NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch: Pac-12 adding bids

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Cal and Arizona State enter the field while SEC teams show they have work to do

<p> NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch: Pac-12 adding bids</p>

Selection Sunday is less than a month away, and the picture for who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA Tournament is becoming more clear.

In general, most of the 68 spots are fairly certain. Of the 32 conferences, we’ve tabbed 20 as being one-bid leagues, determined solely by conference tournaments. On the other end of the spectrum, at least 30 teams are safely in the field barring a total collapse between now and March 17.

That leaves the bubble, where every win and loss is magnified and every result from November and December takes on a renewed significance.

Here’s our look at the NCAA Tournament field for 2013. This is not intended to be a prediction, per se, but a snapshot at how the field may look right now.

We looked at RPI, strength of schedule, good wins and bad losses in our projections. You will also see references to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The selection committee is not instructed to use the rankings during the selection process, but we include them as an added resource.

NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET PROJECTIONS: FEB. 21

TOP FOUR SEEDS
Indiana
Miami
Duke
Michigan State

ACC (5)
In: Duke, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: Florida State, Maryland
Bubble notes: Virginia entered the field last week and remains in despite road losses to North Carolina and Miami. The Cavs missed a golden chance to all but clinch a bid with the 54-50 road loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Maryland moved one step forward with a win over Duke on Saturday and then one step back by losing to Boston College on Tuesday. The regular season finale between the Terps and Cavs in Charlottesville may be a key game for both. Other than a season sweep of Maryland, Florida State is running low on quality ACC wins.

Related: This week's college basketball power rankings

Atlantic 10 (5)
In: Butler, La Salle, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Worth a mention: Charlotte, UMass, Xavier
Bubble notes: VCU has a good resume numbers-wise, but the Rams missed an opportunity to solidify their profile by losing to Saint Louis on Tuesday. Their best win remains Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Temple put itself into a precarious position by losing to Duquesne, which is ranked outside the top 200 in the RPI. Three wins over the Syracuse and Saint Louis, plus wins over bubble teams Charlotte, Villanova and UMass could work in the Owls’ favor. Charlotte is hovering just inside the top 50 in the RPI with its worst loss coming to George Washington on the road. The 49ers two standout wins, however. (La Salle, at Butler). UMass lost on the road to St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, making the Minutemen an at-large longshot.

Related: Key games with postseason implications to watch this week

Big 12 (5)
In: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Worth a mention: Baylor
Bubble notes: In a game between bubble teams Wednesday, Iowa State defeated Baylor 87-82 for a regular season sweep. If Baylor is left out of the field, it will be due to the Bears' poor performance against the Tournament-bound teams in the Big 12: Baylor's only win over the "in" group was over Oklahoma State at home in January.

Related: Ben McLemore, Marcus Smart or Anthony Bennett: Who is the best freshman?

Big East (8)
In: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova
Worth a mention: St. John’s
Bubble notes: By defeating RPI No. 32 Connecticut on the road on Saturday, Villanova moves back into the field. The win gave the Wildcats their first top-100 road win, joining a resume that already includes victories over Louisville and Syracuse. ‘Nova has a bad loss to No. 254 Columbia, but that is the Wildcats’ only loss to a team outside of the top 100. St. John’s is fading with three losses in its last five games, albeit all three on the road against Tournament-bound teams (Georgetown, Syracuse and Louisville). Remaining games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame (on the road) and Marquette may be must-win situations.

Big Ten (7)
In: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Iowa
Bubble notes: After enduring a 2-7 start to Big Ten play, Illinois looked like it would work its way onto the bubble despite a stellar non-conference performance. Since the lackluster conference start, Illinois has gone on a four-game win streak, defeating Indiana and Minnesota two weeks ago and then 20-point routs of Purdue and Northwestern. Iowa’s case to join the field is getting stronger with Sunday’s 72-51 win over Minnesota, its third RPI top-50 win of the season, all of which at home. The Hawkeyes are being dragged down by a weak non-conference schedule.

Related: Key stats from Feb. 11-17

Conference USA (1)
In: Memphis
Worth a mention: Southern Miss
Bubble notes: Southern Miss has only two top-100 wins (Denver and UTEP), leaving Conference USA as a possible one-bid league if Memphis wins the tournament. The Tigers’ at-large credentials aren’t great, either, with a win at Southern Miss being Memphis’ signature achievement this season.

Missouri Valley (2)
In: Creighton, Wichita State
Worth a mention: Indiana State, Northern Iowa
Bubble notes: The at-large profiles coming out of the Missouri Valley will give the selection committee much to ponder. Wichita State recovered from a three-game losing streak to win four of a row, including Tuesday’s win over NCAA hopeful Indiana State (RPI No. 64) on the road. Creighton ended its own three-game losing streak Saturday with a come-from-behind win at Evansville before dispatching Southern Illinois on Tuesday. A BracketBuster game at Saint Mary’s on Saturday could help both teams’ at-large credentials. Indiana State had been flirting with a spot in the Tournament, but the Sycamores’ three-game losing streak will be tough to overcome. Indiana State lost to RPI No. 226 Missouri State on Feb. 12 and No. 177 Bradley on Saturday.

Mountain West (5)

In: Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Air Force
Bubble notes: A win over Air Force on Wednesday night combined with a loss by Ole Miss helped Boise State return to the field. The Broncos have top two top-50 wins at Creighton (RPI No. 47) and UNLV (No. 17), which is better than most teams on the bubble. The Broncos have lost their last five MWC road games for a 5-6 mark in the league, but they have a chance to end that streak with a trip to RPI No. 146 Fresno State. Home dates with Colorado State and San Diego State could help the Broncos clinch an at-large bid.

Pac-12 (6)
In: Arizona State, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
Worth a mention:Stanford
Bubble notes: Colorado split with the Arizona schools last week, which turns out to be good for both the Buffaloes and Arizona State. In the last two weeks, Colorado has a win at RPI No. 38 Oregon for a crucial road victory, and a win at home over No. 11 Arizona. Cal entered the field this week after stringing together back-to-back wins over Arizona on the road and RPI No. 41 UCLA at home. With three top-50 wins and no losses to teams outside the top 100, Cal should feel pretty good. The Sun Devils also entered our field this week with a season sweep of Colorado, defeating the No. 23 Buffaloes in Boulder on Saturday. With losses to Stanford and Utah in the last three games (plus a home loss to DePaul in December), Arizona State doesn’t have much wiggle room. The Sun Devils’ RPI is dangerously low at 67. Stanford entered last week on the bubble and lost at home to UCLA and USC, giving the Cardinal a season sweep to the Trojans, who are ranked 97th.

SEC (2)
In: Florida, Missouri
Worth a mention: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky
Bubble notes: With five losses in the last seven games, Ole Miss may have played itself out of a bid. The Rebels endured their worst loss of the season with a 63-62 defeat to South Carolina on Wednesday. Unfortunately for Kentucky, the selection committee will take injuries into account, and a 30-point loss to Tennessee without Nerlens Noel won’t help the Wildcats’ case. Alabama is in the same spot it was in two seasons ago with a great SEC record but a bubble resume thanks to losses to Dayton, Tulane, Mercer and Auburn. Arkansas should be mentioned for its wins over Florida and Missouri in recent weeks, but the Razorbacks still have a low RPI (74) and a dismal road record (1-6).

West Coast (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
Worth a mention: BYU
Bubble notes: Saint Mary’s could have eased its fears of making the Tournament by defeating Gonzaga, but the Gaels lost 77-60. A BracketBuster game against Creighton on Saturday can’t be understated. Other than a possible rematch with Gonzaga in the WCC tournament, this game will be Saint Mary’s last chance for a top-50 win.

One-bid conference projections

Conference Projected winner Conference Projected winner
America East Stony Brook MEAC Norfolk State
Atlantic Sun Florida Gulf Coast Northeast Robert Morris
Big Sky Montana Ohio Valley Belmont
Big South Charleston Southern Patriot Bucknell
Big West Long Beach State Southern Davidson
Colonial Northeastern Southland Stephen F. Austin
Horizon Valparaiso Summit Western Illinois
Ivy Harvard Sun Belt Middle Tennessee
MAAC Niagara SWAC Southern
MAC Akron WAC Louisiana Tech

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