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NCAA Tournament Watch: Locks, Bubble Teams and Out for Every Conference in America


With the regular season just about a month away from ending, we’ll be doing different running themes with the blog. Every Sunday I’ve been putting out bracketology – that will stay the same. As will Monday’s Contender Series. Tuesday we’ll focus on the NPOY race and talk about different players.  I did a huge scouting report on Trae Young back in December so for the time being we’ll use that as his breakdown. We’ll get into some other things I’m often asked about including bubble teams so we’ll take a look at a handful of teams that are on the bubble, what they have done recently and what they likely need to do to make the NCAA Tournament. 

We’ll start with the one bid leagues. These are the ones that will be determined by conference tournaments so we’ll take a guess at who wins that. There are 21 one-bid conferences this year.
1. America East (Vermont)
2. Atlantic Sun (Florida Gulf Coast)
3. Big Sky (Montana)
4. Big South (Winthrop)
5. Big West (UC-Santa Barbara)
6. Colonial (Charleston)
7. Horizon (Northern Kentucky)
8. Ivy (Harvard)
9. MAAC (Rider)
10. MAC (Buffalo)
11. MEAC (North Carolina A&T)
12. MVC (Loyola Chicago)
13. Northeast (Wagner)
14. OVC (Belmont)
15. Patriot (Bucknell)
16. Southern (East Tennessee State)
17. Southland (Stephen F. Austin)
18. SWAC (Grambling State)
19. Summit (South Dakota State)
20. Sun Belt (Louisiana Lafayette)
21. WAC (New Mexico State)
Now that means there are 48 open spots for multi-bid leagues to send conference tournament champion and at-large teams. The way I’ll break these up are locks, comfortably in, bubble and out. Comfortably in basically means barring a collapse they are close to a lock, locks obviously are those just playing for seeding.
Locks: Cincinnati, Wichita State
Comfortably in: 
Bubble: Houston, Temple
Out: Tulsa, UCF, Memphis, UConn, Tulane, ECU, USF, SMU
It was a big week in the American as Wichita held off Temple before getting the road win at Cincinnati while Houston got home wins over Cincinnati and Temple. The home win over Cincinnati should move Houston on the right side of the bubble, while it looks like it will be just a three-team league again. SMU has completely fallen apart due to injuries and Temple just took too many losses despite having wins over Auburn and Clemson. There could be two top-4 seeds in the league though with Wichita finishing the season strong.
Locks: URI
Comfortably in: 
Bubble: St. Bonaventure
Out: Davidson, VCU, St. Louis, Dayton, Duquesne, Richmond, St. Joe’s, George Mason, UMass, Fordham, La Salle, George Washington
Another league where there is no one comfortably in but the bubble team is sitting likely on the right side. St. Bonaventure got the win it needed beating Rhode Island at home this past Friday. That win gives the Bonnies wins over Vermont, Syracuse, Maryland and now URI, with the URI one being the only one at home. If they can finish the regular season beating Duquesne, VCU, St. Louis and Davidson, they shouldn’t have to worry about winning the A-10 Tournament.
Locks: Virginia, Duke, UNC, Clemson
Comfortably in: Florida State
Bubble: Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Louisville, NC State, Notre Dame, Miami
Out: Boston College, Pitt, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech
The four locks stay the same as they are battling for top-four seeds over the next two weeks. Florida State is continuing to hold as a team comfortably in the tournament in that 8 seed range as they got the overtime home win over Clemson recently. After that it’s a cluttered mess. Notre Dame won at Boston College but lost at home to Miami. Miami won at Notre Dame but lost at home to Syracuse. Syracuse won at Miami. Louisville lost to North Carolina. NC State won at Wake Forest. The only thing that happened there was Boston College got bumped down to out as I don’t see them getting to the bubble unless they go on an absolute run here to end the season. My guess is we see Virginia Tech, NC State, Miami and one more team make the tournament giving the ACC 8-9 bids.
Big 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Comfortably in: Oklahoma, TCU
Bubble:  Texas, Kansas State, Baylor
Out: Iowa State, Oklahoma State
The biggest question people have had in the Big 12 over the last week is what the hell to do with Oklahoma. The answer is simple as of now. They are still a top-7 seed. We saw how the committee values wins and Oklahoma has wins at Wichita State and USC in the non conference. Then in conference play they have wins vs Kansas, Texas Tech and TCU. They also don’t have any bad losses, but they are accumulating losses now. They end with two home games against Kansas State and Iowa State with a trip to Baylor sandwiched in between. Win one and they should get in. Win two and you’re a top-7 seed. Lose three then we’re talking about a bubble team. I moved TCU up to the comfortably in line as they are in that 8/9 seed line right now giving them a little wiggle room.
Big 10
Locks: Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State
Comfortably in: Michigan
Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State
Out: Maryland, Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Rutgers, Illinois
No real change here though you could talk me into moving Michigan up to the locks line instead of comfortably in line. You could also talk to me about moving Nebraska off the bubble and into the out line after it lost to Illinois over the weekend. I talked a little bit about Nebraska last week, but right now they just lack that marquee win and with seemingly every bubble team getting an important win over the weekend Nebraska got pushed back in the line losing to a bad Illinois team. Penn State on the other hand could have gotten close to being on the right side of the bubble. The Nittany Lions lost a close one to Purdue that would have moved them to 10-6 in the conference with wins over Ohio State (x2) and at Purdue. If Penn State can beat Michigan and Nebraska to close the season they’ll be sitting right on the bubble. Right now the metrics like them a lot as they are 25 in KenPom top-75 in RPI and 38 in Sagarin.
Big East
Locks: Villanova, Xavier
Comfortably in: Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler
Bubble: Providence, Marquette
Out: Georgetown, DePaul, St. John’s
The Big East has two dominant teams this year in Villanova and Xavier, both of whom are currently sitting on the top seed line. Then there’s a bunch of intrigue. Seton Hall and Creighton have stumbled down the stretch but are still comfortably in with them falling in the 7-9 seed lines. Creighton really just needs one more win to stay comfortably in and they should get that. Seton Hall is in the same boat as both teams should finish with at least a .500 record in conference play. A win tonight by Providence moves them to comfortably in as it would move them off that 10 seed line or so and up to the 8/9 seed line since it would be a win over Seton Hall. Butler was able to bounce back exactly how it needed to after losing a home game to Georgetown. After that the Bulldogs beat Creighton and Providence.
Locks: None
Comfortably in:None
Bubble: Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State
Out: Old Dominion, Marshall, UTSA, North Texas, UAB, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, FIU, FAU, UTEP, Rice, Charlotte
This could and probably should be a two-bid league. Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee will be sweating out the bubble for whoever doesn’t win the conference tournament. MTSU has a win at WKU already to go with road wins at Vandy and Murray State while they only have one sort of bad loss at Marshall. Western is a little bit more all over the place. The Hilltoppers have the neutral court win over Purdue, which right now is one of the more impressive wins of the season. What once looked like an impressive neutral court win over SMU has lost its luster though. Along with that they have losses to Ohio and Missouri State, which aren’t great. These two teams play again on March 1.
Mountain West Conference
Locks: None
Comfortably in: Nevada
Bubble: Boise State
Out: UNLV, Fresno State, Wyoming, Utah State, San Diego State, Air Force, Colorado State, San Jose State
Nevada, despite losing starter Lindsey Drew to an achilles injury, all but secured a bid for the NCAA Tournament after winning at Boise State last week. Nevada ends with what should be two fairly easy games in San Jose State and Colorado State before going on the road to UNLV and San Diego State. Win 3 of 4 and it’s hard to see them missing the tournament no matter what happens in the MWC Tournament. Boise State is in a bit of a rough spot as it lost to Utah State and Nevada last week pushing them to the wrong side of the bubble. Boise needs to beat Wyoming, San Diego State and Colorado State and then advance to at least the MWC Tournament finals to have a shot at the right side of the bubble.
Locks: Arizona
Comfortably in: Arizona State
Bubble: Washington, USC, UCLA, Utah
Out: Washington State, Oregon State, Cal, Colorado, Stanford, Oregon
Right now you have two teams comfortably in the NCAA Tournament with Arizona fighting for a top-4 seed. After that it’s four teams squarely on the bubble. UCLA is one of the last four teams in according to BracketMatrix with USC, Utah and Washington being three of the first eight teams out. This will play itself out over the next two weeks as USC ends with Utah and UCLA. Utah ends with UCLA and USC. UCLA ends with Utah and USC. Meanwhile Washington ends with four winnable games. If they are able to win out and get to 12-6 in the conference, they’ll likely be on the right side of the bubble. Ultimately I think you see four teams get a bid here.
Locks: Auburn, Tennessee
Comfortably in: Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas
Bubble:  Texas A&M, Mississippi State
Out: Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Georgia, LSU
The SEC continues to be a wild place. There are no real title threats here, but there are a bunch of good teams that will fall in the 3-7 seed lines. It wouldn’t shock me to see 5 SEC teams playing in the second weekend, nor would it shock me if there is just two. Kentucky was able to figure it out after people talking about them being on the bubble after a 4-game losing streak. Kentucky’s win home over Alabama and at Arkansas all but sealed them a bid and now puts them in play for a top-5/6 seed instead that 7,8 seed line. Florida is the team to watch down the stretch here though. After a hot start in which we saw Florida jump into top-10 rankings, the Gators are now just 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the conference. They got swept by Georgia and lost at Vanderbilt. What makes them interesting is they end with games at Tennessee and Alabama while hosting Arkansas and Kentucky. One win should do the trick, but losing all 4 makes life difficult for the Gators.
Locks: Gonzaga
Comfortably in:
Bubble: St. Mary’s
Out: BYU, Pacific, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, Portland, Pepperdine
Gonzaga got its revenge winning at St. Mary’s and keeping them in contention for a top-4 seed. But, I want to talk about St. Mary’s. The Gales find themselves in some trouble now after losing to Gonzaga and San Francisco. More importantly, it shows that Randy Bennett needs to start scheduling a little bit better nonconference games. Now, I know that’s easier said than done because people don’t necessarily want to play St. Mary’s. But, if it’s true that URI offered them a home and home (according to CBS Sports during the Dan Hurley story) and they refused it, they deserve this. When you have a weak nonconference schedule and then play in the WCC, you can’t afford a loss to San Francisco. St. Mary’s now needs to win out and get to the WCC title game to have a shot.