If there’s one principle selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen has emphasized every time he has spoken, it’s that he and his colleagues will weigh early-season results just as heavily as those from March.
Oklahoma’s NCAA tournament hopes rest on the committee sticking to that promise.
Fueled by a brilliant first half of the season from freshman phenom Trae Young, Oklahoma stormed out of the starting blocks, won all but two of its first 16 games and ascended all the way to No. 4 in the AP poll. Young and the Sooners have since faded unfathomably quickly, limping to the finish line with 10 losses in their final 14 regular season games before Wednesday night’s opening-round Big 12 tournament exit at the hands of rival Oklahoma State.
Where that 71-60 loss leaves Oklahoma is sweating out Selection Sunday, an unfathomable outcome to a season that began with such promise. The Sooners (18-13, 8-10) are sure to be one of this week’s most oft-discussed bubble teams given their highs and lows and Young’s season-long prominence.
What should comfort Oklahoma is that its resume is still better than almost every other bubble team. Not only do the Sooners boast marquee victories over Kansas, Wichita State, Texas Tech, USC and TCU, they also have only lost one game against a non-NCAA tournament contender.
Oklahoma’s six quadrant 1 wins are twice as many as Syracuse, UCLA and Louisville have and three times as many as Saint Mary’s can offer. Heck, even a Michigan State team in the running for a top three seed, only has three quadrant 1 victories.
If the committee considers Oklahoma’s season-long body of work like Rasmussen promises it will, the Sooners will likely make the field of 68 with room to spare. They’re an NIT-caliber team with an NCAA tournament-caliber resume.
If the committee weighs late-season results more heavily, then Oklahoma has no chance. The Sooners haven’t performed like a team worthy of an NCAA tournament bid in almost two months.
Overworked and overburdened, Young has rocketed back to earth the past 15 games as opponents have denied him the ball, sent double and triple teams at him and tried to force his teammates to beat them. The downtick in Oklahoma’s offensive efficiency has proven fatal to a Sooners team whose defense has been suspect since the season began.
Those problems were on display Wednesday night against Oklahoma State as Young took three times as many shots as any of his teammates and Oklahoma shot 37.9 percent from the field. The Cowboys picked up a win they needed to boost their NCAA tournament hopes and the Sooners continued their unfathomable slide from the top five to the bubble.
Oklahoma is just one of the compelling bubble stories as Selection Sunday looms. Below is a look at the bubble picture in every conference:
They’re safe: Cincinnati (27-4, 16-2), Wichita State (24-6, 14-4), Houston (24-6, 14-4)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: none
They’re safe: Virginia (28-2, 17-1), Duke (25-6, 13-5), North Carolina (22-9, 11-7), Clemson (22-8, 11-7), Miami (22-8, 11-7), Virginia Tech (21-10, 10-8)
They’re in good shape: Florida State, NC State
Florida State (20-11, 9-9, RPI: 45, KenPom: 36): A one-sided ACC tournament loss to Louisville wasn’t the final impression that Florida State wanted to leave the selection committee, but the Seminoles should still feel safe heading into heading into Sunday. They don’t have any sub-100 losses on their resume and they have beaten seven different NCAA tournament contenders, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida, Syracuse and Louisville. The bigger concern for Florida State is that they’re not playing very well down the stretch. The Seminoles look like an excellent candidate for an early NCAA tournament exit after losses in six of their final nine games.
NC State (21-11, 11-7, RPI: 54, KenPom: 44): A 91-87 second-round ACC tournament loss to Boston College on Wednesday is more likely to drop NC State to a double-digit seed than it is to knock the Wolfpack out of the field altogether. They still boast a respectable 8-9 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games including massive victories against Duke, North Carolina and Arizona. The only reason they’re anywhere near the bubble are a trio of bad losses to UNC Greensboro, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech. NC State has nobody to blame but itself for its failure to improve its seeding in the ACC tournament. A costly turnover on an inbound pass and a Chris Webber-esque timeout gaffe short-circuited the Wolfpack’s comeback bid against Boston College.
They have work to do: Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Louisville (20-12, 9-9, RPI: 47, KenPom: 34): Anyone who insists that Louisville locked up a bid with Wednesday’s victory over Florida State needs to take a closer look at the Cardinals’ resume. They may yet make the NCAA tournament, but they are still by no means safe. Louisville is 5-12 against the top two and one of those victories came in double overtime against a Notre Dame team playing without Bonzie Colson and with a hobbled Matt Farrell. The Cardinals don’t have any losses to non-NCAA tournament contenders on their resume, but they also have yet to beat an RPI top 40 team either. Louisville will get another chance secure the marquee win they’re lacking in Thursday’s ACC quarterfinals when the Cardinals meet ACC champion Virginia. Only if Louisville avenges its heartbreaking loss to the Cavaliers from a week ago can the Cardinals be confident they’re in.\
Syracuse (20-13, 8-10, RPI: 37, KenPom: 51): Syracuse did well to contend for an NCAA bid this season, but the Orange’s bubble may have burst. They were no match for North Carolina on Wednesday night in an ACC second-round game pitting a pair of hall of game coaches. Syracuse entered its matchup with the Tar Heels with only three quadrant 1 wins all season, a home win over Clemson and road victories at Miami and Louisville. Given that the Orange finished sub-.500 in the ACC and dropped games to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, they probably needed at least one more big win.
Notre Dame (20-13, 8-10, RPI: 70, KenPom: 32): The Irish arrived at the ACC tournament not only needing wins but also style points. They had to prove to the selection committee they are a vastly different team now that preseason All-American Bonzie Colson and standout point guard Matt Farrell are healthy. An unfathomably close win over last-place Pitt and a massive comeback to beat Virginia Tech may not have been what Notre Dame had in mind, but at least the Irish have managed to keep hope alive. They advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals against Duke knowing a victory would clinch an NCAA tournament bid and they’ll still have an argument with a loss. Notre Dame’s case stems from playing 15 games without Colson and seven in which Farrell was either hobbled or out. They’re 14-4 with Colson including victories over Wichita State, Virginia Tech and LSU. They’re 6-9 without him.
They’re safe: Xavier (26-4, 15-3), Villanova (27-4, 14-4), Creighton (21-10, 10-8), Butler (19-12, 9-9), Seton Hall (21-10, 10-8)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: Providence, Marquette
Providence (19-12, 10-8, RPI: 39, KenPom: 72): In a zero-reward, all-risk game against last-place St. John’s last Saturday afternoon, Providence avoided a loss. Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo each scored 13 points to lead the Friars to a gritty 61-57 victory. Now Providence moves on to the Big East tournament, where it could really use a quarterfinal win over Creighton to solidify a bid. The Friars have two massive wins at home against Villanova and Xavier, but virtually all of their best wins this season have come at home. It won’t help Providence that predictive metrics hold the Friars in less esteem than the RPI. Three quadrant four losses are an anchor on Providence’s resume as well, though the home loss to Minnesota came way back in November when the Gophers were at full strength.
Marquette (19-12, 9-9, RPI: 65, KenPom: 50): After flirting with disaster Wednesday night against DePaul, Marquette survived 72-69 after Max Strus’ potential game-winning 3-pointer clanged off the front rim. The Golden Eagles’ narrow victory in the first round of the Big East tournament sets up a potentially impactful quarterfinal clash Thursday night against Villanova. Winning that game could be Marquette’s ticket to the NCAA tournament. The Golden Eagles now boast a pair of wins apiece against Seton Hall and Creighton, a split with Providence and not entirely meaningless non-conference victories against Vermont and LSU. What’s holding Marquette back is its lack of a win over a top 25-caliber team and losses to DePaul, St. John’s and Georgia.
They’re safe: Michigan State (29-4, 16-2), Purdue (28-5, 15-3), Ohio State (24-8, 15-3), Michigan (27-7, 13-5)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: Penn State, Nebraska
Penn State (21-13, 9-9 RPI: 77, KenPom: 29): Had Penn State managed to upset Purdue in Saturday’s second Big Ten semifinal, the Nittany Lions certainly could have made an argument for inclusion in the NCAA tournament field. They instead fell to the Boilermakers 78-70, which likely dooms them to the NIT. The crux of Penn State’s argument is having Ohio State’s number. The Nittany Lions swept the Buckeyes in the regular season and added a third win in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Besides that, Penn State’s greatest achievement is splitting with Nebraska. The Nittany Lions only have a total of five quadrant 1 or 2 wins and they have some ugly home losses against Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Nebraska (22-10, 13-5, RPI: 61, KenPom: 56): Only twice since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams has a Big Ten school with 11 or more league wins failed to earn a bid. Nebraska is probably going to be the third after falling by 19 points to Michigan on Friday in what many considered to be a must-win Big Ten quarterfinal. The Huskers needed a win or two at the Big Ten tournament to offset the lack of quality wins on their resume. Some missed chances in non-conference play and a lack of opportunities at home in an underwhelming Big Ten have put them in worse position than their record would suggest. A rout of visiting Michigan last month is Nebraska’s only quadrant 1 win and lone victory against a likely NCAA tournament team. The Huskers’ only two quadrant 2 wins came at home against Maryland and on the road at Wisconsin, not exactly inspiring stuff.
They’re safe: Kansas (24-7, 13-5), West Virginia (22-9, 11-7), Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7), TCU (21-10, 9-9)
They’re in good shape: Oklahoma, Kansas State
Kansas State (21-10, 10-8, RPI: 63, KenPom: 43): There are two reasons why is Kansas State not a lock despite a 10-8 record in the nation’s deepest conference. One is the Wildcats are 0-6 against Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, the three teams ahead of them in the Big 12 standings. The other is that Kansas State played a tissue-soft non-conference schedule that did not include a single true road game. Kansas State is certainly in a better position after holding off Baylor’s second-half charge on Saturday afternoon in a battle of bubble teams. The Wildcats are probably safe no matter what they do in the Big 12 tournament, but those two flaws are enough to create a little bit of uncertainty.
Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 37, KenPom: 42): Get ready for Oklahoma to secure a bid with room to spare and people to be outraged. The Sooners are the epitome of an NIT-caliber team with an NCAA tournament-caliber resume. While Oklahoma has dropped 11 of 15 games since ascending to No. 4 in the AP poll two months ago, the Sooners still have a leg up on most bubble teams. Oklahoma doesn’t have a single loss outside the top two quadrants and it boasts six quadrant 1 victories including a marquee wins over Kansas, Wichita State and Texas Tech, a season sweep of TCU and a victory over fellow bubble team USC. Yes, Oklahoma hasn’t won a road game since December. Yes, Oklahoma has lost by double figures in five of its last seven games. But if the committee considers Oklahoma’s full resume and doesn’t fall victim to recency bias, the Sooners should be safe.
They have work left to do: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State
Baylor (18-13, 8-10, RPI: 55, KenPom: 34): When Baylor lost at Oklahoma on Jan. 30 to fall to 12-10 overall and 2-7 in Big 12 play, the Bears’ NCAA tournament hopes appeared all but dead. Therefore perhaps they should be happy to enter the Big 12 tournament with a very realistic chance to secure a bid. How the committee evaluates Baylor’s 4-11 record against quadrant 1 competition will likely determine where the Bears stand in the bubble pecking order. Only one of their losses has come against a team not contending for the NCAA tournament, but they also allowed a lot of chances for quality wins to slip through their fingers. The latest came on Saturday when Baylor’s comeback bid fell short at Kansas State. That leaves the Bears in need of at least one Big 12 tournament win to feel secure entering Selection Sunday.
Texas (19-13, 8-10, RPI: 59, KenPom: 40): They were once again without Mo Bamba and Eric Davis Jr., yet Texas found a way to avert catastrophe. The Longhorns edged Iowa State in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday night, keeping themselves on track to make the NCAA tournament. Texas’ five quadrant 1 victories compare favorably with many other bubble teams, but the Longhorns also had 15 opportunities in such games. They don’t have a bad loss all season, but the best opponents they have beaten are Texas Tech and TCU. Texas could all but lock up a bid with another victory over Texas Tech in Thursday’s Big 12 quarterfinals. Otherwise the Longhorns will face an anxious wait until Selection Sunday.
Oklahoma State (19-13, 8-10, RPI: 89, KenPom: 57): The Big 12 can’t possibly send nine out of 10 teams to the NCAA tournament, right? It’s a long shot, but Oklahoma State kept hope alive on Wednesday night by dispatching of rival Oklahoma. That sets up a quarterfinal date with top-seeded Kansas, a team the Cowboys have already beaten twice this season. In addition to those two victories over the Jayhawks, Oklahoma State boasts a home win over Texas Tech, a road win at West Virginia and a neutral court win against Florida State. Bloated RPI and head-to-head results aside, their resume is now very similar to that of Baylor and Texas. Having beaten Oklahoma on Wednesday, Oklahoma State now has hope no matter what happens against Kansas. Should the Cowboys take advantage of Udoka Azubuike’s and beat the Jayhawks a third time, they’ll have a great shot.
They’re safe: Arizona (24-7, 14-4)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work left to do: Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Washington, Utah
Arizona State (20-11, 8-10, RPI: 58, KenPom: 38): It’s not easy to miss the NCAA tournament despite a pair of wins over potential No. 1 seeds, but by golly Arizona State is determined to try. A Sun Devils team that rose as high as third in the polls after wins over Kansas and Xavier has rocketed back to earth in Pac-12 play. They finished 8-10 in what was easily the weakest power conference and then crashed out of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday with an opening-round loss to Colorado. The Sun Devils may yet sneak into the NCAA tournament by virtue of a respectable 7-9 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games, but what reason is there to believe they could win a game even if they did? They’ve dropped five of six, all but one of which came at the hands of teams unlikely to reach the NCAA tournament.
USC (21-10, 12-6, RPI: 35, KenPom: 47): Could USC finish alone in second place in the Pac-12 yet still miss the NCAA tournament? It’s a realistic possibility after the Trojans ended their regular season with a home loss to UCLA on Saturday night. None of USC’s three quadrant 1 victories are against teams certain to make the NCAA tournament. Middle Tennessee might need an auto bid to secure a spot from Conference USA, New Mexico State will definitely need to win the WAC tournament and Utah would need to make the Pac-12 title game at minimum to have a chance. The Trojans also have a bad loss to Princeton weighing down their profile. For USC to reach the NCAA tournament, a quarterfinal win over Washington or Oregon State is probably a necessity and a semifinal win over Utah or Oregon might also be. Even then, however, the Trojans still would be lacking a victory over any certain NCAA tournament teams.
UCLA (20-10, 11-7, RPI: 38, KenPom: 50): Thanks to the brilliance of point guard Aaron Holiday, UCLA bagged a road win it absolutely needed. Holiday scored 34 points as the Bruins completed a season sweep of USC on Saturday night with an 83-72 road win. Saturday’s win keeps UCLA in contention for an NCAA tournament bid, but the Bruins are by no means safe. They have a collection of quality wins that includes two against USC, a road win at Arizona and a neutral-court win over Kentucky, but they also have head-scratching losses against Colorado and Oregon State. A Pac-12 quarterfinal victory against Cal or Stanford is probably a must for UCLA and a semifinal win over Arizona or Arizona State might be necessary for the Bruins to leave no doubt.
Washington (20-12, 10-8, RPI: 63, KenPom: 98): An encouraging debut season from Washington coach Mike Hopkins ended in deflating fashion. The Huskies dropped six of their final nine games capped by Wednesday night’s loss to Oregon State in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament. Washington’s late swoon ended its hopes of securing an NCAA tournament bid. The Huskies are 3-5 in quadrant 1 games including a road win at Kansas, a home win over Arizona and a road win at USC, but they also have seven losses against teams outside the top quadrant and a KenPom ranking hovering around 100. With its NCAA tournament hopes on the line Wednesday night, Washington couldn’t put Oregon State away. The Beavers took the Huskies to overtime and then capitalized when their two leading scorers fouled out.
Utah (19-10, 11-7, RPI: 49, KenPom: 61): A solid finish has Utah within striking distance of the bubble. The Utes closed with six wins in their final seven regular season games capped by Saturday’s home victory against Colorado. While Utah boasts a sweep of Washington, home wins against UCLA and Missouri and a road win at Arizona State, the Utes’ lack of a Top 25 caliber win is a glaring flaw in this resume. Utah also won’t have a chance to change that in the Pac-12 tournament either since Arizona is on the other side of the bracket. Would beating Oregon in the Pac-12 quarterfinals and USC or Washington in the Pac-12 semifinals be enough for Utah? It’s possible. But it’s hard to see the Utes getting credit for a resume built entirely on wins against fellow bubble teams, which in that case would mean Utah is auto bid or bust.
They’re safe: Auburn (25-6, 13-5), Tennessee (23-7, 13-5), Florida (20-11, 11-7), Kentucky 21-10, 10-8), Arkansas (21-10, 10-8), Texas A&M (20-11, 9-9), Missouri (20-11, 10-8)
They’re in good shape: none
They have work to do: Alabama, Mississippi State
Alabama (17-14, 8-10, RPI: 58, KenPom: 55): Only a few weeks ago, Alabama appeared to be a lock for the NCAA tournament. Then the talented but erratic Crimson Tide nose-dived at the worst possible time. Saturday’s road loss at Texas A&M is Alabama’s fifth in a row and leaves the Crimson Tide with work to do in the SEC tournament. Yes, they played a challenging schedule. Yes, their current losing streak has come exclusively against NCAA tournament foes. Yes, they boast marquee wins against Tennessee, Auburn, Florida and Rhode Island. But a 17-14 record doesn’t inspire much confidence. Alabama will probably need at least an opening-round SEC tournament win against Texas A&M to feel better about its chances.
Mississippi State (21-10, 9-9, RPI: 66, KenPom: 59): Mississippi State’s uphill battle to secure an at-large bid grew even steeper on Saturday after its lopsided 78-57 loss at LSU. That probably leaves the Bulldogs in need of a run to the SEC title game just to give themselves a chance of reaching the NCAA tournament. Mississippi State fattened up on a soft non-conference schedule in November and December and then lost all but two road games in SEC play. A road win at Texas A&M helps, as do home victories over Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri, but this is an NIT resume right now.
They’re safe: Gonzaga (30-4, 17-1), Rhode Island (23-6, 15-3), Nevada (26-6, 15-3)
They’re in good shape: St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure (24-6, 14-4, RPI: 22, KenPom: 66): Aside from a brutal road-heavy 16-day stretch in January, St. Bonaventure has been excellent from start to finish this season. They beat Syracuse, Maryland, Buffalo and Vermont in non-league play, they split with Rhode Island and Davidson in the A-10 and they’ve only taken one bad loss all season. Even that, a season-opening home loss to Niagara, came without star guard Jaylen Adams in the lineup. St. Bonaventure is probably fine no matter what happens in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but avoiding a bad quarterfinal loss would certainly help. This is a team that has won 12 in a row and is capable of doing some damage in the NCAA tournament.
They have work to do: Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee
Saint Mary’s (28-5, 16-2, RPI: 44, KenPom: 28): If Saint Mary’s misses the NCAA tournament despite 28 victories, Randy Bennett will only have himself to blame. The Gaels coach knew he had a formidable team coming back yet he once again failed to assemble a strong enough non-conference schedule to provide sufficient margin for error. Saint Mary’s has a marquee win at Gonzaga, a gaudy overall record and favorable predictive metrics, but the Gaels don’t have much else on their resume. They did sweep the regular season series against BYU and thump New Mexico State back in November, but they also have bad losses to Washington State and San Francisco. All Saint Mary’s had to do at the WCC tournament to feel pretty safe was just not lose to anyone besides Gonzaga. By falling instead in the semifinals against BYU, the Gaels ensured themselves an angst-ridden wait until Sunday.
Middle Tennessee (24-6, 16-2, RPI: 21, KenPom: 39): Middle Tennessee damaged its hopes of earning an NCAA bid without winning the Conference USA tournament. The Blue Raiders lost at home to Marshall on Saturday, their second setback of the season against the Thundering Herd. Can Middle Tennessee lose again in its conference tournament and still snare an at-large? Perhaps, but the Blue Raiders would be wise not to risk it. They have a trio of quadrant one wins at Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and Murray State, but the only power-conference teams they’ve beaten are the SEC’s bottom two programs, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
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