NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Syracuse, Michigan State on the fence
Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm goes over every team in for now, on the fence or has work to do
Teams are on the bubble for a variety of reasons. Some teams have pretty good records, but haven't beaten anyone. Some teams look like world beaters one day and get beaten down the next. Some teams can only win in the friendly confines of the home gym, but when they hit the road, the road hits back.
The following teams have all beaten quality opponents, and in some cases, both at home and away.
- 16-9 OVERALL | 6-6 BIG TEN (7TH)
- RPI: 58
- Top 50 RPI wins: Neutral vs. SMU Mustangs (18), at Michigan State Spartans (42)
- 16-11 OVERALL | 8-6 ACC (7TH)
- RPI: 76
- Top 50 RPI wins: vs. FSU (11), vs. Virginia Cavaliers (14), vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (30), vs. Monmouth Hawks (48)
Seton Hall Pirates
- 15-9 OVERALL | 5-7 BIG EAST (7TH)
- RPI: 49
- Top 50 RPI wins: Neutral vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (22), Neutral vs. Cal (35)
- 14-11 OVERALL | 3-9 ACC (12TH)
- RPI: 55
- Top 50 RPI wins: vs. Virginia (14), at Maryland Terrapins (21)
Their biggest problem will be navigating the rest of their schedules and putting together a good enough record to get the committee to consider them.
Historically speaking, that means no more than 13 losses and being at least four games above .500. When you look at these teams, keep in mind that if they need at-large bids, it means that they picked up their final loss in their conference tournament. That one counts toward that total of 13.
On rare occasion, a team gets an at-large bid with 14 losses, but it hasn't happened since 2011, the first year of the tournament's expansion to 68 teams.
Here's a look at the rest of the teams on Bubble Watch:
In for now
Saint Mary's Gaels: Saint Mary's joins the bubble after a second not-terribly-competitive loss to Gonzaga Bulldogs . Besides the two losses to the Zags, the Gaels also have a loss at home to UT Arlington. That is not a bad team, but still a head-scratcher. As long as Saint Mary's avoids the bad loss, it should be OK, but the schedule is nothing but bad losses.
VCU Rams: The Rams have been pretty good at home and are tied atop the A-10 with Dayton Flyers . Unfortunately, they have a couple of bad losses away from home, including a loss at Fordham Rams and a blowout to Illinois Fighting Illini . There are not any chances for higher-quality wins in the A-10 this season, so they need to avoid picking up any more bad losses.
Dayton Flyers: Dayton has the distinction of being the best win for three teams currently in the bracket, so it is not just Dayton counting on Dayton, it is also St. Mary's, Northwestern Wildcats and VCU. The Flyers are tied with the Rams atop the A-10, which is down this season. Dayton has yet to beat a team that is likely to make the tournament, and is unlikely to even get that chance. That means that the Flyers cannot afford a big mistake.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: It has been a weird season for the Cowboys. They won five in a row after losing six straight to start conference play. That includes a win at West Virginia Mountaineers , OSU's best victory of the season. The Cowboys are just 3-7 against the RPI top 50, but there are still a few chances to improve that mark.
California Golden Bears: Cal has been pretty hot, winning eight of nine games before the loss at Arizona Wildcats . Included in that is its only top 50 win in six tries, at Southern California. The Bears have just four top-100 wins overall and a questionable loss to San Diego State Aztecs . They need to finish strong despite a tough schedule.
Iowa State Cyclones: The Cyclones finally got the big win that had been missing from their tournament profile when they won at Kansas Jayhawks . Then, they gave some of that away by losing at Texas Longhorns . That is the best win of the season followed by the worst loss. ISU travels to K-State, then plays three out of four at home.
On the fence
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Wake has a great RPI, but that is not going to get it much. It has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can't quite beat good competition. The Demon Deacons are 1-8 against the RPI top 50. That is not going to get the job done.
TCU Horned Frogs: TCU Horned Frogs is still looking for its first big win of the season. The Frogs' best win is at Kansas State Wildcats , which is on this list. They have avoided the bad loss and need to continue to do so, but eventually, they will need a win over one of the top three to feel any comfort on Selection Sunday.
Rhode Island Rams: URI is just 2-7 versus the RPI top 100 and that includes a win over Cincinnati Bearcats . The Rams have just one loss outside that group, so that is good as well, but opportunities for better wins will be few and far between. It will be important for them to avoid bad losses as they wait for chances at better wins.
Michigan State Spartans: It has been a rough year for the young Spartans, who already have 10 losses. They have a few good wins, including a sweep of Minnesota Golden Gophers and a win over Northwestern, but that is a lot of losses, especially with the difficult schedule still to come. Only seven teams in the 24 seasons that I have been tracking tournament selections have received at-large bids with 14 losses. MSU will need to finish well to avoid that number.
Kansas State Wildcats: Kansas State picked up a huge win at Baylor Bears , which was its third top-50 victory of the season. The problem is that it was also the Wildcats' third top-100 win, due primarily to playing a poor nonconference schedule. They are only 3-9 versus the top 100, which will have to improve. Of course, there will be several chances to do that.
Arkansas Razorbacks: Arkansas Razorbacks was in the bracket for a while because its negatives were not as bad as some others. That changed with the loss at Missouri Tigers followed by a home loss to Vandy. The Hogs have yet to beat a likely tournament team and only have two such games left before the SEC tournament. That is a tough league in which to build a resume.
Seton Hall Pirates: The Hall has neutral-court wins over South Carolina and Cal but is not doing well against better teams in general. The Pirates are also one game below .500 against the RPI top 200 teams, which is usually a very bad sign. Their season is on the line the next three games, at home against Creighton Bluejays , Villanova Wildcats and Xavier Musketeers .
Miami Hurricanes: Miami is 2-6 versus the RPI top 50 after beating Virginia Tech Hokies . The other win came over North Carolina Tar Heels . Those are the only two wins the Hurricanes have over teams likely to make the tournament and both came at home. They need to continue to avoid bad losses and pick up another good win or two, ideally away from home. They missed a chance at Louisville Cardinals .
Pitt Panthers: Pitt is 14-11 including wins at Maryland and at home over Virginia. The Panthers have now won two in a row after losing eight straight. They need to stay hot to have a chance to make the field in Kevin Stallings' first season.
Ole Miss Rebels: Ole Miss is 1-8 against the top 50, and that win is over Tennessee Volunteers , which is probably not a tournament team. The Rebels don't have any bad losses, but haven't really done anything to get the selection committee's attention either. Unfortunately, the SEC will not give them many chances to do that.
Michigan Wolverines: Michigan picked up a huge road win at Indiana Hoosiers , not because IU is all that great, but because it is the Wolverines' first road victory. That is important because they play four of their final five on the road. That is preceded by a home game against what figures to be a pretty angry Wisconsin Badgers . Their other home game is against Purdue Boilermakers . Michigan still has its work cut out for itself.
Syracuse Orange: Syracuse had a great chance at home against Louisville, but fell short in overtime. At 16-11, the Orange will have to win three of their final four to avoid having 14 losses overall. Maybe this will be a year where a 14-loss team gets in, but I wouldn't count on it. Syracuse finishes with Duke Blue Devils at home, a return trip to Louisville and a home-and-home with Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets .
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: The Yellow Jackets have some very good wins, mostly at home, but the losses are piling up. Georgia Tech is 14-10, which is barely a good enough record to get into the field. Some teams are on this list because they need quality wins. Georgia Tech needs quantity wins.
Work to do
Illinois State Redbirds: The Redbirds are the co-leaders of the MVC, but they only have two top-100 wins. Neither of those are over likely tournament teams and they also have three bad losses. There is nothing left on the schedule but more potentially bad losses, so every game is a must win at this point.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders: In 2013, the Raiders became one of the least deserving teams to ever receive an at-large bid when they got one with just one RPI top-100 win. They are already in better shape now, with four to their name. Two of them are over other non-major conference leaders, but none over likely at-large teams. They also have a home loss to Tennessee State Tigers and a real clunker at UTEP. There is little margin for error playing a C-USA schedule.
UT-Arlington Mavericks: Of the potential at-large teams from non-major conferences, the Mavericks have the best win, which came at Saint Mary's. They have another top 100 win, but three bad losses. Unlike Boise State Broncos , UT Arlington's league will not provide chances for any more, so the Mavs need to win out the regular season and see where things stand.
Wichita State Shockers: Wichita State Shockers doesn't have any bad losses. That's the best thing you can about the Shockers' profile. They have only one top-100 win, a 41-point pounding of Illinois State Redbirds , and that's not nearly enough. The MVC is down this season, so there is nothing left but chances for bad losses, and WSU cannot afford any of those. The Shockers' overall SOS is relatively poor also. It would have to be a really weak field for Wichita to get in with this profile.
Houston Cougars: With three bad losses, the Cougars do not have much of a margin for error. They have already won five in a row and might have to stretch that to nine out of 10 to make much of an at-large case. That would avoid another bad loss and give them at least one win over SMU or Cincinnati.
Boise State Broncos: Boise State only has two top-100 wins, and that's not enough, but if it is to be an at-large candidate, it will have to pick up a few more. One of those is against SMU. The Broncos already have three bad losses and cannot afford another.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes are 15-11, so that is a lot of losses. One of those is a head-scratching loss at home to Florida Atlantic Owls . That is a lot to make up for. There is hope after winning at Michigan, but Ohio State Buckeyes needs to get hot and stay hot to have much of a chance.
Auburn Tigers: Auburn Tigers 's profile is not great, but not horrible either. The Tigers' win at TCU might be the only time this season that they looked like a tournament team. A strong finish against their remaining schedule could give them a chance to crawl onto the bracket.
Providence Friars: The Friars are on this list mostly because their schedule is going to give them a chance to fill the gaping holes in their resume. They have a couple of nice wins, but not enough to make up for three bad losses. However, they have five straight games that can help them significantly. It would be a really good time for a hot streak.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Alabama Crimson Tide 's four-OT win at South Carolina was its first over a team with any shot at making the tournament, so the Tide will need more. They have nothing but winnable games left, even though a few are on the road. The Tide will need to win most of those, if not all.
Utah Utes: The Utes are just 1-7 against the top 100, with that win coming at home over USC. That's a nice win, but they need more. Oregon Ducks is the only team left on Utah Utes 's schedule that is a sure tournament team and there are a few other top 100 opponents, so there is a chance.
Marquette Golden Eagles: Marquette Golden Eagles didn't play a very good nonconference schedule and is paying for that a little bit now. The Golden Eagles are now 7-10 against the top 200 teams in the RPI after the loss to Butler Bulldogs . That's a bad number. They need to take advantage of some opportunities at home coming up.
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