First off, congratulations to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, out of Jacksonville, Alabama, for being the first team to clinch a bid to the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament! They did so by defeating Tennessee-Martin in the Ohio Valley Conference’s championship game last night.
As I wrote yesterday, we are likely to have plenty of teams win their conference in the regular season but lose in the conference tournament and fail to receive an at-large bid. Yesterday’s victim of the Madness was Oakland. After winning the Horizon League’s regular season title, the Grizzlies were stunned by Youngstown State’s buzzer-beating layup, falling by a final score of 81-80. To make the Horizon League tournament even crazier, the second place team from the regular season, Valparaiso, lost as well.
Now, let’s get into today’s Bubble Watch. Here’s how I see it right now:
Safely In: Seton Hall (20-10, 10-8, current 9 seed) has achieved “safely in” status with an impressive win at Butler yesterday. The Pirates won’t be left out of the field now regardless of how they perform in the Big East tournament. Providence (20-11, 10-8, current 9 seed) has also punched their ticket. With their win at St. John’s yesterday, the Friars finished the Big East regular season on a 6-game winning streak that included wins against Butler, Xavier, and Marquette, and at Creighton. Finally, it’s very hard to see Arkansas (23-8, 12-6, current 10 seed) or Marquette (19-11, 10-8, current 10 seed) being left out at this point. Both have several quality wins and fairly strong metrics.
Likely In, but work to do: This category includes VCU (24-7, 14-4, current 10 seed), Michigan State (18-13, 10-8, current 10 seed), Wake Forest (19-11, 9-9, current 11 seed) and Xavier (19-12, 9-9, current 11 seed). Right now, these are the last four at-large teams receiving a bye (meaning they don’t have to play in the First Four). All of these teams could use a win or two in their conference tournaments to seal the deal.
Michigan State is an interesting team here. They have several quality wins already, including a sweep of Minnesota, home wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan, and a neutral court win against Wichita State. But their next loss will bring them to the dreaded 14, a number that makes it very hard to receive an at-large bid. A win at Maryland yesterday would have sealed the deal for the Spartans, but now they may need to win at least their opening round game in the Big Ten tournament.
Could go either way: This category includes the Last Four In – Southern California, Illinois State, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse.
Southern Cal and Illinois State are nowhere near the loss cutoff, but both could use another quality win (for Illinois State, that would mean beating Wichita State in today’s Missouri Valley Conference championship game). Vandy picked up a great home win against Florida yesterday, giving them the season sweep of the Gators, but they are sitting at 14 losses and no team has ever gotten an at-large bid with 15 losses. They might need to get all the way to the finals of the SEC tournament to seal an at-large bid. Finally, Syracuse had an impressive blowout win over Georgia Tech yesterday, but they sit at 13 losses and several of them are of the bad variety. The Orange also have a woeful 1-8 road record and an RPI of 79, neither of which bode well.
Also included here are the First Five Out – Kansas State, Rhode Island, Utah, California, and Iowa. Kansas State and Syracuse are neck and neck for the last at-large spot right now, but I gave the nod to Syracuse because of a couple more quality wins. Rhode Island actually dropped out of the field, being replaced by Syracuse, after a 3-point overtime win at home against a weak Davidson team. Utah needs a quality win in the Pac-12 tournament. California is sinking fast, following up their blowout 30-point loss at Utah on Thursday night with a borderline bad loss at Colorado by 8 points yesterday. Finally, Iowa has several quality wins but sits at 13 losses, along with an RPI number of 76. Just as with Syracuse, these figures don’t bode well.
Hanging on by a thread: Ole Miss, Indiana, Illinois, Houston, and Georgia. All of these teams need to reach the finals of their conference tournaments to have a shot at an at-large bid.
Ole Miss picked up a nice win over South Carolina yesterday, which got my attention and caused me to move them up several seed lines, ahead of teams who have been eliminated from at-large consideration. Still, their only other quality win is at Vanderbilt and they currently sit at 19-12. It would be tough to get in with that resume. Indiana is still in it, even with 14 losses, thanks to wins over two current 1 seeds (North Carolina and Kansas) earlier in the year. But that will only take them so far. Illinois had a terrible loss at Rutgers yesterday that puts them on the thinnest of ice. Houston and Georgia are technically still alive but as with the others in this category, do not have strong enough resumes right now to be in the field.
Bubbles Burst: Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Texas Tech, TCU. Ohio State, Georgia Tech, and TCU all have 14 losses now. As you know, no team has made the field yet as an at-large with 15 losses, and none of these teams have the resume to be the first. Alabama and Texas Tech sit at 13 losses, but Alabama has several bad losses and Texas Tech has an RPI of 103. Consider these bubbles burst.
With all that said, here is today’s projection. As always, moves up or down since yesterday are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.
In since yesterday’s update: UC-Irvine, Northern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, North Dakota, Syracuse
Out since yesterday’s update: UC-Davis, Oakland, Tennessee-Martin, and Eastern Washington, Rhode Island
1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga
2s: Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, UCLA
3s: Kentucky, Arizona, Florida State (+1), Butler
4s: Duke (-1), Florida, Virginia (+1), Purdue
5s: West Virginia (-1), Cincinnati, SMU (+1), Minnesota
6s: Notre Dame (-1), Saint Mary’s, Iowa State, Maryland (+1)
7s: Creighton (-1), Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Wisconsin (+1)
8s: Miami (-1), Wichita State, Northwestern (+1), Dayton
9s: Virginia Tech (-1), Michigan, Seton Hall (+1), Providence
10s: Arkansas, Marquette (+1), VCU, Michigan State (-1)
11s: Middle Tennessee, Wake Forest, Xavier (-1), Southern California, Illinois State
12s: Vanderbilt, Syracuse (new), Nevada (+1), UNC-Wilmington, Texas-Arlington
13s: Monmouth (-1), Princeton, Vermont, Winthrop
14s: Bucknell, Florida Gulf Coast, Akron, UNC-Greensboro (+1)
15s: Cal-Bakersfield, Northern Kentucky (new), North Dakota (new), South Dakota
16s: Texas Southern, Cal-Irvine (new), Jacksonville State (new), Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central
Last Four In: Southern California, Illinois State, Vanderbilt, Syracuse
1s (First Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Kansas State, Rhode Island, Utah (+1), California
2s (Next Four Out): Iowa (+1), Ole Miss (+4), Indiana (+1), Illinois (-1)
3s: Houston, Georgia (-1), Ohio State (-1), Georgia Tech (-1)
4s: BYU, Alabama, Texas Tech, Charleston
5s: TCU (-2), Clemson, Richmond, Tennessee (+1)
6s: Boise State, Colorado State (-1), Fresno State (new), Auburn (+1)
7s: Valparaiso (-2), Central Florida, New Mexico (+2), Colorado (+2)
8s: San Francisco (-1), Belmont, Texas A & M, East Tennessee State
Thanks for reading, and look for several more updates throughout the week. As always, check out the Bracket Matrix for over 100 more projections!