Ranking the Bubble
Every year I rank the bubble. I try to start right after the last team I believe is 100% in no matter what happens. Most the teams towards the top of my bubble rankings will likely be in as well. My bubble rankings start with Iowa who would be the third 8 seed in my bracket. A few quick thoughts before you check my rankings:
1. Everyone, every single year talks about how weak the bubble is and it’s mostly incorrect. The bubble is just generally a lot of flawed teams who have various issues with their resumes. This year that holds true, but I will say that I did not feel even decent about anyone I put in the final spot. That final spot was Texas A&M whose resume is incredibly lacking as they have only beaten one NCAA at large bid contender all season long. Of course I felt worse about every team behind them who all had glaring weaknesses. Remember, the season is not yet over and by the tournament I would bet a team or two will step up and have a resume at that level.
2. I also feel better and better that UC is in and will be in unless they lose 2 of their next 3. The teams below them, particularly the teams from Colorado State on down don’t have resumes anywhere near their ballpark. Most have just as many or more bad losses and none of them have near the caliber of wins as Cincinnati has. UC could certainly play their way out if things go wrong, but win 2 of their next 3 and I’d be shocked if they missed. I’d be surprised if they were even in the play in game.
3. I also listed a couple of teams at the very end who aren’t that close to the bubble right now but could get hot in their conference tournaments and play their way in. I didn’t feel like doing to full breakdown of their resumes, but those teams are not dead if they start playing really well.
4. Last Four in- Colorado State, Temple, Old Dominion, Texas A&M
5. First Four Out- Tulsa, Pittsburgh, BYU Davidson
And now, my ranking of the bubble teams from best resume to weakest:
Iowa- The biggest thing Iowa has going for them is two RPI top 15 wins (against teams that will both likely be top 5 seeds in UNC and Maryland). These are high level wins. Overall, Iowa is 4-6 against the RPI top 50 including a sweep of Bubble team Ohio State. Two of those losses are to a loaded Wisconsin team, which won’t be held against the Hawkeyes. This is a team that really should be dancing. Also, unlike a lot of these bubble teams, Iowa has mostly avoided bad losses.
Oklahoma State- They are under .500 in conference play and if they lose at WVU they are going to finish that way. They haven’t won since February 7 when they beat Kansas. Two of their losses in February were to Texas Tech and TCU (the two worst teams in the Big 12). That said, their wins are so much better than the rest of the bubble that I find it hard to believe they won’t be dancing. They are 3-7 vs. the RPI top 25 and 3-0 vs. RPI 26-50. That’s a lot of good on the resume. They have a win over Kansas and swept Baylor (probably the two best teams in the Big 12), they also beat Tulsa and swept Texas. Despite their slump down the stretch, I think beating TCU this week will be enough.
LSU- This is another team I think will be dancing. They’ve simply already done more than most of the teams on the bubble. LSU is 4-4 against the RPI top 50 and 7-1 against RPI 51-100. 11 RPI top 100 wins is a number the committee likes. They have wins over WVU and Georgia and they also swept Bubble team Ole Miss. Really the only thing holding LSU back is 3 losses to teams below 100 in the RPI. However, (and this will be a theme as I rank the bubble) good wins trump bad losses when the committee is making its final decision.
Purdue- Purdue is a great example of why your actual RPI number is pretty meaningless when it comes to the selection committee. They sit at 52 in the RPI, but when you start digging into what they have actually accomplished their resume starts to look really good. Purdue is 5-4 against the RPI top 50. They have wins over OSU, BYU, Indiana (2x) and Iowa. They also beat bubble team NC State who is just outside the RPI top 50. Additionally, Purdue is 11-5 in the Big 10. Conference records aren’t really a selection criteria, but Purdue’s strong finish in a good conference won’t hurt. Purdue had a couple bad losses early in the year and played some really bad teams in the nonconference. That will hold them back some, but I think they are pretty safe.
Boise State- The Mountain West always seems to be a league that plays the RPI game well and Boise State is no exception. They have a very inflated RPI, but to their credit they have taken care of business against the top of the league and I think that will ultimately get them in. Boise swept SD State and beat Colorado State for their 3 top 50 wins against 2 losses. They lost to bubble team NC State and have 4 losses against teams 96 and below in the RPI. They’ll may ultimately be near the cutline, but I think they will be on the right side of it.
Dayton- They only have played 5 top 50 RPI games (they are 3-2) and 5 51-100 RPI games (they are 2-3). They’ve done most their damage against teams below 100 in the RPI. That said they have generally avoided bad losses. They only have lost 6 games overall and may win a fairly solid league. The win at VCU was the win that could get them over the top. Wins over Bubble teams Ole Miss and Texas A & M should help.
Xavier- They have a lot of losses, including some bad ones (RPI 107 Long Beach State, RPI 131 Creighton, RPI 142 Auburn and RPI 166 Depaul). These losses have put missing the tournament in play despite the fact that there is a lot to like in Xavier’s resume. Xavier is 4-2 against the RPI top 25 and 1-2 against RPI 26-50. They have 9 RPI top 100 wins. Ultimately when you get down to those teams on the Bubble who you played and who you beat matters more than anything and X has played a tough schedule and beaten good teams. Unless they lose to Creighton a second time and early in the Big East tournament, I cannot see them being left out of the tournament.
Ole Miss- A couple of weeks ago I would have told you that Ole Miss was close to a lock, but they have not picked up many big wins lately and have played themselves squarely on the bubble. What helps Ole Miss is they have 4 top 50 RPI wins and 3 of those wins were away from home. They beat Cincinnati (neutral), Arkansas (away), Oregon (away) and Texas A&M (home). They were swept by Georgia as well as bubble team LSU and lost to bubble team Dayton. They still have probably done more than most of the teams near the cutline, but losing their last 2 games could put them in danger.
Ohio State- The Buckeyes are almost certainly going to be a tournament team, but their resume really isn’t that impressive. First the good. Ohio State has a very good win against Maryland and a pretty good win over Indiana (Both at home). These are OSU’s only wins against the RPI top 50 (to go against 6 losses). OSU also has wins over bubble teams Purdue and Illinois (also both at home). The Buckeyes just have not been able to beat anyone away from home this year. In fact, they are 3-7 outside of their own arena. That’s not good and it’s something the committee has really penalized teams for in the past. The Buckeyes were also swept by Bubble team Iowa. The good news for the Buckeyes is they have avoided bad losses and that should be enough to get them in, but they could be seeded lower than many think.
Cincinnati- Cincinnati has a few things really going for them on their resume. The first is they have 3 RPI top 25 wins. Very few teams, much less teams on the bubble, can claim that. They are also 4-4 against the RPI top 50. What hurts somewhat is they only have 6 RPI top 100 wins so though they have done well against top 100 caliber teams, they have not played that many of them. What also hurts is the 3 bad losses. As I’ve stated many times, when it comes to bubble teams good wins almost always trump bad losses. UC has wins over SMU (2x) and SD State, they have wins over bubble teams Temple and NC State and one over UConn who is inching closer to the bubble. Also the committee cares a ton about the schedule you can control (IE nonconference SOS) and UC has a top 25 nonconference SOS. That will score them points with the committee. If UC can sweep the last two that will be two more top 100 wins and they’ll be an absolute lock. I still think a split is probably good enough, because when you compare them to the rest of the bubble they have just done more against good teams. That said, avoiding a bad loss in the conference tournament would be imperative at that point.
North Carolina State- This is another team that has done a lot of good, but hurt themselves with some recent bad losses. I think their resume will ultimately be good enough, but at least a split in their final 2 games and win in the ACC tournament would make them feel better. NC State is 5-6 against the RPI top 50. That includes 3 great wins over Duke (home), UNC (away) and Louisville (away). They also have wins over bubble teams Boise State and Pitt. They have losses to bubble teams Cincinnati, Purdue and Miami (FL). They also have bad losses in the last month to Wake and Boston College. In the end their good should far outweigh the bad and the high loss total is largely due to playing what right now ranks as the #5 schedule in the country.
Oregon- This is a team that has come on strong and looks like the clear 3rd best team in the PAC 12, but their resume is also not nearly as good as you would expect it to be. Oregon is only 1-4 against the RPI top 50 with that one win coming at home against Utah. However, Oregon has been really good against team 51-100 going 8-2. Those 9 top 100 wins should matter selection Sunday despite the lack of top 50 wins. Among those 8 wins are wins against bubble teams UCLA (home), Stanford and Illinois. Oregon also has losses to bubble teams Ole Miss and UCLA (away). I think they get in, but they are not a slam dunk.
Illinois- They are only .500 in the Big 10 and sit in 8th place, but they have some very good wins and have avoided bad losses. If the tournament started today I think they’d have to be in the field. They have two top 10 RPI wins over Baylor (9) and Maryland (10). Overall they are 3-7 against the RPI top 50. They also have a win against bubble team Purdue who is just outside the RPI top 50. They have losses to bubble teams Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa and Miami (FL).
Colorado State- This is another bubble team with an inflated RPI that has just avoided bad losses. They only have 2 RPI top 50 wins (Both at home against SD State and Boise State) to go with 2 RPI top 50 losses (on the road against the same teams). This means they did nothing in the non-conference schedule and nothing away from home. They scheduled well enough that their nonconference SOS isn’t bad, but there is also nothing of significance on it. This is going to be a team on the cutline unless they win the Mountain West tournament.
Temple- Temple is a very interesting case, because it is hard to see how the committee will handle the games they played missing 2 of their key guys. Temple is only 2-7 against the RPI top 50, but one of those wins was against Kansas (a probable 2 or 3 seed). Additionally, Temple has wins over bubble team Cincinnati and fringe bubble team Louisiana Tech (and a win over UConn who could be a Bubble team). However, Temple only has 5 RPI top 100 wins overall. I think Temple is likely going to be around the cutline, unless they reach the conference tournament finals. That said, there is enough good that they could slip in amongst the middling bubble contenders.
Old Dominion- I have not seen much talk about this team as a bubble contender, but they are the type of team the committee has looked to among the last few teams in. It hurts that they are only 3rd in CUSA but they have the best tournament resume among those teams and that matters more than where you finish (unless there is a really dominant team in conference play). Old Dominion has only played 2 RPI top 50 teams, but they won both games beating VCU (when VCU was at full strength) and LSU. Old Dominion is 5-2 overall against the RPI top 100. They also have a nonconference SOS of 42 (something the committee loves to reward for small conference bubble teams). However, all 6 of their losses are to teams below 75 in the RPI and 4 of those are to teams below 100. It’s a very mixed bag, but could be enough to get a bid.
Texas A&M- They are only 2-5 against the RPI top 50. Those 2 wins are a sweep of bubble team LSU. They have losses to bubble teams Dayton and Ole Miss. They are 5-2 against teams 51-100 in the RPI, but the problem is none of those wins are against teams fighting for tournament bids. Essentially they have only beaten 1 tournament caliber team all season (though they did beat them twice). To their credit they have no bad losses. Though they are my last team in right now, I don’t think that is ultimately going to be enough, despite the fact that they are likely to finish in the top 3 in the SEC. If they can beat any tournament caliber teams in the SEC tournament then maybe their high finish in the standings and high RPI will be enough.
Tulsa- Their resume is a slightly lesser version of Texas A & M’s at this point. Like A&M they only have 2 wins against the RPI top 50 and those wins came against 1 team (a Sweep of Temple). They are 2-4 against the RPI top 50, but 3-1 against the RPI 51-100. Of course none of those 3 wins are against NCAA tournament caliber teams (unless you include UConn who could sneak on the bubble with a couple more wins). Also their RPI numbers don’t factor in their bad loss to a D2 team. A win against Cincinnati this week may get them above the cutline for the time being, but they wouldn’t feel safe without a couple more wins over tournament caliber teams.
Pitt- They have two great wins over Notre Dame and UNC. That’s enough to get them close. They also swept Syracuse who would be on the bubble if they were eligible for the tournament. That is pretty much all over the good for Pitt. They are only 2-6 against the RPI top 50 and only have 5 total wins against the RPI top 100. They have 3 bad losses to sub 100 RPI teams. I have them ahead of BYU because 2 great wins is better than 1, but like BYU the rest of their resume is lacking. If Pitt wins their last two games (including one against bubble Miami) that may be enough to get them just on the good side of the cutline and there are always chances in the ACC tournament.
BYU- They got one of the best wins of any team in the country this year when they went to Spokane and beat Gonzaga. Their problem is that is pretty much it on their resume. It’s their only top 50 RPI win against 3 losses. They have a decent win over bubble team Stanford, though Stanford is likely on the wrong side of the bubble. They have another decent win over St Mary’s but that team likely isn’t making the tournament and they also lost to them. They have a bubble loss to Purdue. BYU also has 3 losses to teams below 100 in the RPI. The question becomes, how much does the committee care about 1 great win? I can’t see this team getting an at large bid without beating Gonzaga again but if they do that they will earn the league’s autobid anyways.
Davidson- They have 1 RPI top 50 win (to go against 3 losses) and despite being 5-1 against RPI 51-100 they haven’t really beaten any other NCAA tournament caliber teams. They get a chance against VCU this week, which would be huge for their tournament chances. I think they need to beat 2 NCAA tournament caliber team before Selection Sunday to have a chance (whether VCU next week or A10 tournament or some combination).
Texas- They are 2-11 against the RPI top 50. Playing 11 top 50 games is a brutal schedule, but you really have to get more than 2 to be a tournament team. Still, 8 of those losses are to teams in the RPI top 17. So really when you look at their resume they are 2-3 against teams ranked 18-50 and 3-1 against teams ranked 51-100. Their worst loss was to bubble team Stanford who ranks 56 in the RPI. They also were swept by Bubble team Oklahoma State. Texas is the kind of team with a lot of losses the committee might let it, if they can get a couple more top 50 RPI wins.
Miami (FL)- This is the lowest ranked team by RPI I have in my rankings. They wouldn’t be in today, but have enough quality wins now that they could play their way in. One major issue is they are only 1-6 against the RPI top 50 (of course all of those games are against teams in the RPI top 27 and the one win is at Duke). Miami also has a win over bubble team NC State and bubble team Illinois. They also have a win over Syracuse who would be on the bubble if they were eligible. Hurting Miami even more than their record against the RPI top 50, is their 4 losses to teams below 100 in the RPI. They have work to do but they are not out.
UCLA- Like Texas, UCLA has played a lot of really top flight teams. They have 6 losses to teams in the top 15 of the RPI. Unlike Texas, UCLA has some bad losses (5 to teams 83 and below in the RPI). Because of those bad losses, the 2-7 record against the RPI top 50 is not enough. In addition to those 2 top 50 wins, UCLA swept bubble team Stanford (which is why they are ahead of them in my rankings).
Stanford- They have 1 win over RPI top 50 teams and that is against Texas who is likely not in the tournament right now. Their next best win is against UConn who wouldn’t be in the tournament right now. They also have 3 losses outside of the RPI top 100. They haven’t done enough.
Longshots who can still play their way back to the bubble: UConn, Minnesota, Clemson, Seton Hall, Kansas State