Bubble Tracker: Teams living week-to-week with Big Dance hopes

Middle Tennessee could miss the NCAA tournament after bowing out of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament early.

Welcome to the final week of USA TODAY Sports’ annual Bubble Tracker breakdown.

Less than a week remains before Selection Sunday, a scramble to determine the 68-team NCAA tournament field.

A few things bear repeated mention: No team exists in a vacuum, and the tournament selection committee is going to take 37 at-large teams no matter what. There is value in knowing the strengths and weaknesses of borderline tournament teams, and that’s what the daily Bubble Tracker is for.

Atlantic Coast.

  • Safely in: Duke, Miami (automatic qualifier), North Carolina, North Carolina State.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: None.
  • Borderline: Virginia.
  • Long shot: Maryland.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next game):

  • Virginia: Record: 21-10, RPI: 67Plus: Beat Duke, won at Wisconsin; 8-3 vs. T100Minus: Seven 100+losses, No. 307 NC SOSAt-large ranking: 39Next game: vs. N.C. State or Virginia Tech in ACC quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: The Cavaliers are going to confound right up until the end. The record against the top 100 is fabulous. The bad losses don’t look any better. The poor non-conference schedule is partially a function of a Preseason NIT loss to Delaware that cost the Hoos a chance to play Pittsburgh and Kansas State rather than Lamar and North Texas. There’s no telling how they can really make themselves safe, though the possibility of beating N.C. State and Miami in the ACC tournament would surely help. With such a quirky profile, there isn’t much precedent to draw from, either. (March 10).
  • Maryland: Record: 21-11, RPI: 80Plus: Beat Duke and N.C. StateMinus: No. 301 NC SOS, 4-8 on road/neutralAt-large ranking: 45Next game: vs. Duke in ACC quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: This is an NIT-worthy resume, plain and simple. The Terrapins didn’t do enough work on the road, didn’t play a challenging non-conference schedule, picked up some questionable losses down the stretch (Boston College and Georgia Tech) and haven’t strung together three wins in succession in the last two months. Barring a miracle four-day run in Greensboro, Maryland will end its two-year postseason hiatus with its first NIT appearance since 2008. One win is in the books: A 75-62 defeat of woeful Wake Forest. (March 14).
  • Atlantic 10.

  • Safely in: Saint Louis (AQ), Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, Temple.
  • Borderline: La Salle, Massachusetts.
  • Long shot: Charlotte.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • La Salle: RPI: 41Plus: Beat Butler and VCU, 8-6 on the roadMinus: HTH loss to UMass, Lost to Central ConnecticutAt-large ranking: 33Next game: vs. Butler in Atlantic 10 quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: John Giannini’s Explorers have a real chance to secure their first NCAA bid since 1992. There’s little truly questionable on their resume, and an early victory over Villanova looks better and better by the week. A victory in their Atlantic 10 tournament opener would almost certainly be enough to end Explorers’ NCAA drought, and frankly that might not even be necessary given the underwhelming state of the bubble. (March 10).
  • Massachusetts: Record: 20-10, RPI: 58Plus: 8-4 on the road, won at La SalleMinus: Lost to George Washington, 1-6 vs. T50At-large ranking: 40Next game: vs. Temple in Atlantic 10 quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: The Minutemen’s resume is sort of boring — good road record, solid enough strength of schedule, .500 against the top 100. It’s just missing exceptional victories, and the Minutemen missed out on their last shot at one in the regular season when they lost to Butler at home. Their next chance to bolster their profile comes in the A-10 quarterfinals against Temple, though even a victory over the Owls might not be enough to safely vault Massachusetts into the field. (March 14).
  • Charlotte: Record: 21-10, RPI: 70Plus: Won at Butler, 9-6 road/neutral recordMinus: Lost to George Washington, No. 238 NC SOSAt-large ranking: 43Next game: vs. Saint Louis in Atlantic 10 quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: The 49ers survived Richmond in the Atlantic 10 first round thanks to three technical fouls on the Spiders in the closing seconds. It isn’t a conventional way to collect a 68-63 victory, but Charlotte remains alive for a long-shot attempt at reaching the tournament. Those slim hopes, fading for the last month, would evaporate with a loss against regular-season A-10 champion Saint Louis. (March 14).
  • Explore more:  Kurt Busch pulls out of NASCAR playoffs because of head injury, opening additional postseason spot

    Big East.

  • Safely in: Louisville, Georgetown (AQ), Marquette, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: Cincinnati.
  • Borderline: Villanova.
  • Long shot: None.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Cincinnati: Record: 21-10, RPI: 49Plus: Beat Marquette and Pittsburgh, No. 30 SOSMinus: 8-10 vs. T100, lost six of nineAt-large ranking: 30Next game: vs. Providence in Big East tournament second round (March 13)Analysis: February wasn’t pretty for Mick Cronin’s bunch, but Cincinnati hasn’t lost to a team outside the top 100 and is 8-5 in road and neutral settings. Fending off South Florida in the regular-season finale was probably enough to allow the Bearcats to feel safe, though it wouldn’t hurt to knock off Providence and get off this list for good. (March 10).
  • Villanova: Record: 20-13, RPI: 52Plus: Beat Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette and Syracuse, won at UConnMinus: Lost to Columbia, 8-11 vs. T100At-large ranking: 31Next game: Regular season completeAnalysis: After a loss to Pittsburgh earlier this month, the Wildcats were on the spot to win their regular-season finale against Georgetown and their Big East tournament opener. Both victories are in the bank for Villanova, and it is difficult to envision the Wildcats getting left out of the field of 68 barring complete chaos elsewhere. Louisville drubbed Villanova in the Big East quarterfinals, but there’s probably too many good wins and not enough lousy losses to keep the Wildcats out of the field. (March 14).
  • Big Ten.

  • Safely in: Indiana (AQ), Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: None.
  • Borderline: None.
  • Long shot: Iowa.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Iowa: Record: 21-11, RPI: 77Plus: Beat Minnesota, Wisconsin and IllinoisMinus: No. 310 non-conference SOS, 5-8 vs. T100At-large ranking: 44Next game: vs. Michigan State in Big Ten quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: It’s all about winning four times in four days at the Big Ten tournament for the Hawkeyes. Their slim at-large hopes remain alive after handling Illinois and Minnesota in Iowa City last week. The problem is, Iowa isn’t terribly accomplished away from home and played a dreadful non-conference schedule. Beating Michigan State and Ohio State to make it to the Big Ten final might put Iowa in the discussion for an at-large slot, but Thursday’s defeat of Northwestern provided little help beyond ensuring the Hawkeyes can play another day. (March 14).
  • Big 12.

  • Safely in: Kansas (AQ), Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: None.
  • Borderline: Iowa State.
  • Long shot: Baylor.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Iowa State: Record: 22-10, RPI: 46Plus: Beat Kansas State and Oklahoma State, took two of three from Oklahoma, swept BaylorMinus: 4-8 on the road, lost at Texas TechAt-large ranking: 32Next game: vs. Kansas in Big 12 semifinals (March 15)Analysis: Credit where it’s due: The Cyclones could have folded after its crushing home loss to Kansas and a resounding rout at Oklahoma. Instead, they beat Oklahoma State, handled West Virginia on the road and then, in a bid-clincher, rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals. At this stage, not even mass chaos will keep Iowa State from making back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time since the Larry Eustachy years. (March 14).
  • Baylor: Record: 18-14, RPI: 64Plus: Beat Kansas and Oklahoma State, No. 25 strength of scheduleMinus: Lost to Northwestern, 3-11 vs. T50At-large ranking: 46Next game: Regular season completeAnalysis: Just when you thought the Bears were toast, they blast Kansas to revive their postseason hopes. Of course, they proceeded to fall behind Oklahoma State by 20 in their next game before erasing the deficit and then falling in the closing seconds. The Bears will play on in the NIT, but it’s anyone’s guess whether Good Baylor shows up and runs the table or Bad Baylor appears and lays an egg. Given the Bears’ erratic nature, both versions probably have one more night to shine before the season finally ends. (March 14).
  • Explore more:  'See you real soon': Disney World officially closes its doors amid coronavirus; more Disney closures announced

    Missouri Valley.

  • Automatic qualifier: Creighton.
  • Safely in: Wichita State.
  • Mountain West.

  • Safely in: New Mexico (AQ), UNLV, San Diego State, Colorado State.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: None.
  • Borderline: Boise State.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Boise State: Record: 21-10, RPI: 40Plus: Beat UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State, won at CreightonMinus: Lost to Nevada and UtahAt-large ranking: 34Next game: Regular season completeAnalysis: The Broncos won five of six to close the regular season, doing their part to leave an impression by handling Colorado State and San Diego State on back-to-back Saturdays. Boise State isn’t the greatest bunch away from home (7-8) and its out-of-league schedule strength (204th) might be a mild demerit. The Broncos sit close to the edge of the field, and might be all right if no bid thieves emerge. One more win probably seals the deal, though. (March 10).
  • Pac-12.

  • Safely in: Arizona, UCLA (AQ), Colorado, Oregon.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: California.
  • Borderline: None.
  • Long Shot: Stanford.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game)

  • Stanford: Record: 18-14, RPI: 71Plus: Beat Oregon, swept California, No. 37 SOSMinus: 2-9 vs. T50, swept by Southern CaliforniaAt-large ranking: 47Next game: Regular season completeAnalysis: The Cardinal is 12-0 against teams outside the top 125 (Southern California is No. 113), but Stanford’s problem isn’t whether it can avoid losses to sub-.500 riff-raff. Instead, there just isn’t a lot of evidence it will play well against particularly good teams, especially outside of Palo Alto. An overtime loss to Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament opening around effectively seals the Cardinal’s fate — it’s back to the NIT to defend last year’s championship. (March 14).
  • Southeastern.

  • Safely in: Florida (AQ), Missouri.
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: None.
  • Borderline: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Tennessee: Record: 20-11, RPI: 55Plus: Beat Florida, Missouri, Wichita State, Kentucky, No. 39 SOSMinus: 2-7 road/neutral vs. T100, swept by GeorgiaAt-large ranking: 36Next game: vs. Alabama in SEC quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: The Volunteers went from afterthought to right in the mix after closing the regular season with eight wins in their final nine games, but they’re anything but safe while living on the edge of the field. Tennessee gained little from beating Mississippi State in its SEC tournament opener besides the chance to advance to face Alabama, which might serve as a de facto knockout game. Whether one more win or two are needed will be determined partially by happenings elsewhere, but the Vols have work to do in Nashville. (March 14).
  • Kentucky: Record: 21-10, RPI: 50Plus: Beat Florida and MissouriMinus: 2-4 vs. T50, 12 wins vs. 150+At-large ranking: 37Next game: vs. Vanderbilt in SEC quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: Kentucky did what all the cool SEC bubble teams did this year, beating Florida and Missouri at home and called it a resume for the regular season. There is still more to accomplish, and an opening-round exit at the conference tournament would leave the Nerlens Noel-less Wildcats staring at an unpleasant wait for Selection Sunday. One thing should be noted: Despite the Noel injury issue, Kentucky snagged its two best victories without him in the lineup. If the Wildcats are to distinguish themselves in the conference tournament, it will have to come on the weekend; beating sub-.500 Vanderbilt won’t do their profile much good. (March 14).
  • Mississippi: Record: 23-8, RPI: 56Plus: Beat Missouri, swept TennesseeMinus: 1-4 vs. T50, lost at Mississippi State and South CarolinaAt-large ranking: 41Next game: vs. Missouri in SEC quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: Credit the Rebels for winning four of five to finish, but the lone loss in that stretch (at Mississippi State) could be a dagger. As it stands, Ole Miss has a limited body of work, didn’t play a great non-conference schedule (No. 275) and cannot afford a quick exit in the SEC tournament. One other problem bubbled up Sunday: Middle Tennessee, a team with no top-50 wins, a great non-conference schedule and a head-to-head defeat of the Rebels, was bumped into the at-large pool. Ole Miss needs to distinguish itself in Nashville this week. (March 10).
  • Alabama: Record: 20-11, RPI: 62Plus: Beat KentuckyMinus: Three 100+ home losses, lost at Auburn, 1-4 vs. T50At-large ranking: 42Next game: vs. Tennessee in SEC quarterfinals (March 15)Analysis: The top-100 record (7-7) is actually decent for a borderline team, but there’s not much else about Alabama’s profile that stands out. It can boast it beat Kentucky, and that’s swell, but it also split with Tennessee and lost to Mississippi — not to mention Dayton, Mercer, Tulane and Auburn. Maybe the Tide can sneak in as an at-large if it makes a run, but its chances will fizzle with a loss in the SEC quarterfinals. (March 10).
  • Explore more:  Decade of the Woman

    West Coast.

  • Safely in: Gonzaga (AQ).
  • Borderline: Saint Mary’s.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Saint Mary’s: Record: 27-6, RPI: 32Plus: Beat Creighton, swept BYU, 9-2 on the roadMinus: 1-3 vs. T50, 23 wins vs. 100+/Non-Division IAt-large ranking: 35Next game: Regular season completeAnalysis: The wait begins for Saint Mary’s after its third loss to Gonzaga, the latest coming in Monday’s West Coast Conference title game. The Gaels might be OK if no bid thieves emerge in power conferences (or the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West) in the next week, but there will be some uneasy feelings in the Bay Area. The general malaise of borderline teams across the land means the Gaels, with a solid victory over Creighton and only two remotely dubious losses (to Big West contender Pacific and improving Georgia Tech back in November), have a decent chance of sticking in the field. They might, however, have a trip to Dayton in their future (March 11).
  • Others.

  • Automatic bids: Belmont (Ohio Valley), Bucknell (Patriot), Davidson (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Harvard (Ivy), Iona (Metro Atlantic), James Madison (Colonial), Liberty (Big South), Long Island (Northeast), South Dakota State (Summit), Valparaiso (Horizon), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt).
  • Safely in: Memphis (AQ).
  • Solid but mildly vulnerable: None.
  • Borderline: Middle Tennessee (AQ).
  • Long shot: Southern Mississippi.
  • Team Resumes (W-L/RPI; Plus/Minus; AT-L Board; Next Game):

  • Middle Tennessee: Record: 28-5, RPI: 29Plus: No. 10 non-conference SOS, beat MississippiMinus: 27 wins vs. 100+, lost to Arkansas StateAt-large ranking: 38Next game: Regular season completeAnalysis: That wasn’t very smart, not one bit. After cruising through the Sun Belt to the tune of a 19-1 mark in a double round-robin, the Blue Raiders lost to Florida International in the conference semifinals and left their fate in the hands of the selection committee. The non-conference schedule strength looks great, but much of it is built on not facing bad teams (just one of 11 games against teams worse than 200 in the RPI). This is not a resume likely to hold up to extensive scrutiny and especially bid-snatching, but strange things have happened before. Just look at 2011 UAB. (March 10).
  • Southern Mississippi: Record: 24-8, RPI: 34Plus: 9-7 on the roadMinus: 0-5 vs. T50, 22 wins vs. 100+/non-Division IAt-large ranking: 48Next game: vs. Texas-El Paso in Conference USA semifinals (March 15)Analysis: The RPI is nice and so are the road victories (the latter significantly influencing the former), but a profile where the top four victories are Denver, East Carolina (twice) and Texas-El Paso just isn’t going to get it done this season. The Golden Eagles’ hopes for returning to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season rest of winning three in a row in Tulsa. They got the first one Thursday, beating UAB for the third time this season. (March 14).
  • Note: RPI data was used via CBSSports.Com.

    About our bracketologist: Patrick Stevens is USA TODAY Sports’ bracket/bubble specialist for the 2013 NCAA tournament. He has covered college sports and projected the NCAA tournament field for more than a decade for various publications, including The Washington Times. Don’t like his projections? Tweet him @D1scourse.

    Related Posts