Auburn edges Miss. State

Auburn stops No. 16 Mississippi State at the goal line to preserve wild 41-34 victory.

<p>ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.</p><p>For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.</p><p>It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.</p><p>Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.</p><p>White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.</p><p>Then he just kind of said it. </p><p>“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”</p><p>White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.</p><p>But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?</p><p>After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding <a href="https://www.golfdigest.com/story/former-auburn-football-coach-still-thrilled-that-tigers-were-golf-digests-mythical-national-champions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:their Golf Digest national title" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">their <em>Golf Digest</em> national title</a> aloft.</p><p>Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World. </p><p>They printed <a href="http://si.fanatics.com/COLLEGE_UCF_Knights" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national championship gear" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national championship gear</a> that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.</p><p>White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.</p><p>“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”</p><p>The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.</p><p>The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.</p><p>White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”</p><p>Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.</p><p>It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”</p><p>Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.</p><p><em>Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Unstoppable-Shaquem-Griffin/dp/B077GGRG3H/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&#38;ie=UTF8&#38;qid=1520436392&#38;sr=1-1&#38;keywords=the+unstoppable+shaquem+griffin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:available now on Amazon Channels" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">available now on Amazon Channels</a></em>.</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p><em>American Idol</em> is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than <a href="http://americanidol.wikia.com/wiki/Season_3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh</a>. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five <em>American Idol</em> champs from its original run.</p><p><strong>1. Kelly Clarkson</strong></p><p><strong>2. Carrie Underwood</strong></p><p><strong>3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)</strong></p><p><strong>4. Scotty McCreery</strong></p><p><strong>5. David Cook*</strong></p><p><em>*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpR0uunWmGQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:with this cover" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">with this cover</a>.</em></p><h3>Three And Out</h3><p><strong>1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon.</strong> I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.</p><p>UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. <a href="http://triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/13402846-74/lawyers-for-kevin-stallings-released-a-statement-friday-stating-that-the-former" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A statement from Stallings’s attorney" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A statement from Stallings’s attorney</a> confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.</p><p>The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.</p><p>We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.</p><p><strong>2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.</strong></p><p><strong>3. Feel free to caption this photo…</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Last week, Houston defensive tackle <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/houston-ed-oliver-nfl-draft-2019" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season</a>. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.</p><p>I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spinalis cut of steak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">spinalis cut of steak</a>, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.</p><p>So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.</p><p>This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.</p><p>Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on <em>Miami Vice</em> crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.</p><p>A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one. </p>
UCF's Follow-Up Act Will Be Just as Important as Its Flawless Season

ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.

For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.

Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.

White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.

Then he just kind of said it.

“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.

But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?

After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding their Golf Digest national title aloft.

Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World.

They printed national championship gear that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.

White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.

“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”

The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.

The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.

White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”

Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.

It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”

Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.

Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, available now on Amazon Channels.

A Random Ranking

American Idol is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five American Idol champs from its original run.

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Carrie Underwood

3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)

4. Scotty McCreery

5. David Cook*

*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges with this cover.

Three And Out

1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon. I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.

UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. A statement from Stallings’s attorney confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.

The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.

We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.

2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.

3. Feel free to caption this photo…

What’s Eating Andy?

Last week, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.

What’s Andy Eating?

When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the spinalis cut of steak, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.

So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.

This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.

Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on Miami Vice crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.

A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one.

<p>ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.</p><p>For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.</p><p>It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.</p><p>Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.</p><p>White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.</p><p>Then he just kind of said it. </p><p>“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”</p><p>White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.</p><p>But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?</p><p>After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding <a href="https://www.golfdigest.com/story/former-auburn-football-coach-still-thrilled-that-tigers-were-golf-digests-mythical-national-champions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:their Golf Digest national title" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">their <em>Golf Digest</em> national title</a> aloft.</p><p>Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World. </p><p>They printed <a href="http://si.fanatics.com/COLLEGE_UCF_Knights" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national championship gear" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national championship gear</a> that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.</p><p>White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.</p><p>“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”</p><p>The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.</p><p>The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.</p><p>White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”</p><p>Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.</p><p>It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”</p><p>Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.</p><p><em>Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Unstoppable-Shaquem-Griffin/dp/B077GGRG3H/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&#38;ie=UTF8&#38;qid=1520436392&#38;sr=1-1&#38;keywords=the+unstoppable+shaquem+griffin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:available now on Amazon Channels" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">available now on Amazon Channels</a></em>.</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p><em>American Idol</em> is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than <a href="http://americanidol.wikia.com/wiki/Season_3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh</a>. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five <em>American Idol</em> champs from its original run.</p><p><strong>1. Kelly Clarkson</strong></p><p><strong>2. Carrie Underwood</strong></p><p><strong>3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)</strong></p><p><strong>4. Scotty McCreery</strong></p><p><strong>5. David Cook*</strong></p><p><em>*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpR0uunWmGQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:with this cover" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">with this cover</a>.</em></p><h3>Three And Out</h3><p><strong>1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon.</strong> I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.</p><p>UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. <a href="http://triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/13402846-74/lawyers-for-kevin-stallings-released-a-statement-friday-stating-that-the-former" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A statement from Stallings’s attorney" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A statement from Stallings’s attorney</a> confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.</p><p>The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.</p><p>We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.</p><p><strong>2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.</strong></p><p><strong>3. Feel free to caption this photo…</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Last week, Houston defensive tackle <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/houston-ed-oliver-nfl-draft-2019" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season</a>. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.</p><p>I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spinalis cut of steak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">spinalis cut of steak</a>, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.</p><p>So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.</p><p>This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.</p><p>Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on <em>Miami Vice</em> crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.</p><p>A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one. </p>
UCF's Follow-Up Act Will Be Just as Important as Its Flawless Season

ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.

For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.

Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.

White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.

Then he just kind of said it.

“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.

But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?

After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding their Golf Digest national title aloft.

Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World.

They printed national championship gear that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.

White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.

“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”

The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.

The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.

White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”

Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.

It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”

Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.

Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, available now on Amazon Channels.

A Random Ranking

American Idol is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five American Idol champs from its original run.

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Carrie Underwood

3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)

4. Scotty McCreery

5. David Cook*

*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges with this cover.

Three And Out

1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon. I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.

UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. A statement from Stallings’s attorney confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.

The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.

We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.

2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.

3. Feel free to caption this photo…

What’s Eating Andy?

Last week, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.

What’s Andy Eating?

When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the spinalis cut of steak, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.

So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.

This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.

Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on Miami Vice crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.

A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one.

<p>ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.</p><p>For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.</p><p>It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.</p><p>Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.</p><p>White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.</p><p>Then he just kind of said it. </p><p>“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”</p><p>White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.</p><p>But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?</p><p>After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding <a href="https://www.golfdigest.com/story/former-auburn-football-coach-still-thrilled-that-tigers-were-golf-digests-mythical-national-champions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:their Golf Digest national title" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">their <em>Golf Digest</em> national title</a> aloft.</p><p>Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World. </p><p>They printed <a href="http://si.fanatics.com/COLLEGE_UCF_Knights" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national championship gear" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national championship gear</a> that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.</p><p>White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.</p><p>“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”</p><p>The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.</p><p>The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.</p><p>White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”</p><p>Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.</p><p>It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”</p><p>Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.</p><p><em>Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Unstoppable-Shaquem-Griffin/dp/B077GGRG3H/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&#38;ie=UTF8&#38;qid=1520436392&#38;sr=1-1&#38;keywords=the+unstoppable+shaquem+griffin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:available now on Amazon Channels" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">available now on Amazon Channels</a></em>.</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p><em>American Idol</em> is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than <a href="http://americanidol.wikia.com/wiki/Season_3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh</a>. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five <em>American Idol</em> champs from its original run.</p><p><strong>1. Kelly Clarkson</strong></p><p><strong>2. Carrie Underwood</strong></p><p><strong>3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)</strong></p><p><strong>4. Scotty McCreery</strong></p><p><strong>5. David Cook*</strong></p><p><em>*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpR0uunWmGQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:with this cover" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">with this cover</a>.</em></p><h3>Three And Out</h3><p><strong>1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon.</strong> I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.</p><p>UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. <a href="http://triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/13402846-74/lawyers-for-kevin-stallings-released-a-statement-friday-stating-that-the-former" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A statement from Stallings’s attorney" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A statement from Stallings’s attorney</a> confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.</p><p>The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.</p><p>We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.</p><p><strong>2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.</strong></p><p><strong>3. Feel free to caption this photo…</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Last week, Houston defensive tackle <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/houston-ed-oliver-nfl-draft-2019" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season</a>. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.</p><p>I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spinalis cut of steak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">spinalis cut of steak</a>, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.</p><p>So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.</p><p>This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.</p><p>Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on <em>Miami Vice</em> crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.</p><p>A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one. </p>
UCF's Follow-Up Act Will Be Just as Important as Its Flawless Season

ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.

For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.

Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.

White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.

Then he just kind of said it.

“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.

But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?

After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding their Golf Digest national title aloft.

Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World.

They printed national championship gear that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.

White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.

“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”

The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.

The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.

White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”

Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.

It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”

Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.

Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, available now on Amazon Channels.

A Random Ranking

American Idol is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five American Idol champs from its original run.

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Carrie Underwood

3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)

4. Scotty McCreery

5. David Cook*

*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges with this cover.

Three And Out

1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon. I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.

UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. A statement from Stallings’s attorney confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.

The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.

We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.

2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.

3. Feel free to caption this photo…

What’s Eating Andy?

Last week, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.

What’s Andy Eating?

When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the spinalis cut of steak, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.

So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.

This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.

Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on Miami Vice crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.

A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one.

<p>Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3>Thursday&#39;s Biggest Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.</p><h3>Other Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Alabama vs. Texas A&#38;M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Mountain West quarterfinals:</strong> UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals:</strong> Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Conference USA quarterfinals:</strong> Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>WAC quarterfinals:</strong> Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1</p><h3><strong>Locks (41)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining</strong></h3><p>15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)</strong></h3><p>We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)</strong></h3><p>In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.</p><h3><strong>Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)</strong></h3><p>Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)</strong></h3><p>You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.</p><h3><strong>Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.</p><h3><strong>Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/collin-sexton-coast-coast-game-winner-alabama-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a Collin Sexton buzzer beater" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a Collin Sexton buzzer beater</a> to knock off Texas A&#38;M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.</p><h3>Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.</p><h3><strong>Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.</p><h3><strong>USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.</p><h3><strong>Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.</p><h3>New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.</p><h3><strong>LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.</p><h3><strong>Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.</p><h3><strong>Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.</p>
Bubble Watch: How Each Team on the Edge Can Secure a Spot in NCAA Tournament Field

Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.

Thursday's Biggest Bubble Games

ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.

Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.

Other Bubble Games

SEC second round: Alabama vs. Texas A&M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1

Mountain West quarterfinals: UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

SEC second round: Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Big 12 quarterfinals: Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

SEC second round: LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1

Conference USA quarterfinals: Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

WAC quarterfinals: Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Big East quarterfinals: Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Locks (41)

Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier

Spots remaining

15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)

We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.

Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.

Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)

In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.

Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)

Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.

Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)

You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.

Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.

Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.

Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.

St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.

Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.

Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)

Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with a Collin Sexton buzzer beater to knock off Texas A&M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.

Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.

UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.

Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.

Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.

Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.

Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.

Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)

Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.

USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)

USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.

Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.

New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.

LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)

LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.

Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.

Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.

Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.

<p>Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3>Thursday&#39;s Biggest Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.</p><h3>Other Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Alabama vs. Texas A&#38;M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Mountain West quarterfinals:</strong> UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals:</strong> Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Conference USA quarterfinals:</strong> Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>WAC quarterfinals:</strong> Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1</p><h3><strong>Locks (41)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining</strong></h3><p>15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)</strong></h3><p>We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)</strong></h3><p>In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.</p><h3><strong>Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)</strong></h3><p>Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)</strong></h3><p>You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.</p><h3><strong>Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.</p><h3><strong>Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/collin-sexton-coast-coast-game-winner-alabama-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a Collin Sexton buzzer beater" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a Collin Sexton buzzer beater</a> to knock off Texas A&#38;M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.</p><h3>Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.</p><h3><strong>Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.</p><h3><strong>USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.</p><h3><strong>Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.</p><h3>New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.</p><h3><strong>LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.</p><h3><strong>Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.</p><h3><strong>Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.</p>
Bubble Watch: How Each Team on the Edge Can Secure a Spot in NCAA Tournament Field

Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.

Thursday's Biggest Bubble Games

ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.

Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.

Other Bubble Games

SEC second round: Alabama vs. Texas A&M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1

Mountain West quarterfinals: UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

SEC second round: Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Big 12 quarterfinals: Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

SEC second round: LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1

Conference USA quarterfinals: Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

WAC quarterfinals: Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Big East quarterfinals: Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Locks (41)

Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier

Spots remaining

15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)

We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.

Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.

Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)

In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.

Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)

Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.

Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)

You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.

Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.

Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.

Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.

St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.

Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.

Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)

Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with a Collin Sexton buzzer beater to knock off Texas A&M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.

Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.

UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.

Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.

Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.

Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.

Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.

Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)

Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.

USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)

USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.

Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.

New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.

LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)

LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.

Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.

Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.

Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.

<p>Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3>Thursday&#39;s Biggest Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.</p><h3>Other Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Alabama vs. Texas A&#38;M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Mountain West quarterfinals:</strong> UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals:</strong> Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Conference USA quarterfinals:</strong> Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>WAC quarterfinals:</strong> Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1</p><h3><strong>Locks (41)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining</strong></h3><p>15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)</strong></h3><p>We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)</strong></h3><p>In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.</p><h3><strong>Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)</strong></h3><p>Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)</strong></h3><p>You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.</p><h3><strong>Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.</p><h3><strong>Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/collin-sexton-coast-coast-game-winner-alabama-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a Collin Sexton buzzer beater" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a Collin Sexton buzzer beater</a> to knock off Texas A&#38;M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.</p><h3>Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.</p><h3><strong>Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.</p><h3><strong>USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.</p><h3><strong>Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.</p><h3>New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.</p><h3><strong>LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.</p><h3><strong>Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.</p><h3><strong>Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.</p>
Bubble Watch: How Each Team on the Edge Can Secure a Spot in NCAA Tournament Field

Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.

Thursday's Biggest Bubble Games

ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.

Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.

Other Bubble Games

SEC second round: Alabama vs. Texas A&M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1

Mountain West quarterfinals: UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

SEC second round: Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Big 12 quarterfinals: Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

SEC second round: LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1

Conference USA quarterfinals: Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

WAC quarterfinals: Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Big East quarterfinals: Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Locks (41)

Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier

Spots remaining

15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)

We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.

Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.

Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)

In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.

Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)

Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.

Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)

You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.

Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.

Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.

Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.

St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.

Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.

Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)

Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with a Collin Sexton buzzer beater to knock off Texas A&M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.

Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.

UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.

Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.

Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.

Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.

Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.

Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)

Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.

USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)

USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.

Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.

New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.

LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)

LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.

Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.

Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.

Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.

<p>Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.</p><h3>Thursday&#39;s Biggest Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.</p><h3>Other Bubble Games</h3><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Alabama vs. Texas A&#38;M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Mountain West quarterfinals:</strong> UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>Big 12 quarterfinals:</strong> Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</p><p><strong>SEC second round:</strong> LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1</p><p><strong>Conference USA quarterfinals:</strong> Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET</p><p><strong>Pac-12 quarterfinals:</strong> Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><p><strong>WAC quarterfinals:</strong> Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3</p><p><strong>Big East quarterfinals:</strong> Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1</p><h3><strong>Locks (41)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining</strong></h3><p>15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)</strong></h3><p>We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)</strong></h3><p>In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.</p><h3><strong>Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)</strong></h3><p>Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)</strong></h3><p>You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.</p><h3><strong>Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.</p><h3><strong>Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/collin-sexton-coast-coast-game-winner-alabama-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a Collin Sexton buzzer beater" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a Collin Sexton buzzer beater</a> to knock off Texas A&#38;M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.</p><h3>Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.</p><h3><strong>Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.</p><h3><strong>Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.</p><h3><strong>USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.</p><h3><strong>Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.</p><h3>New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.</p><h3><strong>LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.</p><h3><strong>Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.</p><h3><strong>Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.</p><h3><strong>Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.</p>
Bubble Watch: How Each Team on the Edge Can Secure a Spot in NCAA Tournament Field

Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.

Thursday's Biggest Bubble Games

ACC quarterfinals: Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Alright, Irish. You’ve got yourselves to a point where you could be playing a play-in game. The Irish needed to get to this point to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Given the strength of this year’s bubble—and the issues with their case created largely by Bonzie Colson’s injury—they still need one more win. Beat Duke, which is on the shortlist of national title contenders, and the Irish will prove they belong in the dance.

Big 12 quarterfinals: Baylor vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This could be relatively academic for the Bears. Win, and the Bears may have done enough to sell themselves to the committee, depending on what the country’s other bubble teams do. Lose, and they’ll almost certainly need most of the other bubble teams to go down without further building their résumés. The Bears lost both their games against West Virginia this season.

Other Bubble Games

SEC second round: Alabama vs. Texas A&M, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Providence vs. Creighton, 2:30 p.m., FS1

Mountain West quarterfinals: UNLV vs. No. 22 Nevada, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

SEC second round: Georgia vs. Missouri, 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Stanford vs. UCLA, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Big 12 quarterfinals: Texas vs. No. 14 Texas Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

SEC second round: LSU vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Big East quarterfinals: Marquette vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7 p.m., FS1

Conference USA quarterfinals: Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m. ET

Pac-12 quarterfinals: Oregon State vs. USC, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

WAC quarterfinals: Chicago State vs. New Mexico State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Big East quarterfinals: Butler vs. Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Locks (41)

Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier

Spots remaining

15 (68 total spots — 41 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 15)

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 47, Q1 record: 2–4)

We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.

Missouri (19–12, RPI: 33, SOS: 33, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They did leave the door to the NIT ajar, however, by losing to Georgia on Thursday. They should still be good thanks to wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas, but if the handful of bubble teams still alive in their respective tournaments all win another game or two, Missouri could be the odd team out. That is incredibly unlikely. Consider the Tigers as good as in.

Florida State (20–11, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–7)

In its first ACC tournament game, Florida State suffered a loss its tournament case can likely withstand. The Seminoles fell to Louisville on Wednesday and that loss prevents them from being considered a lock for the time being. However, they should be good with their six Q1 wins, which includes victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida.

Texas (19–14, RPI: 46, SOS: 19, Q1 record: 5–11)

Texas made a valiant charge in the second half to bring its Big 12 quarterfinal with Texas Tech down to the wire, but the Red Raiders held on for a 73-69 victory. Texas had a strong regular season, with wins over West Virginia, TCU, Butler, Oklahoma and the same Texas Tech team that eliminated them from the Big 12 tournament. Combine that with a top-20 strength of schedule and a total lack of bad losses, and the Longhorns should be dancing.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.

Nevada (27–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–2)

You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. It squeaked past UNLV in the quarterfinals on Thursday. A win Friday would put them in the conference championship game, and that would likely be enough to take them off the bubble.

Providence (20–12, RPI: 41, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

Providence likely needed one win in the Big East tournament to breathe easy heading into Selection Sunday. They got it by knocking off Creighton on Thursday. The three sub-100 losses are a bit of a concern, especially since they all came against teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, but Providence has done more than enough to get an at-large. Remember, this is the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier. The Friars will dance.

Kansas State (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 94, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Wildcats have to feel good about their at-large chances after beating TCU in overtime on Thursday. They now have four Q1 victories, and while it would be encouraging if one of those came against Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech, their profile still typically results in an at-large bid. They’d remove all doubt with one more win in the Big 12 tournament on Friday.

Butler (20–12, RPI: 45, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler entered its quarterfinal game with Seton Hall on Thursday 0-4 in Big East tournament games. Make that 1-4. Tyler Wideman’s putback with 3.6 seconds left gave the Bulldogs their first ever Big East tournament win and, more importantly, the victory they needed to likely get over the hump. The Bulldogs could remove what sliver of doubt remains by beating Villanova on Friday, but they’ve likely already doen enough to earn an at-large bid.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 43, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule barely inside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.

St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.

Oklahoma State (19–14, RPI: 85, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 5–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The Cowboys came up short in their bid for a third win over Kansas this season, but the run they made over the final six weeks of the season has them in position to earn an at-large bid. The Cowboys now own five Q1 wins, two of which came against Kansas. They also beat West Virginia, Texas Tech, Florida State, Texas and, just for good measure, Oklahoma twice. You rack up that many wins against certain or likely tournament teams, and you typically go dancing.

Alabama (18–14, RPI: 56, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)

Alabama made life on the bubble even more crowded with a Collin Sexton buzzer beater to knock off Texas A&M in the SEC second round on Thursday. The Crimson Tide are now up to six Q1 victories, with Auburn and Tennessee among its victims. The win over the Aggies may be enough to get them in the field, but they would lock themselves into a bid by beating Auburn on Friday.

Louisville (20-13, RPI: 39, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Louisville’s ACC tournament is over after losing to Florida State on Thursday. Now, the Cardinals must wait and hope they have done enough to earn an at-large bid. They did the minimum necessary in the ACC tourney to remain in contention for the big dance by beating Florida State on Wednesday. The bet here is that they’ve done enough to be ahead of teams like Arizona State and Syracuse, but there are still enough teams jockeying for position that could send them to the NIT.

UCLA (21–10, RPI: 36, SOS: 79, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)

UCLA took its first step this week toward feeling secure on Selection Sunday, beating Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. That earned the Bruins a matchup with Arizona on Friday. From here, it’s simple. If they win on Friday, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. If they don’t, they’ll be sweating it out with Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona State and the rest of the bubble teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments.

Baylor (17–14, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

It’s going to be a long weekend for Baylor. After losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bears head into Selection Sunday having lost four of their last five games. They do have great wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, but both of those were at home. In most years, that might be enough, but this is not a typical season on the bubble. What’s more, the Bears went just 17-14 in D-I games, with one of their 18 overall wins coming outside the top division. The committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17-14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Nervous times ahead for the Bears.

Marquette (19–12, RPI: 55, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Marquette bowed out of the Big East tournament on Thursday, going down to soon-to-be-top-seed Villanova. There’s no shame in that at all, but the Golden Eagles needed that game to feel secure about their at-large chances. Now, they must hope that what they accomplished in the regular season was enough. That includes four Q1 wins, including two victories apiece over Creighton and Seton Hall. Those, however, are their only wins against tourney-bound teams. It will be a tense weekend in Milwaukee.

Arizona State (20–11, RPI: 66, SOS: 80, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Good job, good effort, Arizona State. Losing to Colorado in its opener of the Pac-12 tournament wasn’t what it needed to do to stay off the bubble, but it is exactly what happened. After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed they would not only cruise into the tournament, but also be a Final Four contender. Those wins were a long time ago, though. The Sun Devils also lost four of their final five games of the season, at least two of which were against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They have to hope that the Selection Committee gives significant weight to the wins over Kansas and Xavier. Otherwise, they’ll be headed for one of the most unwanted NIT bids in recent memory.

Syracuse (20–13, RPI: 44, SOS: 15, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

After losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, Syracuse has to hope that it already had a strong enough résumé, and that its fellow bubble teams lose as soon as possible. That might be a bridge too far. Wins over Clemson and Louisville stand out, but the Orange have just six combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Oklahoma state has six Q1 wins. Baylor has four wins in Q1, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. Even Louisville, which lost to Syracuse, has four Q1 victories and, unlike the Orange, zero sub-100 losses. The Orange could still go either way, but they can’t do any more to strengthen their at-large case.

Notre Dame (19–14, RPI: 64, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2–9, Q2 record: 5–2, sub-100 losses: 3)

Notre Dame’s late-season charge for an at-large bid came to an end on Thursday night against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. It will likely prove quixotic. Had Bonzie Colson—and, for that matter, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey—not gotten hurt, the Irish likely would be a tournament team. Unfortunately, those players did get hurt, and, even if we isolate for the games the Irish played only with Colson, it’s hard to get them in the field ahead of teams like Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and the like. The Irish definitely could end up on the right side of the bubble. The SI.com Bubble Watch has been wrong in the past. But the bet here is that it will be too little, too late.

USC (22–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)

USC took the first necessary step toward strengthening its at-large résumé in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Oregon State on Thursday. That, of course, didn’t do anything for their case, but it did get them closer to playing Arizona or winning the Pac-12 title. USC’s résumé is relatively clean. The problem is the Trojans might not have one win against a team that will get an at-large bid. Their four Q1 victories are against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. Given the strength of the bubble, that might not be good enough just yet.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Mississippi State (21–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Mississippi State is still breathing after beating LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Things won’t really be interesting for them unless they beat Tennessee on Friday. That would give them the opportunity to get the win they would need to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. A loss at Tennessee keeps them off the at-large radar for good.

Middle Tennessee (23–7, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

You are going to hear that Middle Tennessee is a bubble team this weekend. I promise you. No matter what you hear, understand that they are a longshot. They lost to Marshall twice, Belmont and, in the crushing denouement of their season, Southern Miss. Meanwhile, their best wins came against Murray State and Western Kentucky. That’s just not an résumé worthy of an at-large bid, especially with this season’s bubble.

New Mexico State (23–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. They also suffered bad losses to Utah Valley, Seattle and San Diego. An at-large is unlikely, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They play in the WAC semifinals on Friday.

LSU (17–14, RPI: 88, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)

LSU made things interesting by racking up six Q1 wins, all of which came against teams that will go dancing, but there’s no precedent for a 17-14 team getting an at-large bid, and it’s even less likely that the committee is going to break ground in a season with a strong bubble. LSU will be an NIT championship contender.

Washington (20–12, RPI: 67, SOS: 53, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

When the bubble is as strong as it is this season, you can’t lose six combined games to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford. When the Huskies dropped their Pac-12 tournament opener to the Beavers, they essentially shut the NCAA tournament door and stamped themselves a ticket to the NIT.

Oregon (20–11, RPI: 69, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.

Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.

<p>The 2018 SEC tournament will take place in St. Louis and gets started on Wednesday, March 7. It will conclude on Sunday, March 11.</p><p>Auburn enters the tournament as the top seed after going 13-5 in conference play during the regular season. The Tigers are No. 16 in the country and needed a 94-84 win over Tennessee in order to claim the No. 1 seed because the Volunteers also went 13-5 in conference to earn the No. 2 seed for the tournament. Florida and Kentucky occupy the other spots in the top four, and all these teams will have double-byes and will not play until the quarterfinals.</p><p>Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&#38;M, Alabama and LSU round out the top 10 of the conference, respectively, and they will all get their tournament started Thursday. On Wednesday, South Carolina and Ole Miss play for the right to take on Arkansas in the second round and Georgia and Vanderbilt will fight for a chance to take on Missouri.</p><p>Last year, Kentucky defeated Arkansas to win the tournament.</p><p>Below is a schedule of all the games.</p><h3><em>How to Watch</em></h3><h3>Round 1: Wednesday, March 7</h3><p><strong>Game 1:</strong> No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 13 Vanderbilt<br><strong>Time:</strong> 7 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><p><strong>Game 2:</strong> No. 11 South Carolina vs. No. 14 Ole Miss<br><strong>Time:</strong> 9:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 1 ends<br><strong>TV channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><h3>Round 2: Thursday, March 8</h3><p><strong>Game 3:</strong> No. 8 Texas A&#38;M vs. No. 9 Alabama<br><strong>Time:</strong> 1 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><p><strong>Game 4:</strong> No. 5 Missouri vs. Game 1 Winner<br><strong>Time:</strong> 3:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 3 ends<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><p><strong>Game 5:</strong> No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 LSU <br><strong>Time:</strong> 7 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><p><strong>Game 6: </strong>No. 6 Arkansas vs. Game 2 Winner<br><strong>Time</strong><strong>:</strong> 9:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 5 ends<br><strong>TV channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><h3>Quarterfinals: Friday, March 9</h3><p><strong>Game 7</strong>: No. 1 Auburn vs. Game 3 Winner<br><strong>Time</strong><strong>:</strong> 1 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> ESPN</p><p><strong>Game 8: </strong>No. 4 Kentucky vs. Game 4 Winner<br><strong>Time:</strong> 3:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 7 ends<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> ESPN</p><p><strong>Game 9:</strong> No. 2 Tennessee vs. Game 5 Winner<br><strong>Time</strong><strong>:</strong> 7 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><p><strong>Game 10:</strong> No. 3 Florida vs. Game 6 Winner<br><strong>Time</strong><strong>:</strong> 9:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 9 ends<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> SEC Network</p><h3>Semifinals: Saturday March 10</h3><p><strong>Game 11:</strong> Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner<br><strong>Time</strong><strong>:</strong> 1 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> ESPN</p><p><strong>Game 12:</strong> Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner<br><strong>Time</strong><strong>:</strong> 3:25 p.m. or about 25 minutes after Game 11 ends<br><strong>TV channel:</strong> ESPN</p><h3>Championship: Sunday, March 11</h3><p>Game 11 Winner vs. Game 12 Winner<br><strong>Time:</strong> 1 p.m. ET<br><strong>TV</strong><strong> channel:</strong> ESPN</p><p>All games can be streamed online through <a href="http://www.espn.com/watch/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:WatchESPN" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">WatchESPN</a>.</p>
How to Watch SEC Tournament: Dates, Times, TV Channels, Live Stream

The 2018 SEC tournament will take place in St. Louis and gets started on Wednesday, March 7. It will conclude on Sunday, March 11.

Auburn enters the tournament as the top seed after going 13-5 in conference play during the regular season. The Tigers are No. 16 in the country and needed a 94-84 win over Tennessee in order to claim the No. 1 seed because the Volunteers also went 13-5 in conference to earn the No. 2 seed for the tournament. Florida and Kentucky occupy the other spots in the top four, and all these teams will have double-byes and will not play until the quarterfinals.

Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU round out the top 10 of the conference, respectively, and they will all get their tournament started Thursday. On Wednesday, South Carolina and Ole Miss play for the right to take on Arkansas in the second round and Georgia and Vanderbilt will fight for a chance to take on Missouri.

Last year, Kentucky defeated Arkansas to win the tournament.

Below is a schedule of all the games.

How to Watch

Round 1: Wednesday, March 7

Game 1: No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 13 Vanderbilt
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV channel: SEC Network

Game 2: No. 11 South Carolina vs. No. 14 Ole Miss
Time: 9:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 1 ends
TV channel: SEC Network

Round 2: Thursday, March 8

Game 3: No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 Alabama
Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV channel: SEC Network

Game 4: No. 5 Missouri vs. Game 1 Winner
Time: 3:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 3 ends
TV channel: SEC Network

Game 5: No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 LSU
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV channel: SEC Network

Game 6: No. 6 Arkansas vs. Game 2 Winner
Time: 9:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 5 ends
TV channel: SEC Network

Quarterfinals: Friday, March 9

Game 7: No. 1 Auburn vs. Game 3 Winner
Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPN

Game 8: No. 4 Kentucky vs. Game 4 Winner
Time: 3:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 7 ends
TV channel: ESPN

Game 9: No. 2 Tennessee vs. Game 5 Winner
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV channel: SEC Network

Game 10: No. 3 Florida vs. Game 6 Winner
Time: 9:25 p.m. ET or about 25 minutes after Game 9 ends
TV channel: SEC Network

Semifinals: Saturday March 10

Game 11: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner
Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPN

Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner
Time: 3:25 p.m. or about 25 minutes after Game 11 ends
TV channel: ESPN

Championship: Sunday, March 11

Game 11 Winner vs. Game 12 Winner
Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPN

All games can be streamed online through WatchESPN.

<p>Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.</p><p><strong>ACC second round: Louisville vs. Florida State, noon ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>This is a do-or-die game for Louisville. Win, and the Cardinals have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Win, and go on to beat Virginia, and they’ll be assured a spot. If they lose to Florida State, however, they’ll likely be headed to the NIT.</p><p><strong>ACC second round: Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>Notre Dame took care of step one—though it was a bit more challenging than expected—dispatching of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Now, the real fun begins. They need at least two wins, and more likely three, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Toppling Virginia Tech will be no easy task. The Hokies own wins over Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and Clemson this season.</p><p><strong>Big 12 first round: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>Win or lose, Oklahoma should be safe. It would be a tense couple of days leading up to Selection Sunday, but the Sooners likely did enough before falling apart in the second half of the Big 12 schedule to get an at-large bid. The Cowboys, by contrast, made a furious run over the last month, including two wins over Kansas, to get onto the bubble. They need the run to extend at least one, and possibly two, more games to be realistically hopeful of an invite.</p><p><strong>ACC second round: Syracuse vs. North Carolina, 9 p.m., ESPN2</strong></p><p>Syracuse begins the week as one of the last four teams in our field of 68 in the most recent Bracket Watch. A win over North Carolina could lock up a bid. A loss, however, will have them in need of some help, mostly from teams in other conferences.</p><p><strong>Big 12 first round: Iowa State vs. Texas, 9 p.m., ESPNU</strong></p><p>This is pretty simple for the Longhorns. Take care of business against the Cyclones on Wednesday, and they should hear their names called on Selection Sunday.</p><p><strong>Other Bubble Games</strong></p><p><strong>Pac-12 first round: </strong>Arizona State vs. Colorado, 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network<br><strong>Pac-12 first round: </strong>Oregon State vs. Washington, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network<br><strong>Big East first round: </strong>DePaul vs. Marquette, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1<br><strong>Pac-12 first round: </strong>Washington State vs. Oregon, 11:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network</p><h3><strong>Locks (40)</strong></h3><p>Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier</p><h3><strong>Spots remaining</strong></h3><p>16 (68 total spots — 40 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 16)</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3><strong>NC State (21–10, RPI: 54, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 5–7)</strong></h3><p>NC State left the NIT door ajar by losing to a lowly Georgia Tech team last week. If the Wolfpack lose their first ACC tournament game on Wednesday against Boston College, they could be in some trouble. So long as they win that one, they’ll move into the lock category.</p><h3><strong>Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–4)</strong></h3><p>We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.</p><h3><strong>Missouri (19–11, RPI: 33, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-7)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They’ll play the Georgia-Vanderbilt winner in their first game in the SEC tournament on Thursday. Avoid what would be an ugly loss there, and they’ll be locked into the dance.</p><h3><strong>Florida State (20–10, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–6)</strong></h3><p>The Seminoles should be good with their six Q1 wins, including victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida. How would they get into trouble? Well, they’d first have to lose to Louisville in the second round of the ACC tournament. From there, multiple teams objectively behind them in the pecking order would need to go on deep runs this week. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not even close. Bet on seeing the Seminoles in the field of 68.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.</em></p><h3><strong>Nevada (26–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 2–2)</strong></h3><p>You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and it cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. A loss in its quarterfinal matchup against the UNLV-Air Force winner on Thursday would have the Wolf Pack quite nervous on Selection Sunday. And lest you think that can’t happen, one of those sub-100 losses came at the hands of UNLV.</p><h3><strong>Texas (18–13, RPI: 48, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 5–10)</strong></h3><p>Texas got a huge win over the weekend, outlasting West Virginia in overtime at home. Believe it or not, that doesn’t qualify as a Q1 win, though it will if the Mountaineers improve their RPI by one slot by Selection Sunday. Still, it will be a big win in the collective eye of the selection committee, on top of previous triumphs over TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Butler. Texas is the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament and will face Iowa State in the first round on Wednesday. The bet here is that Texas will be safe if it takes care of business against the Cyclones. It would remove any doubt by going on to beat Texas Tech in the quarterfinals. Still, a 19–14 record with a top-50 RPI, top-20 SOS and five or six Q1 victories should be enough for the Longhorns to earn an invite to the dance.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3><strong>Arizona State (20–10, RPI: 58, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed impossible that they could be on the bubble the final week of the season. Those wins were a long time ago, though, and that’s exactly where they find themselves after losing four of their final five games of the season, two of which came against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They open the Pac-12 tournament with a losable game against Colorado on Wednesday. A loss there and the Sun Devils are likely NIT-bound. A win there could be enough to at least secure one of the final four spots in the field. The only way they’ll be assured of a spot is by beating Arizona in the quarterfinals.</p><h3><strong>Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 44, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule outside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.</p><h3><strong>Butler (19–12, RPI: 46, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 3–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Butler heads into the Big East tournament following a damaging week where it lost to St. John’s and Seton Hall. Had the Bulldogs won either of those games, they’d be in the previous section. Now they’re in a position where they’ll need to win a game in the Big East tourney to feel good on Selection Sunday. That game comes on Thursday against the same Seton Hall team that beat them in their regular season finale. The Bulldogs’ at-large invite isn’t necessarily dependent on winning that game, but it will be a nervous few days in Indianapolis if they don’t get it. If they beat Seton Hall, they’ll have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Providence (19–12, RPI: 43, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>Providence’s at-large case looks pretty open-and-shut until you get to that last part of the resumé. The Friars are one of two at-large teams in our current field with three sub-100 losses, and even that doesn’t tell the whole story. All three of those losses were to teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, including one sub-200 loss to Massachusetts. Now, to be fair, wins over Villanova and Xavier offset those losses. But Providence is still playing with fire, and even though a loss to Creighton in their first game of the Big East tournament wouldn’t hurt their resumé, they can’t afford to give the committee any reason to leave them out. They’re in with a win, and sweating—but still likely in—with a loss.</p><h3><strong>St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.</p><h3><strong>Baylor (17–13, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>After surging back by winning five straight, Baylor lost three of its final four games of the regular season. The Bears are <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/05/march-madness-bracket-watch-ncaa-tournament-duke-unc-kansas" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:still just inside our tournament field" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">still just inside our tournament field</a>, but they could be in some trouble. They’ll take on West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday in a game they need to win to feel good about their at-large chances. They could still get an invite without it, but the committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17–14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Baylor has five. Again, that could be enough for the Bears, but they would likely need a little bit of help from their fellow bubble teams. They could remove all the drama surrounding their case by beating West Virginia.</p><h3><strong>Kansas State (21–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 92, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>The particulars of Kansas State’s case differ from Baylor’s, but it is in essentially the same spot. If the Wildcats win their quarterfinal game in the Big 12 tournament against TCU, they should be in good shape. If they don’t, they’re going to have an anxious 72 hours between the end of the game and the revealing of the bracket. Kansas State’s best wins aren’t nearly as strong as Baylor’s, but nine of its 10 losses were to certain, likely or potential tournament teams. Should the Wildcats fall to TCU on Thursday, their tournament hopes will likely depend on what the rest of the bubble teams do in their respective tournaments.</p><h3><strong>Syracuse (20–12, RPI: 37, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Orange got a huge win by knocking off Clemson in their regular season finale. That was enough to get them into the field of 68 <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/05/march-madness-bracket-watch-ncaa-tournament-duke-unc-kansas" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in our most recent Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in our most recent Bracket Watch</a>, but it might not keep them in the field if they don’t do anything more in the ACC tournament. Wednesday brings a chance to potentially lock up a bid when they meet North Carolina. A loss would likely lock them in as one of the last teams in, or the first teams out of, the field. Whether it’s the good side would depend heavily on what the other bubble teams do­—most notably fellow ACC bubbler Louisville. For what it’s worth, Syracuse lost its only game against North Carolina.</p><h3><strong>UCLA (20–10, RPI: 38, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>If nothing else, UCLA put itself comfortably ahead of USC on the seed list by beating the Trojans last weekend, earning a sweep over their cross-city rivals. There’s no way to look objectively at the résumés of these two teams and determine that USC is more worthy of an at-large bid. Given that the two are likely to be in contention for one of the few remaining bids come Selection Sunday, that status is huge for the Bruins. Now, they just have to figure out a way to stay there. It starts by beating the Stanford-Cal winner on Thursday. If they do that, they’ll likely score a second date with Arizona in the semifinals. UCLA won its only game with the Wildcats this season, and a second win over the Pac-12’s best team would all but lock up an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Marquette (18–12, RPI: 56, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>The Golden Eagles had just the week they needed to wrap up the regular season, beating Georgetown and Creighton. They head into the Big East tournament standing one big win away from becoming a likely tournament team, especially since that game would be against Villanova. They have to get through DePaul first, though, and the Blue Demons handed them their one and only sub-100 loss just two weeks ago. A win there and a loss to Villanova would have the Golden Eagles teetering on the edge of the field, likely needing teams such as USC, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Washington, Notre Dame and LSU to not improve their resumés.</p><h3><strong>USC (21–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>How can I be so sure that UCLA is ahead of USC? After all, USC has the better RPI, SOS and Q1 record. First, the RPI difference is negligible. Second, USC may have the better Q1 record, but UCLA’s Q1 performance is far superior. Two of the Bruins’ Q1 wins were against Kentucky and Arizona. USC, meanwhile, may not own a win over an at-large team. Its four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. For me, that would be enough to grade UCLA as the better team—the sweep is just icing on the cake. The problem for USC is that it won’t have a chance to build its résumé until the Pac-12 championship, and at that point, strengthening its at-large case is moot. The Trojans may be just barely on the wrong side of the bubble, but the bet of the SI.com Bubble Watch committee is that they need to win the Pac-12 tourney, or get a ton of help in the form of teams going out early in conference tournaments, such as Marquette, Syracuse, Louisville, Kansas State and Baylor.</p><h3><strong>Louisville (19–12, RPI: 47, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 3–10, Q2 record: 1–2, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>For all the ups and downs of Louisville’s season, they’ve actually become one of the more predictable teams in the country, at least when you take a look at their results. Their team sheet tells the story of team that wins the games it’s supposed to win and loses the games it’s supposed to lose. They don’t have a bad loss to speak of, with all but one of their losses to certain or likely tournament teams. The one remaining loss was to Syracuse, which also could be headed for an at-large bid. At the same time, their best wins are at Florida State and Virginia Tech—solid wins to be sure, but maybe not enough to warrant an at-large invite. If Louisville loses its first ACC tournament game to Florida State on Wednesday, it will likely be headed to the NIT. If it wins that and upsets Virginia, it will likely be headed to the big dance. A win over Florida State and loss to Virginia will have the Cardinals in limbo.</p><h3><strong>Oklahoma State (18–13, RPI: 89, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 0)</strong></h3><p>What is one of the best things a team can do to get back into the at-large picture after it’s been essentially disregarded? Ripping off four wins against teams likely to be seeded fourth or better in a month is certainly one way, and it’s even better if two of those are against a potential No. 1 seed that won its loaded conference for the 14th straight year. That’s exactly what Oklahoma State did, sweeping Kansas and picking up individual victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech. The Cowboys now have the same Q1 record as Texas, without any bad losses to counterbalance those big wins. That has them back on the edges of the field of 68 at the start of the Big 12 tournament. The Cowboys take on Oklahoma in the first round on Wednesday. If they win that game, they’ll get a third meeting with Kansas. Two wins, and they’re in the field, which seemed impossible one month ago. A win over Oklahoma will make them one of the most interesting teams on Selection Sunday.</p><h3><strong>Alabama (17–14, RPI: 57, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>It isn’t fair to say the Crimson Tide fell apart over the last two weeks of the regular season. Yes, they lost their final five games, but all of them were to teams locked into the tournament field—Kentucky, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&#38;M. The selection committee now has reason to leave them out of the field, but at the same time, Alabama has the benefit of a deep conference on its side. The Crimson Tide will play Texas A&#38;M in their opening game of the SEC tournament. Win that one and upset Auburn—a team they beat in the regular season—and they could be right back in the field. Unlike, say, USC and Washington, they have real résumé-building opportunities at their fingertips this week. That’s all a true bubble team can ask for this time of year.</p><h3><strong>Washington (20–11, RPI: 63, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>One month ago, Washington was riding high after wins over Arizona and Arizona State. The Huskies have gone 3–5 since then, dropping games to Oregon (twice), Oregon State and Stanford. What’s more, the win over Arizona State has lost plenty of luster, with the Sun Devils dropping four of their last five games. Washington is now in a position where it likely needs three wins in the Pac-12 tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid. But just as we discussed with USC, the Huskies may not get a chance to build their résumé until the Pac-12 championship. They play Oregon State on Wednesday and would face USC should they beat the Beavers. A win there would give them a semifinal matchup with Utah, Oregon or Washington State. Even if it’s Utah and the Huskies make it to the championship only to lose to Arizona, would they be worthy of an at-large bid? Not without a lot of help.</p><h3><strong>Notre Dame (18–13, RPI: 70, SOS: 60, Q1 record: 2–8, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Irish need to pull off a mini-miracle in the ACC tournament to get into the dance. The reason why they’re in this section and not the next one is that if they do win a few games, the committee will likely give much greater weight to their games with Bonzie Colson than the ones without him. At minimum, the Irish need to win two more games, which means beating Virginia Tech on Wednesday and Duke on Thursday.</p><h3><strong>LSU (17–13, RPI: 87, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers still have one of the most fascinating résumés in the country, with wins over Michigan and Houston, as well as sweeps over Arkansas and Texas A&#38;M. Still, they need to win at least one game in the SEC tournament. A 17–14 team with an RPI likely outside the top 90 isn’t getting an at-large bid. That means Wednesday’s LSU-Mississippi State matchup is an elimination game. The winner will go on to play Tennessee on Thursday, and a win for either team there, but especially for LSU, could make Selection Sunday a bit more interesting. Both teams likely need at least three wins to get to lock status.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3><strong>Mississippi State (20–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>We already outline above what Mississippi State needs to do to play its way into the field. So why is it down here and LSU up there, even though the Bulldogs have the better RPI and are the No. 7 seed in the SEC tournament? It’s all about those Q1 wins. Six against two is a major difference at any part of the seed list, but even more on the fringe of the bubble picture. The Bulldogs need at least three wins this week to have hope for an at-large bid.</p><h3><strong>Oregon (20–11, RPI: 68, SOS: 75, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)</strong></h3><p>The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.</p><h3><strong>Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.</p><h3><strong>Penn State (21–13, RPI: 76, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 4)</strong></h3><p>The Nittany Lions made things interesting by beating Ohio State for a third time last week, but they also needed to beat Purdue to have any shot at an at-large bid. They’re likely ticketed for the NIT.</p><h3><strong>Nebraska (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 111, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</strong></h3><p>Nebraska’s at-large life was on the line in its Big Ten quarterfinal matchup with Michigan last week. The Wolverines ran them out of the gym, winning 77–58. The Huskers are NIT bound.</p><h3><strong>Middle Tennessee (23–6, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>Now that Loyola-Chicago has earned its automatic bid by winning the Missouri Valley tournament, Middle Tennessee has the best chance of any team from a likely one-bid league to earn an at-large bid. The Blue Raiders, however, don’t have any wins over potential at-large teams, with their three Q1 victories coming against fellow mid-majors. Should they lose in the CUSA championship game, they’d likely get some discussion at the selection committee’s table but would probably end up on the cutting-room floor. They begin their conference tournament on Thursday against the winner of Florida International and Southern Miss. Both of their conference losses came to Marshall, which they would meet in the semifinals if the tourney holds true to form.</p><h3><strong>New Mexico State (22–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)</strong></h3><p>The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. That would be highly unlikely, though, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They kick off the WAC tourney on Thursday against Chicago State. </p>
Bubble Watch: How Each Team on the Edge Can Secure a Spot in NCAA Tournament Field

Conference tournaments began last week, but Championship Week has arrived. In a few short days, we’ll know all 68 teams in the field and what each one will have to do to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Until then, we’ll be keeping track of the changes to the projected field daily in the Bubble Watch.

ACC second round: Louisville vs. Florida State, noon ET, ESPN

This is a do-or-die game for Louisville. Win, and the Cardinals have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Win, and go on to beat Virginia, and they’ll be assured a spot. If they lose to Florida State, however, they’ll likely be headed to the NIT.

ACC second round: Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Notre Dame took care of step one—though it was a bit more challenging than expected—dispatching of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Now, the real fun begins. They need at least two wins, and more likely three, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Toppling Virginia Tech will be no easy task. The Hokies own wins over Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and Clemson this season.

Big 12 first round: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Win or lose, Oklahoma should be safe. It would be a tense couple of days leading up to Selection Sunday, but the Sooners likely did enough before falling apart in the second half of the Big 12 schedule to get an at-large bid. The Cowboys, by contrast, made a furious run over the last month, including two wins over Kansas, to get onto the bubble. They need the run to extend at least one, and possibly two, more games to be realistically hopeful of an invite.

ACC second round: Syracuse vs. North Carolina, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Syracuse begins the week as one of the last four teams in our field of 68 in the most recent Bracket Watch. A win over North Carolina could lock up a bid. A loss, however, will have them in need of some help, mostly from teams in other conferences.

Big 12 first round: Iowa State vs. Texas, 9 p.m., ESPNU

This is pretty simple for the Longhorns. Take care of business against the Cyclones on Wednesday, and they should hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

Other Bubble Games

Pac-12 first round: Arizona State vs. Colorado, 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Pac-12 first round: Oregon State vs. Washington, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Big East first round: DePaul vs. Marquette, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Pac-12 first round: Washington State vs. Oregon, 11:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Locks (40)

Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Charleston, Cincinnati, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Kansas, Kentucky, Lipscomb, LIU-Brooklyn, Loyola-Chicago, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Radford, Seton Hall, South Dakota State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, UNC-Greensboro, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wright State, Xavier

Spots remaining

16 (68 total spots — 40 locks — 12 remaining single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 16)

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

NC State (21–10, RPI: 54, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 5–7)

NC State left the NIT door ajar by losing to a lowly Georgia Tech team last week. If the Wolfpack lose their first ACC tournament game on Wednesday against Boston College, they could be in some trouble. So long as they win that one, they’ll move into the lock category.

Rhode Island (23–6, RPI: 16, SOS: 51, Q1 record: 2–4)

We’ve been trying to warn you for weeks about Rhode Island. The Rams have lost two straight and three of five, and their last win against a potential at-large team was nearly two months ago. Rhode Island is still in strong position for an at-large bid but it is not the dangerous team with Sweet 16 potential it was billed as just a few weeks ago.

Missouri (19–11, RPI: 33, SOS: 35, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Tigers had the week they desperately needed to wrap up the regular season, knocking off Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They’ll play the Georgia-Vanderbilt winner in their first game in the SEC tournament on Thursday. Avoid what would be an ugly loss there, and they’ll be locked into the dance.

Florida State (20–10, RPI: 45, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 6–6)

The Seminoles should be good with their six Q1 wins, including victories over North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida. How would they get into trouble? Well, they’d first have to lose to Louisville in the second round of the ACC tournament. From there, multiple teams objectively behind them in the pecking order would need to go on deep runs this week. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not even close. Bet on seeing the Seminoles in the field of 68.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into Selection Sunday.

Nevada (26–6, RPI: 14, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 2–2)

You could easily make an argument that Nevada belongs in the previous category, and some of my very smart, well-respected fellow bubble watchers believe they are locked into the dance. I, however, cannot go that far. Nevada’s best win is Rhode Island. It’s other Q1 win was against Boise State. It has two losses outside the top 100, and it cannot improve its at-large résumé in the Mountain West tournament. A loss in its quarterfinal matchup against the UNLV-Air Force winner on Thursday would have the Wolf Pack quite nervous on Selection Sunday. And lest you think that can’t happen, one of those sub-100 losses came at the hands of UNLV.

Texas (18–13, RPI: 48, SOS: 16, Q1 record: 5–10)

Texas got a huge win over the weekend, outlasting West Virginia in overtime at home. Believe it or not, that doesn’t qualify as a Q1 win, though it will if the Mountaineers improve their RPI by one slot by Selection Sunday. Still, it will be a big win in the collective eye of the selection committee, on top of previous triumphs over TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Butler. Texas is the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament and will face Iowa State in the first round on Wednesday. The bet here is that Texas will be safe if it takes care of business against the Cyclones. It would remove any doubt by going on to beat Texas Tech in the quarterfinals. Still, a 19–14 record with a top-50 RPI, top-20 SOS and five or six Q1 victories should be enough for the Longhorns to earn an invite to the dance.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Arizona State (20–10, RPI: 58, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

After the Sun Devils beat Kansas and Xavier by the middle of December, it seemed impossible that they could be on the bubble the final week of the season. Those wins were a long time ago, though, and that’s exactly where they find themselves after losing four of their final five games of the season, two of which came against teams with no hope of earning an at-large bid (Oregon State and Stanford). They open the Pac-12 tournament with a losable game against Colorado on Wednesday. A loss there and the Sun Devils are likely NIT-bound. A win there could be enough to at least secure one of the final four spots in the field. The only way they’ll be assured of a spot is by beating Arizona in the quarterfinals.

Saint Mary’s (28–5, RPI: 44, SOS: 195, Q1 record: 2–1, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Gaels are in some trouble after losing to BYU in the WCC semifinals early this week. They may have a gaudy overall record, but nothing else about their résumé jumps out in a good way. In fact, the only other elements that stand out are negative: a strength of schedule outside the top 200; two Q1 victories, only one of which came over an at-large quality team; two ugly losses to San Francisco and Washington State. If multiple bubble teams from the power conferences make runs in their tournaments, Saint Mary’s could be left out of the field.

Butler (19–12, RPI: 46, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 3–10, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 1)

Butler heads into the Big East tournament following a damaging week where it lost to St. John’s and Seton Hall. Had the Bulldogs won either of those games, they’d be in the previous section. Now they’re in a position where they’ll need to win a game in the Big East tourney to feel good on Selection Sunday. That game comes on Thursday against the same Seton Hall team that beat them in their regular season finale. The Bulldogs’ at-large invite isn’t necessarily dependent on winning that game, but it will be a nervous few days in Indianapolis if they don’t get it. If they beat Seton Hall, they’ll have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday.

Providence (19–12, RPI: 43, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 5–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

Providence’s at-large case looks pretty open-and-shut until you get to that last part of the resumé. The Friars are one of two at-large teams in our current field with three sub-100 losses, and even that doesn’t tell the whole story. All three of those losses were to teams with RPIs of 171 or worse, including one sub-200 loss to Massachusetts. Now, to be fair, wins over Villanova and Xavier offset those losses. But Providence is still playing with fire, and even though a loss to Creighton in their first game of the Big East tournament wouldn’t hurt their resumé, they can’t afford to give the committee any reason to leave them out. They’re in with a win, and sweating—but still likely in—with a loss.

St. Bonaventure (24–6, RPI: 22, SOS: 82, Q1 record: 3–2, Q2 record: 4–1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies head into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a high, having won 12 straight games. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the Richmond-Duquesne winner in their quarterfinal game on Friday, but they could meet a frisky Davidson team on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that the Bonnies could afford a loss there. Despite all the good press they’ve received over the last two months, the bottom line is they have two wins against potential at-large teams, and one of those came against Syracuse, which is very much on the bubble. Pair that with three ugly losses and the Bonnies can’t take any chances. Should they advance to the conference championship game, they should be in good shape.

Baylor (17–13, RPI: 59, SOS: 13, Q1 record: 4–10, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

After surging back by winning five straight, Baylor lost three of its final four games of the regular season. The Bears are still just inside our tournament field, but they could be in some trouble. They’ll take on West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday in a game they need to win to feel good about their at-large chances. They could still get an invite without it, but the committee hasn’t shown much love to previous 17–14 teams. Last year’s Vanderbilt team broke new ground by getting an at-large invite with 15 losses, but they were four games over .500 and had six wins over at-large teams. Baylor has five. Again, that could be enough for the Bears, but they would likely need a little bit of help from their fellow bubble teams. They could remove all the drama surrounding their case by beating West Virginia.

Kansas State (21–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 92, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 6–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

The particulars of Kansas State’s case differ from Baylor’s, but it is in essentially the same spot. If the Wildcats win their quarterfinal game in the Big 12 tournament against TCU, they should be in good shape. If they don’t, they’re going to have an anxious 72 hours between the end of the game and the revealing of the bracket. Kansas State’s best wins aren’t nearly as strong as Baylor’s, but nine of its 10 losses were to certain, likely or potential tournament teams. Should the Wildcats fall to TCU on Thursday, their tournament hopes will likely depend on what the rest of the bubble teams do in their respective tournaments.

Syracuse (20–12, RPI: 37, SOS: 18, Q1 record: 3–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Orange got a huge win by knocking off Clemson in their regular season finale. That was enough to get them into the field of 68 in our most recent Bracket Watch, but it might not keep them in the field if they don’t do anything more in the ACC tournament. Wednesday brings a chance to potentially lock up a bid when they meet North Carolina. A loss would likely lock them in as one of the last teams in, or the first teams out of, the field. Whether it’s the good side would depend heavily on what the other bubble teams do­—most notably fellow ACC bubbler Louisville. For what it’s worth, Syracuse lost its only game against North Carolina.

UCLA (20–10, RPI: 38, SOS: 63, Q1 record: 3–6, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 1)

If nothing else, UCLA put itself comfortably ahead of USC on the seed list by beating the Trojans last weekend, earning a sweep over their cross-city rivals. There’s no way to look objectively at the résumés of these two teams and determine that USC is more worthy of an at-large bid. Given that the two are likely to be in contention for one of the few remaining bids come Selection Sunday, that status is huge for the Bruins. Now, they just have to figure out a way to stay there. It starts by beating the Stanford-Cal winner on Thursday. If they do that, they’ll likely score a second date with Arizona in the semifinals. UCLA won its only game with the Wildcats this season, and a second win over the Pac-12’s best team would all but lock up an at-large bid.

Marquette (18–12, RPI: 56, SOS: 29, Q1 record: 4–7, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Golden Eagles had just the week they needed to wrap up the regular season, beating Georgetown and Creighton. They head into the Big East tournament standing one big win away from becoming a likely tournament team, especially since that game would be against Villanova. They have to get through DePaul first, though, and the Blue Demons handed them their one and only sub-100 loss just two weeks ago. A win there and a loss to Villanova would have the Golden Eagles teetering on the edge of the field, likely needing teams such as USC, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Washington, Notre Dame and LSU to not improve their resumés.

USC (21–10, RPI: 35, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 2)

How can I be so sure that UCLA is ahead of USC? After all, USC has the better RPI, SOS and Q1 record. First, the RPI difference is negligible. Second, USC may have the better Q1 record, but UCLA’s Q1 performance is far superior. Two of the Bruins’ Q1 wins were against Kentucky and Arizona. USC, meanwhile, may not own a win over an at-large team. Its four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. For me, that would be enough to grade UCLA as the better team—the sweep is just icing on the cake. The problem for USC is that it won’t have a chance to build its résumé until the Pac-12 championship, and at that point, strengthening its at-large case is moot. The Trojans may be just barely on the wrong side of the bubble, but the bet of the SI.com Bubble Watch committee is that they need to win the Pac-12 tourney, or get a ton of help in the form of teams going out early in conference tournaments, such as Marquette, Syracuse, Louisville, Kansas State and Baylor.

Louisville (19–12, RPI: 47, SOS: 22, Q1 record: 3–10, Q2 record: 1–2, sub-100 losses: 0)

For all the ups and downs of Louisville’s season, they’ve actually become one of the more predictable teams in the country, at least when you take a look at their results. Their team sheet tells the story of team that wins the games it’s supposed to win and loses the games it’s supposed to lose. They don’t have a bad loss to speak of, with all but one of their losses to certain or likely tournament teams. The one remaining loss was to Syracuse, which also could be headed for an at-large bid. At the same time, their best wins are at Florida State and Virginia Tech—solid wins to be sure, but maybe not enough to warrant an at-large invite. If Louisville loses its first ACC tournament game to Florida State on Wednesday, it will likely be headed to the NIT. If it wins that and upsets Virginia, it will likely be headed to the big dance. A win over Florida State and loss to Virginia will have the Cardinals in limbo.

Oklahoma State (18–13, RPI: 89, SOS: 68, Q1 record: 5–10, Q2 record: 4–3, sub-100 losses: 0)

What is one of the best things a team can do to get back into the at-large picture after it’s been essentially disregarded? Ripping off four wins against teams likely to be seeded fourth or better in a month is certainly one way, and it’s even better if two of those are against a potential No. 1 seed that won its loaded conference for the 14th straight year. That’s exactly what Oklahoma State did, sweeping Kansas and picking up individual victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech. The Cowboys now have the same Q1 record as Texas, without any bad losses to counterbalance those big wins. That has them back on the edges of the field of 68 at the start of the Big 12 tournament. The Cowboys take on Oklahoma in the first round on Wednesday. If they win that game, they’ll get a third meeting with Kansas. Two wins, and they’re in the field, which seemed impossible one month ago. A win over Oklahoma will make them one of the most interesting teams on Selection Sunday.

Alabama (17–14, RPI: 57, SOS: 5, Q1 record: 5–6, Q2 record: 4–6, sub-100 losses: 3)

It isn’t fair to say the Crimson Tide fell apart over the last two weeks of the regular season. Yes, they lost their final five games, but all of them were to teams locked into the tournament field—Kentucky, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M. The selection committee now has reason to leave them out of the field, but at the same time, Alabama has the benefit of a deep conference on its side. The Crimson Tide will play Texas A&M in their opening game of the SEC tournament. Win that one and upset Auburn—a team they beat in the regular season—and they could be right back in the field. Unlike, say, USC and Washington, they have real résumé-building opportunities at their fingertips this week. That’s all a true bubble team can ask for this time of year.

Washington (20–11, RPI: 63, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 2–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

One month ago, Washington was riding high after wins over Arizona and Arizona State. The Huskies have gone 3–5 since then, dropping games to Oregon (twice), Oregon State and Stanford. What’s more, the win over Arizona State has lost plenty of luster, with the Sun Devils dropping four of their last five games. Washington is now in a position where it likely needs three wins in the Pac-12 tournament to have a shot at an at-large bid. But just as we discussed with USC, the Huskies may not get a chance to build their résumé until the Pac-12 championship. They play Oregon State on Wednesday and would face USC should they beat the Beavers. A win there would give them a semifinal matchup with Utah, Oregon or Washington State. Even if it’s Utah and the Huskies make it to the championship only to lose to Arizona, would they be worthy of an at-large bid? Not without a lot of help.

Notre Dame (18–13, RPI: 70, SOS: 60, Q1 record: 2–8, Q2 record: 4–2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Irish need to pull off a mini-miracle in the ACC tournament to get into the dance. The reason why they’re in this section and not the next one is that if they do win a few games, the committee will likely give much greater weight to their games with Bonzie Colson than the ones without him. At minimum, the Irish need to win two more games, which means beating Virginia Tech on Wednesday and Duke on Thursday.

LSU (17–13, RPI: 87, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 6–5, Q2 record: 3–6, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Tigers still have one of the most fascinating résumés in the country, with wins over Michigan and Houston, as well as sweeps over Arkansas and Texas A&M. Still, they need to win at least one game in the SEC tournament. A 17–14 team with an RPI likely outside the top 90 isn’t getting an at-large bid. That means Wednesday’s LSU-Mississippi State matchup is an elimination game. The winner will go on to play Tennessee on Thursday, and a win for either team there, but especially for LSU, could make Selection Sunday a bit more interesting. Both teams likely need at least three wins to get to lock status.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Mississippi State (20–10, RPI: 72, SOS: 117, Q1 record: 2–7, Q2 record: 3–3, sub-100 losses: 2)

We already outline above what Mississippi State needs to do to play its way into the field. So why is it down here and LSU up there, even though the Bulldogs have the better RPI and are the No. 7 seed in the SEC tournament? It’s all about those Q1 wins. Six against two is a major difference at any part of the seed list, but even more on the fringe of the bubble picture. The Bulldogs need at least three wins this week to have hope for an at-large bid.

Oregon (20–11, RPI: 68, SOS: 75, Q1 record: 3–4, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Ducks put themselves on the fringe of the at-large picture by beating Arizona and Arizona State and sweeping Washington, but they’re still fighting an uphill battle. They aren’t out of it yet, but they need to advance to the Pac-12 championship, at the very least.

Utah (19–10, RPI: 49, SOS: 66, Q1 record: 3–5, Q2 record: 4–4, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah is in the same position as Oregon, only without the win over Arizona. Their at-large case disappears if they lose at any point before the Pac-12 championship game, and even that scenario requires them getting help in the form of bubble teams in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and SEC going down early in their conference tournaments.

Penn State (21–13, RPI: 76, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3–8, Q2 record: 2–2, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Nittany Lions made things interesting by beating Ohio State for a third time last week, but they also needed to beat Purdue to have any shot at an at-large bid. They’re likely ticketed for the NIT.

Nebraska (22–10, RPI: 64, SOS: 111, Q1 record: 1-6, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Nebraska’s at-large life was on the line in its Big Ten quarterfinal matchup with Michigan last week. The Wolverines ran them out of the gym, winning 77–58. The Huskers are NIT bound.

Middle Tennessee (23–6, RPI: 29, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3–3, Q2 record: 2–1, sub-100 losses: 2)

Now that Loyola-Chicago has earned its automatic bid by winning the Missouri Valley tournament, Middle Tennessee has the best chance of any team from a likely one-bid league to earn an at-large bid. The Blue Raiders, however, don’t have any wins over potential at-large teams, with their three Q1 victories coming against fellow mid-majors. Should they lose in the CUSA championship game, they’d likely get some discussion at the selection committee’s table but would probably end up on the cutting-room floor. They begin their conference tournament on Thursday against the winner of Florida International and Southern Miss. Both of their conference losses came to Marshall, which they would meet in the semifinals if the tourney holds true to form.

New Mexico State (22–5, RPI: 40, SOS: 161, Q1 record: 1–3, Q2 record: 4–0, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Aggies would have a slim shot at an at-large bid should they lose in WAC championship game, thanks largely to a non-conference win over Miami. That would be highly unlikely, though, especially with the strength of this year’s bubble. They kick off the WAC tourney on Thursday against Chicago State.

Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan (15) pulls away a rebound from Auburn forward Unique Thompson (20) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Mississippi State remained undefeated, winning 82-61. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi State learns valuable lessons from 1st loss
Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan (15) pulls away a rebound from Auburn forward Unique Thompson (20) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Mississippi State remained undefeated, winning 82-61. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi State guard Jazzmun Holmes (10) attempts a layup against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Mississippi State won 82-61. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi State learns valuable lessons from 1st loss
Mississippi State guard Jazzmun Holmes (10) attempts a layup against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Mississippi State won 82-61. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield takes an uncontested shot during the first half an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Auburn or Tennessee? SEC title chase comes down to final day
Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield takes an uncontested shot during the first half an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Tennessee forward Kyle Alexander (11) shoots over Mississippi State&#39;s Eli Wright during the first half an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Auburn or Tennessee? SEC title chase comes down to final day
Tennessee forward Kyle Alexander (11) shoots over Mississippi State's Eli Wright during the first half an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) attempts to drive around a Mississippi State player in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Tennessee won 76-54. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Auburn or Tennessee? SEC title chase comes down to final day
Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) attempts to drive around a Mississippi State player in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Tennessee won 76-54. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
<p>College basketball made more headlines off the court than on it in the last week, but we’ll focus on the latter for our penultimate Power Rankings. It’s already conference tournament time for some leagues, like the Big Ten and WCC, while most teams are gearing up for the final week of the regular season. As always, the week didn’t go without drama on the court, including two Tobacco Road teams being upset heading into their eagerly anticipated second showdown. Here’s the new top 25:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (28–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: beat Wisconsin<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Spartans earned the No. 1 seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament, but they may need some revenge to win what would be their second tourney crown in three years. While on a 12-game win streak, MSU could have to go through at least one—if not both—of the teams that handed it its only Big Ten losses: Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines potentially loom in a semifinal matchup, while the Buckeyes are on the other side of the bracket and could line up with the Spartans in the final. In both previous contests, Michigan State’s normally sound defense faltered. Avenging one or both of those losses on the way to a tournament title would have them rolling into the Big Dance with a full head of steam.</p><h3>2. Virginia (26–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: beat Georgia Tech, beat Pittsburgh<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Louisville, vs. Notre Dame</p><p>The Cavaliers won the ACC title outright with a predictable romp of Pitt, which let us see what happens with the nation’s top defense goes up against the nation’s 288th-best offense. The result, you might surmise, is not pretty! UVA held the Panthers to just seven(!) points in the first half, including 1-for-22 shooting (4.5%) from the floor. Even with Pitt’s many woes, that’s impressive.</p><h3>3. Kansas (24–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: beat Texas Tech, beat Texas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oklahoma State</p><p>Despite what once seemed like a wide-open field, there will be no changing of the guard atop the Big 12 this season. In the end, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Jayhawks pulled off a record 14th straight Big 12 title, and even did it outright with a game to spare. Ever since a dismal loss to Baylor on Feb. 10, Kansas’s offense has been playing at a high level, including scoring 1.21 points per possession and going 11-for-25 from three against Texas Tech’s third-ranked defense. Right now, the offense is making up for a more questionable defense—only one of the Jayhawks’ last eight opponents has failed to score over 1.0 PPP—but is that sustainable in March?</p><h3>4. Villanova (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: beat DePaul, lost to Creighton<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Seton Hall, vs. Georgetown</p><p>The Wildcats no longer control their own destiny in the Big East after falling at Creighton in overtime, and interestingly it was the first time all season that they were out-shot both inside and outside the arc. The Bluejays also became just the third team this season (joining Butler and Marquette) to post an effective field-goal percentage above 56% against ‘Nova. The Wildcats’ defense has taken a step back from what it’s been in recent years (though still ranks a respectable 32nd on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings), but it usually does enough to let the offense overcome any porousness. That wasn’t the case in Omaha.</p><h3>5. Xavier (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: beat Georgetown<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Providence, at DePaul</p><p>They may have dropped both of their games against Villanova this season—with neither being particularly close, which is why they remain below the Wildcats here this week—but the Musketeers are now in position to win their first regular-season title since joining the Big East. That’s because outside of an early January trip to Providence, they’ve completely taken care of business against the rest of the conference, something ‘Nova cannot say. Now Xavier gets a rematch with the Friars at home before potentially being able to wrap things up against DePaul.</p><h3>6. Duke (24–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Louisville, beat Syracuse, lost to Virginia Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. North Carolina</p><p>Despite their loss in Blacksburg on Monday, which brings an inevitable dip here, it’s hard to not be high on the Blue Devils right now. That’s because their defense, which spent the vast majority of this season being (deservedly) much maligned, is all the way up to No. 14 on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings. We’re way past the point of wondering if Duke could “pull a 2015” and enter the tournament with a defensive ranking outside of the typical championship profile yet make a run to the title. That 2015 defense entered the tourney ranked 37th. This year’s Blue Devils (second in offense, 14th in defense) are now threatening to join Michigan State (seventh in offense, 10th in defense) as the only teams ranked in the top 10 in both. The significance of that is that since kenpom.com started in 2002, 25 teams have entered the NCAA tournament top 10 in both. Twelve of those 25 (48%) have made the Final Four.</p><h3>7. Gonzaga (27–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: beat San Diego, beat BYU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: WCC tournament</p><p>The Zags locked up another WCC regular-season title and will now go for the double, where they’re likely to face Saint Mary’s in the tourney final for a rubber match between the schools. While Gonzaga finished with the same 17–1 conference record it had last year, when it would go on to be the national runner-up, the advanced stats show some disparity. The offense was nearly on pace with its counterpart in league play, posting 120.2 points per 100 possessions to last season’s 121.6, but defensively it gave up 93.1 points per 100 possessions—still tops in the conference, but notably more than the 84.5 it gave up a year ago. Keep in mind the 2016–17 team led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, and replicating that after losing what the Zags did would have been almost impossible. That doesn’t mean what they’ve done this year isn’t significant.</p><h3>8. Purdue (26–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: beat Illinois, beat Minnesota<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Boilermakers rank fourth on kenpom.com and, along with Michigan State and Duke, are one of just three teams in the country in the top 20 on both offense and defense, but in terms of optics, Purdue could really benefit from a strong Big Ten tournament showing. This is a team that has the goods to go deep into March no matter what happens at MSG this week, but a weak Big Ten left it few opportunities for marquee wins, and while it went 2–0 against Michigan, it lost to both Ohio State and Michigan State. The Boilermakers could potentially face both of the latter again in New York, and like the Spartans they could enter the Big Dance riding high if they get revenge on the way to the crown.</p><h3>9. Wichita State</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat Tulane, beat SMU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at UCF, vs. Cincinnati</p><p>The Shockers are back in the top 10 here because they’ve won six in a row and have risen as others have faltered, but they’re kind of like the anti-Duke right now. While the Blue Devils seemed to have fixed their defensive woes as the season has gone, Wichita State has been slipping from an already shaky perch and now ranks 94th in adjusted defensive efficiency. It hasn’t finished a season ranked that low on defense under Gregg Marshall since 2008–09, a year it went 17–17. Unlike that season though, this year’s Shockers have an elite offense—in fact, it’s currently their highest-ranked offense (No. 5) in the kenpom.com era. Unbalanced teams seem to be the trend this year, but that level of disparity seems awfully unlikely to sustain a long March run without any (also unlikely) abrupt and significant changes on defense.</p><h3>10. Cincinnati</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: beat UConn, beat Tulsa<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Tulane, at Wichita State</p><p>Another unbalanced AAC team, the Bearcats at least are top 50 on offense to go along with their second-ranked defense. While the postseason is approaching, they’ve likely got their regular-season finale circled on their calendar, when they’ll look to force a split with Wichita State and secure the American title. No matter how the seeding shakes out, the conference tournament feels very likely to draw from two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston.</p><h3>11. Ohio State (24–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: beat Indiana<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>How much are the Buckeyes praying Northwestern beats Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament? Or maybe they’re confident the old adage of “it’s hard to beat a team three times” in one season will fall in their favor should they face those pesky Nittany Lions again. In any event, they can be encouraged that Keita Bates-Diop had his best game in two weeks in their regular-season finale against Indiana, scoring 24 points with 14 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals in a double-overtime win. That’s vintage Bates-Diop after three lackluster games from the junior.</p><h3>12. North Carolina (22–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat Syracuse, lost to Miami<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Duke</p><p>The college basketball world experienced a bit of déjà vu Tuesday night in Chapel Hill on Senior Night, with Joel Berry II playing the role of Marcus Paige and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/27/miami-unc-basketball-buzzer-beater-half-court-jaquan-newton" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Miami’s Ja&#39;Quan Newton" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Miami’s Ja&#39;Quan Newton</a> acting as Kris Jenkins (I think Paige summed things up succinctly for Tar Heels fans <a href="https://twitter.com/marcuspaige5/status/968698510341234688" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>). That’s a tough loss to take, especially at this time of the year, but UNC will need to forget it quickly before it makes the short trip to Durham this weekend. The Heels ran all over Duke’s defense in the teams’ first meeting back on Feb. 8, but the Blue Devils seem to be in a far better place right now (see above). It will be interesting to see how the strategy for both teams may change, and if North Carolina can pull off what would be an impressive regular-season sweep.</p><h3>13. West Virginia (22–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (17)</strong>: beat Iowa State, beat Texas Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas</p><p>The Mountaineers pulled themselves out of the January wall they hit by winning six of eight heading into their regular-season finale. Notably, they’re shooting better of late: in their five January losses, they averaged an effective field-goal percentage of 45.6% and three-point percentage of 32.0%. In their eight games since, they’ve hit 40.4% of their threes and had an effective field-goal percentage average of 55.1%. It’s a positive sign at this point in the season for a team that is overall outside the top 150 nationally in both categories.</p><h3>14. Tennessee (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: beat Florida, beat Ole Miss, beat Mississippi State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Georgia</p><p>Despite hiccups against Alabama and Georgia earlier this month, the Vols have won 10 of 12 heading into their regular-season finale and can earn a share of the SEC title—or possible an outright one depending on Auburn’s result—on Saturday. Tennessee’s defense has quietly crept up to fourth in the nation in kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings, though its offense ranks just inside the top 50 at No. 49. The losses to the Tide and Bulldogs may have sparked something in the Volunteers, who have now held three straight opponents below 0.87 PPP. In a win over Ole Miss over the weekend, Tennessee’s 13th-ranked perimeter defense made the Rebels’ usually poor three-point offense look especially bad in a 1-for-23 effort from deep.</p><h3>15. Auburn (24–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Alabama, lost to Florida, lost to Arkansas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. South Carolina</p><p>While Tennessee is on the rise, the Tigers are not, having lost three of four and now needing a win against South Carolina on Saturday just to assure themselves a share of the SEC crown in a race they’ve led for weeks. Is the loss of Anfernee McLemore looming large? Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford feasted on Auburn’s interior Tuesday night, going 10-for-15 from the field (seven of which were dunks) for 21 points, adding 10 rebounds and a whopping seven blocks. The 1.15 PPP surrendered by the Tigers also matched their high water mark in SEC play, and they’ve now given up more than 1.0 PPP in three of four games after only doing it in three of their previous eight.</p><h3>16. Michigan (24–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: beat Penn State, beat Maryland<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Wolverines ended their regular season by handing Maryland its worst home loss in 20 years, which included a 30-point lead…at halftime. Add it to a road win over Penn State, which came after a Senior Day victory over Ohio State, and Michigan has to be brimming with confidence heading into the Big Ten tourney. The Wolverines are shooting the ball well right now, posting an effective field-goal percentage of at least 50% in eight of their last 10 games, and defensively have held four straight opponents below 1.0 PPP. Freshman Jordan Poole has gone 9-for-12 from three over the last three games and continues to be a boost off the bench.</p><h3>17. Arizona (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: beat Oregon State, lost to Oregon<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Stanford, vs. California</p><p>Everyone knows what’s happened with Arizona off the court in the last week. The short story is that Allonzo Trier is suspended and Sean Miller’s status is up in the air, throwing the Wildcats’ season into chaos. Without Miller on the sidelines, they fell in overtime at Oregon over the weekend. Deandre Ayton did his best superhero impression with 28 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, but inexplicably had zero attempts from the field in the final 10 minutes of regulation and just one shot—a three-point attempt—in overtime. For Arizona to have any chance at a run at this point going forward, it’s going to have to go through Ayton. He needs the ball in crunch time.</p><h3>18. Nevada (25–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19):</strong> beat San Jose State, beat Colorado State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at UNLV, at San Diego State</p><p>The Wolf Pack won their second straight regular-season Mountain West title over the weekend by beating Colorado State. Their rotation may be especially thin now that Lindsey Drew is out (against the Rams, only seven players saw the floor, with one of them, Elijah Foster, totaling four minutes), but that offense is hard to stop. The obvious concern, however, is foul trouble. As we approach single-elimination tournaments, it will be imperative that the likes of Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Kendall Stephens are able to stay on the floor.</p><h3>19. Texas Tech (22–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: lost to Oklahoma State, lost to Kansas, lost to West Virginia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. TCU</p><p>The Red Raiders tumble after an 0–3 week that was capped by their fourth straight loss, but don’t by any means count them out going forward because of it. While Keenan Evans played in three of those games, he’s clearly been bothered by the toe injury he sustained against Baylor in the first of the four losses. He scored just two points against Oklahoma State and six against Kansas before sitting out against West Virginia (along with Justin Gray and Zach Smith), and the priority for Texas Tech right now should be making sure he’s healthy for the Big 12 and (especially) NCAA tournament. Without Evans, who leads the team in win shares and is their clear top offensive weapon, the Red Raiders are obviously not the same team.</p><h3>20. Kentucky (20–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (24)</strong>: beat Missouri<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Mississippi, at Florida</p><p>Are you back on the Kentucky train? The Wildcats have now won three straight, including an impressive 21-point home win over Missouri to avenge a loss in Columbia that had kicked off their four-game February skid. When UK was struggling, it was getting little offensively from the likes of P.J. Washington and Quade Green, but both have now come off the bench to contribute double figures in all three wins. Add it to the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who’s adding offense to his rebounding prowess (including an 11-point, 15-rebound, three-block effort against Mizzou), and you can see why things are looking better in Lexington.</p><h3>21. Rhode Island (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Dayton, lost to Saint Joseph’s<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Davidson</p><p>What the heck happened to the Rams Tuesday night? They were hosting a Saint Joseph’s team that entered 8–8 in the Atlantic 10—a league that Rhode Island has dominated—and got blown out by 30. The loss was so bad it dropped the school a whopping 21(!) spots on kenpom.com to No. 48, its lowest rank since late December. The Rams scored just 0.68 PPP against a mediocre Hawks defense, shot a pitiful 3-for-29 from three, turned it over 14 times and made just nine of 18 free throws for good measure. That kind of performance clearly isn’t indicative of who Rhode Island has been all season, but it’s the kind of unexpected and deflating loss that can either snowball into an ill-timed skid or serve as a wake-up call. </p><h3>22. Virginia Tech (21–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Louisville, beat Duke<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Miami</p><p>Marquee ACC wins for the Hokies this season: vs. North Carolina, at Virginia, vs. Clemson, vs. Duke. And for good measure, throw in at home against NC State, meaning Virginia Tech has a win over all five of the teams ahead of it in the conference standings. That’s pretty darn impressive, and while its overall resumé might not be the best body of work out there, a team with that track record of big-time wins is the kind of lower-seeded Power 5 team that can make noise in the NCAA tournament.</p><h3>23. TCU (21–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Iowa State, beat Baylor, beat Kansas State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas Tech</p><p>Once 1–4 in Big 12 play, the Horned Frogs have climbed over .500 for the first time after winning their fourth straight Tuesday night. TCU still boasts the most efficient offense and best three-point shooting in Big 12 play, and the defense has improved a bit as the schedule has let up, but overall the Horned Frogs have a Wichita State-style split, ranking sixth on kenpom.com in offense and 114th on defense. Over its last three games, TCU has relied more on its inside shooting than its outside proficiency, overcoming a 32.2% mark from three by connecting on 63.7% of its two-point attempts.</p><h3>24. Middle Tennessee (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (25)</strong>: beat UAB<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Western Kentucky, vs. Marshall</p><p>While the Blue Raiders are a familiar March Cinderella and currently in the AP top 25, they’re not quite a lock to get back to the Big Dance. Obviously very few mid-major teams are due to the unpredictable nature of conference tournaments, but Western Kentucky looms as a legitimate threat in the C-USA. The Hilltoppers are just a game back in the standings with two to go, but Middle Tennessee already owns a road win in their first meeting. They’ll square off again in Murfreesboro on Thursday, pitting the top offense in conference play (Western Kentucky) with the top defense (Middle Tennessee). And then, of course, we may as well see Part III soon enough. Giddy (Potts) up.</p><h3>25. Nebraska (22–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Penn State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Cornhuskers might not be beating world-beaters, but you know what? They <em>are</em> winning, reeling off eight of nine and 10 of 12 to close the regular season to nab the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Who saw that coming? Certainly not SI.com’s projection system, which saw them finishing 12th out of 14 teams. The problem for Nebraska is that its best win all season was at home against Michigan—a fine victory, but not ideal to be the only key bullet point on your resumé. The Huskers will very likely need to beat the Wolverines again to advance to the semifinal, where they’d in all likelihood take on No. 1 seed Michigan State. Opportunity knocks.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Clemson, Houston, Baylor</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: Clemson, Saint Mary’s, Houston, Butler, Miami</p><h3>Mid-Major Meter</h3><p>(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)</p><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags are WCC regular-season champs for the sixth straight year.</p><p>2. <strong>Nevada</strong>: The Wolf Pack end the regular season with two games on the road, but they’ve already sewn up the Mountain West.</p><p>3. <strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: A win over Western Kentucky on Thursday would give the Blue Raiders the C-USA regular-season title.</p><p>4. <strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels lost their opportunity to win the WCC regular-season crown, but they can still get revenge in the conference tournament.</p><p>5. <strong>Loyola-Chicago</strong>: The Ramblers open Arch Madness as the No. 1 seed and could potentially face Southern Illinois or Illinois State should they reach the final.</p>
Power Rankings: Drama-Filled Week Leads to Movement All Around

College basketball made more headlines off the court than on it in the last week, but we’ll focus on the latter for our penultimate Power Rankings. It’s already conference tournament time for some leagues, like the Big Ten and WCC, while most teams are gearing up for the final week of the regular season. As always, the week didn’t go without drama on the court, including two Tobacco Road teams being upset heading into their eagerly anticipated second showdown. Here’s the new top 25:

1. Michigan State (28–3)

Last Week (1): beat Wisconsin
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Spartans earned the No. 1 seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament, but they may need some revenge to win what would be their second tourney crown in three years. While on a 12-game win streak, MSU could have to go through at least one—if not both—of the teams that handed it its only Big Ten losses: Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines potentially loom in a semifinal matchup, while the Buckeyes are on the other side of the bracket and could line up with the Spartans in the final. In both previous contests, Michigan State’s normally sound defense faltered. Avenging one or both of those losses on the way to a tournament title would have them rolling into the Big Dance with a full head of steam.

2. Virginia (26–2)

Last Week (2): beat Georgia Tech, beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: at Louisville, vs. Notre Dame

The Cavaliers won the ACC title outright with a predictable romp of Pitt, which let us see what happens with the nation’s top defense goes up against the nation’s 288th-best offense. The result, you might surmise, is not pretty! UVA held the Panthers to just seven(!) points in the first half, including 1-for-22 shooting (4.5%) from the floor. Even with Pitt’s many woes, that’s impressive.

3. Kansas (24–6)

Last Week (5): beat Texas Tech, beat Texas
Next Week: at Oklahoma State

Despite what once seemed like a wide-open field, there will be no changing of the guard atop the Big 12 this season. In the end, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Jayhawks pulled off a record 14th straight Big 12 title, and even did it outright with a game to spare. Ever since a dismal loss to Baylor on Feb. 10, Kansas’s offense has been playing at a high level, including scoring 1.21 points per possession and going 11-for-25 from three against Texas Tech’s third-ranked defense. Right now, the offense is making up for a more questionable defense—only one of the Jayhawks’ last eight opponents has failed to score over 1.0 PPP—but is that sustainable in March?

4. Villanova (25–4)

Last Week (3): beat DePaul, lost to Creighton
Next Week: at Seton Hall, vs. Georgetown

The Wildcats no longer control their own destiny in the Big East after falling at Creighton in overtime, and interestingly it was the first time all season that they were out-shot both inside and outside the arc. The Bluejays also became just the third team this season (joining Butler and Marquette) to post an effective field-goal percentage above 56% against ‘Nova. The Wildcats’ defense has taken a step back from what it’s been in recent years (though still ranks a respectable 32nd on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings), but it usually does enough to let the offense overcome any porousness. That wasn’t the case in Omaha.

5. Xavier (25–4)

Last Week (6): beat Georgetown
Next Week: vs. Providence, at DePaul

They may have dropped both of their games against Villanova this season—with neither being particularly close, which is why they remain below the Wildcats here this week—but the Musketeers are now in position to win their first regular-season title since joining the Big East. That’s because outside of an early January trip to Providence, they’ve completely taken care of business against the rest of the conference, something ‘Nova cannot say. Now Xavier gets a rematch with the Friars at home before potentially being able to wrap things up against DePaul.

6. Duke (24–6)

Last Week (4): beat Louisville, beat Syracuse, lost to Virginia Tech
Next Week: vs. North Carolina

Despite their loss in Blacksburg on Monday, which brings an inevitable dip here, it’s hard to not be high on the Blue Devils right now. That’s because their defense, which spent the vast majority of this season being (deservedly) much maligned, is all the way up to No. 14 on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings. We’re way past the point of wondering if Duke could “pull a 2015” and enter the tournament with a defensive ranking outside of the typical championship profile yet make a run to the title. That 2015 defense entered the tourney ranked 37th. This year’s Blue Devils (second in offense, 14th in defense) are now threatening to join Michigan State (seventh in offense, 10th in defense) as the only teams ranked in the top 10 in both. The significance of that is that since kenpom.com started in 2002, 25 teams have entered the NCAA tournament top 10 in both. Twelve of those 25 (48%) have made the Final Four.

7. Gonzaga (27–4)

Last Week (7): beat San Diego, beat BYU
Next Week: WCC tournament

The Zags locked up another WCC regular-season title and will now go for the double, where they’re likely to face Saint Mary’s in the tourney final for a rubber match between the schools. While Gonzaga finished with the same 17–1 conference record it had last year, when it would go on to be the national runner-up, the advanced stats show some disparity. The offense was nearly on pace with its counterpart in league play, posting 120.2 points per 100 possessions to last season’s 121.6, but defensively it gave up 93.1 points per 100 possessions—still tops in the conference, but notably more than the 84.5 it gave up a year ago. Keep in mind the 2016–17 team led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, and replicating that after losing what the Zags did would have been almost impossible. That doesn’t mean what they’ve done this year isn’t significant.

8. Purdue (26–5)

Last Week (8): beat Illinois, beat Minnesota
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Boilermakers rank fourth on kenpom.com and, along with Michigan State and Duke, are one of just three teams in the country in the top 20 on both offense and defense, but in terms of optics, Purdue could really benefit from a strong Big Ten tournament showing. This is a team that has the goods to go deep into March no matter what happens at MSG this week, but a weak Big Ten left it few opportunities for marquee wins, and while it went 2–0 against Michigan, it lost to both Ohio State and Michigan State. The Boilermakers could potentially face both of the latter again in New York, and like the Spartans they could enter the Big Dance riding high if they get revenge on the way to the crown.

9. Wichita State

Last Week (12): beat Tulane, beat SMU
Next Week: at UCF, vs. Cincinnati

The Shockers are back in the top 10 here because they’ve won six in a row and have risen as others have faltered, but they’re kind of like the anti-Duke right now. While the Blue Devils seemed to have fixed their defensive woes as the season has gone, Wichita State has been slipping from an already shaky perch and now ranks 94th in adjusted defensive efficiency. It hasn’t finished a season ranked that low on defense under Gregg Marshall since 2008–09, a year it went 17–17. Unlike that season though, this year’s Shockers have an elite offense—in fact, it’s currently their highest-ranked offense (No. 5) in the kenpom.com era. Unbalanced teams seem to be the trend this year, but that level of disparity seems awfully unlikely to sustain a long March run without any (also unlikely) abrupt and significant changes on defense.

10. Cincinnati

Last Week (14): beat UConn, beat Tulsa
Next Week: at Tulane, at Wichita State

Another unbalanced AAC team, the Bearcats at least are top 50 on offense to go along with their second-ranked defense. While the postseason is approaching, they’ve likely got their regular-season finale circled on their calendar, when they’ll look to force a split with Wichita State and secure the American title. No matter how the seeding shakes out, the conference tournament feels very likely to draw from two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston.

11. Ohio State (24–7)

Last Week (15): beat Indiana
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

How much are the Buckeyes praying Northwestern beats Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament? Or maybe they’re confident the old adage of “it’s hard to beat a team three times” in one season will fall in their favor should they face those pesky Nittany Lions again. In any event, they can be encouraged that Keita Bates-Diop had his best game in two weeks in their regular-season finale against Indiana, scoring 24 points with 14 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals in a double-overtime win. That’s vintage Bates-Diop after three lackluster games from the junior.

12. North Carolina (22–8)

Last Week (10): beat Syracuse, lost to Miami
Next Week: at Duke

The college basketball world experienced a bit of déjà vu Tuesday night in Chapel Hill on Senior Night, with Joel Berry II playing the role of Marcus Paige and Miami’s Ja'Quan Newton acting as Kris Jenkins (I think Paige summed things up succinctly for Tar Heels fans here). That’s a tough loss to take, especially at this time of the year, but UNC will need to forget it quickly before it makes the short trip to Durham this weekend. The Heels ran all over Duke’s defense in the teams’ first meeting back on Feb. 8, but the Blue Devils seem to be in a far better place right now (see above). It will be interesting to see how the strategy for both teams may change, and if North Carolina can pull off what would be an impressive regular-season sweep.

13. West Virginia (22–8)

Last Week (17): beat Iowa State, beat Texas Tech
Next Week: at Texas

The Mountaineers pulled themselves out of the January wall they hit by winning six of eight heading into their regular-season finale. Notably, they’re shooting better of late: in their five January losses, they averaged an effective field-goal percentage of 45.6% and three-point percentage of 32.0%. In their eight games since, they’ve hit 40.4% of their threes and had an effective field-goal percentage average of 55.1%. It’s a positive sign at this point in the season for a team that is overall outside the top 150 nationally in both categories.

14. Tennessee (22–7)

Last Week (18): beat Florida, beat Ole Miss, beat Mississippi State
Next Week: vs. Georgia

Despite hiccups against Alabama and Georgia earlier this month, the Vols have won 10 of 12 heading into their regular-season finale and can earn a share of the SEC title—or possible an outright one depending on Auburn’s result—on Saturday. Tennessee’s defense has quietly crept up to fourth in the nation in kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings, though its offense ranks just inside the top 50 at No. 49. The losses to the Tide and Bulldogs may have sparked something in the Volunteers, who have now held three straight opponents below 0.87 PPP. In a win over Ole Miss over the weekend, Tennessee’s 13th-ranked perimeter defense made the Rebels’ usually poor three-point offense look especially bad in a 1-for-23 effort from deep.

15. Auburn (24–6)

Last Week (11): beat Alabama, lost to Florida, lost to Arkansas
Next Week: vs. South Carolina

While Tennessee is on the rise, the Tigers are not, having lost three of four and now needing a win against South Carolina on Saturday just to assure themselves a share of the SEC crown in a race they’ve led for weeks. Is the loss of Anfernee McLemore looming large? Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford feasted on Auburn’s interior Tuesday night, going 10-for-15 from the field (seven of which were dunks) for 21 points, adding 10 rebounds and a whopping seven blocks. The 1.15 PPP surrendered by the Tigers also matched their high water mark in SEC play, and they’ve now given up more than 1.0 PPP in three of four games after only doing it in three of their previous eight.

16. Michigan (24–7)

Last Week (20): beat Penn State, beat Maryland
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Wolverines ended their regular season by handing Maryland its worst home loss in 20 years, which included a 30-point lead…at halftime. Add it to a road win over Penn State, which came after a Senior Day victory over Ohio State, and Michigan has to be brimming with confidence heading into the Big Ten tourney. The Wolverines are shooting the ball well right now, posting an effective field-goal percentage of at least 50% in eight of their last 10 games, and defensively have held four straight opponents below 1.0 PPP. Freshman Jordan Poole has gone 9-for-12 from three over the last three games and continues to be a boost off the bench.

17. Arizona (22–7)

Last Week (13): beat Oregon State, lost to Oregon
Next Week: vs. Stanford, vs. California

Everyone knows what’s happened with Arizona off the court in the last week. The short story is that Allonzo Trier is suspended and Sean Miller’s status is up in the air, throwing the Wildcats’ season into chaos. Without Miller on the sidelines, they fell in overtime at Oregon over the weekend. Deandre Ayton did his best superhero impression with 28 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, but inexplicably had zero attempts from the field in the final 10 minutes of regulation and just one shot—a three-point attempt—in overtime. For Arizona to have any chance at a run at this point going forward, it’s going to have to go through Ayton. He needs the ball in crunch time.

18. Nevada (25–5)

Last Week (19): beat San Jose State, beat Colorado State
Next Week: at UNLV, at San Diego State

The Wolf Pack won their second straight regular-season Mountain West title over the weekend by beating Colorado State. Their rotation may be especially thin now that Lindsey Drew is out (against the Rams, only seven players saw the floor, with one of them, Elijah Foster, totaling four minutes), but that offense is hard to stop. The obvious concern, however, is foul trouble. As we approach single-elimination tournaments, it will be imperative that the likes of Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Kendall Stephens are able to stay on the floor.

19. Texas Tech (22–8)

Last Week (9): lost to Oklahoma State, lost to Kansas, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: vs. TCU

The Red Raiders tumble after an 0–3 week that was capped by their fourth straight loss, but don’t by any means count them out going forward because of it. While Keenan Evans played in three of those games, he’s clearly been bothered by the toe injury he sustained against Baylor in the first of the four losses. He scored just two points against Oklahoma State and six against Kansas before sitting out against West Virginia (along with Justin Gray and Zach Smith), and the priority for Texas Tech right now should be making sure he’s healthy for the Big 12 and (especially) NCAA tournament. Without Evans, who leads the team in win shares and is their clear top offensive weapon, the Red Raiders are obviously not the same team.

20. Kentucky (20–9)

Last Week (24): beat Missouri
Next Week: vs. Mississippi, at Florida

Are you back on the Kentucky train? The Wildcats have now won three straight, including an impressive 21-point home win over Missouri to avenge a loss in Columbia that had kicked off their four-game February skid. When UK was struggling, it was getting little offensively from the likes of P.J. Washington and Quade Green, but both have now come off the bench to contribute double figures in all three wins. Add it to the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who’s adding offense to his rebounding prowess (including an 11-point, 15-rebound, three-block effort against Mizzou), and you can see why things are looking better in Lexington.

21. Rhode Island (23–5)

Last Week (16): beat Dayton, lost to Saint Joseph’s
Next Week: at Davidson

What the heck happened to the Rams Tuesday night? They were hosting a Saint Joseph’s team that entered 8–8 in the Atlantic 10—a league that Rhode Island has dominated—and got blown out by 30. The loss was so bad it dropped the school a whopping 21(!) spots on kenpom.com to No. 48, its lowest rank since late December. The Rams scored just 0.68 PPP against a mediocre Hawks defense, shot a pitiful 3-for-29 from three, turned it over 14 times and made just nine of 18 free throws for good measure. That kind of performance clearly isn’t indicative of who Rhode Island has been all season, but it’s the kind of unexpected and deflating loss that can either snowball into an ill-timed skid or serve as a wake-up call.

22. Virginia Tech (21–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Louisville, beat Duke
Next Week: at Miami

Marquee ACC wins for the Hokies this season: vs. North Carolina, at Virginia, vs. Clemson, vs. Duke. And for good measure, throw in at home against NC State, meaning Virginia Tech has a win over all five of the teams ahead of it in the conference standings. That’s pretty darn impressive, and while its overall resumé might not be the best body of work out there, a team with that track record of big-time wins is the kind of lower-seeded Power 5 team that can make noise in the NCAA tournament.

23. TCU (21–9)

Last Week (NR): beat Iowa State, beat Baylor, beat Kansas State
Next Week: at Texas Tech

Once 1–4 in Big 12 play, the Horned Frogs have climbed over .500 for the first time after winning their fourth straight Tuesday night. TCU still boasts the most efficient offense and best three-point shooting in Big 12 play, and the defense has improved a bit as the schedule has let up, but overall the Horned Frogs have a Wichita State-style split, ranking sixth on kenpom.com in offense and 114th on defense. Over its last three games, TCU has relied more on its inside shooting than its outside proficiency, overcoming a 32.2% mark from three by connecting on 63.7% of its two-point attempts.

24. Middle Tennessee (23–5)

Last Week (25): beat UAB
Next Week: vs. Western Kentucky, vs. Marshall

While the Blue Raiders are a familiar March Cinderella and currently in the AP top 25, they’re not quite a lock to get back to the Big Dance. Obviously very few mid-major teams are due to the unpredictable nature of conference tournaments, but Western Kentucky looms as a legitimate threat in the C-USA. The Hilltoppers are just a game back in the standings with two to go, but Middle Tennessee already owns a road win in their first meeting. They’ll square off again in Murfreesboro on Thursday, pitting the top offense in conference play (Western Kentucky) with the top defense (Middle Tennessee). And then, of course, we may as well see Part III soon enough. Giddy (Potts) up.

25. Nebraska (22–9)

Last Week (NR): beat Penn State
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Cornhuskers might not be beating world-beaters, but you know what? They are winning, reeling off eight of nine and 10 of 12 to close the regular season to nab the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Who saw that coming? Certainly not SI.com’s projection system, which saw them finishing 12th out of 14 teams. The problem for Nebraska is that its best win all season was at home against Michigan—a fine victory, but not ideal to be the only key bullet point on your resumé. The Huskers will very likely need to beat the Wolverines again to advance to the semifinal, where they’d in all likelihood take on No. 1 seed Michigan State. Opportunity knocks.

DROPPED OUT: Clemson, Houston, Baylor

NEXT FIVE OUT: Clemson, Saint Mary’s, Houston, Butler, Miami

Mid-Major Meter

(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)

1. Gonzaga: The Zags are WCC regular-season champs for the sixth straight year.

2. Nevada: The Wolf Pack end the regular season with two games on the road, but they’ve already sewn up the Mountain West.

3. Middle Tennessee: A win over Western Kentucky on Thursday would give the Blue Raiders the C-USA regular-season title.

4. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels lost their opportunity to win the WCC regular-season crown, but they can still get revenge in the conference tournament.

5. Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers open Arch Madness as the No. 1 seed and could potentially face Southern Illinois or Illinois State should they reach the final.

<p>College basketball made more headlines off the court than on it in the last week, but we’ll focus on the latter for our penultimate Power Rankings. It’s already conference tournament time for some leagues, like the Big Ten and WCC, while most teams are gearing up for the final week of the regular season. As always, the week didn’t go without drama on the court, including two Tobacco Road teams being upset heading into their eagerly anticipated second showdown. Here’s the new top 25:</p><h3>1. Michigan State (28–3)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (1)</strong>: beat Wisconsin<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Spartans earned the No. 1 seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament, but they may need some revenge to win what would be their second tourney crown in three years. While on a 12-game win streak, MSU could have to go through at least one—if not both—of the teams that handed it its only Big Ten losses: Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines potentially loom in a semifinal matchup, while the Buckeyes are on the other side of the bracket and could line up with the Spartans in the final. In both previous contests, Michigan State’s normally sound defense faltered. Avenging one or both of those losses on the way to a tournament title would have them rolling into the Big Dance with a full head of steam.</p><h3>2. Virginia (26–2)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (2)</strong>: beat Georgia Tech, beat Pittsburgh<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Louisville, vs. Notre Dame</p><p>The Cavaliers won the ACC title outright with a predictable romp of Pitt, which let us see what happens with the nation’s top defense goes up against the nation’s 288th-best offense. The result, you might surmise, is not pretty! UVA held the Panthers to just seven(!) points in the first half, including 1-for-22 shooting (4.5%) from the floor. Even with Pitt’s many woes, that’s impressive.</p><h3>3. Kansas (24–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (5)</strong>: beat Texas Tech, beat Texas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Oklahoma State</p><p>Despite what once seemed like a wide-open field, there will be no changing of the guard atop the Big 12 this season. In the end, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Jayhawks pulled off a record 14th straight Big 12 title, and even did it outright with a game to spare. Ever since a dismal loss to Baylor on Feb. 10, Kansas’s offense has been playing at a high level, including scoring 1.21 points per possession and going 11-for-25 from three against Texas Tech’s third-ranked defense. Right now, the offense is making up for a more questionable defense—only one of the Jayhawks’ last eight opponents has failed to score over 1.0 PPP—but is that sustainable in March?</p><h3>4. Villanova (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (3)</strong>: beat DePaul, lost to Creighton<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Seton Hall, vs. Georgetown</p><p>The Wildcats no longer control their own destiny in the Big East after falling at Creighton in overtime, and interestingly it was the first time all season that they were out-shot both inside and outside the arc. The Bluejays also became just the third team this season (joining Butler and Marquette) to post an effective field-goal percentage above 56% against ‘Nova. The Wildcats’ defense has taken a step back from what it’s been in recent years (though still ranks a respectable 32nd on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings), but it usually does enough to let the offense overcome any porousness. That wasn’t the case in Omaha.</p><h3>5. Xavier (25–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (6)</strong>: beat Georgetown<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Providence, at DePaul</p><p>They may have dropped both of their games against Villanova this season—with neither being particularly close, which is why they remain below the Wildcats here this week—but the Musketeers are now in position to win their first regular-season title since joining the Big East. That’s because outside of an early January trip to Providence, they’ve completely taken care of business against the rest of the conference, something ‘Nova cannot say. Now Xavier gets a rematch with the Friars at home before potentially being able to wrap things up against DePaul.</p><h3>6. Duke (24–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (4)</strong>: beat Louisville, beat Syracuse, lost to Virginia Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. North Carolina</p><p>Despite their loss in Blacksburg on Monday, which brings an inevitable dip here, it’s hard to not be high on the Blue Devils right now. That’s because their defense, which spent the vast majority of this season being (deservedly) much maligned, is all the way up to No. 14 on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings. We’re way past the point of wondering if Duke could “pull a 2015” and enter the tournament with a defensive ranking outside of the typical championship profile yet make a run to the title. That 2015 defense entered the tourney ranked 37th. This year’s Blue Devils (second in offense, 14th in defense) are now threatening to join Michigan State (seventh in offense, 10th in defense) as the only teams ranked in the top 10 in both. The significance of that is that since kenpom.com started in 2002, 25 teams have entered the NCAA tournament top 10 in both. Twelve of those 25 (48%) have made the Final Four.</p><h3>7. Gonzaga (27–4)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (7)</strong>: beat San Diego, beat BYU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: WCC tournament</p><p>The Zags locked up another WCC regular-season title and will now go for the double, where they’re likely to face Saint Mary’s in the tourney final for a rubber match between the schools. While Gonzaga finished with the same 17–1 conference record it had last year, when it would go on to be the national runner-up, the advanced stats show some disparity. The offense was nearly on pace with its counterpart in league play, posting 120.2 points per 100 possessions to last season’s 121.6, but defensively it gave up 93.1 points per 100 possessions—still tops in the conference, but notably more than the 84.5 it gave up a year ago. Keep in mind the 2016–17 team led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, and replicating that after losing what the Zags did would have been almost impossible. That doesn’t mean what they’ve done this year isn’t significant.</p><h3>8. Purdue (26–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (8)</strong>: beat Illinois, beat Minnesota<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Boilermakers rank fourth on kenpom.com and, along with Michigan State and Duke, are one of just three teams in the country in the top 20 on both offense and defense, but in terms of optics, Purdue could really benefit from a strong Big Ten tournament showing. This is a team that has the goods to go deep into March no matter what happens at MSG this week, but a weak Big Ten left it few opportunities for marquee wins, and while it went 2–0 against Michigan, it lost to both Ohio State and Michigan State. The Boilermakers could potentially face both of the latter again in New York, and like the Spartans they could enter the Big Dance riding high if they get revenge on the way to the crown.</p><h3>9. Wichita State</h3><p><strong>Last Week (12)</strong>: beat Tulane, beat SMU<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at UCF, vs. Cincinnati</p><p>The Shockers are back in the top 10 here because they’ve won six in a row and have risen as others have faltered, but they’re kind of like the anti-Duke right now. While the Blue Devils seemed to have fixed their defensive woes as the season has gone, Wichita State has been slipping from an already shaky perch and now ranks 94th in adjusted defensive efficiency. It hasn’t finished a season ranked that low on defense under Gregg Marshall since 2008–09, a year it went 17–17. Unlike that season though, this year’s Shockers have an elite offense—in fact, it’s currently their highest-ranked offense (No. 5) in the kenpom.com era. Unbalanced teams seem to be the trend this year, but that level of disparity seems awfully unlikely to sustain a long March run without any (also unlikely) abrupt and significant changes on defense.</p><h3>10. Cincinnati</h3><p><strong>Last Week (14)</strong>: beat UConn, beat Tulsa<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Tulane, at Wichita State</p><p>Another unbalanced AAC team, the Bearcats at least are top 50 on offense to go along with their second-ranked defense. While the postseason is approaching, they’ve likely got their regular-season finale circled on their calendar, when they’ll look to force a split with Wichita State and secure the American title. No matter how the seeding shakes out, the conference tournament feels very likely to draw from two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston.</p><h3>11. Ohio State (24–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (15)</strong>: beat Indiana<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>How much are the Buckeyes praying Northwestern beats Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament? Or maybe they’re confident the old adage of “it’s hard to beat a team three times” in one season will fall in their favor should they face those pesky Nittany Lions again. In any event, they can be encouraged that Keita Bates-Diop had his best game in two weeks in their regular-season finale against Indiana, scoring 24 points with 14 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals in a double-overtime win. That’s vintage Bates-Diop after three lackluster games from the junior.</p><h3>12. North Carolina (22–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (10)</strong>: beat Syracuse, lost to Miami<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Duke</p><p>The college basketball world experienced a bit of déjà vu Tuesday night in Chapel Hill on Senior Night, with Joel Berry II playing the role of Marcus Paige and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/27/miami-unc-basketball-buzzer-beater-half-court-jaquan-newton" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Miami’s Ja&#39;Quan Newton" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Miami’s Ja&#39;Quan Newton</a> acting as Kris Jenkins (I think Paige summed things up succinctly for Tar Heels fans <a href="https://twitter.com/marcuspaige5/status/968698510341234688" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>). That’s a tough loss to take, especially at this time of the year, but UNC will need to forget it quickly before it makes the short trip to Durham this weekend. The Heels ran all over Duke’s defense in the teams’ first meeting back on Feb. 8, but the Blue Devils seem to be in a far better place right now (see above). It will be interesting to see how the strategy for both teams may change, and if North Carolina can pull off what would be an impressive regular-season sweep.</p><h3>13. West Virginia (22–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (17)</strong>: beat Iowa State, beat Texas Tech<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas</p><p>The Mountaineers pulled themselves out of the January wall they hit by winning six of eight heading into their regular-season finale. Notably, they’re shooting better of late: in their five January losses, they averaged an effective field-goal percentage of 45.6% and three-point percentage of 32.0%. In their eight games since, they’ve hit 40.4% of their threes and had an effective field-goal percentage average of 55.1%. It’s a positive sign at this point in the season for a team that is overall outside the top 150 nationally in both categories.</p><h3>14. Tennessee (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (18)</strong>: beat Florida, beat Ole Miss, beat Mississippi State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Georgia</p><p>Despite hiccups against Alabama and Georgia earlier this month, the Vols have won 10 of 12 heading into their regular-season finale and can earn a share of the SEC title—or possible an outright one depending on Auburn’s result—on Saturday. Tennessee’s defense has quietly crept up to fourth in the nation in kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings, though its offense ranks just inside the top 50 at No. 49. The losses to the Tide and Bulldogs may have sparked something in the Volunteers, who have now held three straight opponents below 0.87 PPP. In a win over Ole Miss over the weekend, Tennessee’s 13th-ranked perimeter defense made the Rebels’ usually poor three-point offense look especially bad in a 1-for-23 effort from deep.</p><h3>15. Auburn (24–6)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (11)</strong>: beat Alabama, lost to Florida, lost to Arkansas<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. South Carolina</p><p>While Tennessee is on the rise, the Tigers are not, having lost three of four and now needing a win against South Carolina on Saturday just to assure themselves a share of the SEC crown in a race they’ve led for weeks. Is the loss of Anfernee McLemore looming large? Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford feasted on Auburn’s interior Tuesday night, going 10-for-15 from the field (seven of which were dunks) for 21 points, adding 10 rebounds and a whopping seven blocks. The 1.15 PPP surrendered by the Tigers also matched their high water mark in SEC play, and they’ve now given up more than 1.0 PPP in three of four games after only doing it in three of their previous eight.</p><h3>16. Michigan (24–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (20)</strong>: beat Penn State, beat Maryland<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Wolverines ended their regular season by handing Maryland its worst home loss in 20 years, which included a 30-point lead…at halftime. Add it to a road win over Penn State, which came after a Senior Day victory over Ohio State, and Michigan has to be brimming with confidence heading into the Big Ten tourney. The Wolverines are shooting the ball well right now, posting an effective field-goal percentage of at least 50% in eight of their last 10 games, and defensively have held four straight opponents below 1.0 PPP. Freshman Jordan Poole has gone 9-for-12 from three over the last three games and continues to be a boost off the bench.</p><h3>17. Arizona (22–7)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (13)</strong>: beat Oregon State, lost to Oregon<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Stanford, vs. California</p><p>Everyone knows what’s happened with Arizona off the court in the last week. The short story is that Allonzo Trier is suspended and Sean Miller’s status is up in the air, throwing the Wildcats’ season into chaos. Without Miller on the sidelines, they fell in overtime at Oregon over the weekend. Deandre Ayton did his best superhero impression with 28 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, but inexplicably had zero attempts from the field in the final 10 minutes of regulation and just one shot—a three-point attempt—in overtime. For Arizona to have any chance at a run at this point going forward, it’s going to have to go through Ayton. He needs the ball in crunch time.</p><h3>18. Nevada (25–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (19):</strong> beat San Jose State, beat Colorado State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at UNLV, at San Diego State</p><p>The Wolf Pack won their second straight regular-season Mountain West title over the weekend by beating Colorado State. Their rotation may be especially thin now that Lindsey Drew is out (against the Rams, only seven players saw the floor, with one of them, Elijah Foster, totaling four minutes), but that offense is hard to stop. The obvious concern, however, is foul trouble. As we approach single-elimination tournaments, it will be imperative that the likes of Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Kendall Stephens are able to stay on the floor.</p><h3>19. Texas Tech (22–8)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (9)</strong>: lost to Oklahoma State, lost to Kansas, lost to West Virginia<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. TCU</p><p>The Red Raiders tumble after an 0–3 week that was capped by their fourth straight loss, but don’t by any means count them out going forward because of it. While Keenan Evans played in three of those games, he’s clearly been bothered by the toe injury he sustained against Baylor in the first of the four losses. He scored just two points against Oklahoma State and six against Kansas before sitting out against West Virginia (along with Justin Gray and Zach Smith), and the priority for Texas Tech right now should be making sure he’s healthy for the Big 12 and (especially) NCAA tournament. Without Evans, who leads the team in win shares and is their clear top offensive weapon, the Red Raiders are obviously not the same team.</p><h3>20. Kentucky (20–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (24)</strong>: beat Missouri<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Mississippi, at Florida</p><p>Are you back on the Kentucky train? The Wildcats have now won three straight, including an impressive 21-point home win over Missouri to avenge a loss in Columbia that had kicked off their four-game February skid. When UK was struggling, it was getting little offensively from the likes of P.J. Washington and Quade Green, but both have now come off the bench to contribute double figures in all three wins. Add it to the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who’s adding offense to his rebounding prowess (including an 11-point, 15-rebound, three-block effort against Mizzou), and you can see why things are looking better in Lexington.</p><h3>21. Rhode Island (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (16)</strong>: beat Dayton, lost to Saint Joseph’s<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Davidson</p><p>What the heck happened to the Rams Tuesday night? They were hosting a Saint Joseph’s team that entered 8–8 in the Atlantic 10—a league that Rhode Island has dominated—and got blown out by 30. The loss was so bad it dropped the school a whopping 21(!) spots on kenpom.com to No. 48, its lowest rank since late December. The Rams scored just 0.68 PPP against a mediocre Hawks defense, shot a pitiful 3-for-29 from three, turned it over 14 times and made just nine of 18 free throws for good measure. That kind of performance clearly isn’t indicative of who Rhode Island has been all season, but it’s the kind of unexpected and deflating loss that can either snowball into an ill-timed skid or serve as a wake-up call. </p><h3>22. Virginia Tech (21–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: lost to Louisville, beat Duke<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Miami</p><p>Marquee ACC wins for the Hokies this season: vs. North Carolina, at Virginia, vs. Clemson, vs. Duke. And for good measure, throw in at home against NC State, meaning Virginia Tech has a win over all five of the teams ahead of it in the conference standings. That’s pretty darn impressive, and while its overall resumé might not be the best body of work out there, a team with that track record of big-time wins is the kind of lower-seeded Power 5 team that can make noise in the NCAA tournament.</p><h3>23. TCU (21–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Iowa State, beat Baylor, beat Kansas State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: at Texas Tech</p><p>Once 1–4 in Big 12 play, the Horned Frogs have climbed over .500 for the first time after winning their fourth straight Tuesday night. TCU still boasts the most efficient offense and best three-point shooting in Big 12 play, and the defense has improved a bit as the schedule has let up, but overall the Horned Frogs have a Wichita State-style split, ranking sixth on kenpom.com in offense and 114th on defense. Over its last three games, TCU has relied more on its inside shooting than its outside proficiency, overcoming a 32.2% mark from three by connecting on 63.7% of its two-point attempts.</p><h3>24. Middle Tennessee (23–5)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (25)</strong>: beat UAB<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: vs. Western Kentucky, vs. Marshall</p><p>While the Blue Raiders are a familiar March Cinderella and currently in the AP top 25, they’re not quite a lock to get back to the Big Dance. Obviously very few mid-major teams are due to the unpredictable nature of conference tournaments, but Western Kentucky looms as a legitimate threat in the C-USA. The Hilltoppers are just a game back in the standings with two to go, but Middle Tennessee already owns a road win in their first meeting. They’ll square off again in Murfreesboro on Thursday, pitting the top offense in conference play (Western Kentucky) with the top defense (Middle Tennessee). And then, of course, we may as well see Part III soon enough. Giddy (Potts) up.</p><h3>25. Nebraska (22–9)</h3><p><strong>Last Week (NR)</strong>: beat Penn State<br><strong>Next Week</strong>: Big Ten tournament</p><p>The Cornhuskers might not be beating world-beaters, but you know what? They <em>are</em> winning, reeling off eight of nine and 10 of 12 to close the regular season to nab the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Who saw that coming? Certainly not SI.com’s projection system, which saw them finishing 12th out of 14 teams. The problem for Nebraska is that its best win all season was at home against Michigan—a fine victory, but not ideal to be the only key bullet point on your resumé. The Huskers will very likely need to beat the Wolverines again to advance to the semifinal, where they’d in all likelihood take on No. 1 seed Michigan State. Opportunity knocks.</p><p><strong>DROPPED OUT</strong>: Clemson, Houston, Baylor</p><p><strong>NEXT FIVE OUT</strong>: Clemson, Saint Mary’s, Houston, Butler, Miami</p><h3>Mid-Major Meter</h3><p>(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)</p><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: The Zags are WCC regular-season champs for the sixth straight year.</p><p>2. <strong>Nevada</strong>: The Wolf Pack end the regular season with two games on the road, but they’ve already sewn up the Mountain West.</p><p>3. <strong>Middle Tennessee</strong>: A win over Western Kentucky on Thursday would give the Blue Raiders the C-USA regular-season title.</p><p>4. <strong>Saint Mary’s</strong>: The Gaels lost their opportunity to win the WCC regular-season crown, but they can still get revenge in the conference tournament.</p><p>5. <strong>Loyola-Chicago</strong>: The Ramblers open Arch Madness as the No. 1 seed and could potentially face Southern Illinois or Illinois State should they reach the final.</p>
Power Rankings: Drama-Filled Week Leads to Movement All Around

College basketball made more headlines off the court than on it in the last week, but we’ll focus on the latter for our penultimate Power Rankings. It’s already conference tournament time for some leagues, like the Big Ten and WCC, while most teams are gearing up for the final week of the regular season. As always, the week didn’t go without drama on the court, including two Tobacco Road teams being upset heading into their eagerly anticipated second showdown. Here’s the new top 25:

1. Michigan State (28–3)

Last Week (1): beat Wisconsin
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Spartans earned the No. 1 seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament, but they may need some revenge to win what would be their second tourney crown in three years. While on a 12-game win streak, MSU could have to go through at least one—if not both—of the teams that handed it its only Big Ten losses: Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines potentially loom in a semifinal matchup, while the Buckeyes are on the other side of the bracket and could line up with the Spartans in the final. In both previous contests, Michigan State’s normally sound defense faltered. Avenging one or both of those losses on the way to a tournament title would have them rolling into the Big Dance with a full head of steam.

2. Virginia (26–2)

Last Week (2): beat Georgia Tech, beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: at Louisville, vs. Notre Dame

The Cavaliers won the ACC title outright with a predictable romp of Pitt, which let us see what happens with the nation’s top defense goes up against the nation’s 288th-best offense. The result, you might surmise, is not pretty! UVA held the Panthers to just seven(!) points in the first half, including 1-for-22 shooting (4.5%) from the floor. Even with Pitt’s many woes, that’s impressive.

3. Kansas (24–6)

Last Week (5): beat Texas Tech, beat Texas
Next Week: at Oklahoma State

Despite what once seemed like a wide-open field, there will be no changing of the guard atop the Big 12 this season. In the end, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Jayhawks pulled off a record 14th straight Big 12 title, and even did it outright with a game to spare. Ever since a dismal loss to Baylor on Feb. 10, Kansas’s offense has been playing at a high level, including scoring 1.21 points per possession and going 11-for-25 from three against Texas Tech’s third-ranked defense. Right now, the offense is making up for a more questionable defense—only one of the Jayhawks’ last eight opponents has failed to score over 1.0 PPP—but is that sustainable in March?

4. Villanova (25–4)

Last Week (3): beat DePaul, lost to Creighton
Next Week: at Seton Hall, vs. Georgetown

The Wildcats no longer control their own destiny in the Big East after falling at Creighton in overtime, and interestingly it was the first time all season that they were out-shot both inside and outside the arc. The Bluejays also became just the third team this season (joining Butler and Marquette) to post an effective field-goal percentage above 56% against ‘Nova. The Wildcats’ defense has taken a step back from what it’s been in recent years (though still ranks a respectable 32nd on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings), but it usually does enough to let the offense overcome any porousness. That wasn’t the case in Omaha.

5. Xavier (25–4)

Last Week (6): beat Georgetown
Next Week: vs. Providence, at DePaul

They may have dropped both of their games against Villanova this season—with neither being particularly close, which is why they remain below the Wildcats here this week—but the Musketeers are now in position to win their first regular-season title since joining the Big East. That’s because outside of an early January trip to Providence, they’ve completely taken care of business against the rest of the conference, something ‘Nova cannot say. Now Xavier gets a rematch with the Friars at home before potentially being able to wrap things up against DePaul.

6. Duke (24–6)

Last Week (4): beat Louisville, beat Syracuse, lost to Virginia Tech
Next Week: vs. North Carolina

Despite their loss in Blacksburg on Monday, which brings an inevitable dip here, it’s hard to not be high on the Blue Devils right now. That’s because their defense, which spent the vast majority of this season being (deservedly) much maligned, is all the way up to No. 14 on kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings. We’re way past the point of wondering if Duke could “pull a 2015” and enter the tournament with a defensive ranking outside of the typical championship profile yet make a run to the title. That 2015 defense entered the tourney ranked 37th. This year’s Blue Devils (second in offense, 14th in defense) are now threatening to join Michigan State (seventh in offense, 10th in defense) as the only teams ranked in the top 10 in both. The significance of that is that since kenpom.com started in 2002, 25 teams have entered the NCAA tournament top 10 in both. Twelve of those 25 (48%) have made the Final Four.

7. Gonzaga (27–4)

Last Week (7): beat San Diego, beat BYU
Next Week: WCC tournament

The Zags locked up another WCC regular-season title and will now go for the double, where they’re likely to face Saint Mary’s in the tourney final for a rubber match between the schools. While Gonzaga finished with the same 17–1 conference record it had last year, when it would go on to be the national runner-up, the advanced stats show some disparity. The offense was nearly on pace with its counterpart in league play, posting 120.2 points per 100 possessions to last season’s 121.6, but defensively it gave up 93.1 points per 100 possessions—still tops in the conference, but notably more than the 84.5 it gave up a year ago. Keep in mind the 2016–17 team led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, and replicating that after losing what the Zags did would have been almost impossible. That doesn’t mean what they’ve done this year isn’t significant.

8. Purdue (26–5)

Last Week (8): beat Illinois, beat Minnesota
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Boilermakers rank fourth on kenpom.com and, along with Michigan State and Duke, are one of just three teams in the country in the top 20 on both offense and defense, but in terms of optics, Purdue could really benefit from a strong Big Ten tournament showing. This is a team that has the goods to go deep into March no matter what happens at MSG this week, but a weak Big Ten left it few opportunities for marquee wins, and while it went 2–0 against Michigan, it lost to both Ohio State and Michigan State. The Boilermakers could potentially face both of the latter again in New York, and like the Spartans they could enter the Big Dance riding high if they get revenge on the way to the crown.

9. Wichita State

Last Week (12): beat Tulane, beat SMU
Next Week: at UCF, vs. Cincinnati

The Shockers are back in the top 10 here because they’ve won six in a row and have risen as others have faltered, but they’re kind of like the anti-Duke right now. While the Blue Devils seemed to have fixed their defensive woes as the season has gone, Wichita State has been slipping from an already shaky perch and now ranks 94th in adjusted defensive efficiency. It hasn’t finished a season ranked that low on defense under Gregg Marshall since 2008–09, a year it went 17–17. Unlike that season though, this year’s Shockers have an elite offense—in fact, it’s currently their highest-ranked offense (No. 5) in the kenpom.com era. Unbalanced teams seem to be the trend this year, but that level of disparity seems awfully unlikely to sustain a long March run without any (also unlikely) abrupt and significant changes on defense.

10. Cincinnati

Last Week (14): beat UConn, beat Tulsa
Next Week: at Tulane, at Wichita State

Another unbalanced AAC team, the Bearcats at least are top 50 on offense to go along with their second-ranked defense. While the postseason is approaching, they’ve likely got their regular-season finale circled on their calendar, when they’ll look to force a split with Wichita State and secure the American title. No matter how the seeding shakes out, the conference tournament feels very likely to draw from two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston.

11. Ohio State (24–7)

Last Week (15): beat Indiana
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

How much are the Buckeyes praying Northwestern beats Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament? Or maybe they’re confident the old adage of “it’s hard to beat a team three times” in one season will fall in their favor should they face those pesky Nittany Lions again. In any event, they can be encouraged that Keita Bates-Diop had his best game in two weeks in their regular-season finale against Indiana, scoring 24 points with 14 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals in a double-overtime win. That’s vintage Bates-Diop after three lackluster games from the junior.

12. North Carolina (22–8)

Last Week (10): beat Syracuse, lost to Miami
Next Week: at Duke

The college basketball world experienced a bit of déjà vu Tuesday night in Chapel Hill on Senior Night, with Joel Berry II playing the role of Marcus Paige and Miami’s Ja'Quan Newton acting as Kris Jenkins (I think Paige summed things up succinctly for Tar Heels fans here). That’s a tough loss to take, especially at this time of the year, but UNC will need to forget it quickly before it makes the short trip to Durham this weekend. The Heels ran all over Duke’s defense in the teams’ first meeting back on Feb. 8, but the Blue Devils seem to be in a far better place right now (see above). It will be interesting to see how the strategy for both teams may change, and if North Carolina can pull off what would be an impressive regular-season sweep.

13. West Virginia (22–8)

Last Week (17): beat Iowa State, beat Texas Tech
Next Week: at Texas

The Mountaineers pulled themselves out of the January wall they hit by winning six of eight heading into their regular-season finale. Notably, they’re shooting better of late: in their five January losses, they averaged an effective field-goal percentage of 45.6% and three-point percentage of 32.0%. In their eight games since, they’ve hit 40.4% of their threes and had an effective field-goal percentage average of 55.1%. It’s a positive sign at this point in the season for a team that is overall outside the top 150 nationally in both categories.

14. Tennessee (22–7)

Last Week (18): beat Florida, beat Ole Miss, beat Mississippi State
Next Week: vs. Georgia

Despite hiccups against Alabama and Georgia earlier this month, the Vols have won 10 of 12 heading into their regular-season finale and can earn a share of the SEC title—or possible an outright one depending on Auburn’s result—on Saturday. Tennessee’s defense has quietly crept up to fourth in the nation in kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings, though its offense ranks just inside the top 50 at No. 49. The losses to the Tide and Bulldogs may have sparked something in the Volunteers, who have now held three straight opponents below 0.87 PPP. In a win over Ole Miss over the weekend, Tennessee’s 13th-ranked perimeter defense made the Rebels’ usually poor three-point offense look especially bad in a 1-for-23 effort from deep.

15. Auburn (24–6)

Last Week (11): beat Alabama, lost to Florida, lost to Arkansas
Next Week: vs. South Carolina

While Tennessee is on the rise, the Tigers are not, having lost three of four and now needing a win against South Carolina on Saturday just to assure themselves a share of the SEC crown in a race they’ve led for weeks. Is the loss of Anfernee McLemore looming large? Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford feasted on Auburn’s interior Tuesday night, going 10-for-15 from the field (seven of which were dunks) for 21 points, adding 10 rebounds and a whopping seven blocks. The 1.15 PPP surrendered by the Tigers also matched their high water mark in SEC play, and they’ve now given up more than 1.0 PPP in three of four games after only doing it in three of their previous eight.

16. Michigan (24–7)

Last Week (20): beat Penn State, beat Maryland
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Wolverines ended their regular season by handing Maryland its worst home loss in 20 years, which included a 30-point lead…at halftime. Add it to a road win over Penn State, which came after a Senior Day victory over Ohio State, and Michigan has to be brimming with confidence heading into the Big Ten tourney. The Wolverines are shooting the ball well right now, posting an effective field-goal percentage of at least 50% in eight of their last 10 games, and defensively have held four straight opponents below 1.0 PPP. Freshman Jordan Poole has gone 9-for-12 from three over the last three games and continues to be a boost off the bench.

17. Arizona (22–7)

Last Week (13): beat Oregon State, lost to Oregon
Next Week: vs. Stanford, vs. California

Everyone knows what’s happened with Arizona off the court in the last week. The short story is that Allonzo Trier is suspended and Sean Miller’s status is up in the air, throwing the Wildcats’ season into chaos. Without Miller on the sidelines, they fell in overtime at Oregon over the weekend. Deandre Ayton did his best superhero impression with 28 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, but inexplicably had zero attempts from the field in the final 10 minutes of regulation and just one shot—a three-point attempt—in overtime. For Arizona to have any chance at a run at this point going forward, it’s going to have to go through Ayton. He needs the ball in crunch time.

18. Nevada (25–5)

Last Week (19): beat San Jose State, beat Colorado State
Next Week: at UNLV, at San Diego State

The Wolf Pack won their second straight regular-season Mountain West title over the weekend by beating Colorado State. Their rotation may be especially thin now that Lindsey Drew is out (against the Rams, only seven players saw the floor, with one of them, Elijah Foster, totaling four minutes), but that offense is hard to stop. The obvious concern, however, is foul trouble. As we approach single-elimination tournaments, it will be imperative that the likes of Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Kendall Stephens are able to stay on the floor.

19. Texas Tech (22–8)

Last Week (9): lost to Oklahoma State, lost to Kansas, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: vs. TCU

The Red Raiders tumble after an 0–3 week that was capped by their fourth straight loss, but don’t by any means count them out going forward because of it. While Keenan Evans played in three of those games, he’s clearly been bothered by the toe injury he sustained against Baylor in the first of the four losses. He scored just two points against Oklahoma State and six against Kansas before sitting out against West Virginia (along with Justin Gray and Zach Smith), and the priority for Texas Tech right now should be making sure he’s healthy for the Big 12 and (especially) NCAA tournament. Without Evans, who leads the team in win shares and is their clear top offensive weapon, the Red Raiders are obviously not the same team.

20. Kentucky (20–9)

Last Week (24): beat Missouri
Next Week: vs. Mississippi, at Florida

Are you back on the Kentucky train? The Wildcats have now won three straight, including an impressive 21-point home win over Missouri to avenge a loss in Columbia that had kicked off their four-game February skid. When UK was struggling, it was getting little offensively from the likes of P.J. Washington and Quade Green, but both have now come off the bench to contribute double figures in all three wins. Add it to the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who’s adding offense to his rebounding prowess (including an 11-point, 15-rebound, three-block effort against Mizzou), and you can see why things are looking better in Lexington.

21. Rhode Island (23–5)

Last Week (16): beat Dayton, lost to Saint Joseph’s
Next Week: at Davidson

What the heck happened to the Rams Tuesday night? They were hosting a Saint Joseph’s team that entered 8–8 in the Atlantic 10—a league that Rhode Island has dominated—and got blown out by 30. The loss was so bad it dropped the school a whopping 21(!) spots on kenpom.com to No. 48, its lowest rank since late December. The Rams scored just 0.68 PPP against a mediocre Hawks defense, shot a pitiful 3-for-29 from three, turned it over 14 times and made just nine of 18 free throws for good measure. That kind of performance clearly isn’t indicative of who Rhode Island has been all season, but it’s the kind of unexpected and deflating loss that can either snowball into an ill-timed skid or serve as a wake-up call.

22. Virginia Tech (21–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Louisville, beat Duke
Next Week: at Miami

Marquee ACC wins for the Hokies this season: vs. North Carolina, at Virginia, vs. Clemson, vs. Duke. And for good measure, throw in at home against NC State, meaning Virginia Tech has a win over all five of the teams ahead of it in the conference standings. That’s pretty darn impressive, and while its overall resumé might not be the best body of work out there, a team with that track record of big-time wins is the kind of lower-seeded Power 5 team that can make noise in the NCAA tournament.

23. TCU (21–9)

Last Week (NR): beat Iowa State, beat Baylor, beat Kansas State
Next Week: at Texas Tech

Once 1–4 in Big 12 play, the Horned Frogs have climbed over .500 for the first time after winning their fourth straight Tuesday night. TCU still boasts the most efficient offense and best three-point shooting in Big 12 play, and the defense has improved a bit as the schedule has let up, but overall the Horned Frogs have a Wichita State-style split, ranking sixth on kenpom.com in offense and 114th on defense. Over its last three games, TCU has relied more on its inside shooting than its outside proficiency, overcoming a 32.2% mark from three by connecting on 63.7% of its two-point attempts.

24. Middle Tennessee (23–5)

Last Week (25): beat UAB
Next Week: vs. Western Kentucky, vs. Marshall

While the Blue Raiders are a familiar March Cinderella and currently in the AP top 25, they’re not quite a lock to get back to the Big Dance. Obviously very few mid-major teams are due to the unpredictable nature of conference tournaments, but Western Kentucky looms as a legitimate threat in the C-USA. The Hilltoppers are just a game back in the standings with two to go, but Middle Tennessee already owns a road win in their first meeting. They’ll square off again in Murfreesboro on Thursday, pitting the top offense in conference play (Western Kentucky) with the top defense (Middle Tennessee). And then, of course, we may as well see Part III soon enough. Giddy (Potts) up.

25. Nebraska (22–9)

Last Week (NR): beat Penn State
Next Week: Big Ten tournament

The Cornhuskers might not be beating world-beaters, but you know what? They are winning, reeling off eight of nine and 10 of 12 to close the regular season to nab the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Who saw that coming? Certainly not SI.com’s projection system, which saw them finishing 12th out of 14 teams. The problem for Nebraska is that its best win all season was at home against Michigan—a fine victory, but not ideal to be the only key bullet point on your resumé. The Huskers will very likely need to beat the Wolverines again to advance to the semifinal, where they’d in all likelihood take on No. 1 seed Michigan State. Opportunity knocks.

DROPPED OUT: Clemson, Houston, Baylor

NEXT FIVE OUT: Clemson, Saint Mary’s, Houston, Butler, Miami

Mid-Major Meter

(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)

1. Gonzaga: The Zags are WCC regular-season champs for the sixth straight year.

2. Nevada: The Wolf Pack end the regular season with two games on the road, but they’ve already sewn up the Mountain West.

3. Middle Tennessee: A win over Western Kentucky on Thursday would give the Blue Raiders the C-USA regular-season title.

4. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels lost their opportunity to win the WCC regular-season crown, but they can still get revenge in the conference tournament.

5. Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers open Arch Madness as the No. 1 seed and could potentially face Southern Illinois or Illinois State should they reach the final.

<p>The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.</p><p>It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.</p><p><strong>Florida at Alabama</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma at Baylor</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.</p><p><strong>Kansas State at TCU</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M at Georgia</strong><br><strong>Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network</strong></p><p>Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.</p><p><strong>No. 1 Virginia at Louisville</strong><br><strong>Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.</p><h3>Locks (22)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 24</h3><p>68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3>TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.</p><h3>Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)</h3><p>The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.</p><h3>Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)</h3><p>Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3>NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3>Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)</h3><p>One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)</h3><p>The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.</p><h3>Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&#38;M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.</p><h3>Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)</h3><p>The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.</p><h3>Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)</h3><p>The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.</p><h3>Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)</h3><p>Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3>Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.</p><h3>Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.</p><h3>Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.</p><h3>Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.</p><h3>UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.</p><h3>USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/26/ncaa-tournament-bracket-bubble-teams-michigan-state-north-carolina-ucla-usc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com Bracket Watch</a> has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.</p><h3>Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.</p><h3>Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.</p><h3>LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.</p><h3>Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3>Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.</p><h3>Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&#38;M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.</p><h3>Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)</h3><p>Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.</p><h3>Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.</p><h3>Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.</p><h3>Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.</p><h3>Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.</p>
Bubble Watch: Lots at Stake for Fringe Teams in Final Regular Season, Conference Tourney Games

The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.

It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.

Florida at Alabama
Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.

Oklahoma at Baylor
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.

Kansas State at TCU
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.

Texas A&M at Georgia
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.

No. 1 Virginia at Louisville
Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network

Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.

Locks (22)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier

Spots remaining: 24

68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)

The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.

Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)

The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.

Texas A&M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.

Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)

Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)

The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.

Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)

One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.

Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)

The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.

Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)

Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.

Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)

Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.

Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)

The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.

Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)

The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)

Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.

Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)

I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.

Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)

The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.

Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)

The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.

Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)

Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)

Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.

Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.

Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.

Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.

Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.

UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.

St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.

Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.

USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The SI.com Bracket Watch has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.

Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.

Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.

LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.

Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.

Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.

Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.

Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)

Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)

The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.

Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.

Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.

Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.

Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.

Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.

Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.

<p>The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.</p><p>It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.</p><p><strong>Florida at Alabama</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma at Baylor</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.</p><p><strong>Kansas State at TCU</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M at Georgia</strong><br><strong>Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network</strong></p><p>Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.</p><p><strong>No. 1 Virginia at Louisville</strong><br><strong>Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.</p><h3>Locks (22)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 24</h3><p>68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3>TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.</p><h3>Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)</h3><p>The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.</p><h3>Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)</h3><p>Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3>NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3>Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)</h3><p>One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)</h3><p>The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.</p><h3>Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&#38;M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.</p><h3>Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)</h3><p>The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.</p><h3>Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)</h3><p>The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.</p><h3>Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)</h3><p>Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3>Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.</p><h3>Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.</p><h3>Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.</p><h3>Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.</p><h3>UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.</p><h3>USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/26/ncaa-tournament-bracket-bubble-teams-michigan-state-north-carolina-ucla-usc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com Bracket Watch</a> has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.</p><h3>Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.</p><h3>Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.</p><h3>LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.</p><h3>Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3>Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.</p><h3>Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&#38;M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.</p><h3>Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)</h3><p>Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.</p><h3>Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.</p><h3>Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.</p><h3>Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.</p><h3>Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.</p>
Bubble Watch: Lots at Stake for Fringe Teams in Final Regular Season, Conference Tourney Games

The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.

It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.

Florida at Alabama
Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.

Oklahoma at Baylor
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.

Kansas State at TCU
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.

Texas A&M at Georgia
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.

No. 1 Virginia at Louisville
Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network

Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.

Locks (22)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier

Spots remaining: 24

68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)

The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.

Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)

The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.

Texas A&M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.

Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)

Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)

The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.

Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)

One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.

Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)

The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.

Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)

Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.

Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)

Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.

Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)

The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.

Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)

The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)

Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.

Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)

I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.

Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)

The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.

Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)

The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.

Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)

Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)

Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.

Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.

Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.

Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.

Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.

UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.

St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.

Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.

USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The SI.com Bracket Watch has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.

Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.

Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.

LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.

Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.

Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.

Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.

Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)

Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)

The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.

Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.

Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.

Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.

Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.

Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.

Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.

<p>The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.</p><p>It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.</p><p><strong>Florida at Alabama</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma at Baylor</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.</p><p><strong>Kansas State at TCU</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M at Georgia</strong><br><strong>Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network</strong></p><p>Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.</p><p><strong>No. 1 Virginia at Louisville</strong><br><strong>Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.</p><h3>Locks (22)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 24</h3><p>68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3>TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.</p><h3>Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)</h3><p>The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.</p><h3>Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)</h3><p>Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3>NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3>Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)</h3><p>One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)</h3><p>The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.</p><h3>Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&#38;M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.</p><h3>Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)</h3><p>The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.</p><h3>Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)</h3><p>The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.</p><h3>Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)</h3><p>Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3>Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.</p><h3>Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.</p><h3>Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.</p><h3>Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.</p><h3>UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.</p><h3>USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/26/ncaa-tournament-bracket-bubble-teams-michigan-state-north-carolina-ucla-usc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com Bracket Watch</a> has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.</p><h3>Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.</p><h3>Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.</p><h3>LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.</p><h3>Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3>Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.</p><h3>Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&#38;M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.</p><h3>Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)</h3><p>Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.</p><h3>Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.</p><h3>Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.</p><h3>Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.</p><h3>Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.</p>
Bubble Watch: Lots at Stake for Fringe Teams in Final Regular Season, Conference Tourney Games

The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.

It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.

Florida at Alabama
Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.

Oklahoma at Baylor
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.

Kansas State at TCU
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.

Texas A&M at Georgia
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.

No. 1 Virginia at Louisville
Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network

Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.

Locks (22)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier

Spots remaining: 24

68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)

The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.

Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)

The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.

Texas A&M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.

Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)

Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)

The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.

Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)

One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.

Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)

The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.

Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)

Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.

Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)

Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.

Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)

The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.

Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)

The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)

Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.

Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)

I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.

Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)

The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.

Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)

The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.

Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)

Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)

Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.

Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.

Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.

Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.

Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.

UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.

St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.

Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.

USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The SI.com Bracket Watch has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.

Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.

Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.

LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.

Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.

Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.

Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.

Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)

Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)

The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.

Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.

Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.

Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.

Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.

Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.

Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.

<p>The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.</p><p>It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.</p><p><strong>Florida at Alabama</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN</strong></p><p>Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.</p><p><strong>Oklahoma at Baylor</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2</strong></p><p>Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.</p><p><strong>Kansas State at TCU</strong><br><strong>Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU</strong></p><p>The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.</p><p><strong>Texas A&#38;M at Georgia</strong><br><strong>Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network</strong></p><p>Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.</p><p><strong>No. 1 Virginia at Louisville</strong><br><strong>Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network</strong></p><p>Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.</p><h3>Locks (22)</h3><p>Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier</p><h3>Spots remaining: 24</h3><p>68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24</p><h3>Solid Selections</h3><p><em>Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.</em></p><h3>TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)</h3><p>The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.</p><h3>Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)</h3><p>The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Texas A&#38;M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.</p><h3>Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)</h3><p>Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.</p><h3>Safer Than Most</h3><p><em>Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.</em></p><h3>NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.</p><h3>Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)</h3><p>One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.</p><h3>Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)</h3><p>The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.</p><h3>Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.</p><h3>Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)</h3><p>Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&#38;M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&#38;M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)</h3><p>The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.</p><h3>Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)</h3><p>The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)</h3><p>Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.</p><h3>Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)</h3><p>I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.</p><h3>Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)</h3><p>The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.</p><h3>Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)</h3><p>The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.</p><h3>Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)</h3><p>Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.</p><h3>True Bubble Teams</h3><p><em>Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.</em></p><h3>Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.</p><h3>Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.</p><h3>Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.</p><h3>Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.</p><h3>Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.</p><h3>UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.</p><h3>St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.</p><h3>Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.</p><h3>USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/26/ncaa-tournament-bracket-bubble-teams-michigan-state-north-carolina-ucla-usc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com Bracket Watch" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com Bracket Watch</a> has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.</p><h3>Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.</p><h3>Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.</p><h3>LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.</p><h3>Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.</p><h3>Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.</p><h3>Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&#38;M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.</p><h3>Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)</h3><p>Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&#38;M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.</p><h3>On the Fringe</h3><p><em>Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.</em></p><h3>Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)</h3><p>The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.</p><h3>Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)</h3><p>We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.</p><h3>Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.</p><h3>Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.</p><h3>Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)</h3><p>Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.</p><h3>Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)</h3><p>I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.</p><h3>Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)</h3><p>The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.</p>
Bubble Watch: Lots at Stake for Fringe Teams in Final Regular Season, Conference Tourney Games

The last week of the regular season is here, with the Big Ten and some smaller conferences already moving on to their tournaments. The bubble action will pick up over the last few weeks, with the implications of every game easy to see now that Selection Sunday is within sight.

It will be business as usual for the Bubble Watch this week. Next week, we’ll update the Bubble Watch every day, giving you the lay of the land as conference tournaments change the complexion of the field of 68 with every passing hour. As for this week, we’ll kick off the Bubble Watch with a look at the five biggest bubble games through Thursday. We don’t want to project too far ahead, because what looks like a big bubble game over the weekend might not be depending on what happens the next three days.

Florida at Alabama
Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Florida may be a bit of a disappointment this season, but for reasons we’ll go over later, it is at no risk of missing out on the dance. Alabama is headed in the right direction, too, but could remove all doubt with a win over the Gators. The Crimson Tide cruised to an 18-point victory in Gainesville the first time these teams met.

Oklahoma at Baylor
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Oklahoma is safer than a lot of bracket prognosticators seem to think, especially after last weekend’s win over Kansas State. This is more about Baylor having the opportunity for another big coup at home. The Sooners beat the Bears in a 98-96 thriller the first time these teams played.

Kansas State at TCU
Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The Horned Frogs are all but assured a bid to the dance, while the Wildcats still need another win or two before they can feel safe. A win at TCU would do wonders for their at-large candidacy heading into the Big 12 tournament. They beat the Horned Frogs, 73-68, at home last month.

Texas A&M at Georgia
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Georgia is still a faint blip on the at-large radar, thanks to wins over Tennessee, Florida and LSU over the last two weeks. They could strengthen their signal by defending homecourt with the Aggies in town on Wednesday. This will be the first meeting of the season between the two.

No. 1 Virginia at Louisville
Thursday, 8 p.m., ACC Network

Louisville will almost certainly be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. The one way the Cardinals can play themselves off the bubble, in a good way, is by securing at least one signature victory the next two weeks. I’d say the No. 1 team in the country would qualify.

Locks (22)

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State, Xavier

Spots remaining: 24

68 total spots — 22 locks — 22 single-bid conference automatic qualifiers = 24

Solid Selections

Teams that are all but guaranteed to secure a spot in the field of 68.

TCU (20-9, RPI: 19, SOS: 12, Q1 record: 4-7)

The Horned Frogs had a nice week, picking up wins over Iowa State and Baylor. A trip to the big dance will end a 20-season NCAA tournament drought—and they are nearly there. The Horned Frogs host Kansas State and visit Texas Tech to end the regular season.

Houston (22-6, RPI: 20, SOS: 93, Q1 record: 6-2)

The Cougars suffered a surprising loss at Memphis last week, but we can give them a pass on it after they took down Cincinnati and Temple. They’re a near-lock for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010, likely needing to do no more than play out the string. It would take two bad losses to put them in even remote jeopardy on Selection Sunday.

Texas A&M (18-11, RPI: 26, SOS: 10, Q1 record: 5-7)

The Aggies ran their losing streak to three games before snapping it with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Pushing to Aggies into the next section would be an overreaction to their recent results. Their resumé still includes wins over Auburn (on the road), Kentucky and West Virginia. They’re not done working just yet, but it would take another few losses for them to be in real danger.

Florida (18-11, RPI: 58, SOS: 38, Q1 record: 8-4)

Even I’m surprised that Florida is in this section, and I’m the one who conceives and writes the Bubble Watch. Here’s the thing, though. The Selection Committee isn’t going to make a big deal out of its new quadrant system, and then leave a team that has eight Q1 wins out of the field. A couple of Florida’s Q1 wins could fall to Q2 (at Georgia, at South Carolina), but the other six are locked into the top quadrant, including W’s over Auburn, Cincinnati and Kentucky. This is a tournament team.

Safer Than Most

Teams that are standing on solid ground and looking strong heading into March.

NC State (20-9, RPI: 48, SOS: 58, Q1 record: 5-6)

The Wolfpack have won four straight games, including an impressive 20-point win over Florida State at home on Sunday. They could even be in the group above this, thanks primarily to wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona, all of which are trending for a top-four seed in the tournament. So long as the Wolfpack avoid disaster the rest of the way, they’ll have a drama-free Selection Sunday. In fact, if they take care of business against Georgia Tech and Louisville this week, we’ll consider them a lock going into the ACC tournament.

Creighton (19-9, RPI: 33, SOS: 39, Q1 record: 2-7)

One surefire way to raise your profile is to go out and beat one of the best teams in the country. That’s what the Bluejays did over the weekend, knocking off Villanova at home. Their resumé was already strong and a win like that essentially puts them over the hump. They may have just two Q1 wins, but their worst loss of the season, by RPI, was at Marquette, and some of their Q2 victims include Butler, Providence and UCLA. The win over Villanova all but took away the last shred of lingering doubt for the Bluejays’ tourney hopes. They host DePaul and visit Marquette this week.

Arizona State (19-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 69, Q1 record: 4-4)

The Sun Devils have lost three straight games—while they aren’t yet in serious trouble, they need to get back in the win column as soon as possible. They have what should be an easy week to wrap up the regular season, staying home for games with Cal and Stanford. If the Sun Devils are the relatively safe tournament team they’ve appeared to be for most of the season, neither of those opponents should be a problem. A loss in either game could set them up for disaster in the Pac-12 tournament, but if they win both, they’ll be trending toward lock status going into the postseason.

Virginia Tech (21-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 74, Q1 record: 5-5)

Virginia Tech is as good as in after upending Duke on Monday. The Hokies now own wins over the Blue Devils, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, otherwise known as the top four teams in the ACC. Those will easily more than counterbalance their less-than-ideal RPI and strength of schedule.

Alabama (17-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 8, Q1 record: 5-6)

Alabama’s record may not scream “safer than most” but you can’t strip nuance out of a team’s resumé. The Crimson Tide own wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida. They have a combined 11 Q1 and Q2 wins, more than every team profiled in the Bubble Watch other than Florida. They do have three sub-100 losses, but that’s not a reason to knock them out of the field. That’s why they’re down in this section, rather than among either the locks or solid selections. A split with Florida and Texas A&M this week should be enough to put them in the field. If they lose both and go out early in the SEC tournament, however, they will be a nervous bunch on Selection Sunday.

Seton Hall (20-9, RPI: 21, SOS: 34, Q1 record: 4-6)

The Pirates have handled themselves well over the last few weeks, winning three straight games against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. They’ll spend this entire week at home, hosting Villanova and Butler. They don’t necessarily need either game, though they will be favored against the Bulldogs. One win should be enough to have them on safe ground, no matter what happens in the Big East tournament. But they can still climb up the seed list, especially if they beat Villanova on Wednesday.

Butler (19-10, RPI: 35, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 3-8)

The Bulldogs have all but eliminated what little doubt surrounded their at-large candidacy with wins over Providence and Creighton in their last two games. They won those by a combined 38 points, once again displaying their firepower by scoring 93 against Creighton. They hit the road for the final week of the regular season, visiting St. John’s and Seton Hall. A loss to the Red Storm could get them into trouble, but—like most of the teams in this section—they’ve already done enough to earn an at-large bid. At this point, all they need to do is avoid damaging their resumé and they’ll hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

Arkansas (20-9, RPI: 30, SOS: 54, Q1 record: 5-7)

Arkansas lost to Kentucky and won at Alabama last week, which has to be considered a net-positive result for that pair of games. If they beat Auburn on Tuesday, they’ll jump at least one section, if not all the way up to the lock category. They end the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have to lose both of those games and then suffer an ugly loss in the SEC tournament to end up in the NIT, but even that might not be enough to knock them out of the field of 68.

Nevada (25-5, RPI: 15, SOS: 57, Q1 record: 2-2)

I hate to sound like a broken record with Nevada, but the knock against their at-large candidacy has been clear for the entire season. They have just two Q1 wins, and only one of those was against a likely at-large team in Rhode Island. Add in bad losses to UNLV and San Francisco, and there’s simply no margin for error for the Wolf Pack. They spend this entire week on the road, visiting the same Runnin’ Rebels that already beat them in Reno, as well as San Diego State. If they lose either game, they will need to win the Mountain West tournament to have a worry-free Selection Sunday. If they win both, however, they can likely still get into the dance as an at-large team.

Florida State (19-9, RPI: 51, SOS: 88, Q1 record: 5-5)

The Seminoles lost their only game last week, surrendering 92 points to NC State in a 20-point loss. That put some of the weaknesses on display, most notably that their preference to play fast on offense can work against them thanks largely to their deficiencies on the defensive end. And yet, this team owns wins over North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Louisville. It will take at least two bad losses to put their at-large hopes in the balance. They visit Clemson and host Boston College this week. Win either game and they won’t have any reason for concern.

Saint Mary’s (27-4, RPI: 38, SOS: 184, Q1 record: 1-1)

The West Coast Conference tournament kicks off on Thursday. Saint Mary’s will play its first game on Friday, playing the winner of Santa Clara and Pepperdine. If the Gaels advance to the conference championship, they’ll be a lock for the dance. Lose at any point before that, however, and Selection Sunday could be a jittery day for them. They could probably afford a loss to BYU, their likely opponent in the conference semifinals, but they wouldn’t want to tempt fate with just one Q1 win and an unsightly strength of schedule. The Gaels also own losses to San Francisco and Washington State, both of which are outside the top 150 in RPI. The only excusable team for them to lose to in the WCC tournament is Gonzaga.

Missouri (18-11, RPI: 43, SOS: 26, Q1 record: 6-7)

Missouri is on Michael Porter Jr. watch, with the prized freshman possibly set to return this week. The Tigers could desperately use him after losing three straight games, with a particularly damaging reversal at home against a Mississippi team that is nowhere near the at-large picture. The Tigers are still on solid ground thanks to those six Q1 wins, including victories against Kentucky and Tennessee, but things could get interesting, in a bad way, if they lose this week. The Tigers visit Vanderbilt and host Arkansas this week. If they go 2-0, the SEC tournament is moot, as far as their at-large candidacy is concerned. If they go 1-1, they’ll be in good shape, but would likely want at least one meaningful win. If they go 0-2, they’ll need to make a run in the conference tourney.

True Bubble Teams

Teams that are undoubtedly part of the bubble picture.

Kansas State (20-9, RPI: 63, SOS: 101, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 6-0, sub-100 losses: 0)

Kansas State beat Texas at home and lost at Oklahoma last week, which is certainly a net-positive week for a team in its position. Their best wins don’t jump off the page, with their three Q1 victories coming against TCU, Texas and Baylor, but they’ve done an admirable job avoiding bad losses. Eight of their nine losses came to teams that will get at-large bids, with the ninth at the hands of Tulsa. I may be calling the Wildcats the first true bubble team, but they’re largely in the same spot as the lowest-ranked teams in the previous section. If they simply avoid would-be damaging losses, they’re going to hear their names called on Selection Sunday. They visit TCU and host Baylor to wrap up the regular season.

Providence (18-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 21, Q1 record: 3-7, Q2 record: 5-1, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Friars lost at home to Seton Hall last week, a game that could have solidified their at-large resumé. Still, they’re the only team in the country to beat both Villanova and Xavier, and they also own wins against Butler and Creighton. The three losses to teams outside the top 100 in RPI hurt and reduce the margin for error, but if Selection Sunday were last weekend, the Friars would have been relatively safe. They have opportunities to both bolster their case and get into danger this week. They can do the former if they manage to upset Xavier in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They can fall into the latter by failing to protect their homecourt against St. John’s on Saturday. The worst they could do the rest of the season and still make the tournament is to beat St. John’s and lose to a tourney-bound team in the Big East tournament. That would almost certainly be enough.

Texas (17-13, RPI: 57, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 5-10, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Things are getting a little too interesting for the Longhorns after losing five of their last seven games. They have one more opportunity to add a big win to their resumé on Saturday when they host West Virginia. If they lose that game, they’ll head into the Big 12 tournament needing to do some damage. Should they lose to the Mountaineers, they’d likely get Oklahoma State in the first round of the conference tourney. That would force them to win a game just to get to the point where they could play for a meaningful win. There’s a lot at stake for the Longhorns this weekend.

Miami (20-8, RPI: 31, SOS: 56, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

Miami beat Notre Dame and Boston College last week, but neither of those games did much for its at-large candidacy. The Hurricanes have two chances for resumé-builders this week with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A 20-win team from the ACC is typically safely into the field, but they just don’t have the quality of wins we typically see from such a team. Their four Q1 victories came against Middle Tennessee State, NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and they also beat Louisville and Florida State. That’s a nice foundation of victories, but none of those is a signature win. Like Providence, they would have been a non-controversial selection if the season ended last week, but there’s still time for them to fall on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll be in solid shape heading into the ACC tournament if they split their games this week, all the better if the win comes against North Carolina. If they lose both, though, they’ll need to do some real damage in the conference tourney to get an invite. Assuming a loss to the Tar Heels, the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech could make or break the Hurricanes season.

Syracuse (18-11, RPI: 46, SOS: 17, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

There’s no shame in losing to North Carolina and Duke, as Syracuse did last week, but the fact remains that the Orange are still in search of a signature victory. Without one, they’ll have to hope the Selection Committee chooses them over the likes of Louisville, UCLA, USC, Baylor and St. Bonaventure—and there’s not a whole lot differentiating those teams. If that feels like a crapshoot, it’s because it sort of is. Syracuse has one more opportunity for a signature victory in the regular season, hosting Clemson on Saturday. The Orange will first need to take care of business against Boston College on Wednesday.

UCLA (19-10, RPI; 56, SOS: 70, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Bruins lost at Utah and Colorado last week, but they are still one of the last four teams in the field in our most recent Bracket Watch. Out of all the inputs and stats that contribute to a team’s at-large resumé, the most important one for a bubble team is its best wins. Put simply, who can you beat? Well, UCLA has proved it can beat Kentucky and Arizona, which is about as good a pair of wins that the Committee is going to find in this neighborhood of the seed list. The Bruins can’t simply rest on those laurels, especially with teams like Baylor, Washington and LSU all owning wins over tournament locks, too. But they’re at least in good position heading into the final week of the regular season. Their game against USC on Saturday will have the feel of a de facto elimination game, though there is still room in the field of 68 for both Los Angeles teams.

St. Bonaventure (22-6, RPI: 22, SOS: 83, Q1 record: 4-2, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 3)

The Bonnies have eight Q1 and Q2 wins combined, as many as or more than every other true bubble team other than Kansas State, but just two of those came against teams in the at-large picture (Rhode Island, Syracuse). If the Bonnies beat Davidson on Tuesday, they’ll be locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they go on to lose to Rhode Island in the conference championship, it will be hard for the Selection Committee to shut them out. A loss at any point before that, though, including to Davidson or Saint Louis this week, will have them sweating through a tense Selection Sunday.

Baylor (16-12, RPI: 64, SOS: 20, Q1 record: 4-10, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 1)

Baylor dropped games to West Virginia and TCU last week, keeping the Bears squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the regular season. We have them as one of the last four teams in the field, thanks primarily to wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Like UCLA, they have passed the “Who can you beat?” test. Also like UCLA, they haven’t done enough to get into the field simply by avoiding bad losses. They have great opportunities to strengthen their resumé this week, hosting Oklahoma on Tuesday and visiting Kansas State on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge, while two wins could have them close to a lock going into the Big 12 tournament.

USC (21-9, RPI: 28, SOS: 45, Q1 record: 4-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The SI.com Bracket Watch has USC just on the outside looking in at the tournament field, where most of our counterparts have them on the other side of the bubble. Why do we come down harsher on the Trojans? Their four Q1 wins came against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon. It’s entirely possible the Trojans have zero wins against eventual at-large teams and that’s not a realistic path to the big dance. The Trojans may have a strong record and RPI, but they still need to make some noise in the Pac-12 tournament. The importance of beating UCLA this week cannot be overstated. That would lock the Trojans into the No. 2 seed, giving them an easily navigable path to the Pac-12 championship game. If they get there, they should get into the dance, win or lose.

Louisville (19-10, RPI: 39, SOS: 32, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

Thanks to their RPI, strength of schedule and lack of bad losses, the Cardinals are in prime position to vault in front of their fellow bubblers. To do so, however, they need to add at least one big win to their resumé. Despite the positives of their case, it’s hard to overlook the fact that their best win of the season came at Florida State. They’ve lost every time they’ve stepped up in weight class, going 0-8 against teams inside the top 35 in RPI. They end the season with a couple of great opportunities, hosting Virginia on Thursday and visiting NC State on Saturday. Even if they can’t spring the upset on the Cavaliers, a win in Raleigh would become their best of the season. If they do that and add one meaningful win before the ACC tournament, they could end up just on the right side of the bubble.

Washington (19-10, RPI: 51, SOS: 44, Q1 record: 3-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Huskies are in solid shape for a team that we have placed just on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to wins over Kansas and Arizona. There won’t be many teams in the bubble discussion that can show off wins of that caliber and that gives the Huskies a key point of differentiation. So, what’s the formula for them to get into the field? First, they need to take care of business against Oregon State and Oregon this week. It’s too early to tell where that would land them in the Pac-12 tournament, but that might not matter. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 guaranteed to raise an opponent’s profile. In that vein, the Huskies would be better off as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference, rather than the No. 2 or 3.

LSU (16-12, RPI: 81, SOS: 52, Q1 record: 6-6, Q2 record: 2-5, sub-100 losses: 2)

The country’s most interesting bubble team stayed weird last week, beating Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia. Not only do they have more Q1 wins than Duke, Michigan State, Clemson and Cincinnati, but all six of them are against certain or likely tournament teams. At the same time, the Committee isn’t going to just gloss over losses to Vanderbilt—the Tigers fell to the Commodores in their first meeting of the season—and Stephen F. Austin. In short, the Tigers resumé may already be strong enough in terms of quality of wins, but it cannot afford one more damaging loss. Neither of their remaining opponents in the regular season—South Carolina and Mississippi State—is a pushover, but given where the Tigers stand they have to win those games.

Marquette (17-12, RPI: 62, SOS: 28, Q1 record: 4-7, Q2 record: 3-4, sub-100 losses: 1)

If Marquette ultimately misses out on the dance, it might look back in horror at last Saturday’s loss to DePaul. The Golden Eagles were headed in the right direction before that game after road victories over Seton Hall and Creighton. The loss to the Blue Demons, however, wiped out nearly all that goodwill. There’s still time for them to win their way into the big dance, but they’re going to need at least two big wins the rest of the way. After beating Georgetown on Monday, they end their regular season against Creighton on Saturday. A win there—and one more meaningful one in the Big East tournament—will give them a shot at an at-large bid.

Utah (18-10, RPI: 55, SOS: 64, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 3-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Utah split games at home with UCLA and USC last week. While it wasn’t a bad week, the Utes aren’t in a position to be dropping any games that could be described, even remotely, as resumé-building. As we discussed with respect to Washington, the big problem for Pac-12 bubble teams is there aren’t many opportunities to make significant gains in the conference tournament. Utah is comfortably behind the likes of Syracuse, Baylor and Louisville. Are they really going to jump in front of those teams by beating Oregon, Stanford or UCLA? Probably not. In other words, unless the Utes beat Arizona, they’re going to need some help from their brethren on the bubble.

Mississippi State (20-8, RPI: 61, SOS: 125, Q1 record: 3-6, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses: 2)

The Bulldogs remain in the thick of things after wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina last week. Their home game with Tennessee on Tuesday could determine what they need to do the rest of the season. A win there sets them up to play for an at-large bid. A loss likely forces them to win the SEC tournament, or, at the very least, to do significant damage next week.

Georgia (16-12, RPI: 70, SOS: 62, Q1 record: 4-8, Q2 record: 4-2, sub-100 losses, 3)

Georgia woke up over the last two weeks, notching victories over Florida, Tennessee and LSU. The Bulldogs stay in this section because of their remaining schedule. If they can find a way to beat both Texas A&M and Tennessee this week, they’ll have six Q1 victories heading into the SEC tournament. At that point, they’d have themselves in position to bully their way into the field with another win or two in the conference tourney.

On the Fringe

Teams that are still alive, but are in immediate danger of falling out of at-large contention.

Temple (16-12, RPI: 40, SOS: 7, Q1 record: 3-8, Q2 record: 5-0, sub-100 losses: 3)

The three sub-100 losses could be too much for Temple to overcome, even with victories over Auburn, Clemson and Wichita State. They likely need to beat two of Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston in the AAC tournament as the starting point for a possible at-large bid. They’d also need to take care of business against Connecticut and Tulsa this week.

Oklahoma State (16-13, RPI: 102, SOS: 73, Q1 record: 3-11, Q2 record: 3-2, sub-100 losses: 0)

We can’t take the Cowboys off the board yet, not when they have wins over Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and one more game remaining with the Jayhawks. If they lose that one, or fall at Iowa State on Tuesday, they’ll be out of at-large contention. For the time being, they’re hanging on by a thread.

Nebraska (22-9, RPI: 59, SOS: 120, Q1 record: 1-5, Q2 record: 2-3, sub-100 losses: 1)

Nebraska wrapped up its regular season with wins over Indiana and Penn State last week. The Cornhuskers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which means a likely date with Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. They’ll need to win that game, hope that Michigan State beats the Wisconsin-Maryland winner, and then knock off the Spartans to have any shot for an at-large bid.

Penn State (19-12, RPI: 84, SOS: 81, Q1 record: 2-7, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

The Nittany Lions likely don’t have any hope of an at-large bid, but if we’re wrong about that, then they have to run through Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament to get into the dance. That is highly unlikely and even that wouldn’t be a guarantee to get them into the field.

Oregon (19-10, RPI: 72, SOS: 72, Q1 record: 2-5, Q2 record: 4-3, sub-100 losses: 2)

Oregon, too, is hanging onto a sliver of hope for an at-large bid. They’ll first have to sweep the state of Washington this week. That is so unlikely that, for the time being, we’ll stop there. If they manage to beat both the Cougars and Huskies, we’ll touch on their situation in full next week.

Loyola-Chicago (24-5, RPI: 32, SOS: 142, Q1 record: 1-1, Q2 record: 2-2, sub-100 losses: 4)

I still think the Ramblers have no hope for an at-large bid. I have been wrong before, however, and the Bubble Watch is all about inclusion of any team with a non-zero chance to get an invite from the Committee. The Ramblers polished off their Missouri Valley regular season championship with a win over Illinois State last weekend. Despite a strong non-conference win at Florida, they almost certainly need the automatic bid to get to the dance. Any loss before the conference championship will eliminate the little hope they do have of an at-large bid.

Middle Tennessee State (22-5, RPI: 24, SOS: 86, Q1 record: 3-3, Q2 record: 1-1, sub-100 losses: 1)

The Blue Raiders are in the same position as Loyola, dominating their conference so thoroughly that they’re at least a blip on the at-large radar. They do have three Q1 wins, but those came against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Old Dominion. Like Loyola, the earliest they can lose and still get into the dance is their conference championship game. They also have two more regular season games to navigate, hosting Western Kentucky and Marshall this week.