It has started whether you know it or not. Many of the mid-major conferences have already started their season-ending tournaments. By the weekend, the college basketball regular season will have come to an end. Then, the real madness begins.
There are a number of high-profile programs that are currently sitting right on the bubble. They might be in; they might not. One thing is clear. The next 10 or so days will reveal who makes the NCAA tournament and who does not.
Preseason No. 1
It was just a year ago that North Carolina made its way to the national championship game. The Tar Heels were the preseason AP No. 1, but they have struggled this season. No preseason No. 1 has ever missed the NCAA tournament. UNC could be the first.
The Tar Heels will take on rival Duke on Sunday in the regular season finale. A loss means North Carolina would likely have to win the ACC tournament and the conference’s automatic bid to get into the tourney. The Tar Heels are just 1-8 in Quad 1 games this season. That’s bad.
Number of Losses
The Big Ten has three teams – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State – that are sitting on the bubble right now. The Badgers are 16-13, Michigan is 17-13, and the Nittany Lions are 18-12. The issue for all three teams is this – 15.
Fifteen is the realistic maximum number of losses a team could have and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. Just three teams in the history of the tournament have ever earned an at-large bid with 15 losses. No team has ever made it with more than 15 losses.
All three teams have one regular season game remaining and then will play in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan plays Indiana on Sunday. A loss there and another in the conference tournament could ruin the Wolverines chances. Penn State has two wins over Illinois and just upset Northwestern.
In the Big 12, West Virginia (17-13) and Oklahoma State (16-14) are in similar situations. Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team with a losing record (14-16) and the Sooners were snubbed last year after going 18-15.
It happens every year. Teams steal automatic bids and get into the NCAA tournament. Last year, it was Virginia Tech in the ACC. With the Hokies automatically in, teams like SMU (23-8) and Texas A&M (23-11) were left out.
Where it could happen this year is in the Big East. The conference will likely have five members in the tourney – Marquette, Xavier, Providence, Creighton, and UConn. The bubble team is perennial power Villanova. In the first year post-Jay Wright as head coach, the Wildcats are just 16-14.
Villanova has won three straight, beating No. 16 Xavier, No. 19 Creighton, and unranked Seton Hall. The Wildcats end the season on Saturday with No. 14 UConn at home. If the Wildcats steal a bid, that will leave another team out.
Bubble Teams In & Out
Charleston, which is 28-3 and has had an outstanding season, will have to win the CAA tournament or they are out. Utah State is currently 23-7 but with an 0-4 Quad I record, the Aggies are out unless they win the Mountain West tournament. We’ve already mentioned North Carolina and Michigan. Arizona State (20-10) could be another. Bobby Hurley’s team is 4-4 in Quad I and just recently beat Arizona. A strong Pac-12 tourney is needed to get the Sun Devils in.
Clemson (21-9) and Oregon (17-13) are in the same boat. Auburn (19-11), USC (21-9) and Boise State (23-7) all have built solid resumes and are likely in the tourney regardless of their conference tournament results. Only time will tell. Selection Sunday is set for Sunday, March 12.
Play real money March Madness Bracket Now