With the release of the first set of official RPI rankings, it’s a good time for this year’s first edition of Bubble Watch to help try and sort out who’ll be dancing come November and who’ll be home early for the holidays. As was the case last year, I’ve taken an objective slant on putting teams into “lock” or “bubble” categories, using the guidelines from Chris Thomas’ exhaustive study of NCAA Tournament qualifiers over the past four seasons which can be found here. With the data still in its relatively early stages of formation, categorizations are pretty conservative right now, explaining the low number of teams actually classified as “locks” and the overall large number of teams included in this edition of the Watch. Teams naturally work their way into lock status or out of consideration each week, and Bubble Watch will be updated accordingly. This data is taking into account the “unofficial” but generally very accurate RPI rankings through Wednesday’s matches.
-Bubble: Boston University, Hartford
Can Boston U avoid a potentially crushing snub should they fall short of the league’s automatic bid? You’d have to say that with seven of the league’s nine teams below two hundred in the RPI, it doesn’t look great for them. The Terriers have wins over Washington and Portland and a draw with Boston College in their back pocket, but the loss to UMass could be a killer if BU doesn’t win the America East Tournament. That’s not a guarantee this year either with Hartford looking in decent form. The Hawks have mainly picked on smaller teams to build their record but are still unbeaten in ten matches and could make life difficult on the perennial league favorites.
-Bubble: Dayton, La Salle, Richmond, UMass, Xavier
Dayton are overwhelming favorites in the A10 this year and look a good bet if they end up on the bubble as well with wins over Kansas, Ohio State, and Kentucky to tout, with their lone loss coming against Wisconsin. The Flyers also profit from facing Xavier, La Salle, and Richmond in league play, benefitting from the trio’s not so bad RPIs. La Salle’s a great story sitting at 8-0-1 and having not conceded a goal thus far in 2011. Richmond and UMass have also been enjoying fine seasons, while Xavier has been much improved as well. Realistically, the only way this league’s a multiple bid conference though is if Dayton’s wings are clipped in the A10 Tournament.
-Lock: Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, Boston College
-Bubble: Florida State, North Carolina, Miami (FL), NC State, Maryland, Virginia Tech
You can pretty much add Florida State and North Carolina to the lock list, as it’s all but official that the ACC will be a six bid conference at least. After that? Well, it gets interesting. Miami (FL) is best placed in the computers and does have a win at BYU and no bad losses but may not even be in a good position to qualify for the ACC Tournament which would all but shatter their hopes of making it back to the Big Dance. Maryland’s just won one of their last five and is short on quality wins, though you’d have to think they’d make it in if they get enough wins to qualify for the ACC Tournament. NC State has a win over LSU, no bad losses, and now a draw with Maryland. You’d have to think that they’d also be in good shape if they managed to qualify for the ACC Tournament. Virginia Tech is the team with the most to sweat about at this point. There’s little to speak of on their non-conference resume, and they’ve opened up league play with two losses. A couple of wins would get them back on the right side of the bubble in all likelihood, but just sneaking into the ACC Tournament still might not be enough.
-Bubble: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, Missouri, Iowa State
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are as good as in. The Cowgirls are perfect at the moment, while the Aggies have no bad losses and a win over North Carolina in their back pocket. Everyone else in the Big XII are in varying degrees of trouble. Baylor’s got a draw with Nebraska and a win over Texas, but most of their schedule has been cupcake-o-rific, and they could plummet in the rankings if they lose a few matches. Kansas has apparently forgotten how to defend against decent or even half-decent teams, with wins against USC and San Diego not exactly looking great at the moment. Texas’ marquee win is at Georgia, Texas Tech’s marquee win is against Missouri, and Missouri’s marquee win is against Ohio State, which isn’t so bad until you consider that the Tigers have lost three of four and also just lost against their bubble rivals in Lubbock. Iowa State’s also clinging on for dear life at the moment but are 3-5-0 in their last eight and are probably toast when the next cull is made in Bubble Watch. There’s a very real possibility that this may be a two bid league.
-Bubble: West Virginia, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Rutgers, UConn, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Louisville, Syracuse
West Virginia’s gone from “team potentially in trouble” to “team that looks likely to win the Big East” in pretty quick fashion, though the Mountaineers have really established themselves as a team that heats up as the year goes along. Marquette’s also in pretty good shape with no bad losses and wins over Long Beach State, Milwaukee, and now Notre Dame. The Irish are treading a dangerous line at under .500 right now and with only one win of any consequence, over Wisconsin. The Irish should be fine if they can right the ship, but with one win in six, nothing’s written in stone. Georgetown would probably be closer to the first two teams in the conference if not for their loss at Seton Hall, but the Hoyas can likely erase all doubt with a win at home against West Virginia. Rutgers have looked downright feeble without injured striker Jonelle Filigno and have very little worth noting on their profile at the moment. UConn is proving as schizophrenic as ever with wins over Wake Forest and Boston University but losses to Harvard and Northeastern. The Huskies have a tough road ahead, with five of their last seven away from home. Seton Hall are rather surprisingly still very much in the bubble mix with a win over Georgetown in the Big East opener giving the Pirates hope that they could squeeze their way into an NCAA Tournament berth, though they may need five or six more wins. St. John’s is a longshot but has a schedule conducive to picking big wins to help them out, while Louisville and Syracuse remain well on the fringe of the bubble debate.
-Bubble: Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota
Despite some middling numbers in the computers, Wisconsin and Penn State are all but in at this point, though they need to keep winning if they want to benefit from a national seed. It’s troublesome behind them, with a whole lot of question marks from the other Big Ten contenders. Ohio State doesn’t have any real bad losses (though the defeat at Missouri doesn’t look great), but they really are banking upon that win against West Virginia at the moment. Iowa’s got a great record but are still waiting for their first significant win of the year, while Michigan State’s very much in the same boat. Illinois has only won two of seven, with their best win being over a fading Oregon team, though they could make some upward progress with many of the league’s weaker teams ahead on the schedule. Nebraska may have blown it in a big way with defeat to Indiana and now need to make some ground up against bubble rivals or the upper tier of the league. Michigan’s draw against Wisconsin bought them a little more time, while time is rapidly running out for the team that beat them recently, Minnesota.
-Bubble: UC Irvine, Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly
UC Irvine probably wins the award for the best team in a bad spot thanks to some unfortunate non-conference scheduling. The Anteaters are clearly one of the top teams in the country with wins over Texas A&M, Portland, and San Diego and a draw with Santa Clara, but are being weighed down by some of their non-conference foes. UCI’s wins should get them in if they need an at-large bid and are near the bubble, but they probably still want to avoid too many slips in league play. Long Beach State don’t have any really bad results weighing them down, but the team’s big wins aren’t looking that big any more given USC and San Diego’s struggles, meaning LBSU might need the auto bid again. Fullerton has a win over San Diego, while Cal Poly drew with Pepperdine, but neither likely have the resume to realistically challenge for an at-large bid this season.
-Bubble: William & Mary, Northeastern, James Madison
Nobody’s paid the price more for Villanova’s implosion than William & Mary (well, besides Villanova obviously). W&M’s draw with Nova was supposed to be one of the results they could hang their hat on at the end of the season, but it may instead be a weight on their RPI if the Wildcats continue to plummet. The Tribe still have wins over St. John’s and Georgetown, but it may not be enough to save them in the end if they can’t get through CAA play unscathed. Northeastern has a win against UConn, and James Madison has a draw against Maryland on their record to tout. Both clubs also have four losses though and will be hard pressed to climb closer to an at-large spot without some real chaos ahead of them.
-Bubble: UCF, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, East Carolina
Yes, Memphis is grossly overrated by the computers (and by many of the humans as well) right now, but 10-0-0 is 10-0-0, even if the best win in that stretch was at home against LSU. The Tigers will probably be in a good position to run the table with a win at UCF near the end of the regular season, though that may be easier said than done. The Golden Knights haven’t been the most consistent bunch this year but do have the capacity to win the league title again despite an early setback against SMU. UCF’s on the edge for a national seed though and needs to avoid any further slips to attain that goal. Rice are going to be a real interesting case come November. The Owls have a win over LSU and a draw at BYU, but may need to beat UCF later this season and avoid losses to have a real shot at an at-large bid. SMU’s win over UCF gives them a fighting chance, and a win over Rice and Memphis would put them in a good position. Tulsa is more smoke and mirrors than substance right now, while UTEP and East Carolina look stuck on the fringes of the bubble battle.
Nope, probably not going to happen, even though the Redhawks did well to beat Portland and Dan Diego State. They’ve got the faintest of chances if they run the table, but still, it’s a very big longshot. Just be happy they get a better shot at the postseason starting next year with their move to the WAC.
So they’re in, right? It would certainly appear that way. The Panthers have wins against Michigan State, Long Beach State, and Wisconsin, with just a sole defeat to Marquette. Milwaukee probably isn’t going to need an at-large bid anyway, but barring a wobbly finish to the season, the Panthers are probably good as gold. They’ll want to keep winning though to aim for a national seed and the ability to play the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament on home turf.
-Bubble: Harvard, Penn
It’s been a little while since the Ivy League’s been able to celebrate multiple bids to the Big Dance, and it’s going to be longer still after this year looks like being a one-bid year again. Harvard beat UConn, and Penn’s topped Villanova and James Madison, but neither have the full resume to make a dent in the race for an at-large bid this season.
I’m guessing the last place Fairfield expected to be with just two wins at the moment is on top of their league’s RPI standings. The Stags have some decent draws but don’t look long for this Bubble Watch once teams starting getting culled in the coming weeks.
-Bubble: Central Michigan, Buffalo, Kent State
What helps a bubble profile: Beating Wisconsin on the road. What doesn’t help a bubble profile: Drawing with Akron. Central Michigan probably undid all the good their win over the Badgers brought them with last week’s shock result against the Zips. The MAC hasn’t been too terrible RPI-wise as a league, but CMU’s probably going to come back to the pack and will almost assuredly need the league’s auto-bid to make it into the Big Dance. Buffalo and Kent State have a whole lot of wins but very little substance right now and would probably settle for having a chance to win the auto bid come November.
-Bubble: Missouri State
Missouri State is 2-0 against the SEC this year. Unfortunately, that 2-0’s against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, both unlikely to see postseason action this year. The Bears are miles ahead of everyone else in the league in the RPI though, which will mean very little of course if they don’t come home with the league’s automatic bid after winning the Missouri Valley Tournament.
-Bubble: New Mexico, TCU
New Mexico seems to be rounding into form a bit after a rocky opening to the season against some really tough opponents. TCU’s also somehow fairly high in the RPI despite not really having a whole lot of substance on their resume. None of that of course is going to be able to mask the fact that the bottom half of the league stinks, the putrid have nots of the new Mountain West destined to drag down the top half, meaning the Mountain West Tournament is ultimately what matters come the end of the season.
-Bubble: Southeast Missouri State
SEMO did a fine job of avoiding bad losses in non-conference play to help boost them up the RPI ranking. Judging by their early OVC form, they might not be a bad mid-major either and took an important step towards a league title by toppling Austin Peay on the road in the opening match of the conference campaign.
-Lock: UCLA, Stanford
-Bubble: Cal, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Arizona State
UCLA’s death grip on the top spot of the RPI right now affirms their ambitions for a #1 seed come November, and you’d have to think the Bruins look good for it, even if they do lose a couple games between now and Selection Monday. Stanford probably has a little less margin for error, as the computers are less impressed with their 9-0-1 record despite how convincing they’ve been on the pitch. Cal is probably in, though the loss of Katie Benz probably means the Golden Bears may need to record a few more convincing wins in Pac-12 play. Of the others, Oregon State looks to be in a good position if they avoid too many bad losses, though their national seed ambitions may be sputtering. Washington and Washington State both have decent profiles but need finishes in the top half of the league in all likelihood. Arizona State’s clinging to life right now, mostly thanks to a win over South Carolina, but losses to Old Dominion, Missouri, and Texas Tech will probably be too much to overcome.
-Bubble: Army, Colgate, Navy
Not much doing here, though the league may have more competitive teams than it’s had in a while. Army’s beaten Seton Hall, though that’s probably going to hurt the Pirates more than it helps the Black Knights. Colgate and Navy are also hanging around, with the latter having played NC State and Miami (FL) tough earlier in the year. Of course, the Midshipmen also drew with hapless UMBC recently, which probably dumped a little cold water on Navy’s enthusiasm.
-Lock: Florida, Auburn
-Bubble: Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia
Florida didn’t slip in the least in the RPI after their defeat to Tennessee, though their margin of error for a #1 seed diminished with the loss. Auburn actually finds itself in a decent spot for a #1 seed as well and could be in the hunt if they put in a challenge for the SEC title, though they’d probably need to beat Florida in Gainesville to do it. Behind them, Kentucky is still beloved by the computers despite a split in SEC play last weekend. They don’t have any great wins but should have enough if they can finish in the top half of the league without any bad losses. Tennessee’s likely looking very good as well with wins over Florida and Texas A&M. Vanderbilt may not be long for the bubble after two losses to open up league play, while LSU’s recovered nicely after one win in four to currently be unbeaten in seven. With Tennessee and Georgia at home this weekend, defending home field could be huge for LSU’s at-large hopes. The heat is rising on Alabama after a home split last weekend, and the Tide really need both wins on the road this weekend. South Carolina and Georgia still find themselves in trouble, though both helped themselves out last weekend with the former beating Tennessee and the latter beating the former.
-Bubble: College of Charleston
I’m not sure anybody expected College of Charleston to be on top of the SoCon RPI rankings right now, not that the Cougars probably care that much. CoC’s getting a bump from having played Duke and to a much lesser extent, Vanderbilt. This Cougars side also has a rather dubious loss to Kennesaw State on their record though and haven’t really topped anyone of note, meaning they might not be long for the Bubble Watch down the line.
-Bubble: Stephen F. Austin
A season after somewhat oddly cracking the RPI Top 70, Stephen F. Austin are doing it again, though not nearly to the same extent. The Ladyjacks have wins over UTEP and TCU under their belts and don’t really have any galling losses blighting their record, though a draw against Louisiana Tech doesn’t really look that great. SFA are probably a favorite of neutrals to rise above the pack in the Southland which would allow South African captain Kylie Louw to strut her stuff on a bigger collegiate stage.
-Bubble: Denver, Western Kentucky
Oh, Denver. The Pioneers are really in the same position they were last season entering into the meat of Sun Belt play. Denver’s non-conference resume is shaky with a win over Nebraska being countered by losses to Cal and Auburn that may not reflect poorly on DU but still leave their at-large fate dangling for the most part. The Pioneers could put all of that to rest though by winning the Sun Belt Tournament, and Denver already looks like massive favorites, having likely beaten their closest competition decisively in the first weekend of league play. One of the teams they felled, Western Kentucky, is beginning to look more and more like an aberration after three straight losses. The Hilltoppers’ at-large hopes have truly gone up in smoke, and they could be leaving the Watch sooner rather than later.
-Bubble: Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Portland, Loyola Marymount, San Diego, BYU, St. Mary’s (CA)
How many bids can the WCC get? I predicted five before the season, and it’s still certainly a very real possibility with plenty of teams still in the hunt. Pepperdine have had some bizarre results in the past few weeks with draws to Cal Poly and Fresno State but still look in fine shape to make their first NCAA Tournament in some time provided they don’t collapse in league play. Santa Clara are probably close to punching their ticket as well after a dominant win over Cal last Sunday coupled with victory over Washington State. It’s really intriguing for the four teams below them. Portland has a great win over Florida State but is only at .500 and has losses to San Diego State and Seattle which could prove a big problem to their RPI down the line. Loyola Marymount are again teetering after a loss to Cal State Northridge, though the Lions do have a win at Texas in their back pocket. San Diego might be totally cooked at the moment after four straight losses, five out of their last six, and six out of their last eight. BYU is suffering because of some of their less impressive opponents in non-conference play but has the capability to rise up in the rankings if they can just take care of business in league play. St. Mary’s (CA) is hanging on thanks to that big win against UC Irvine, but are going to have to win a lot of games in WCC play to get into the at-large discussion.
-Bubble: Utah State, Fresno State
Utah State’s sinking like a stone after starting out the season 8-0-0. Three straight losses (albeit with two coming at Oklahoma State and BYU) has all but finished the Aggies’ at-large hopes, while a draw with Boise State may have some questioning their WAC title chances as well. Fresno State is getting the requisite bump from playing Texas A&M and UCLA while also recording a creditable draw with Pepperdine. The Bulldogs are short on quality wins though and will have to aim to win their second straight WAC Tournament if they want to return to the Big Dance this season.