The Bubble: Teams To Watch On Selection Sunday

By Andrew Kahn

Along with “The (insert conference) tournament is wide open,” one of the most popular opinions in March is “The bubble is weak.” Well, sure it is. When 68 teams make the field, the last few at-large choices are going to have double-digit losses and league records hovering around .500 (unless they are a mid-major; then they’ll have very few losses but a perceived dearth of quality wins). This year is no different. Here are some teams that will be sweating out on Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show (5:30 p.m. ET, CBS), with projections (as of Thursday morning) from CBS Sports’ bracketologist Jerry Palm and the Bracket Matrix, a compilation of projections from all over the internet.

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Kansas State (19-12, 8-10 Big 12)

There are two truths for any bubble team entering its league tournament: It’s hard to analyze its NCAA Tournament chances in a bubble (pun 100 percent intended), and anything short of a championship will not be enough to completely remove the stress of Selection Sunday. With that out of the way, Kansas State doesn’t have much to brag about in the non-conference (a one-point loss to Maryland in Brooklyn was probably its best performance), but the Wildcats did beat West Virginia (home) and Baylor (road). They’ll get a rematch with Baylor Thursday night and then potentially West Virginia in the semis.

Palm: 11 seed (play-in game)
Matrix: Second team out

John Collins #20 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons goes to the basket during Wake Forest's game againt the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on January 8, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

John Collins (Photo Credit: Chet Strange/Getty Images)

Wake Forest (19-13, 9-9 ACC)

Did the Demon Deacons do enough in the ACC Tournament? They only got one win, over lowly Boston College, before falling to Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. Because they have a stud (sophomore forward John Collins) and an elite offense, the Deacs do tend to get overvalued a bit by the public. Wake has not made the Big Dance since 2010.

Palm: 11 seed (play-in game)
Matrix: 11 seed

Rhode Island (21-9, 13-5 Atlantic 10)

One would think URI has to win on Friday in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament. That would set up a potential showdown with Dayton, which beat the Rams twice this year. Danny Hurley’s squad has dealt with some injuries, but the committee is likely to consider that about as much as the fact that the program hasn’t made the Tournament since 1999.

Palm: 12 seed (play-in game)
Matrix: 12 seed (play-in game)

Watch CBS Sports’ live coverage of the Atlantic 10 Championship here.

Illinois (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten)

The Illini were not within shouting distance of the bubble when they lost to Minnesota at home to fall to 3-8 in the Big Ten. But they won five of their next six, including two victories over Northwestern. A loss at Rutgers to close the regular season halted their momentum, but they enter Thursday’s noon tip against Michigan with a chance to play themselves into the field. Iowa, which plays later in the evening (against Indiana), also finished strong down the stretch. For what it’s worth, Illinois swept Iowa this season.

Palm: First team out
Matrix: Fourth team out

Watch CBS Sports’ live coverage of the Big Ten Semifinals and Championship here.

Vanderbilt (17-14, 10-8 SEC)

After winding up on the wrong side of the bubble last season at Valparaiso — interestingly enough, it was Vanderbilt that took one of the final spots — head coach Bryce Drew hopes his major-conference status will benefit him. A sweep of Florida to close the regular season was huge, and the Commodores would draw the Gators again if they can beat Texas A&M Thursday night.

Palm: Third team out
Matrix: 11 seed (play-in game)

John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange dribbles against Dejan Vasiljevic #4 of the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes during the second round of the ACC Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 8, 2017 in New York City.

John Gillon (Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Syracuse (18-14, 10-8 ACC)

The Orange may have squeezed itself out of the Tournament picture with a three-point loss to Miami in its ACC Tournament opener. Palm certainly thinks so, and notes that the committee typically leaves out three teams with as many RPI top-25 wins as Syracuse has (three). The disclaimer under Kansas State absolutely applies here, as the results of games Syracuse has nothing to do with will determine the Orange’s fate.

Palm: Third team out
Matrix: 12 seed (play-in game)

Illinois State (27-7, 17-1 Missouri Valley)

The Redbirds are the lone mid-major on the bubble (as of now; Middle Tennessee and/or Nevada could find themselves there if they can’t grab an auto-bid). They had one crack at a decent non-conference win (losing at TCU) and beat Wichita at home before getting crushed in the two rematches, including the MVC Championship. They have also have a few bad losses. If I’m on the committee, and it’s a close call between a team like this and a middling power conference squad, the mid-major is always getting my vote. (Reminder: I am not on the committee.)

Palm: Fourth team out
Matrix: First team out

Southern California (24-8, 10-8 Pac-12)

The Pac-12 is extremely top-heavy this season, and the Trojans picked up just one win against the Big Three, beating UCLA at home. They’ll get another chance: USC plays the Bruins Friday night after an opening-round win over Washington. Fellow league member Cal appears to be in slightly worse shape despite beating USC. They have the same record in league but didn’t beat UCLA, Arizona or Oregon. The Bears are still alive, having snuck past Oregon State (they face Utah next).

Palm: 9 seed
Matrix: 11 seed (play-in game)

Xavier (20-12, 9-9 Big East)

The Musketeers’ case is made more challenging by the injury to Edmond Sumner. He’s been out since the start of February, and Xavier has struggled without him. Who knows how the committee will view this. It’s not unreasonable to think, if Xavier is “tied” with other bubble teams, the injury is used against them. The X-Men still have a say in the matter: They’ll face Butler Friday night after avoiding a really bad loss by handling DePaul.

Palm: 11 seed
Matrix: 11 seed

Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com, and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.

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