For 25 teams desperately wanting to play Cinderella this year, there are roughly 72 hours before the clock strikes midnight and their carriage turns into an NIT-bound pumpkin.

 

Before I bore you with the Bubble Math that everyone skips right past anyway, I’ll let you know that I will be eliminating 2-3 teams per day on twitter (@kerrancejames) until we’re left with the field of 68. I’ve been doing this since February 8th, and I’ve done this for each of the past two seasons, in each of which I ended up correctly predicting all but one team that made it into the tournament.

 

If you’re looking for a certain team and you can’t find them on this list, you can safely assume they are already a lock or have already been eliminated. If you’re not sure whether your team has been locked or eliminated, your time would be better spent re-evaluating their resume, but you could also ask me via comment or twitter.

 

There are 33 teams that I have already decided are locks to make the tournament. Eight of those teams should end up receiving the automatic berth by winning their conference tournament. Emphasis on “should.” For every Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia that inexplicably wins their conference championship, another bubble bursts.

 

Assuming eight of those teams actually do win their conference tournament, 25 of the 37 at-large bids have already gone to teams that are considered locks. My spreadsheet indicates 25 teams left fighting for the last 12 at-large bids. Below, you’ll find what each of them needs to do in order to fit into a glass slipper.

 

 

Teams Who Just Need to Avoid Disaster:

 

UCLA

(22-9, 13-5 in Pac-10, 13-3 in last 16.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. BYU, vs. Arizona, vs. St. John’s.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Montana, vs. Virginia Commonwealth, @ California.

 

Washington

(20-10, 11-7 in Pac-10, 5-6 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Arizona, swept UCLA, @ USC.

Three Worst Losses: Swept by Washington State, @ Oregon State, @ Oregon.

 

As was the case last year, the Pac-10 seems to have collectively limped its way into March. I think the Bruins are in great shape, and probably just need to show up against Oregon tonight in order to guarantee a tournament invite; something that looked extremely improbable when they started the season 3-4.

 

Washington has easily been one of the most enjoyable teams to watch this season, and it would be a crying shame if they were unable to play on the grand stage. They are one of the most fast-paced teams in the nation, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of my fellow east-coasters can only recall one highlight from a Washington game, and that’s the one with Derrick Williams swatting Darnell Grant’s last second shot into the 27th row. With a win over Washington State tonight (a game that will likely end at around 2:00 AM EST), the Huskies can rest assured that they will sneak into the field for a 2nd straight year. A loss will leave things severely up in the air, especially if Wazzu, USC, or Cal can make a deep run in this conference tourney, because it’s unlikely that the Pac-10 gets four bids this year, and Washington would be the odd man out.

 

 

Illinois

(19-12, 9-9 in Big 10, 6-9 in last 15.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. North Carolina, @ Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: vs. Illinois-Chicago, @ Indiana, @ Northwestern.

 

Michigan

(19-12, 9-9 in Big 10, 8-3 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: @ Michigan State, @ Clemson, @ Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: vs. UTEP, @ Indiana, @ Northwestern.

 

The Illini and Wolverines face off against each other in the 2nd round of the Big Ten tournament. Regardless of what you think of their resumes, in this particular season, I think we can all agree that the winner of that game will lock up a spot in the Big Dance while the loser likely sweats out Selection Sunday.

 

In my mind, Michigan needs this game way more than Illinois does. If fellow bubble teams Michigan State, Clemson, and Penn State  all fail to make the tournament, Michigan will end up having only one win over a tourney-bound team (Oakland)…maybe a 2nd one if Harvard beats Princeton on Saturday, but I think you get the point. The best thing about Michigan’s resume right now is that they’re actually winning games down the stretch, which not very many other teams on this watch can claim as fact.

 

Illinois has been struggling to say the least, but at least they can point to wins over highly touted teams like Wisconsin and North Carolina. That being said, I’m sure the committee won’t be too thrilled if they finish the season losing ten out of sixteen, and also have a HORRIBLE loss to Illinois-Chicago.

 

Nevertheless, the formula is simple for both of these teams: win one game and you’re in.

 

 

Richmond

(24-7, 13-3 in A-10, 11-2 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Purdue, vs. Virginia Commonwealth, @ Duquesne.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Bucknell, @ Iona, vs. Georgia Tech.

 

Richmond has quietly put together a solid resume, and could almost assuredly even stomach a loss to Rhode Island on Friday on its way to the field of 68. Aside from that November win over Purdue, there isn’t too much meat in the wins category, but 13-3 in the A-10 is nothing to scoff at. If you ask me, they’re pretty much a lock to lose in the first round of the tournament, but they’re also pretty much a lock to get there.

 

Clemson

(20-10, 9-7 in ACC, 7-6 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Florida State, @ Miami, vs. Virginia Tech.

Three Worst Losses: @ Virginia, @ North Carolina State, vs. Michigan.

 

As mediocre as the middle of the pack may be, you know the ACC is going to send at least four teams to the tournament, and for the time being, Clemson holds that golden ticket. There’s nothing to love or hate about their resume, unless you choose to love or hate the complete lack of signature wins or detrimental losses. Odds are their game against Boston College in the 2nd round of the ACC tourney will have the same consequences as the Illinois/Michigan game in the Big Ten, but considering they hold the regular season victory over BC, I like Clemson’s chances.

Utah State

(28-3, 15-1 in WAC, 23-1 in last 24.)

Three Best Wins: @ Saint Mary’s, @ Boise State, @ Hawaii.

Three Worst Losses: @ Idaho, @ Georgetown, @ BYU.

 

A USU loss in the WAC tournament would be a disaster for at least a dozen teams, including itself.
All I see on their resume is one good win, one ugly loss, and four months of otherwise non-impactful wins and losses. Before their BracketBusters win at Saint Mary’s, we were all but ready to write them off as needing to win their conference tournament to get in. I would strongly prefer it if they just went ahead and won the damn thing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m curious to see what would happen if they lost.

 

Teams Squarely on the Bubble:

 

Georgia

(20-10, 9-7 in SEC, 6-4 in last 10.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Kentucky, @ Tennessee, vs. Colorado.

Three Worst Losses: @ Alabama, Vs. Tennessee, vs. Xavier

 

Alabama

(20-10, 12-4 in SEC, 10-4 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Kentucky, @ Tennessee, @ Mississippi State.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Saint Peter’s, vs. Iowa, vs. Seton Hall.

 

If Georgia can take care of Auburn this afternoon, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are slated to face off again for the 2nd time in less than a week. See: Illinois/Michigan or Clemson/Boston College for how I expect the result of that game to impact their selection status. Considering the SEC tourney is being played in Georgia, they should be able to take care of business.

Virginia Tech

(19-10, 9-7 in ACC, 9-5 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Duke, vs. Florida State, vs. Penn State.

Three Worst Losses: Swept by Virginia, @ Georgia Tech, swept by Boston College.

 

Ho hum. Virginia Tech is trying to play its way out of the tournament again. They really can’t afford to lose to Georgia Tech today, and they’d sleep a lot better on Selection Sunday Eve if they were able to knock off Florida State in the 2nd round. Having been swept by BC in the regular season, they’ll probably have to make it further than the Eagles do, considering six bids for the ACC seems a little absurd this year.

Colorado

(20-12, 8-8 in Big 12, 6-8 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Texas, vs. Missouri, swept Kansas State.

Three Worst Losses: @ San Francisco, @ Harvard, @ Iowa State.

 

By narrowly beating Iowa State yesterday, Colorado kept its hopes alive, which is something that cannot be said for Nebraska or Baylor after crushing defeats. They have been so close to playing their way out so many times, but with those wins over Texas, Missouri, and a regular season sweep of Kansas State, I find it hard to believe that the committee would leave out Colorado while sending a similarly middling resume such as Michigan’s to the tournament.

Michigan State

(17-13, 9-9 in Big 10, 5-8 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. Washington, swept Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: @ Iowa, vs. Michigan, @ Penn State.

 

From being ranked 2nd in the preseason to holding on for dear life, I don’t think anyone saw this kind of season coming for Sparty. You can’t ever count out Izzo, though. It might have to come earlier than usual, but MSU always ends up winning a few more games than you expect them to in March. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get through Iowa and Purdue, which would be good news for them, because they just might need both games to get in.

 

Teams Who Still Need Help:

 

Boston College

(19-11, 9-7 in ACC, 6-7 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Texas A&M, @ Virginia Tech, vs. Providence.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Yale, vs. Harvard, swept by Miami.

 

They may have a record extremely similar to that of Virginia Tech, and they may have swept the Hokies in the regular season, but I think they’re worse off / more desperate. At least Virginia Tech has a gigantically quality win over Duke. When I look at Boston College’s resume, I feel like I’m looking at Richmond’s, only with significantly more losses. The Eagles had one quality win way back in November, and since then have gone 0-4 against the best teams in the ACC. Needless to say, if they drop this first round game against Wake Forest, they are NIT-bound. I think they absolutely have to beat Clemson to go dancing, and might even need to knock off UNC to feel really safe.

Oklahoma State

(19-12, 6-10 in Big 12, 5-8 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Missouri, vs. Kansas State, vs. Alabama.

Three Worst Losses: vs. Virginia Tech, @ Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma.

 

The loss to Oklahoma to close the season was somewhat catastrophic, but they could more than make up for it with a win over Kansas today. Their conference record is a huge blemish on the resume, but if they add a win over the Jayhawks, there are definitely worse 20-12 resumes out there still in consideration. A loss today would certainly end their season though.

Colorado State

(19-11, 9-7 in MWC, 4-5 in last 9.)

Three Best Wins: @ UNLV, vs. Southern Mississippi, vs. New Mexico.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Sam Houston State, vs. Hampton, @ Air Force.

New Mexico

(20-11, 8-8 in MWC, 7-4 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: @ BYU, vs. BYU, vs. Colorado State.

Three Worst Losses: @ Wyoming, swept by Utah, vs. Northern Iowa.

 

The formula is pretty simple for these Mountain West bubble teams: win the game against each other + beat BYU = go dancing. Unlike the Illinois/Michigan and Clemson/Boston College games, the loser can consider itself eliminated while the winner almost assuredly still has work to do.

UAB

(22-7, 12-4 in C-USA, 11-3 in last 14.)

Three Best Wins: @ Arkansas, vs. UTEP, vs. Virginia Commonwealth.

Three Worst Losses: @ Tulsa, vs. Southern Mississippi, @ Arizona State.

Memphis

(22-9, 10-6 in C-USA, 6-5 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Gonzaga, @ UAB, swept Southern Mississippi.

Three Worst Losses: @ Rice, vs. Tulsa, @ Southern Methodist.

UTEP

(23-8, 11-5 in C-USA, 6-4 in last 10.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Michigan, vs. Memphis, vs. Texas Tech.

Three Worst Losses: @ East Carolina, vs. Central Florida, vs. Georgia Tech.

 

America’s conference is still looking a lot like a one-bid league, but with Big 12 teams dropping like flies and a bunch of other mediocre teams guaranteed to lose games today, it just might be possible that C-USA gets two bids if two of these three teams face off in the conference final. That’s still a long way from a reality, and depends heavily on UTEP getting there since Memphis and UAB would face each other in the semifinals, but it’s still a possibility.

Penn State

(16-13, 9-9 in Big 10, 6-7 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. Michigan State, @ Minnesota.

Three Worst Losses: vs. Maine, vs. Maryland, @ Mississippi.

 

I can’t believe it either, but the Nittany Lions still have an outside shot at an at-large bid. Sadly for Happy Valley, they are pretty abysmal away from home, so a deep run in Indianapolis is unlikely, but assuming it includes wins over Indiana, Wisconsin, and possibly Purdue, we might see a 19-14 team in the tournament.

Washington State

(19-11, 9-9 in Pac-10, 5-6 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Gonzaga, swept Washington, vs. Baylor.

Three Worst Losses: @ Arizona State, vs. Stanford, vs. Butler.

USC

(18-13, 10-8 in Pac-10, 8-5 in last 13.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Texas, vs. Arizona, @ Tennessee.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. Rider, vs. Bradley, @ TCU.

 

For each of these middle-of-the-road Pac-10 darlings, it might take two more wins to get in, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if both of them pulled it off. For Wazzu, it would result in a three game season sweep over Washington, which would have meant a lot more back in January, but it still counts for something. Beating UCLA after finishing off that sweep would certainly push them into the field. And if USC were to add a second win over Arizona to a resume that already features a win over Texas, they would also probably have enough firepower to sneak in.

Tennessee

(18-13, 8-8 in SEC, 3-6 in last 9.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Villanova, @ Vanderbilt.

Three Worst Losses: Vs. College of Charleston, vs. Oakland, vs. Charlotte.

 

The Volunteers just keep losing games, and that early season win over Villanova just keeps getting less and less valuable. They absolutely have to beat Arkansas tonight, and probably need to beat Florida tomorrow in order to have a realistic shot. But if you aren’t sleeping on Tom Izzo, then you aren’t sleeping on Bruce Pearl either.

Saint Mary’s

(24-8, 11-3 in WCC, 2-4 in last 6.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. St. John’s, @ Gonzaga, vs. Mississippi State.

Three Worst Losses: @ San Diego, @ Portland, vs. Gonzaga.

Virginia Commonwealth

(23-11, 12-6 CAA, 5-6 in last 11.)

Three Best Wins: Vs. UCLA, @ Old Dominion, @ Wichita State.

Three Worst Losses: @ Northeastern, @ Georgia State, @ South Florida.

 

Welcome to the prayer zone. Maybe you still like Missouri State or Coastal Carolina, but these are the two teams who have already been eliminated from their conference tournaments and need to hope beyond hope that a good number of teams on the bubble do the same in the very near future. Thanks to a better record and bigger wins, Saint Mary’s is in much better shape than VCU, but having lost four of their last six games, they can’t possibly feel too safe, no matter what Joey Brackets says about  their seeding. If VCU is able to sneak in, it wouldn’t be the first time the CAA sent three teams to the tournament, and last time that third team made a run all the way to the Final Four.

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