NCAA tournament Bubble Watch: Updated look at the wildest bubble in years

Editor's note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through Friday's games.

If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of Bubble Watch and scan the lengthy "Work to do" section under "Others," you'll see a large number of teams from outside the six legacy major conferences doing their utmost to earn at-large bids.

Statistically speaking, that population of teams is facing long odds.

The more common way to earn an at-large bid from outside the "power" conferences is to do what Nevada did last season. Have at least one incredible season of near-Gonzaga-level success. Inhabit the AP top 25 from the start of the regular season right down to the finish. Then falter in your conference tournament. (By the way, the Bulldogs themselves needed an at-large to go dancing last year.)

It's a good thing for college basketball, of course, that seasons like that can happen outside the major conferences. San Diego State and Dayton are carrying that flag proudly in 2020.

Is there another path? Can such programs compete successfully as true "Work to do" bubble teams against their power conference counterparts?

It's exceptionally rare, but it can be done. In fact, the real outlier last year in terms of selection was not a No. 7 seed like Nevada. The real outlier was No. 11 seed Belmont.

The Bruins were sent to the First Four in Dayton as an at-large out of the Ohio Valley Conference. That decision by the committee was an exception to the rule.

Here are the numbers for bids outside the traditional six major conferences and the American. The Atlantic 10 has put at least one at-large team into the tournament every year since 2005 (and in 31 of the past 35 brackets). That should be good news for A-10 teams trailing in Dayton's wake such as Rhode Island, VCU and Richmond.

Similarly, West Coast Conference teams have earned at-large bids in six of the past eight tournaments, and the Mountain West has put one at-large team into the bracket in each of the past two tournaments.

That's pretty much it. The Missouri Valley, for example, has been a one-bid league in each of the past three seasons. As for the other 21 conferences that constitute roughly two-thirds of Division I, they have, in total, produced one at-large team in the past six tournaments: Belmont last year.

If, say, East Tennessee State, Liberty, Stephen F. Austin or Yale should somehow win an at-large bid in 2020, they will have accomplished something that can be properly termed historic.

Here's our current projection of the bubble:

Bids from traditional "one-bid" leagues: 21 teams

Locks: 19 teams

The bubble: 43 teams for 28 available spots

Should be in: 15 teams

Work to do: 28 teams

ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | American | Others

ACC


Locks: Duke, Florida State, Louisville

Work to do




Virginia Cavaliers

Scoring 78 points in 60 possessions, as Virginia did in its easy win at home over Boston College, represents the Cavaliers' best showing on offense in ACC play to date. While that was probably just a one-game blip against a below-average defense, it should go without saying that if the Hoos can actually, you know, score points, we need to change the whole manner in which we've been discussing this team for the past three months. In the meantime, you'll find Virginia at the same old familiar spot, sporting a double-digit seed somewhere near the bottom of the projected bracket. That's not likely to change either way until Tony Bennett's team loses some games or, alternately, beats Duke and/or Louisville in Charlottesville.



NC State Wolfpack

To say NC State needed that 22-point win at home over Duke would be putting it mildly. The Wolfpack took the floor in that game ranked No. 60 in the NET. With one Quad 1 stroke, Kevin Keatts' men went from being on bubble life support to a spot just outside the projected field of 68. Challenges remain, naturally, and this is still a team that is just 8-7 in a down year in the ACC. The game in Raleigh this weekend against Florida State will be crucial. Just the same, the key words in this paragraph are still "22-point win at home over Duke."



Big 12


Locks:Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia

Should be in




Texas Tech Red Raiders

Projected No. 7 seed Texas Tech continues to make shots in a league with no shortage of outstanding defenses. Chris Beard's team has connected on 40% of its 3s in Big 12 play, as the Red Raiders have received valuable perimeter contributions from not only Davide Moretti and Jahmi'us Ramsey but also from Kyler Edwards. In fact, and this might be heresy in Lubbock, the Texas Tech offense has actually been superior, relative to the respective averages, to this defense in conference play. Beard just finds a way to get the job done.

Work to do




Oklahoma Sooners

It did seem as if maybe the stars were aligning for Oklahoma to rise from its expected No. 9 seed in the mock brackets. The Sooners hadn't lost a home game in over a month, and Baylor came to Norman and took the floor without MaCio Teague. Then, well, someone forgot to align the stars: Baylor won without Teague, just as it had done at home against West Virginia in the previous game. The loss drops OU below .500 in Big 12 play, but the remaining schedule is relatively favorable and the Sooners do still have a win at home over West Virginia on their profile. Oklahoma should be in pretty good shape, particularly if the Sooners find a way to win this weekend in the Bedlam series against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.



Big East


Locks: Seton Hall, Villanova, Creighton

Should be in






Butler Bulldogs

Losing on a buzzer-beater on the road to the team that might win an outright Big East regular-season title isn't a problem for any team in either profile or performance terms. No, the worrisome part of Butler's 74-72 defeat at Seton Hall is merely that the contest marked the fourth game in the past five outings where the opposing offense has topped 1.10 points per possession. BU's exemplary body of work this season is quite rightly going to be rewarded with a nice seed, but the fact that this team has been outscored thus far in Big East play could make the Dawgs a popular pick to suffer a first-round upset in a 5-12 or 6-11 game.



Marquette Golden Eagles

After losing two straight, Marquette is perhaps looking more like a No. 6 seed than the No. 5 that had previously been envisioned for this team. While losing at Villanova and at home to the hottest team in the league (Creighton) is understandable, other teams are winning games and moving up in this zero-sum jockeying for the best seeds. What might be more worrisome than a loss to the Bluejays could be the manner in whichMarkus Howardand his teammates are playing. In Big East play, this offense has outperformed both its shooting accuracy and its shot volume. That's a politically correct way of saying Marquette has become rather reliant on free throw attempts, and that can be a tough way to live come March.

Work to do




Xavier Musketeers

What is the exact opposite of style points? Give Xavier those. The Musketeers coughed the ball up 22 times in a 77-possession game against St. John's yet managed to escape Madison Square Garden with a 77-74 victory that, for the moment, qualifies as Quad 1. Travis Steele's men scored the game's final eight points, and this team that was once 2-6 in Big East play is just a win away from reaching .500. With Xavier having entered the contest as a No. 10 or 11 seed in mock brackets, a road win against the Red Storm preserves that status quo.



Georgetown Hoyas

Coming off its best win of the season (at Butler), Georgetown not only lost to Providence at home but lost by 10 to the Friars. The Hoyas are fortunate they still have opportunities coming up in the form of games at Marquette and Creighton, as well as the season finale at home against Villanova. The momentum of the win in Indianapolis had actually pushed Georgetown across the cut line and into the field in many mock brackets. That might change now, but the larger picture here is the same: Patrick Ewing's team, even at 15-11 and 5-8 in the Big East, has a chance to earn a bid. Doing so probably will require a win, or better yet wins, against the likes of the Golden Eagles, the Bluejays or the Wildcats.



Providence Friars

With the addition of the Friars to the Bubble Watch fun, we now have fully 80% of the Big East represented under the headings of either locks (Seton Hall, Villanova, Creighton), should be in (Butler, Marquette) or work to do (Xavier, Georgetown, Providence). Ed Cooley's team has earned its spot in these hallowed precincts largely through defense: Providence has limited Big East opponents to a total of 943 points in 945 possessions. The Friars are also the best offensive rebounding team in the league (Nate Watson and Kalif Young are good at what they do), and as of this season Cooley has adopted a more deliberate tempo that seems to discomfit opponents. The impending three-game stretch against Marquette, Villanova and Xavier looms large for a team ranked in the 50s by the NET and trying to play its way into the field.



Big Ten


Locks: Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State

Should be in





Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes are known for great offense, but, even by local standards, what Iowa did to Ohio State in a nine-point win at home was impressive. Luka Garza and his mates ripped through what on paper is a good Buckeyes defense and put 85 points on the board in 70 possessions. Doubt this Iowa defense all you want. There's no "but" coming here, by the way -- you seriously should doubt this Iowa defense. The Watch will add only that your skepticism might not pay off as soon as you think with this particular projected No. 6 seed. The Hawkeyes do know how to score.



Ohio State Buckeyes

Chris Holtmann's team has still put together a nice February, even with the 85-76 loss at Iowa added to the ledger. The Buckeyes have risen to the No. 6 line in the mock brackets during a stretch when they lost at Wisconsin, won at Michigan and emerged victorious at home against Indiana, Rutgers and Purdue. E.J. Liddell has become more aggressive on offense as the season has progressed, and the freshman led his team with 17 points in the loss at Iowa City. When OSU takes care of the ball (which can be a problem) and hits 3s (which is often), this team can play with anyone.



Michigan Wolverines

Juwan Howard's team is on such a defensive roll that it doesn't need the previously indispensable Isaiah Livers anymore. Livers didn't play at Rutgers and in fact watched the game from the bench with a walking boot on his right leg after injuring his ankle against Indiana. It didn't matter: U-M held the Scarlet Knights to only 52 points in a 62-possession game and came away with an eight-point victory. Winners of six of their past seven, the Wolverines have ascended all the way to the No. 7 line in mock brackets. Michigan's defense in particular has been superb, giving up only 0.92 points per possession over the past nine games.



Wisconsin Badgers

Steady as she goes for the Badgers, who survived some open looks from Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic in the final minute and came away with a 69-65 win over the Boilermakers in Madison. Aleem Ford went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and scored a career-high 19 points. With a perimeter arsenal made up ofD'Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl, Brad Davison and Ford, Wisconsin's 3-point accuracy has been markedly superior to its success rate inside the arc in Big Ten play. The Watch has been saying for some time that the Badgers' expected No. 8 seed could improve, and, well, that still looks like a live possibility. Three of Wisconsin's final five games are at home, and a seed-improving strong finish appears to be within reach.



Illinois Fighting Illini

Apparently, Ayo Dosunmu is kind of important. When the sophomore missed the Illini's game at Rutgers, Brad Underwood's team lost by 15. Yet when this same team faced the even more daunting prospect of a road game at Penn State, Dosunmu played and Illinois came away with a 62-56 victory. The Watch hesitates to credit any one Illini player with dispositive or even talismanic properties, particularly on an evening when the Nittany Lions recorded a season low for made 3s (four). Nevertheless, Dosunmu did lead all scorers with 24, and projected No. 8 seed Illinois did come away with possibly its biggest victory of the season. That's saying something with a group that could already claim road wins at Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin.



Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The winning streak is over at the RAC, as Michigan handed Rutgers its first loss at home since last March. The Scarlet Knights are being seen as a potential No. 8 or No. 9 seed, but Steve Pikiell's team might have to work hard to hold that position. This team's remaining schedule is brutal, even by Big Ten standards. Rutgers closes the regular season with games at Wisconsin, at Penn State, at home against Maryland and at Purdue. Currently 9-7 in the Big Ten, the Knights will have done very well for themselves if they finish conference play over .500. They will have done fine if they finish at .500. They will make things interesting if they lose all four and finish under .500.

Work to do





Purdue Boilermakers

For a team that's still appearing in mock brackets as a No. 11 or even a No. 10 seed, the Boilermakers might be getting close to dangerous terrain. Matt Painter's team is 14-13, and, while statements starting with "No team has ever" are invariably simplistic and often misleading, it is true that no team has ever earned an NCAA at-large bid with a winning percentage below .533. (Purdue currently clocks in at .519.) Yes, the Big Ten is a harrowing thicket of tournament teams, and, yes, that will have an impact on your record. The point remains, asking the committee to do something unprecedented is a high-risk maneuver.



Indiana Hoosiers

Prior to Indiana's 12-point victory at Minnesota, the Hoosiers' only road win of the season had been recorded at Nebraska. Now Archie Miller's team is 17-9 and either projected as one of the last teams in or one of the first out. IU's NET ranking will creep upward from the 60s, and it certainly has room to do so. In any event, a key win in Minneapolis is about to be superseded by even larger games. Indiana will next host Penn State before playing back-to-back road games at Purdue and Illinois. On paper, the Hoosiers commit turnovers with regularity and allow opponents a high number of made shots. On the court at Williams Arena, however, Trayce Jackson-Davis looked incredible. This whole IU bubble thing could go right down to the wire again this season.



Minnesota Golden Gophers

The problem for Minnesota is twofold. First, the Golden Gophers are 12-13. Second, the university has been a member of the Big Ten since 1895, and, in 2020, that membership makes wins hard to come by. This question of just how bad can a record be and still be good enough came up last year with Texas, when the 16-16 Longhorns were relegated to the NIT (which they won). The Gophers probably will need something on the order of four wins in their final five games plus sustained heroics at the Big Ten tournament to avoid the same fate.



Pac-12


Locks: Oregon, Colorado

Should be in







Arizona Wildcats

Whether Arizona ends up seeded on the No. 5 or No. 6 line or somewhere else entirely, the Wildcats have looked good for the better part of a month now. "Better part" is used in place of "entirety" here due to the still-baffling 13-point loss to UCLA in Tucson. Throw that game out of the mix and Sean Miller's men have out and out dominated their opponents in February. Josh Green has dished as many assists over the past two games as Nico Mannion, and, curiously, UA as a team towers above the entire Pac-12 in terms of shot volume in league play. It all seems fairly impressive, and it will all need to be when Arizona hosts Oregon on Saturday.

Work to do





Arizona State Sun Devils

As Arizona State's chances of capturing a portion of the Pac-12 regular-season title have increased, the question of making the NCAA tournament has become almost secondary. Of course a title-winner will get a bid. (Right. Tell that to Washington 2012.) The Sun Devils are now 9-4 in conference play and tied atop the league with both Colorado and Arizona in the loss column. Bobby Hurley's men have won six straight, and, before they dispatched Oregon 77-72, they were being projected as a No. 10 or 11 seed in the field of 68. During this win streak, ASU's defense has been more or less the same as it was before, but the offense has made a great leap forward behind rotating featured scorers Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge Jr. and Rob Edwards.



USC Trojans

If the Trojans do make the tournament as a No. 10 or 11 seed as currently projected, the combination of Onyeka Okongwu and Nick Rakocevic could give some poor No. 6 or 7 seed fits. Say this for Andy Enfield, he can throw a front line at you that forces misses. Rakocevic is 6-foot-11, and Okongwu is listed at 6-foot-9 but plays much taller. The Pac-12 has converted a hair under 44% of its 2-point attempts against this defense. Still, first things first: USC faces a game at Utah and then closes at home against Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.



Stanford Cardinal

Backed into a corner where it absolutely had to have a victory, Stanford got one at Washington. The Cardinal now clock in at 17-9 and 6-7 in the Pac-12. While Jerod Haase's men would likely miss the tournament if the selection were held today, their seemingly immovable top-40 NET ranking is still in place and, most important, the bleeding has been stopped. (This team had lost seven of its previous eight contests.) Stanford is still alive, and heading to Washington State. The Cougars will be facing what might yet turn out to be one of the best defenses in the nation.



SEC


Locks: Auburn,Kentucky

Should be in





LSU Tigers

LSU could get offensive rebounds against Kentucky (Darius Days alone pulled down eight in 27 minutes), but the Tigers could not make 2s against the UK defense. The result was a 79-76 loss for Will Wade's team in Baton Rouge. LSU has now lost four of its past five, a run that has coincided with a significant erosion in the Tigers' expected seeding. Once seen as a No. 4 seed, this team is now showing up on the No. 8 or even the No. 9 line. LSU stays in "Should be in" for now thanks to a NET ranking that was top-30 on the eve of the loss to the Wildcats. Still, the best wins on this profile occurred at Tennessee and on a neutral floor against Rhode Island. Time for the Tigers to do more.

Work to do





Florida Gators

The Gators' season feels as if it has been scripted for maximum suspense. Mike White's team is looking suddenly respectable and ready to move up to "Should be in" territory after winning five of its past six conference games. We're now confronted with a projected No. 9 seed that's 9-4 in the SEC, and, needless to say, no one doubts Florida's talent. (UF was ranked No. 6 in the nation in the preseason.) But the unseen screenwriter has structured this story perfectly, for doubts still remain. Sure, the Gators have been winning against the bottom half of the league (and, truth be told, they actually lost by 17 at Ole Miss during this otherwise impressive stretch). Now, can Florida get it done at Kentucky? We'll find out this weekend.



Mississippi State Bulldogs

No change for Mississippi State, which has won three of its last four against opponents that are, at best, long shots to make the tournament. As the Bulldogs continue to win, they have stayed perched right outside the projected field. MSU's NET ranking is in the 50s, and the best Ben Howland's men can hope for in the regular season is more wins and a good seed in the SEC tournament. It appears probable that Mississippi State will need a shot at a Florida, an LSU, an Auburn or, better yet, a Kentucky on the neutral floor in Nashville in order to seal this deal once and for all.



Arkansas Razorbacks

The Watch is running out of different ways to say "Arkansas lost another game and is now in even more serious trouble in terms of making the tournament." The Razorbacks really did lose another game (at Florida 73-59), and they really are in even more serious trouble (Eric Musselman's group started Tuesday as a consensus pick to miss the tournament). We can discuss the inevitable yeah-but-what-if-they-win-out scenarios soon enough, but for now the Watch humbly proposes a more focused approach. If Arkansas wins at home against Missouri this weekend, we'll return to this topic. If not, few bubbles are going to be big enough for a 4-10 SEC team.



Alabama Crimson Tide

If a top-40 NET ranking's being used more for support than illumination, it might not be enough to earn your team a bid. Take Alabama. The Crimson Tide did carry the aforementioned NET ranking into its home game against Texas A&M, a contest Nate Oats' team then proceeded to lose by six. The defeat goes into the books as a Quad 3 loss, Alabama's second of the season. No, Quad 3 losses aren't the best strategic move for teams being shown as just outside the field of 68 in mock brackets. Upcoming road games at Ole Miss and Mississippi State loom as season-defining for a team that's 14-12 and 6-7 in the SEC.



South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks missed a shot at a Quad 1 win when they lost at Mississippi State by three. Frank Martin's team stands well outside the field of 68 in the mock brackets, but opportunity does knock in the form of this weekend's game at home against LSU. That's a contest, incidentally, where South Carolina would figure to be the favorite. Not only are the Gamecocks playing at home, they've outscored the SEC by a larger per-possession margin than have the Tigers.



American


Locks: None

Should be in




Houston Cougars

So much for bubble talk about Tulsa. The Cougars blew the Golden Hurricane off the floor 76-43 in Houston, as Caleb Mills drained five 3-pointers and rang up 27 points. Kelvin Sampson has had one of the Watch's steadiest "Should be in" teams, always sticking to the anticipated No. 7 seed, never making waves. Perhaps that consistency is the result of a laudable and somewhat rare balance on both sides of the ball. The Cougars are average in terms of shooting accuracy, but they do just about everything else required of a winning team.

Work to do





Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers have held on to their expected spot on the No. 10 line in mock brackets by winning three in a row, against UCF, Tulane and South Florida. Now Gregg Marshall's men will close the season with games against Cincinnati, Temple, SMU, Memphis and Tulsa. Overall, that's a tougher slate than what WSU's seen the past week, and indeed the Shockers are 0-3 so far against the Bearcats, Owls and Golden Hurricane this season. Then again, Wichita State's been playing better of late and does have some cushion in the form of a couple of seed lines beneath it in the projected field. Call Marshall's team relatively safe, for now.



Cincinnati Bearcats

Mock brackets agreed Cincinnati was safely in the field of 68 in advance of the Bearcats losing at home in double-overtime to UCF. Rather remarkably, the defeat marks UC's fourth Quad 3 loss of the season. In an odd profile inversion, John Brannen's team is a beautiful 6-0 in Quad 2, but just 6-4 in Quad 3, with losses at Tulane, on a neutral floor to Bowling Green and at home to Colgate and, now, to the Knights. Cincinnati faces Wichita State and Houston in its next two games, and the importance of those outcomes is even greater than previously anticipated.



Memphis Tigers

Memphis hosts Houston this weekend in the opening half of a two-game set. Additionally, the Tigers will get a home game against Wichita State. Those will be the marquee contests, but a road date at SMU will be no less important and, indeed, no less challenging. As a team projected as well outside the field of 68 and on the far edge of the bubble, Memphis needs literally every win it can get. Penny Hardaway's team also requires possessions that end in shot attempts. The Tigers have had the most turnover-prone offense in American play.



Others


Locks: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Dayton

Should be in




BYU Cougars

The stage is set in Provo, Utah. Barely. The Cougars dispatched Santa Clara 85-75, after the Broncos made things much closer than that for much of the game. Now BYU will host Gonzaga on Saturday. Prepare for a collision between a Bulldogs team trying to run the table in conference play and a Cougars bunch that's won seven straight in its own right. Mark Pope's men have made their mark this season with excellent shooting, so it's a little odd to find that, in the past two games, BYU has actually been less accurate from the field than its opponents (San Diego and Santa Clara). Bad omen, or is Pope's group due? If it's the latter, the Cougars could see a significant improvement in their expected No. 7 seed.



Saint Mary's Gaels

With wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State (by 40, no less, on a neutral floor in Phoenix) and BYU, the Gaels are endeavoring to pull off the most difficult WCC trick of all and build an at-large case that does not involve Gonzaga. (SMC lost to the Bulldogs by 30 in Moraga, California.) So far, it's working. Saint Mary's is shown as a No. 9 seed in mock brackets and has risen to "Should be in" status here at Bubble Watch. Randy Bennett's team has a good chance of sporting a 24-6 record when it arrives in Spokane, Washington, for the season finale with the Zags.



Rhode Island Rams

For a Rhode Island team that is envisioned as a No. 9 seed, the remainder of the season has resolved itself tidily into two categories. There is taking care of business, and then there is the home game against Dayton next month. "Taking care of business" most certainly encompasses tough games, particularly the Rams' next challenge, a road test at Davidson. URI can claim easily the best defense in Atlantic 10 play, David Cox's group is especially good at denying 3-point looks to opponents, and Fatts Russell is an excellent lead guard both in terms of scoring and distributing. The Rams appear to be on track for a third tournament bid in four years.

Work to do





Utah State Aggies

Utah State continues to take care of business against a schedule that no longer includes San Diego State. The Aggies took two cracks at the Aztecs and lost both games. It is probable that Craig Smith's team will finish the regular season more or less where it is now, right at the line between "in" and "out." In that case, it would be helpful for USU to meet, and defeat, SDSU in the Mountain West tournament.



East Tennessee State Buccaneers

Congratulations to the Buccaneers, who are now alone in first place in the Southern Conference. ETSU's nine-point win at home over Furman lifts Steve Forbes' team to 24-4. The 11-point victory at LSU in December still stands out on this profile, as does a NET ranking that is nearing top-40 status. East Tennessee State appears to be the best team in a very good SoCon, and the Buccaneers might well earn the league's automatic bid. Still, there's enough here to make a strong case for an at-large if the Paladins or UNC Greensboro or someone else should win the conference tournament.



Richmond Spiders

This is getting rather suspenseful for the Spiders. Chris Mooney's team just keeps winning, albeit mostly against opponents beneath the Atlantic 10's top tier. Reaching 20-6 overall and 10-3 in the conference has brought Richmond to the very edge of the projected field of 68. Next up are road games at St. Bonaventure and George Washington, and UR has a real shot at finishing the regular season with both a very impressive record and in partial or even sole possession of second place in the A-10 behind Dayton. All of the above, plus the 10-point win over Wisconsin on a neutral floor, could be enough to land the Spiders an at-large bid.



Liberty Flames

The Flames haven't lost in three weeks, keeping an intriguing at-large candidacy alive and running their record out to 25-3. In NET terms, the best win on this profile is a neutral-floor victory over Akron. If that doesn't sound sufficiently impressive, keep in mind the Zips really might be the second-best opponent this team has faced. (The best was LSU, and Liberty lost in Baton Rouge 74-57.) When a team has a great record against a so-so schedule, metrics like strength of record can be helpful. The Flames are in the low 50s in SOR, and in the high 50s in the NET. Classic bubble territory.



Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

The Lumberjacks constitute an intriguing selection test case that might never happen. Kyle Keller's team, of course, recorded one of the best profile wins of the entire Division I season, an 85-83 overtime victory at Duke in November. Is that, plus a 23-3 record, sufficient for an at-large? Don't dish the question to the rating systems, because they're squabbling. Stephen F. Austin is one team where the NET ranking (mid-80s) and the strength of record metric (mid-40s) disagree. The Jacks would therefore pose a singular challenge for the committee, though, again, we might never see the ending to this at-large thriller. SFA is likely to win the regular-season Southland title and thus earn a bye straight into the conference tournament semifinals. That tournament will be played on a laudably neutral floor in Katy, Texas, 170 miles from Nacogdoches. An automatic bid could be in the offing.



VCU Rams

Mike Rhoades' team is about to fall out of the bubble picture completely. The Rams have lost four straight and five of their last six after their 80-62 defeat at Saint Louis. This latest loss dropped VCU's NET ranking to the mid-50s, and even that feels unduly adulatory for a team with a 2-9 record in Quads 1 and 2. The best-case scenario for Rhoades' men has now become a 21-10 record (11-7 in conference play) entering the Atlantic 10 tournament, and that may not be good enough for an at-large bid. It's been a surprisingly mediocre showing for a group that returned four starters from last year's A-10 title team, was picked to win the league again this season and was ranked No. 25 in the preseason AP poll.



Northern Iowa Panthers

With a victory at Colorado and a top-40 NET ranking, Northern Iowa appeared to be the ideal candidate to deliver the Missouri Valley its first at-large bid since 2016. That is, the Panthers were ideal until they went and lost back-to-back games at Loyola Chicago and at Indiana State. The first defeat came in overtime, but the second one was, if anything, even more heartbreaking for UNI fans. Ben Jacobson's team trailed by 20 only to make a closing 27-10 run to take the game down to the final possession in the eerily quiet Hulman Center in Terre Haute. But the Panthers fell short, and an automatic bid now appears to be this team's most realistic avenue to a spot in the field of 68.



Yale Bulldogs

Yale managed to win in two overtimes at Cornell, but any dreams of an at-large are still on the brink of becoming pure fantasy after having lost at Penn. The defeat was the second loss in Ivy play for the Bulldogs, and it came at the hands of a Quakers team that entered the night 12-8. Put more simply, it was a Quad 4 loss, Yale's first of the season. It's going to be very difficult for James Jones' men to put together one of the 36 best at-large profiles in the nation from this point forward. It will be much more difficult, one might venture to say, than winning the league's automatic bid.

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