The college basketball regular season has come to an end and the postseason is now fully upon us. Over the weekend, the first four teams punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament. As proof that you never know what will happen in March, none of those four tournaments were won by the top seeds. Gardner-Webb won the Big South Championship and will be making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Keep an eye on our Conference Tournament Tracker page which will be constantly updated during Champ Week with which teams are still alive for automatic bids.
As for the rest of the tournament field, the 36 at-large bids, I feel fairly confident in 36 teams making the Tournament. There are 4 more teams in whom I have moderate confidence, then 16 teams currently making up “the bubble.” Here is a quick rundown on how I see the top of the field, followed by an in-depth look at the bubble teams and their resumes.
At this point, it seems there are 6 teams in the mix for the 4 #1 seeds. Gonzaga and Virginia have only lost twice all season. Virginia and Michigan State‘s 11 Quad 1 victories are the most in the country while Virginia and North Carolina have 8 wins against the top half of Quad 1. Kentucky and Duke are close behind that mark with 7.
Tennessee and Michigan are outside the 1-seed conversation but should be solidly 2-seeds. Regular season champions LSU (SEC), Houston (AAC), and Texas Tech (Big XII) sit just behind them. The decision on the last #3 seed will be interesting as Kansas has 10 Quad 1 wins but also a putrid 3-8 road record. The Jayhawks may fall to the 4-seed line with Big Ten co-champs Purdue claiming the last 3-seed.
Wisconsin has just 1 “signature” win against the top half of Quad 1, but their 9 Quad 1 wins will be hard to keep out of the top 4 seed lines. Big XII co-champions Kansas St has 5 “signature” wins which puts the Wildcats in the conversation for a top 4 seed. The last 4-seed will likely come down to Florida St, Virginia Tech, or Marquette. Florida St has a solid resume with 4 “signature” wins while Marquette’s 9 Quad 1 wins are hard to overlook but the Golden Eagles have stumbled to the finish and have a Quad 3 loss on their resume.
Mississippi St, Maryland, Villanova, and Nevada are in the mix for the last 2 spots on the 5-seed line. Nevada will be an interesting case as the Committee initially had the Wolfpack as a 4-seed in early February but they have not added any Quad 1 or 2 victories since then. Louisville and Iowa State are in a similar situation where they appeared as 4-seeds in the Committee’s initial reveal but have not done much to add to their resume in the last month. Auburn picked up their best win of the year in the season finale, toppling Tennessee. The Tigers’ 10 Quad 2 victories and good computer metrics should be enough to land them in the top half of the field.
Middle of the Pack
Some of the top mid-major schools should land in the middle of the pack. Wofford and Buffalo should both feel relatively secure if they do not win their conference tournaments. Cincinnati and UCF should make the AAC at least a 3-team conference (more on Temple later). It has been a down year for the Pac 12 and Washington has a resume that is nearly identical to UCF, which should land the Huskies in a similar spot on the bracket (probably around the 8-seed line).
After that comes a number of major conference teams that have been inconsistent throughout the year. Iowa will get back coach Fran McCaffrey for the Big Ten Tournament. Ole Miss has just 1 loss outside of Quad 1 but is 4-10 against Quad 1 teams. Baylor took 2 bad losses early in non-conference play but has been mostly consistent the rest of the year and has 12 wins in Quads 1 and 2 combined. Seton Hall has 6 Quad 1 wins and emerged as the 3rd best team in the Big East. Oklahoma and Minnesota are both 10-12 against Quads 1 and 2 combined, which should be good enough to get them into the field.
Staying Above The Bubble
Indiana has been a contentious source of debate this season. The Hoosiers have 6 Quad 1 wins which is more than any bubble team. They are currently 17-14 which puts them towards the bottom of the field but a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament should be enough to get them in with their quality wins. Syracuse is basically living off their road win at Duke, which should be enough to get the Orange in as long as they don’t lose their ACC Tournament opener. Ohio State is also thin on quality wins but all four of their Quad 1 wins came on the road. VCU is the current A-10 leaders and the only team capable of getting an at-large bid from that conference.
As I mentioned before, there are currently 16 teams vying for the last 8 spots in the tournament. To start, those teams are: Alabama, Arizona St, Belmont, Clemson, Creighton, Florida, Georgetown, NC State, Providence, St. John’s, TCU, Temple, Texas, UNC-Greensboro, Utah St, and Xavier. Of that group, only Belmont’s season has come to an end (the Bruins lost to Murray St in the Ohio Valley Championship). Looking at the teams based on the metrics the committee values:
The best overall records are UNC-G (26-5), Belmont (25-5), Utah St (24-6), Temple (23-8), and Arizona St (21-9). Texas (16-15) has the worst record with Florida, Providence, Xavier, and Alabama all at 17-14.
The best NET rankings are Utah St (30), NC State (32), Florida (33), Clemson (35), and Texas (39). Three Big East schools (Xavier, Providence, Georgetown) have NET rankings in the 70s while Seton Hall and Arizona St are in the 60s.
The best strength of schedules are: Texas (6), Creighton (14), Alabama (23), TCU (33), and Clemson (35). NC State (245) is the only team with a SOS above 200 and Utah St (103), UNC-G (115), and Belmont (191) are all in the 100s.
The best non-conference schedules were played by: Texas (16), Utah St (22), Creighton (28), Alabama (39), and Xavier (48). NC State (353) played the worst non-conference schedule in the nation. St. John’s, Georgetown, and Temple all have schedules ranking in the 200s.
The most Quad 1 victories are: Texas (5) Georgetown (5), St. John’s (5), Providence (4), and Xavier (4). Clemson is the only team with 1 Quad 1 win.
The most “signature” wins against the top half of Quad 1 are: Texas (3) and TCU (2). Utah St, NC State, Georgetown, Belmont and UNC-G had none and all the other teams had 1.
The most Quad 1 road wins are: Georgetown (4), Providence (4), Xavier (3), and Florida (3). Arizona St, NC State, Temple, and Alabama do not have a Quad 1 road win.
The most Quad 2 victories are Arizona St (8), Alabama (7), NC State (6), Creighton (6), Clemson (6), Georgetown (6), and Temple (6).
Arizona St and Providence are the only teams with Quad 4 losses.
TCU, Creighton, Clemson, and UNC-G are the only teams without a loss against a Quad 3 or Quad 4 team. UNC-G has also not lost to any Quad 2 teams.
Looking at the resumes side-by-side TCU, Utah St, Arizona St, and St. John’s rise to the top of the bubble.
For the last 4 teams in, I chose Florida, NC State, Creighton, and Clemson. That said, I have a feeling the NC State-Clemson game in the ACC Tournament may be a bubble elimination game. Creighton faces Xavier in the Big East Tournament in what may also be a bubble elimination game.
The first four teams out were all teams with a high number of Quad 1 victories but also a lot of losses. I couldn’t bring myself to put 16-15 Texas in the field, though a win over Kansas in the Big XII Tournament may get the Longhorns in. While these teams all had a lot of Quad 1 wins, they also had a lot of Quad 2 losses along with losses to Quad 3 and 4 teams. The three Big East teams all have very similar resumes but with NET rankings in the 70s it will be a tall task for them to earn an at-large bid without a deep run in their tournament.
The final four teams are all very similar in that they have 2 Quad 1 wins. Temple and Alabama have the best wins of the bunch over Houston (NET 4) and Kentucky (NET 5). Belmont and UNC-G are here based on having just 5 losses and double-digit road victories. Belmont played a tougher non-conference schedule and both of their Quad 1 wins came on the road. Neither team has a high volume of impressive wins, but UNC-G’s lack of a loss outside of Quad 1 is noteworthy and impressive. Ultimately, both teams have 17 wins over Quad 4 teams which I think will be difficult to overcome for the Committee.
Work To Do
Unfortunately for teams like Furman and Lipscomb, their seasons will likely conclude in the NIT rather than in the NCAA Tournament after they fell in their conference tournaments. A handful of teams are still hovering outside the field with a chance to make some noise and impact the bubble picture. Oregon got their best win of the season by beating Washington in the season finale. Nebraska is still a .500 team but lack a bad loss. Arkansas continues to be a factor in the middle of the SEC. St. Mary’s played their toughest schedule in years but are short on good wins and have 2 Quad 3 losses. The Gaels may need to beat Gonzaga to win the WCC to get a bid. Memphis is likewise short on good wins but has just 1 Quad 3 loss and if the Tigers can make a deep run in the AAC Tournament they could make a case for inclusion. As Championship Week moves forward towards Selection Sunday, make sure to keep an eye on our Bracketology Page which will be updated with new bracket projections based on each day’s results.