Yes, it’s time for the return of Bubble Watch, traditionally one of the most read set of posts all season as we try to make sense of the numbers leading up to Selection Monday. As always, these groupings are based on Chris Thomas’ exemplary work with the RPI. His system has been revised this season, which means there are going to be a lot more teams in contention for the next few weeks before the field of potential at-large teams gets pared down considerably.
With that in mind, I’ve separated clubs into four groups for the moment:
Lock – Clubs who, according to past historical precedent, are locks to be included in the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier A – The “should be in” crowd. Clubs who, if the season ended today, would be all but guaranteed spots in the NCAA Tournament.
Bubble Tier B – All bubble teams not included in the other two tiers.
Bubble Tier C – The danger zone. Teams currently in an RPI position that disappears from at-large consideration in the following week’s report. The “bubble to the bubble” in a way.
Bubble Tier B – Stony Brook, Boston University
Bubble Tier C – Maine, Hartford
The annual mystery of if Boston University will be in the mix for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament has instead been replaced with the battle to win the league’s automatic bid with the Terriers banned from the conference tournament thanks to their pending move to the Patriot League. It meant that BU would have to get an at-large bid if they wanted to extend their NCAA Tournament streak. Needless to say, with no significant wins and numerous close calls, the best BU can hope for is winning another league title. Their biggest rivals could be Stony Brook, who has wins over St. John’s and Army, though they aren’t anywhere close to an at-large bid either. On the fringe are Maine, who has overachieved to be in their current position, and Hartford, who have very much underachieved to be close to bubble elimination.
Bubble Tier B – Dayton, Butler, UMass, Charlotte, La Salle, Fordham, VCU
Bubble Tier C – Saint Louis
I figured that the A10 was going to be the top mid-major league in the country at the beginning of the season. The reality? Not so much. A league which I figured could get an at-large bid or two seems to have underachieved in some respects and is looking squarely at being a one-bid conference. Dayton’s defense has been atrocious for much of the year, and losses to Texas, Central Michigan, and DePaul have likely sealed their bubble fate. A win over Northwestern could do them some good, but there’s just not much room for improvement in front of them, meaning landing on the bubble is unlikely unless a lot of teams lose in front of them. There’s plenty joining them on the second tier of the bubble right now. Butler has a win over Purdue and might have merited some discussion had they not dropped a match to Eastern Michigan. UMass is likely as high as they are because of a tough non-conference schedule, as they don’t have any real egregious losses but don’t have quality wins either. A win over East Carolina and draw with Clemson have served Charlotte well, but defeat to Davidson was a backbreaker. La Salle has put up some gaudy offensive numbers and did top West Virginia on the road earlier, but a loss to Villanova and some real stinkers for non-conference opponents has curtailed their bubble hopes. Fordham may have one of the upsets of the season against Maryland, but puzzling losses against Marist, St. John’s (NY), and Columbia raise questions about how the club will do against top A10 competition. VCU got off to a rough start with a draw against High Point and loss to Akron but are now unbeaten in six, including knocking off CAA favorite William & Mary, meaning they may be a club to watch in the league. 2-5-2 Saint Louis is likely on the list for now thanks to a very challenging non-conference slate, but the Billikens don’t have anything approaching a quality result.
Lock – Florida State, North Carolina, Boston College
Bubble Tier A – Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Maryland
Bubble Tier B – Clemson, Miami (FL)
Last season, the ACC got an unprecedented nine bids to the NCAA Tournament. This season? Well, the league is looking good for eight bids, but matching last year’s nine could be trickier. Florida State, North Carolina, and Boston College have all done enough to ensure their spot in the Big Dance and will be pushing for one of the coveted #1 seeds. With FSU and UNC meeting this week, the winner could gain a serious leg up in the race for that top seed. Duke looks pretty close to joining that top line, but probably needs to finish strong if they want to be in line for a strong national seed given their 1-1-1 record in their past three. Virginia’s posted a gaudy record, but their lack of a statement win is keeping them from rising higher, though they’ve got plenty of chances from now to the rest of the season. Wake Forest is paying the price for the early season stretch that saw them draw with UNC Wilmington and lose to UNC Greensboro. They should be in contention for a national seed, but their chance for a #1 seed may have passed. Virginia Tech has a great win over Illinois to hang their hat on, but their odds of a national seed are slipping after a slow ACC start. Maryland’s an extremely curious case right now. An indifferent non-conference slate had them well back from their ACC brethren at the beginning of league play, but a 3-0-1 start have them on top of the league and gaining ground in the RPI. They have to keep winning to guarantee themselves of a national seed though, and a non-conference match against Francis Marion isn’t going to help their RPI. Clemson are winless in five and may struggle again to avoid the wooden spoon in the ACC, with the Tigers also unlikely to end up at .500. The fact that Miami (FL) is below Clemson at this point in the RPI is a bad omen for the Hurricanes, who have won just two of five. With a win over Florida and a draw against West Virginia but little else of note, the Canes need to win and win big down the stretch to get a ticket back to the NCAA Tournament. They also are just a game over .500 right now, meaning they’ve got a tough road to travel on that front as well.