As promised earlier, I’m bringing you my thoughts on the current bubble teams (click to see today’s bracketology to go along with this article). Let’s face it, even the teams that have the Last Four Byes right now – Oklahoma, USC, Baylor, and St. Bonaventure – aren’t safe. For example, while USC is 21-9 overall, typically good enough for a major conference team to get in, their best wins are on neutral courts against Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State. That may not get it done.
But for now, let’s focus on the teams who are the most desperate – the Last Four In – and the ones who are the most primed to take those spots, the First Four Out. Here’s a rundown of relevant metrics for each of those teams, along with their best wins, worst losses, and what could seal their fate one way or another come Selection Sunday.
Kansas State (Overall record: 20-10, quadrant 1 record: 3-9, SOS: 73, KenPom: 47, RPI: 62, road record: 6-5): K-state’s best win came at home against TCU and their worst loss was on a neutral court against Tulsa. That’s really not too terrible a loss, as Tulsa has an RPI of 76 at this point. That gives K-State just one loss outside of Quadrant 1. The Wildcats also benefit from a solid road record. Still, beating Baylor on Saturday and winning a game in the Big 12 tournament would be ideal for Kansas State to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
Louisville (Overall record: 19-10, quadrant 1 record: 3-8, SOS: 27, KenPom: 34, RPI: 39, road record: 4-6): The Cardinals have some solid metrics. Usually, with those strength of schedule, KenPom, and RPI numbers, you wouldn’t be worried about a team getting an at-large bid. But what they don’t have is a lot of quality wins. Their best win came at Virginia Tech or at Florida State (depending on which team you feel is better). At the same time, they also don’t have a single bad loss, with the worst being at home against Syracuse. That is a Quadrant 2 loss but Syracuse certainly isn’t a bad team.
Tomorrow night, Louisville plays Virginia at home. Winning that would be huge for their resume. If the Cardinals can do that and follow it up with a win at North Carolina State on Saturday, I wouldn’t be worried about them making the tournament.
Syracuse (Overall record: 18-11, quadrant 1 record: 2-7, SOS: 14, KenPom: 49, RPI: 43, road record: 4-6): The Orange have a few problems right now. The simplest one is this: should they lose out by dropping their contest at Boston College tonight (they are behind as I write this), falling to Clemson on Saturday, and losing their opening game of the ACC tournament, they will be 18-14. That matters because the historical minimum for getting an at-large bid is four games above .500. And, when your best win is at Miami and you’ve lost to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech (plus Boston College in the lose-out scenario), you won’t be getting in at 18-14.
On the other side of the coin, the Orange has some work to do to secure a bid. Quite frankly, they are really in the field by default at this point. Losing to BC tonight would make it so that they probably have to beat Clemson OR go far in the ACC tournament. Even if they get by BC, they still need a quality win or two to seal the deal.
Alabama (Overall record: 17-13, quadrant 1 record: 5-6, SOS: 8, KenPom: 56, RPI: 58, road record: 2-7): The Crimson Tide have been a really strange team. Right now, they are my last team in. They have a lot of good wins, the best of which are home against Auburn and Tennessee. But they also simply have too many losses, seven of which have come outside of Quadrant 1 – more than any other team I have in my Last Four In or First Four Out. They appeared to be a lock two weeks ago – I had them on the 6 line – but four straight losses has changed everything.
A win at Texas A & M on Saturday would help their cause, but it won’t be enough. Bama will need at least one win in the SEC tournament in addition to that. On the other hand, should they fall to Texas A & M, it’s very hard to imagine the Crimson Tide earning an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, simply because they would end up with 15 losses by failing to win their conference tournament. Only one team has ever earned an at-large with 15 losses. That was Vanderbilt last year, and they had the country’s #2 strength of schedule along with an RPI of 33.
Marquette (Overall record: 17-12, quadrant 1 record: 4-7, SOS: 25, KenPom: 50, RPI: 64, road record: 5-5): This is my first team out right now. The Golden Eagles have some nice road wins, the best of which are at Creighton and at Seton Hall. They also have a strong strength of schedule. Other than that, they don’t have that much going for them. First of all, they have too many losses. Second of all, two of those are at St. John’s and at Depaul, which won’t help. Winning against Creighton on Saturday would help to solidify their resume, but it will probably take more than that. On the flip side, losing to Creighton and in the Big East tournament opener would definitely eliminate Marquette, at 17-14.
Texas (Overall record: 17-13, quadrant 1 record: 5-10, SOS: 19, KenPom: 43, RPI: 60, road record: 4-7): The Longhorns’ best win is at home against Texas Tech, who is slipping right now. Their season sweep of Oklahoma would have looked great a month ago, but right now, the Sooners are in an absolute free fall. At least Texas’ only bad loss is at Oklahoma State. But, they just have too many losses, period. Beating West Virginia on Saturday would help but they still might need a win or two in the Big 12 tourney. Lose to West Virginia and fall early in the conference tournament, and it’s NIT time.
Washington (Overall record: 19-10, quadrant 1 record: 3-6, SOS: 48, KenPom: 95, RPI: 51, road record: 5-5): so, I don’t know to what extent the various Selection Committee members use KenPom. I do know that Washington’s KenPom rating of 95 puts them right on par with teams like Furman, Iowa, and Georgetown. In other words, not good. The Huskies do have one of the best road wins of anyone in college basketball this season, at Kansas. They also have two losses to a marginal Stanford team and a loss at a poor Oregon State team.
It’s not like beating Oregon State and Oregon at home to close out the season is going to do much to boost Washington’s resume, either. On the other hand, they can’t afford to lose those games. I really think at this point, not only do the Huskies need to win out in the regular season and make some noise in the Pac 12 tournament, but they need more losses by the teams above them.
UCLA (Overall record: 19-10, quadrant 1 record: 2-6, SOS: 39, KenPom: 29, RPI: 68, road record: 2-7): there really isn’t much that’s impressive about the Bruins’ resume at this point. Only two wins against Quadrant 1 is weak. A 2-7 road record is ugly. Their RPI number is low, relative to teams who have historically gotten at-large bids. It’s nice that they won at Arizona and beat Kentucky on a neutral court. But they also got swept by Colorado and lost to both Stanford and Oregon State. Beating USC on Saturday would help, but it’s going to take more than that to make the field.
So, that’s it for now. I’ll keep these Bubble Watch articles going as an add-on to my regular bracketology as we head towards Selection Sunday. Enjoy the games, and look for my next bracketology on Friday morning!