Now that we are officially into March, it’s time to unleash the first-ever March Madness Bubble Bible™. This update will group teams by conference and break down every team within striking distance of making the tournament, grouping them into four categories: Guarantee, Likely, Bubbly, and Puncher’s Chance. Obviously the Guarantee category is the goal, but as they say “sometimes all you need is a Puncher’s Chance”.
Over the course of the next month, we will see lopsided blowouts, unimaginable upsets, emotional buzzer beaters, and ulitimately triumphant excellence. All except for one team listed below will have their hearts broken at some point in the next four weeks – some multiple times. The passion and determination that the kids and coaches of these schools exemplify is what brings all of us back March after March to tune in to the madness. Enjoy the next month – I know I will!
As many experts have echoed all year, the Big Ten is the top conference in the country – hands down. The unquestioned deepest conference in the country has proven that anything goes as anyone can beat anyone anywhere. As a result, the prevailing wisdom will be that no team in this conference has a chance to win it all. Despite having everyone’s respect this year, it’s looking like the best conference will extend is National Championship drought to 20 years. Something tells me one of these teams gets to the Final 4, though, and once you get there, anything goes.
Guarantee (5): Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland
Likely (2): Iowa, Ohio State
Bubbly (1): Minnesota
Puncher’s Chance (2): Indiana, Nebraska
Speaking of streaks ending, the Jayhawks domination of the Big 12 has come to an end at 14 consecutive regular season titles. The longest such streak in Division I history is one year longer than UCLA’s run in the 60’s and 70’s!! The Big 12 could possibly get 8 of 10 teams in the tournament, although TCU appears uninterested in dancing and Texas’ difficult schedule could prove to provide a few too many losses for the committee’s eyes.
Guarantee (4): Texas Tech, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State
Likely (1): Baylor
Bubbly (3): Oklahoma, Texas, TCU
Puncher’s Chance (0)
Duke is a missed bunny away from a possible slip down to the 2-seed line. Nobody is happier that shot didn’t fall than Jack White (insert eyes-wide-open emoji), who committed a ghastly turnover to set up Wake Forest’s final possession. Florida State got a big win over Virginia Tech to control their own destiny for a double bye in the conference tourney. Clemson continues to be in the most precarious situation of those jockeying for position in the at-large pool.
Guarantee (5): Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech
Likely (1): Louisville
Bubbly (3): Syracuse, North Carolina State, Clemson
Puncher’s Chance (0)
The SEC has distinguished tiers of team. Their top tier consists of three teams with National Championship aspirations and the talent to back it up. Tennessee, Kentucky, and LSU all look poised for long runs in each of the upcoming tournaments on their schedules. Auburn and Mississippi State still have very legit teams as well. I normally don’t have a high opinion of this conference, but this year I respect it.
Guarantee (3): Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU
Likely (2): Auburn, Mississippi State
Bubbly (3): Mississippi, Florida, Alabama
Puncher’s Chance (1): Arkansas
The true round robin regular season of the Big East (and the Big 12) makes basketball purists like myself smile. A balanced schedule means that you can truly evaluate a team based on its conference record. A down year for the conference combined with a multitude of teams deadlocked right around .500 is going to lend itself to some intriguing must-win games for almost everyone come conference tourney time. Even though its not at the height it once was, the Big East tourney will be must watch TV.
Guarantee (2): Marquette, Villanova
Bubbly (4): St. John’s, Seton Hall, Creighton, Georgetown
Puncher’s Chance (2): Butler, Xavier
Houston has been the class of the American Athletic Conference all season long and has cracked the top 10 in recent weeks. However, they got punched in the mouth at home against UCF, opening the door for Cincinnati to claim a tie atop the league standings. The Bearcats now have to beat that same UCF team in order to stay in that tie. Definitely a multiple bid league this year, the AAC has a legitimate shot to get as many as 4 teams into the dance.
Guarantee (2): Houston, Cincinnati
Likely (1): UCF
Bubbly (1): Temple
Puncher’s Chance (0)
There is a reason the AAC is listed ahead of the Pac-12 – you can make a claim that this conference isn’t even the best conference in its region (see next conference listed). All year, the Pac-12 has been slammed, and with no teams in the top 40 of KenPom rankings and only one team in the top 55 (Washington), it’s easy to see why. With that being said, I do ultimately believe two teams will be represented, but man do I hope Washington wins the conference tourney and the committee decides to punish the conference for a miserable season and only include one team in the tourney.
Likely (1): Washington
Bubbly (1): Arizona State
Puncher’s Chance (3): Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona
Every year Gonzaga dominates this conference and gets a good seed in the NCAA tournament. The lack of playing major competition day after day has proven to take its toll once the Bulldogs get to the big tourney, as they have only been able to make it to the Final 4 once in the school’s history. That appearance was just a couple years ago, and this team has the potential to get there again. Saint Mary’s early stumbles and San Francisco’s collapse down the stretch means that as good as this conference is, it might only be a one-bid league.
Guarantee (1): Gonzaga
Bubbly (1): St. Mary’s
Puncher’s Chance (1): San Francisco
Other At-Large Candidates
There are still a plethora of teams outside of the top 8 conferences that are worthy of being noted as well. Major conference bubble teams have struggled mightily over the last couple months, leaving the door open for smaller conference schools to claim those spots. I’m really hoping the committee gives some of these a chance as at-large teams – they deserve it. If mediocre major conference teams want to complain, I would offer them one simple piece of advice: win more games.
Guarantee (2): Buffalo, Nevada
Likely (3): Utah State, Wofford, VCU
Bubbly (5): Belmont, Murray State, Lipscomb, Furman, Toledo
Puncher’s Chance (4): New Mexico State, Dayton, Davidson, Fresno State
Best of the Rest
To finish off the rest of field, there will be automatic qualifiers from bottom-tier conferences. The below listing only includes conferences with no teams mentioned above. If at least one team is listed above, then that means we are assuming one of those teams wins their respective conference tournaments and becomes an auto bid. Here are the leaders of the other conferences – listed from best to worst.
UC Irvine (Big West)
Old Dominion (Conference USA)
Vermont (America East)
Yale (Ivy League)
South Dakota State (Summit)
Northern Kentucky (Horizon)
Georgia Southern (Sun Belt)
Montana (Big Sky)
Radford (Big South)
Loyola-Chicago (Missouri Valley)
Sam Houston State (Southland)
Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC)
Prairie View A&M (SWAC)
Norfolk State (MEAC)