NCAA – Chris’ Bubble Watch v1.0

With the regular season winding down, it’s time to take a look at where the contenders for at-large bids and national seeds stand. Reminder that I’m using Chris Thomas’ guide for who past precedent tells us is in and out at this point of the season. New updates will come out once a week until Selection Monday.

America East

BUBBLE – New Hampshire

The Wildcats are in rarefied air, as an America East team still in the bubble frame after Boston University’s departure a few years back left the league mostly as an afterthought. Brooke Murphy remains one of the nation’s best kept secrets and has eight goals to this point and could draw some late round attention in January’s NWSL Draft. UNH’s profile isn’t going to get it in at-large bid though, as it’s played just two teams in the RPI Top 100, losing to Princeton, 3-1, but also beating Northeastern, 1-0, in their best result of the season.

AAC

LOCK – UCF
BUBBLE – Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis, SMU
DANGER – Houston

Few expected UCF to be in the position they’re in, but they’ve been a wrecking ball thus far, profiting behind a swashbuckling attack. A win over North Carolina adds to their hopes of a #1 seed, but the lack of a truly great second win could push them down a bit. Cincinnati is the other team in the AAC that looks like a near lock, and their draw against the aforementioned UCF helps their hopes for a seed, but the Bearcats also have just a single win over a team in the RPI Top 30, which could keep them unseeded.

It’s shaky after those two. South Florida has a decent RPI number and solid wins at Alabama and against Memphis, but how those two results hold up isn’t necessarily set in stone. A result in the regular season finale against UCF would be a big boost for their hopes. Memphis has been erratic to a fault, with a brutal stretch of just one win in seven matches, where the defense gave up a shocking twenty-one goals in that span. The Tigers have just a win over Rice as their sole RPI Top 50 result and really needs a positive result against Cincinnati this Sunday.

SMU looked to be in good shape with wins early over Arkansas and Washington, but those results have eroded over time. The Mustangs have also made a frigid start to league play, going 0-3-1 in their first four, including what’s likely to be a backbreaking loss against Tulsa. Houston looks likely to vanish from this list next week, but that they’re even still in the conversation (even on the margins), is nice progress considering how the Cougars have struggled the past decade.

Atlantic 10

BUBBLE – Saint Louis, La Salle
DANGER – Saint Joseph’s

Saint Louis looked likely to walk the league after tearing through their non-conference schedule, which featured a win over Vanderbilt and draw against Kansas. But those results haven’t aged well, and the Billikens have dropped points in the early part of the A10 schedule, likely meaning they’ll need the league’s auto bid to go dancing. That’s a tough ask with La Salle stomping the league with four fixtures to go. The Explorers look like the La Salle clubs of old and have obliterated the A10 thus far and played West Virginia to a one-goal defeat earlier in the year, though they have almost no chance at an at-large bid.

Saint Joseph’s was a sensation last year and has a shock win at Ohio State in September but have been faltering in A10 play to crush fleeting at-large hopes. The loss of Dakota Mills to injury after just a pair of games has hit hard, though the Hawks could still be dangerous in the A10 Tournament.

ACC

LOCK – North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame, Florida State
BUBBLE – Wake Forest, Virginia, Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse
DANGER – Louisville

North Carolina and Duke look the best sides in the ACC by a mile, but the intricacies of the league schedule mean that the two aren’t playing in a league game. UNC beat the Blue Devils in a non-conference meeting though, and that could be decisive if the two are fighting for a #1 seed, though both are on the shortlist of prime contenders for that honor.

The rest of the league is a crapshoot. Notre Dame and Florida State both have great RPI numbers and should be locked in, but they don’t have great results at this point that could boost them up the seed order. The Irish’s best win is over RPI #32 Santa Clara, though opportunities against FSU and North Carolina remain. FSU’s profile is even worse, with only wins over Virginia Tech and NC State on it, though they get a shot at Florida on Thursday, with matches against Wake Forest & Notre Dame also remaining.

It’s a logjam behind them. Wake Forest has one of the season’s best wins against South Carolina and also has beaten Notre Dame away, but they’ve cooled noticeably as of late with just one win in four and may need a strong finish to jumpstart hopes of a top two seed. Virginia are in a similar circumstance despite wins over West Virginia and Penn State. A draw against East Carolina sticks out like a sore thumb, and UVA might not get as many chances to make a big jump with Duke the sole “big” remaining regular season opponent.

There’s much bigger bubble trouble behind them. Clemson notched a win over Auburn in the season’s early weeks but has literally nothing else to fall back on and has won just two of six in the ACC thus far. There’s resume building opportunities down the stretch, but the Tigers may not be consistent enough. NC State are finishing up with a brutal four game road stretch that saw them lose three of four, and the Wolfpack’s strongest win at the moment is over RPI #51 Boston College. There’s little upside the rest of the way in the regular season, meaning a nervous wait could be in store.

Virginia Tech’s profile looks eerily similar to last year, with zero wins in the RPI Top 90 (!) but draws against Pepperdine and Wake Forest. They’re sitting at zero wins in the ACC right now though, and it’s impossible to believe they’ll get in the field without some creditable wins. Boston College has a shaky number but a nice win against Boston College but may need two or three out of four down the stretch if they want to avoid a big task in the ACC Tournament. Syracuse is alive in name only and hasn’t beaten anyone in the RPI Top 95. Louisville has managed that with a win over Clemson, but their overall win profile just doesn’t add up, with their days on the Watch looking numbered.

Atlantic Sun

BUBBLE – Florida Gulf Coast

There might be no bigger fans in the land of Arizona, as Florida Gulf Coast’s hopes of an at-large bid largely rely upon the Wildcats maintaining their current level of play. FGCU had two shots at RPI Top 50 teams this year, losing to RPI #1 South Carolina before topping Arizona in Tuscon. They aren’t going to get much help from the rest of their conference, so the Eagles might want to take care of business just in case.

Big 12

LOCK – West Virginia, Texas
BUBBLE – Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech

Another season, another disappointment for the Big 12, who could be staring at just a pair of bids to the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia has been strong again despite big losses in the offseason and have big wins over Penn State and Princeton to their name. But they also fell to Texas in league play and could find a high seed difficult if they don’t win the league considering the weakness of much of the rest of the conference. The aforementioned Horns started out of the game like a rocket with eleven wins in a row, including that victory over WVU but have drawn with an abject Oklahoma side and TCU since. There’s precious little upside remaining on their league slate, meaning a deep Big 12 Tournament run might be needed if UT wants a top two seed.

Oklahoma State is the next best placed of the remaining hopefuls and has a great draw away at Texas A&M. But that’s really all they have, as OSU hasn’t beaten an RPI Top 50 team all season and has just one more shot in the regular season when they go to Austin in late October. It’s even worse for TCU in the wins department, as the Horned Frogs haven’t beaten anyone in the RPI Top 70, their best win being over Texas Tech. Their saving grace might be a draw at Texas, though that might not be enough by itself. A little further down is Baylor, who doesn’t have much outside of wins against middling SMU and Texas Tech sides and needs a big result against Texas in a week. Texas Tech has lost considerable ground after a quick start, having gone winless in their last four league games. With just a win agains Arizona State on their resume, the Red Raiders might need to run the table in the league to stay in the picture.

Big East

BUBBLE – Georgetown, Butler, Marquette, Xavier, Providence

The Big East often is a league with multiple at-large bid hopefuls or locks at this point of the season. This isn’t most years though, and the league looks increasingly likely to be a one-bid only affair. Georgetown could go from the College Cup in 2016 to out of the field entirely just one year later. The Hoyas have had three shots at RPI Top 20 teams and gone 0-2-1, with only a draw against Rutgers helping them out. They have just one win against an RPI Top 100 team, though they do get the meat of the Big East schedule down the stretch.

With a win against Texas A&M on the road and draw away to Notre Dame, Butler has the big results non-power five conference schools need to get into the field. But Butler has also been maddeningly inconsistent, losing to Ohio in one of the year’s unlikeliest results, and almost topping that by drawing at winless Seton Hall. The Bulldogs have just one loss but likely need to win at least three and maybe all of their four games down the stretch to avoid big bubble trouble.

Everyone else’s hopes are pretty much running on fumes. Marquette started out hot but has won just two of seven and doesn’t have a positive result against an RPI Top 50 team. That’s the case with Xavier and Providence as well, who have the RPI number to still hang around on the bubble but who will need the auto bid to go dancing.

Big Ten

LOCK – Penn State, Ohio State
BUBBLE – Rutgers, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern, Nebraska, Maryland
DANGER – Iowa

It’s not quite last year, when the Big Ten had nobody finish the regular season with an RPI above #19, but it’s looking increasingly likely a #1 seed is out of reach for the league. Penn State was picked by most to roll over the league but has instead been made to fight a slew of upstarts. The win over North Carolina helps their seeding cause, but PSU may ultimately rue their September loss to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are in command of the B10 title race as of now but have two costly losses to Saint Joseph’s and Northwestern under their belt that could push them out of the top two seeds, even with league silverware.

Rutgers is hitting a bad patch of form at a bad time, having won just one of their last four with Penn State and Ohio State coming to town, though getting both at home provides great opportunity for an RPI boost. Wisconsin has a great win at Virginia but little else and probably needs a bit of a run to get themselves in seed contention. Michigan looks to be fading fast despite having a strong RPI number and have just one win in their last six, though they get league doormats Michigan State and Illinois, which could help turn the odds in their favor. By contrast, Minnesota is heating up after a rough start, winning five in a row, including a victory at Rutgers which could set them up for what looks like an easy run-in and another potential league title. Purdue is probably the last B10 side on the right side of the bubble right now, but their profile is hollow outside of a win at Michigan. They probably need to win at least three of their final four in the regular season to avoid a stressful Big Ten Tournament.

Northwestern is one of the nation’s most disappointing teams at just 6-6-2 and lost to Illinois last week to cap off a poor road trip. They have beaten Ohio State away and drew with Rutgers though, meaning a late surge in form could still get them in the at-large mix. Nebraska has eight wins, but their poor non-conference schedule has crippled their hopes, even with draws against Penn State, Michigan, and Rutgers. The Huskers’ best win is over RPI #71 Maryland, which isn’t going to cut it. The Terps are taking on water after losing six of seven in the league, and injuries look to have ended their hopes, which might now be focused on just making the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa saved their season with a win over Rutgers and also have a draw at Michigan, but a lack of meaningful wins in non-conference play mean the Hawkeyes will have to have a magical run to stay on the bubble.

Big West

BUBBLE – Long Beach State, UC Irvine

Long Beach State got the result agains a power conference team they needed when the Beach topped Northwestern early in the year…only to see that win lose almost all of its luster as it became apparent that the B10 side was pretty mediocre this season. LBSU hasn’t been able to deliver anything to back that win up, and with the Big West featuring just two teams in the RPI Top 100 this season, it looks more than ever like the league will be auto bid only. UC Irvine might be a little better off with draws at Arizona and Loyola Marymount, but they have zero RPI Top 100 wins, meaning the Anteaters’ at-large hopes are almost nil.

Colonial

BUBBLE – Hofstra, Northeastern, Drexel

The CAA almost always has a few teams hanging around on the bubble, and that looks to be the case again this season. Hofstra started out in rough shape, needing four tries for win #1 but have since lost just once in twelve matches, looking like runaway CAA champs in the process. But the Pride know that with no wins in the RPI Top 60, they’re going to need the auto bid. Northeastern is in similar straits, though their league title hopes are all but dashed after draws at Drexel and Elon. They do have a win at TCU that could help if the Horned Frogs go on a late run. Drexel rounds out the CAA contending trio, but the Dragons are 0-3-0 against the RPI Top 50, leaving them in need of the automatic bid as well. As usual, the CAA Tournament will be unpredictable and could serve up a champ that could cause a first round NCAA Tournament upset.

Conference USA

BUBBLE – Rice
DANGER – UAB

Oh, how Rice’s season might be different had they been able to scratch out a result against Texas in their regular season opener. Little has gone wrong for the Owls since that 2-1 loss, though a 0-0 draw to Baylor and 3-1 loss at Memphis are still missed opportunities. Rice’s best win is against RPI #85 Houston, meaning Nicky Adams’ side is going to need the auto bid to continue a strong 2017. UAB may be likely to depart the bubble after this weekend, but it’s been a dream season for Erica Demers in her first year as Blazers boss. They’re 3-0-1 in league play and don’t face Rice in the regular season, meaning UAB could yet pull off an astonishing title run with four of their last six at home.

Ivy

LOCK – Princeton
BUBBLE – Yale

The mere mention of Princeton potentially losing to Columbia on Saturday is probably enough to send bubble hopefuls into a panic attack. The Lions are likely the only thing standing between Princeton and the Ivy League title and thus the conference’s auto bid. Princeton should easily get an at-large bid if they don’t win the conference crown thanks to wins over Wake Forest and NC State, but they know that running the table will be paramount to getting a national seed. Yale has had a fine 2017 season themselves and has an RPI Top 50 win over #45 Hofstra but have too many holes in their resume otherwise to last on the bubble for much longer.

MAAC

BUBBLE – Monmouth

It hasn’t been the fireworks display of 2016 in front of goal, but Monmouth looks to be stomping their way to another league title in the MAAC in 2017. The Hawks have won six from six going into Wednesday’s match against Marist, while also going unbeaten in ten. They had a few shots at a big win against Rutgers and Princeton early but were outclassed, though their resume isn’t totally blank, with a draw at Hofstra. Still, the likely MAAC champs are going to need an auto bid to get the NCAAs once more.

Mountain West

BUBBLE – UNLV
DANGER – San Jose State

One hit wonder? Not quite for UNLV, who look set to challenge last year’s sixteen win season with another great year to this point. However, the Rebels aren’t anywhere near the bubble talk in reality, having played one of the nation’s softer schedules. They’ve played just one (!) team in the RPI Top 100 thus far, though that was a crushing 3-0 win over Drake in the season opener. They’ll still be one to watch though if they can navigate the Mountain West Tournament. Title rivals San Jose State have played a more arduous schedule and worn the battle wounds. Unfortunately, the Spartans are 0-2-0 against the RPI Top 50, meaning they too are going to have to go the auto bid route.

Ohio Valley

BUBBLE – Murray State
DANGER – Belmont

An OVC team hanging around in the RPI Top 40? Yeah, it’s strange territory for sure, but Murray State hasn’t been the typical OVC team. With just a single loss to Saint Louis, MSU comes into the weekend with a glittering 9-1-2 record, though draws with Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky have blunted their league title hopes. A lack of impact wins means they’ll need the league’s auto bid though, even if they finish in the bubble zone. Belmont isn’t likely long for this list, but they’ve still made a dramatic jump in the RPI, even if their overall profile of wins isn’t that impressive, with a draw at UAB being the highlight thus far.

Pac-12

LOCK – Stanford, UCLA
BUBBLE – Cal, Arizona, Washington, USC, Colorado, Utah, Washington State, Arizona State

October 26 looms in the air for Stanford and UCLA, as the showdown in Los Angeles is likely to decide another Pac-12 title. The Card have the advantage in the league table and the RPI right now but still haven’t beaten anyone ranked higher in the RPI than #22 Wisconsin. That could hurt their hopes for a #1 seed, though a Pac-12 title winning Card ranked so highly in the RPI figures to get the benefit of the doubt. A loss could throw a big spanner in the works for Stanford though, as their league brethren aren’t likely to help out in terms of getting big wins. It’s not much better for UCLA, who have a sagging RPI number despite being unbeaten. They now can boast an RPI Top 25 win with Virginia moving up, but that that’s their best result is telling. A #1 seed is still possible, but the Bruins probably can’t afford slip-ups.

It’s not settled elsewhere in the league either. Cal looks best positioned given their RPI ranking, but even their best results aren’t overwhelming, with wins over RPI #32 Santa Clara and #34 Washington tops on their resume right now. Arizona’s draw with UCLA might be a life saver when all is said and done, but they also have just five wins, though one of those wins is at Cal, meaning the Wildcats have one of the league’s best profiles on paper. Washington looked to be very safe earlier in the year after beating Florida, but a draw at Oregon State sent their ranking plummeting, meaning the Huskies can’t totally go in the tank down the stretch.

There’s an enormous disparity in the polls and the RPI with USC, as the Trojans are 10-1-1 but paid the price for an iffy non-conference slate. Wins over Santa Clara and Arizona boost their case, but the defending national champs could still be vulnerable if they stutter down the stretch. Colorado could be toast. The Buffs have zero RPI Top 50 wins, and their best result is a draw at Washington. Having already played UCLA, Cal, and Stanford, there’s not a lot of upside left on their schedule, meaning they may have to run the table or come close to it down the stretch. Utah is in almost the exact same boat but might not even make it to .500, currently sitting at 5-6-2. The Utes have lost four in a row in the league and have no wins against the Top 90 of the RPI, with their lone standout result a draw against USC. They likely need a win against UCLA or Arizona coming up.

Further on the fringe is Washington State, who has a little juice with a draw against Minnesota, but the best win is against RPI #54 Utah, which won’t cut it. The Cougars still play five of their final six against the RPI Top 50, so there’s room to move up, but it won’t be easy. Arizona State is alive with a win against Florida Gulf Coast and draw at Cal, but they’re also 4-7-2 heading into the weekend, meaning they pretty much have to win out or come very close to doing so to just be eligible via the .500 cutline.

Patriot

BUBBLE – Navy

Navy hasn’t been this relevant in WoSo since 2014, and after a few lean years, the Annapolis club look like Patriot League favorites following wins in their first five matches, including beating league powerhouse Boston University last time out. But Navy also dropped their two shots at an RPI Top 50 win against Tennessee and Stanford, with the win against #96 Boston U the best on their resume, meaning they’ll need to avoid an upset in the Patriot League Tournament to return to the dance.

SEC

LOCK – South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M
BUBBLE – Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Arkansas

Barring some strange collapse, South Carolina looks like a good bet for a #1 seed, currently sitting at #1 in the RPI off the back of three RPI Top 10 wins and *nine* wins over the RPI Top 50. A league title looks fait accompli at this point with Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Georgia still left on the slate. Tennessee will look to join SC as a high seed in the NCAAs but doesn’t have anything approaching that win profile. In fact, UT only has one win over the RPI Top 25, that coming against Ole Miss last week. A seed looks likely, but the Vols will have to win big for much more.

With four wins in a row, Florida is surging at the right time and has a big win over Stanford in their back pocked. They’ve got Florida State, Tennessee, and South Carolina left on the regular season schedule too, meaning there’s enormous upside to close out the slate before the SEC Tournament. The only SEC team to beat Florida, Texas A&M, will be looking to finish strong as well, with that win and a neutral site victory over Pepperdine giving the club hope for a high seed, though missing South Carolina and Tennessee in the regular season doesn’t help that cause out. Ole Miss looks likely to join the land of the locks pretty soon as well. Their profile was a bit lacking heading into last week, but a big win over LSU will cure a lot of problems, as will a lack of bad losses, though they’ll need a big finish to rise into seeded territory.

Where the rest of the field shakes out is anyone’s guess. Alabama is sinking like a stone after a solid non-conference slate that featured a win over Florida State. The Tide are winless in six league games and aren’t going to make the SEC Tournament at this rate. They need a big finish, as a team finishing out of the top ten in a league, even a strong SEC, is going to be hard pressed to make the cut. LSU’s form has been equally worrying, with just one win in six league games. A win over Cincinnati in non-conference play helps, as does draws with Alabama and Mississippi State, but the Tigers still might need three wins from their final five to truly feel safe. Auburn’s Iron Bowl win over Alabama was a big boost to their hopes, but it’s the earlier win over Texas A&M and draw against Tennessee that should provide the most optimism. Auburn stands at 6-4-3 though and has a difficult run-in, meaning they aren’t guaranteed of finishing at the .500 cutline.

On the fringes are a few contenders as well. Mississippi State has a nice number but has zero RPI Top 100 wins on the season despite a few good draws against LSU and Auburn. Realistically, they might need to win three of their final four to make the final cut. Kentucky gave themselves some hope with wins over LSU and Mississippi State and have a doable run-in but are also currently one game under .500 and need to make up big ground in the rankings. Arkansas are just hanging on. Wins over Mississippi State and Auburn gave them a lifeline, but they’re also at .500 with a tricky run-in. They might need three or four wins, be they in the regular season’s closing weeks or the SEC Tournament.

WCC

LOCK – Pepperdine
BUBBLE – Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount
DANGER – Gonzaga

Without normal WCC powerhouse BYU in the mix, the potential list of WCC at-large candidates is a bit sparse. Pepperdine doesn’t have a huge resume of wins, but they’ve probably locked up the league title at any rate with away wins against Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga and BYU could be tricky opponents, but the Waves should be free and clear if they can emerge unscathed. Other than the aforementioned wins, Pepperdine has draws against Virginia Tech and UCLA away from Malibu, but that might not be enough to get them a national seed.

Santa Clara has likely made its supporters sweat with a brutal non-conference slate that featured the club take a ton of setbacks. There’s reason to be concerned as well, as the Broncos have just one RPI Top 50 win, that coming against Loyola Marymount at the end of September. They do also have a draw against Michigan, but there’s no big name left on the schedule, meaning SCU’s in for a nervous wait if they can’t finish strong. Loyola Marymount has some middling wins over the likes of Purdue, Long Beach State, and Utah, but they’re largely in the same boat as the Broncos. They’ve played (and lost) to Pepperdine and Santa Clara, meaning the last few weeks are going to be about avoiding bad results as much as anything else.

Gonzaga’s resume is pretty thin, with their current RPI position as being barely on the bubble reflecting that. They do have a win over Memphis and play Pepperdine next, but anything outside of running the table will probably see the Zags fall short of a miracle NCAA Tournament appearance.

2 thoughts on “NCAA – Chris’ Bubble Watch v1.0

  1. stands

    So what really is the deal with Arizona? Are they good enough to be ranked after drawing UCLA and beating Cal in a shutout? I’m guessing it won’t matter in the rankings that USC’s 1-0 win over Arizona needed double overtime and two penalty kicks.

    Reply
    1. Chris Henderson Post author

      Just seems like they’re talented but inconsistent. They’re clearly good enough to hang with any team in the country, but the fact that they’ve won just five games is probably causing them to be discounted by some who don’t look deeper at their results.

      Reply

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