NCAA Bubble Watch: Instability Reigns Supreme At The Bottom Of The Bracket

SB Nation's bracketologist looks at how the NCAA Tournament at-large pool shapes up heading into the first weekend of February. The biggest shock to those who haven't been paying attention: Michigan State is barely hanging on.

While it's only been two short days since my weekly NCAA Tournament bracket projection ran here at SBNation.com, that's an eternity in this crazy 2010-11 college basketball season. So, there have been some significant changes at both the top and bottom of the at-large pool since I built the bracket on Monday night.

As is now a Friday tradition, it's time to count through the college basketball teams that have locked up a bid and those that still have some work to do. However, since it's now February (and March will be here before we all know it), I've returned a more detailed Bubble Watch to Blogging the Bracket. This post features capsules and vital information about each team fighting for a bid. Be sure to print it out and keep it on your nightstand, just in case you have trouble sleeping the next few nights.

Before I take a look at each tier of the at-large pool, here's a quick look at how many spots are available on the first Friday of February.

20 Locks and 9 Looking Good = 29 teams are in good shape.
6 of those 29 hold their conference's auto bid at the moment, so that means 23 at-larges are accounted for.
37 Total At-Large Bids - these 23 = 16 Available Bids

I have 39 teams profiled over at Bubble Watch (not all of whom are lucky enough to find themselves here), and eight of those currently hold their respective league's auto bid. Basically, the bubble is still overloaded.

For those who like stability, several teams have all but punched their dance tickets at this early date, and are now just fighting for seeding. The top 20, my Locks, currently hold the spots on the top five lines, where they'll be protected from a "home-crowd disadvantage" in the new Thursday/Friday Second Round.

The eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are the same as on Wednesday, but Syracuse jumps back up to the three line after their win over Connecticut on Wednesday night. Georgetown also moves up to a No. 3, with Wisconsin jumping to the four line, the place where Kentucky and Purdue drop after Tuesday losses.

1 line 1. Ohio State*
(Cleveland)
2. Texas*
(Tulsa)
3. Kansas
(Tulsa)
4. Pittsburgh*
(Washington)
2 line 8. Connecticut
(Washington)
7. Notre Dame
(Chicago)
6. BYU
(Denver)
5. San Diego State*
(Tucson)
3 line 9. Syracuse
(Cleveland)
10. Duke*
(Charlotte)
11. Georgetown
(Charlotte)
12. Villanova
(Tampa)
4 line 16. Texas A&M
(Tucson)
15. Purdue
(Denver)
14. Kentucky
(Tampa)
13. Wisconsin
(Chicago)
5 line 17. North Carolina 18. Louisville 19. Missouri 20. West Virginia

 

Here's how the top 16 break down between the four regions. Keep in mind that the top three teams from each conference must be placed in separate brackets, but thanks to the abundance of Big East teams on the top three lines, there's the potential of an all-Big East regional semifinal in Newark based on this projection.


East
Southwest
Southeast
West
1 seed
Ohio State*
(Cleveland) 
Texas*
(Tulsa) 
Kansas
(Tulsa) 
Pittsburgh*
(Washington) 
4 seed Texas A&M
(Tucson)
Purdue
(Denver)
Kentucky
(Tampa)
Wisconsin
(Chicago)
3 seed Syracuse
(Cleveland) 
Duke*
(Charlotte) 
Georgetown
(Charlotte)
Villanova
(Tampa)
2 seed
Connecticut
(Washington)
Notre Dame
(Chicago)
BYU
(Denver)
San Diego State*
(Tucson)

 

Washington falls out of the lock group, thanks to a bad loss at Oregon State on Thursday night. The Huskies join the teams ranked between 21st and 29th, the Looking Good group. These nine teams include three from the SEC; pairs from the Big Ten and Pac-10; and one each from the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.

Compared to last week, when 28 teams were either a lock or close, we've had an increase of one to 29. Things are a little more complicated than that; however, thanks to the Huskies departure from lock status and Florida State and Xavier's descent back to the "Work to Do" group. Arizona, UNLV and Tennessee rise up to replace the Seminoles and Musketeers.

6 line 24. Temple 23. Vanderbilt 22. Illinois 21. Florida
7 line 25. Washington
26. Minnesota
27. UNLV
28. Tennessee
8 line 29. Arizona*

 

Florida State and Xavier are joined by four others in the Work To Do group. These six have separated themselves slightly from the bottom of the at-large pool, though in the cases of UCLA and Georgia, there isn't a lot of breathing room between them and the last eight at-larges, especially considering the profiles of the three auto bid holders hovering around lines nine and 10. Again, Xavier fell here after Wednesday's bad loss at Charlotte, a defeat that cost them a share of the Atlantic 10 lead.

8 line 32. Cincinnati 31. Florida State 30. St. John's
9 line 33. Xavier
34. UCLA
35. Georgia

 

The final portion of the at-large pool is the Last Eight In, composed of the four teams who will have to play in the First Four in Dayton on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the round of 64 begins, AKA the "Last Four In," and the "Next Four In," the quartet fortunate enough to escape the extra game.

Your eyes aren't deceiving you. I did drop Michigan State (12-9 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) almost into the First Four, as they've lost four out of five and looked awful doing it. 

Two ACC teams find themselves among the last eight at this point, as Boston College has slipped down to join perennial Last Eight member Virginia Tech. The Eagles have gone 4-6 since the holidays, capped by a 32-point home loss to North Carolina on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Hokies are the second-to-last at-large in, thanks to the presence of a couple of bid thieves, Alabama from the SEC and A-10 leader Duquesne, who are keeping Gonzaga and Colorado out.

The last team in today is Oklahoma State, who returns after Washington State followed up their great win over Washington with a terrible 26-point loss at Oregon Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Penn State, another team yet to follow up an appearance in a projection with any sort of consistency on the court, fell out after their loss to Illinois. Their replacement is Kansas State, who still lacks a top 50 win, but has plenty of victories against other bubble teams. The Nittany Lions return to the First Four Out, where they're joined by Northern Iowa, who has the best non-conference profile of the three Missouri Valley contenders.

Auto Bids
In This Section
36. Cleveland State*
37. St. Mary's*
39. Utah State*

Direct Entry
(Next Four In)
38. Marquette 40. Boston College
41. Old Dominion
42. Michigan State
First Four
(Last Four In)
43. Richmond 44. Kansas State 45. Virginia Tech 46. Oklahoma State
First Four Out 47. Gonzaga 48. Colorado
49. Penn State 50. Northern Iowa

 

With the bubble being especially fluid this year, it's a good idea to keep an eye on a few extra teams. For example, take a look at how different the Last Eight In and First Eight Out looked for Wednesday's projection. Just a couple of days later, Kansas State and Duquesne have jumped in, while Gonzaga, Penn State, VCU, and Washington State have fallen out.

On the other hand, Butler and Missouri State are all but out of the at-large picture after road losses to Youngstown State and Evansville, respectively.

51. Washington State
52. VCU 53. Colorado State
54. New Mexico
55. Maryland 56. Memphis 57. Butler 58. Missouri State

 

Once again, if you'd like to read more about these eight teams, and all of the others who haven't quite hit lock status yet, head on over to Bubble Watch at Blogging the Bracket.

My next bracket update will appear here on SB Nation on Tuesday, February 8th. With this unpredictable season, it is safe to bet that there will be several changes between now and then.

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