NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: February 29th

Based on the sheer number of teams on the bubble this season and the general mediocrity of their profiles, conference tournament performances are going to be as important as ever.  Many early round matchups will essentially serve as elimination games, and so-called bid thieves are sure to emerge in some of the smaller conferences, leaving even fewer available spots up for grabs.

A handful of teams have played their way off of the bubble since the last edition of Bubble Watch, although not all of them have moved in the right direction.  Still, I have upwards of 35 squads currently in the mix.


John Shurna hopes to lead Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament appearance ever.

Just in case this isn’t enough to tide you over until the 2012 NCAA Tournament, you can always check out my latest power rankings and bracket projections.


Miami (17-10, RPI: 48)

It’s certainly been an eventful few days for the Canes.  They found out just before Sunday’s critical game against Florida State that they would be without big man Reggie Johnson due to a NCAA investigation.  However, they found a way to win without him and picked up their second Top 50 win of they year.  Johnson has since been reinstated and will be available for their game at North Carolina State on Wednesday.   Miami needs to win that one and take care of business at home versus Boston College to finish 10-6 in the ACC.  Pick up a win or two in the ACC Tournament and they can breathe a little easier.  Anything less and they’ll be sweating it out on Selection Sunday, because right now they are just 3-9 against the Top 100.

North Carolina State (18-11, RPI: 72)

On the heels of four straight losses, the NC State needs to make a run to the ACC Championship game to have a legitimate shot.  Their 1-8 record against the Top 50 would indicate such a feat is unlikely to say the least.  First, they need to knock off Miami at home and then win at Virginia Tech to close out the regular season just to stay alive.

Virginia (21-7, RPI: 38)

On the surface it may seem odd to place the Cavaliers on the bubble, but a closer look at their profile suggests they aren’t exactly a lock either.  They are 7-5 against the Top 100, but their only win over a tournament lock came back in November when they beat Michigan.  The Hoos have wins over a number of other bubble teams like Drexel, Oregon, LSU, and Miami, but they haven’t knocked off anyone with a legit shot at making the tournament as an at-large since early January.  Consequently, Virginia would be well served to pick up another Top 50 win against Florida State on Thursday before heading to Maryland for the season finale.  If they lose both, things could get interesting.

Atlantic 10

Dayton (18-10, RPI: 63)

Unlike most of their bubble brethren, the Flyers actually won twice last week and are now in virtually every bracketologist’s last four in or last four out.  Their rout over UMass gave them their eighth Top 100 win, which is more than most bubble teams can claim.  Unfortunately, ugly losses against Miami (OH) and Rhode Island give them limited margin for error with “can’t lose” games remaining at Richmond and home against George Washington.  If Dayton can take care of business there to finish 10-6 in the league, they should be in decent shape heading into the A-10 Tournament where they would need to avoid an early exit.

Massachusetts (19-9, RPI: 81)

The Minutemen followed up their big win over Xavier by getting steamrolled at Dayton.  They are now just 6-8 against the Top 150, which makes Wednesday’s game at Temple a must-win.  A loss there would be the final nail in the coffin for a team that has picked up eight of their 19 wins against sub-200 squads.  Even if they pick up that victory, they still have some work to do.

Saint Joseph’s (19-11, RPI: 51)

After losing at home to Richmond, things looked bleak for the Hawks, but they bounced back to pick up a huge win against Temple on Saturday.  That victory helped them stay just outside the RPI Top 50 with seven Top 100 wins, which sets them apart from many of their fellow bubblers.  That said, losses to American and Charlotte hurt their case, which means they can’t afford to falter in Wednesday’s regular season finale at Saint Bonaventure.  Even with a win there, the Hawks would be wise to win a game or two in the A-10 Tournament to solidify their case.

Saint Louis (23-6, RPI: 30)

Saturday’s loss to Rhode Island snapped the Billikens’ six-game losing streak and gave them their first truly bad loss.  However, they bounced back to crush Xavier at home, which earned them a season sweep of the Musketeers.  As it stands, Saint Louis has no Top 50 wins, but they are 6-4 versus the Top 100, which should be enough to get them in the tournament.  If the Billikens can close out the season with a win at Duquesne, they should move back off of the bubble.

Xavier (18-11, RPI: 54)

Following an impressive first half against Saint Louis, the Musketeers seemed poised to pick up their best win since December, but they surrendered a 24-2 run to Saint Louis and lost by double digits.  The good news is Xavier still has a pair of Top 50 wins and five against the Top 100, but they haven’t won back-to-back games in nearly a month.  They now have to finish the regular season with a home win over Charlotte and probably win at least two games in the A-10 Tournament.

Big 12

Texas (18-11, RPI: 56)

The Longhorns pulled out an overtime victory at Texas Tech to avoid a bid-crushing defeat and move to 8-8 in the league, but they are still just 3-8 versus the Top 50.  In fact, Texas is only 11-11 against the Top 200, which gives them a razor thin margin for error.  If they can beat Oklahoma at home on Wednesday, they would assure themselves of a .500 finish in the Big 12, but I don’t give them much of a chance to win at The Phog on Saturday night.  Consequently, they will need to win at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament.

Big East

Cincinnati (20-9, RPI: 78)

Like many bubble teams, the Bearcats split their games last week, picking up another quality win by beating Louisville at home but falling at South Florida by just a point.  It’s tough to see a team with five Top 50 wins getting left out, but an incredibly poor non-conference schedule brings that option into play.  If Cincinnati can knock off Marquette at home and win at Villanova, they would finish 12-6 in the Big East, which in my eyes should be enough.  Whether the committee agrees or not is another matter based on the stated emphasis on strength of schedule.

Connecticut (17-12, RPI: 35)

An impressive second half performance against Syracuse provided UConn fans with a reason for optimism, but the Huskies blew a 14-point lead and lost at Providence on Tuesday to fall to 7-10 in the league.  They finish the regular season by hosting Pitt this weekend, but they are now just 5-11 in their last 16 games.  Still, Connecticut boasts eight Top 100 wins and the second-ranked strength of schedule, both of which make it unlikely they will be left out, particularly if the committee stays true to their word that late-season performance isn’t given extra weight in the process.  At this point, I think UConn needs to beat Pitt and win a minimum of one game in the Big East Tournament in order to feel remotely safe.

Seton Hall (19-10, RPI: 45)

Apparently the Pirates couldn’t handled prosperity, as they followed up an impressive win against Georgetown with a home loss to Rutgers on Saturday.  Still, they are 8-8 versus the Top 100, which is far better than most bubble teams can claim.  If they can win at DePaul to close out the regular season, Seton Hall would be 9-9 in Big East play heading into the conference tournament.  It certainly wouldn’t hurt them to win a game or two there, but the Pirates appear to be in pretty good shape.

South Florida (18-11, RPI: 45)

The Bulls hung with Syracuse for a while but endured a lengthy offensive slump in a loss to the Orange.  They followed that up with a hard fought home win over Cincinnati to remain in the discussion, but USF is still just 1-7 against the Top 50 and only 11-10 versus the Top 150.  Simply put, the quality wins just aren’t there, and I’m not sure even a split of their final two games against Louisville and West Virginia would be enough.  Consequently, the Bulls will need to win another couple games in the Big East Tournament to improve what right now is a meager profile.

West Virginia (18-12, RPI: 53)

The Mountaineers have played three games in the last seven days, but things didn’t go all that well for the most part.  They got waxed at Notre Dame and then failed to take advantage of an opportunity at home against Marquette after the Golden Eagles suspended three starters for the first half.  West Virginia did stop the bleeding by taking care of DePaul, but they are now just 3-7 in their last 10 games.  Still, they have four Top 50 wins, eight Top 100 wins, and a solid strength of schedule, but Saturday’s trip to South Florida will be a huge game for both squads.

Big Ten

Illinois (17-12, RPI: 75)

Just when it seemed the Illini were dead, they bounced back to knock off Iowa at home, which broke a six-game losing streak.  Again, if the committee truly looks at the full body of work and doesn’t place additional emphasis on late-season play, Illinois has to at least be in the discussion by virtue of their four Top 50 wins, including home victories over Gonzaga, Michigan State, and Ohio State.  Even so, they need to beat Michigan and Wisconsin to close out the regular season and then make a run in the Big Ten Tournament.

Northwestern (17-11, RPI: 44)

The Wildcats survived a huge scare on the road at Penn State, which sets up a huge game on Wednesday night against Ohio State.  They have played the Buckeyes tough in the last couple meetings in Evanston, so there is at least some reason for optimism.  If they can win there and close out the season with a win at Iowa, that would put them at 9-9 in the league.  Right now they are just 2-9 against the Top 50, but they do have six Top 100 victories to their credit.  The fact that they have no sub-100 losses also helps their case, but their quest for their first NCAA invite is going to come down to the wire.

Purdue (19-10, RPI: 40)

Following Saturday’s double-digit win at Michigan, I think Purdue is safe based on their six Top 50 wins.  Take care of business at home against Penn State, and it’s a done deal.

Conference USA

Memphis (22-8, RPI: 18)

After dumptrucking Marshall and Central Florida by a combined 49 points, the Tigers are pretty much a lock.  They have two Top 50 wins and are 9-7 against the Top 100, and they have already clinched at least a share of the C-USA regular season title.  If they can close out the season with a win at Tulsa, there’s no way they get left out.  Even if they lose, a deep conference tournament run seems likely since they are hosting it.

Southern Mississippi (23-6, RPI: 13)

The Golden Eagles lost in double overtime last week and barely beat Rice to avoid a three-game losing streak.  Based on their high RPI and 10-3 record versus the Top 100, they certainly appear to be in good shape despite their recent play.  If they can win both remaining games against SMU at home and on the road against Marshall, they would essentially lock up a bid.  Otherwise, they would be advised not to make an early exit from the conference tournament.


Arizona (21-9, RPI: 71)

The Wildcats are still alive after avoiding an ugly home loss against UCLA, but they are just 4-8 against the Top 100 with no wins against the Top 35 and just one against the Top 65.  They simply cannot afford to lose a road game this weekend at Arizona State, but a win there doesn’t move the dial on their profile.  The only way to really do that is to make a run to the Pac-12 Title game by beating either Cal or Washington.  Even that may not be enough.

California (23-7, RPI: 36)

I probably would have moved the Bears off the bubble had they not lost at Colorado on Sunday.  As it stands, they have taken advantage of some movement in the RPI and now have two Top 50 wins, although both came against 50th-ranked Oregon.  They are 6-5 versus the Top 100 but have a pair of sub-150 losses and no marquee wins.  A victory at Stanford this weekend would assure them of at least a second-place finish in the league, but they could still stand to win a game in the conference tournament.

Colorado (19-9, RPI: 76)

I was ready to cross the Buffs off after a 24-point loss at Stanford, but they bounced back to beat Cal and stay alive.  That gave them their second Top 50 win, but they are an unimpressive 5-9 against the Top 150.  Wednesday’s game at Oregon is essentially an elimination game, but Colorado has to win there as well as at Oregon State and make a run to the Pac-12 Final to have any chance whatsoever.  Color me skeptical.

Oregon (20-8, RPI: 53)

The Ducks are now 9-3 in their last 12 games with the three losses coming by a total of nine points.  Their RPI is on the rise, but they still have no Top 50 wins and are just 2-7 against the Top 100.  With nearly half of their wins coming against sub-200 teams, they really can’t afford to lose again until the Pac-12 Championship Game.  Before they get there, Oregon has to take care of business at home against Colorado and Utah this weekend.

Washington (20-8, RPI: 52)

Cal’s loss to Colorado means the Huskies can win the regular season title outright with wins at USC and UCLA this weekend, and there really isn’t a precedent for the outright champ of a major conference getting left out of the at-large field.  Even so, Washington is an unimpressive 1-5 against the Top 50 with the only victory coming against 50th-ranked Oregon back in December.  They are only 3-8 versus the Top 100, but they don’t really have a bad loss unless you consider some of their margins of defeat.  Consequently, I think the Huskies are pretty safe barring a loss against USC or UCLA and a loss in their first Pac-12 Tournament game.


Alabama (19-9, RPI: 25)

The Tide had a solid week with wins at Arkansas and at home against Mississippi State to move to 8-6 in the SEC.  They are in a very similar situation as Purdue with nine Top 100 wins and a game this week against one of their conference’s worst teams.  If Alabama can win at home against Auburn on Wednesday, they’re in.

LSU (17-11, RPI: 70)

Saturday’s 24-point loss at Ole Miss was ugly to say the least, but I’m leaving the Tigers on the list for another week to see how they fare against Tennessee at home and on the road against Auburn.  Wins there would get them to 9-7 in the league with a pair of Top 50 wins, although one came against a suspension-depleted Alabama squad.  Still, losses to Coastal Carolina and South Alabama mean LSU will have to make a deep SEC Tournament run to truly get into contention.

Mississippi (17-12, RPI: 58)

After losing at Tennessee last week, the Rebels responded by crushing LSU and coming back from a 15-point deficit to win at Arkansas.  A home victory over Alabama on Saturday would give them their second Top 50 win and get them to 8-8 in the league.  Since they already have six Top 100 wins and no sub-100 losses, Ole Miss would at least have a chance to play their way in with a strong SEC Tournament performance.

Mississippi State (19-10, RPI: 66)

Things are starting to get interesting in Starkville following a 17-point loss at Alabama that extended their losing streak to five games.  The Bulldogs have to win their last to regular season games at South Carolina and home versus Arkansas just to finish .500 in the SEC.  They have three Top 50 wins on their profile, but they are just 8-10 against the Top 150.  Based on recent comments from some of the team’s players, don’t count on the enigmatic Bulldogs suddenly pulling it together at this point in the year.


BYU (24-7, RPI: 49)

After losing at Gonzaga, the Cougars are just 2-5 against the Top 50 with only one win against the 49 best teams in the RPI.  Throw in the fact that 10 of their 22 D-I wins came against squads outside the Top 200, and they are by no means a lock.  More than likely BYU will need to beat the Zags in the WCC Semifinals to solidify their resume.

Colorado State (17-10, RPI: 26)

The Rams are still winless on the road in Mountain West play following a loss at San Diego State over the weekend.  The numbers would indicate this is a completely different team at home, which bodes well for their chances in Wednesday’s game against UNLV in Fort Collins.  Still, they have to win at Air Force over the weekend to at least prove they can succeed away from home.  Seven Top 100 wins are nice to fall back on, but their best road win at this point came against UTEP.

Drexel (25-5, RPI: 66)

A one-point win at Old Dominion gave the Dragons a 16-2 mark in the CAA as well as the outright championship.  They closed the regular season by winning 23 of their last 24 games, but they have no Top 50 wins and are just 8-5 against the Top 150.  To some extent, the unbalanced CAA schedule helped them because they only play VCU and George Mason once (both at home), but it also hurt in that it provided fewer opportunities for quality wins.  If the Dragons get to the tournament final, they would be tough to leave out, but anything less will leave them in serious jeopardy.

Harvard (24-4, RPI: 37)

Saturday’s loss to Penn dropped the Crimson into a tie in the loss column with the Quakers.  Harvard has two road games left against Columbia and Cornell, both of whom are in the bottom half of the Ivy League, and the regular season title may hinge on Penn’s finale at Princeton early next week.  As it stands, Harvard boasts seven Top 100 wins, but just three of them came against the Top 90.  They currently have just one sub-100 loss, but I think the only chance for them to get an at-large would be to lose the conference title to Penn in a one-game playoff.

Iona (24-6, RPI: 39)

The Gaels won the MAAC Championship by two full games, but losses to Hofstra, Siena, and Manhattan have probably crushed their at-large hopes.  They do have five Top 100 wins but only two came against the Top 80, which means Iona can’t afford to lose until the MAAC Title game at the absolute latest.  While I think the Gaels are one of the best 37 at-large teams, their profile doesn’t necessarily reflect that.

Long Beach State (21-7, RPI: 33)

The 49ers won their two home games last week by a combined 36 points to stay undefeated in the Big West.  They have just two games left, the toughest of which is the regular season finale at Cal State Fullerton this weekend.  As it stands, they are just 2-7 against the Top 100 with only one loss against a team outside of the Top 50.  However, wins over Pitt and Xavier continue to lose their luster, and I think they 49ers at least need to get to the Big West Championship Game to garner an at-large bid.

Middle Tennessee State (25-5, RPI: 47)

A high RPI and gaudy win total are the only things keeping the Blue Raiders in the discussion following a loss at Western Kentucky.  The only win of any quality they can still get would be against Denver, but they can’t face the Pioneers until the title game based on how the bracket sets up.  Three Top 100 wins are nice, but MTSU really needs to win the auto-bid at this point.

Oral Roberts (26-5, RPI: 41)

The Golden Eagles escaped from Southern Utah with a two-point win to finish 15-1 in the Summit League.  They are in a similar situation as Middle Tennessee State though, because the best team they could face is South Dakota State, who ORU wouldn’t play until the finals.  It’s also worth noting that the Jackrabbits are hosting the tournament and beat Oral Roberts by 15 points there earlier this year.  Like MTSU, the Golden Eagles also have three Top 100 wins, but 14 of their 26 victories have come against sub-200 teams, which means they will likely be left out if they don’t win the automatic bid.

VCU (25-6, RPI: 61)

Saturday’s win over George Mason gave the Rams a measure of revenge and locked up second place in the CAA.  However, their best victory this season came against South Florida way back in November when the Bulls weren’t at full strength.  While VCU probably passes the infamous “eye test,” a weak strength of schedule could be their undoing, particularly if they can’t make it to the CAA Championship Game.


Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the latest edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.

About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms


  1. Ole Miss has an RPI of 58, not 78, which is Cincinnati’s RPI, who you curiously believe is tourney bound, but feel that Ole Miss needs a strong showing in the SEC tourney ASIDE from beating Alabama (RPI of 25) this Saturday.  If your bias was not so obvious with that typo, you might have credibility as a writer and hoops analyst.  You don’t.

    • Andy Bottoms says:

      Thanks for the heads up, I have updated the RPI to reflect correctly. That being said, I think you’re reading a lot into one typo. If your question is whether I think Cincinnati is a better team than Mississippi, the answer is absolutely yes–even before they beat Marquette last night. As of the time I wrote this they had wins over ND, Louisville, and Seton Hall at home and on the road against Georgetown and UConn (all Top 50 teams and at least 3 of which are safely in). Mississippi’s best wins are against Miami (without Reggie Johnson) in OT, Mississippi State, and LSU, none of which are a lock. Their best road win is at Arkansas last weekend, next best is Georgia. So typo aside, it isn’t being biased. It’s recognizing who the better team is. As I mentioned though, Cincinnati’s non-con strength of schedule is a huge issue that the committee can use against them, so by no means are they a lock. They do, however, have a far better profile at this point in the year.
      I also looked on The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix (, and 92 of 100 have Cincinnati in the field, while zero had Mississippi in. So while in your eyes I may not have credibility, apparently I am not alone.

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