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College Basketball Bracket Projections and Bubble Watch: Jan. 24


Selection Sunday is less than two months away, but the picture for who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA Tournament is starting to take shape.

In general, most of the 68 spots are fairly certain. Of the 32 conferences, we’ve tabbed 21 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 does not use them as a reference, but we include them as an added resource.



ACC (5)
In: Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State
Worth a mention: Florida State, Virginia
Bubble notes: Maryland was the last team in the field this week. The Terps have four losses, two on the road vs. NCAA teams (Miami and North Carolina), one on a neutral court (vs. Kentucky) and one at home (Florida State). Their only good win is vs. NC State, at home. North Carolina has a couple of losses that could come back to haunt it, at Texas and at Virginia. That late-December win at home vs. UNLV is the Heels’ only top-60 RPI win. Virginia has some good wins (at Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida State), but some troubling losses (Delaware, Old Dominion). Plus, the Cavs’ RPI is 131 (with a KenPom rating of 37). Florida State already has seven losses and only has one top-50 win (BYU).

Atlantic 10 (3)
In: Butler, Temple, VCU
Worth a mention: Charlotte, La Salle, Saint Louis, UMass, Xavier
Bubble notes: Barring a late-season slide, Temple should remain in the field thanks in large part to its win over Syracuse at MSG. The Owls have a couple of bad home losses — vs. Canisius in December and St. Bonaventure last week. La Salle has a solid RPI of 32 and picked up a big win on Wednesday night against short-handed Butler, but the Explorers resume still falls short. Xavier has wins over Butler and Temple, plus a 4–1 mark in the A-10, but the Musketeers lost to Pacific on a neutral court, Vanderbilt and Wofford at home and at Wake Forest. Saint Louis has wins over Texas A&M and New Mexico, but the Billikens have five losses and an RPI of 73.

Related: Key games with postseason implications to watch this week

Big 12 (6)
In: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Worth a mention: None
Bubble notes:Baylor has a few puzzling losses (College of Charleston and Northwestern at home), but the Bears have solid computer numbers (RPI 38, KenPom 31). That win at Kentucky isn’t quite as impressive as we thought, but Baylor did beat a good Lehigh team before C.J. McCollum’s season-ending injury. Iowa State was good enough to take Kansas to the wire in Lawrence a few weeks ago but bad enough to lose at Texas Tech on Wednesday night. But he did, and the Cyclones lost in overtime. Oklahoma State isn’t in much danger, but the Cowboys only have one top-70 RPI win, vs. NC State on a neutral court. Four of their five losses have come against top-40 teams, including three on the road.

Related: This week's college basketball power rankings

Big East (7)
In: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Worth a mention: Rutgers, St. John’s, Villanova
Bubble notes: Rutgers is in the discussion due to a decent RPI of 56. But the Scarlet Knights are 101 in KenPom and don’t have any top-50 RPI wins. Beating Pittsburgh at home and winning at St. John’s is nice, but losing at home to St. Peter’s (RPI 271) is not nice. St. John’s won at Cincinnati and Rutgers, but has losses at San Francisco and at home vs. UNC Asheville. Villanova is playing its way into the discussion (a win over Louisville will look very good if this team is on the bubble), but the Wildcats had a lot of catching up to do. Pittsburgh feasted on a soft non-conference schedule, then got off to a rough start in the Big East, but has seemingly righted the ship. The Panthers have no bad losses and a nice win at Georgetown (and a potentially nice win at Villanova on the resume). Notre Dame is trending in the wrong direction but still has more than enough on its resume.

Related: Key stats from Jan. 13-20

Big Ten (8)
In: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Northwestern, Purdue
Bubble notes:Iowa might be a surprise to some. The Hawkeyes have a bad RPI (65) but are rated No. 33 by KenPom. Five of their six wins have come against teams with an RPI of 22 or better, and the sixth was at Virginia Tech in November when the Hokies were playing very well. They have wins over two NCAA teams, Iowa State and Wisconsin, and also beat Northern Iowa and Northwestern (on the road). Illinois had lost three straight before winning at Nebraska Tuesday night, but the Fighting Illini have three really good wins — Butler (neutral), Gonzaga (road), Ohio State (home). Northwestern has three wins over projected NCAA teams, including two on the road — Baylor and Illinois. Purdue can make a statement over the next week, with a trip to Michigan and home games against Iowa and Indiana.

Conference USA (2)
In: Memphis, Southern Miss
Worth a mention: None
Bubble notes: Surprisingly, Conference USA could be a two-bid league in 2013. Southern Miss was one of the last teams in the field. The Golden Eagles are 16–4 (thought two wins are against non-D-1 schools), and two of their losses are against Arizona and Wichita State, both top-15 RPI teams. The Eagles will need to beat Memphis at least once and avoid any bad losses in the league to remain in the discussion. Memphis is 15–3 but lacks quality wins — but also has no bad losses.

Missouri Valley (2)
In: Creighton, Wichita State
Worth a mention: Indiana State
Bubble notes:Indiana State has a decent RPI of 51 but is ranked 81st by KenPom. The Sycamores have a couple of solid wins on a neutral court (vs. Ole Miss and Miami) but have also lost on the road to Morehead State and Southern Illinois. They were in the field this week until losing at Illinois State on Wednesday night.

Mountain West (6)
In: Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming
Worth a mention: None
Bubble notes: This is shaping up to be a banner year for the Mountain West. Boise State could earn its first at-large invitation. The Broncos have two top-40 road wins, at Creighton and Wyoming. That could be the difference on Selection Sunday. San Diego State has slipped up a bit recently, but the Aztecs have three top-50 RPI wins (UCLA, Indiana State and Colorado State) and all four of their losses have come against top-40 teams. Colorado State has an RPI of 17 and only one bad loss, at UIC.

Pac-12 (4)
In: Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
Worth a mention: Arizona State, Washington
Bubble notes: Colorado is off to a rough start in the Pac-12 (2–4), but the Buffaloes have two top-40 wins (Baylor and Colorado State) and no bad losses (depending on your opinion of Arizona State and Washington). Also, Colorado’s RPI is 21, though it’s 51 in KenPom. Arizona State has been a nice story this season, but two things on the Sun Devils’ resume stick out (in a bad way): only one win vs. an RPI top-75 team (Colorado at home) and a loss at home to DePaul (RPI 172, KenPom 127). Washington already has three road wins in the league, but only one overall win vs. a top-70 team, and the Huskies have four losses to teams ranked 119th or worse.

SEC (3)
In: Florida, Ole Miss, Missouri
Worth a mention: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas A&M
Bubble notes:Kentucky is more well-received by KenPom (No. 19) than the RPI (61). The Wildcats have one win against a top-90 RPI team, vs. Maryland (59) on a neutral court in November. They don’t have any horrible losses, though three of the six have come against teams outside the top 50. Alabama has won three straight, but the Crimson Tide have plenty of stains on their resume — losses at home to Dayton (RPI 95), Tulane (150) and Mercer (161). Also, they have no top-50 wins. Texas A&M can boast about a win at Kentucky, but right now that’s a win over an NIT team. The Aggies’ loss at home to Southern in late December is troubling.

West Coast (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
Worth a mention: BYU, Santa Clara
Bubble notes: Saint Mary’s has decent computer numbers (66 RPI, 36 KenPom, but only one win vs. a top-90 RPI team (at BYU). The Gaels also have lost two games, on a neutral court, to teams ranked lower than 100th. They were among the last teams in the field this week. BYU likely would move into the field with a win at Gonzaga on Thursday night — but that’s a tall order. The Cougars have only one top-100 win, at Santa Clara.

One-bid conference projections


Projected winner


Projected winner

America East




Atlantic Sun


Ohio Valley


Big Sky

Weber State



Big South

Charleston Southern






Stephen F. Austin




North Dakota State



Sun Belt

Middle Tennessee








Louisiana Tech


Norfolk State