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NCAA Tournament 2011 Bubble Watch: Plenty Of Bids Still Available For Decent Teams

At the close of this weekend, we'll be less than a month away from the 2011 NCAA Tournament's Selection Sunday, the time when 37 at-large teams will join 31 automatic qualifiers on the road to Houston.

Four weekends from that hour full of suspense, heartbreak, and pure, unadulterated joy, we still have a whole lot of basketball teams on the national landscape who haven't quite proven themselves as worthy of a bid. In fact, you may even think that some of these clubs don't even want to participate in the greatest annual sporting event held in this country. (The nerve!)

Still, the rules require 68 teams, so the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee will have to find 37 teams to make up the numbers, somehow, and my role here is to best guess who they will be.

Of course, if it feels like I've said this before, I probably have, and likely will again next season (or even next week). Then again, we can all be happy that they didn't expand the field to 96.

Just like last week, I'll count through the field, running through who's a lock, close, and on the bubble here at SB Nation, while providing more details in a lengthy post over at Blogging the Bracket. For starters, there has been just one change from Tuesday's bracket projection in terms of the at-large teams present, a piece of news revealed in the summary of this page. With that in mind, here's a quick look at how many spots are available four weeks and two days from Selection Sunday.

19 Locks + 11 Looking Good = 30 teams in good shape.
8 of these 30 hold their conference's auto bid at the moment, so 22 at-larges are accounted for.
37 Total At-Large Bids - 22 = 15 Available Bids

Over at the Blogging the Bracket version of Bubble Watch, I have 37 teams profiled (and five of them hold their respective conference's auto bids at the moment).

There are 19 Locks this week, one fewer than last week, as Missouri and Texas A&M fall, thanks to some recent struggles, while Florida jumps up after a pair of very close home wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt and an impressive win at South Carolina on Wednesday night.

1 line 1. Ohio State*
2. Texas*
3. Kansas
4. Pittsburgh*
2 line 8. Notre Dame
7. San Diego State* 6. BYU
5. Duke*
3 line 9. Georgetown 10. Syracuse 11. Connecticut 12. Purdue
4 line 16. Kentucky
15. Wisconsin 14. Florida* 13. Villanova
5 line 17. North Carolina
18. Louisville 19. West Virginia 20. Missouri

Based on these seedings, and the principles and procedures established by the selection committee, here are how the top 16 fall into the four regions. Thanks to some shifting in the Big East, the potential regional semifinals are intraconference matchup-free; however, there are a couple of tantalizing matchups between near neighbors--Ohio State vs. Kentucky in the East and Purdue against Notre Dame in the Southeast.

1 seed
Ohio State*
4 seed Kentucky
3 seed Georgetown
2 seed
San Diego State*
Notre Dame

While the top 19 teams in this projection are locks, the final protected seed, Missouri, joins teams 21 through 30 in the Looking Good group. This portion of the S-curve spans from coast-to-coast with the Atlantic 10 and Pacific-10 each providing a pair of teams, as do the BIg 12, SEC, and Big Ten. The 11th team (in terms of this count, not seeding), UNLV, represents the Mountain West.

So, compared to last week, when 29 teams were either a lock or close, our numbers have increased by one, thanks to Xavier's impressive win at Georgia on Tuesday night.

6 line 24. Arizona *
23. Temple
22. Texas A&M
21. Vanderbilt
7 line 25. UNLV 26. Washington
27. Illinois 28. Xavier
8 line 30. Minnesota 29. Tennessee

The Bubble is synonymous with the Work To Do group, which begins in the middle of line No. 8 on the S-curve. Again, these teams have particular issues on their profiles that are keeping them from absolute safety, like a bad loss or two, too many cupcakes on the schedule, or a poor record away from home. Two teams that own auto bids at the moment, St. Mary's and George Mason, fit in this group, and both have real at-large hopes right now.

8 line 32. UCLA 31. Florida State

9 line 33. St. John's
34. St. Mary's* 35. George Mason* 36. Marquette
10 line
39. Boston College 38. Georgia
37. Cincinnati

The teams under the most pressure on the bubble are the Last Eight In. Remember, there are two distinct races with in this group, as quartet of teams, the "Next Four In," will earn direct entry into the Second Round on Thursday, March 17th and Friday, March 18th, while the "Last Four In" will have to play an extra game in Dayton on either the Tuesday or Wednesday before the round of 64 begins. Michigan State jumps back in to the field as the very last team in, thanks to two events on Thursday night, their win over fading Penn State and Alabama's loss at Vanderbilt. That defeat cost the Crimson Tide the SEC's auto bid.

Two auto-bid holders, Utah State and Wichita State, fit in this neighborhood of the bracket. Both of these teams' at-large chances took a serious hit this week, thanks to bad losses. The Aggies lost their first WAC game, falling at Idaho on Wednesday night, while the Shockers dropped a home game to former Missouri Valley darling Southern Illinois the evening before.

Auto Bids
In This Section
44. Utah State*
45. Wichita State*

Direct Entry
(Next Four In)
40. Richmond 41. Old Dominion 42. Oklahoma State 43. Virginia Tech
First Four
(Last Four In)
46. Kansas State 47. Memphis 48. Baylor 49. Michigan State
First Four Out 49. Colorado State 50. VCU 51. New Mexico
52. Missouri State

Here are the remaining teams I have under consideration heading into the weekend. I removed Butler, Cleveland State, Dayton Flyers, and Northern Iowa after losses in the past week, while Harvard jumps in, even though it is highly unlikely for the Ivy League to receive more its automatic bid, which Princeton holds at the moment (and when I say "highly unlikely," I mean "only if the apocalypse is well and truly upon us").

53. Harvard 54. Gonzaga 55. UAB 56. Duquesne
60. Clemson 59. Alabama
58. Washington State 57. Colorado
61. Mississippi 62. Michigan 63. Southern Mississippi
64. Maryland

65. Penn State

For detailed profiles of these 13 teams, and all of the others who are trying to lock a bid up, check out my complete Bubble Watch post over at Blogging the Bracket. My next update, a full bracket projection, will appear here at SB Nation on Tuesday, February 15th.