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NCAA tournament Bubble Watch: Updated look at the wildest bubble in years

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Johnson, Daniels tag team to take down Duke in upset (2:12)

Markell Johnson's career high of 28 points and Devon Daniels' 25 power NC State's upset of Duke at home. (2:12)

Editor's note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through Wednesday's games.

If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of Bubble Watch and scan the lengthy "Work to do" section under "Others," you'll see a large number of teams from outside the six legacy major conferences doing their utmost to earn at-large bids.

Statistically speaking, that population of teams is facing long odds.

The more common way to earn an at-large bid from outside the "power" conferences is to do what Nevada did last season. Have at least one incredible season of near-Gonzaga-level success. Inhabit the AP top 25 from the start of the regular season right down to the finish. Then falter in your conference tournament. (By the way, the Bulldogs themselves needed an at-large to go dancing last year.)

It's a good thing for college basketball, of course, that seasons like that can happen outside the major conferences. San Diego State and Dayton are carrying that flag proudly in 2020.

Is there another path? Can such programs compete successfully as true "Work to do" bubble teams against their power conference counterparts?

It's exceptionally rare, but it can be done. In fact, the real outlier last year in terms of selection was not a No. 7 seed like Nevada. The real outlier was No. 11 seed Belmont.

The Bruins were sent to the First Four in Dayton as an at-large out of the Ohio Valley Conference. That decision by the committee was an exception to the rule.

Here are the numbers for bids outside the traditional six major conferences and the American. The Atlantic 10 has put at least one at-large team into the tournament every year since 2005 (and in 31 of the last 35 brackets). That should be good news for A-10 teams trailing in Dayton's wake like Rhode Island, VCU and Richmond.

Similarly, West Coast Conference teams have earned at-large bids in six of the past eight tournaments, and the Mountain West has put one at-large team into the bracket in each of the past two tournaments.

That's pretty much it. The Missouri Valley, for example, has been a one-bid league in each of the past three seasons. As for the other 21 conferences that constitute roughly two-thirds of Division I, they have, in total, produced one at-large team in the past six tournaments: Belmont last year.

If, say, East Tennessee State, Liberty, Stephen F. Austin or Yale should somehow win an at-large bid in 2020, they will have accomplished something that can be properly termed historic.

Here's our current projection of the bubble:

Bids from traditional "one-bid" leagues: 21 teams
Locks: 17 teams
The bubble: 45 teams for 30 available spots
Should be in: 16 teams
Work to do: 29 teams

ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | American | Others


ACC

Locks: Duke, Florida State, Louisville

Work to do

Virginia Cavaliers

Scoring 78 points in 60 possessions, as Virginia did in its easy win at home over Boston College, represents the Cavaliers' best showing on offense in ACC play to date. While that was probably just a one-game blip against a below-average defense, it should go without saying that if the Hoos can actually, you know, score points, we need to change the whole manner in which we've been discussing this team for the past three months. In the meantime, you'll find Virginia at the same old familiar spot, sporting a double-digit seed somewhere near the bottom of the projected bracket. That's not likely to change either way until Tony Bennett's team loses some games or, alternately, beats Duke and/or Louisville in Charlottesville.

NC State Wolfpack

To say NC State needed that 22-point win at home over Duke would be putting it mildly. The Wolfpack took the floor in that game ranked No. 60 in the NET. With one Quad 1 stroke, Kevin Keatts' men went from being on bubble life support to a spot just outside the projected field of 68. Challenges remain, naturally, and this is still a team that is just 8-7 in a down year in the ACC. The game in Raleigh this weekend against Florida State will be crucial. Just the same, the key words in this paragraph are still "22-point win at home over Duke."

Big 12

Locks: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia

Should be in

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Projected No. 7 seed Texas Tech continues to make shots in a league with no shortage of outstanding defenses. Chris Beard's team has connected on 40% of its 3s in Big 12 play, as the Red Raiders have received valuable perimeter contributions from not only Davide Moretti and Jahmi'us Ramsey but also from Kyler Edwards. In fact, and this might be heresy in Lubbock, the Texas Tech offense has actually been superior, relative to the respective averages, to this defense in conference play. Beard just finds a way to get the job done.

Work to do

Oklahoma Sooners

It did seem as if maybe the stars were aligning for Oklahoma to rise from its expected No. 9 seed in the mock brackets. The Sooners hadn't lost a home game in over a month, and Baylor came to Norman and took the floor without MaCio Teague. Then, well, someone forgot to align the stars: Baylor won without Teague, just as they had done at home against West Virginia in the previous game. The loss drops OU below .500 in Big 12 play, but the remaining schedule is relatively favorable and the Sooners do still have a win at home over West Virginia on their profile. Oklahoma should be in pretty good shape, particularly if the Sooners find a way to win this weekend in the Bedlam series against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Big East

Locks: Seton Hall, Villanova, Creighton

Should be in

Butler Bulldogs

Losing on a buzzer-beater on the road to the team that might win an outright Big East regular-season title isn't a problem for any team in either profile or performance terms. No, the worrisome part of Butler's 74-72 defeat at Seton Hall is merely that the contest marked the fourth game in the past five outings where the opposing offense has topped 1.10 points per possession. BU's exemplary body of work this season is quite rightly going to be rewarded with a nice seed, but the fact that this team has been outscored thus far in Big East play could make the Dawgs a popular pick to suffer a first-round upset in a 5-12 or 6-11 game.

Marquette Golden Eagles

After losing two straight, Marquette is perhaps looking more like a No. 6 seed than the No. 5 that had previously been envisioned for this team. While losing at Villanova and at home to the hottest team in the league (Creighton) is understandable, other teams are winning games and moving up in this zero-sum jockeying for the best seeds. What might be more worrisome than a loss to the Bluejays could be the manner in which Markus Howard and his teammates are playing. In Big East play, this offense has outperformed both its shooting accuracy and its shot volume. That's a politically correct way of saying Marquette has become rather reliant on free throw attempts, and that can be a tough way to live come March.

Work to do

Xavier Musketeers

What is the exact opposite of style points? Give Xavier those. The Musketeers coughed the ball up 22 times in a 77-possession game against St. John's yet managed to escape Madison Square Garden with a 77-74 victory that, for the moment, qualifies as Quad 1. Travis Steele's men scored the game's final eight points, and this team that was once 2-6 in Big East play is just a win away from reaching .500. With Xavier having entered the contest as a No. 10 or 11 seed in mock brackets, a road win against the Red Storm preserves that status quo.

Georgetown Hoyas

Coming off its best win of the season (at Butler), Georgetown not only lost to Providence at home but lost by 10 to the Friars. The Hoyas are fortunate they still have opportunities coming up in the form of games at Marquette and Creighton, as well as the season finale at home against Villanova. The momentum of the win in Indianapolis had actually pushed Georgetown across the cut line and into the field in many mock brackets. That might change now, but the larger picture here is the same: Patrick Ewing's team, even at 15-11 and 5-8 in the Big East, has a chance to earn a bid. Doing so probably will require a win, or better yet wins, against the likes of the Golden Eagles, the Bluejays or the Wildcats.

Providence Friars

With the addition of the Friars to the Bubble Watch fun, we now have fully 80% of the Big East represented under the headings of either locks (Seton Hall, Villanova, Creighton), should be in (Butler, Marquette) or work to do (Xavier, Georgetown, Providence). Ed Cooley's team has earned its spot in these hallowed precincts largely through defense: Providence has limited Big East opponents to a total of 943 points in 945 possessions. The Friars are also the best offensive rebounding team in the league (Nate Watson and Kalif Young are good at what they do), and as of this season Cooley has adopted a more deliberate tempo that seems to discomfit opponents. The impending three-game stretch against Marquette, Villanova and Xavier looms large for a team ranked in the 50s by the NET and trying to play its way into the field.

Big Ten

Locks: Maryland, Penn State

Should be in

Michigan State Spartans

No team in Bubble Watch -- not Butler, not Villanova, no one -- has been able to serially approach yet never secure lock status quite like Michigan State. Staff members here at Watch HQ have been waiting to drop confetti and throw a lock party for the Spartans now for all of February. Yet MSU is still here in "Should be in" after losing at home to Maryland 67-60. Tom Izzo's team was ranked No. 1 in the preseason on the assumption that Cassius Winston plus great defense would be the best blend any team could claim. But Winston needs help, and Michigan State's offense has scored at a rate only slightly above the league average in Big Ten play.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Things were looking bad for that No. 6 seed everyone says Iowa is going to earn. The Hawkeyes had lost three straight road contests and were down 55-47 against Minnesota in Minneapolis with a little more than five minutes left. Then Fran McCaffery's team ended the afternoon on an 11-0 run to win the game, preserve the projected seed and imperil the tournament hopes of the Golden Gophers. Luka Garza has now scored 135 points in his past five games.

Ohio State Buckeyes

For the moment, Ohio State sports an impressive 5-6 record in Quad 1 contests. The fifth and most recent win for the projected No. 7 or 8 seed came by 16 over Purdue in Columbus, and the Boilermakers could drop below No. 30 in the NET rankings and thus relocate the contest retroactively to Quad 2. In any event, the Buckeyes appear to be rounding into form for the first time since December. Chris Holtmann's team has won five of its last six to reach .500 (7-7) in the Big Ten, no mean feat, surely. The Wesson brothers, Kaleb and Andre, have connected on a combined 45% of their tries from beyond the arc in conference play, leading the charge for the most accurate 3-point shooting team in the league.

Michigan Wolverines

Juwan Howard's team is on such a defensive roll that it doesn't need the previously indispensable Isaiah Livers anymore. Livers didn't play at Rutgers and in fact watched the game from the bench with a walking boot on his right leg after injuring his ankle against Indiana. It didn't matter: UM held the Scarlet Knights to only 52 points in a 62-possession game and came away with an eight-point victory. Winners of six of their past seven, the Wolverines have ascended all the way to the No. 7 line in mock brackets. Michigan's defense in particular has been superb, giving up only 0.92 points per possession over the past nine games.

Wisconsin Badgers

Steady as she goes for the Badgers, who survived some open looks from Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic in the final minute and came away with a 69-65 win over the Boilermakers in Madison. Aleem Ford went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and scored a career-high 19 points. With a perimeter arsenal made up of D'Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl, Brad Davison and Ford, Wisconsin's 3-point accuracy has been markedly superior to its success rate inside the arc in Big Ten play. The Watch has been saying for some time that the Badgers' expected No. 8 seed could improve, and, well, that still looks like a live possibility. Three of Wisconsin's last five games are at home, and a seed-improving strong finish appears to be within reach.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Apparently, Ayo Dosunmu is kind of important. When the sophomore missed the Illini's game at Rutgers, Brad Underwood's team lost by 15. Yet when this same team faced the even more daunting prospect of a road game at Penn State, Dosunmu played and Illinois came away with a 62-56 victory. The Watch hesitates to credit any one Illini player with dispositive or even talismanic properties, particularly on an evening when the Nittany Lions recorded a season low for made 3s (four). Nevertheless, Dosunmu did lead all scorers with 24, and projected No. 8 seed Illinois did come away with possibly its biggest victory of the season. That's saying something with a group that could already claim road wins at Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The winning streak is over at the RAC, as Michigan handed Rutgers its first loss at home since last March. The Scarlet Knights are being seen as a potential No. 8 or No. 9 seed, but Steve Pikiell's team might have to work hard to hold that position. This team's remaining schedule is brutal, even by Big Ten standards. Rutgers closes the regular season with games at Wisconsin, at Penn State, at home against Maryland and at Purdue. Currently 9-7 in the Big Ten, the Knights will have done very well for themselves if they finish conference play over .500. They will have done fine if they finish at .500. They will make things interesting if they lose all four and finish under .500.

Work to do

Purdue Boilermakers

For a team that's still appearing in mock brackets as a No. 11 or even a No. 10 seed, the Boilermakers might be getting close to dangerous terrain. Matt Painter's team is 14-13, and, while statements starting with "No team has ever" are invariably simplistic and often misleading, it is true that no team has ever earned an NCAA at-large bid with a winning percentage below .533. (Purdue currently clocks in at .519.) Yes, the Big Ten is a harrowing thicket of tournament teams, and, yes, that will have an impact on your record. The point remains, asking the committee to do something unprecedented is a high-risk maneuver.

Indiana Hoosiers

Prior to Indiana's 12-point victory at Minnesota, the Hoosiers' only road win of the season had been recorded at Nebraska. Now Archie Miller's team is 17-9 and either projected as one of the last teams in or one of the first out. IU's NET ranking will creep upward from the 60s, and it certainly has room to do so. In any event, a key win in Minneapolis is about to be superseded by even larger games. Indiana will next host Penn State before playing back-to-back road games at Purdue and Illinois. On paper, the Hoosiers commit turnovers with regularity and allow opponents a high number of made shots. On the court at Williams Arena, however, Trayce Jackson-Davis looked incredible. This whole IU bubble thing could go right down to the wire again this season.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

The problem for Minnesota is two-fold. First, the Golden Gophers are 12-13. Second, the university has been a member of the Big Ten since 1895, and, in 2020, that membership makes wins hard to come by. This question of just how bad can a record be and still be good enough came up last year with Texas, when the 16-16 Longhorns were relegated to the NIT (which they won). The Gophers probably will need something on the order of four wins in their final five games plus sustained heroics at the Big Ten tournament to avoid the same fate.

Pac-12

Locks: Oregon

Should be in

Colorado Buffaloes

Little remains to be said of Colorado before the Buffaloes move on up to lock territory as a projected No. 5 seed. Tad Boyle has a team that can beat you with both offense and defense. It was the latter that came to play when Colorado beat Oregon State 69-47 in a 63-possession game in Corvallis. The Buffs enjoy a significant advantage in free throw rate over their Pac-12 opponents, and Tyler Bey translated 13 tries from the line into a 21-15 double-double in the win over the Beavers. While Oregon and Arizona have tended to hold the spotlight, it bears repeating that Colorado could end up being the Pac-12's best team.

Arizona Wildcats

Once again, projected No. 6 seed Arizona rode shot volume to a win on a night when the Wildcats' shooting was subpar. Sean Miller's team went 3-for-21 from beyond the arc at Stanford, giving UA a low effective FG% of 39.5. Arizona still won by nine, however, thanks in part to 13 offensive rebounds (four by Zeke Nnaji). In Pac-12 play, the Wildcats give the ball away on just 16% of their possessions, and they rebound their misses at a rate about 3 percentage points higher than the league average.

Work to do

USC Trojans

As a projected No. 9 seed, USC has recovered nicely from a three-game skid that tipped off with a 21-point loss at home to Colorado. The Trojans have now won three straight, and Andy Enfield's group could well end the season with the league's best defense in Pac-12 play. USC next travels to Colorado and Utah before returning home for games against Arizona and Arizona State. A .500 record in those four games could be enough to all but put this question to bed.

Arizona State Sun Devils

At five straight wins and counting, this February eruption by Arizona State has lifted the Sun Devils to a spot on the No. 11 line in mock brackets and, incidentally, put Bobby Hurley's team in the thick of the Pac-12 race. Colorado, Oregon, Arizona and ASU are all tied in the loss column, and the Ducks will be coming to Tempe this week. Arizona State's outside shooting has improved markedly during the win streak, as the Sun Devils have connected on 39% of their 3s over the last five outings.

Stanford Cardinal

Stanford stays in Bubble Watch for now because the Cardinal can claim wins over Oregon and Oklahoma and, not least, because this team is still showing up as a close call in mock brackets. But, after Jerod Haase's team recorded its seventh loss in the past eight games (to Arizona 69-60 in Palo Alto), it's clear that the Cardinal's impending trip to Washington and Washington State will be do-or-die in terms of continued bubble prospects. One piece of good news for Stanford: Oscar da Silva is back in action after missing the Arizona State game.

SEC

Locks: Auburn, Kentucky

Should be in

LSU Tigers

LSU could get offensive rebounds against Kentucky (Darius Days alone pulled down eight in 27 minutes), but the Tigers could not make 2s against the UK defense. The result was a 79-76 loss for Will Wade's team in Baton Rouge. LSU has now lost four of its past five, a run that has coincided with a significant erosion in the Tigers' expected seeding. Once seen as a No. 4 seed, this team is now showing up on the No. 8 or even the No. 9 line. LSU stays in "Should be in" for now thanks to a NET ranking that was top-30 on the eve of the loss to the Wildcats. Still, the best wins on this profile occurred at Tennessee and on a neutral floor against Rhode Island. Time for the Tigers to do more.

Work to do

Florida Gators

The Gators' season feels as if it has been scripted for maximum suspense. Mike White's team is looking suddenly respectable and ready to move up to "Should be in" territory after winning five of its past six conference games. We're now confronted with a projected No. 9 seed that's 9-4 in the SEC, and, needless to say, no one doubts Florida's talent. (UF was ranked No. 6 in the nation in the preseason.) But the unseen screenwriter has structured this story perfectly, for doubts still remain. Sure, the Gators have been winning against the bottom half of the league (and, truth be told, they actually lost by 17 at Ole Miss during this otherwise impressive stretch). Now, can Florida get it done at Kentucky? We'll find out this weekend.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

No change for Mississippi State, which has won three of its last four against opponents that are, at best, long shots to make the tournament. As the Bulldogs continue to win, they have stayed perched right outside the projected field. MSU's NET ranking is in the 50s, and the best Ben Howland's men can hope for in the regular season is more wins and a good seed in the SEC tournament. It appears probable that Mississippi State will need a shot at a Florida, an LSU, an Auburn or, better yet, a Kentucky on the neutral floor in Nashville in order to seal this deal once and for all..

Arkansas Razorbacks

The Watch is running out of different ways to say "Arkansas lost another game and is now in even more serious trouble in terms of making the tournament." The Razorbacks really did lose another game (at Florida 73-59), and they really are in even more serious trouble (Eric Musselman's group started Tuesday as a consensus pick to miss the tournament). We can discuss the inevitable yeah-but-what-if-they-win-out scenarios soon enough, but for now the Watch humbly proposes a more focused approach. If Arkansas wins at home against Missouri this weekend, we'll return to this topic. If not, few bubbles are going to be big enough for a 4-10 SEC team.

Alabama Crimson Tide

If a top-40 NET ranking's being used more for support than illumination, it might not be enough to earn your team a bid. Take Alabama. The Crimson Tide did carry the aforementioned NET ranking into its home game against Texas A&M, a contest Nate Oats' team then proceeded to lose by six. The defeat goes into the books as a Quad 3 loss, Alabama's second of the season. No, Quad 3 losses aren't the best strategic move for teams being shown as just outside the field of 68 in mock brackets. Upcoming road games at Ole Miss and Mississippi State loom as season-defining for a team that's 14-12 and 6-7 in the SEC.

South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks missed a shot at a Quad 1 win when they lost at Mississippi State by three. Frank Martin's team stands well outside the field of 68 in the mock brackets, but opportunity does knock in the form of this weekend's game at home against LSU. That's a contest, incidentally, where South Carolina would figure to be the favorite. Not only are the Gamecocks playing at home, they've outscored the SEC by a larger per-possession margin than have the Tigers.

American

Locks: None

Should be in

Houston Cougars

So much for bubble talk about Tulsa. The Cougars blew the Golden Hurricane off the floor 76-43 in Houston, as Caleb Mills drained five 3-pointers and rang up 27 points. Kelvin Sampson has had one of the Watch's steadiest "Should be in" teams, always sticking to the anticipated No. 7 seed, never making waves. Perhaps that consistency is the result of a laudable and somewhat rare balance on both sides of the ball. The Cougars are average in terms of shooting accuracy, but they do just about everything else required of a winning team.

Work to do

Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers look as if they've righted the ship. Gregg Marshall's team has won back-to-back games by healthy margins, and WSU's slide down the bracket has been halted at the No. 11 line. Now, can Wichita State stick in the field? The remaining schedule includes some challenging contests, including games at Cincinnati, SMU and Memphis, and the season finale at home against Tulsa. Will, for example, an 11-7 record in the American along with a NET ranking in the high 40s or low 50s be good enough for a bid? It appears that will be the question posed by the Shockers.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Mock brackets agreed Cincinnati was safely in the field of 68 in advance of the Bearcats losing at home in double-overtime to UCF. Rather remarkably, the defeat marks UC's fourth Quad 3 loss of the season. In an odd profile inversion, John Brannen's team is a beautiful 6-0 in Quad 2, but just 6-4 in Quad 3, with losses at Tulane, on a neutral floor to Bowling Green and at home to Colgate and, now, to the Knights. Cincinnati faces Wichita State and Houston in its next two games, and the importance of those outcomes is even greater than previously anticipated.

Memphis Tigers

Memphis hosts Houston this weekend in the opening half of a two-game set. Additionally, the Tigers will get a home game against Wichita State. Those will be the marquee contests, but a road date at SMU will be no less important and, indeed, no less challenging. As a team projected as well outside the field of 68 and on the far edge of the bubble, Memphis needs literally every win it can get. Penny Hardaway's team also requires possessions that end in shot attempts. The Tigers have had the most turnover-prone offense in American play.

Others

Locks: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Dayton

Should be in

BYU Cougars

After a one-point win at San Diego, the Cougars are being picked to be a No. 7 or 8 seed as they prepare for a pivotal week. Santa Clara comes to Provo on Thursday, followed by Gonzaga on Saturday. Yoeli Childs was in foul trouble for much of the game against the Toreros (yet still scored 17 points); if he plays heavy minutes against the Bulldogs, it could be the game everyone has been waiting for.

Rhode Island Rams

For a Rhode Island team that is envisioned as a No. 9 seed, the remainder of the season has resolved itself tidily into two categories. There is taking care of business, and then there is the home game against Dayton next month. "Taking care of business" most certainly encompasses tough games, particularly the Rams' next challenge, a road test at Davidson. URI can claim easily the best defense in Atlantic 10 play, David Cox's group is especially good at denying 3-point looks to opponents, and Fatts Russell is an excellent lead guard both in terms of scoring and distributing. The Rams appear to be on track for a third tournament bid in four years.

Work to do

Saint Mary's Gaels

With wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State (by 40, no less, on a neutral floor in Phoenix) and BYU, the Gaels are endeavoring to pull off the most difficult WCC trick of all and build an at-large case that does not involve Gonzaga. (SMC lost to the Bulldogs by 30 in Moraga.) So far, it's working. Saint Mary's is shown as a No. 9 seed in mock brackets and has risen to the very edge of "Should be in" status here at Bubble Watch. Randy Bennett's team has a good chance of sporting a 24-6 record when it arrives in Spokane for the season finale with the Zags.

Northern Iowa Panthers

Halfway through a two-game road swing constituting the toughest portion of the remaining schedule, the Panthers are 0-1. UNI lost in overtime at Loyola Chicago, dropping Ben Jacobson's team to 22-4 and 11-3 in the Missouri Valley. The strong points of Northern Iowa's profile are still what the Panthers have been all along, namely, an outstanding NET ranking (in the 30s) and a three-point win over Colorado in Boulder. Those strong points would become somewhat less salient, however, in the event of a loss in Northern Iowa's next game, at Indiana State.

Utah State Aggies

Utah State continues to take care of business against a schedule that no longer includes San Diego State. The Aggies took two cracks at the Aztecs and lost both games. It is probable that Craig Smith's team will finish the regular season more or less where it is now, right at the line between "in" and "out." In that case, it would be helpful for USU to meet, and defeat, SDSU in the Mountain West tournament.

East Tennessee State Buccaneers

Congratulations to the Buccaneers, who are now alone in first place in the Southern Conference. ETSU's nine-point win at home over Furman lifts Steve Forbes' team to 24-4. The 11-point victory at LSU in December still stands out on this profile, as does a NET ranking that is nearing top-40 status. East Tennessee State appears to be the best team in a very good SoCon, and the Buccaneers might well earn the league's automatic bid. Still, there's enough here to make a strong case for an at-large if the Paladins or UNC Greensboro or someone else should win the conference tournament.

Richmond Spiders

This is getting rather suspenseful for the Spiders. Chris Mooney's team just keeps winning, albeit mostly against opponents beneath the Atlantic 10's top tier. Reaching 20-6 overall and 10-3 in the conference has brought Richmond to the very edge of the projected field of 68. Next up are road games at St. Bonaventure and George Washington, and UR has a real shot at finishing the regular season with both a very impressive record and in partial or even sole possession of second place in the A-10 behind Dayton. All of the above, plus the 10-point win over Wisconsin on a neutral floor, could be enough to land the Spiders an at-large bid.

VCU Rams

When VCU lost by 18 at Richmond in its previous outing, the Watch opined as follows: "Over the past two weeks it has become increasingly difficult to envision Mike Rhoades' team earning an at-large spot without a win at home against Dayton in its next game." It almost happened. Marcus Santos-Silva recorded a 12-17 double-double and the Rams pulled to within three points of the Flyers with 26 seconds left. However, the Flyers won 66-61, and now VCU is in "win out and make a run in the conference tournament" mode. The Rams, with a NET ranking in the low 50s, were a consensus pick to miss the field of 68 before the Dayton loss.

Liberty Flames

The Flames haven't lost in three weeks, keeping an intriguing at-large candidacy alive and running their record to 24-3. In NET terms, the best win on this profile is a neutral-floor victory over Akron. If that doesn't sound sufficiently impressive, keep in mind the Zips really might be the second-best opponent this team has faced. (The best was LSU, and Liberty lost in Baton Rouge 74-57.) When a team has a great record against a so-so schedule, metrics like strength of record can be helpful. The Flames are in the mid-50s in SOR, just as they are in the NET. Classic bubble territory.

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

The Lumberjacks constitute an intriguing selection test case that might never happen. Kyle Keller's team, of course, recorded one of the best profile wins of the entire Division I season, an 85-83 overtime victory at Duke in November. Is that, plus a 23-3 record, sufficient for an at-large? Don't dish the question to the rating systems, because they're squabbling. Stephen F. Austin is one team where the NET ranking (mid-80s) and the strength of record metric (mid-40s) disagree. The Jacks would therefore pose a singular challenge for the committee, though, again, we might never see the ending to this at-large thriller. SFA is likely to win the regular-season Southland title and thus earn a bye straight into the conference tournament semifinals. That tournament will be played on a laudably neutral floor in Katy, Texas, 170 miles from Nacogdoches. An automatic bid could be in the offing.

Yale Bulldogs

Yale's dreams of an at-large are on the brink of becoming pure fantasy after losing at Penn. The defeat was the second loss in Ivy play for the Bulldogs, and it came at the hands of a Quakers team that entered the night 12-8. Put more simply, this is a Quad 4 loss, Yale's first of the season. It's going to be very difficult for James Jones' men to put together one of the 36 best at-large profiles in the nation from this point forward. It will be much more difficult, one might venture to say, than winning the league's automatic bid.