Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:00PM

Last night, the Texas Longhorns took a massive step forward in their hunt for a 14th-consecutive NCAA bid, knocking off Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals. The win was the fourth for Texas against the RPI Top 50, and sets up a third meeting with 2-seed Missouri. When the day started, Texas simply needed to beat Iowa State to stay in the discussion. But with carnage reigning across Bubble Nation, that win not only kept the Horns in the NCAA discussion, but might have also put them in the field for good.

Washington, the Pac-12 regular season champion, went down to Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the league tournament. As we discussed in yesterday’s Burnt Orange Bubble Watch, this year’s Pac-12 has the profile of a middle-tier mid-major conference. If Cal were to win the league tournament, it wouldn’t be a stretch to give the Pac-12 only one bid. With their loss to the Beavers, the Huskies will now certainly be sweating on Selection Sunday.

Texas found additional help in the Big 10 tournament, where Minnesota knocked off Northwestern in overtime. The Wildcats have never made an NCAA tournament, despite being incredibly close over the last few years. This season looks like another round of the same sad story, as the loss gives Northwestern a 1-10 record against the RPI Top 50 and a 5-12 mark against the RPI Top 100. Even in a season with an incredibly soft bubble, that profile just doesn’t pass the smell test.

While the Longhorns were taking care of Iowa State in the nightcap, Mississippi State was completing an epic choke job in New Orleans. The Bulldogs had lost five straight in late February before righting the ship with two wins to wrap up the regular season. While they were definitely sliding down the S-curve, the team was still safely in the field and just needed a win or two in the SEC tournament to feel more confident. Instead, Mississippi State lost to a pretty terrible Georgia team, and now must wait for the verdict on Selection Sunday.

As the calendar turned to Friday on the East Coast, Oregon was also laying an egg of their own in the Pac-12 tournament. A last-second three-pointer was off the mark from Devoe Joseph — brother of former Horn Cory Joseph — and the Ducks lost to Colorado in the quarterfinals. Oregon had slowly climbed into the bubble picture over the last two weeks, but now look to have already removed themselves from consideration. The Ducks finished the season with an 0-5 mark against the RPI Top 50 and went 5-8 against the Top 100.

Although Texas might be safely in the field at this point, a little more mayhem on the bubble would only solidify the team’s standing. Here’s a rundown of the important games today:

N.C. State vs. Virginia (1 P.M. CT, ESPN2)
The Wolfpack took care of business against Boston College on Thursday, setting up a big-win opportunity against Virginia this afternoon. N.C. State currently has three RPI Top 50 wins (Texas, Miami twice) and five against the RPI Top 100. With so many losses elsewhere on the bubble, a victory over the Cavaliers could be enough to squeak the Wolfpack into the field. A loss, on the other hand, would likely send them to the NIT.

St. Joseph’s vs. St. Bonaventure (1:30 P.M. CT, syndicated in A-10 markets)
The Hawks won their opening-round match-up against Charlotte on Tuesday, and have enjoyed watching the bubble meltdowns as they waited for today’s A-10 quarterfinals. St. Joe’s is 4-6 against the RPI Top 50 and 6-9 against the Top 100. Losses to American and Richmond are ugly stains on an otherwise-good profile, so the Hawks will need to pick up some big wins in Atlantic City this weekend. A victory here could give them an opportunity to log another signature win against Temple in the A-10 semis.

Central Florida vs. Memphis (5:30 P.M. CT, CBS College Sports)
The Golden Knights are still a fringe bubble team at best, but now find themselves two wins away from an NCAA tournament berth. An upset win over Memphis this evening would give UCF a 3-5 mark against the RPI Top 50 and push them to 4-6 against the Top 100. That isn’t overly impressive, but might be enough to get them involved in some discussions. For fans of other bubble teams, the thought of UCF possibly winning the C-USA auto-bid is also cause for concern. If a team that is barely in the bubble discussion wins a conference tourney, you can be sure that another bubble squad is getting squeezed out.

Tennessee vs. Ole Miss (6:30 P.M. CT, ESPN Full Court/ESPN3)
The Volunteers have been waiting for their SEC quarterfinal all week, licking their chops as other NCAA contenders have stumbled down the stretch. The Vols are 4-7 against the RPI Top 50, 7-10 against the Top 100, and have been a completely different team since adding Jarnell Stokes on January 14th. Tennessee is 10-5 since the freshman made his debut against Kentucky, and the team is riding a four-game winning streak heading into the SEC tourney. The Selection Committee considers injuries and suspensions when debating a team’s profile, so the Volunteers could likely punch their NCAA ticket with a win or two in New Orleans this weekend.

Miami vs. Florida State (8 P.M. CT, ESPN2)
Like fellow ACC bubbler N.C. State, Miami simply earned the win it had to have in yesterday’s first-round action, knocking off Georgia Tech in an ugly game. The Hurricanes are one of Lunardi’s First Four Out, but have just a 2-7 mark against the RPI Top 50 and are 3-10 against the Top 100. Their road win against Duke is definitely one to hang their hats on, but the lack of total quality wins could hurt in head-to-head comparisons. Win this one against the Seminoles, and the Hurricanes should get a shot at a second big win over Duke.

Arizona vs. Oregon State (8 P.M. CT, FSN)
Arizona shouldn’t be in consideration for an NCAA bid at this point, but it’s been that kind of year on the bubble. Of course, the Wildcats could end all speculation and simply win their next two games to earn the league’s auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. The ‘Cats are only 1-3 against the RPI Top 50 and 5-8 against the Top 100, with two of those wins coming against teams ranked in the upper nineties (Stanford at No. 95, Valparaiso at No. 99). Fans of bubble teams should be pulling for another Oregon State upset and a Cal victory in the finale.

Xavier vs. Dayton (8:00 P.M. CT, syndicated in A-10 markets)
In what could amount to a bubble elimination game, A-10 rivals Xavier and Dayton will put their seasons on the line in Atlantic City. The Flyers have a very interesting profile, as they own four RPI Top 50 wins, but also have a pair of head-scratching losses to Miami of Ohio and Rhode Island. Xavier, meanwhile, has just two Top 50 wins, but seven against the Top 100. A win in this game won’t guarantee anything for either team, but the loser can likely shelve those NCAA dreams.

Colorado State vs. San Diego State (8:00 P.M. CT, CBS Sports)
Colorado State is in a similar situation to Texas, albeit a slightly better one. The Rams had three RPI Top 50 wins against the Mountain West’s best teams, but all came at home. A road win against Air Force in the season finale and a neutral-site win against TCU yesterday have served to bolster the road/neutral record, while losses around the country have only solidified Colorado State’s standing. At this point, it’s hard to find enough teams with profiles good enough to justify leaving CSU out. Of course, a win over the Aztecs in tonight’s semifinal would certainly lock things up.

Long Beach State vs. Cal-Irvine (8:30 P.M. CT, ESPNU in Big 12 Network markets)
Bubble fans across the country are rooting hard for LBSU this week, as the 49ers would be an interesting at-large candidate if they fall short in the Big West tournament. Thanks to the Big West’s re-seeding of teams in the conference tournament, that outcome is incredibly unlikely. Tonight, the 49ers are facing the league’s 7-seed in Cal-Irvine, just a day after dispatching of 8-seed UC-Davis.

Long Beach State was considered an NCAA lock for much of the season, but an inexplicable loss to Cal State Fullerton in the season finale has muddied the picture. The 49ers have just one RPI Top 50 win, which came against Xavier. A loss by the Musketeers in the A-10 quarters could knock them right out of that group, however, which would leave LBSU with zero Top 50 wins on the profile. It doesn’t look like the 49ers could absorb a Big West tourney loss and still make the field, but other bubble teams don’t want to have to test this theory. Bubble Nation is firmly in LBSU’s corner this weekend.

Colorado vs. Cal (10:30 P.M. CT, FSN)
As mentioned above, fans of bubble teams need Cal to win the Pac-12 tournament. If that happens, the Pac-12 could be limited to just one bid on Selection Sunday, opening the door for other at-large candidates.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:44AM

The pressure is now officially on in Bubble Nation, as we are less than 82 hours from finding out which teams will make the NCAA field and which can start making plans for the NIT. With bubblers across the country taking the court in their conference tournaments, today could be the most important day of the season for many teams. For Texas, a must-win battle with Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals later tonight. A win there might be enough for the Longhorns to make the field, but losses by other bubble contenders can certainly help their case.

Last night, Seton Hall took one of those losses, falling to Louisville in the second round of the Big East tourney. As a result, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi slid the Pirates out of the bracket and moved the Horns into the final at-large slot in his late-night update. Seton Hall now must wait until Selection Sunday to find out their fate, but with a 4-8 record against the RPI Top 50 and an additional three wins against those slotted 51st through 100th, the Pirates seem to have a solid résumé, especially compared to other bubblers.

Even though the Pirates are done with Championship Week, there will still be many Longhorn fans with their eyes glued to the scoreboard. Here’s a quick rundown of the games most important to Texas fans:

Illinois vs. Iowa (10:30 A.M. CT, BTN)
The Illini finished the season with 11 losses in their last 13 games and are essentially in a bubble coma at this point. Iowa’s profile is certainly not worth of an at-large look, either. But, both of these teams have pulled off some victories against the top teams in the Big 10, and either one could make a run in Indianapolis this weekend. While neither Illinois or Iowa should be in the at-large picture at this point, they both have the pieces to possibly put together a troubling bid-thief campaign.

N.C. State vs. Boston College (1 P.M. CT, ESPNU)
The Wolfpack is still on the wrong side of the bubble at this point, with an ugly 0-8 record against the RPI Top 50 counting heavily against them. A win against Boston College does nothing to help their résumé, but does move the Pack into a quarterfinal match-up with Virginia. N.C. State might need three wins in Atlanta to be able to make the field, so Mark Gottfried and Co. need to take care of business against the ACC’s worst team this afternoon.

Washington vs. Oregon State (2 P.M. CT, FSN)
At this point, the Pac-12’s bubble picture is best described as a hot mess. As has been pointed out numerous times, most often by SI’s Andy Glockner, the league has a profile that is much more befitting a mid-major conference. The Pac-12 had just two victories in non-conference games against the RPI Top 50, with the best win coming against a Colorado State team that is on the bubble itself. (The other was Oregon State over Texas, and the Longhorns are right on the Top 50 cutline at the moment.) Ken Pomeroy ranks the Pac-12 as the ninth-best conference, behind the likes of the MWC, A-10, and MVC. With those kind of numbers, is the league really worth three bids, or even two? The Huskies have one extra chip in their stack thanks to the regular-season title, but at this point, all that guarantees them is a bid to the NIT. A loss to Oregon State this afternoon would be absolutely crippling for UW.

Arizona vs. UCLA (4:30 P.M. CT, FSN)
Like Washington, Arizona has a résumé that is incredibly thin. Unfortunately, the Pac-12 provides little in the way of quality win opportunities, instead posing as a minefield that can blow up at-large chances for the league’s top teams. That is especially true for the Wildcats, who will be without the services of point guard Josiah Turner after he was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday. UCLA could easily knock off Arizona in this one, which would essentially put the kibosh on any NCAA hopes in Tucson.

Northwestern vs. Minnesota (4:30 P.M. CT, ESPN2)
If Texas fans thought that they Longhorns had a heartbreaking season, they would hate to be fans of the Wildcats. Northwestern, which has famously never made the NCAA tournament, posted a brutal 1-10 record against the RPI Top 50 during the regular season. Two of those losses came in overtime to Michigan, while another three of their Top 50 losses were by a combined nine points. Like many of the teams in action today, Northwestern won’t be punching a ticket with a win over Minnesota, but simply cannot afford a loss. If the Wildcats can get past the Golden Gophers, a third crack at Michigan would come in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.

Mississippi State vs. Georgia (9 P.M. CT, ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)
Mississippi State went on a late season slide, losing five straight in late February before closing out the year with a pair of wins to finish at .500 in SEC play. The Bulldogs have an 8-4 record against the RPI Top 100, but more than half of those wins have come against teams that fall in the 51-100 range. A loss to Georgia might not knock Mississippi State out of the NCAAs, but it would certainly make for a very nervous Selection Sunday in Starkville.

Colorado State vs. TCU (4:30 P.M. CT, The Mtn)
Fort Collins proved to be the toughest place to play in the Mountain West this year, as the Rams defended their home court against the league’s big three: UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego State. Unfortunately, the MWC tournament doesn’t take place down the road from the New Belgium Brewing Co., so the Rams could be vulnerable to an ugly upset against TCU in Las Vegas. It would appear that Colorado State is safely in the field at this point, but a loss to the Horned Frogs could shove the Rams right back into the bubble discussion.

Oregon vs. Colorado (10:30 P.M. CT, FSN)
Like Arizona and Washington, Oregon is desperately seeking a second or third NCAA bid for the Pac-12. Unlike the Wildcats and Huskies, however, the Ducks are currently on the wrong side of the bubble in most tournament projections. Oregon has to take care of business against the Buffaloes, who they split the season series with. A loss would almost certainly guarantee a trip to the NIT.

Miami vs. Georgia Tech (8 P.M. CT, ESPNU)
You may be noticing a pattern at this point, so perhaps you’ll be able to guess the next sentence before you read it. Miami can’t seal a bid with a win over Georgia Tech tonight, but they can certainly cripple their NCAA hopes with a loss. The Yellow Jackets are currently 188th in the RPI and would provide absolutely no boost to the Hurricane résumé, but would tarnish it with an ACC tourney upset. Miami is currently 2-7 against the RPI Top 50, with wins coming at Duke and at home against Florida State. A victory over Georgia Tech would give the ‘Canes a chance for a second win over the Seminoles in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.

South Florida vs. Notre Dame (8 P.M. CT, ESPN)
The Bulls got past Villanova in a must-win game last night, and now can solidify their NCAA profile with a win over Notre Dame tonight. South Florida is only 1-9 against the RPI Top 50, but is 6-9 against the Top 100. In a weak bubble year, perhaps getting fat on wins against the lower half of the Top 100 will be enough for the Bulls to get into the NCAAs. If they don’t want to test that theory, they will have to knock off Notre Dame tonight.

Central Florida vs. UAB (9:00 P.M. CT, CBS College Sports)
The Golden Knights are on the periphery of the bubble discussion, but could push their way back into consideration with a good run in the C-USA tournament. With only three RPI Top 100 wins under their belt, UCF needs to take care of the Blazers tonight and hope for a big win over Memphis in the semis.

Wyoming vs. UNLV (10:30 P.M. CT, The Mtn)
While it’s not likely that the Mountain West earns five bids to the NCAAs this year, the Cowboys could still make a case with some quality wins in the MWC tourney. The 18-10 record against D-I opponents isn’t stellar, but it does include two wins against the RPI Top 25, with UNLV providing an opportunity for a third tonight. Unfortunately, the MWC tournament is played on UNLV’s home court, where the Cowboys just lost to the Rebels on Saturday.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:04AM

The Longhorns made it interesting, but still took care of business on Wednesday night. A 72-64 win over Oklahoma kept Texas in the hunt for the NCAAs, while numerous teams in the chase pack took damaging losses. Even with big wins from Colorado State (over UNLV) and South Florida (at Louisville), the Longhorns held their ground in Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In.”

For the past few weeks, Burnt Orange Bubble Watch has compared the Horns to the other teams fighting for those final bids. This week, we turn our attention to the dangerous Bid Snatchers, those teams that come out of nowhere to win a conference tournament, steal an NCAA berth, and shrink the bubble.

Most often, those teams come from mid-major conferences, but they’ve been known to come from the Big Six, as well. In 2008, Georgia made an improbable run through a tornado-delayed SEC tournament and won the league’s auto-bid just hours before the NCAA bracket was revealed. By improbably winning their way into the tournament, the Bulldogs forced out a bubble team at the last minute.

With the Longhorns likely to be sweating the bubble all the way through the bracket’s unveiling on Selection Sunday, the team’s fans will want to keep a close eye on the tournaments below.


We start our look at the Bid Snatchers with a league that doesn’t actually have a post-season tournament, and instead awards its auto-bid to the regular-season champ. The Harvard Crimson are the only squad in the Ivy race who stands to earn an at-large bid, so Texas fans need to hope that Tommy Amaker’s bunch can win the league crown. The Crimson are not a lock for the tournament, but do have neutral-site wins over Florida State and Central Florida on the résumé. While Harvard could be left out if they fail to win the auto-bid, there’s absolutely no way that the Ivy gets a second team into the dance if the Crimson win the league.

Harvard’s loss to Penn at home last Saturday night complicated the Ivy race, leaving the Crimson just a half-game ahead of the Quakers heading into the final weekend of the season. Last night, it took overtime to secure a win over Columbia, preserving Harvard’s narrow lead as they head to Cornell for their regular season finale tonight.

At this point, their worst-case scenario is a loss tonight followed by a pair of wins by Penn. If the Crimson can hold off Cornell in their season finale, they’ll be assured at least a one-game, neutral-site playoff against Penn. The Quakers close out their season with a game against Yale tonight and a road trip to Princeton on Tuesday.

Atlantic Sun (February 29th – March 3rd)

By now, everyone now knows Rick Byrd and Belmont, the small school in Nashville that stormed onto the national radar with a near-upset of Duke in the 2008 tournament. This season, the Bruins have a marginal profile and likely won’t make the field if they fall short in the A-Sun. Belmont’s RPI was 68th in the country heading into Monday’s action, and the Bruins have just one win against the RPI Top 50.

While the Bruins likely won’t make the field without the Atlantic Sun’s auto-bid, bubblers will still be pulling for Belmont to win the title, if only for simplicity’s sake. That title chase became much easier yesterday, as the conference’s 2-seed and tournament host, Mercer, lost in the tournament semifinals. The Bruins are now just one win away from the NCAAs, and need only to knock off Florida Gulf Coast in tonight’s Atlantic Sun title game.

Jordan Cyphers and Tennessee State could steal a bid
(Photo credit: Jae S. Lee/The Tennessean)

Ohio Valley (February 29th – March 3rd)

Murray State is the big name in the OVC, and they nearly marched through the league (and their season) with an unblemished mark. The only loss for the Racers came at home against Tennessee State in early February, a fact that adds a delicious subtext to this afternoon’s league title game between the two teams.

With the tournament taking place in Nashville, this could end up being a bit of a road game for the Racers, but that might not make much of a difference. Last Thursday, Murray State marched into the Gentry Center and enacted their revenge on Tennessee State with an 80-62 drubbing. Pomeroy gives the Tigers a 22% chance to bounce back, pull off the upset today, and frustrate bubblers nationwide.

West Coast (February 29th – March 5th)

The bizarre West Coast Conference tournament setup has always been great for bubble teams. Bracketed in a stepladder fashion, the WCC protects its top teams with double byes, and even had to add a play-in game this season to accommodate the addition of BYU. As a result, St. Mary’s and Gonzaga have yet to play a game in the tournament, which moves into the semifinal round tonight.

The Gaels and Bulldogs are the league’s only locks at this point, although BYU is a team in the bubble discussion. If the Cougars won the auto-bid, it would not be nearly as disastrous as having the San Francisco Dons win the title, but it could still qualify as bid thievery. Bubble teams will definitely be pulling for Gonzaga to take care of BYU tonight and relegate the Cougars in the at-large discussion, but the most important thing is that St. Mary’s knock off San Fran in the first semifinal.

Missouri Valley (March 1st – 4th)

According to stats guru Ken Pomeroy, the Missouri Valley is the most dangerous early conference tournament for bubble teams. Heading into Arch Madness, there was a 17% chance that the league’s auto-bid would be won by someone other than Wichita State or Creighton, the two MVC teams that are considered a lock for at-large bids.

Northern Iowa and Missouri State were the two most likely teams to steal a bid in the MVC, according to Pomeroy, but both went down in yesterday’s quarterfinals. That leaves the top four seeds all intact for today’s semifinal action, with bubble teams pulling hard for the Shockers and Jays to take care of Illinois State and Evansville. Based on cumulative probabilities, Pomeroy gives roughly a 60% chance that bubble teams will see their dream MVC championship match-up of Wichita State and Creighton.

Colonial (March 2nd – 5th)

The CAA has been a mid-major darling in recent seasons, but the tripe at the bottom of the league standings this season has certainly hurt the league’s chances for multiple bids. At the top of the table, Drexel and VCU are the only likely candidates for at-large bids, but the Dragons appear to have the inside track to an at-large thanks to their regular-season crown. Neither team has a flashy profile, but the Rams at least own a win over South Florida, another squad in the at-large discussion. Fans of bubble teams would be most pleased by one of these two teams winning the league tournament, with the other making an early exit.

Dayton’s Chris Johnson snatches boards and possibly bids
(Photo credit: Al Behrman/Associated Press)

Atlantic 10 (March 6th – 11th)

The Battle on the Boardwalk looms large in the at-large drama this season, with Xavier, Dayton and St. Joe’s all needing to beef up their résumés down the stretch. UMass was even on the fringes of the bubble discussion earlier this week, but a tough loss at home to Temple may have ended that talk permanently. While the A-10 still has to wrap up its regular season this afternoon, bubblers will no doubt be rooting for Temple or Saint Louis to take home the post-season title, while also hoping that the Musketeers, Flyers, and Hawks all lose as early as possible.

Conference USA (March 7th – 10th)

The bubble situation in Conference USA is not nearly as simple as the leagues we’ve already covered, solely due to the fact that no team is a clear lock for the tournament. Both Memphis and Southern Miss have profiles that would seem to be good enough for NCAA inclusion, but bad losses down the stretch could screw that up.

The Golden Eagles already took a spill against both Houston and UTEP, then nearly ate an unforgivable defeat to SMU at home on Wednesday night. With a season-ending road trip to Marshall still on tap this afternoon, Southern Miss must avoid another bad loss that could overshadow their 10-4 mark against the RPI Top 100.

When the C-USA tournament kicks off next Wednesday, bubble teams will be squarely in the corner of the Memphis Tigers. A win by Southern Miss would not be too damaging, because like BYU, the Golden Eagles could already be an at-large inclusion. Central Florida, however, has shown it can knock off good teams and is more than capable of bid larceny. UCF is also a team that has already been in the bubble discussion, but Tuesday night’s lopsided loss to Memphis didn’t help their case. An early tournament loss by the Knights would be a boon to bubble teams everywhere.

Big West (March 8th – 10th)

Long Beach State earned a lot of press in early November with their upset win at Pittsburgh. The 49ers followed that up a month later with a neutral-site win over Xavier, but the Musketeers weren’t at full strength thanks to suspensions from the Crosstown Brawl. Since then, both the Musketeers and the Panthers have fallen off, so the value of those wins have likely diminished in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Unfortunately, those are the only RPI Top 100 wins for LBSU, which posted an 0-6 mark against the RPI Top 50.

The Big West is full of teams ranked 200+ in the RPI, putting them in the bottom tier that is used on the Selection Committee’s Nitty Gritty reports. A loss to one of those schools in the Big West Tournament could be fatal to the at-large hopes of the 49ers. Regardless, LBSU will still be considered for an at-large if they fail to secure the Big West’s auto-bid, so Horn fans should be pulling for Casper Ware and Co. next weekend.

Mountain West (March 8th – 10th)

The Mountain West has clearly been a three-bid league for the last few weeks, with Wyoming and Colorado State continually taking missteps in their pursuit of a fourth NCAA slot for the MWC. The Rams may have finally pushed themselves over the hump with a huge comeback win against UNLV on Wednesday night, but that loss at Boise State still sticks out on an otherwise impressive résumé.

Bubble teams will be happy with UNLV, New Mexico, or San Diego State winning the tournament title, but will also be hoping for an early loss by Colorado State. The Rams also could help out bubble teams by losing at Air Force today in the regular-season finale, an outcome that is very possible when you consider CSU’s 2-9 mark on the road.

The Washington Huskies could be dancing in March
(Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Pac-12 (March 7th – 10th)

Like Conference USA, the Pac-12 is a tough league to figure out. The conference did itself no favors with an abysmal non-conference record, finishing 1-29 against teams in the RPI Top 50. That meant that as conference play began and teams starting knocking each other off, there were no good wins to be had. As a result, there are no true at-large locks in this league, and it’s hard to justify even three bids coming from the conference. As Andy Glockner pointed out in a recent Bubble Watch, likely regular-season champ Washington has the profile of a mid-major champ, not one of a Big Six title holder.

For bubble teams, that presents an interesting situation. If you took the names off of the profiles and did a blind comparison, it wouldn’t be a stretch to give the Pac-12 only one bid. We’d personally fall on the side arguing for two bids, but it’s insane that you could conceivably make a case for a major conference to earn only an auto-bid. However, with a weak bubble and the cachet that a power conference name provides, it’s probably much more likely that we see three teams in the field on Selection Sunday.

At-large contenders are hoping for early tournament slip-ups by Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado, the three bland, average teams that could still somehow receive a third bid from the Pac-12. (It’s worth noting that we originally had “earn” in that last sentence, but had to edit it to “receive.”) The primary focus for fans of bubble teams, however, is a Pac-12 post-season title for Cal, although a win by Washington wouldn’t be disastrous.

The others

Bid thieves can certainly come from other conferences, as proven by the 2008 Georgia team mentioned earlier. With the depth of the top leagues, however, the odds of that happening are very slim. With the Big East, Big 10, and Big 12 currently projected by Joe Lunardi to put 23 teams in the tournament, it’s tough to see a team outside of that group winning one of those league’s tourneys.

What bubble fans will be watching for in those tournaments is how fellow bubblers are faring. For Texas, that means rooting for Northwestern to get bounced early in the Big 10, or to see Miami lose quickly in the ACC tournament. The Longhorns will have to take care of their own business, too, as the opportunity for a big win will present itself in the form or Baylor or Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinals next Thursday.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:46AM

The cries rang out almost immediately on Saturday afternoon. Still stinging from watching their team suffer a road loss to Oklahoma State, Texas fans littered message boards, Twitter, and the blogosphere with their own personal obituaries for the 2011-12 basketball season.

Those frustrated rants grew in number on Monday night, as the Longhorns blew a 12-point lead to Baylor in the second half, letting a potentially monumental win slip right through their fingers. Any orangeblood with an internet connection knew for a fact that the NCAA was out of reach, and that this Longhorn team was bound for the NIT. If more Texas fans were aware of the existence of the CBI and CIT, there likely would have been quite a few folks penciling the Horns into those brackets, as well.

The most overlooked fact in all of this hand-wringing, however, is that Texas doesn’t play basketball in a vacuum. It’s not just the results of Longhorn games that will shape the NCAA bracket, which won’t even be completely filled in until March 11th. The simple fact of the matter is that the Selection Committee has to put 68 teams into the field every year, and this is one of those seasons where it’s very difficult to find enough worthy squads. As Mike Finger put it after the heartbreaking loss to Baylor, “Look at the wretched class of goof-offs on the bubble.”

Fortunately for Longhorn fans, many of those goof-offs decided to copy Texas’ performance from Monday night when faced with their own big games on Tuesday. Northwestern failed to score for the final two minutes of regulation and first three minutes of overtime, missing the chance to pad their résumé with a big win over Michigan. N.C. State dropped their third straight game against a top-flight ACC team, losing to North Carolina by 12. Elsewhere, Xavier couldn’t come up with a road victory against UMass, dropping a seven-point decision to the Minutemen.

Only Seton Hall and Colorado State made strong statements on Tuesday night, logging big home victories over Georgetown and New Mexico, respectively. The Pirates now boast seven wins against the RPI Top 100 and will wrap up the regular season with very winnable games against Rutgers and DePaul. At this point, it certainly looks like Kevin Willard should have Seton Hall in the dance in just his second year on the job.

The Rams, meanwhile, present a much more interesting case. They own very strong computer numbers, including a schedule that was 7th-toughest nationally even before they knocked off New Mexico. That challenging schedule won’t get any easier, though, as Colorado State still must travel to San Diego State and host UNLV. Barring a clean sweep of those games, the Rams will likely have work left to do in the MWC tournament.

After all of the dust had settled from a busy Tuesday night, the Longhorns — already written off by their fanbase — found themselves back in Joe Lunardi’s bracket. Clinging to the edge of the bubble, Texas was once again one of the “Last Four In,” with a game against league doormat Texas Tech coming up on Saturday. Thanks to all of the bubble carnage happening nationwide, simply winning easy games can keep Texas on the right side of the cutline for now.

If you’re new to Burnt Orange Bubble Watch, here’s a quick recap of the rules. The table below is based on Lunardi’s Monday bracket, with slight revisions made based on his bubble update following Tuesday’s action. Barring any bid thievery in conference tournaments, teams listed above the black line would be dancing according to Joe.

The W-L records only include games against D-I competition. Asterisks next to team names indicate the number of wins that were not against D-I foes, and thus do not count for profile purposes. RPI and SOS numbers are taken from Monday’s update from the NCAA, and records against the RPI Top 50 and Top 100 are updated through Tuesday night’s games. The “KP W-L” column shows each team’s predicted final record, as calculated by Ken Pomeroy.

With no one wanting to step up and make a charge at the end of the season, the pack of contenders sitting below the cutline grows with every update. More and more teams slide further down the list, making the clump of teams at the bottom of the chart a muddled mess of candidates whose tournament hopes are incredibly slim. Thanks to the inability of big-conference bubblers to nail down quality wins, some surprising teams are rising through the ranks simply by winning the games they are supposed to. Central Florida and South Florida are now sitting just outside of the tournament field according to Lunardi, although the Bulls have a terribly tough slate to finish the year. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights will still have to take care of Memphis on the road, but have a very manageable road ahead of them in the C-USA.

Tons of bubble games are on tap again tonight, although almost all the action involves teams still left on the outside looking in. For these squads, wins are practically mandatory at this point if they hope to catch the rest of the competition. Here are the games Horn fans should be keeping an eye on tonight:

Mississippi at Tennessee, 6 P.M. CT (ESPN Full Court 1/ESPN3)
Dayton at Duquesne, 6 P.M. CT
Richmond at St. Joseph’s, 6 P.M. CT
VCU at UNC-Wilmington, 6 P.M. CT
South Florida at Syracuse, 7 P.M. CT (ESPN Full Court 2/ESPN3)
Michigan State at Minnesota, 7:30 P.M. CT (Big Ten Network)
Central Florida at Rice, 8 P.M. CT
Wyoming at San Diego State, 9:30 P.M. CT (The Mtn)

The Golden Gophers can make the biggest statement of the night with a win over Michigan State, which would undoubtedly leapfrog them over much of the competition. South Florida can also come up with a huge victory, but upsetting Syracuse at the Carrier Dome will be extremely difficult. Dayton also has a lot to prove in their road trip to Pittsburgh, as the Flyers have been up-and-down all year and have already lost to the Dukes at home. Dayton has quite a few quality wins on the résumé, but has to avoid dropping too many games down the stretch and giving the committee a reason to leave them out.

The Longhorns, meanwhile, have three more days to sit back, relax, and let other teams make mistakes. While there’s little chance that Texas fans will feel any level of comfort heading into Selection Sunday, it’s clear that their team is at least still in the mix.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:34AM

It was an excellent bubble week for the Texas Longhorns, as they took care of their own business at the same time that their main competitors were taking steps backwards. Texas extended its current winning streak to four games — the team’s longest since mid-December — and added a quality victory to the tournament résumé with a furious comeback against Kansas State.

As we did in last week’s edition of the Burnt Orange Bubble Watch, we are focusing in on the teams who are barely clinging to an NCAA bid and those who are still within striking distance. The Longhorns won’t have the prettiest profile when it comes time to slot teams in the tournament, but they only have to fare better than the other ugly ducklings they are directly competing against. For that reason, our narrow focus shuts out the white noise and clarifies the picture for Texas fans.

Joe Lunardi is the only mainstream bracketologist who makes his S-curve available, so his rankings are used for the sake of sorting the teams. That’s an important point to remember, as these rankings are not to be taken as gospel, but rather a jumping-off point so we can compare the Longhorns to the other teams currently in contention.

Now, a recap of all of the pertinent info. RPI and SOS numbers in this chart are taken from the most recent official update from the NCAA, which includes games through Sunday, February 12th. Records only include games against teams in Division I, and also exclude games against teams still transitioning to D-I. (Sorry, Colorado State, that win over Nebraska-Omaha is a no-go.) All records have been updated through Wednesday’s action, although the records against the two subgroups of the RPI Top 100 are based on those RPI rankings from Monday. This means that results against teams located near the cutlines of 50 and 100 could gain or lose importance based on games that have occurred since that Monday update.

All teams listed above the big black line are currently dancing according to Lunardi’s projections, while those below would miss the tournament. This exercise also assumes that all of the auto-bid winners are teams which would have already made the tournament. So, if somebody in the Big West surprises Long Beach State in the conference tourney and the 49ers still grab an at-large, the number of available bids would shrink by one, and that black line would creep further up the table.

Texas added a quality win by beating Kansas State, but the recent slide by the Wildcats knocked them out of the RPI Top 50. With upcoming road games against Baylor and Missouri, it’s unlikely that KSU will be climbing back into the Top 50, which leaves the Horns with just two big-time wins to beat their chest over. Tuesday night’s win over Oklahoma was once a Top 100 RPI victory, but the Sooners tripped up against Texas Tech on Saturday and slid down to 104 in Monday’s RPI release. Following the loss to the Longhorns, Oklahoma will only be heading further from the Top 100.

Fortunately, most of Texas’ direct competitors failed to log their own quality wins over the last week. Illinois lost at home to Purdue last night, the team’s fourth-consecutive loss and seventh in their last eight games. Based on their current trajectory, it’s likely that they continue slipping down the S-curve, right past Texas and into dangerous territory. Crosstown rivals Cincinnati and Xavier both failed to pick up big road wins, dropping games at Marquette and Temple, respectively. Miami also had a big opportunity in front of them when UNC came to town last night, but the Hurricanes let a halftime lead melt away, along with their chances to prove that the win over Duke was no fluke.

Even with those teams missing the boat, there was very little movement downward, thanks to a complete lack of upward pressure from those teams on the outside of the bubble. Northwestern whiffed on two chances to log quality road wins, falling short against both Purdue and Indiana. The Wildcats have an eerily similar profile to the Longhorns, so it does seem odd that Lunardi deems Texas worthy, yet finds Northwestern lacking. Of course, if the Wildcats keep losing the big ones, there won’t be much uproar if they do in fact miss the field.

Behind Northwestern, the gaggle of Mountain West teams jockeying for a fourth conference bid keep faceplanting against the bottom half of the league. After Wyoming was held to 38 points in a road loss to New Mexico on Saturday, the Cowboys followed it up with an inexcusable home loss to Air Force last night. Colorado State was nipped at the buzzer by Boise State, just days after being upset by TCU in Fort Worth. Even with those gaudy computer numbers, the Rams are making it very difficult to justify an NCAA bid.

All of this mediocrity is why it appears that the Longhorns control their own destiny at this point. Road games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are both winnable, while the home date with Oklahoma provides another good chance for a victory. A few teams might finally turn it on down the stretch and catch up with Texas, but the schedule is certainly in the Longhorns’ favor at this point. Barring a bunch of madness in the conference tournaments, it appears that Texas just needs to win the games it is supposed to win while other conference’s bubble prospects cannibalize each other.

As we look ahead, the following chart includes Ken Pomeroy’s projected final records for the bubble contenders, which are calculated using the cumulative odds from each team’s remaining schedule. Quality win opportunities are listed for any games against teams in the RPI Top 100.

While there are a ton of chances for other bubble teams to log quality wins, so far the breaks have all been going in the favor of the Longhorns. There are sure to be a few upsets over the next few weeks, but no team has yet shown the momentum needed to make a surge up the charts. If they can avoid any embarrassing losses down the stretch, it appears that the Horns won’t be sweating too much on Selection Sunday.

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