We sit a mere two days from Selection Sunday, yet much is still to be determined in Indianapolis. Thursday’s quarterfinals saw Minnesota and Illinois keep hope alive. How much more do these teams, along with Nebraska, need to do to get into the Big Dance?
As you could probably tell over the last couple weeks, we’re fans of the Easy Bubble Solver. It’s a quick, easy, and objective way to get a feel for who’s truly on the bubble and who isn’t. You simply add together each team’s KenPom rank and RPI rank, then sort them from smallest to largest.
By my count, there are 18 conferences whose automatic bid will be taken by a team outside of the top 50. Subtract 18 from 68, and you’re left with the top 50 teams assured of a bid.
This assumes no bid-stealers, which is looking like a real possibility. Scanning the nation’s conference tournaments, there are only a couple spots where a bid-stealer could potentially emerge.
One is the Mountain West, where UNLV gets the good fortune of hosting the conference tournament on its home floor. Fans of bubble teams should be rooting hard for at-large locks San Diego State and New Mexico in tonight’s semifinals.
The other potential bid-stealer situation lies in Conference USA, where Southern Miss or Louisiana Tech could conceivably have an at-large worthy resume even with a loss. Those two teams square off in a seminfinal tonight. Again, bubble team fans should be rooting hard for Southern Miss to win that tournament.
Using the Easy Bubble Solver methodology with the real-time RPI ranks as of this morning (we’re close to the finish line, so no more projecting of RPI), here’s how Easy Bubble Solver sees the field (Big Ten teams are in bold, teams that are done playing are in CAPS):
|KenPom Rank||RPI Rank||EBS||EBS Rank||Team|
|17||13||30||14||San Diego St.|
|56||36||92||48||NORTH DAKOTA ST.|
Those are the teams that are currently IN, according to Easy Bubble Solver.
Here are the first 10 teams OUT, which is basically as far as the bubble realistically extends:
|KenPom Rank||RPI Rank||EBS||EBS Rank||Team|
Remember, the teams in ALL CAPS are done playing, so they are effectively locked into place.
Iowa’s loss to Northwestern didn’t quite drop the Hawkeyes to the bubble, but they aren’t above it by much. There’s no question that Iowa is in the field, but they might not garner any better than a 10-seed.
Nebraska is in fairly good shape right now. Yesterday was kind to the Huskers’ chances, in two ways. First, a lot of bubble teams around the country lost, and second, Ohio State advanced to face Nebraska in today’s quarterfinal. The latter assures that the Huskers won’t be ending the season with a damaging loss to Purdue.
Even with a loss today, Nebraska’s RPI rank would be somewhere around 55th (according to RPIForecast.com). That would, strictly speaking, put the Huskers just outside of the Easy Bubble Solver field, but we must remember that there are still a lot of moving parts involved. If all five of the still-playing teams ranked 51-60 were to also lose today, Nebraska would still be in the field. That’s a tenuous situation, but it’s one that could still result in the Huskers making the NCAA tournament.
If Nebraska wins today, its RPI could end up no worse than 41st or so. A win locks up a bid for the Huskers, a loss makes Selection Sunday a bit sweaty.
For Minnesota, there’s less margin for error as the current last team in. The good news is that a loss to Wisconsin wouldn’t do much RPI damage – RPI Forecast projects an RPI rank of 48th in that scenario. The bad news is that several teams currently below the Gophers could pass them with a win of their own.
Minnesota isn’t quite an at-large lock with an upset win today, but it would almost be. The Gophers’ RPI would be 38 (assuming a semifinal loss), so it would take a lot of bubble wins around the country to keep Minnesota out in that scenario. In effect, it’s win and in for the Gophers today.
Lurking at the very bottom of the bubble is Illinois. A win today over Michigan would land the Illini’s RPI around 57th, and their KenPom rank would improve by at least a couple spots as well. That scenario probably still has Illinois out of the field, but it could be enough if there’s a lot of bubble carnage around the country today.
If the upset happens, Illini fans will have a long list of teams to root against this afternoon and evening (Xavier, Nebraska, Florida State, Dayton, Colorado, Minnesota, Providence, Louisiana Tech, Missouri). The good news is that most of these teams face stiff challenges, so it’s not impossible that most of them lose. The bad news is that Illinois faces a stiff challenge of its own, and none of this matters if the Illini don’t knock off Michigan.
Most likely, Illinois still needs to make the Big Ten tournament final to secure a bid. That scenario would bring an RPI rank around 45th and an improved KenPom rank in the same range. That would probably be enough, but it would still depend on the state of the bubble.
With that, the stage is set for today’s quarterfinal action. These scenarios will soon be replaced with reality, starting with the noon ET tip of Michigan vs. Illinois.