College Basketball: 12 Bubble Teams With a Make-or-Break Week
The college basketball regular season has reached an end, and the vast majority of the 351 Division-I men's teams know whether they will be heading to the Big Dance or somewhere else. However, for a handful of teams, the results of the conference tournament will decide their fate.
Obviously, teams could go on a miracle run and claim an automatic bid, but these squads are close enough that adding big wins or avoiding bad losses will be enough to send them dancing.
According to our bracketology and the average of Bracket Matrix's contributors, the 12 teams listed below are projected to be just within or outside the field when it will be announced on Selection Sunday and the ball is in their court to prove to the committee they belong.
Rhode Island Rams - 21-9 (13-5) nF Seed: 12, Bracket Matrix Seed: OUT
Rhode Island, along with Illinois State, will be our test-case for how mid-major bubble teams are treated.
The Rams have a solid resume compared to those on the bubble, but the committee favored power conference teams least year when selecting at-large teams. If Rhode Island does not get tripped up by St. Bonaventure in their first game, the top seed in the A-10 tournament, Dayton, will be waiting for them.
Rhode Island was swept by the Flyers, but only by a total of four points.
Syracuse Orange - 18-13 (10-8) nF Seed: OUT, Bracket Matrix Seed: 11
Syracuse has once again found themselves on the bubble, much to the chagrin of head coach Jim Boeheim. They get an immediate shot at a Miami (FL) team that should safely be in the field, and if they beat them, top-seeded North Carolina is waiting for them.
The games alone should boost their shaky computer numbers (80 RPI), but a win over North Carolina should make Sunday easier for the Orange.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons - 18-12 (9-9) nF Seed: 10, Bracket Matrix Seed 11
Wake Forest took advantage of their opportunities last week with a home win over Louisville and another triumph on the road at Virginia Tech. If Wake can get past Boston College, they get another shot at the Hokies and potentially Florida State after that.
Wake Forest should be in with the current state of the bubble, but if they lose to BC, that could be in question.
Kansas State Wildcats - 19-12 (8-10) nF Seed: OUT, Bracket Matrix: OUT
While Kansas State appears to be on the outside looking in, they have plenty of opportunities to change that in the Big 12 tournament.
A big knock on K-State's resume is their lack of big wins, only holding three in the top 50 and five in the top 100. The Wildcats' first opponent this week will be Baylor, and if they get past the Bears, they will face West Virginia.
If they got those two wins and meet Kansas in the Big 12 championship, the improvement to their wins, RPI, and strength of schedule may propel Kansas State into the field.
Providence Friars - 20-11 (10-8) - nF Seed: 10, Bracket Matrix: 10
While the Friars look to be safely in the field, additional good wins will help offset some of their bad early losses. First up for Providence will be Creighton, a top-50 opponent. A win there will likely bring a matchup with Butler, a top-25 opponent.
A win or two will certainly give them a chance to climb up the rankings.
Marquette and Seton Hall are in a similar position because they face each other in the first round. Both teams claimed solid wins over the weekend and enter the week with a good chance at receiving at-large bids.
The winner of this game would get another top-50 win and likely play Villanova for the chance to add another top-25 win to their respective resumes.
Xavier Musketeers 19-12 (9-9), nF Seed: 11, Bracket Matrix: 11
Xavier has been reeling, losing five of their last six games, dropping all the way from the AP rankings to the bubble in a matter of weeks.
First up for the Musketeers will be DePaul, who they just beat on Saturday. A loss to DePaul would be enough to make Xavier sweat it out until Sunday, but a win gives them a shot at Butler. A win there would give Xavier hope of turning things around and probably be enough to earn a bid.
Illinois Fighting Illini 18-13 (8-10), nF Seed: OUT, Bracket Matrix: OUT
A loss at Rutgers over the weekend has Illinois all but eliminated from the NCAA tournament discussion, but the Illini still have a little life due to the weak bubble and opportunities in the Big Ten tournament.
They'll first face tournament-hopeful Michigan, but that alone will not be enough. Luckily, top-seeded Purdue will be waiting for the winner that matchup on Friday. It would take beating the Boilermakers for Illinois to have a good chance at the Big Dance, but the path is there for them to do it.
California Golden Bears 19-11 (10-8), nF Seed: 13, Bracket Matrix: OUT
Cal did themselves no favors by dropping two games last week at Utah and at Colorado, but the state of the bubble keeps the Golden Bears alive for now. They will have to survive the first two rounds, which would match them up with Oregon State and Utah again, but waiting for them after that would be Oregon.
A win over Oregon would certainly boost Cal's resume, but still would not guarantee anything depending on how everyone else performs this week.
USC Trojans 23-8 (10-8), nF Seed: 9, Bracket Matrix Seed: 11
USC should be safely in the tournament based on their record, but similar to Cal's situation, their lack of quality non-conference games and top-heavy state of the Pac 12 makes their computer numbers look much less impressive than their counterparts on the bubble.
If the Trojans win their opening game against Washington, they get another shot at a UCLA team they knocked off earlier in the season. Any game against a high-profile team in the Pac 12 will help their cause, but wins will go far in securing a spot.
Vanderbilt Commodores 17-14 (10-8), nF Seed: 12, Bracket Matrix Seed: 12
Vanderbilt enters the SEC tournament in a precarious position. They have shown the ability to beat very good teams, but no team with 15 losses has been selected as an at-large team by the tournament committee since the field expanded in 1985.
The Commodores did an honorable thing by taking on the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, but their 7-6 record in non-conference play may be the thing that keeps them outside of the field. If they can knock off Texas A&M, they get another shot at Florida, who they have already swept this year. That could be enough to get Vandy in, but any loss prior to then will likely keep them out.