On Tuesday’s edition of College Basketball Coast to Coast, T.J. Rives and I talked quite about the Selection Committee’s bracket preview and the state of the bubble. You may want to listen to the podcast as an accompaniment to this breakdown.
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Now onto the lock and bubble breakdown...
Acknowledgements: NET rankings and records are accurate as of Wednesday, February 22, 2023 and reflect only games against Division I teams. Selection Sheet info is from WarrenNolan.com.
Before I get into the details of where each conference stands in terms of the bubble heading into the weekend, a quick reminder of how this all works.
- As has been the case since 2011, the 2023 NCAA Tournament will feature 68 teams: 32 conference tournament winners who will claim automatic bids and 36 teams the Selection Committee will select at-large.
- Of the 32 auto bids, it’s looking like 23 of those will come from conferences that are likely to earn one bid.
- Combine the 9 likely multi-bid auto bid holders with the 36 at-large teams, and you’re left with 45 spots that are up for grabs. (Of course, if the power conference tournaments go haywire like they did in 2021, this number will decline as Selection Sunday gets closer.)
So, How Many of the 45 Spots Remain Open on February 22nd?
Based on the designations below:
- 27 teams are currently locks.
- 10 teams are near-locks.
- That’s 37 of 45 spots gone, leaving just 8 for the bubble. If you subtract the 1 team that is in good shape with 17 days to go, that number drops to 7.
But What Exactly Is a “Lock” With 21⁄2 Weeks to Play?
While there is an element of “you know it when you see it” involved here, I consider a power conference team a lock based on simple math. Over the past few weeks, I’ve used Kansas as my example. Today, I’m switching to Creighton, who has recovered from an injury-driven midseason swoon to become a lock.
- Creighton is currently 18-10.
- The Bluejays have 3 regular-season games and a minimum of 1 conference tournament game remaining.
- Assuming each and every single one of these 4 remaining games is a loss, Creighton’s Selection Sunday record would be 18-14.
- Considering that the most losses for an at-large team is 15—shared by a trio of recent 19-15 SEC squads (2017 Vanderbilt, 2018 Alabama, and 2019 Florida)—and that Creighton’s metrics are likely to still be very good, even if Georgetown and DePaul rank among their final three opponents, I would still expect the Bluejays to be in the field even after losing streak that would fly in the face of all logic, common sense, and recent performances.
- In other words, if a power conference team can go on a nonsensical losing streak over the final five weeks and while being mathematically able to get to 18-14 or 19-15 (when we get to the final week), it will be classified as a “lock” or “near lock” following an examination of its selection sheet and metrics.
- As the days fall away, I’ll update the math, but it will still apply the same general principles.
Naturally, the standards for mid-major programs will be different because of the quality of their remaining opponents, who won’t rate as highly. That’s very important to note after last night.
All game times are p.m. Eastern, unless noted.
American Athletic (2 Bids, 3 Under Consideration)
- Houston (25-2/13-1 AAC/12-1 vs. Q1 & Q2/4-1 vs. Q1/NET: 1/KenPom: 1—1 Q3 loss: Temple (H))
Last Four Byes (1)
- Memphis (20-7/10-4/8-6/2-3/40/37—1 Q3 loss: Tulane (H))
- UCF (15-11/6-8/5-7/1-4/57/56—4 Q3 losses: Cincinnati (H), Temple (H), UNC Asheville (H), and South Florida (A))
- Cincinnati (17-10/9-6/3-8/1-3/81/63—2 Q3 losses: Northern Kentucky (A), East Carolina (A))
- Tulane (17-7/10-3/5-3/1-2/86/81—3 Q3 losses: Fordham (H), George Mason (N), and Western Kentucky (N) and 1 Q4 loss: Tulsa (A))
Auto Bid Only: Temple (15-13), Wichita State (14-12), East Carolina (14-13), South Florida (11-16), SMU (10-18), Tulsa (5-22)
The Games Ahead
Wednesday: Tulane at Houston, 9 (ESPNU)
Thursday: Memphis at Wichita State, 7 (ESPN2)
Memphis lost at Houston on Sunday without point guard Kendric Davis (right ankle). There’s no shame in that result, but following it up with a loss in Wichita on Thursday might cost the Tigers some breathing room.
On Wednesday night, Tulane has a great opportunity to show that it can contend for the American’s auto bid by performing well against the Cougars—the No. 2 overall seed in the bracket.
ACC (5 Bids, 5 Under Consideration)
- Virginia (21-4/13-3 ACC/9-4 vs. Q1 & Q2/4-4 vs. Q1/NET: 15/KenPom: 23)
- Miami (23-5/14-4/10-4/7-4/27/31—1 Q3 loss: Georgia Tech (A))
- NC State (21-7/11-6/7-7/3-4/37/43)
While the Wolfpack lost at Syracuse on Valentines Day, they managed to further damage North Carolina’s at-large case by recording a 77-69 win on Sunday afternoon. With this year’s bubble, that’s good enough to lock up a bid for the Pack.
Near Locks (2)
- Duke (20-8/11-7/7-8/3-6/29/36)
- Pittsburgh (20-8/13-4/7-6/5-3/53/61—1 Q3 loss: Clemson (H) and 1 Q4 loss: Florida State (H))
The Blue Devils defeated Louisville on Monday night in their last chance to record a bad regular season loss. As for the Panthers, they still host Syracuse and visit Notre Dame before visiting Miami to close the regular season.
First Four Out
- North Carolina (16-11/8-8/5-11/0-9/48/44)
By losing in Raleigh, the Tar Heels’ record in Quad 1 games fell to a horrawful 0-9. They’ll have chances to improve upon that on the final two Saturdays of the regular season as both Virginia and Duke visit the Smith Center. However, UNC cannot slip up in its final two midweek games—road trips to Notre Dame and Florida State.
- Clemson (19-8/11-5/6-4/3-3/82/84—1 Q3 loss: Boston College (A) and 3 Q4 losses: Loyola Chicago (N), South Carolina (A), Louisville (A))
- Wake Forest (17-10/9-7/5-8/1-6/80/79—2 Q3 losses: Loyola Marymount (N) and LSU (N))
- Virginia Tech (16-12/6-11/7-8/3-4/67/72—3 Q3 losses: Clemson (H), Boston College (A), and Georgia Tech (A) and 1 Q4 loss: Boston College (H))
- Syracuse (16-11/9-7/2-9/0-6/99/98—1 Q3 loss: Colgate (H) and 1 Q4 loss: Bryant (H))
By losing at Louisville, Clemson put itself at risk of not only missing the NCAAs, but also the NIT. That’s also a likely fate for a Syracuse team that’s barely in the top 100 of both the NET and KenPom. Wake and Virginia Tech both still remain in the hunt, though the Hokies’ losses really put them behind the eight-ball. They can no longer finish the ACC regular season with a record of .500 or better.
Auto Bid Only: Boston College (13-15), Notre Dame (10-17), Georgia Tech (9-17), Florida State (8-20), Louisville (4-24)
These five teams’ NET ratings currently stand at 185, 195, 207, 226, and 307, so it should be no surprise why the rest of the ACC is struggling against its bubble competition.
The Games Ahead
Wednesday: Syracuse at Clemson, 7 (ACCN) | Virginia at Boston College, 7 (ACC RSNs/ACCNX) | North Carolina at Notre Dame, 9 (ESPN) | Wake Forest at NC State, 9 (ACC RSNs/ACCNX)
Of these four contests, only Wake-NC State features a pair of NCAA contenders. Virginia and—especially—North Carolina must be extra careful on the road this evening.
Big 12 (8 Bids, 1 Under Consideration)
- Kansas (23-5/11-4 Big 12/18-5 vs. Q1 & Q2/14-5 vs. Q1/NET: 6/KenPom: 7)
- Texas (22-6/13-6/10-6/10-6/8/9)
- Baylor (20-8/9-6/13-8/9-8/12/14)
- Kansas State (21-7/9-6/11-7/8-6/19/18)
- Iowa State (17-10/8-7/10-10/8-9/18/19)
Near Lock (1)
- TCU (18-10/6-5/9-6/5-6/22/22—1 Q4 loss: Northwestern St. (H))
The Horned Frogs have won three of their last nine, which keeps them from jumping to lock status. It doesn’t help that two of their final three games are road contests against the conference’s bottom two teams in Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
Last Four Byes (2)
- West Virginia (16-12/5-10/9-12/5-11/26/21)
- Oklahoma State (16-12/7-8/8-11/5-9/42/39—1 Q3 loss: Southern Illinois (H))
Monday’s loss in Morgantown was the Cowboys’ third in a row, which has pushed them closer to the cut line. Oklahoma State will likely need to defeat either Kansas State or Baylor at home to feel safer, and a regular-season finale at resurgent Texas Tech looms on March 4. As for the Mountaineers, the victory snapped a three-game skid of their own, but another one could be on deck. WVU’s final three games are at Kansas, at Iowa State, and K-State in Morgantown.
Next Four Out
- Texas Tech (16-12/5-10/5-12/5-10/49/50)
The Red Raiders have won four in a row to get back into the hunt with road trip to Kansas sandwiched between home games against TCU and Oklahoma State.
Auto Bid Only: Oklahoma (13-15)
The Games Ahead
None until Saturday.
Big East (5 Bids, 2 Under Consideration)
- Marquette (22-6/14-3 Big East/10-5 vs. Q1 & Q2/5-5 vs. Q1/NET: 13/KenPom: 11—1 Q3 loss: Wisconsin (H))
- UConn (20-7/9-7/9-6/6-5/9/6—1 Q3 loss: St. John’s (H))
- Xavier (20-8/12-5/11-6/5-5/25/23—2 Q3 losses: Villanova (H) and DePaul (A))
- Creighton (18-10/12-5/9-9/4-7/14/12—1 Q3 loss: Nebraska (H))
- Providence (20-7/12-4/6-7/4-5/38/29)
Creighton moves up despite Tuesday’s home loss to Marquette—the Bluejay’s second defeat in the three games that followed an eight-game win streak. The first of those losses came at the hands of the Friars, who have won three of four.
- Seton Hall (15-12/9-8/5-11/3-7/70/60—1 Q3 loss: Siena (N))
- St. John’s (16-12/6-11/3-11/1-7/97/88—1 Q3 loss: Villanova (H))
Auto Bid Only: Villanova (14-14), Butler (13-15), DePaul (9-18), Georgetown (7-21)
At this point, Villanova—a 64-63 winner at Xavier last night, might just be the best bet to secure a sixth Big East bid—as victors of the Big East Tournament. That’s a possibility with Justin Moore healthy and back on the floor.
The Games Ahead
Wednesday: Providence at UConn, 6:30 (FS1) | St. John’s at Georgetown, 9 (CBSSN)
The Red Storm can kiss their fading at-large hopes goodbye with a loss in D.C. In the New England derby in Storrs, the Huskies could use the victory as they aim to show the Committee made a mistake in not including them in the preview Top 16 on Saturday.
Big Ten (8 Bids, 2 Under Consideration)
- Purdue (24-4/13-4 Big Ten/14-4 vs. Q1 & Q2/9-4 vs. Q1/NET: 5/KenPom: 4)
- Indiana (19-9/10-7/9-9/5-8/20/26)
- Northwestern (20-7/11-5/10-7/6-4/39/41)
- Maryland (18-9/9-7/8-9/3-7/25/17)
Near Locks (4)
- Rutgers (17-10/9-7/8-8/4-6/28/27—2 Q3 losses: Nebraska (H) and Temple (N))
- Illinois (18-9/9-7/7-9/3-7/31/30)
- Iowa (17-10/9-7/11-8/6-7/41/38—1 Q3 loss: Wisconsin (H) and 1 Q4 loss: Eastern Illinois (H))
- Michigan State (17-10/9-7/10-9/7-8/36/32—1 Q3 loss: Notre Dame (A))
You could argue that all four of these teams should be promoted, but given how inconsistent they’ve been over the past few weeks, I’m going to hold off. This seems particularly wise given there are still three teams pushing them from outside of the projected field.
First Four Out
- Wisconsin (15-11/7-9/9-10/5-6/78/70—1 Q3 loss: Wake Forest (H))
The Badgers haven’t won consecutive games since defeating Western Michigan and Minnesota at home during the New Year holiday window.
Next Four Out
- Penn State (16-11/7-9/6-10/2-5/58/51—1 Q3 loss: Wisconsin (H))
While the Badgers have more working in their favor in the quality win department, the Nittany Lions’ metrics are much better.
- Michigan (15-12/9-7/7-11/2-9/62/49—1 Q4 loss: Central Michigan (H))
Consecutive losses to Indiana and Wisconsin pushed the Wolverines’ down the bubble pecking order, but they gained some ground back by defeating Michigan State on Saturday. Now, four potentially big contests—three on the road—await.
Auto Bid Only: Nebraska (14-14), Ohio State (11-16), Minnesota (7-18)
The Games Ahead
Wednesday: Minnesota at Maryland, 7 (BTN) | Iowa at Wisconsin, 9 (BTN)
Thursday: Penn State at Ohio State, 6:30 (FS1) | Michigan at Rutgers, 8:30 (FS1) | Northwestern at Illinois, 9 (BTN)
Wisconsin gets a huge opportunity in hosting Iowa tonight, while Michigan will need to trip up Rutgers at the RAC before welcoming the Badgers to Crisler on Sunday. Who would have ever thought that Northwestern’s trip to Champaign would have Big Ten title implications for the Wildcats?
You’d expect Maryland to take care of Minnesota at home, but Penn State must be wary of Thursday’s game in Columbus.
MW (4 Bids, 3 Under Consideration)
The Aztecs are playing for seeding now.
Last Four Byes (1)
- Nevada (20-7/11-4/8-7/3-5/32/33)
Despite losing at Utah State on Saturday night, the Wolf Pack are still in decent shape.
Last Four IN (2)
- Boise State (20-6/11-3/9-4/1-3/24/28—2 Q3 losses: Charlotte (N) and South Dakota State (H))
- New Mexico (19-7/7-7/6-3/3-2/47/48—3 Q3 losses: UNLV (H), Air Force (A), and Fresno State (A) and 1 Q4 loss: Wyoming (H))
The Lobos lost to both Wyoming and Air Force without Jaelen House. He returned for Friday’s victory over SJSU and will be available for the showdown with Boise tonight. With the Committee’s emphasis on top-tier road wins, New Mexico has to like its chances, thanks to victories at SDSU and WCC leader Saint Mary’s.
- Utah State (21-7/11-5/7-5/0-4/33/35—1 Q3 loss: SMU (N) and 1 Q4 loss: Weber State (H))
- UNLV (15-11/5-10/5-6/1-5/85/86—5 Q3 losses: San José State (H), San Francisco (H), Colorado State (H), Fresno State (H and A))
UNLV is about to drop into the “auto bid only” group due to an inability to defend its home floor. Despite Utah State’s great metrics, the wins aren’t there for at-large selection yet. The Aggies will likely need to win three games in Vegas to qualify.
Auto Bid Only: San José State (15-12), Air Force (14-15), Colorado State (11-16), Fresno State (9-17), Wyoming (7-19)
The Games Ahead
Wednesday: New Mexico at Boise State, 10:30 (FS1)
The Lobos can add a third high-quality road win to their profile. The pair’s first meeting was an 81-79 overtime thriller, won by UNM at the Pit.
Pac-12 (3 Bids, 4 Under Consideration)
- Arizona (24-4/13-4 Pac-12/13-3 vs. Q1 & Q2/6-2 vs. Q1/NET: 11/KenPom: 10—1 Q3 loss: Washington State (H))
- UCLA (23-4/14-2/11-4/4-4/4/3)
These two teams meet at Pauley on March 4th, where the Pac-12 regular season title will be on the line. I wouldn’t bet against a third meeting in Las Vegas one week later.
Last Four IN (1)
- USC (17-7/9-4/7-6/2-4/57/42—1 Q4 loss: FGCU (H))
After being swept in Oregon, the Trojans took care of the Bay Area schools. Given what else happened around them, that was good enough to boost them into a First Four spot.
- Arizona State (19-9/10-7/7-8/3-2/69/65—1 Q4 loss: Texas Southern (A))
- Oregon (15-13/9-8/8-12/3-7/50/45—1 Q3 loss: UC Irvine (H))
- Utah (17-11/10-7/4-10/1-7/56/55—1 Q3 loss: Stanford (H))
- Colorado (15-13/7-10/6-8/3-6/61/52—4 Q3 losses: Washington (H), UMass (N), Grambling State (A), and Oregon State (A) and 1 Q4 loss: California (A))
Things are looking dire for a fourth Pac-12 bid following Oregon’s sweep at the hands of the Washington squads. ASU also failed to take care of business against the Mountain schools—with a win over Utah only following a loss to Colorado in Tempe.
Auto Bid Only: Washington (15-13), Washington State (13-15), Stanford (11-16), Oregon State (9-18), California (3-24)
The Games Ahead
Thursday: USC at Colorado, 9 (ESPN2) | UCLA at Utah, 11 (FS1)
The Mountain schools can do themselves a tremendous favor by sweeping the LA schools this week.
SEC (8 Bids, 2 Under Consideration)
- Alabama (23-4/13-1 SEC/14-4 vs. Q1 & Q2/7-4 vs. Q1/NET: 2/KenPom: 2)
- Tennessee (20-8/9-6/9-8/6-4/3/5)
- Texas A&M (21-7/13-2/8-5/6-4/23/25—2 Q4 losses: Murray State (N) and Wofford (H))
- Missouri (20-8/8-7/9-8/4-8/51/62)
While Tennessee’s 1-4 skid has seen them drop from a Selection Committee 3 seed to a possible 4 or 5 seed upset pick, the Crimson Tide are under a massive cloud following Tuesday’s revelations about Brandon Miller.
Six consecutive wins have pushed A&M to safety, thanks in no small part to vastly improved computer numbers. The formulas still don’t care much for Mizzou, but four Quad 1 wins and no bad losses will be enough for the Tigers.
Near Locks (3)
- Arkansas (19-9/8-7/7-8/3-6/16/15—1 Q3 loss: LSU (A))
- Kentucky (18-9/9-5/9-7/4-7/35/34—1 Q3 loss: Georgia (A) and 1 Q4 loss: South Carolina (H))
- Auburn (18-9/8-6/8-8/2-7/30/20)
One more win should do it for each of these teams, which is impressive in the case of Kentucky. The Wildcats looked to be finished after consecutive losses to Arkansas (at Rupp) and Georgia. Then, they edged Mississippi State at the Hump and completed a season sweep of Tennessee.
Last Four IN (1)
- Mississippi State (18-10/6-9/6-9/3-6/43/42)
The Bulldogs blew a golden opportunity in CoMo on Tuesday night, but they remain in for now.
- Vanderbilt (15-12/8-6/6-10/4-8/87/87—1 Q3 loss: Southern Miss. (H) and 1 Q4 loss: Grambling State (H))
The Commodores may very well have their fate in their own hands, as long as they don’t lose at LSU this evening. Winning that game and holding serve at home against UF and Miss. State should get Vandy’s metrics up enough to be a serious selection threat. If the ‘Dores can win at Kentucky to start the month of madness, they’ll really be on to something.
Auto Bid Only: Florida (14-13), Georgia (16-12), LSU (12-15), Ole Miss (10-17), South Carolina (10-17)
The Games Ahead
Wednesday: Kentucky at Florida, 7 (ESPN) | Vanderbilt at LSU, 7 (SECN) | Alabama at South Carolina, 9 (ESPN2) | Ole Miss at Auburn, 9 (SECN)
Tonight’s visit from UK is the last chance saloon for Colin Castleton-less Florida. Otherwise, all of college basketball will take a few moments to check in on Columbia, S.C. to see the reception Alabama gets on the road.
WCC (2 Bids, 1 Under Consideration)
- Gonzaga (22-5/12-2 WCC/9-4 vs. Q1 & Q2/7-4 vs. Q1/NET: 10/KenPom: 13—1 Q3 loss: Loyola Marymount (H))
- Saint Mary’s (23-5/13-1/8-3/2-1/7/8—2 Q3 losses: Washington (N) and Colorado State (H))
The Bulldogs were a 4 seed in the preview bracket, while the Gaels were mentioned as a contender for one of those spots.
- Santa Clara (20-8/9-5/4-6/1-5/84/85—1 Quad 3 loss: San José State (H) and 1 Quad 4 loss: Pacific (H))
The Broncos’ chance will come in Vegas next week.
Auto Bid Only: Loyola Marymount (17-11), San Francisco (16-12), BYU (14-14), Pacific (12-15), Portland (11-16), San Diego (9-17); Pepperdine (7-19)
The Games Ahead
Thursday: Pacific at Saint Mary’s, 10 (NBCS Bay Area/Stadium College Sports Pacific/WCCN) | Pepperdine at Santa Clara, 10 (WCCN) | San Diego at Gonzaga, 11 (ESPN2)
These matchups are only the warmup for Saturday night’s showdown in Spokane between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga.
In Good Shape (1)
- Florida Atlantic (22-3/14-2 C-USA/5-3/2-1/21/40)
The Owls’ Thursday night loss in Murfreesboro was only a Quad 2 setback. FAU is in good position still to earn an at-large, which they may very well need considering the quality of teams that will be challenging them for the C-USA auto bid.
- North Texas (21-5/14-3 C-USA/3-3/1-3/45/53—2 Q3 losses: UNCW (N) and Rice (H))
- Charleston (25-3/14-2 CAA/2-1/0-1/54/66—2 Q3 losses: Hofstra (H) and Drexel (A))
- Oral Roberts (21-4/16-0 Summit League/1-4/0-4/44/58)
- UAB (19-8/11-6 C-USA/1-6/1-3/65/67—1 Q3 loss: FIU (A) and 1 Q4 loss: Western Kentucky (H)
These four teams are presented in order of likelihood of earning an at-large. However, I suspect none will have enough Quad 1 or 2 wins to satisfy the Committee. ORU needs to win twice this weekend to secure a perfect Summit League regular season, which might help. Eastern Washington from the Big Sky is the only other team that can complete a perfect conference season.
The Games Ahead
Most intriguing games are in bold.
Wednesday: Charleston Southern at UNC Asheville, 6:30 (ESPN+ ($)) | Bradley at Valparaiso, 7 (Bally Southeast and Midwest/NBCS Chicago Plus/ESPN+ ($)) | Colgate at Lafayette, 7 (NBCS Phila. Plus/ESPN+ ($)) | Kennesaw State at North Alabama, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Liberty at Queens, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Binghamton at Vermont, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Western Carolina at UNCG, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Mercer at Furman, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Samford at Chattanooga, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Southern Miss. at Old Dominion, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Marshall at James Madison, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Illinois State at Drake, 8 (ESPN+ ($)) | Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois, 8 (ESPN+ ($)) | Arkansas State at Louisiana, 8 (ESPN+ ($))
Thursday: Longwood at Gardner-Webb, 7 (ESPNU/ESPN+ ($)) | Towson at Charleston, 7 (CBSSN) | Fairleigh Dickinson at St. Francis (Pa.), 7 (SNY/ESPN3) | North Texas at Charlotte, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | UTSA at Florida Atlantic, 7 (ESPN+ ($)) | Rice at UAB, 7:30 (ESPN+ ($)) | Utah Valley at Tarleton, 8 (ESPN+ ($)) | Oral Roberts at South Dakota, 8 (USD stream) | Texas A&M-Commerce at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 8:30 (ESPN+ ($)) | Purdue Fort Wayne at Milwaukee, 8:30 (ESPN+ ($)) | Eastern Washington at Weber State, 9 (ESPN+ ($)) | UC San Diego at UC Irvine, 10 (ESPN+ ($)) | Long Beach State at UC Santa Barbara, 10 (ESPN+ ($)) | UC Riverside at Hawai’i, 12 a.m. (Spectrum Sports Hawai’i/ESPN+ ($))
I’ll be back on Friday with a full bracket update.