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March to Madness: NCAA Basketball Bubble Watch, March 4th

TCU is on the brink of falling off the Bubble. What help do the Frogs need stay afloat?

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Frog Status

  • NET Rank: 48 (↓5)
  • RPI: 42(↓1)
  • KenPom Rank: 47 (↓2)
  • ESPN BPI: 48 (↓5)
NET result for the home loss to Texas Tech

In Friday’s post, I suggested a pathway to a TCU victory over Texas Tech, and the Frogs actually met most of the requests: over a point per possession, increased possessions, increased rebounding, more forced turnovers. The one big exception was field goal percentage allowed – The Red Raiders shot 57% from the field. Texas Tech is properly lauded for a top notch defense, often overshadowing their scoring, but Chris Beard runs a very efficient offense, and the Horned Frogs just simply didn’t have the firepower to stop them. It made for a long afternoon, but TCU’s path to the Tournament didn’t realistically include a win over #10 TTU. The regular season closes with Q1 opportunities, with #28 Kansas State tonight and in Austin for #33 Texas.

The sky is not falling yet, as TCU can move far up the Bubble pecking order with a win Monday over the Big 12 leading Wildcats. There is also plenty of room for the other Bubble contenders to trip over themselves and go crashing out of the race, so let’s take a look at what happened over the weekend to impact the fight for a precious at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament:

What Helped?

  • #74 Dayton (↓8) – The Flyers picked up a second Q3 loss, falling at home to #140 Rhode Island, effectively eliminating Dayton from at-large consideration. They’ll have to steal a bid in the A10 tournament to get to the Big Dance.
  • #96 South Carolina (↓10) – The Gamecocks got fully out classed at #86 Mizzou, losing by 15 points. Despite what SEC Network might try to tell you, with 15 losses - including one each in Q3 and Q4 - SC is eliminated from at-large consideration.
  • #61 St. John’s (↓2) – The Red Storm refuse to lock in a spot, now having been swept by the bottom two teams of the Big East after falling Sunday at #104 DePaul. Even with a sub-.500 conference record in a mediocre Big East, St. John’s is still on okay footing in the Bubble picture thanks to six Q1 wins.
  • #43 Ohio State (↓3) – TCU wasn’t the only team to get thwacked by top competition, as the Buckeyes went to West Lafayette and suffered a fate similar to their football team, losing by over four touchdowns to #11 Purdue. OSU is likely still in the field today, but a road trip to #95 Northwestern this week will be a critical game.
  • Close calls: #49 Penn State (↑1), #54 Alabama (↓6), #40 Clemson (↑1) – The weekend could have been a lot worse, as these three each had top-tier programs on the ropes late into the game and very well could have gotten away with a signature win. Fortunately for the Frogs: Wisconsin, LSU, and UNC escaped with wins over these Bubble contenders.

What Hurt?

  • #55 Indiana (↑3) – The Hoosiers just refuse to go away – a season sweep of #8 Michigan State gives Indiana six Q1 wins, but with 14 losses on the season they cannot afford any more losses with only #92 Illinois and #98 Rutgers remaining in the regular season. Indiana is far on the outside looking in, but these top level wins will be hard to ignore if Indiana makes a deep run in the B1G Tournament
  • #33 Texas (↑3) – We got the triple whammy from the Longhorns – they take a jump in Bubble positioning, while damaging TCU’s best wins and almost certainly relegating the Frogs to a play-in game in the Big 12 Tournament. Texas has five Q1 wins and a top-10 Strength of Schedule to cancel out their two Q3 losses.
  • #29 UCF (↑1) – Well, it appears the American has its third bid locked up. The Knights have been steadily climbing and just handed #6 Houston their first home loss of the season to earn UCF the signature win that will make their resume an impenetrable fortress. Their remaining schedule is entirely Q1, so nothing that can bring them down from this high. Maybe losing out and an immediate exit from the AAC Tournament could put them on the fence, but I am considering UCF a lock.
  • #30 Utah State (↑4) – Similar to UCF, the Aggies just earned a marquee win that will prop them up into likely-lock territory. I hesitate to consider USU a true lock though, as the resume comparison is not nearly as strong - #97 Strength of Schedule and remaining landmine bad loss possibilities at #185 Colorado State and against the lowly other teams in the MWC Tournament.
  • #36 VCU (↑1) – Had the Rams lost at #186 Richmond, it could have turned the A10 into a one-bid league, but as VCU escaped with the 3-point win, they remain in line to get an at-large bid. VCU still has two sub-140 games before the conference tourney, but if they clear those minimal hurdles we’ll be rooting for the Rams to sweep through the A10 tourney to prevent any bid thief.
  • #50 Creighton (↑7) – The Blue Jays won on the road at AP #10 Marquette to add a top-tier Q1 win to their resume that features a top-20 Strength of Schedule and zero Q3 or Q4 losses. With 13 losses overall and only Q3 games remaining in the regular season, any loss should eliminate Creighton.

Conference Tournament Time

The first slate of Conference Tournaments begin this week, as every team looks to earn Automatic Qualification into the NCAA Tournament. This is where bid-thieves are created – those teams that would never earn an at-large bid, but make a Cinderella run through their conference tournament, upsetting locked-in tournament teams along the way. Every instance of this eliminates a spot that could have gone to a Bubble team. For our Frogs to reach the NCAA Tournament this season, we need every available spot at our disposal, so we will be rooting for conference favorites and Tournament locks to prevail. The first week of conference tournaments are all mid-majors, but there are some tournament locks or at-large contenders to watch, with big time implications on the Bubble race. Make sure to follow our Conference Tournament Rooting Guide for a day-by-day breakdown of the action.

The big picture for what TCU fans are looking for in this first week of tournaments:

  • A-Sun: We want #46 Lipscomb to dominate the tournament and easily take the Championship, preferably while #62 Liberty loses early to be officially eliminated. A Bisons-Flames finale would be cause for some concern - Liberty could win, as they did in Nashville in February, but the loss wouldn’t be enough to eliminate Lipscomb with certainty.
  • OVC: Similarly, we’ll be looking for the team from Nashville to decisively prevail while the two-seed either doesn’t make the final or loses in a clear fashion as to have no at-large opportunity. The worry here would be a Championship game of #45 Belmont vs. #52 Murray State and both do enough to make a case to remain on the Bubble.
  • WCC: #1 Gonzaga is obviously already locked in, while #38 St. Mary’s is currently on the outside looking in. The Gaels only need one win to get to a Championship matchup with the Bulldogs, here’s hoping they either cannot get there or the Zags crush them if it gets that far.
  • SoCon: It’s Wofford’s world and we’re just living in it. The regular season Cinderella story has climbed to the Top-15 of NET and has to be considered a lock at this point. The conference has three other teams in the NET Top-70 that could each be a bid-thief if given the opportunity. We want #44 Furman, #66 ETSU, and #58 UNC Greensboro to lose early, allowing Wofford to waltz into the Big Dance.
Conference breakdown of the Bubble race

What to (Bubble) Watch

Along with an initial crop of mid-major conference tournaments, this week will plenty of opportunity for movement on the Bubble. Let’s look for the Bubble to get a bit smaller with some eliminations around the fringe and hope that none of these contenders earn the signature win that moves them into a Lock position.

Head to head:

  • #59 Butler vs. #70 Xavier – Tues. Mar. 5, 5:00 PM FS1
  • #54 Alabama vs. #20 Auburn – Tues. Mar. 5, 8:00 PM ESPNU
  • #50 Creighton vs. #78 Providence – Wed. Mar. 6, 7:00 PM CBS Sports

Top Teams vs. the Bubble:

  • #2 Virginia @ #39 Syracuse – Mon. Mar. 4, 6:00 PM ESPN
  • #10 Texas Tech vs. #33 Texas – Mon. Mar. 4, 8:00 PM ESPN
  • #8 Michigan St. vs. #51 Nebraska – Tues. Mar. 5, 6:00 PM ESPN2
  • #11 Purdue@ #56 Minnesota – Tues. Mar. 5, 7:00 PM B1G Network
  • #5 Kentucky@ #37 Ole Miss – Tues. Mar. 5, 8:00 PM ESPN
  • #16 Kansas @ #42 Oklahoma – Tues. Mar. 5, 8:00 PM ESPN2
  • #26 Marquette @ #63 Seton Hall – Wed. Mar. 6, 5:30 PM FS1
  • #13 LSU @ #35 Florida – Wed. Mar. 6, 6:00 PM ESPN2
  • #17 Wisconsin vs. #41 Iowa – Thurs. Mar. 7, 6:00 PM ESPN

Eliminated Teams vs. the Bubble:

  • #289 Jacksonville @ #62 Liberty – Mon. Mar 4, 6:00 PM ESPN+
  • #341 Kennesaw St. @ #46 Lipscomb – Mon. Mar 4, 7:00 PM ESPN+
  • #96 South Carolina vs. #69 Texas A&M – Tues. Mar. 5, 6:00 PM SEC Network
  • #148 George Mason vs. #36 VCU – Tues. Mar. 5, 6:30 PM Stadium
  • #185 Colorado State vs. #30 Utah State – Tues. Mar. 5, 8:00 PM
  • #143 Vanderbilt vs. #73 Arkansas – Wed. Mar. 6, 7:30 PM SEC Network
  • #95 Northwestern vs. #43 Ohio State – Wed. Mar. 6, 8:00 PM B1G Network
  • #103 Notre Dame vs. #40 Clemson – Wed. Mar. 6, 8:00 PM ESPNU
  • #129 Georgia Tech @ #31 NC State – Wed. Mar. 6, 8:00 PM ACC Network
  • #90 Oklahoma State @ #34 Baylor – Wed. Mar. 6, 8:00 PM ESPN2
  • #88 Oregon State @ #32 Washington – Wed. Mar. 6, 9:00 PM P12 Network
  • #190 Wazzu vs. #64 Oregon – Wed. Mar. 6, 9:00 PM
  • #94 UConn vs. #57 Temple – Thurs. Mar. 7, 6:00 PM CBS Sports
  • #92 Illinois vs. #55 Indiana – Thurs. Mar. 7, 7:00 PM FS1