College basketball analyst and writer
With the calendar hitting February this week, we can officially use the word “bubble.”
Ha! There are no rules. Still, at the start of the season the list of teams straddling the cut line is long and varied across the country.
Last week we looked at the full list of bubbles.
[Michigan, Creighton, USC among teams on NCAA Tournament bubble]
But last week provided some results to expand the list.
Here are five new teams that should be considered as teams going forward.
College of Charleston (21-2): Hofstra just had its 20-game winning streak snapped at the Cougars. This is Charleston’s second loss of the season and first in the CAA. The only other loss was to North Carolina.
The assumption a week ago was that Charleston would win the CAA. But that’s no longer a given with Hofstra and Towson just one game back. Still, if Charleston wins the regular season league title, and the Cougars should by at least one game, but then loses to Hofstra or Towson in the tournament title game, it would be extremely difficult to keep them out of the rural area. with just three total losses.
A four-loss Charleston would not be a slam dunk entering the field. This would mean one more loss of CAA to the registry. Towson’s Feb. 23 game is at home, and if Charleston were to lose that one, then it would be two home losses to their closest contenders. That would not be a good look for the commission.
Saint Louis (15-6): The Billikens’ case begins with wins over Providence on a neutral court (at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.) in November, and over Memphis at home. Both came in November, but count equally.
Saint Louis played a strong non-conference schedule, losing to Auburn and to Maryland in this same event at the Mohegan Sun. A loss to Boise State would also count on the “good loss” page. SLU is 7-1 in the A-10 after beating Davidson and is 15-6 overall.
If SLU can win the A-10 and then lose in the conference tournament to one of the other contenders like VCU, then SLU will be in the conversation for a bid. The problem for the Billikens is the remaining schedule. It won’t be easy, but opportunities are available with a road game at Dayton and home-and-away contests against VCU. Beating Fordham in the Bronx won’t be a cakewalk either. But if SLU can win the league by at least one game, the case will be strong for the Billikens to be on the field. They could be one of the last teams if that were the case.
VCU (16-6): The case of the Rams is similar to that of Saint Louis. The A-10 has looked like a one-bid league in the metrics, but both the Billikens and Rams have the goods to be competitive in the NCAA Tournament if given the chance. VCU had what is now a quality win over Pitt in Brooklyn in November, and losses to ASU in Brooklyn and Temple don’t look bad now with those two teams in the bid mix.
Playing a strong board also helps. The Rams beat Vanderbilt of the SEC, and a loss to Memphis doesn’t hurt. What hurts is the loss to Jacksonville, as well as the losses at Duquesne and at home to St. Bonaventure during the weekend. VCU can’t afford another slip. And that means differentiating yourself by beating Davidson and St. Louis this week and then coming home and beating Dayton. If the Rams win those three, the profile changes dramatically.
Florida (12-9): The Gators have been inconsistent this season, but have had their moments to put them on the list. The win over Missouri and SEC road wins at LSU and Mississippi State should keep the Gators in mind. Losing by 14 to Kansas State in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge didn’t help the cause.
The schedule was tough, and it’s clear that early season losses to Florida Atlantic, Xavier and UConn are proving to be games that will help, not hurt, their strength of schedule. But they missed opportunities against West Virginia and Oklahoma, as well as being swept by Texas A&M.
So how can Florida change the narrative in its favor? Well, the next three games will be indicative against Tennessee at home on Wednesday, Kentucky on Saturday and Alabama on February 8th. If the Gators go 2-1 during that stretch, especially if they beat the Vols, then they’ll be in a good spot. But that also means they can’t afford any more losses to teams below their current neighborhood in the SEC standings.
Oregon (13-9): The Ducks have also been woefully inconsistent, and losses to Utah Valley, UC Irvine and Stanford sting. There were as many misses as Houston at home, UConn and Michigan State at Portland, and Arizona State at home. Road losses to UCLA and Colorado are part of a regular Pac-12 season.
So for the Ducks to get serious here, they need to do something on this upcoming road trip to Arizona and Arizona State. Oregon already has a win over Arizona, and a sweep over the Wildcats would be a highlight reel. The Ducks return home to play USC and UCLA. That means Oregon’s postseason fate, outside of a Pac-12 tournament title, will be known in the next two weeks.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. It can be seen on the Big Ten Network as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, in newspapers for nine years.
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