AAC. Good OOC wins over Auburn in Atlanta and a win over Texas A&M have them on the plus side of the bubble for now. Really need to continue their latest trend of beating the teams they are supposed to if they want to stay here.
60. West Virginia (25, 13-8) Enormous win over Alabama on Saturday for their 5th Quad 1 win. Also beat Pitt and Florida OOC. Started 0-5 in the Big 12 but got a big win against TCU and are now sitting at 2-6 in conference. What is the worst conference record they could survive will be a question we may be asking in March.
61. Northwestern (44, 15-5) – 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.

11 seeds

62. Iowa (41, 12-8) 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 and they are going to be searching for quality wins the rest of the way to try to erase the memories of that bad loss.
63. Charleston CAA auto bid (48, 20-2) The 20-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday vs. Hofstra and now their margin for error is probably gone. No games left against a top 130 opponent so they may need to win out to keep their at large hopes alive should they need to absorb a conference tournament loss. Best wins are against Virginia Tech and Kent State.
64. USC (52, 15-6) Beat Auburn OOC to make up for a stinker L against FGCU. Possibly no team has had a better last week than the trojans winning on the road at Arizona State and then winning over UCLA by double digits.
*65. Pitt (62, 15-7) – Didn’t do much OOC outside of a win at Northwestern. Really good wins in ACC play over Virginia, UNC and Miami have them on the right side of the bubble for now.
*66. Kentucky (33, 14-7) – 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 but made up for it with a win in Knoxville. Head-to-Head keeps Kentucky just ahead of Texas A&M for now.

12 seeds

*67. Texas A&M (42, 15-6) – The Aggies just squeak into the field in the latest projection heading into February. The win at Auburn is definitely one to feel good about at the end of the year, but it's still just the 2nd Quad 1 win (@Florida). It feels like the hot start to conference play (7-1) has made up for an abysmal OOC (8-5 vs. the #215 OOC SOS and losses to Wofford and Murray State) but there is still very little margin for error here and a 12-6 conference record and top 4 finish is a must. To do that would just simply take a 5-5 finish down the stretch vs. a schedule difficulty that is definitely a notch above what was faced to start league play. A win on the road at Arkansas on Wednesday would be a nice little bonus to get us off the bubble at least temporarily. If we fail, a win on Saturday vs. Georgia is an absolute must.

*68. Wisconsin (69, 12-8) – Losers of 6 of 7 the Badgers are playing their way out of the field despite their worst loss being to Michigan State and solid wins vs. Penn State, Iowa, Maryland, Marquette, USC and Dayton. The NET is a real problem for Wisconsin right now and even though its early the games this week are starting to feel like must wins.

*Play-in game participants

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

69. Oklahoma (65, 12-9) The Sooners got one of the biggest wins of the season by knocking off Alabama. That’s great and all but they are still 2-6 in conference play and have 9 losses before February. Like West Virginia, this will be a test case of exactly how bad can your conference record be and still get in?
70. Penn State (60, 13-7) – There isn't much too this resume other than home wins against Indiana and Iowa. #219 OOC SOS means they need a .500 record or better in conference and as of now they are not there.
71. Ohio State (27, 11-10) The NET ranking for the Buckeyes is a bit of a head scratcher considering their overall record (including one inexcusable loss on their home court to Minnesota (#215). Desperately in need of a 2-0 week to right the ship.
72. Arizona State (57, 15-7) Losers of 4 in a row this resume is getting uglier by the day. An ugly road loss to Texas Southern #321 also doesn't help.
73. Seton Hall (66, 12-9) 3 good quad 1 wins over UConn, Rutgers and Memphis but just 6-5 in conference needs to turn around if they want an at large.
74. Oral Roberts – Summit League auto bid? (47, 15-4) all 4 losses 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.
75. Kent State MAC Auto bid? (55, 15-4)– Life in the MAC means a conference loss is likely going to be a killer and that's what happened this week to Kent State losing to #261 Northern Illinois. That was their first bad loss all season other 3 to Houston, Gonzaga and Charleston, so they still have an outside shot at an at large bid. The problem is there isnt a single win here vs. a Net top 100 team and they won’t have any more top 100 chances the rest of the way. No chance at an at large unless they win out.
76. Nevada (34, 15-6) The wolfpack took a loss they couldn't afford on Saturday at UNLV to lose any goodwill they had built up from their win earlier in the week over New Mexico. They have another big chance to move up with San Diego State coming to town this week.
77. Oklahoma St (51, 12-9) an ugly overall record but only 1 questionable loss at home to Southern Illinois. The wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma and Iowa State highlight how many chances this team will get to notch impressive wins to boost their profile.
78. Mississippi State (59, 13-8) Got a massive win over TCU to go with their neutral court win over Marquette. The problem is they are 1-7 in the SEC and are running out of time to turn that record around.
79. Utah State (36, 16-5) zero quad 1 wins and not very many more opportunities to add to that number. Lost on their home court to Weber State. The Utah Aggies will need to put together a long winning streak to work their way into the field.
80. Virginia Tech (54, 13-8) Coming home to beat Duke and Syracuse came just at the right time to stop their 7-game losing streak. Still a long way to go to work their way back into contention.
81. Oregon (61, 13-9) Losses to UC Irvine, and Utah Valley have left this profile with very little margin for error in conference play
82. Florida (50, 12-9) Challenging OOC schedule but they didn’t win any of the big games, in the midst of a brutal stretch @ Kansas State (L), Tenn, @ Kentucky, Alabama. They need to pull an upset or 2 to have a chance in late February.
83. Utah (45, 15-8). There isn't much to get excited about with this profile outside of a win over Arizona. Really soft part of their schedule right now, if they can make a run, it might be worth keeping an eye on the Utes.
84. Southern Miss Sun Belt auto bid? (67, 16-4) Sun Belt auto bid? Very unlikely at large hopes but we will track them for now just in case they do win out.
85. Saint Louis A10 Auto bid? (86, 14-6) Probably the A10s best hope for an at large at this point. Winners of 6 in a row and beat Providence OOC. Zero margin for error.

Keep an eye on (the resumes are so bad they aren't discussing now but there are enough opportunities on the schedule that they could change that and get into the at large conversation): UNLV, UAB, Michigan, Texas Tech, Southern Miss, Colorado, Wake Forest, Dayton, Bradley, VCU.

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