Even in the last few days, bubble season has taken an unexpected turn.
A week ago, a bubble watch would have had West Virginia and St. John’s on the outskirts of the NCAA Tournament. A few big wins later, and one of those teams is projected in our field.
By our count, 32 teams are “feeling good” for an at-large bid. Barring a major collapse, these teams should be in the NCAA Tournament field. With 22 teams accounting for automatic bids settled in conference tournaments, that leaves 14 spots for the bubble.
These are the teams in contention for those final spots along with projections for who is in or out of the field.
NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Feb. 12
All RPI figures from Monday’s official release
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia
Clemson (15-6, 6-5, RPI No. 64)
Most of the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament case rests on a 72-59 home win over Duke on Jan. 11. Clemson went 9-3 against a lackluster non-conference schedule, so the Tigers will need to start defeating some of the upper echelon ACC teams (Virginia on Feb. 15, Pittsburgh on March 8).
Florida State (14-10, 5-7, RPI No. 54)
After a 77-73 home loss to Miami, Florida State is sinking fast. Neutral court wins over UMass and VCU won’t be enough to overcome six losses in the last eight games.
NC State (16-8, 6-5, RPI No. 59)
NC State did not need a double overtime loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday. A road win over Tennessee is nice, but the Wolfpack also have to atone for a home loss to North Carolina Central. NC State will face Syracuse, Clemson and Pittsburgh on the road and North Carolina at home, giving the Wolfpack the most opportunities of any ACC bubble team to pick up ground before the conference tournament.
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, SMU, UConn
Feeling good: George Washington, Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Richmond (15-8, 5-3, RPI No. 45)
Wins over UMass and St. Joe’s at the end of January piqued interest in Richmond, a team that faced Florida, North Carolina and Minnesota in the non-conference schedule. The Spiders catch VCU and George Washington at home before the A-10 Tournament.
St. Joseph’s (16-7, 6-3, RPI No. 46)
The Hawks have played their way into consideration just since the start of February with home wins over UMass and VCU. A road trip against George Washington on March 5 could be critical for both teams as they enter the A 10 Tournament.
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas
Baylor (14-8, 2-9, RPI No. 61)
A team with a losing Big 12 record could make the field, but Baylor is pushing it. The Bears’ only two Big 12 wins are over league doormat TCU and an Oklahoma State team in a tailspin.
Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-7, RPI No. 35)
The Pokes had problems before Marcus Smart was suspended for three games. Losing their top player for Oklahoma and Baylor only hastens the Cowboys drift to the bubble. The Cowboys already lost their first game without Marcus Smart by a lopsided margin against a shorthanded Texas.
West Virginia (15-10, 7-5 RPI No. 74)
A 3-8 record in against the top 50 isn’t great, but the Mountaineers are on a roll, defeating Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State all since Jan. 28. The Mountaineers’ worst losses were to Virginia Tech (Nov. 12) and Purdue (Dec. 22). Bet they’d like to play both again.
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Georgetown (15-9, 6-6, RPI No. 57)
The Hoyas appeared to be sinking before a win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1 to give Georgetown three good neutral site wins (VCU and Kansas State are the others). An early season loss to Northeastern and a home loss to Seton Hall is a bad look, however.
Providence (16-9, 6-6, RPI No. 49)
The Friars reeled off five consecutive wins in January, including an 81-68 rout of Creighton, to get into the conversation. Road games, though, have halted the Friars progress since Jan. 30. Two winnable road games loom against Butler and Seton Hall.
St. John’s (15-9, 5-6, RPI No. 63)
Even with Sunday’s win over Creighton, St. John’s has work to do to erase the 0-5 start to conference play. That slump included a loss to DePaul, but that might not hurt as much as the non-conference schedule.
Xavier (17-7, 8-4, RPI No. 37)
The Musketeers lost three in a row after starting 5-1 in the league. Xavier may have the toughest stretch before the conference tournament with road trips to Georgetown and St. John’s and home dates with Creighton and Villanova.
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Indiana (14-9, 4-6, RPI No. 78)
A home loss to Northwestern and road losses to Nebraska and Illinois still overshadow the good things Indiana has done in Big Ten play.
Minnesota (16-8, 5-6, RPI No. 41)
True, Minnesota also lost to Northwestern and Nebraska, but the Hoosiers loaded up on teams ranked 200th or worse in the RPI in the non-conference schedule. The Gophers’ edge in the non-conference schedule, which included a game against Syracuse, accounts for the disparity in the RPI.
Feeling good: Wichita State
Indiana State (18-6, 9-3, RPI No. 55)
With Wichita State’s sweep of the Sycamores, the only way the Missouri Valley is a two-bid league is if the Shockers lose in the conference tournament.
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Arizona State (18-6, 7-4, RPI No. 40)
The Sun Devils picked up three critical bubble wins in the last five games with wins over Colorado, Cal and Oregon (only Cal was on the road). That run also included a road loss to Stanford. Saturday’s home date against a struggling Arizona team will be huge.
Cal (15-8, 6-4, RPI No. 51)
If a bubble team is going to go 1-4 in the middle of the conference season, the one win might as well be over previously undefeated Arizona.
Colorado (18-6, 7-4, RPI No. 25)
Losing Spencer Dinwiddie on Jan. 12 was a major blow, but the Buffaloes have started to show signs they can win without him. Granted, every win during this three-game streak was at home and two over over the Washington schools. This week’s road trips to UCLA and USC could be a turning point.
Oregon (15-8, 3-8, RPI No. 42)
At 3-8 in the Pac-12, Oregon has little room for error. A close call with Arizona and turning a 20-point deficit against Arizona State into a mere 2-point loss could signal a team starting to recover ... or it could be the last blow to a season that has fallen apart since the New Year.
Stanford (15-7, 6-4, RPI No. 44)
Road wins are important for bubble teams, and Stanford has them over UConn, Oregon and Cal. The rival Golden Bears returned the favor with a win in Palo Alto, but the Cardinal have no losses worse than Oregon State on the road.
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
LSU (15-7, 6-4, RPI No. 62)
Every good LSU win has been followed within a week by a momentum-sapping loss. A loss to Alabama followed the Missouri win. A loss at Georgia followed the Kentucky and Arkansas wins. Not a great look for a team with a home loss to Rhode Island already on the resume.
Missouri (16-7, 4-6, RPI No. 50)
Few teams are more pleased to see West Virginia surging as Missouri is. The Tigers are short on good wins with only one RPI top 50 victory (UCLA), but Missouri defeated West Virginia two days earlier. The Tigers' only SEC wins are over Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Ole Miss (16-8, 7-4, RPI No. 56)
The Rebels’ win over Missouri on Saturday was key to getting Ole Miss on the bubble. The next three games will be crucial. Georgia is a tough out in Athens, and then Kentucky and Florida visit Oxford.
Tennessee (15-9, 6-5, RPI No. 47)
The Volunteers have the most interesting non-conference resume of any SEC bubble team with a win over Virginia, a split with Xavier and losses to Wichita State, NC State and UTEP. Defeating fellow SEC bubble foes Ole Miss at home and LSU on the road could be a determining factor.
BYU (17-9, 9-4, RPI No. 43)
The Cougars’ best wins are over Texas on a neutral court and Stanford on the road, both of which seem much stronger than they were back in November. Three WCC losses to teams ranked 130th or worse in the RPI (Pepperdine, Portland, Loyola Marymount) are as bad as ever. Beating Gonzaga at home or in the WCC Tournament may be the only way in as an at-large.
Gonzaga (21-4, 11-1, RPI No. 21)
Mark Few’s team needed Saturday’s game at Memphis, but the that game slipped away. Even though the Bulldogs’ RPI is worthy, Gonzaga lacks the non-conference resume we usually see from the Bulldogs.
Even in the last few days, bubble season has taken an unexpected turn.