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Life on the Bubble: Thursday Viewing Guide

The early rounds in the ACC were kind to bubble teams elsewhere. Bubble action elsewhere begins in earnest today.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Penn State Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Since the previous post on Tuesday, early-round action has begun in most of the remaining conference tournaments. Little of it has been bubble-relevant outside of the ACC, but what news there has been for the bubble is good.


Locks from Tuesday’s post account for 22 at-large bids; 28 contenders here are vying for 14 more (on the assumption that there are no surprise bid-thieves). The five at the bottom of the table are from probable single-bid conferences but have a shot at an at-large if they need it; if they win their conference tournaments, as many as 19 bids could go to this group. Teams in italics are eliminated from their conference tournaments.

Bubble Summary 3/8/17

Conference Tickets punched In good shape On the fence Work to do Long shots
Conference Tickets punched In good shape On the fence Work to do Long shots
Big Ten Northwestern & Michigan State Illinois & Iowa
ACC Miami Wake Forest Syracuse & Clemson
Big XII Oklahoma State Kansas State
Pac-12 USC California
SEC Vanderbilt Georgia
Big East Marquette & Seton Hall Xavier & Providence
American Houston
A-10 VCU Rhode Island
MVC Illinois State
MAAC Monmouth
Mtn West Nevada
CUSA Middle Tenn
Sun Belt UT-Arlington
Am East Vermont
Ivy Princeton

Assuming there are no bid-thieves and my rating of their chances is correct, if nothing changes everyone in the “on the fence” group and above would be in and nobody below would. But a lot can change Thursday, when most of the bubble is in action. Here’s what’s happened so far and what to keep an eye on Thursday. Rooting interests are decided by the following factors:

  • Knock out other bubble teams, especially those behind us
  • Remove possible bid-thieves
  • Improve strength of schedule for us (favoring teams we played more than once) and try to keep opponents on the right side of the top 50/100 cutoffs

Big Ten

First Round (Wednesday)

#13 Penn State 76, #12 Nebraska 67 (OT)
#14 Rutgers 66, #11 Ohio State 57

Michigan State will have a revenge game against Penn State instead of trying for a three-game sweep against Nebraska; while that avoids a bad loss (from Penn State dropping out of the RPI top 100), it appears from live RPI updates to have knocked Nebraska out of the top 100, removing two of our top 100 wins. Meanwhile, Northwestern gets an easier path due to the upset by Rutgers but is also at risk for a much worse loss as a result.

Second Round (Thursday)

Rooting interests are in bold. All times ET.

#9 Illinois vs. #8 Michigan - Noon, BTN
Yes, it’s unpleasant rooting for the Wolverines, but their bid is already safe and Illinois’s is very much not. Add that we played Michigan twice and they’re hovering fairly near that top 50 mark, and we would like to keep them on the good side of that to get an extra quality win.

#13 Penn State vs. #5 Michigan State - approx. 2:25, BTN
Obviously. A win doesn’t do that much for our profile, apart from avoiding a questionable loss, but a loss puts us within striking distance of a number of bubble teams. We might survive it, but why put it to the test?

#10 Indiana vs. #7 Iowa - 6:30, ESPN2
This game probably wouldn’t be enough for Iowa by itself, but they’re far closer to the cut line than Indiana.

#14 Rutgers vs. #6 Northwestern - approx. 9:00, ESPN2
We’d like to get Northwestern back above the “top 50” line. Thanks to Rutgers being here instead of Ohio State, it may not be possible without them beating Maryland on Friday too. There’s an argument for rooting against Northwestern and trying to pass them on seeding, but I think getting them above that line is better.


First Round (Tuesday)

#12 Clemson 75, #13 North Carolina State 61
#10 Wake Forest 92, #15 Boston College 78
#14 Pittsburgh 61, #11 Georgia Tech 59

Second Round (Wednesday)

#9 Miami 62, #8 Syracuse 57
#5 Duke 79, #12 Clemson 72
#7 Virginia Tech 99, #10 Wake Forest 90
#6 Virginia 75, #14 Pittsburgh 63

This is a fairly friendly set of results for bubble teams. Miami moves from almost a lock to definitely in, while Syracuse is done - 14 losses and an RPI/SOS/NCSOS line of 84/51/194 looks less like an NCAA bubble team and more like an NIT bubble team. Wake Forest dodged a potential bad loss against BC, and that’s probably all they needed to do; Clemson had to at least make it to Thursday to have a realistic shot and they didn’t.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

#9 Miami vs. #1 North Carolina - noon, ESPN
#5 Duke vs. #4 Louisville - approx. 2:30, ESPN
#7 Virginia Tech vs. #2 Florida State - 7:00, ESPN
#6 Virginia vs. #3 Notre Dame - approx. 9:30, ESPN

We don’t care much about any of these games; everyone still alive is definitely in the NCAA tournament. There is a marginal advantage for us if Duke wins (helps our SOS) and even slighter advantages if Virginia Tech and Notre Dame win (potentially helping Michigan and Northwestern, respectively, stay on the good side of the top 50 line), but those are all pretty minor effects.


First Round (Wednesday)

#8 TCU 82, #9 Oklahoma 63
#10 Texas 61, #7 Texas Tech 52

Nothing really relevant here, as none of these teams are close to the bubble and neither are their opponents for the next round.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

#5 Oklahoma State vs. #4 Iowa State - 12:30, ESPN2
I think Oklahoma State is pretty safe anyway, but Iowa State is definitely in, so root for the team that’s already safe. This shouldn’t matter much, though.

#8 TCU vs. #1 Kansas - approx. 3:00, ESPN2
#10 Texas vs. #2 West Virginia - 7:00, ESPNU
We don’t need any bid thieves.

#6 Kansas State vs. #3 Baylor - approx. 9:30, ESPNU
K-State is on the bubble and Baylor’s safe (and also a previous opponent, so there’s a marginal SOS boost too).


First Round (Wednesday)

#8 Arizona State 98, #9 Stanford 88 (OT)
#5 California 67, #12 Oregon State 62
#7 Colorado 73, #10 Washington State 63
#6 USC 78, #11 Washington 73

All chalk in Las Vegas, as the two bubble teams (Cal and USC) took down the bottom-dwellers (though not without some difficulty; Cal’s lead was as low as 2 with a minute to go, and USC nearly blew a 13-point lead). Avoiding the bad loss should be enough for the Trojans, but Cal needs a quality win and Oregon State is not one of those.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

#8 Arizona State vs. #1 Oregon - 3:00, Pac-12 Net
Eliminate the potential bid thief.

#5 California vs. #4 Utah - approx. 5:30, Pac-12 Net
Utah’s abominable non-conference schedule (best non-conference win: #207 Stephen F. Austin) and near-total lack of quality wins (3-9 vs. RPI top 100) make them a far fringe bubble candidate at best, while Cal has legitimate chances.

#7 Colorado vs. #2 Arizona - 9:00, Pac-12 Net
Eliminate a bid thief and give us a slight SOS boost.

#6 USC vs. #3 UCLA - approx. 11:30, Pac-12 Net
USC’s probably in anyway, but a win here would leave no doubt for them.


First Round (Wednesday)

#12 Mississippi State 79, #13 LSU 52
#14 Missouri 86, #11 Auburn 83 (OT)

No major impacts here, as the teams that will play these two aren’t really even on the bubble (both Ole Miss and Alabama have surprisingly ugly RPI numbers for the 5 and 6 seeds in a major conference).

Second Round (Thursday)

#9 Tennessee vs. #8 Georgia - 1:00, SEC Net
Tennessee is still listed on the Crashing the Dance selection page as the 10th team out (as of Wednesday night), which is mind-boggling for a team that’s 15-15. I don’t think they have any realistic chance; Georgia (5th out) does have one.

#12 Mississippi State vs. #5 Alabama - approx. 3:30, SEC Net
The Tide probably need to make the final to merit even a brief look as an at-large; eliminating them early eliminates that worry.

#10 Texas A&M vs. #7 Vanderbilt - 7:00, SEC Net
If Vanderbilt is going to be the first 15-loss team to earn an at-large, they’ll have to pile up as many wins as they can to make their case first. An early exit makes an NCAA bid much less likely.

#14 Missouri vs. #6 Ole Miss - approx. 9:30, SEC Net
Like Alabama, Ole Miss is currently well off the bubble, but we’d like to keep them there. Losing to Missouri would definitely achieve that.

Big East

First Round (Wednesday)

#8 St. John’s 74, #9 Georgetown 73
#7 Xavier 75, #10 DePaul 64

A loss to DePaul might have completed Xavier’s injury-fueled collapse from near-lock to barely hanging on. Winning doesn’t do much to help them, apart from not taking an atrocious loss. In the other game, a win for St. John’s helps our SOS marginally.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

#8 St. John’s vs. #1 Villanova - noon, FS1
The SOS bump from St. John’s isn’t worth the extra risk of a bid thief.

#5 Seton Hall vs. #4 Marquette - approx. 2:30, FS1
Both teams are in pretty good shape, but Marquette is slightly better off.

#7 Xavier vs. #2 Butler - 7:00, FS1
A win here would make Xavier close to a sure thing. With a loss, if the committee’s evaluation focuses on the time after Sumner’s injury, there’s nothing good to see at all.

#6 Creighton vs. #3 Providence - approx. 9:30, FS1
Despite being the higher seed, Providence’s conference record is identical to Creighton’s and the rest of the Bluejays’ profile compares favorably. They’re much safer than the Friars.


Nothing directly relevant happens until Friday here. Opening round games, in case you’re curious, are #9 East Carolina vs. #8 Temple (3:30, ESPNU), #10 Tulane vs. #7 Tulsa (approx. 6:00, ESPNews), and #11 South Florida vs. #6 UConn (approx. 8:30, ESPNews). Houston (the bubble team out of the American) will get the winner of USF-UConn, but neither of those teams will help their profile enough on its own.

Atlantic 10

First Round (Wednesday)

#12 UMass 70, #13 Saint Joseph’s 63
#11 St. Louis 72, #14 Duquesne 71

Nothing relevant here; none of these teams are close to the bubble.

Second Round (Thursday)

#9 Davidson vs. #8 LaSalle - noon, NBCSN
Doesn’t matter; neither team is close to the bubble, nor is Dayton (who awaits the winner in the quarterfinals).

#12 UMass vs. #5 St. Bonaventure - approx. 2:30, NBCSN
An upset here would deprive Rhode Island (who faces the winner) of a shot at another top 100 win, possibly forcing them to win in the semifinals as well.

#10 Fordham vs. #7 George Mason - 6:00, NBCSN
This one’s probably irrelevant, as VCU is a near lock anyway, but the only way for VCU to be in real danger is for them to take a terrible loss in the quarterfinals. George Mason (#105 RPI) would be a marginally bad loss (and probably move into the top 100 if they pulled it off). Fordham (#210) would be a terrible one.

#11 St. Louis vs. #6 George Washington - approx 8:30, NBCSN
I don’t think this one matters much; Richmond, despite the #3 seed in the A-10, is a long way from the bubble thanks to a terrible performance against a weak non-conference schedule (6-6, no top 150 wins, lost to #291 Oral Roberts).

Missouri Valley

Illinois State is done and waiting for the rest of the bubble to finish. I doubt they would get in ahead of us even if we lose to Penn State, but it would be close enough that I wouldn’t care to put that assumption to the test.


Monmouth is also done; they’re a long shot at best if their profile last year wasn’t good enough, but who knows, maybe someone on the committee feels bad about that snub.

Mountain West

First Round (Wednesday)

#8 Utah State 90, #9 San Jose State 64
#10 Air Force 83, #7 Wyoming 68
#6 San Diego State 62, #11 UNLV 52 (OT)

Not much matters here. Utah State and San Jose State are nearly equal in RPI, and Nevada is on the opposite side of the bracket from the other two winners.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

#8 Utah State vs. #1 Nevada - 3:00, CBS Sports Network
We want Nevada to get the auto-bid so we don’t have to worry about them potentially taking an at-large.

#5 New Mexico vs. #4 Fresno State - approx. 5:30, CBS Sports Network
Neither of these two is an at-large threat, but New Mexico provides the easier path for Nevada; the Wolf Pack swept New Mexico but lost twice to Fresno State.

#10 Air Force vs. #2 Colorado State - 9:00, CBS Sports Network
Colorado State is on the far fringe of bubble consideration (they don’t even show up on Crashing the Dance’s selection page), but they’re a much greater danger in terms of preventing Nevada from taking the auto-bid than Air Force is.

#6 San Diego State vs. #3 Boise State - approx 11:30, CBS Sports Network
Boise State does at least show up on the page - barely - but again, the main reason is to make it easier for Nevada to win the auto-bid and more damaging to them if they fail to do so.

Conference USA

First Round (Wednesday)

#9 UT-San Antonio 56, #8 Western Kentucky 52
#5 Rice 86, #12 Southern Miss 75
#7 UAB 74, #10 Charlotte 73
#6 Marshall 89, #11 Florida Atlantic 74

Almost all chalk here, but it doesn’t really matter - any of these teams would be a very bad loss for Middle Tennessee.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

#9 UT-San Antonio vs. #1 Middle Tennessee - 12:30, no TV
MTSU, like Nevada, is a reasonable at-large threat if they fail to claim the auto-bid. Having them win the CUSA tournament limits the conference to one bid for certain.

#5 Rice vs. #4 UTEP - approx. 3:00, no TV
UTEP handed MTSU their only conference loss and would be a much more damaging loss if they did it again (their RPI is #239, while Rice is just inside the top 150). I’m not sure how to balance those factors.

#7 UAB vs. #2 Louisiana Tech - 6:30, no TV
#6 Marshall vs. #3 Old Dominion - approx. 9:00, no TV
Clear a path for MTSU and make it less likely that they get an at-large if they lose.

Sun Belt

First Round (Wednesday)

#8 Coastal Carolina 80, #9 South Alabama 67
#12 Louisiana-Monroe 73, #5 Arkansas State 70 (OT)
#7 Louisiana-Lafayette 78, #10 Little Rock 71
#6 Troy 84, #11 Appalachian State 64

Nothing much relevant here yet, and the Sun Belt takes a day off before the quarterfinals on Friday.

America East

The championship game isn’t until Saturday; we want Vermont to win it.

Ivy League

The tournament doesn’t start until Saturday; we’re pulling for Princeton.

Overall, the bubble has been kind to us so far, and there’s little to worry about if we take care of business against Penn State. Manage that and it would take an improbable combination of results to put us in serious danger; a loss, however, makes things far more interesting than we would like. I’ll take another look at the bubble tomorrow.