Bracketology Bubble Watch: Conference tournament games whittling down remaining bubble teams
Thursday's results helped shape who's in and who's out of the NCAA Tournament
The teams on the bubble seem to have been whittled down after the action Thursday. Only a few won and are still around to try to help themselves. However, many are looking at résumés that might approach or break some negative marks for at-large teams. More on that can be found below.
First, though, here is a recap of Thursday's games and a look ahead for those remaining in the chase.
This one is easy. The Buckeyes are safely in the field now, if not a great seed, after the 79-75 win over the Hoosiers. They can improve that seed with a win over Michigan State.
Indiana is out after the loss to the Buckeyes, falling to 17-15 on the season. Despite a relatively high number of Quadrant 1 wins, the overall record just isn't good enough to get picked, even in this season of the soft bubble.
NC State hung around for a half, but the top-seeded Cavaliers took over after the break and routed the Wolfpack 76-56 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Now, they wait to see if their relatively gaudy NET ranking is good enough to get them selected.
Florida did what it needed to do to keep its tournament hopes alive by routing Arkansas 66-50. Now, the Gators get a chance to punch their ticket with a win over LSU in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals Friday. They might even get in with a loss. It still has to be a 68-team field.
The Crimson Tide picked up their best win away from home this season in the 62-57 victory over Mississippi. The lack of a big win away from home puts Alabama at a disadvantage when compared to Florida, which already has won at LSU. The Tide can fix that and make plans for the NCAA Tournament with a win over Kentucky on Friday.
The Pirates' strong finish to the season has put them safely into the field, although still in the bottom half of the bracket despite romping past Georgetown 73-57 on Thursday in the Big East Tournament.
The Hoyas, on the other hand, are not so fortunate. Whatever slim at-large hopes the Hoyas fostered got run out of Madison Square Garden in Patrick Ewing's second season as coach.
Creighton saw its five-game winning streak come to an end in a tough 63-61 loss to Xavier and falls to 17-14 on the season. The Bluejays have a top-20 strength of schedule, but only a 3-10 record against Quadrant 1 opponents. I would not rule out hearing Creighton's name on Selection Sunday, but I wouldn't bet on it either.
The Musketeers moved up to 18-14 with the win over Creighton, but do not have a strong enough schedule to be a likely at-large candidate. Xavier might get me to rethink that with a win over Villanova on Friday.
The Sun Devils avoided another bad loss with an 83-72 victory over the Bruins. They will now face surging Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals. The Ducks are looking like a possible bid-stealer, and if they succeed, it might be Arizona State's bid they steal.
The Huskies struggled, but won 78-75 over USC, and that is what is most important right how. They still have not played well since clinching the Pac-12 regular-season title a few weeks ago. They will face Colorado on Friday in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals hoping to avoid a damaging loss.
You have heard me talk about the soft bubble often this season. Let's take a look at some of the standards that the selection committee may have to lower to put some of these teams in the tournament.
The most obvious one is the historical standard that teams be at least four games above .500. With the exception of Georgia in 2001, which played the most ridiculous schedule of all time, every at-large team has been at that level or better. The worst record has been 19-15, which Vanderbilt had in 2017 and Alabama had last season.
This year, we could see that broken by Florida or Alabama again, each of which is 18-14 with a tough task ahead of them. Also, Creighton is done playing at 17-14 and Indiana is out at 17-15.
The record for the worst overall strength of schedule is 229 by Charleston in 1994 -- the first year I started tracking data. In 2006, the second year of the weighted RPI formula, George Washington got in with a SOS ranking of 202.
The committee has been much more lenient with non-majors in this category, though. The lowest ranked strength of schedule for a major conference team belongs to Purdue in 2008. The Boilermakers were 108th that year and are the only major conference team to get an at-large bid with an SOS outside the top 100. Thirty-eight non-majors have received at-large bids in 25 years with worse SOS rankings than that Purdue team.
This season, of course, the poster child for lousy scheduling is NC State, which not only has the worst non-conference schedule ever for a potential tournament team, but also has an overall ranking of 121. That seems impossible for a team that played in the ACC. If not for a NET ranking of 32, which by itself does not mean much, we would not be talking about the Wolfpack as a tournament team. The committee may take them anyway.
However, even the potential tournament teams among the non-majors have some low strength of schedule numbers. Lipscomb (208), Belmont (198) and Furman (177) would each be in the bottom five of SOS rankings over the last 25 years. Only UNC Greensboro has a relatively inoffensive SOS ranking at 108.
In fact, the best thing you can say about the resume of UNCG is that it is inoffensive. They have no bad losses. In fact, all six of their losses are in Quadrant 1. Only one team has ever missed the tournament with all of its losses in Q1. That team was Missouri State in 2006, which is also the team with the best RPI to be left out of the field.
However, the Spartans also do not have a win over anyone in the field of any quality. That could still change, but only one team has ever received an at-large bid without a win over another tournament team. That was Oklahoma in 1998. The best wins for UNCG are over East Tennessee State and Furman.
UNCG has not given the committee a reason to leave them out of the bracket, but it also has not given the committee a compelling reason to put them in.
Washington also does not yet have a win over another team in my bracket.
Another mark that could fall is the record for most games against Quadrant 4 teams by an at-large team. Currently, that mark is 14, which has happened three times, most recently in 2014 by Temple. UNC Greensboro has 16 such games, which is the Spartans only real negative. Furman, Belmont and Lipscomb have 17 each.
Arizona State is the leader among bubble teams in bad losses, which is defined as those in Quadrants 3 and 4. The Sun Devils have four such losses, two of them by double digits. The 16-point loss to Vanderbilt came after Commodores star Darius Garland was injured. The record for bad losses by an at-large team is six by USC in 2011, the first year of the expansion to 68 teams. Wisconsin matched that it is weird season of 2016.
CBS Sports HQ Daily Newsletter
Get the best highlights and stories - yeah, just the good stuff handpicked by our team to start your day.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
1 DAY LEFT! PLAY FOR A TRIP TO THE 2020 FINAL FOUR®!
SportsLine's advanced computer model simulated Nebraska vs. Butler 10,000 times.
Joe Golding owns just one suit. Ripped pants and all, he intends to wear it in the first round...
Here's your guide to find truTV on your satellite or cable system
Live scores, updates and highlights -- plus a full schedule -- for First Four action this March...
Also, watch SportsLine on CBS Sports HQ live at 6 p.m. ET for all today's best bets
It's March Mid-Major Madness on College Insider