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Bracketology 2018: The third annual ‘Bad Week for Bubble Teams’

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It’s uncanny how there always seems to be one stretch during each season when nearly every team fighting for a bid takes a loss simultaneously.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Washington
Remember when Arizona State was a threat to earn a No. 1 seed? Yeah, me either.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to spend a ton of time at the top of the bracket, since there have been relatively few changes to the top four seed lines since Tuesday’s full projection.

Note: Quality win data (the number in parentheses, see last week’s post for more info) and RPI information are courtesy WarrenNolan.com and accurate as of the morning of Feb. 2, 2018.

Protected Seeds

No. 1 Seeds No. 2 Seeds No. 3 Seeds No. 4 Seeds
No. 1 Seeds No. 2 Seeds No. 3 Seeds No. 4 Seeds
1. Villanova* (6/11) 5. Duke (4/9) 9. Oklahoma (6/7) 13. Cincinnati* (4/10)
2. Virginia* (6/11) 6. Xavier (5/9) 10. Kentucky (3/11) 14. Arizona* (2/7)
3. Purdue* (6/11) 7. Auburn* (5/9) 11. Tennessee (4/9) 15. Texas Tech (3/7)
4. Kansas* (8/11) 8. Clemson (5/11) 12. North Carolina (5/7) 16. Seton Hall (4/5)
* = auto bid

The most noteworthy swaps above: the 18-4 Clemson Tigers replace the 16-7 North Carolina Tar Heels as No. 2 seeds, following the Tigers’ Tuesday 82-78 home win over the Tar Heels, while the Tennessee Volunteers, who have somewhat quietly gone 16-5 and rank eighth in KenPom and 12th in the RPI, jump to line three, displacing the American-leading Cincinnati Bearcats. That’s even though the Bearcats have already won 20 games (and rank fifth in KenPom). However, Mick Cronin’s team’s best win at the moment came against the Buffalo Bulls, who will almost assuredly need to win the MAC tournament to make the field.

Meanwhile, the Volunteers have already defeated the Purdue Boilermakers (in the Battle 4 Atlantis), a projected No. 1 seed, and the third-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (in Knoxville). Making matters worse for Cincinnati — its best conference win opportunities aren’t looking so hot at the moment. More on that in a bit.

Protected Seeds by Region

1. EAST 4. WEST 2. SOUTH 3. MIDWEST
1. EAST 4. WEST 2. SOUTH 3. MIDWEST
1. Villanova* (Pittsburgh) 1. Kansas* (Wichita) 1. Virginia* (Charlotte) 1. Purdue* (Detroit)
4. Texas Tech (Boise) 4. Arizona* (San Diego) 4. Cincinnati* (Boise) 4. Seton Hall (San Diego)
3. North Carolina (Dallas) 3. Tennessee (Dallas) 3. Kentucky (Detroit) 3. Oklahoma (Wichita)
2. Auburn* (Nashville) 2. Clemson (Pittsburgh) 2. Xavier (Nashville) 2. Duke (Charlotte)

While the Seton Hall Pirates return to the top 16, the Pirates’ reward is a trip to San Diego. Although, to be fair, that would have been the likely outcome were they a five seed.

The next four days primarily feature “trap” games for the protected seed contenders, but there are two notable exceptions. First, on Super Bowl Sunday, the No. 1 overall seed Villanova Wildcats, fresh off annihilating the Creighton Bluejays on Thursday night, host Seton Hall in a noon tip (Fox). Then, Monday’s light slate is highlighted by the West Virginia Mountaineers’ visit to the Oklahoma Sooners (9 p.m., ESPN). While the Mountaineers topped the Sooners by 13 on Jan. 6, they’ve gone 2-5 since, dropping three straight — slipping to the five line today.

In Good Shape

No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
No. 5 seeds No. 6 seeds No. 7 seeds
17. West Virginia (4/7) 21. Michigan (2/4) 25. Butler (3/5)
18. Michigan State (2/6) 22. Miami (Fla.) (3/5) 26. TCU (2/6)
19. Florida (5/8) 23. Louisville (2/3) 27. Rhode Island* (1/4)
20. Ohio State (1/6) 24. Saint Mary's* (2/4) 28. Gonzaga (4/4)
* = auto bid

Yes, the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes remain as No. 5 seeds, joining West Virginia and the Florida Gators today. (For more on my reasoning why, check my post from one week ago.) The Gators’ quality wins keep them afloat , as their Tier 1 win total rivals that of a protected seed. However, Florida’s inconsistency, and resulting losses, keeps it out of the bracket’s upper echelons.

The Butler Bulldogs are the biggest movers in this group, having gone from wearing the dark jerseys in a 7/10 matchup to white ones over the span of a few days. However, with a 5-7 record in Tier 1 and 2 games (with a trio of Tier 1 wins), the Bulldogs are another squad that needs more consistency to lock down, or even improve, their position.

Key Weekend Games

Miami at Virginia Tech, Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Texas Tech at TCU, Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
Alabama at Florida, Saturday, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Florida State at Louisville, Saturday, 4 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)

Bubble In

No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seeds
No. 8 seeds No. 9 seeds No. 10 seeds
29. Wichita State (0/8) 33. Alabama (4/8) 37. Texas (4/6)
30. Arkansas (3/5) 34. Providence (4/5) 38. USC (2/6)
31. Creighton (2/7) 35. Florida State (4/5)
32. Nevada* (1/4) 36. Arizona State (3/5)
* = auto bid

Seemingly every season, I write a post about how it looks every single bubble team conspired to pick a week where they would all lose. For 2018, the transition from January to February was that time. The Alabama Crimson Tide, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arkansas Razorbacks, Creighton Bluejays, Florida State Seminoles, Providence Friars, Texas Longhorns, and Wichita State Shockerseight of the 10 teams in the “Bubble In” group above — lost over the past three nights. And that prevented each and every one of them from consolidating their respective positions. The most disappointing defeat might have been the Crimson Tide’s, as a home loss to the Missouri Tigers wasn’t a great followup to Saturday’s impressive victory over Oklahoma.

Wichita State’s struggles in its first American Athletic Conference season continue, as the Shockers, now without a Tier 1 win, dropped their third conference game of the year, at the Temple Owls on Thursday night. For perspective, the last time Gregg Marshall’s team lost more than two league games in the Missouri Valley came in the 2012-13 season. That year, the Shockers went 12-6 in the Valley, finishing second behind Creighton, and managed to earn a No. 9 seed in 2013’s NCAAs.

More troubling, however, is the decline of Arizona State, which held a No. 2 seed less than one month ago. Since starting 12-0, the Sun Devils have gone 4-6 in Pac-12 play and still have yet to string consecutive conference wins together. Early victories over Kansas and Xavier still carry tremendous weight, but Bobby Hurley’s team could drop out of the bracket entirely if it doesn’t get its act together soon.

Key Weekend Games

Providence at Marquette, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (FS1)
Arkansas at LSU, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
USC at UCLA, Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Oklahoma at Texas, Saturday, 6:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Arizona State at Washington State, Sunday, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

The Cut Line

Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out
Last Four Byes Last Four In First Four Out Next Four Out
39. Texas A&M (3/5) 43. Kansas State (2/6) 69. WKU (1/5) 73. Syracuse (0/4)
40. Missouri (4/5) 44. Marquette (2/4) 70. Houston (3/4) 74. Boise State (0/4)
41. Washington (3/4) 45. Virginia Tech (3/6) 71. Georgia (2/7) 75. South Carolina (3/5)
42. N.C. State (4/4) 46. St. Bonaventure (2/4) 72. SMU (2/5) 76. Miss. State (2/3)

Wednesday’s win in Tuscaloosa pushed Mizzou back into the field — and above the First Four places as well, thanks to results elsewhere. The Texas A&M Aggies‘ Tuesday home victory over Arkansas also gave the Aggies a bit of breathing room with an intriguing home game with the South Carolina Gamecocks coming up on Saturday.

The Washington Huskies and North Carolina State Wolfpack jump into the “Last Four Byes” group. On the other hand, the Marquette Golden Eagles drop into the “Last Four In” following Wednesday’s home blowout loss at the hands of Butler. While the Golden Eagles’ 4-9 record against Tiers 1 and 2 is a just pair of losses worse than the Bulldogs’ 4-7 mark, Butler’s quartet of quality wins has something that Marquette doesn’t — a true top-tier win (over Villanova) with a chance at earning more. Steve Wojciechowski’s squad has already been swept by both Nova and Xavier, while the Bulldogs will play both again in the next nine days.

The Syracuse Orange, a road loser to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Wednesday night, and the SMU Mustangs, upset by the Tulsa Golden Hurricane last night, both depart the field of 68, along with the Houston Cougars. Their replacements (other than previously mentioned Missouri): the Virginia Tech Hokies, even if they needed overtime to beat the Boston College Eagles on Wednesday to extend their winning streak to three, and the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, who have won three in a row to get back over .500 in a subpar Atlantic 10.

The next four days will be particularly important for Syracuse’s hopes, as they welcome Virginia to the Carrier Dome on Saturday and visit the Louisville Cardinals on Big Monday. Elsewhere, N.C. State, Kansas State and Washington will all have opportunities to solidify their profiles on Saturday.

Key Weekend Games

Houston at UCF, Saturday, 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
Notre Dame at N.C. State, Saturday, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Kentucky at Missouri, Saturday, 2 p.m. (CBS)
South Carolina at Texas A&M, Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Kansas State at West Virginia, Saturday, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Virginia at Syracuse, Saturday, 4 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3)
Georgia at Mississippi State, Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
St. Bonaventure at Duquesne, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
UNLV at Boise State, Saturday, 8 p.m. (CBSSN)
Arizona at Washington, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
Syracuse at Louisville, Monday, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Also Considered

Teams 77-80 Teams 81-84 Teams 85-88 Teams 89-91
Teams 77-80 Teams 81-84 Teams 85-88 Teams 89-91
77. Utah (1/5) 81. UCLA (1/3) 85. Temple (4/6) 89. Boston College (1/2)
78. LSU (4/6) 82. Nebraska (0/2) 86. Oregon (1/4) 90. Baylor (1/2)
79. Notre Dame (2/4) 83. UCF (1/3) 87. Iowa State (2/3) 91. BYU (1/2)
80. Maryland (1/1) 84. Wyoming (1/4) 88. Colorado (2/4)

This week’s “Also Considered” group is six teams smaller than last week’s, and you can expect its number to shrink as the days go on. The Temple Owls are undoubtedly the team with the most intriguing profile of the 15. For starters, Thursday’s win over Wichita State is the Owls’ fourth Tier 1 win. Earlier in the season, Fran Dunphy’s team defeated a pair of projected two seeds — the Tigers of Auburn and Clemson — en route to claiming the Charleston Classic title. They’ve since added wins over the Shockers and SMU in league play. Plus, the Owls even have neutral-site victories over South Carolina and Old Dominion Monarchs for good measure.

However, Temple has also already lost 10 times, with four of those losses falling within Tier 3. That’s not ideal. Making matters worse, two of those defeats, to the Memphis Tigers and Tulane Green Wave, came at the Liacouras Center. If the Owls want to remain in the picture, they cannot afford a sweep at the hands of the Green Wave. I doubt they’d be able to match last season’s 15-loss Vanderbilt team’s path to an at-large.

Key Weekend Games

Oregon at Stanford, Saturday, 5 p.m. (Fox)
Iowa State at Baylor, Saturday, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
BYU at Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Georgia Tech at Boston College, Sunday, 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
Wisconsin at Maryland, Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Temple at Tulane, Sunday, 3 p.m. (ESPNews)

Likely Auto Bid Only

No. 12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
No. 12 seeds No. 13 seeds No. 14 seeds No. 15 seeds No. 16 seeds
47. New Mexico State* (1/2) 51. South Dakota St.* 55. Vermont* 59. UC Santa Barbara* 63. FGCU*
48. Middle Tennessee* (1/4) 52. Louisiana* 56. Rider* 60. Montana* 64. Radford*
49. Loyola (Ill.)* (1/4) 53. Belmont* 57. Wright State* 61. Charleston* 65. Harvard*
50. Buffalo* (0/1) 54. ETSU* 58. Bucknell* 62. Wagner* 66. New Orleans*
* = auto bid 67. Ark.-Pine Bluff*
68. Savannah State*

While the teams on the 12 line still have varying chances of earning an at-large should things go wrong in March, I want to close today’s post with a word about the final team in this table — the Savannah State Tigers. Horace Broadnax’s team currently leads the MEAC by a half-game and the nation in adjusted tempo per KenPom. The Tigers have never made the NCAA tournament and time is running out — they’re reclassifying to Division II after next season. Savannah State wasn’t even supposed to be eligible this season, thanks to APR penalties, but the NCAA wisely granted the Tigers a waiver. Keep an eye on them over the next five weeks, particularly during the MEAC tournament, which concludes on the afternoon of Selection Eve in Norfolk, Virginia.

As usual, my next projection will be posted on Tuesday. Next Friday, we will be one month and two days from Selection Sunday 2018, so it will be time to hand out our first locks of the season.