For some teams, all it takes is one March win to put on those dancing shoes. For others, all it takes is one loss to take them away.
In the latter category, Cinderella favorite Middle Tennessee will likely be the frowning snubbed team on Selection Sunday after bowing out of the Conference USA tourney with an overtime loss to Southern Mississippi. The Blue Raiders, first-round bracket busters in 2016 and 2017, have both a great tournament track record and a nice at-large profile (including a top-10 non-conference strength of schedule) but Southern Mississippi (16-17 on the season) is an exact example of a résumé stain a mid-major bubble team just cannot have. It drops MTSU’s RPI to 32, which is just enough for the selection committee to nitpick at — along with no eye candy wins.
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On the bright side of March, Alabama snapped a disastrous five-game losing streak that put them on the bubble by clipping Texas A&M off a buzzer-beater in the SEC tournament. With two days left of action, that victory likely secures the Crimson Tide’s at-large bid and puts them on the bubble safety zone, although their projected No. 11 seed could take a slide if other bubble teams come on strong in these next two days.
Similar to Alabama, Butler likely secured its at-large bid by knocking off Seton Hall in the Big East tourney. On the Big 12 bubble line, Oklahoma State fell short against Kansas (after beating the Jayhawks twice in the regular season) and Baylor fell to West Virginia. As good as the Big 12 has been this year — with the nation’s best RPI and nine of 10 teams contending for the NCAAS — both the Cowboys and Bears might be NIT-bound now. Big wins are nice, but both of their overall credentials are significantly lacking.
Unfortunately for the likes of on-the-outside-looking-in bubble teams Louisville and Notre Dame, they bowed out of the ACC tourney a game too early and came up short in their résumé-lifting opportunities against kingpins Virginia and Duke, respectively. It’s the same story for Marquette as far as coming up short against a top-tier team (Villanova) to build the profile, but the Golden Eagles are hanging on for dear life with a projected No. 12 seed in the play-in game in this round of bracketology.
With other bubble teams still playing, there’s no telling how long Marquette or fellow No. 12 seed Saint Mary’s stay on the right side of the bubble. Both Oregon and Georgia are their worst enemies right now, as the Ducks (beat Utah in the Pac-12 tourney) and Bulldogs (beat Missouri in the SEC tourney) are still alive in conference championship play and can shoot into the field with another key victory.
► No. 1 seeds: Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas
► Last four in: Providence, Arizona State, Saint Mary’s, Marquette
► First Four out: Louisville, Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State
Others considered for at-large bids (in no particular order): Oregon, Syracuse, Georgia, Utah, Baylor, Nebraska.
On life support: Temple, Washington, Boise State, Penn State.
Multi-bid conferences: ACC (8), SEC (8), Big 12 (7), Big East (7), Big Ten (4), Pac 12 (4), AAC (3), Atlantic 10 (2), WCC (2).
Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (23 total): America East (Vermont), Atlantic Sun (Lipscomb), Big Sky (Montana), Big South (Radford), Big West (UC Davis), CAA (Charleston), Conference USA Western Kentucky), Horizon League (Wright State), Ivy League (Penn), MAAC (Iona), MAC (Buffalo), MEAC (Hampton), Missouri Valley (Loyola-Chicago), Mountain West (Nevada), Northeast (Long Island), Ohio Valley (Murray State), Patriot (Bucknell), Southern (UNC-Greensboro), Southland (Southeast Louisiana), SWAC (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Summit (South Dakota State), Sun Belt (Louisiana), WAC (New Mexico State).
- Banned from participating: Alabama A&M, Grambling, Southeast Missouri State.
Note: All RPI and statistical data is used from WarrenNolan.com.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his fifth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past four March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
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