Bubble Watch – Which Teams Will Be Dancing on Selection Sunday
Brace yourselves, Selection Sunday is just under four weeks out. As is sits right now, the NCAA Selection Committee has determined that the top 16 teams in the field of 68 are:
- Texas Tech
- Michigan State
- North Carolina
- Ohio State
Numbers 1-4 are the One Seeds, 5-8 are the Two Seeds, 9-12 are the Three Seeds, and 13-16 are the Four Seeds.
That said, there are plenty of teams vying for a spot in the dance that aren’t “locks” to get in. Bubbles will burst. Chaos will ensue. Every season, the Bubble watch is always entertaining. Some notable teams that currently sit on the Bubble are Texas, St. Johns, Kansas State, Providence, Baylor, Syracuse, and Nebraska. But, which of them are in?
Texas: The Longhorns are slipping up recently, having lost three in a row and four of the last five, with their one win coming at home against then #12 Oklahoma. At 15-11, Texas is in the “Last Four In” category, according to ESPN’s Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi. Texas’ strength of schedule ranks as the 38th best in the country and 36% of their opponents have been considered “elite.” Texas has four solid wins over quality opponents, beating Oklahoma (home), Texas Tech (home), TCU (home), and Alabama (road). However, Texas has some puzzling losses to projected non-NCAA Tournament teams, as they lost to Oklahoma State (road) and were swept by the Baylor Bears. Texas 55th in the country in the RPI, which takes into account a team’s wins, losses, and strength of schedule, as well as 44th in the BPI, which measures a teams strength and is meant to be the best predictor of a team for the rest of the season. Texas has some work left to do if they want to be a lock for the tourney. Their remaining schedule includes at Oklahoma, at Kansas State, Oklahoma State at home, at Kansas, and West Virginia at home. If Texas can win at least 3 of those games, they should be in for sure.
St. Johns: St. Johns is an interesting case. They started 0-11 in Big east Play, in which one would assume they’d never be on the Bubble, but followed up with wins over Duke (home) and Villanova (road). At 14-13, St. John’s strength of schedule currently ranks as the 52nd best schedule in the country while having 33% of their opponents being “elite.” This places St. Johns above many projected NCAA Tournament teams, including Providence, TCU, and Missouri. Another notable win besides Villanova and Duke is their win against Nebraska (home). However, St. John’s has a +11.20 Adjusted Efficiency Margin (AdjEM) in the KenPom rankings, which are designed to measure how strong a team is if they played tonight. This places them below many projected tournament teams. Their upcoming schedule includes games at Marquette and Providence, and playing host to Butler and Seton Hall. St. Johns would likely have to win out in the regular season and win a couple games in the Big East Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. I believe St. Johns will not be able to dig out of the hole they dug themselves into, but I hope they prove me wrong.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are a puzzling team. It seems that on any given night they can win by 15 or lose by 15. At 18-8, the Wildcats are currently ranked in the “Last Four Byes” by Joe Lunardi. K-State’s strength of schedule ranks as the 242nd best in the country, which is not ideal for a team vying for an NCAA Tournament berth. However, 31% of their opponents being considered “elite.” However, KSU has some impressive wins in their conference schedule, including Oklahoma (home), Texas (road) and TCU (home). The best non-conference team KSU played is probably Arizona State, which KSU lost by 2 against on a neutral court. That same ASU team later went on to beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse by double digits, which makes KSU’s 2-point loss to ASU look like a “quality loss” per say. KSU has a +13.98 AdjEM, which ranks 46th in the KenPom rankings. That puts KSU just behind Texas and ahead of other bubble teams in USC, UCLA, Syracuse, and Nebraska. Their remaining schedule includes games at home against Iowa State, at home against Texas, at Oklahoma, at TCU, and home against Baylor. If Kansas State can finish 3-2 or 4-1 the rest of the regular season, they should be feeling pretty good about their chances to go dancing come March.
Providence: The Friars currently sit at 17-9 and are in the “Last Four Byes” according to Joe Lunardi. Providence’s strength of schedule is ranked as the 70th best in the nation, which includes 31% of their opponents being “elite’. The Friars’ schedule includes wins against Washington (neutral), Xavier (home), Creighton (home), Villanova (home) and fellow bubble team St. Johns (road). Providence’s win over Washington looks better now, as the Huskies beat Arizona at home, Arizona State at home, and Kansas on a neutral floor. Providence ranks 72nd in the BPI but is ranked 34th in the RPI, demonstrating how their schedule and wins carry some weight heading into March. The Friars have an AdjEM of +11.78, which ranks as 67th In the KenPom, putting them behind most projected at-large NCAA Tournament teams. Their upcoming schedule includes road games against Butler, Georgetown, and Xavier, while hosting Seton Hall and St. Johns. If Providence can win 3-4 of their remaining games and potentially one win in the Big east Tournament, they should be in.
Baylor: The Bears have played well lately. They’ve won four in a row, including a massive win against Kansas (home) last Saturday and another massive win against Texas (road) this past Monday. At 16-10, Baylor currently sits in the “First Four Out” category by Joe Lunardi. Baylor ranks 36th in the nation in the BPI, which is ahead of Texas, Kansas State, and even Kentucky. Baylor also ranks 53rd in the RPI, which is ahead of Florida, who beat Baylor by 21 this year at Florida, Texas, and Kansas State. Baylor also has a +17.01 AdjEM in the KenPom rankings, which places them ahead of tourney teams like Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, and Missouri. However, Baylor’s is just 1-8 against ranked opponents this year, which is not good enough for a tournament team from a power five conference. Furthermore, their strength of schedule ranks as the 192nd best schedule in the nation, while having 34% of their opponents have been “elite.” Baylor’s remaining schedule includes games against Texas Tech (home), West Virginia (home), TCU (road), Oklahoma (home), and Kansas State (road). While they have swept Texas (a projected NCAA Tournament team in my opinion) this year, Baylor probably needs to win at least one or two of their games against TTU, WVU, or OU and then win one of their two road games and another game in the Big 12 Tournament to get in. TCU and KSU are hostile environments to play in, and their three home games are against arguably three of the best teams the Big 12 has to offer. But, I believe they can get it done.
Syracuse: The Orange have typically been very good in past years. Good enough to stay off the Bubble. But when they were one the Bubble recently, when many believed they shouldn’t get in, they got in, and went to the Final Four. Just like everyone predicted. But this year is different. Syracuse sits at 17-9, Syracuse has the 63rd toughest schedule in the nation while 30% of their opponents have been “elite,” which puts them ahead of Ohio State, Providence, Clemson, and West Virginia. Syracuse also has a +13.75 AdjEM in the KenPom rankings, giving them a leg up on bubble teams like Nebraska and St. Bonaventure. However Syracuse is 0-4 against ranked opponents, as well as losing to St. Bonaventure and Notre Dame. Notre Dame is without star forward Bonzie Colson and will likely not make the NCAA Tournament, so dropping that game at home for the Orange could come back to haunt them. On the bright side, Syracuse has three games left against ranked opponents, including home games with North Carolina and Clemson, as well as a road date with Duke. Syracuse would likely need to win two of those games as well as a game in the ACC tournament in order to improve their resume for the selection committee in my opinion. But I don’t think it’ll happen this year.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have the 137th ranked schedule in the nation, including 27% of their games coming against “elite” opponents. At 20-8, Nebraska is currently ranked in the “First Four Out” by Joe Lunardi. Nebraska also ranks 51st in the RPI and 58th in the BPI, which is good enough for teams to make the tournament, given Nebraska’s current record. Nebraska also holds a +13.57 AdjEM in the KenPom rankings, placing them above other bubble teams like St. Johns and St. Bonaventure. However, St. Johns beat Nebraska by 23, and Nebraska is 2-4 against ranked teams this year. Nebraska has games at Illinois, and home against Indiana and Penn State. I feel that 23 wins is the magic number for the Huskers. If Nebraska were to win those three or win two of those and one game in the Big 10 tournament, they will be dancing. They’ll make it happen.