NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Can Cuonzo Martin’s 18-13 Tennessee Volunteers Make The NCAA Tournament?

After another exciting and eventful weekend of college hoops, I can finally trim some teams off of the bubble.  While it may be disheartening to fans of those teams, take solace in the fact that it makes may job a lot easier.

Even so, there is still the potential for plenty of movement during the last week of the season as teams jockey for position and look to make a positive final impression in their respective conference tournaments.


Can first year head coach Cuonzo Martin guide the Tennessee Volunteers to a deep run in the SEC Tournament and ultimately get into The Big Dance? (Photo by University of Tennesee via Wikimedia Commons)

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 (18-11, RPI: 54)

The Canes didn’t do themselves any favors by losing at North Carolina State last week, but they did bounce back to win a “can’t lose” game against Boston College on Saturday.  With a 3-10 record against the Top 100, Miami can ill afford to lose to Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament.  A win there would give the Canes another crack at Florida State, but they may need to make a run all the way to the finals in order to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.

North Carolina State (20-11, RPI: 54)

The sweep over Miami is nice, but NC State is currently 0-8 against the Top 50 with a pair of sub-100 losses working against them.  A run to the ACC Final would include wins over Virginia and North Carolina, but at this point, even that may not be enough for the Wolfpack.

Virginia (22-8, RPI: 40)

The Cavaliers could have moved to lock status with a win over Florida State last week, but they blew a late lead and lost on a last-second shot from Ian Miller.  They then needed overtime to beat Maryland on Sunday, and Virginia still hasn’t beaten a tournament lock since November.  Even so, the bubble is so weak that the Hoos are safe barring a Quarterfinal loss to NC State or Boston College and a wild series of events in other leagues.

Atlantic 10

Dayton (19-11, RPI: 72)

The Flyers have eight Top 100 wins on their profile, but a few ugly losses are dragging them down.  They beat George Washington to close out the regular season, and they will face the Colonials against in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.  A win there sets up a rubber match with Xavier in what would likely serve as an elimination game.

Massachusetts (20-10, RPI: 87)

An overtime loss at Temple has UMass on life support, but the Minutemen could get another crack at the Owls in the A-10 Quarterfinals.  They need to win that game and get to the finals to have any chance whatsoever.  That being said, nearly half of their 20 wins have come at the expense of sub-200 squads, so strength of schedule will be an issue.  Even with five Top 100 wins, they are definitely a long shot.

Saint Joseph’s (19-12, RPI: 54)

The Hawks lost in double-overtime at Saint Bonaventure in their only game last week, which makes a deep run in the A-10 Tournament a must. They need to beat Charlotte in the first round to get another shot at the Bonnies, which would likely set up another matchup with Temple.  Saint Joe’s beat the Owls just over a week ago, and even though that is one of just two Top 50 wins for the Hawks, they do have six Top 100 victories on their profile.

Xavier (19-11, RPI: 53)

Xavier needed a big second half to avoid a crushing loss to Charlotte, but the Musketeers aren’t out of the woods yet.  They have a first round bye in the A-10 Tournament, and while they do boast six Top 100 wins, a Quartefinal matchup with Dayton would essentially serve as an elimination game.

Big 12

Texas (19-12, RPI: 51)

The Longhorns split games with Oklahoma and Kansas to finish 9-9 in the Big 12.  That sets up an important Big 12 Tournament game with Iowa State in the Quarterfinals, but with an 8-12 record against the Top 100, one win probably won’t be enough for Texas.

Big East

Cincinnati (22-9, RPI: 68)

The Bearcats picked up wins over Marquette and Villanova to finish 12-6 in the Big East.  Five Top 50 wins would seem to make them a lock, but it’s still unclear how much they might be penalized for an extremely weak non-conference schedule.  Cincinnati has a double-bye in the Big East Tournament, and Georgetown looks to be their likely opponent in the Quarterfinals.  A loss there certainly wouldn’t kill them, while another quality win might lock up a bid.

Connecticut (18-12, RPI: 34)

Jim Calhoun returned to the bench on Saturday, and the Huskies responded with a season-ending win over Pitt.  They finished just 8-10 in the league, but few bubble teams can match their nine Top 100 wins.  Their first Big East Tournament game is against DePaul, but if they can beat West Virginia in the second round, the defending champs should be safe.  As I mentioned last week, the Huskies will be a real test for the committee’s assertion that late season performance isn’t weighed more heavily than team’s play over the course of the entire year.  As an aside, I think it’s idiotic to ignore how a team is playing down the stretch.  That absolutely matters.

Seton Hall (19-11, RPI: 60)

The Pirates finished 8-10 in the Big East after getting crushed by 28 points against last-place DePaul.  They still have seven Top 100 wins, but I’m not sure they could survive a first round loss to Providence in the Big East Tournament.

South Florida (19-12, RPI: 46)

I wasn’t shocked to see USF split their last two games against Louisville and West Virginia, but I wouldn’t have expected them to do it by winning at Louisville and suffering their second home loss of the season against the Mountaineers.  The Bulls wound up 12-6 in the Big East, but they are just 1-9 against the RPI Top 50.  They will play the winner of Rutgers and Villanova in the second round of the Big East Tournament, which is pretty much a no-win situation.  A loss would kill them while a win wouldn’t prove anything, so they will need to beat Notre Dame to reach the Semifinals if they want to enhance their profile.

West Virginia (19-12, RPI: 44)

The Mountaineers got to 9-9 in the league with a key road win at South Florida, which also earned them a first round bye in the Big East Tournament.  They now have nine Top 100 wins and will likely face UConn in their first conference tournament game.  A win there would make them a lock, but a loss wouldn’t destroy their at-large hopes either.

Big Ten

Northwestern (18-12, RPI: 48)

The Wildcats suffered yet another crushing lost on a last-second shot by Ohio State, but they bounced back from a slow start to win at Iowa to finish 8-10 in the Big Ten.  As of now, Northwestern is an ugly 1-10 against the Top 50, so even though they have no sub-100 losses, the Wildcats need to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.  If they can knock off Minnesota in the opener, they would have another crack at Michigan, who the Wildcats took to overtime in both meetings this season.  A victory there would be huge, but they may still need to do more.

Conference USA

Southern Mississippi (24-7, RPI: 17)

The Golden Eagles continue to limp to the finish line.  They lost four of their final eight conference games and now have three sub-100 losses on their profile.  They do, however, have nine Top 100 victories, but if they lose to the winner of Rice and East Carolina in the C-USA Quarterfinals, things may get dicey.


Arizona (21-10, RPI: 76)

At this point, the Wildcats probably need to win out after suffering a profile-killing loss to Arizona State over the weekend.  At a minimum, they need to beat UCLA (their likely Quarterfinal opponent) and Washington to get to the Championship Game.  They still have just one Top 40 win, and the bulk of their Top 100 wins came against teams ranked 85th or worse.

California (23-8, RPI: 37)

Once again, Cal came up short in a Sunday night road game, and they missed a chance to tie for the Pac-12 regular season title by losing at Stanford.  They are currently 7-6 against the Top 100, but two sub-100 losses and the league’s completely unimpressive non-conference performance are keeping them from lock status at this point.  If they can get to the finals, they are in.  Anything less and things could get interesting.

Oregon (22-8, RPI: 50)

Wins over Colorado and Utah moved the Ducks into the RPI Top 50, and their last three Pac-12 losses came by just nine points.  Still, they have no Top 50 wins and are 5-7 against the Top 100.  Nearly half of their victories have come against sub-200 squads, so the margin for error is slim heading into the Pac-12 Tournament.  If they can beat Cal to make the finals, they have a chance.  Otherwise, I can’t see them making it.

Washington (21-9, RPI: 54)

The Huskies backed into the outright title after losing to UCLA only to watch Cal fall on the road.  While it’s tough to envision the regular season champ of a major conference getting snubbed, Washington is only 1-6 versus the Top 50, and 10 of their 21 wins are over sub-200 teams.  Much like Cal, if they make the finals, I think they are in, but an early exit might leave them on the outside looking in.


Mississippi (18-12, RPI: 58)

The Rebels picked up their first Top 50 win of the season by beating Alabama on Saturday to stay alive.  They now have seven Top 100 wins but are 10-12 against the Top 150.  Consequently, they need a solid SEC Tournament run to improve their profile.  Tennessee awaits in the Quarters if Ole Miss can beat Auburn in the opening round, but getting all the way to the finals is their best bet.

Mississippi State (21-10, RPI: 65)

After avoiding what would have been a terrible loss at South Carolina, the Bulldogs took care of Arkansas to finish at .500 in the league.  As it stands, they have three Top 50 wins and eight victories versus the Top 100, but I don’t think they could withstand a loss to Georgia in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.  A win there would lead to a Quarterfinal matchup with Vanderbilt, who the Bulldogs beat in their only meeting of the season.  Win that one, and I think MSU is pretty safe.

Tennessee (18-13, RPI: 75)

There probably won’t be a more interesting case for the committee than Tennessee.  Through the first 16 games, they were 8-8, but highly-touted recruit Jarnell Stokes decided to enroll early and suit up for the Vols.  The team proceeded to go 10-5 over the remainder of the season, including victories in eight of their last nine to finish tied for second in the SEC.  With a strong tournament performance, I could see the Vols working their way into the field.  Their likely Quarterfinal opponent would be Ole Miss with Vanderbilt or Mississippi State awaiting them in the Semis.

Read one of the most prophetic articles ever posted at MSF: Cuonzo Martin a slam-dunk hire despite immediate ire of Vol fans


BYU (25-8, RPI: 45)

A 19-point loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Semifinals has BYU’s status in doubt.  They are 3-6 against the Top 50 with just one win against the Top 45.  One of their other Top 50 wins came against Oregon before they had Devoe Joseph, and five of their six Top 50 losses came by double digits.  Throw in the fact that 10 of their 23 D-I wins came against sub-200 teams, and things aren’t looking good for the Cougars.

Colorado State (19-10, RPI: 21)

The Rams kept their perfect MWC home record intact by beating UNLV last week, and they followed that up with their first league road win at Air Force.  CSU boasts eight Top 100 wins and a high strength of schedule, so as long as they can avoid a loss against TCU in the Mountain West Tournament, I like their chances to get an at-large.

Drexel (27-5, RPI: 63)

The Dragons have now won 25 of their last 26, earned an outright CAA regular season title, and made it to the conference tournament final.  In my eyes, that should enough regardless of whether they beat VCU on Monday night, but the fact that 15 of their wins have come against sub-200 teams certainly brings doubt into play.  Still, I think they belong in the field.

Harvard (26-4, RPI: 36)

No one will be more interested in Tuesday’s Princeton-Penn game than the Crimson.  If Princeton wins, Harvard is dancing.  If Penn wins, Harvard heads to a one-game playoff for the second straight season with the automatic bid on the line.  They are 5-3 against the Top 100 with an ugly loss to Fordham the only huge blemish on their profile.  I could see the Crimson getting an at-large even if they lose to Penn, but they would definitely be sweating it out on Sunday.

Iona (25-7, RPI: 41)

Sunday’s loss to Fairfield spelled the end for Iona.  They now have four sub-100 losses, including two against teams outside of the Top 200, to go with some good, but not great, non-conference wins.

Long Beach State (22-8, RPI: 35)

Saturday night’s loss at Cal State Fullerton spoiled a perfect Big West season for the 49ers.  It also makes it imperative that they get to the title game at a minimum.  The high strength of schedule is great, but LBSU is only 2-7 versus the Top 100.  Again, I think they are worthy of a bid and could make some noise in the tournament, but the committee may see it differently if they don’t claim the auto-bid.

Middle Tennessee State (25-6, RPI: 59)

A Quarterfinal loss to Arkansas State dropped the Blue Raiders out of the RPI Top 50 and out of at-large consideration.

Oral Roberts (27-5, RPI: 38)

The Golden Eagles are one win away from the Summit League final, but I am still not convinced they could earn an at-large even if they lose the Championship to South Dakota State on SDSU’s home floor.  With 15 of their 26 wins against sub-200 teams, ORU just needs to keep on winning.

VCU (27-6, RPI: 49)

Two CAA Tournament wins have helped VCU get into the RPI Top 50, and they now get a rematch against Drexel with the automatic bid on the line.  Five Top 100 wins definitely help their case, but nearly half of their wins have come versus sub-200 teams.  I think both the Rams and Dragons are worthy of a bid, but the loser will be sweating it out over the rest of the week.


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

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