Big Ten Geeks: An Easy Bubble Solver Update

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
1 1 2 1 Arizona
3 2 5 2 Florida
4 4 8 3 WICHITA ST.
6 3 9 4 Kansas
8 5 13 5 VILLANOVA
7 7 14 6 Duke
5 12 17 7 Virginia
9 8 17 8 Creighton
12 6 18 9 Wisconsin
10 9 19 10 Michigan
11 11 22 11 Syracuse
2 24 26 12 Louisville
14 14 28 13 VCU
17 13 30 14 San Diego St.
21 15 36 15 Cincinnati
19 18 37 16 GONZAGA
27 10 37 17 Iowa St.
15 23 38 18 Ohio St.
16 26 42 19 Michigan St.
25 19 44 20 Kentucky
23 22 45 21 North Carolina
24 21 45 22 UCLA
29 16 45 23 New Mexico
22 25 47 24 Connecticut
28 27 55 25 OKLAHOMA
35 20 55 26 Saint Louis
13 44 57 27 Tennessee
18 40 58 28 Pittsburgh
30 28 58 29 OREGON
32 32 64 30 Baylor
20 45 65 31 OKLAHOMA ST.
48 17 65 32 Massachusetts
36 31 67 33 Texas
41 30 71 34 George Washington
34 38 72 35 Stanford
26 54 80 36 IOWA
33 48 81 37 HARVARD
46 35 81 38 MEMPHIS
54 29 83 39 Southern Miss
31 53 84 40 SMU
50 34 84 41 BYU
43 42 85 42 ARIZONA ST.
42 46 88 43 Xavier
47 41 88 44 Nebraska
39 52 91 45 Florida St.
52 39 91 46 Dayton
58 33 91 47 Colorado
56 36 92 48 NORTH DAKOTA ST.
45 50 95 49 KANSAS ST.
51 47 98 50 Minnesota

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
49 51 100 51 Providence
37 66 103 52 Louisiana Tech
40 63 103 53 ST. JOHN’S
61 43 104 54 Saint Joseph’s
38 78 116 55 UTAH
60 57 117 56 GREEN BAY
69 49 118 57 Missouri
44 75 119 58 MARYLAND
55 68 123 59 GEORGETOWN
59 64 123 60 Illinois

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. ┬áThat 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.

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