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Archived: College Basketball Bubble Watch

Jan 31, 2023 EST

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With the calendar turning to February this week, we can officially use the word “bubble.”

Ha! There are no rules. Still, this early in the season the roster of teams straddling the cut line is long and varied across the country.

Last week, we looked at the full bubble list.

1. Boise St (15-5):

The Broncos won five of their first seven games in the Mountain West and were within one possession of beating New Mexico in overtime at the Pit. Their best wins came against Texas A&M, at Saint Louis, and over Pac 12 teams Washington State and Colorado on neutral courts. The Broncos still have to play at San Diego State (Feb. 3), and New Mexico (Feb. 22) and the Aztecs (Feb. 28) at home. And they end the season at Utah State (March 4). If Boise State wants to be in the field, then going 2-2 in those four games seems like a must. Of course, the Broncos can’t lose games against the bottom of the league.

2. Creighton (11-8): The Bluejays shouldn’t be in this position, but injuries and a six-game losing skid put them in a tough spot. Creighton is healthy and should be in a position to be securely in the field. But it would help not to lose games to the bottom of the Big East. Of course, the wins over Texas Tech and Arkansas in Maui have a shelf life. The Bluejays have a five-game stretch from Feb. 11-25 that should determine their fate: UConn, at Providence, at St. John’s, Marquette and at Villanova.

3. Arizona State (15-5): The Sun Devils went from potentially being in first place in the Pac-12 to now needing to do some more work. ASU got swept at home by UCLA and USC. ASU has already lost at home to Arizona and has a loss at Texas Southern and 37-point loss at San Francisco. The Sun Devils should be fine, but the final four games of the season are going to test them. They host Utah and then go to Arizona, UCLA and USC.

4. Maryland (12-7): The Terps raced out to an 8-0 start but then lost at Wisconsin, to Tennessee in Brooklyn, and got blasted at home by UCLA. The Terps have lost four straight Big Ten road games. The good news is Maryland is home for the next three. The Terps should be in position to get a bid, but ending the season at Ohio State and Penn State could possibly put them in a position to need a win at the Big Ten Tournament.

5. Pitt (13-7): The Panthers were a first-place ACC team a few weeks ago after beating North Carolina and Virginia at home. Those two wins, as well as winning at NC State, should quell any fears. But the Panthers would do well not to completely fall flat. Pitt still has to play Miami twice, go to North Carolina, and play a tricky opponent in Florida State, which is starting to play much better and just beat the Panthers last weekend.

6. Memphis (15-5): The Tigers must stay in the top two in the American. Temple’s win over Houston is of concern for separation, but Memphis did already beat Temple in Philadelphia. The Tigers also have a win over Auburn on a neutral court. The résumé favors Memphis as the top team out of the American not named Houston. The Tigers can quell any fears by beating Houston in one of their two matchups — Feb. 19 on the road or at home to end the season on March 5. Playing host to Temple on Feb. 12 is good, too, for a possible sweep.

7. Ohio State (11-8): The Buckeyes are only on this list because they lost five in a row, including at Nebraska and at home to Minnesota. They also missed out on some potential high-profile wins, losing to San Diego State in Maui, at Duke and vs. North Carolina in New York. The concern for Ohio State is the remaining schedule. Sure, it will be a huge help if the Buckeyes win a few, but having to go to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan State doesn’t give them a lot of room for error.

8. Penn State (13-6): The Nittany Lions missed out on a few chances, including vs. Virginia Tech on a neutral court, at Clemson (double-OT loss) and at Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions have a road win at Illinois and home wins over Indiana and Iowa that have them in the conversation for a bid. But Penn State could easily still play its way out, with road games at Rutgers, Purdue, Ohio State and Maryland still on the schedule. And nothing is guaranteed at Nebraska, Minnesota and Northwestern. Yes, that’s seven more road games on the slate.

9. USC (14-6): The Trojans should be fine, as the win over Auburn is a separator for them, and beating ASU in Tempe was also huge for the résumé. They nearly got UCLA at Pauley, losing by one possession. The Trojans host UCLA this week and end the season with a rugged slate of going to Colorado, Utah and hosting Arizona and Arizona State.

10. West Virginia (11-8): The Mountaineers got off to a 10-2 start, but have lost six of their last seven. The one win was massive by taking out TCU, but the Mountaineers have plenty of work to do. It helps that they play host to Auburn in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, an opportunity they can’t let slip. The last three games will be a major test, with road games at Kansas and Iowa State, and a season-ending home game against Kansas State.

11. Nevada (15-5): The Wolf Pack had a golden chance to pick up a résumé-builder on Nov. 22, but lost to Kansas State by one in overtime. The two-point win over Boise State helps in the Mountain West. But then getting blown out by 15 at Boise didn’t advance the cause. There are three games to circle — home-and-home against New Mexico and a home game against San Diego State.

12. Utah State (16-4): The Aggies have plenty of quality wins, but don’t have one win yet against a team that can be assured will be in the field. That puts massive pressure on the Aggies to pick up a win against San Diego State — home or road — against New Mexico at home and/or Boise State.

13. Northwestern (12-5): The Wildcats have the wins at Michigan State, at Indiana and over Illinois at home. If the season ended today the Wildcats would be on the cusp of getting into the field. But they’ve lost two in a row, and a week-long COVID pause means they’ve got a jam-packed schedule over the next two weeks. They’ve got to find a way to come out of the next six games with three wins to feel like they’re still on the right track. Ending the season with three of four on the road — at Illinois, at Maryland and at Rutgers — will test this squad.

14. Oklahoma State (11-8): The Cowboys got on the radar after Saturday’s win over Iowa State. OSU is 3-4 in the Big 12. The Big 12 offers up so many chances to be an NCAA Tournament team, so, it’s way too early to rule OSU out of contention. Getting TCU, Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor in Stillwater could be a game-changer.

15. Oklahoma (11-8): I’m less bold on the Sooners after they lost to Oklahoma State. But OU has a massive opportunity to turn the narrative in its favor if the Sooners can beat Alabama in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Getting Kansas, Kansas State and TCU at home could also alter their postseason plans.

16. Wake Forest (14-6): The Demon Deacons have the goods to get into the field, with wins over Wisconsin, Duke and Clemson. Wake just has to stay the course and not start losing to teams at the bottom of the ACC. Wake still gets NC State and North Carolina at home, but road games at Pitt, NC State and Miami could alter its fate.

17. Texas A&M (13-6): The Aggies whiffed on non-conference chances, so the work will have to be done in the SEC. Losing at Kentucky isn’t detrimental as long as Texas A&M can pluck off a few key wins. The Aggies still play Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas twice, and get Tennessee at home.

18. Utah (14-7): The Utes were on the NCAA map with the win over Arizona on Dec. 1, but Utah is still searching for a second significant win. Missing out on beating TCU at home didn’t help the cause. The Utes get UCLA and USC at home and still have to go to the Arizona schools. Winning two of those would go a long way toward earning a bid.

19. Michigan (11-8): The Wolverines missed out on all their résumé games in the non-conference, losing to Arizona State in Brooklyn, Kentucky in London, North Carolina in Charlotte and Virginia at home. The Pitt win in Brooklyn looks better now, but the loss at home to Central Michigan stings. Michigan must start beating the teams competing for the top of the Big Ten, like Purdue (home), Michigan State (home), Rutgers (road), Indiana (home and home) and Illinois (road).

20. Temple (12-9): The Owls are in the picture now after winning at Houston on Sunday. Temple had already beaten Rutgers and VCU. The Owls have won six of eight in the American. Temple still gets Houston at home and has a chance to even the Memphis series after losing the first one. Ending the season at Tulane could be a dicey situation if Temple needs that one.

But this past week provided some results to expand the list!

Here are five new teams that have to be considered as teams to watch going forward.

College of Charleston (21-2): The Cougars just had their 20-game win streak snapped by Hofstra. That’s the second loss of the season for Charleston and first in the CAA. The only other defeat was to North Carolina.

The assumption a week ago was that Charleston would win the CAA. But that’s no longer a given with Hofstra and Towson just a game back. Still, if Charleston wins the regular-season league title — and the Cougars should do so by at least a game — but then lose to either Hofstra or Towson in the tournament title game, it would be extremely difficult to keep them out of the field with only three total losses.

A four-loss Charleston wouldn’t be a slam dunk to make the field. That would mean one more CAA loss on the record. The Towson game on Feb. 23 is at home, and if Charleston were to lose that one, then that would be two home losses to its nearest contenders. That would not be a good look for the committee.

Saint Louis (15-6): The case for the Billikens begins with the wins over Providence on a neutral court (at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut) in November, and over Memphis at home. Both came in November, but they count the same.

Saint Louis did play a strong non-conference schedule, losing at Auburn and to Maryland in that same event at the Mohegan Sun. A loss to Boise State would also count on the “good loss” page. SLU is 7-1 in the A-10 after winning at Davidson and is 15-6 overall.

If SLU can win the A-10 and then lose in the conference tournament to one of the other contenders like VCU, then SLU will be in the conversation for a bid. The problem for the Billikens is the remaining schedule. It’s not going to be easy, yet the opportunities are available with a road game at Dayton and home-and-away contests vs. VCU. Beating Fordham in the Bronx isn’t going to be a walk, either. But if SLU can win the league by a game, at least, then the argument will be strong for the Billikens to be included in the field. They could be one of the last teams in if that’s the case.

VCU (16-6): The case for the Rams is similar to Saint Louis. The A-10 has looked like a one-bid league in the metrics, but both the Billikens and the Rams have the goods to be competitive in the NCAA Tournament if given the chance. VCU had what is now a quality win over Pitt in Brooklyn in November, and the losses to ASU in Brooklyn and at Temple don’t look bad now with both of those teams in the mix for bids.

Playing a strong slate helps as well. The Rams beat Vanderbilt from the SEC, and a loss at Memphis doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is the loss to Jacksonville, as well as losses at Duquesne and at home to St. Bonaventure over the weekend. VCU can’t afford another slip. And that means setting itself apart by winning at Davidson and at Saint Louis this week and then coming home and beating Dayton. If the Rams win those three, then the profile changes dramatically.

Florida (12-9): The Gators have been inconsistent this season, but they have had their moments to put them on the list. The win over Missouri, and road SEC wins at LSU and Mississippi State should give the Gators some consideration. Losing by 14 at Kansas State in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge didn’t help the cause.

The schedule was difficult, and clearly the losses early in the season to Florida Atlantic, Xavier and UConn are proving to be games that will help, not hurt, their schedule strength. But there were missed opportunities against West Virginia and Oklahoma as well as being swept by Texas A&M.

So how can Florida change the narrative in its favor? Well, the next three games will be telling against Tennessee at home Wednesday, at Kentucky on Saturday, and at Alabama on Feb. 8. If the Gators were to go 2-1 during this stretch, especially if they were to beat the Vols, then they will be in a good position. But that also means they can’t afford any more losses to teams below their current neighborhood in the SEC standings.

Oregon (13-9): The Ducks have also been terribly inconsistent, and losses to Utah Valley, UC Irvine and Stanford sting. There were so many misses like Houston at home, UConn and Michigan State in Portland and Arizona State at home. Road losses at UCLA and Colorado are part of a normal Pac-12 season.

So for the Ducks to be taken seriously here they’ve got to do something on this upcoming road trip to Arizona and Arizona State. Oregon has a win over Arizona already, and a sweep over the Wildcats would be a standout flag. The Ducks then return home to play USC and UCLA. That means Oregon’s postseason fate will be known — outside of a Pac-12 tournament title — in the next two weeks.

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