Bubble Breakdown: The bubble of mediocrity

Washington is trying to make history of a season champion to miss the NCAA Tournament.


It tells a lot about the Huskies' profile, and the state of the Pac-12, that a regular-season champion can't find an at-large berth in this muddled mess of misfits. If the tournament selection process was finalized Friday, in From the End of the Bench's estimation, the Huskies wouldn't find a spot in the field.

However, as Thursday taught us, not many bubble-sitters are proactively claiming bids, leaving a retracted bubble where it may benefit a team or two to lose earlier than its fellow fringe-worthy compatriots. If every team loses, the one not freshest in the committee's mind may be in the best shape.

It just screams of QUALITY, doesn't it? I laughed at selection committee chair Jeff Hathaway's at-large pool assessment in his mandatory conference call with the media earlier this week. He used the words "most quality" and "in the history of the tournament" in the same sentence, just providing another example that any person of influence can pull off the political game if he or she has to.

In reality, there are eight to 10 teams that have no business making the field, some that wouldn't even be in the conversation most years but are now in the final mix of possible selections. Are you ready for a 96-team tournament? Why not make it 128? Any takers?

Our exercise in analytical discourse has been fruitful, and Bubble Breakdown will have a more permanent home at an earlier date next season. In the here and now, we provide a breakdown of each fence-rider's status as of the end of play on Thursday.

Keep in mind that this situation is extremely fluid with many moving parts. A team's position can change by its own volition or without even playing.

We discussed the formula used below in the initial Bubble Breakdown (head a few paragraphs down at this link: In rapid-fire terms, the tournament selection committee uses a team's Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS) as barometric tools of discussion, while digging further into the metrics that make up such numbers as quantitative measures of inclusion.

This column will not include anything of substance about teams deemed to have already sewn up bids. They will be mentioned underneath conference affiliation and left to discussion for another day (the Monday column or analysis once the field is released).

If you have any questions or comments, contact From the End of the Bench on Twitter at @jtrex0830 or email me at

RPI and SOS Rankings are current as of end of play on Thursday, March 8, courtesy of


On the guest list: Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Miami, North Carolina State

Miami (19-11; RPI 52; SOS 45)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-6 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 1-4 Record outside RPI 100: 16-1

Is the bubble so battered that Miami's 54-36 victory over Georgia Tech (RPI 191) is such a newsworthy event? The Hurricanes' position hasn't changed much since last Friday. They still have a 3-10 record against the Top-100, but two of those wins were big ones against Florida State and at Duke. This much is clear. Miami is in the field if it beats the Seminoles for a second time in two weeks on Friday night. If not, it must sweat out a call that will come down to the wire. There aren't any debilitating losses, but without another big win, the profile is fairly nondescript.

North Carolina State (21-11; RPI 55; SOS 33)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-8 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-1 Record outside RPI 100: 16-2

The committee doesn't knowingly pit profiles from the same conference against each other, but if it did, what would the Miami-North Carolina State argument sound like? The Wolfpack and Hurricanes have nearly identical computer numbers, so that's a wash. North Carolina State swept Miami, but is a big deal IF the committee was basing its selections on a "one is in, one is out" philosophy. Miami's two best teams are described above, while the Wolfpack's best two victories are over Texas on a neutral floor and... against the Hurricanes? Wow is this close. Many conventionalists may deem the head-to-head victory as the tiebreaker, but the Hurricanes have better top victories and fewer bad losses. The case could go either way, but like Miami, North Carolina State can play its way into better position with a win Friday afternoon against Virginia.

Big 12

On the guest list: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Texas

Texas (20-12; RPI 44; SOS 19)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 4-9 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 0-1 Record outside RPI 100: 16-2

Texas decided to buck Thursday's trend, looking like the only bubble-sitter interested in taking action into its one hands. The Longhorns' 71-65 victory over Iowa State adds another Top-50 victory and puts them in very good shape, especially on this bubble. The profile is a little odd due to its lack of a core, as it appears Texas either played the best or the worst that Division I had to offer. Still, the computer numbers keep improving, so without an embarrassing blowout loss or a lot of movement/upsets elsewhere, Texas is probably five or so spots from the edge of the cliff.

Big East

On the guest list: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Connecticut

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): South Florida, West Virginia, Seton Hall

South Florida (20-13; RPI 47; SOS 23)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-9 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-1 Record outside RPI 100: 13-3

The Bulls aren't a pretty team, one that jumps off the television screen and gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. However, and let's be clear about this, the "eye test" is a fictitious term we as analysts use to judge teams' worth. It has some merit in OUR overall discussion, but the selection committee is looking at lists and lists of numbers, NOT whether or not a team breaks the 60-point barrier. South Florida's 12-6 conference mark, although inflated by the advantages of an unbalanced schedule, and its one win in the Big East Tournament, even though it was an ugly one over Villanova, would seem to be enough, right? On the surface yes, but a look inside the numbers is not as welcoming. There is only one Top-50 win and just two Top-100 road wins plus two bad losses to Auburn (RPI 142) and Penn State (RPI 155). I think the Bulls are fine FOR NOW, but a trip to Dayton for the First Four is a distinct possibility.

West Virginia (19-13; RPI 51; SOS 14)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 4-8 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-4 Record outside RPI 100: 10-1

The SOS number sticks out as a positive, and there are some very good non- conference W's at home or on a neutral floor (Kansas State, Oral Roberts, Miami). However, there is just one Top-100 road win on the resume (at Pittsburgh) and a pair of setbacks to other bubble teams (Seton Hall by 21, Mississippi State by 13). The Mountaineers are in better shape than the Pirates, and they have their non-conference slate to thank.

Seton Hall (20-12; RPI 66; SOS 50)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-7 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-2 Record outside RPI 100: 13-3

Seton Hall may eventually benefit from the situation described in the open, a team that lost so long ago (a few days seems like months in this frantic final week) that the committee just focuses on the overall body of work. The computer numbers aren't great, and neither is the 5-10 record in the final 15 games, but Seton Hall does have nine Top-100 wins, one more than South Florida. There is nothing more the Pirates can do at this point except root for California to win the Pac-12 tourney (explanation on the way) and cross their fingers for form to hold true elsewhere.

Big Ten

On the guest list: Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Northwestern

Northwestern (18-13; RPI 57; SOS 14)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 1-10 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-3 Record outside RPI 100: 13-0

Sigh. A tournament bid was there for the taking, but Northwestern couldn't score the big win over Ohio State, then couldn't capture the necessary win in the Big Ten Tournament against Minnesota, dropping a 75-68 overtime decision. The Wildcats still don't have a single loss outside the Top-90 in the RPI, but a 1-10 mark against the Top-50 and the high number of losses work against them. This profile just screams NIT.


On the guest list: None

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): California, Washington

California (24-8; RPI 34; SOS 82)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 0-3 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 9-3 Record outside RPI 100: 15-2

Bubble teams everywhere are pulling for the Golden Bears to win the Pac-12 tournament because their automatic bid would open an at-large spot for another club. California's computer numbers and nine Top-100 wins (although none are in the Top-62) are most likely enough for inclusion. The only matter is whether it will need to travel the at-large route.

Washington (21-10; RPI 68; SOS 83)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 0-6 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-2 Record outside RPI 100: 17-2

Last week we feigned exasperation at those who argued the Huskies' at-large merit as the regular-season champions of a power conference. Well, we can admit when we are wrong, and we also didn't think they would go out and lay an egg against Oregon State. Now, Washington is in serious trouble. There are no Top-50 wins magically appearing in the profile, and the computer numbers are pedestrian. If the Huskies were a power league champion, this profile wouldn't even be under consideration. In From the End of the Bench's opinion, the Huskies don't belong in the field, but all that matters is the committee's take and how valuable they hold a Pac-12 regular-season title.


On the guest list: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama

Bubble-sitters: Mississippi State, Tennessee

Mississippi State (21-11; RPI 71; SOS 70)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-4 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-5 Record outside RPI 100: 14-2

Mississippi State has the talent, but one can question its emotional psyche, even its core, as a 2-6 slide down the stretch put it squarely on the fence. The Bulldogs' best win since February 1 is a home victory against rival Ole Miss. That's not good, neither is a historically "no-go" RPI and a non- conference SOS that ranks at the brim of 200. The Bulldogs can't help, or hurt, their profile anymore, but the damage may already be done.

Tennessee (18-13; RPI 77; SOS 31)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 4-7 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 3-3 Record outside RPI 100: 10-3

Welcome to the Bubble Breakdown, Tennessee! Trust me, better late than never. The Volunteers wrapped up the second seed in the SEC Tournament after a wild final weekend and now are in the throes of the March mix with each passing day of bubble disintegration. It's hard to argue against the big wins, four in the Top-50, including a sweep of Florida, but the bad losses are pretty bad (at the College of Charleston, at Oakland and home to Austin Peay). The Vols surely have to beat Ole Miss in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday, then likely have to take down either Vanderbilt or Georgia in the semifinals. It is definitely doable, but save that path to the final, the computer numbers and bad losses may just be too much to overcome.

Atlantic 10

On the guest list: Temple, Saint Louis

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): Xavier, Dayton, St. Joseph's

Xavier (19-11; RPI 54; SOS 46)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-7 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-3 Record outside RPI 100: 12-1

The Musketeers haven't beaten a Top-50 team since December 3, falling in seven successive chances. The only way left to prove their worth is a run to at least the semis in Atlantic City, and that starts with a bubble bout against Dayton. Winner is still alive, but the loser may be relegated to the NIT.

Dayton (20-11; RPI 74; SOS 69)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-2 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 5-5 Record outside RPI 100: 12-4

There aren't many teams with a winning record against the RPI Top-100, but Dayton is one of them with some of the best non-conference wins of any bubble team (Alabama, Mississippi, Minnesota). It also has a plus-70 RPI and some very bad losses in that black hole below the RPI-200 line (Miami-Ohio and Rhode Island). The Flyers need to beat Xavier in the quarterfinals and probably win a semifinal bout with either La Salle or Saint Louis.

St. Joseph's (20-12; RPI 60; SOS 52)

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 2-4 Record vs. RPI 51-100: 4-5 Record outside RPI 100: 14-3

Atlantic City is the Hawks' last stand, and it must include a win over Temple in the semifinals at the very least. The computer numbers are fringe-worthy at best, and while the wins over the Owls and Creighton during the regular season are nice, this profile needs more beef. Even a trip to the A-10 final may not be enough, but it would move the Hawks into the conversation.

Mountain West

On the guest list: UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State

Bubble-sitters: None

Missouri Valley

On the guest list: Wichita State, Creighton

Bubble-sitters: None

Conference USA

On the guest list: Memphis, Southern Miss

Bubble-sitters: None

Best of the Rest Rapid Fire

On the guest list: Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, Murray State

Bubble-sitters (in order of inclusion): BYU, Long Beach State, Drexel, Iona, BYU, Middle Tennessee State

BYU's profile is like many others in its position, nondescript with a few okay wins (Gonzaga is better than okay, Nevada is the definition of okay) and a few damaging losses outside the Top-100. The Cougars did beat Oregon and are 5-6 against the Top-100. Long Beach State has a strong RPI (38), but just two Top-100 wins despite the best non-conference schedule in the nation. Will the committee reward a non-league murderer's row that didn't produce a victory? If I was a betting man, I'd say the 49ers have the best at-large case out of this bunch, but may not need it now that main street Cal State Fullerton is out of the Big West tourney.

Drexel won 19 straight before falling in the CAA championship game to VCU, 54-51, now the Dragons' fate is in the hands of the selection committee. On the plus side, the Dragons' loss to the Rams was their first since the beginning of January, they won the CAA, which has produced two recent Final Four teams, and they have a good enough RPI (65) to stay in the discussion. On the flip side, the non-conference SOS is way too high (219) and the best non- league win came in a BracketBusters game with Cleveland State (RPI 87). Yes, the Dragons pass the eye test, but in that war room, there is no eye test. It's a tough argument to say that Drexel can hang on with its computer numbers, but it will all come down to the committee's value and perception of the CAA this season, and the teams Drexel beat during its unbalanced conference schedule.

Iona has just as worthy of a case as Drexel thanks to a solid RPI (40), victories over Nevada and tournament qualifier Loyola-Maryland, and the 39th-best non-conference strength of schedule. The Gaels are 5-3 against the Top-100, but do have two damaging losses to Siena (RPI 220) and Hofstra (RPI 263).


From the End of the Bench goes seed line through seed line in the last best guess at the NCAA Tournament field (as of completion of play on Thursday, March 8):

#1 seeds: Syracuse, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina

#2 seeds: Missouri, Duke, Ohio State, Michigan State

#3 seeds: Marquette, Baylor, Temple, Michigan

#4 seeds: Georgetown, Indiana, Wichita State, Wisconsin

#5 seeds: Vanderbilt, Creighton, Louisville, Murray State

#6 seeds: UNLV, Florida, San Diego State, Florida State

#7 seeds: Saint Mary's, New Mexico, Memphis, Notre Dame

#8 seeds: Gonzaga, Saint Louis, Kansas State, Alabama

#9 seeds: Iowa State, Purdue, Cincinnati, Virginia

#10 seeds: Southern Mississippi, Harvard, Connecticut, Colorado State

#11 seeds: Long Beach State, Texas, California, West Virginia

#12 seeds: Xavier, South Florida, Mississippi State/Iona, Miami

#13 seeds: Belmont, VCU, Davidson, Drexel/North Carolina State

#14 seeds: Loyola-Maryland, Akron, Nevada, South Dakota State

#15 seeds: Lehigh, Montana, Long Island, Detroit

#16 seeds: Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky, UNC-Asheville, Lamar, Stony Brook/Norfolk State

LAST FOUR IN: Mississippi State, Iona, Drexel, North Carolina State

FIRST FOUR OUT: BYU, Seton Hall, Dayton, Northwestern