Bracketology: There Really Are Only Eight Bubble Teams … Until the Upsets Happen in Conference Tournaments
Indiana grabbed a top slot with the win over Michigan State on the road. It would probably take multiple losses for them to drop out of the top line now (and even then, a 29-5 is probably good enough). Gonzaga has continued to win, and if it wins out will get a #1 seed. The ACC winner down the stretch will be another top seed, and the runner-up will be in contention with Florida, the Big East winner, and the Big Ten runner-up for the final slot.
At the other end of the spectrum, the bubble is always broad and vague, but probably not nearly as big as people think. I think Missouri played into a safe area with the win over Florida.
St. Mary’s is probably safe (and should be, after beating BYU). Ole Miss played its way onto the bubble with the loss to South Carolina.
For me, the true bubble line now falls after Oklahoma on the #11 seed line. That would mean I have a pretty large group – eight in and eight out – with little to distinguish them. Over the next three weeks, some will add big wins to play off of it, and others will drop off with losses.
Of course, there really are not eight slots open. We know there will be some creep as wacky things happen in conference tournaments. It does not look like the mid-majors will have as many at-large candidates this year. Where are the most likely candidates for an auto bid thief to shrink the bubble as we head toward March?
- Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee should get an at-large IF they win out in the regular season but lose in the tourney.
- Ohio Valley: Belmont is still holding in the top thirty of the RPI, and if someone else wins the tournament could get an at-large.
- Conference USA: I think Memphis could survive not winning the tournament and still get an at-large, Southern Miss probably needs to win it or beat Memphis on the road. Anyone else winning would reduce a slot if Memphis still gets in.
- Missouri Valley Conference: Wichita State and Creighton will be in the field. Indiana State has played their way out of at-large consideration despite some great wins. If they or Illinois State win the tournament, a bubble team goes bye bye.
- Pac-12 Conference: The Pac-12 is loaded with bubble teams, and Arizona has proven vulnerable at times. I could see a team making a run here with a bunch of teams that are about equal.
- West Coast Conference: Gonzaga or St. Mary’s are going to be heavy favorites to win, but if anyone else grabs it, that knocks the bubble down.
- Atlantic 10 Conference: Plenty of teams in the mix here means a wild tournament where someone (Xavier? Dayton? Charlotte?) could pull an upset and get to the final.
- Southeastern Conference: Kentucky’s woes and Ole Miss losing at South Carolina have this league on the ropes. If anyone can upset Florida, it opens the possibility of a team grabbing a bid that might have been out, like Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas or Texas A&M.
I would project about three of those slots to fall, so when looking at the last teams in, keep that in mind. Here are my projections of what I think the committee will do, while also trying to project forward based on the remaining schedules and potential outcomes.
#1 Seeds: Indiana*, Gonzaga*, Miami*, Duke (*denotes assigned auto bid slot)
#2 Seeds: Michigan, Florida*, Syracuse*, Michigan State
#3 Seeds: Louisville, Kansas*, Arizona*, Georgetown
#4 Seeds: New Mexico*, Wisconsin, Marquette, Kansas State
#5 Seeds: Colorado State, Ohio State, Butler*, Oklahoma State
#6 Seeds: Wichita State*, Pittsburgh, NC State, Virginia Commonwealth
#7 Seeds: Illinois, Missouri, Notre Dame, St. Louis
#8 Seeds: Minnesota, St. Mary’s, Creighton, San Diego State
#9 Seeds: Oregon, UNLV, Cincinnati, Memphis*
#10 Seeds: Middle Tennessee*, UCLA, Colorado, North Carolina
#11 Seeds: Oklahoma, Belmont*, La Salle, California
#12 Seeds: Mississippi, Iowa State, Temple vs. Virginia, Iowa vs. Arizona State
#13 Seeds: Akron*, Louisiana Tech*, Bucknell*, Detroit*
#14 Seeds: Stephen F. Austin*, Florida Gulf Coast*, South Dakota State*, Davidson*
#15 Seeds: Stony Brook*, Long Beach*, Iona*, Harvard*
#16 Seeds: Weber State*, Bryant*, Northeastern* vs. Southern*, UNC-Asheville* vs. UNC-Central*
First Eight Teams Out: Kentucky, Southern Miss, Alabama, Baylor, Villanova, Maryland, Charlotte, Arkansas
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