During championship week, Let Me B-Frank will continue to update their NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch to ensure readers stay up-to-date on their favorite team’s chance to land an at-large bid.
Vanderbilt Commodores 17-14 (10-8)
Key Wins: Florida (x2), Iowa State, Arkansas, South Carolina
Key Losses: Missouri
Vanderbilt is a 6-point loss against Kentucky away from being safely in the field, but currently, they sit on the bubble quickly moving towards an at-large bid after finishing out the year winners of 5 of their last 6 games. During that stretch, the Commodores took down South Carolina, Tennessee on the road, and Florida (to complete the season sweep over the Gators). Vandy will open the SEC tournament against Texas A&M, a team that can only hurt their at-large chances. With a win over A&M, Vandy has a chance to punch their ticket if they can pick up a third win over Florida in the Quarterfinals. A loss to A&M would force the Commodores to be cheering against a vast majority of the bubble.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 18-12 (9-9)
Key Wins: Louisville, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech
Key Losses: None
Wake Forest finished the regular season as strong as any team could, picking up two of their best wins on the year during the week over Lousiville and Va Tech. While they are a miserable 3-8 against the top 50, they do no have any bad losses and in a year like this one, with such a weak bubble, a win over Louisville and no bad losses should make you safe. The Demon Deacons face off against Boston College in the first round of the ACC tournament, a loss would end their season. Beat BC and play well against Virginia Tech and that should seal a bid for Wake Forest.
Xavier Musketeers 19-12 (9-9)
Key Wins: Creighton, Wake Forest, Seton Hall
Key Losses: Colorado
A win at DePaul rarely, if ever, helps your NCAA tournament hopes, but in the case of Xavier, it meant everything. The Musketeers broke a 6 game skid with that win and are hoping to level out. Xavier, like Wake Forest above, is also 3-8 against the top 50, but the wins they hold have started to look better and better of late. Xavier gets DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament, and must avoid a devastating loss to the Blue Demons. With a win, Xavier gets a shot at #2 Butler, which offers a huge opportunity to seal up a bid.
Rhode Island Rams 21-9 (13-5)
Key Wins: Cincinnati (Neutral Site), VCU
Key Losses: LaSalle, Fordham
Having the Rams as a “trending in” team is probably hard for people to understand, but hear me out. The Rams finished the year 7-2, winning their last 5 games. If things go as expected, the Rams will get games against St. Bonaventure and Dayton. If they beat the Flyers they will likely get another shot at VCU. That’s a big opportunity for quality wins, for a team that needs them AND is as talented as any team in their conference.
Illinois State Redbirds 27-6 (17-1)
Key Wins: Wichita State
Key Losses: Tulsa, Murray State
Illinois State set a school record this season for wins with 27, but that still might not be enough for the Redbirds to get in. I thought that all the Birds had to do was make the MVC final a competitive game and they should be on the right side of the bubble. Unfortunately, Illinois State imploded. The Birds played their second-worst game of the year and looked classless in the blowout loss. One top 50 isn’t going to cut it, especially with two bad losses to Tulsa and Murray State. Not to mention the precedent set last season by excluding a 28 win Monmouth team with a bevy of good wins. ISU needs every team on this list to lose and maybe even add Cal, Georgia Tech, and Clemson to that to be safe. ISU needs a lot to happen, but there is still a small sliver of hope.
USC Trojans 23-8 (10-8)
Key Wins: UCLA, SMU
Key Losses: Arizona State
Despite the fact that I have the Trojans in the field, I think that they have an incredibly weak resume and a bad loss to Washington could and should knock them out of the tournament. That being said, USC has a chance to play themselves out of the First Four with a pair of wins in the Pac-12 tournament. USC is just 2-5 against the top 50 and they are very Syracuse-esque in that they have a bad road record (6-5) with no notable wins away from home.
Illinois Fighting Illini 18-13 (8-10)
Key Wins: VCU, Michigan, Michigan State
Key Losses: Rutgers
With how bad the Big Ten has been this year, I am beyond surprised that Illinois is still on the bubble despite finishing with an 8-10 conference record, but here we are. The Illini blew a 10-point second half lead in New Jersey and lost to Rutgers, the one team they absolutely couldn’t afford to lose to. By virtue of the weakest bubble in NCAA history, the Illini are barely clinging on, and need a lot to go their way in the Big Ten tournament. Illinois will have two golden opportunities right away with an opening round game against Michigan and if they win they get a shot at top-seeded Purdue. Win both of those and the Illini might be dancing. A third win over Michigan State or Minnesota should wrap up a bid for Illinois, but that is much easier said than done.
Kansas State Wildcats 19-12 (8-10)
Key Wins: Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State
Key Losses: Texas Tech, Oklahoma
By way of other bubble teams picking up big wins, Kansas State has started to slide out of the tournament picture. The Wildcats are being forced into a position where they need to actually win games instead of hanging tough in them. K-State is 3-8 against the top 50 and 5-10 against the top 100, that just won’t cut it. Their two bad losses to Texas Tech (really isn’t that bad) and Oklahoma hurt, but because of how strong the Big 12 is, they can make up for those and some with a few wins. K-State opens on Thursday night against Baylor, with a win in that game, the Cats would set themselves up for a semifinal date with West Virginia. The Wildcats have beaten both teams already this season and will need at least one win to inch closer to safe.