Conference tournaments are about to begin, and most college basketball teams only have a handful of regular season games remaining.
At this point, teams know where they stand in terms of NCAA Tournament consideration. They may be “locks,” which means they are going to make the tournament no matter what happens. They may be “near locks,” which means they need one or two more wins to feel secure about receiving a tournament bid. They may be on the “bubble,” which means they need finish the season strong and make a push in their conference tournament. Finally, they may be in desperation mode, which means only a conference tournament title will get them into the NCAA Tournament.
I have broken down the contending teams in each major conference along with some mid-majors schools to help you understand where we stand heading into March. The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is one of the main statistics the selection committee uses to choose teams. The Strength of Schedule (SOS) shows how hard or easy a team’s regular season schedule has been up to this point in the season.
American Athletic Conference
SMU – RPI #19, SOS #101 – Lock
Cincinnati – RPI #14, SOS #91 – Lock
Houston – RPI #59, SOS #80 – Bubble – Houston needs to win their last three regular season games and make a nice run in the AAC Tournament to have a chance at an at-large bid. Their make-or-break game comes at Cincinnati on March 2.
Atlantic 10 Conference
VCU – RPI #26, SOS #82 – Lock
Dayton – RPI #27, SOS #72 – Lock
Rhode Island – RPI #49, SOS #52 – Bubble – A home game against VCU on February 25 will determine Rhode Island’s postseason chances. A win against VCU and a couple more wins to close out the regular season and conference tournament should put them in consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Atlantic Coast Conference
North Carolina – RPI #2, SOS #17 – Lock
Louisville – RPI #4, SOS #2 – Lock
Duke – RPI #12, SOS #29 – Lock
Florida State – RPI #13, SOS #33 – Lock
Virginia – RPI #20, SOS #5 – Lock
Notre Dame – RPI #23, SOS #34 – Lock
Virginia Tech – RPI #36, SOS #74 – Near Lock – The Hokies need one more win to secure at least a .500 record in conference play. A road game on February 25 against a struggling Boston College team should move Virginia Tech from a “near lock” to a “lock.”
Miami, FL – RPI #37, SOS #62 – Near Lock – Miami is probably a “lock”, but a win in one of their final three games against Duke, Virginia Tech, and Florida State will get them an NCAA Tournament bid for sure.
Syracuse – RPI #75, SOS #57 – Near Lock – Syracuse has been up and down all season, but a buzzer beater against Duke propels them to the edge of “lock” status. They can finish no worse than 9-9 in conference play even if they lose their final two regular season games. One more win, either in the regular season or in the conference tournament, should be enough to get them in as an at-large.
Wake Forest – RPI #38, SOS #20 – Bubble – Wake Forest must win their final two regular season games against Louisville and Virginia Tech just to get to 9-9 in conference play. If they do win both, they will be a “lock”. A split of these games will mean they need at least one conference tournament win to get in. If they lose both of these games, a deep run will be needed in the conference tournament to get an at-large bid.
Clemson – RPI #61, SOS #22 – Bubble – Clemson finishes the regular season with three straight home games against Florida State, NC State, and Boston College. A sweep of these three teams puts them at 7-11 in conference play. They probably would need one more conference tournament win to feel comfortable. Anything less than a sweep to finish the regular season probably means they need to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Pittsburgh – RPI #63, SOS #9 – Bubble – Pittsburgh has played one the toughest schedules this season. Like Clemson, they need to win their final three regular season games to climb to 7-11 in conference play. These three wins, combined with one or two conference tournament wins, will make it hard to pass on them for the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Tech – RPI #86, SOS #54 – Bubble – Georgia Tech plays Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse to close out the regular season. Two wins in these three games pushes them to a 9-9 conference record. They probably still need a win or two in the conference tournament, but the Yellow Jackets have been inconsistent in recent games.
Big 12 Conference
Kansas – RPI #1, SOS #14 – Lock
Baylor – RPI #6, SOS #4 – Lock
West Virginia – RPI #30, SOS #93 – Lock
Iowa State – RPI #39, SOS #55 – Lock
Oklahoma State – RPI #28, SOS #24 – Near Lock – The Cowboys opened conference play by losing their first six games. They have now won eight out of nine conference games along with a non-conference win against Arkansas. One more win in their final three regular season games pushes them to at least 9-9 in conference play. This should be enough to “lock” them in.
TCU – RPI #52, SOS #27 – Bubble – The season is going south quickly for the Horned Frogs. They have only won three of their past eleven games, and they need to sweep West Virginia, Kansas State, and Oklahoma just to finish 9-9 in conference play. They still can claim an NCAA Tournament bid with an 8-10 conference record and a win or two in the conference tournament.
Kansas State – RPI #60, SOS #45 – Bubble – Like TCU, a late season meltdown has Kansas State in desperation mode. They have won two of their past nine games. They do have a favorable schedule remaining against Oklahoma, TCU, and Texas Tech to claw back to 9-9 in conference play. An 8-10 conference record along with a win or two in the conference tournament should be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Tech – RPI #100, SOS #100 – Bubble – Erratic play leaves the Red Raiders in a big hole. Wins against Oklahoma State, Texas, and Kansas State in their final three regular season games pushes them to 8-10 in conference play, and a win or two in the conference tournament gives them a good chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. One more regular season loss, and their only hope is to win the conference tournament.
Big East Conference
Villanova – RPI #3, SOS #38 – Lock
Butler – RPI #11, SOS #15 – Lock
Xavier – RPI #22, SOS #10 – Lock
Creighton – RPI #27, SOS #60 – Lock
Seton Hall – RPI #46, SOS #40 – Near Lock – The Pirates are 4-2 in their past six games, and they still have winnable games against DePaul and Georgetown. If they can go 2-1 to close out the regular season, they will sit at 9-9 in conference play. A .500 conference record along with one win in the conference tournament will push them to “lock” status.
Providence – RPI #53, SOS #35 – Bubble – The Friars are making a late season push at just the right time. They have won three games in a row against Butler, Xavier, and Creighton. They finish the regular season with winnable games against Marquette, DePaul, and St. John’s. A team that looked dead a month ago now needs two more wins to be considered an at-large team.
Marquette – RPI #69, SOS #73 – Bubble – Marquette has a handful of quality wins, but they finish the regular season with tough games against Providence, Xavier, and Creighton. They need to win at least one of these games to finish 9-9 in conference play. They probably need a conference tournament win or two to feel comfortable about getting into the NCAA Tournament.
Big Ten Conference
Minnesota – RPI #15, SOS #12 – Lock
Purdue – RPI #17, SOS #61 – Lock
Maryland – RPI #21, SOS #43 – Lock
Wisconsin – RPI #24, SOS #94 – Lock
Northwestern – RPI #42, SOS #77 – Near Lock – The Wildcats are battling to make their first ever NCAA Tournament, but they have a tough road to get there. They have lost four of their past six games, and they finish the regular season with three tough games against Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan. They need one more win down the stretch. If they don’t secure that win in the regular season, then they need to get it in the conference tournament.
Michigan State – RPI #43, SOS #16 – Near Lock – Michigan State has won four of their past six games, but they lost Eron Harris to a season-ending injury less than a week ago. They are 8-6 in conference play right now. If they can finish 2-2 against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Maryland, they will be a “lock.” Anything less and they will need a conference tournament win or two to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
Michigan – RPI #50, SOS #46 – Near Lock – Michigan has won four of their past five games with the lone loss coming in overtime at Minnesota. The Wolverines have remaining games against Purdue, Northwestern, and Nebraska. They are two wins away from securing “lock” status. Those two wins can occur in their final three regular season games or a combination of regular season and tournament games.
Illinois – RPI #56, SOS #6 – Bubble – The Fighting Illini are peaking at the right time. They have won three of their past four games, and they have played one of the toughest schedules in the country. Wins against Nebraska, Michigan State, and Rutgers to close out the regular season would push them to 9-9 in conference play. These three wins, and maybe one or two more in the conference tournament, would push this team into the NCAA Tournament. It would be a miracle for a team that was nowhere near the “bubble” three weeks ago.
Pac 12 Conference
Oregon – RPI #5, SOS #26 – Lock
Arizona – RPI #9, SOS #47 – Lock
UCLA – RPI #18, SOS #127 – Lock
USC – RPI #31, SOS #68 – Near Lock – USC was rolling along to an NCAA Tournament bid before losing two straight games to Oregon and UCLA. They still sit at 8-6 in conference play, and they finish with winnable games against Arizona State, Washington State, and Washington. Ten conference wins will move them to “lock” status.
California – RPI #44, SOS #28 – Near Lock – California lost on a last-second shot to Oregon at home this week. A win would have pushed them to “lock” status. Instead, they now have lost three games in a row. They must now find a way to win two more games against Oregon State, Utah, and Colorado to gain “lock” status. One win in these three games would force them to win at least one conference tournament game to get an at-large bid.
Florida – RPI #7, SOS #19 – Lock
Kentucky – RPI #10, SOS #25 – Lock
South Carolina – RPI #29, SOS #37 – Near Lock – South Carolina has lost four of their past five games. One more win against Tennessee, Mississippi State, or Ole Miss should be enough to push them to “lock” status, but with the way they have played recently, that is no guarantee.
Arkansas – RPI #32, SOS #66 – Near Lock – Arkansas has won four straight games and already has ten conference wins. They are one win away from “lock” status. They have Auburn, Florida, and Georgia remaining in the regular season.
Vanderbilt – RPI #47, SOS #3 – Bubble – Vanderbilt has played the third toughest schedule in the country. They have also won seven of their past ten games. While their overall record is not that impressive, they do finish the regular season with games against Kentucky and Florida. No team in the country has a better opportunity to make a late-season statement if they can somehow secure a win or two heading into conference tournament play.
Georgia – RPI #55, SOS #13 – Bubble – Georgia is 0-2 against Kentucky, but both games were close to the finish. They have only won three of their past nine games, but a favorable schedule against Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Arkansas gives them some hope. Three more regular season wins pushes them to 9-9 in conference play. They would still need at least two wins in the conference tournament to feel comfortable about their NCAA Tournament chances.
Tennessee – RPI #63, SOS #8 – Bubble – The Volunteers looked like a team on the rise after a win against Kentucky on January 24. They are just 3-4 in conference play since then. Closing out the regular season with wins against South Carolina, LSU, and Alabama would give them ten conference wins. This would give them a chance at an at-large bid with a couple conference tournament wins.
Ole Miss – RPI #67, SOS #51 – Bubble – The Rebels have quietly won five of their past seven games. If they can sweep Missouri, Alabama, and South Carolina in their final three games of the regular season, they will finish 11-7 in conference play. One or two conference tournament wins would put them in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Alabama – RPI #68, SOS #69 – Bubble – Alabama has won three out of four, and they already have nine conference wins. Their remaining schedule features Georgia, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. If they can win three out of four and finish the regular season with twelve conference wins, the selection committee would have a hard time leaving them out.
Gonzaga – RPI #8, SOS #102 – Lock
Saint Mary’s – RPI #16, SOS #67 – Near Lock – The Gaels only have three losses on the season. They should feel very comfortable with one more win mainly because they have been able to accumulate so many wins up to this point.
Middle Tennessee – RPI #33, SOS #123 – Bubble – The Blue Raiders shocked the country last year when they beat Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. They now sit at 24-4 and are the clear favorite to win Conference USA. If they somehow falter in the conference tournament, they will have to hope that the selection committee favors wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt who are both bubble teams as well.
UT Arlington – RPI #34, SOS #137 – Bubble – The Mavericks are coming on strong in an underrated Sun Belt Conference. They have won nine of their past ten games, and they are also the only team outside of Gonzaga to beat Saint Mary’s this season. They have a good chance to win their final four regular season games. If they do this and make a nice run in the conference tournament but don’t win it, they will be one of the teams discussed for the last few spots in the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois State – RPI #35, SOS #160 – Bubble – Illinois State split their regular season games against Wichita State. They have little else to hang their hat on other than a gaudy 24-5 record. The Redbirds probably need to beat Northern Iowa in their final regular season game and then at least make the conference tournament final. A loss to anyone other than Wichita State in the conference tournament probably leaves them with an NIT bid.
Nevada – RPI #40, SOS #151 – Bubble – Nevada has no quality wins, but they are the best team in the Mountain West Conference which normally produces multiple NCAA Tournament teams. The conference is down this season, and unless Nevada can win out and lose a close game in the conference tournament championship, they will miss out on an at-large bid.
UNC Wilmington – RPI #41, SOS #165 – Bubble – The Seahawks have no quality wins and have only won four of their past seven games. If they somehow win out but lose in the conference tournament championship, they will need the selection committee to remember how well they played last year against Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
Wichita State – RPI #45, SOS #212 – Bubble – The Shockers have played a lousy schedule, but they already have a 26-4 record. It is going to be difficult to leave out a team with so much success in recent NCAA Tournament history if they somehow lose a game in their conference tournament but have close to thirty wins on the season.
By Ben Billman
Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.