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Friday's bubble breakdown: Why there's now one less spot available for bubble teams

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 09: Malik Pope #21 of the San Diego State Aztecs drives the ball against Caleb Martin #10 of the Nevada Wolf Pack during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 9, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

It might be Louisville. Or maybe Texas. Or perhaps Arizona State.

Whichever bubble team would have been the last to make the NCAA tournament, it just got squeezed out of the field.

The number of available at-large bids shrunk by one on Friday night when San Diego State clobbered top-seeded Nevada 90-73 in the Mountain West semifinals. The Aztecs’ upset victory ensured that the Mountain West will now receive two bids instead of the one previously earmarked for it.

The Mountain West’s automatic bid will go to the winner of Saturday’s title game between San Diego State and either third-seeded New Mexico or seventh-seeded Utah State. Nevada is still a lock for the NCAA tournament, but now the Wolf Pack will go via an at-large bid.

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The scariest thing for bubble teams is that the Mountain West may not be the only conference where a bid thief emerges.

Atlantic 10 semifinalists Davidson and Saint Joseph’s could shrink the bubble by another spot if either of them were to win that conference tournament. American Athletic Conference semifinalist Memphis could do the same if it were to pull two huge upsets over the weekend.

San Diego State’s victory wasn’t too big a shock considering that the Aztecs (21-10, 11-7) entered play riding a seven-game win streak and playing by far their best basketball of the season. Only six days earlier, San Diego State had dealt Nevada (27-7, 15-3) just its third loss in conference play.

The bigger surprise was the margin of victory. Devin Watson scored 20 points and Jalen McDaniels added 17 as San Diego State roared out of the blocks, stormed to a 30-point halftime lead and coasted from there.

The chaos in the Mountain West is just one of the compelling bubble stories as Selection Sunday looms. Below is a look at the bubble picture in every conference:


They’re safe: Cincinnati (28-4, 16-2), Wichita State (24-6, 14-4), Houston (24-6, 14-4)

They’re in good shape: none

They have work to do: none


They’re safe: Virginia (30-2, 17-1), Duke (26-6, 13-5), North Carolina (24-9, 11-7), Clemson (23-9, 11-7), Miami (22-9, 11-7), Virginia Tech (21-11, 10-8)

They’re in good shape: Florida State, NC State

Florida State (20-11, 9-9, RPI: 50, KenPom: 36): A one-sided ACC tournament loss to Louisville wasn’t the final impression that Florida State wanted to leave the selection committee, but the Seminoles should still feel safe heading into heading into Sunday. They don’t have any sub-100 losses on their resume and they have beaten seven different NCAA tournament contenders, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida, Syracuse and Louisville. The bigger concern for Florida State is that they’re not playing very well down the stretch. The Seminoles look like an excellent candidate for an early NCAA tournament exit after losses in six of their final nine games.

NC State (21-11, 11-7, RPI: 63, KenPom: 43): A 91-87 second-round ACC tournament loss to Boston College on Wednesday is more likely to drop NC State to a double-digit seed than it is to knock the Wolfpack out of the field altogether. They still boast a respectable 8-9 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games including massive victories against Duke, North Carolina and Arizona. The only reason they’re anywhere near the bubble are a trio of bad losses to UNC Greensboro, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech. NC State has nobody to blame but itself for its failure to improve its seeding in the ACC tournament. A costly turnover on an inbound pass and a Chris Webber-esque timeout gaffe short-circuited the Wolfpack’s comeback bid against Boston College.

They have work to do: Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame

Louisville (20-12, 9-9, RPI: 38, KenPom: 33): After defeating Florida State on Wednesday but falling to Virginia on Thursday, Louisville’s fate is sealed. The Cardinals are destined to be one of the last teams in the field or the first teams left out. Louisville is 5-13 against the top two quadrants and one of those victories came in double overtime against a Notre Dame team playing without Bonzie Colson and with a hobbled Matt Farrell. The Cardinals don’t have any losses to non-NCAA tournament contenders on their resume, but they also have yet to beat a single RPI top 50 team either. If Louisville narrowly misses the field, the Cardinals can point to their heartbreaking regular season loss to Virginia eight days ago as a major reason. The Cardinals blew a four-point lead in less than a second and lost on a banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Syracuse (20-13, 8-10, RPI: 43, KenPom: 52):  Syracuse did well to contend for an NCAA bid during what was expected to be a transition season, but the Orange’s bubble may have burst. They were no match for North Carolina on Wednesday night in an ACC second-round game pitting a pair of hall of game coaches. Syracuse entered its matchup with the Tar Heels with only three quadrant 1 wins all season, a home win over Clemson and road victories at Miami and Louisville. The good news is those are better wins than fellow bubble team Louisville has. The bad news is the Orange also have a couple of bad losses that the Cardinals don’t. Given that the Orange finished sub-.500 in the ACC and dropped games to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, they probably needed at least one more big win.

Notre Dame (20-14, 8-10, RPI: 68, KenPom: 28): When Notre Dame lost to Duke in the ACC quarterfinals on Thursday night, it probably ended the Irish’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament by traditional means. Notre Dame’s two quadrant 1 victories are tied for the fewest among bubble teams and the Irish also have a trio of losses against sub-100 RPI teams. For Notre Dame to receive an NCAA bid on Sunday, the Irish probably need the selection committee to consider that preseason All-American Bonzie Colson missed 15 games during ACC play and standout point guard Matt Farrell was either out or hobbled for seven. Notre Dame went 14-5 with both players available, 6-9 without Colson and 1-4 when neither played. But the Irish also lost to Ball State and Indiana at full strength in the preseason and failed to score many style points at the ACC tournament either. 


They’re safe: Xavier (27-5, 15-3), Villanova (28-4, 14-4), Creighton (21-11, 10-8), Butler (20-12, 9-9), Seton Hall (21-11, 10-8)

They’re in good shape: Providence

Providence (21-12, 10-8, RPI: 40, KenPom: 71):

Providence can breathe easy now. The Friars left no doubt they’re NCAA tournament-worthy by rallying from 17 down to upset Xavier in the Big East semifinals on Friday night. Already the only team in the conference with wins over both Xavier and Villanova, Providence now also owns a second victory over the Musketeers.  The Friars also have defeated Creighton in two of three meetings and split their season series with Butler and Marquette. It doesn’t help Providence that predictive metrics hold the Friars in less esteem than the RPI. Or that three quadrant four losses weigh down their resume. But those won’t keep Providence out of the NCAA tournament. This team is now closer to a single-digit seed than the bubble.

They have work to do: Marquette

Marquette (19-13, 9-9, RPI: 53, KenPom: 50): It was a one-game season for Marquette on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. An upset victory over Villanova might have been the Golden Eagles’ ticket to the NCAA tournament, but they couldn’t withstand the Wildcats’ second-half offensive onslaught. Where that leaves Marquette is likely on the outside looking in. The Golden Eagles boast a pair of wins apiece against Seton Hall and Creighton, a split with Providence and not entirely meaningless non-conference victories against Vermont and LSU. What’s holding Marquette back is its lack of a win over a top 25-caliber team and losses to DePaul, St. John’s and Georgia.

Penn State will have a long eight-day wait until Selection Sunday after falling to Purdue in the Big Ten semifinals. (AP)


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: 84, KenPom: 29): Had Penn State managed to upset Purdue in the Big Ten semifinals, 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: 56, 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.

BIG 12 

They’re safe: Kansas (25-7, 13-5), West Virginia (23-9, 11-7), Texas Tech (24-8, 11-7), TCU (21-11, 9-9), Kansas State (22-10, 10-8)

They’re in good shape: Oklahoma

Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 37, KenPom: 42): Get ready for Oklahoma to secure a bid with room to spare and people to be outraged. The Sooners are the epitome of an NIT-caliber team with an NCAA tournament-caliber resume. While Oklahoma has dropped 11 of 15 games since ascending to No. 4 in the AP poll two months ago, the Sooners still have a leg up on most bubble teams. Oklahoma has just one loss outside the top two quadrants and it boasts six quadrant 1 victories including a marquee wins over Kansas, Wichita State and Texas Tech, a season sweep of TCU and a victory over fellow bubble team USC. Yes, Oklahoma hasn’t won a road game since December. Yes, Oklahoma has lost by double figures in five of its last seven games. But if the committee considers Oklahoma’s full resume and doesn’t fall victim to recency bias, the Sooners should be safe.

They have work left to do: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State

Baylor (18-14, 8-10, RPI: 59, KenPom: 34): The Bears’ Big 12 quarterfinal loss to West Virginia ensures them an anxiety-ridden wait until Selection Sunday. They will rest their hopes on a shaky profile that screams last four in or first four out. Baylor is 4-10 against quadrant 1 competition including marquee victories over Kansas and Texas Tech. The Bears also boast a 5-1 total record against the Big 12’s other bubble teams, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Can Baylor make the field even though its list of quality wins is the weakest among the Big 12’s bubble teams? Perhaps, but again it’s going to be really, really close.

Texas (19-14, 8-10, RPI: 46, KenPom: 39): If you’re among the people who can’t fathom how Oklahoma belongs in the NCAA tournament, check out Texas’ resume. They’re nearly identical except that the Sooners have a stronger collection of high-end wins (Kansas, Wichita State and Texas Tech vs. West Virginia, Texas Tech and Butler). Texas’ five quadrant 1 victories compare favorably with many other bubble teams, but the Longhorns also had 15 opportunities in such games. They also don’t have a bad loss all season, an advantage over most bubble teams. Will Texas make it? It will be close, but the Longhorns have an excellent chance if the bubble doesn’t shrink in the next 48 hours. Just know that if the Longhorns are in, the Sooners should be too.

Oklahoma State (19-14, 8-10, RPI: 85, KenPom: 54):

Oklahoma State’s NCAA tournament hopes rest on the quality of their wins. The Cowboys have a better collection of marquee wins than almost every other bubble teams. They’ve beaten Kansas twice, split with Texas Tech and West Virginia, swept Oklahoma and taken games from Texas and Florida State. That’s eight victories against potential NCAA tournament teams. What could keep Oklahoma State out is its 14 losses, its poor non-conference strength of schedule and its bloated RPI. The committee often says that it doesn’t make decisions based purely on RPI rankings, but no team has ever made the field with an RPI in the 80s. Which way will the committee lean? It will be close. The Cowboys will probably be among the last four in or first four out.

The second half of the season has not treated Arizona State and Bobby Hurley very well. (AP Photo/Matt York)


They’re safe: Arizona (25-7, 14-4)

They’re in good shape: none

They have work left to do: Arizona State, USC, UCLA,

Arizona State (20-11, 8-10, RPI: 66, KenPom: 44): 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 third in the polls after wins over Kansas and Xavier has rocketed back to earth in Pac-12 play. They finished 8-10 in what was easily the weakest power conference and then crashed out of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday with an opening-round loss to Colorado. The Sun Devils may yet sneak into the NCAA tournament by virtue of a respectable 8-9 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games, but what reason is there to believe they could win a game even if they did? They’ve dropped five of six, all but one of which came at the hands of teams unlikely to reach the NCAA tournament.

USC (23-10, 12-6, RPI: 35, KenPom: 43): USC took a huge step toward reaching the NCAA tournament when it dispatched of Oregon State and Oregon in the Pac-12 quarterfinals and semifinals. Now the Trojans get the chance to leave no doubt with a victory over Arizona in Saturday’s Pac-12 title game. USC should make it regardless after also finishing second in the Pac-12 in the regular season, but the Trojans’ resume isn’t exactly ironclad. None of USC’s four quadrant 1 victories are against teams certain to make the NCAA tournament. Fellow bubble team Middle Tennessee crashed out of the Conference USA tournament in the quarterfinals, New Mexico State will definitely need to win the WAC tournament and Utah and Oregon are both drawing dead. The Trojans also have a bad loss to Princeton weighing down their profile.

UCLA (21-11, 11-7, RPI: 36, KenPom: 49): Had UCLA managed to upset top-seeded Arizona in the Pac-12 semifinals, the Bruins would have almost certainly secured an NCAA tournament bid. They instead ran out of gas in overtime and guaranteed themselves a couple of sleepless nights between now and Selection Sunday. Bolstering UCLA’s case are four big wins, a road win at Arizona, a neutral-court win over Kentucky and a sweep of crosstown rival USC. Hampering UCLA’s case are a trio of bad losses, two against Colorado and one at Oregon State. UCLA certainly looked like an NCAA tournament team over the past week in winning at USC, outclassing Stanford and pushing Arizona to the brink, but the Bruins could not finish the deal. As a result, they leave Las Vegas optimistic but far from certain of what Selection Sunday will bring.


They’re safe: Auburn (25-7, 13-5), Tennessee (24-7, 13-5), Florida (20-11, 11-7), Kentucky 22-10, 10-8), Arkansas (22-10, 10-8), Texas A&M (20-12, 9-9), Missouri (20-12, 10-8)

They’re in good shape: Alabama

Alabama (19-14, 8-10, RPI: 56, KenPom: 45): Having dropped five straight entering the SEC tournament, Alabama appeared to be in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament. Then dynamic freshman Collin Sexton put the talented but erratic Crimson Tide on his back. Sexton went coast-to-coast in 4.4 seconds to beat Texas A&M at the buzzer in Alabama’s SEC tournament opener and then erupted for 31 in the Crimson Tide’s 81-63 rout of top-seeded Auburn in the quarterfinals on Friday. And now Alabama not only has a date with Kentucky in Saturday’s semifinals but also a leg up on other bubble teams. Even though the Crimson Tide will have 15 losses if they don’t claim the SEC’s auto bid, their quality wins should keep them safe. They have defeated Auburn and Texas A&M twice and own a win apiece against Tennesssee, Rhode Island, Florida and Oklahoma.


They have work to do: none


They’re safe: Gonzaga (30-4, 17-1), Rhode Island (24-6, 15-3), Nevada (27-7, 15-3)

They’re in good shape: St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure (25-6, 14-4, RPI: 22, KenPom: 65): 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 was probably fine no matter what happened in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but avoiding a bad quarterfinal loss against Richmond certainly helped. They now get Davidson in the semifinals and potentially either Rhode Island or Saint Joseph’s in the title game.

They have work to do: Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee

Saint Mary’s (28-5, 16-2, RPI: 43, KenPom: 28): If Saint Mary’s misses the NCAA tournament despite 28 victories, Randy Bennett will only have himself to blame. The Gaels coach knew he had a formidable team coming back yet he once again failed to assemble a strong enough non-conference schedule to provide sufficient margin for error. Saint Mary’s has a marquee win at Gonzaga, a gaudy overall record and favorable predictive metrics, but the Gaels don’t have much else on their resume. They did sweep the regular season series against BYU and thump New Mexico State back in November, but they also have bad losses to Washington State and San Francisco. All Saint Mary’s had to do at the WCC tournament to feel pretty safe was just not lose to anyone besides Gonzaga. By falling instead in the semifinals against BYU, the Gaels ensured themselves an angst-ridden wait until Sunday.

Middle Tennessee (24-7, 16-2, RPI: 29, KenPom: 49): An automatic bid is no longer an option for Middle Tennessee after the Blue Raiders’ stunning loss to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA quarterfinals. Now they’ll have to hope they did enough in the regular season to claim an at-large bid. Middle Tennessee owns 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. They also were swept in the regular season by Marshall in addition to the Southern Mississippi loss. All in all, Middle Tennessee is not a lost cause, but the Blue Raiders shouldn’t be too optimistic either. Mid-majors with worse profiles than Middle Tennessee have made the field before, but many mid-majors with stronger resumes have also been left out.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!