College Basketball Bubble Watch
Championship Week is make-or-break time
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Sunday, March 7.
Welcome to college basketball's Championship Week, where NCAA tickets are punched or punted.
|Which team is going to claim the final No. 1 seed?
What's at stake in the week between now and Selection Sunday, when the 65-team field for the NCAA tournament will be announced?Two bubble teams -- Cornell and Northern Iowa -- have already punched their NCAA tickets. The Big Red won the Ivy League regular-season championship and an NCAA automatic bid on Friday night, and the Panthers won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship on Sunday. Old Dominion and either Gonzaga or Saint Mary's might join the NCAA field on Monday. Bubble teams across the country will be rooting for the Monarchs and Bulldogs to win. Here's where the NCAA tournament bubble stands going into Monday, if we assume the following (which is assuming quite a bit during Champ Week): • One of the teams that already has earned "lock" or "should be in" status wins the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC tournaments.
• Butler wins the Horizon League tournament.
• Gonzaga wins the West Coast Conference tournament.
• UTEP wins the Conference USA tournament.
• Richmond, Temple or Xavier wins the A-10 tournament.
• New Mexico or BYU wins the Mountain West Conference tournament. If all of the above actually happen, and we add those 11 automatic bids to the 20 automatic bids that will be awarded to conferences not represented in Bubble Watch, we'll have our 31 automatic bids. After we include the remaining teams with "lock" or "should be in" designation, we'll be at 58 bids. That would leave only seven available at-large bids for the 19 teams currently sitting in "work to do."
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Rhode Island, Dayton, Saint Louis|
What was once considered a banner year in the A-10 could end up being only an above-average season. Temple, Xavier and Richmond have done enough to lock up bids, but Dayton and Rhode Island are trying to play themselves out of the NCAA field with late-season swoons. The Flyers and Rams both need big weeks at the A-10 tourney in Atlantic City. Saint Louis finished 11-5 in the A-10, but because of its computer profile (No. 83 RPI and No. 192 schedule strength) it would probably have to reach the A-10 finals to have a chance on Selection Sunday.
Rhode Island [21-8 (9-7), RPI: 39, SOS: 79] The Rams might have played themselves right out of the NCAA field by losing at Massachusetts 69-67 on Saturday. It was Rhode Island's second loss to an RPI sub-100 opponent in a week, after it also lost at St. Bonaventure 81-74 on Feb. 27. The Rams have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Oklahoma State 63-59 in Uncasville, Conn., on Jan. 2. Rhode Island is 1-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-6 against the top 100. Its 65-64 victory at Dayton on Jan. 26 might help, along with its 8-6 record in true road games. But after suffering two bad losses in the last week of the regular season, the Rams might have to reach the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament to have a chance on Selection Sunday. They begin A-10 tournament play at home against Saint Joseph's on Tuesday.
Dayton [19-11 (8-8), RPI: 51, SOS: 33] After losing five of their last seven games, including a 71-66 loss at home to Saint Louis on Saturday, the Flyers are in not-so-great shape for an NCAA at-large bid. They really needed to beat either Richmond on the road or Saint Louis at home and lost both games. A big problem: Will the NCAA selection committee take the Flyers over Saint Louis, which finished three games better than Dayton in the A-10 standings and swept two games against the Flyers? UD has three high-quality victories, beating Xavier (home), Georgia Tech (neutral) and Old Dominion (home). But Dayton is only 1-6 against RPI top-25 opponents, 3-7 against the top 50 and 4-9 against the top 100. The Flyers also will have to overcome one eyesore on their resume: a 60-59 loss at RPI No. 184 Saint Joseph's on Jan. 23. Dayton opens A-10 tournament play at home against George Washington on Tuesday. It probably needs to reach the A-10 tourney championship game to have a chance at an at-large bid.
Saint Louis [20-10 (11-5), RPI: 83, SOS: 112] If we're going to include the Rams and Flyers, we're inclined to include the Billikens, who finished fourth in the A-10 standings with an 11-5 record. Saint Louis won eight of its last 10 games, beating the Flyers twice and defeating Rhode Island at home. The Billikens are 2-3 against RPI top-50 foes, having defeated Richmond 63-58 at home on Jan. 9 and Rhode Island 62-57 at home on Feb. 17. SLU is 4-7 against the RPI top 100 and 5-5 in true road games. The Billikens will have to overcome three losses against RPI sub-100 opponents, falling to No. 113 Iowa State (neutral), No. 138 George Washington (road) and No. 187 Bowling Green (road). The Billikens don't have a marquee nonconference win (their best victory came against RPI No. 136 Belmont) and their nonconference schedule was ranked No. 230 nationally. They are the No. 4 seed in the A-10 tourney and play the winner of Rhode Island/Saint Joseph's in Atlantic City on Friday.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: Georgia Tech|
ACC co-champion Duke might be playing for a No. 1 seed during this week's ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Georgia Tech will be fighting for its NCAA tournament life. Virginia Tech and Florida State move to "lock" status after winning on Saturday. The Hokies' nonconference schedule certainly leaves something to be desired, but there's no way the NCAA selection committee is going to leave out a team that finished 10-6 in the ACC. Wake Forest returns to lock status after beating Clemson 70-65 on Sunday, snapping a four-game losing streak.
Georgia Tech [19-11 (7-9), RPI: 44, SOS: 18] The Yellow Jackets are probably in trouble after losing to Virginia Tech 88-82 at home on Saturday, their fifth loss in their past seven games. Georgia Tech finished 7-9 in the ACC and went 3-8 in true road games (winning only one ACC road game). If the Yellow Jackets had beaten the Hokies, the NCAA selection committee might have been inclined to choose Georgia Tech over Virginia Tech because of its superior RPI rating and schedule strength. But it's hard to imagine the selection committee bypassing Virginia Tech now, after it finished three games better than Georgia Tech in ACC play and won the only head-to-head meeting. The Jackets might need to win at least two games in the ACC tournament, starting with Thursday's first-round game against North Carolina. Georgia Tech has four victories over RPI top-50 foes (home wins over Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest and Siena) and is probably talented enough to make a sustained run in the NCAA tournament. But its late-season collapse and road woes leaves some serious doubt about its NCAA at-large chances.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Notre Dame|
Work left to do: Seton Hall, South Florida
Louisville became the seventh Big East team to earn "lock" status by upsetting Syracuse for the second time this season, winning 78-68 in the final game at Freedom Hall on Saturday. Amazingly, Notre Dame also moved closer to locking up an NCAA at-large bid by beating Marquette 63-60 in overtime on the road Saturday. Cincinnati and Connecticut fell off the board after losing Saturday to finish 7-11 in Big East play. Both teams could potentially work their way back on to the board by reaching the championship game of the Big East tournament in New York. South Florida is back on the board after knocking off the Huskies at home to finish 9-9 against Big East foes.
Notre Dame [21-10 (10-8), RPI: 57, SOS: 58] The Fighting Irish closed the regular season with a four-game winning streak, beating Pittsburgh (home), Georgetown (road), Connecticut (home) and Marquette (road) to finish 10-8 in Big East play. With star forward Luke Harangody returning from a bruised knee, the Irish head into the Big East tournament probably sitting on the right side of the NCAA bubble. The Irish have three victories over RPI top-15 foes and are 10-7 against RPI top-100 opponents. Notre Dame is 3-6 in true road games and will have to overcome a woefully soft nonconference schedule (No. 218 nationally). The Irish also suffered three unsightly losses, falling to RPI No. 115 Northwestern (neutral court), No. 149 Rutgers (road) and No. 176 Loyola Marymount (home). The Irish are the No. 7 seed in the Big East tournament and play the Seton Hall-Providence winner on Wednesday.
Seton Hall [18-11 (9-9), RPI: 53, SOS: 28] The Pirates took care of business during the last week of the regular season, winning road games at Rutgers and Providence. Seton Hall finished 9-9 in Big East play, and if it can win a couple of games in the Big East tournament, it might have a legitimate chance at an NCAA at-large bid. The Pirates have three wins over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Pittsburgh and Louisville at home and Cornell on the road. It also defeated fellow Big East bubble team Notre Dame 90-87 at home, and lost at South Florida 76-74 in overtime. The Pirates are 3-8 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-11 against the top 100. Seven of their 11 losses came against teams which are ranked in the top 15 of the RPI and only two of them were decided by more than 10 points. In fact, Seton Hall didn't lose to an opponent ranked worse than No. 64 in the RPI. The Pirates are the No. 10 seed in the Big East tournament and play No. 15 seed Providence on Tuesday night and potentially Notre Dame if they win.
South Florida [19-11 (9-9), RPI: 65, SOS: 77] The Bulls make a late return to the bubble discussion after beating Connecticut 75-68 at home on Saturday. South Florida will probably have to win at least two games in the Big East tournament to have a chance on Selection Sunday, but its at-large chances still have a faint pulse. USF has three wins over RPI top-50 opponents, having defeated Pittsburgh (home), Georgetown (road) and Kent State (home). The Bulls are 3-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-10 against the top 100. They weren't very competitive against many of the Big East's best teams, losing at Syracuse by 17 points, to West Virginia at home by 19, at Villanova by 25 and at Louisville by 21. The Bulls defeated fellow Big East bubble team Seton Hall by two points in overtime, but lost two games against Notre Dame. The Bulls are the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament and open play against No. 16 seed DePaul on Tuesday. If they advance, they'll play No. 8 seed Georgetown on Wednesday.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Illinois, Minnesota|
It's looking more and more possible that only four Big Ten teams will play in the NCAA tournament, unless someone other than Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue or Wisconsin wins the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Illinois really needs to win a couple of games -- and beat somebody of importance -- to move itself back to the right side of the bubble. The Illini lost for the fifth time in six games on Sunday, not the kind of impression you want to leave with the NCAA selection committee.
Illinois [18-13 (10-8), RPI: 73, SOS: 49] Illinois' late-season collapse is complete after it lost to Wisconsin 72-57 at home on Sunday, its fifth defeat in six games. The Illini are 4-8 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-11 against the top 100. Illinois' high-end victories over Vanderbilt (home), Wisconsin (road), Michigan State (home) and Clemson (road) and its 6-4 record in true road games might help its chances. But the NCAA selection committee might not like the fact that 13 of its 18 victories came against teams which are ranked No. 115 or worse in the RPI ratings. The Illini are the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis and will play No. 4 seed Wisconsin on Friday. They need that one.
Minnesota [18-12 (9-9), RPI: 75, SOS: 39] The Gophers are probably a fringe bubble candidate at best, but they're back on the board after routing Iowa 88-53 on Sunday to finish 9-9 in Big Ten play. Frankly, the Gophers have as much of an argument as Illinois to be included in the NCAA field. The Gophers are 4-4 in their last eight games, including a 62-60 victory at Illinois on Feb. 27. The Gophers have three high-end victories, having beaten Wisconsin (home), Butler (neutral) and Ohio State (home). Minnesota is 3-6 against RPI top-50 foes, 4-7 against the top 100 and 3-7 in true road games. The Gophers have five losses to RPI sub-100 opponents, including an ugly 83-55 defeat at Michigan on Tuesday night. The Gophers are the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tourney and play No. 11 seed Indiana on Wednesday.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Teams that should be in: UNLV|
Work left to do: San Diego State
Could four MWC teams actually make the NCAA tournament? With teams from the power conferences dropping like flies, there seems to be a chance that UNLV and San Diego State might join MWC champion New Mexico and BYU in the NCAA field. The Runnin' Rebels are in better shape than the Aztecs heading into Las Vegas, but both teams could receive at-large bids by winning at least one game in the MWC tournament.
UNLV [23-7 (11-5), RPI: 47, SOS: 118] The Runnin' Rebels ended the regular season with a four-game winning streak, beating Wyoming 74-56 in Saturday's finale. UNLV finished 11-5 in MWC play, which should be good enough for an NCAA at-large bid. UNLV has four victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating New Mexico (road), BYU (home), Louisville (home) and San Diego State (home). The Rebels are 4-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-4 against the top 100. Vegas has three losses to sub-100 opponents, losing to No. 108 USC (neutral court) and getting swept by No. 155 Utah. Losing to the Utes for a third time -- the teams meet Thursday in the MWC tournament -- would not be good, but it's hard to imagine the Rebels being left out of the NCAA tournament field.
San Diego State [22-8 (11-5), RPI: 33, SOS: 72] San Diego State seems to be right on the NCAA fence as it heads into the MWC tournament. The Aztecs won their last two regular-season games, beating Colorado State 68-55 at home and Air Force 61-42 on the road. They finished 11-5 in MWC play, but don't have a marquee nonconference win on their resume. San Diego State is 2-5 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-6 against the top 100. The Aztecs will also have to overcome one very ugly loss: 85-83 at No. 215 Wyoming on Jan. 9. San Diego State opens the MWC tournament against Colorado State on Thursday. It might need to win two games in Las Vegas to feel confident about its at-large chances.
|Teams that should be in: California|
Work left to do: Washington, Arizona State
The Pac-10 hasn't put a very good product on the floor this season, but its league tournament could have as much drama as any in the country. It should be a wide-open field, and Arizona State and Washington remain on the NCAA bubble heading into this week's tourney in Los Angeles. Both the Huskies and Sun Devils might need to reach the Pac-10 tourney final to feel good about their chances on Selection Sunday, thus the potential semifinal game between those two looms large. California, the regular-season champion, is in much better shape.
California [21-9 (13-5), RPI: 19, SOS: 7] Despite a middling overall profile, the Bears are probably safe after winning at Stanford 71-61 on Saturday. California won the Pac-10 regular-season championship by finishing 13-5 against league foes, including a sweep of fellow Pac-10 bubble team Arizona State and a home victory over Washington. The Bears are 1-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-6 against the top 100. Their best nonconference win came against No. 59 Murray State, the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion. Cal lost each of its four high-profile nonconference games, losing to Kansas (road) by 15 points, Syracuse (neutral court) by 22, New Mexico (road) by eight and Ohio State (neutral) by six. The Bears will have to overcome three losses to RPI sub-100 opponents and the fact that 16 of their 21 victories came against teams which are ranked No. 100 or worse in the RPI ratings. Although they're almost certainly in, the Bears might want to make sure they win one game in the Pac-10 tournament -- they will play the Oregon/Washington State winner on Thursday -- to feel completely safe on Selection Sunday.
Washington [21-9 (11-7), RPI: 50, SOS: 67] The Huskies finished the regular season with a four-game winning streak and improved their record in true road games to 4-6 by winning at Oregon and Oregon State. But Washington might still need to reach at least the final of the Pac-10 tournament to have a realistic chance at getting an NCAA at-large bid. The Huskies have a couple of RPI top-50 wins, beating Texas A&M (home) and Cal (home). But Washington has very little else to show from Pac-10 play, other than so-so home victories over Arizona State and Arizona. The Huskies are 2-2 against RPI top-50 opponents and 6-5 against the top 100. They have four losses to teams which are ranked No. 100 or worse in the RPI ratings and 15 of their 21 victories came against teams which are ranked No. 122 or worse in the RPI. UW is the No. 3 seed in the Pac-10 tournament and plays No. 6 seed Oregon State on Thursday. A win there might mean a bubblicious semi against ASU.
Arizona State [22-9 (12-6), RPI: 52, SOS: 81] The Sun Devils closed the regular season by winning six of their last seven games, after sweeping home games against USC and UCLA last week. But like Washington, Arizona State probably needs to reach at least the championship game of the Pac-10 tournament to have any hope on Selection Sunday. The Sun Devils have two victories over RPI top-50 opponents, defeating San Diego State 55-52 at home on Dec. 19 and Washington 68-51 at home on Jan. 8. They have only two other victories over an RPI top-100 foe, winning 73-69 at Arizona on Feb. 21 and 69-42 vs. UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 21. The Sun Devils are 2-6 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-7 against the top 100. ASU is the No. 2 seed in the Pac-10 tournament and plays No. 7 seed Stanford on Thursday.
|Work left to do: Ole Miss, Florida, Mississippi State|
Three SEC teams will be fighting for their NCAA tournament lives this week in Nashville. Ole Miss heads into the SEC tournament with the most momentum, but the Rebels might have the most work to do after losing two games to Mississippi State and one to Florida. The Gators take a three-game losing streak to the Music City, and the Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back losses to Auburn (road) and Tennessee (home).
Ole Miss [21-9 (9-7), RPI: 55, SOS: 85] The Rebels saved whatever NCAA at-large chances they have left by coming back from a nine-point deficit in the second half to win at Arkansas 68-66 on Saturday. The Rebs finished 9-7 in SEC play, but were swept by fellow SEC bubble team Mississippi State and lost at home against Florida. Ole Miss ended the season with a four-game winning streak. It has two high-end victories, beating Kansas State 86-74 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Nov. 20 and UTEP 91-81 in overtime in Southaven, Miss., on Dec. 16. Five of Ole Miss' nine losses came against teams that are ranked in the top 25 of the RPI ratings and it has only one loss to a sub-100 opponent. But 15 of the Rebels' 21 victories came against teams that are ranked No. 116 or worse in the RPI ratings. The Rebels earned a bye in the first round of the SEC tournament and will play the LSU-Tennessee winner in Nashville on Friday.
Florida [20-11 (9-7), RPI: 56, SOS: 46] After losing at Kentucky 74-66 on Sunday, Florida closed the regular season with a 9-7 record in SEC play. The Gators take a three-game losing streak into the SEC tournament and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. UF is 3-8 against RPI top-50 foes, but those three are very good: beating Tennessee (home), Michigan State (neutral) and Florida State (home). Eight of their 11 losses came against teams that are ranked No. 25 or better in the RPI ratings. The Gators will have to overcome one ugly eyesore -- a 67-66 loss at home to No. 209 South Alabama on Dec. 22. Florida plays Auburn in Thursday's first round of the SEC tournament. That's obviously a must-win. Then a potential elimination game with Mississippi State after that.
Mississippi State [21-10 (9-7), RPI: 69, SOS: 111] After losing their last two games, including a 75-59 defeat at home against Tennessee on Saturday in which they trailed 17-0, the Bulldogs probably have very little chance of earning an NCAA at-large bid. In fact, they would probably have to reach the championship game of the SEC tournament to have any chance at all. But Mississippi State probably has to stay in the bubble discussion because it swept games against fellow SEC bubble team Ole Miss and has nearly an identical resume (minus a November victory over Kansas State). MSU's only win over an RPI top-50 opponent came against Old Dominion in the South Padre Island Invitational in late November. Besides sweeping rival Ole Miss and beating the Monarchs, the Bulldogs' best victories came against South Carolina (road), Wright State (home) and Alabama (home). Frankly, that isn't nearly enough for an at-large bid. The Bulldogs are 1-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-6 against the top 100. Worse, MSU has four losses against RPI sub-100 teams, having lost to No. 131 Western Kentucky (road), No. 139 Rider (home), No. 141 Auburn (road) and No. 143 Arkansas (road). The Bulldogs earned a first-round bye in the SEC tournament and play the Auburn-Florida winner on Friday.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Work left to do: Utah State, Old Dominion, UAB, Saint Mary's, Memphis|
Two bubble teams from mid-major conferences are off the bubble board, but for the right reasons. Another mid-major team is off the board for the wrong reason. Cornell won the Ivy League regular-season championship and the NCAA automatic bid that comes with it. Northern Iowa, which earned "lock" status a couple of weeks ago, defeated Wichita State 67-52 in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney championship game on Sunday. UTEP is probably also in good shape after winning its first C-USA championship.
Utah State [25-6 (14-2), RPI: 31, SOS: 101] The Aggies take a 15-game winning streak into this week's WAC tournament in Reno, Nev., after blasting New Mexico State 81-63 at home on Saturday night. Utah State has two victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating BYU 71-61 at home on Dec. 2 and Wichita State 68-58 in a BracketBusters game at home on Feb. 20. The Aggies are 2-1 against RPI top-50 opponents, 9-4 against the top 100 and 8-5 in true road games. Utah State's schedule strength is still questionable, with 15 of its 24 victories coming against RPI sub-150 opponents (nine against sub-200 teams). The Aggies are the No. 1 seed in the WAC tourney and open play Thursday against No. 8 seed Boise State. USU might not need to win the WAC tourney, but a trip to the finals is advisable.
Old Dominion [25-8 (15-3), RPI: 37, SOS: 100] The Monarchs defeated Virginia Commonwealth 73-69 in overtime in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament on Sunday and advance to play William & Mary in Monday night's championship game. The Monarchs are hanging their hats on one monumental victory: a 61-57 upset at Georgetown on Dec. 19. ODU also has so-so victories over Charlotte (home), William & Mary (home and road) and Marshall (home). ODU has only one loss to an RPI sub-100 opponent, losing 71-55 at No. 152 George Mason on Jan. 2. Old Dominion is 1-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-7 against the top 100. Take care of business against the Tribe and none of this will matter.
UAB [23-7 (11-5), RPI: 40, SOS: 89] The Blazers really hurt their at-large chances by blowing a 14-point lead in the second half of a 52-50 loss at UTEP on Saturday. UAB lost on Derrick Caracter's dunk with one second left. The Blazers were swept by the Miners and Memphis, which won't help its chances if only two Conference USA teams go to the NCAA tournament. UAB has one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Butler 67-57 at home on Dec. 22. The Blazers also have so-so victories over Marshall (road), Cincinnati (home), Tulsa (home) and Georgia (home). UAB is 1-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-6 against the top 100. It was competitive in losses against top competition, losing to UTEP in double overtime at home and Memphis by five points at home. The Blazers are the No. 3 seed in the C-USA tournament in Tulsa, Okla., and will play the winner of the opening-round game between No. 6 seed Southern Miss and No. 11 seed Tulane on Thursday.
Saint Mary's [25-5 (11-3), RPI: 45, SOS: 145] Late Sunday night in Vegas, Saint Mary's picked up a crucial 69-55 win over Portland in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tourney. The Gaels have two victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating San Diego State 80-58 at home on Nov. 16 and defeating Utah State 68-63 on the road on Dec. 5. They are 2-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-4 against the top 100. Saint Mary's will get some help from its 9-2 record in true road games, but its overall body of work still seems to be lacking without a win over Gonzaga. The Gaels will get a third shot at the Zags Monday night.
Memphis [23-8 (13-3), RPI: 46, SOS: 63] It's hard to imagine a team stealing an NCAA at-large bid based on a body of work that includes two wins over UAB, along with so-so victories over teams like Oakland, Marshall, Tulsa and IUPUI. But the Tigers might actually accomplish the feat if they can win a couple of games in the C-USA tournament. The Tigers won seven of their last eight games, including Saturday's 75-53 rout of Tulsa at home. Memphis is 2-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-5 against the top 100. Five of Memphis' eight losses came against RPI top-50 foes, including a 57-55 loss to Kansas in St. Louis on Nov. 17. The Tigers have three losses to sub-100 opponents, including a 70-60 loss at No. 200 SMU on Jan. 30. Memphis is the No. 2 seed in the C-USA tournament and plays the winner of the first-round game between No. 7 seed Houston and No. 10 seed East Carolina on Thursday.