This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.
On the precipice of the NCAA Tournament, we'll look at the bubble teams this week. Who's in, who's on the fringe, and who's got some work left to do?Of course, all of this is subject to change as the conference tournaments begin in earnest. Already it appears Saint Mary's may have stolen a bid from a potential at-large school, as the Gaels stunned Gonzaga to claim the WCC Title and an automatic berth in the big dance.
As for the remainder of the bubble, we'll be using a variety of measurements, including conference record, overall record, and the good ol' eye test to hash out which teams are worthy, and which teams should be left out in the cold. We are in the first year of usage of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), which takes into account a variety of factors, including individual game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. In addition, wins (and losses) are now separated into Quadrants, depending on the caliber of opponent as well as the location of wins. To simplify, Quadrant 1 wins are the most valuable and come against the strongest competition. By contrast, Quadrant 4 losses are the worst result, coming against inferior squads.Most teams have wins and losses in at least three quadrants, so it is important to not just look at Quadrant 1 wins, though those are certainly most likely to help a school's cause.
While all these new-fangled statistics will be used, the same questions remain. What matters more, big wins or bad losses? Should a sub-.500 conference record automatically preclude your squad from inclusion in the NCAA Tournament? How about a .500-record overall? How important is how a team is playing at the time of Selection Sunday? What role should the non-conference schedule play? We'll tackle these queries and more in the Bubble Edition of the College Hoops Barometer.
North Carolina State – The Wolfpack's comeback win over another bubble team in Clemson (more on them below) should have State leaning towards inclusion in this year's field of 68. NC State is accused of not beating anyone, with its biggest wins coming over Auburn, Penn State and yes, Clemson (twice). That being said, they finished 22-10 overall, with a 9-9 record in arguably the best conference in college basketball. The NET of 32 shows that as a reward. The Wolfpack do have two rather poor conference losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, but they did beat Syracuse, and took care of business head-to-head against Clemson as mentioned above. The resume may not be sexy for the Wolfpack, but it appears consistent enough to enter the fray.
Oklahoma – In this new era of Quadrant wins, Oklahoma finds itself on the inside despite posting a 7-11 record in conference play.The Sooners posted four Quadrant 1 wins resulting in a NET ranking of 39. Of note, Oklahoma also went 15-2 against Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 3 opponents, meaning the Sooners largely took care of business and beat the teams they were supposed to beat.They also beat fellow bubble teams Florida, TCU (twice) and Texas, while also defeating Kansas, though certainly this is not your father's Kansas squad. In addition, eight of the 10 teams in the Big 12 could end up in the big dance when all is said and done, which does explain the 7-11 conference record a bit. Add in a win over ranked Wofford, which ran the table in the Southern conference, and no bad losses, and the Sooners should be dancing come Selection Sunday.
Arizona State – There's no nice way to put it; the Pac-12 has been atrocious this season. Assuming Washington cruises to the conference tourney title, that leaves Arizona State as really the only other Pac-12 school in consideration for the NCAA Tournament.This is a shocking revelation given a 21-9 overall record, including 12-6 in conference play. The Sun Devils have been all over the place this season; a 3-3 record in Quadrant 1 games, but four losses combined in Quadrants 3 and 4.ASU's current NET rating confirms its bubble status: 67. Which team would show up in the NCAA Tournament? The one that beat Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State, or the squad that lost at home to Princeton and Wazzu? A win over Washington would be the kicker, but without it, the Sun Devils will be relying on strong play against superior opponents. That may be enough, but the Sun Devils shouldn't be too comfortable right now.
Temple – The top of the AAC was downright beastly this season, which boosts Temple's resume as a likely at-large squad. The Owls are also hot entering the madness, having won six of their last seven games, including a victory over UCF in the regular season finale.The Owls also boast a win over an extremely talented Houston squad, which brings their Quadrant 1 win total to two.Only a loss to UPenn looks like a bad loss for the Owls, who were challenged in both conference and non-conference play. The more I look at Temple's resume, the more I like it. Unfortunately, their NET ranking is in the 50's, which means the numbers don't like them quite as much as I do. Still, should the at-large bids be select today, I like their chances.
Texas – The Big 12 has three bubble teams on its own, with Texas likely sitting somewhere in between Oklahoma, mentioned above, and TCU, which will be discussed below. A NET rating of 38 helps the cause of the Longhorns, who boast five Quadrant 1 wins.Texas is in a similar boat as Arizona State mentioned above, though; the Longhorns have some big wins (UNC, Kansas, K-State) but also damaging losses. Texas lost twice to TCU, once to Oklahoma State and was defeated by Big South regular season champs Radford in non-conference play. They'll get back leading scorer Kerwin Roach for the Big 12 Tournament, but will have to face Kansas in the first round. A loss would leave Texas as 16-16; could an at-large big really be given to a major conference school that lost as many games as it won? Texas would be a true test for this new wave of NCAA Tournament analysis.
St. John's – Could the Johnnies be slip-sliding their way out of the NCAA Tournament. Losers of four of their last five games during the regular season, a quick exit in the Big East Tournament could spell doom for the Red Storm. That being said, St. John's is still in better shape than fellow Big East squads Creighton, Georgetown and Xavier. St. John's has five Quadrant 1 wins, which overshadows an 8-10 conference record in the Big East. Specifically, St. John's is just 7-6 in Quadrants 2 and 3. In other words, it appears they've been playing up or down to the caliber of competition all season. The non-conference slate was easy, though a win over VCU does help a bit.The Rams have won 12 games in a row and are surging right now. Still, it looks like St. John's needs one, if not two wins in the Big East Tournament to feel truly devoid of doubt on Selection Sunday.
Clemson – Despite the narrow loss to NC State on Wednesday, Clemson can still get into the big dance. Sure, a single, solitary Quadrant 1 win won't help, but a NET ranking in the 30's will, and they did beat Virginia Tech and Syracuse during the regular season. Much like NC State, Clemson finished 9-9 in a difficult conference. Clemson also did not have any truly bad losses, save for perhaps a one-point loss to Miami. The NET obviously shows more than meets the eye, including that Clemson was among the better defensive teams in the country. Clemson's case for inclusion will be an interesting test; should consistency be valued more than a few marquee wins? Does playing in a tough conference deserve such a large reward? In the case of the Tigers, they better hope the answers to both questions are yes.
Florida – The Gators went just 3-11 in Quadrant 1, but have a NET of 33. The SEC was particularly strong this season, and its win at LSU, which won the regular season crown, is largely what is keeping Florida in the tournament discussion.What's not helping are three losses to end the regular season campaign, including an ugly home defeat to an abysmal Georgia squad. The Gators also lost to bubble teams in the form of Oklahoma and TCU. If the Gators falter in the SEC Tournament and bow out to Arkansas in the first game, the Gators could end up on the outside looking in.Even then, they will likely want a Quadrant 1 win over a stronger SEC team thereafter to ensure they are among the final field of 68. They may not even get that far, though.
TCU – As mentioned previously, the Horned Frogs beat Texas twice this year. How could they not be listed above the Longhorns? That's because of a worse conference record, fewer Quadrant 1 wins, and an unchallenging non-conference slate. TCU's two biggest wins came over the same team, Iowa State. Otherwise, only the wins over Texas even move the needle.TCU's biggest non-conference win came over USC, which finished the season a dismal 8-10 in the horrific Pac-12.TCU did beat another team on the bubble list, Florida, but really have a pretty nondescript resume otherwise. In other words, TCU largely beat the teams it should have beat, lost to the better squads, but are buoyed by a competitive Big 12 conference.
Indiana/Ohio State – I'm actually lumping Indiana and Ohio State together because they play each other in the Big Ten Tournament, and it is really a "Win or Go Home" type game. The loser is likely headed to the NIT. That being said, the winner is not necessarily in the NCAA Tournament either.On the surface, the teams are remarkably similar. Both finished 8-12 in Big Ten Conference play, with the Hoosiers sitting overall at 17-14, while OU is 18-14. Diving deeper into the numbers, though, Indiana has six Quadrant 1 wins, while Ohio State has just four. The Buckeyes are not playing well of late either, losing three-straight games to end the regular season, and six of their final eight contests. Still, unless either team runs the table in the Big Ten tourney, both teams will have 15 losses heading into Selection Sunday. Only two teams have ever been given at-large bid with 15 losses. That's not to say it won't happen, but it looks like both Indiana and Ohio State would need at least one more Quadrant 1 win to enter to big dance.
Alabama – The Tide went just 2-9 in Quadrant 1 action, and finished the season with three-straight losses, resulting in a subpar 8-10 record in SEC play. The SEC was ultra-competitive this season, though, and Alabama does have a win over Kentucky on its resume. Northeastern winning the Colonial may help, as that was viewed as a bad non-conference loss originally. Similarly, Georgia State could represent the Sun Belt during March Madness, which was another non-conference loss for 'Bama. Still, the overall resume does not appear to have enough consistency, or enough big wins, to put the Tide over the top. Of course, a run in the SEC Tournament could change things, but as of right now, the Tide do not appear to be in a position to be included in the final field of 68.
Belmont – The Bruins ran into the buzz saw that is Ja Morant, as the future NBA lottery pick allowed Murray State to race past Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. Belmont also suffers from the "Who did they play?" refrain, as they boast just two Quadrant 1 wins. Still, the Bruins went 26-5 on the season, played Purdue tough in non-conference play and happened to beat Murray State during the regular season.Unfortunately, that just may not be enough, and their non-conference win over UCLA did not end up being as much of a boost as initially thought. The Bruins could still get in, but they more likely needed to secure that automatic berth.