With the calendar turning to February this week, we can officially use the word “bubble.”
Ha! There are no rules. Still, this early in the season the roster of teams straddling the cut line is long and varied across the country.
Last week, we looked at the full bubble list.
[Michigan, Creighton, USC among teams on NCAA Tournament bubble]
But this past week provided some results to expand the list.
Here are five new teams that have to be considered as teams to watch going forward.
College of Charleston (21-2): The Cougars just had their 20-game win streak snapped by Hofstra. That’s the second loss of the season for Charleston and first in the CAA. The only other defeat was to North Carolina.
The assumption a week ago was that Charleston would win the CAA. But that’s no longer a given with Hofstra and Towson just a game back. Still, if Charleston wins the regular-season league title — and the Cougars should do so by at least a game — but then lose to either Hofstra or Towson in the tournament title game, it would be extremely difficult to keep them out of the field with only three total losses.
A four-loss Charleston wouldn’t be a slam dunk to make the field. That would mean one more CAA loss on the record. The Towson game on Feb. 23 is at home, and if Charleston were to lose that one, then that would be two home losses to its nearest contenders. That would not be a good look for the committee.
Saint Louis (15-6): The case for the Billikens begins with the wins over Providence on a neutral court (at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut) in November, and over Memphis at home. Both came in November, but they count the same.
Saint Louis did play a strong non-conference schedule, losing at Auburn and to Maryland in that same event at the Mohegan Sun. A loss to Boise State would also count on the “good loss” page. SLU is 7-1 in the A-10 after winning at Davidson and is 15-6 overall.
If SLU can win the A-10 and then lose in the conference tournament to one of the other contenders like VCU, then SLU will be in the conversation for a bid. The problem for the Billikens is the remaining schedule. It’s not going to be easy, yet the opportunities are available with a road game at Dayton and home-and-away contests vs. VCU. Beating Fordham in the Bronx isn’t going to be a walk, either. But if SLU can win the league by a game, at least, then the argument will be strong for the Billikens to be included in the field. They could be one of the last teams in if that’s the case.
VCU (16-6): The case for the Rams is similar to Saint Louis. The A-10 has looked like a one-bid league in the metrics, but both the Billikens and the Rams have the goods to be competitive in the NCAA Tournament if given the chance. VCU had what is now a quality win over Pitt in Brooklyn in November, and the losses to ASU in Brooklyn and at Temple don’t look bad now with both of those teams in the mix for bids.
Playing a strong slate helps as well. The Rams beat Vanderbilt from the SEC, and a loss at Memphis doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is the loss to Jacksonville, as well as losses at Duquesne and at home to St. Bonaventure over the weekend. VCU can’t afford another slip. And that means setting itself apart by winning at Davidson and at Saint Louis this week and then coming home and beating Dayton. If the Rams win those three, then the profile changes dramatically.
Florida (12-9): The Gators have been inconsistent this season, but they have had their moments to put them on the list. The win over Missouri, and road SEC wins at LSU and Mississippi State should give the Gators some consideration. Losing by 14 at Kansas State in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge didn’t help the cause.
The schedule was difficult, and clearly the losses early in the season to Florida Atlantic, Xavier and UConn are proving to be games that will help, not hurt, their schedule strength. But there were missed opportunities against West Virginia and Oklahoma as well as being swept by Texas A&M.
So how can Florida change the narrative in its favor? Well, the next three games will be telling against Tennessee at home Wednesday, at Kentucky on Saturday, and at Alabama on Feb. 8. If the Gators were to go 2-1 during this stretch, especially if they were to beat the Vols, then they will be in a good position. But that also means they can’t afford any more losses to teams below their current neighborhood in the SEC standings.
Oregon (13-9): The Ducks have also been terribly inconsistent, and losses to Utah Valley, UC Irvine and Stanford sting. There were so many misses like Houston at home, UConn and Michigan State in Portland and Arizona State at home. Road losses at UCLA and Colorado are part of a normal Pac-12 season.
So for the Ducks to be taken seriously here they’ve got to do something on this upcoming road trip to Arizona and Arizona State. Oregon has a win over Arizona already, and a sweep over the Wildcats would be a standout flag. The Ducks then return home to play USC and UCLA. That means Oregon’s postseason fate will be known — outside of a Pac-12 tournament title — in the next two weeks.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.
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