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Bubble Watch: 2011 NCAA Tournament Picture Becoming Clearer With 10 At-Large Bids Left

When I last posted a Bubble Watch, there was a feeling of spring in the air in the Washington, D.C. area. The unseasonably warm temperatures and sunshine made it feel like March, and elimination basketball had already arrived. But the rapid return of colder temperatures was merely an indicator of something that became more apparent as I watched games over the past week. Indeed, March had not yet arrived, which means urgency is lacking among many teams who still have a chance at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Over the past seven days, a few teams picked up significant victories to boost their NCAA Tournament profiles, but the overwhelming majority of bubble teams were more than happy to lose, falling in fashions that ranged from devastating (Michigan at home against Wisconsin on Wednesday night, thanks to Jeff Gasser) to stupefying (Nebraska losing at home to Kansas State, courtesy of some curious late game strategy).

So, with a little more than two weeks to go before Selection Sunday, I decided to fast forward a bit to Halloween, even if that holiday is a bit closer to the beginning of the next campaign than the end of this one. That's because I've decided to hand out spots in the "Lock" and "In Good Shape" categories like candy, mostly because so many teams on the edge of the bubble can't seem to put it together. Here's how the bid picture stacks up right now.

26 Locks + 11 In Good Shape = 37 teams at or near safety
10 of these 37 hold their conference's auto bid at the moment, so 27 at-larges are accounted for
37 Total At-Large Bids - 27 = 10 Available Bids

That's an increase of seven locks and six accounted for at-larges over last week. Over at Blogging the Bracket, I've detailed 31 teams that are in play for those final spots.

Among the top 20 teams in my bracket, there haven't been many changes since my Bracketology post on Tuesday projection post. Purdue jumps up to the two line, replacing Georgetown, after the Hoyas' fell to Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Connecticut remains despite their OT loss to Marquette on Thursday evening. That's because Arizona missed a chance to rise when they were upset by USC a couple of hours later.

1 line 1. Ohio State*
2. Pittsburgh*
3. Kansas
4. Texas*
2 line 8. Purdue
7. San Diego State* 6. BYU
5. Duke*
3 line 9. Florida*
10. Notre Dame 11.Georgetown
12. Louisville
4 line 16. Connecticut
15. North Carolina 14. Wisconsin 13. Syracuse
5 line 17. Villanova 18. Arizona*
19. St. John's
20. Texas A&M


Per the NCAA's Principles and Procedures document, here are the site and regional assignments for the top 16 teams in the bracket. Have I mentioned that the lack of a Midwest Region this year makes this part of the process a bit more difficult than it should be? (It will return next season, however.)

1 seed
Ohio State*
4 seed Connecticut*
North Carolina
3 seed Louisville
Notre Dame
2 seed
San Diego State*


Over the past few weeks, the line between Locks, teams in Good Shape, and Bubble teams has been pretty clear in my S-curve. That changes with this post because of one team, Florida State, who could be an interesting case for the selection committee. Without Chris Singleton, the Seminoles are a bubble team among a bunch of teams that are near locks, as they simply haven't been the same in their first two games without him, a win over Wake Forest and loss at Maryland, and games against Miami and North Carolina will be tough to win without him. That could cause Florida State to tumble further down the S-curve.

6 line 24. Vanderbilt
23. Xavier*
22. Kentucky
21. Missouri
7 line 25. West Virginia 26. Temple 27. Tennessee
(Good Shape)
28. George Mason*
(Good Shape)
8 line 32. Utah State*
(Good Shape)
31. Washington
(Good Shape)

30. UNLV
(Good Shape)

29. Cincinnati
(Good Shape)
9 line 33. Florida State
34. UCLA
(Good Shape)
35. Kansas State
(Good Shape)
36. Michigan State
(Good Shape)
10 line
39. Marquette
38. Illinois
37. Old Dominion
(Good Shape)


Even though Georgia appears among the Next Four In, the Bulldogs are considerably safer than the other three teams in that group. As I stressed in a Q&A over at Dawg Sports on Wednesday, they should get in if they avoid the dreaded late bad loss. Another set of Bulldogs, last year's National Runner-Up, Butler, can improve its case considerably by claiming the Horizon League regular season crown, which is a slim possibility. Milwaukee, a team that swept the Bulldogs in the regular season is in the driver's seat, however.

Among the Last Four In, Boston College and Minnesota are both in dire need of wins. On Saturday, the Eagles will attempt to do what Virginia Tech couldn't a week ago, win at Virginia, while the Golden Gophers will look to pop Michigan's bubble once and for all at Williams Arena.

As much as I've criticized Alabama for their lack of success outside of the SEC (and their gaudy league record, which comes courtesy of their place in the weak West), they're the team in the First Four Out group who has the best shot to jump into the field as an at-large, but they can't afford a loss at Mississippi on Saturday afternoon.

The West Coast Conference is a twobid league for the moment, as Gonzaga was able to avenge an earlier loss at home to St. Mary's on Thursday night. The Gaels still hold the auto bid, but the Bulldogs look to be in good position to finish second, a necessity for their conference tournament (as the top two earn a bye to the semifinals in Las Vegas) and at-large hopes.

Auto Bids
In This Section
43. St. Mary's* 49. Wichita State*

Direct Entry
(Next Four In)
40. Georgia 41. Virginia Tech 42. Butler
44. Gonzaga
First Four
(Last Four In)
48. Colorado 47. Boston College 46. Minnesota 45. Richmond
First Four Out 69. Alabama
70. VCU
71. Memphis
72. Colorado State


BracketBuster defeats and some poorly-timed conference losses mean the group of teams under consideration is a little thinner this week. Cleveland State dropped out because of both, falling at Old Dominion over the weekend, then to Milwaukee on Thursday night in Horizon League play. Valparaiso, who handled Missouri State in their late non-conference showcase, has dropped three conference games of late, which doomed their already slim chances. On the other hand, the Bears have a pulse (barely), thanks to Saturday's game with Wichita State, and a potential rematch in the Missouri Valley Championship Game, but I wouldn't count on the Valley receiving two bids at this point. UTEP also slides out after dropping three of their last four conference games.

USC moves in after their win over Arizona last night.

73. Clemson 74. Baylor
75. Penn State
76. Nebraska
80. Harvard 79. Washington State 78. Maryland 77. USC
81. Miami 82. Oklahoma State 83. Southern Mississippi 84. Missouri State

86. UAB 85. Michigan


For detailed profiles of these 14 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.

As promised in my last bracketology post, here's a list of games to watch over the weekend and on Monday night, with Saturday once again being loaded with games of both bracket and bubble impact.

Saturday, February 26, 2011
Syracuse at Georgetown, CBS (12 p.m. ET)
Missouri at Kansas State, ESPN (12 p.m. ET)
Boston College at Virginia, FS South/FS Florida/NESN/CSN Washington (12 p.m. ET)
James Madison at VCU, CSN New England/Comcast Network (12 p.m. ET)
Wichita State at Missouri State, ESPN2 (1 p.m. ET)
Nebraska at Iowa State, Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (1:30 p.m. ET)
Texas Tech at Oklahoma State, Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (1:30 p.m. ET)
BYU at San Diego State, CBS (2 p.m. ET)
St. John's at Villanova, ESPN (2 p.m. ET)
Miami at Florida State, ACC Network Regional or ESPN3/Full Court (2 p.m. ET)
Green Bay at Cleveland State. WWRD/STO/Horizon League Network (2 p.m. ET)
Loyola-Chicago at Butler, WNDY/Lakeshore/Horizon League Network (2 p.m. ET)
Memphis at UTEP, ESPN2 (3 p.m. ET)
Florida at Kentucky, CBS (4 p.m. ET)
Arizona at UCLA, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (4 p.m. ET)
Wake Forest at Clemson, FS South/Sun Sports/NESN/CSN Washington+ (4 p.m. ET)
Alabama at Mississippi, SEC Network/ESPN3/Full Court (4 p.m. ET)
Texas at Colorado, Big 12 Network Regional/ESPN3/Full Court (4 p.m. ET)
Michigan at Minnesota, Big Ten Network (4:30 p.m. ET)
Colorado State at Air Force, The Mtn. (5:30 p.m. ET)
Mississippi State at Tennessee, ESPN (6 p.m. ET)
UAB at Houston, CBS College Sports (6 p.m. ET)
South Carolina at Georgia, FS South/Sun Sports/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
UC Santa Barbara at Long Beach State, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Duke at Virginia Tech, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
San Diego at Gonzaga, KHQ/4 SD/FS Northwest (9 p.m. ET)
Wyoming at UNLV, The Mtn. (10 p.m. ET)
Portland at St. Mary's, CSN Northwest/CSN Bay Area (11 p.m. ET)

Sunday, February 27, 2011
Connecticut at Cincinnati, ESPNU (12 p.m. ET)
West Virginia at Rutgers, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (12 p.m. ET)
Purdue at Michigan State, ESPN (1 p.m. ET)
Xavier at Dayton, ESPN2 (1 p.m. ET)
Boston University at Vermont, CSN New England/ESPN3/Full Court (1 p.m. ET)
St. Peter's at Rider, MSG+/MASN/ESPN3/Full Court (1 p.m. ET)
Pittsburgh at Louisville, CBS (2 p.m. ET)
Providence at Marquette, Big East Network/ESPN3/Full Court (4 p.m. ET)
Maryland at North Carolina, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (7:45 p.m. ET)
Washington State at Washington, FSN/Comcast SportsNet (10 p.m. ET)

Monday, February 28, 2011
Villanova at Notre Dame, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
Kansas State at Texas, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)

Be sure to visit Blogging the Bracket for more on these games, via my daily TV preview posts. You'll also want to visit the blog on most mornings, as I'll have an updated S-curve based on the previous night's action. To make things easier, you can follow me on Twitter to find out about new posts immediately and to follow my random thoughts during each day and night's action.