When Oklahoma State routed sixth-ranked Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Stillwater, the Cowboys accomplished more than becoming the first team ever to sweep the Jayhawks during Bill Self’s 15-year coaching tenure.
They also boosted the odds that the Big 12 sets a record on Selection Sunday.
Nine of the Big 12’s 10 teams will still be in contention for at-large NCAA tournament berths when the league’s tournament tips off Wednesday in Kansas City. Only last-place Iowa State would need to win the Big 12 tournament to secure an NCAA bid.
If the Big 12 sends even eight teams to the NCAA tournament, it would achieve something no other league has ever done. The closest another league has come to landing 80 percent of its teams in the NCAA tournament was the nine-team Big East securing seven bids in 1991.
At minimum, the Big 12 should produce six NCAA tournament teams next Sunday. Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU have been locks for awhile and Kansas State and Oklahoma solidified their chances with wins this weekend.
The Wildcats (21-10, 10-8) played a weak non-conference scheduled and went 0-6 against the three teams ahead of them in the Big 12 standings, but their victory over Baylor guaranteed them fourth place in the league. The Sooners (18-12, 8-10) dropped 10 of their last 14 games to end the season, but their six quadrant 1 victories compare favorably to any bubble team.
The three teams still seeking to play their way into the NCAA tournament are Texas (18-13, 8-10), Baylor (18-13, 8-10) and Oklahoma State (18-13, 8-10). All three boast quality non-conference wins, the Longhorns against Butler and Alabama, the Bears against Creighton and the Cowboys against Florida State.
It’s unlikely the Big 12 sends all nine to the NCAA tournament, but it’s also remarkable that it’s even still a possibility three days into March. It’s a testament to the Big 12’s depth — and to the league standings breaking exactly right.
How many bids the Big 12 will get is just one of the compelling bubble stories with eight days left before Selection Sunday. Below is a look at the bubble picture in every conference:
They’re safe: Cincinnati (26-4, 15-2), Wichita State (24-5, 14-3), Houston (23-6, 13-4)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: none
They’re safe: Virginia (28-2, 17-1), Duke (25-6, 13-5), North Carolina (22-9, 11-7), Clemson (22-8, 11-7), Miami (22-8, 11-7), Virginia Tech (21-10, 10-8), Florida State (20-10, 9-9)
They’re in good shape: NC State
NC State (21-10, 11-7, RPI: 61, KenPom: 42): Whatever doubt remained about NC State’s at-large worthiness probably vanished Saturday when the Wolfpack won a bubble battle against Louisville. They now boast an 8-7 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games including massive victories against Duke, North Carolina and Arizona. The only reason NC State is still anywhere near the bubble are a trio of bad losses to UNC Greensboro, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech. That may cost NC State a couple seed lines, but it will not keep the Wolfpack out of the field.
They have work to do: Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Louisville (19-11, 9-8, RPI: 41, KenPom: 34): If Louisville misses the NCAA tournament, the memory of Thursday night’s loss to Virginia will haunt the Cardinals all offseason. They led by four with less than a second to go, yet two massive blunders paved the way for De’Andre Hunter’s banked-in buzzer beater. That loss looms even larger after Louisville dropped a close game Saturday night at fellow bubble team NC State. Now the Cardinals enter the ACC tournament needing at least a victory over Florida State and perhaps a quarterfinal win too. The crux of Louisville’s resume is a dearth of bad losses and a trio of wins against Virginia Tech and Florida State. They lack anything resembling a statement win, a problem they can’t solve unless they win a potential ACC quarterfinal game against, you guessed it, Virginia.
Syracuse (19-12, 8-10, RPI: 49, KenPom: 51): The Orange netted a win they desperately needed on Saturday at the Carrier Dome. They held off Clemson 55-52 to undo some of the damage they had done dropping four of five games heading into the weekend. Saturday’s victory probably doesn’t put Syracuse in the field of 68 if the season ended today, but it at least gives the Orange hope of changing that with a strong showing at the ACC tournament. Syracuse will open with Wake Forest in the opening round. The Orange need to survive that game before they can start trying to add to a resume that still only includes a modest three quadrant 1 victories.
Notre Dame (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 69, KenPom: 33): Notre Dame doesn’t quite have an NCAA tournament-caliber resume, but the Irish’s case stems from the rash of injuries they’ve suffered. They played without All-American candidate Bonzie Colson for 15 games and star point guard Matt Farrell for five, both of whom have since returned to the lineup. For that to matter, Notre Dame has to prove its a different team at full strength. They won the Maui Invitational back in November, but they also suffered a pair of questionable losses to Ball State and Indiana. Notre Dame let its first chance to make a statement slip away on Saturday when it lost a tight game at No. 1 Virginia. The Irish now head to the ACC tournament probably needing to make the semifinals to give themselves hope.
They’re safe: Xavier (26-4, 15-3), Villanova (27-4, 14-4), Creighton (21-10, 10-8), Butler (19-12, 9-9), Seton Hall (21-10, 10-8)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: Providence, Marquette
Providence (19-12, 10-8, RPI: 39, KenPom: 72): In a zero-reward, all-risk game against last-place St. John’s on Saturday afternoon, Providence avoided a loss. Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo each scored 13 points to lead the Friars to a gritty 61-57 victory. Now Providence moves on to the Big East tournament, where it could really use one more win to solidify a bid. The Friars have two massive wins at home against Villanova and Xavier, but virtually all of their best wins this season have come at home. It won’t help Providence that predictive metrics hold the Friars in less esteem than the RPI. Three quadrant four losses are an anchor on Providence’s resume as well, though the home loss to Minnesota came way back in November when the Gophers were at full strength.
Marquette (18-12, 9-9, RPI: 64, KenPom: 49): Completing a season sweep of Creighton on Saturday keeps Marquette bubble-relevant. The Golden Eagles now boast a pair of wins apiece against Seton Hall and Creighton, a split with Providence and decent non-conference victories against Wisconsin and LSU. What’s holding Marquette back is bloated RPI made worse by the lack of a win over a top 25-caliber team and losses to DePaul, St. John’s and Georgia. Unless the Golden Eagles can make a deep run in the Big East tournament, this team is probably still a long shot.
They’re safe: Michigan State (29-4, 16-2), Purdue (28-5, 15-3), Ohio State (24-8, 15-3), Michigan (27-7, 13-5)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: Penn State, Nebraska
Penn State (21-13, 9-9 RPI: 73, KenPom: 31): Had Penn State managed to upset Purdue in Saturday’s second Big Ten semifinal, the Nittany Lions certainly could have made an argument for inclusion in the NCAA tournament field. They instead fell to the Boilermakers 78-70, which likely dooms them to the NIT. The crux of Penn State’s argument is having Ohio State’s number. The Nittany Lions swept the Buckeyes in the regular season and added a third win in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Besides that, Penn State’s greatest achievement is splitting with Nebraska. The Nittany Lions only have a total of five quadrant 1 or 2 wins and they have some ugly home losses against Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Nebraska (22-10, 13-5, RPI: 54, KenPom: 56): Only twice since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams has a Big Ten school with 11 or more league wins failed to earn a bid. Nebraska is probably going to be the third after falling by 19 points to Michigan on Friday in what many considered to be a must-win Big Ten quarterfinal. The Huskers needed a win or two at the Big Ten tournament to offset the lack of quality wins on their resume. Some missed chances in non-conference play and a lack of opportunities at home in an underwhelming Big Ten have put them in worse position than their record would suggest. A rout of visiting Michigan last month is Nebraska’s only quadrant 1 win and lone victory against a likely NCAA tournament team. The Huskers’ only two quadrant 2 wins came at home against Maryland and on the road at Wisconsin, not exactly inspiring stuff.
They’re safe: Kansas (24-7, 13-5), West Virginia (22-9, 11-7), Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7), TCU (21-10, 9-9)
They’re in good shape: Oklahoma, Kansas State
Kansas State (21-10, 10-8, RPI: 63, KenPom: 46): There are two reasons why is Kansas State not a lock despite a 10-8 record in the nation’s deepest conference. One is the Wildcats are 0-6 against Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, the three teams ahead of them in the Big 12 standings. The other is that Kansas State played a tissue-soft non-conference schedule that did not include a single true road game. Kansas State is certainly in a better position after holding off Baylor’s second-half charge on Saturday afternoon in a battle of bubble teams. The Wildcats are probably safe no matter what they do in the Big 12 tournament, but those two flaws are enough to create a little bit of uncertainty.
Oklahoma (18-12, 8-10, RPI: 37, KenPom: 43):If the selection committee considers Oklahoma’s full resume and doesn’t fall victim to recency bias, the Sooners should be safe. They don’t have a single loss outside the top two quadrants and they boast six quadrant 1 victories including a marquee win over Kansas and non-league wins against Wichita State and USC. Oklahoma was in contention for a top seed in late January, but the Sooners dropped nine of 11 games to slide perilously close to the bubble. Since then they’ve sandwiched home wins over Kansas State and Iowa State around a blowout loss at Baylor, not a confidence-inspiring turnaround but probably enough to secure a bid.
They have work left to do: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State
Baylor (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 55, KenPom: 30): When Baylor lost at Oklahoma on Jan. 30 to fall to 12-10 overall and 2-7 in Big 12 play, the Bears’ NCAA tournament hopes appeared all but dead. Therefore perhaps they should be happy to enter the Big 12 tournament with a very realistic chance to secure a bid. How the committee evaluates Baylor’s 4-11 record against quadrant 1 competition will likely determine where the Bears stand in the bubble pecking order. Only one of their losses has come against a team not contending for the NCAA tournament, but they also allowed a lot of chances for quality wins to slip through their fingers. The latest came on Saturday when Baylor’s comeback bid fell short at Kansas State. That leaves the Bears in need of at least one Big 12 tournament win to feel secure entering Selection Sunday.
Texas (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 59, KenPom: 44): They were without Mo Bamba and Eric Davis Jr. and facing an opponent that had drilled them by 35 earlier this season, yet Texas found a way to get a victory it desperately needed. The Longhorns edged West Virginia in overtime on Saturday to avoid falling four games below .500 in league play. Texas’ six quadrant 1 victories compare favorably with other bubble teams, but the Longhorns also had 16 opportunities in such games. They don’t have a bad loss all season, but the best opponents they have beaten are Texas Tech and TCU.
Oklahoma State (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 96, KenPom: 56): The Big 12 can’t possibly send nine out of 10 teams to the NCAA tournament, right? It’s an extreme long shot, but Oklahoma State created a path Saturday by completing a season sweep of league champion Kansas. In addition to those two victories over the Jayhawks, the Cowboys boast a home win over Texas Tech, a road win at West Virginia and a neutral court win against Florida State. Bloated RPI and head-to-head results aside, their resume is now very similar to Baylor’s heading into the Big 12 tournament. At minimum, Oklahoma State will have to win an opening-round game against rival Oklahoma to have any chance. Then the Cowboys would get a crack at a third victory over Kansas, and if they get that one, they’ll have a great shot.
They’re safe: Arizona (24-7, 14-4)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work left to do: Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Washington, Utah
Arizona State (20-10, 8-10, RPI: 42, KenPom: 36): It’s not easy to miss the NCAA tournament despite a pair of wins over potential No. 1 seeds, but by golly Arizona State is determined to try. A Sun Devils team that rose as high as the top five in the polls after wins over Kansas and Xavier has rocketed back to earth in Pac-12 play. Saturday’s home loss to Stanford clinched an 8-10 finish in the Pac-12 for Arizona State, not ideal considering the league’s struggles this season. The Sun Devils may still sneak into the NCAA tournament by virtue of an 8-7 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games, but they would be wise to win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament to leave no doubt.
USC (21-10, 12-6, RPI: 32, KenPom: 43): Could USC finish alone in second place in the Pac-12 yet still miss the NCAA tournament? It’s a realistic possibility after the Trojans ended their regular season with a home loss to UCLA on Saturday night. None of USC’s three quadrant 1 victories are against teams certain to make the NCAA tournament. Middle Tennessee might need an auto bid to secure a spot from Conference USA, New Mexico State will definitely need to win the WAC tournament and Utah would need to make the Pac-12 title game at minimum to have a chance. The Trojans also have a bad loss to Princeton weighing down their profile. For USC to reach the NCAA tournament, a quarterfinal win over Washington or Oregon State is probably a necessity and a semifinal win over Utah or Oregon might also be. Even then, however, the Trojans still would be lacking a victory over any certain NCAA tournament teams.
UCLA (20-10, 11-7, RPI: 56, KenPom: 52): Thanks to the brilliance of point guard Aaron Holiday, UCLA bagged a road win it absolutely needed. Holiday scored 34 points as the Bruins completed a season sweep of USC on Saturday night with an 83-72 road win. Saturday’s win keeps UCLA in contention for an NCAA tournament bid, but the Bruins are by no means safe. They have a collection of quality wins that includes two against USC, a road win at Arizona and a neutral-court win over Kentucky, but they also have head-scratching losses against Colorado and Oregon State. A Pac-12 quarterfinal victory against Cal or Stanford is probably a must for UCLA and a semifinal win over Arizona or Arizona State might be necessary for the Bruins to leave no doubt.
Washington (20-11, 10-8, RPI: 45, KenPom: 94): When Washington swept Arizona and Arizona State last month to improve to 17-6 overall, the Huskies vaulted themselves into strong position to make the NCAA tournament. They’ve since squandered whatever margin they had with five losses in their last eight games, all to teams unlikely to earn an NCAA bid. The case for Washington is a 4-5 record in quadrant 1 games including a road win at Kansas, a home win over Arizona and a road win at USC. The problem is the Huskies have six losses outside the top quadrant and a KenPom ranking hovering around 100. Washington will be the seventh seed in the Pac-12 tournament and will meet Oregon State in the opening round. The Huskies will need to win that and beat second-seeded USC in the quarterfinals to give themselves reason for hope.
Utah (19-10, 11-7, RPI: 53, KenPom: 61): A solid finish has Utah within striking distance of the bubble. The Utes closed with six wins in their final seven regular season games capped by Saturday’s home victory against Colorado. While Utah boasts a sweep of Washington, home wins against UCLA and Missouri and a road win at Arizona State, the Utes’ lack of a Top 25 caliber win is a glaring flaw in this resume. Utah also won’t have a chance to change that in the Pac-12 tournament either since Arizona is on the other side of the bracket. Would beating Oregon in the Pac-12 quarterfinals and USC or Washington in the Pac-12 semifinals be enough for Utah? It’s possible. But it’s hard to see the Utes getting credit for a resume built entirely on wins against fellow bubble teams, which in that case would mean Utah is auto bid or bust.
They’re safe: Auburn (25-6, 13-5), Tennessee (23-7, 13-5), Florida (20-11, 11-7), Kentucky 21-10, 10-8), Arkansas (21-10, 10-8), Texas A&M (20-11, 9-9)
They’re in good shape: Missouri
Missouri (20-11, 10-8, RPI: 38, KenPom: 41): In three seasons under former coach Kim Anderson, Missouri won a total of eight SEC games. The Tigers won 10 in Cuonzo Martin’s debut season despite the season-long absence of prized freshman Michael Porter. Saturday’s win over Arkansas surely clinched an NCAA tournament bid for Missouri. The Tigers boast an 11-9 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games including marquee wins against Tennessee and Kentucky. Now Missouri can head to the SEC tournament with no pressure and focus on trying to integrate Michael Porter Jr. into their rotation. If Porter meshes quickly with his teammates, this can be a scary team.
They have work to do: Alabama, Mississippi State
Alabama (17-14, 8-10, RPI: 58, KenPom: 55): Only a few weeks ago, Alabama appeared to be a lock for the NCAA tournament. Then the talented but erratic Crimson Tide nose-dived at the worst possible time. Saturday’s road loss at Texas A&M is Alabama’s fifth in a row and leaves the Crimson Tide with work to do in the SEC tournament. Yes, they played a challenging schedule. Yes, their current losing streak has come exclusively against NCAA tournament foes. Yes, they boast marquee wins against Tennessee, Auburn, Florida and Rhode Island. But a 17-14 record doesn’t inspire much confidence. Alabama will probably needs at least a win or two in the SEC tournament to feel better about its chances.
Mississippi State (21-10, 9-9, RPI: 66, KenPom: 59): Mississippi State’s uphill battle to secure an at-large bid grew even steeper on Saturday after its lopsided 78-57 loss at LSU. That probably leaves the Bulldogs in need of a run to the SEC title game just to give themselves a chance of reaching the NCAA tournament. Mississippi State fattened up on a soft non-conference schedule in November and December and then lost all but two road games in SEC play. A road win at Texas A&M helps, as do home victories over Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri, but this is an NIT resume right now.
They’re safe: Gonzaga (27-4, 17-1), Rhode Island (23-6, 15-3), Nevada (26-6, 15-3)
They’re in good shape: Saint Mary’s, St. Bonaventure
Saint Mary’s (27-4, 16-2, RPI: 36, KenPom: 23): Saint Mary’s doesn’t need to win a potential rubber match with Gonzaga at the WCC tournament to secure an NCAA bid. The Gaels just need to avoid a damaging early-round loss. The only reason Saint Mary’s isn’t already a lock is because it once again didn’t schedule well out of conference and then it bungled one of its few chances for quality wins at the Wooden Legacy tournament. Still, the Gaels have a gaudy overall record, a split with Gonzaga and a sweep of BYU to offset a pair of bad losses to Washington State and San Francisco.
St. Bonaventure (24-6, 14-4, RPI: 22, KenPom: 66): Aside from a brutal road-heavy 16-day stretch in January, St. Bonaventure has been excellent from start to finish this season. They beat Syracuse, Maryland, Buffalo and Vermont in non-league play, they split with Rhode Island and Davidson in the A-10 and they’ve only taken one bad loss all season. Even that, a season-opening home loss to Niagara, came without star guard Jaylen Adams in the lineup. St. Bonaventure is probably fine no matter what happens in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but avoiding a bad quarterfinal loss would certainly help. This is a team that has won 12 in a row and is capable of doing some damage in the NCAA tournament.
They have work to do: Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee (24-6, 16-2, RPI: 21, KenPom: 39): Middle Tennessee damaged its hopes of earning an NCAA bid without winning the Conference USA tournament. The Blue Raiders lost at home to Marshall on Saturday, their second setback of the season against the Thundering Herd. Can Middle Tennessee lose again in its conference tournament and still snare an at-large? Perhaps, but the Blue Raiders would be wise not to risk it. They have a trio of quadrant one wins at Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and Murray State, but the only power-conference teams they’ve beaten are the SEC’s bottom two programs, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
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