Here is our February 27th look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as teams try to earn a bid. These are our last four teams in and first four out for now, but check back for future updates.
Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament just keep drawing closer and closer as it is now just as a tad over two weeks away, and there are even some conference tournaments kicking off next week! That means it is time for our newest weekly projections for which teams will be in the NCAA Tournament and which teams will have to settle for NIT, CIT or CBI bids, as we present our latest NCAA Basketball picks for the NCAA Tournament field.
More specifically, we are actually attempting to predict who will be the last four teams in the field and who will be the first four teams out of the Big Dance, and these selections are gaining relevance as Selection Sunday gets closer. To complicate things, conference winners get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, so these picks could be affected by some major upsets in conference tournaments by teams that would not have made it otherwise.
Thus, one conference tournament upset could knock out the last of these last four teams in and two upsets could cut our projected last four bids in half, while also increasing our odds of being correct on the first four teams out. Those are the challenges of making these predictions before the conference tournaments begin, but we have never shied away from such challenges in the past and just remember that out last four teams in assume no upsets in the major conferences.
So without further ado, here are our February 27th predictions for the last four teams selected for the NCAA Tournament field, as well as our selections for the first four teams out of the Big Dance.
Last Four In
Purdue Boilermakers: Purdue played just one game in the past seven days and the result was a rather nondescript win over a bad Rutgers team by a 92-85 score at home. However, that makes it eight wins in nine games for the Boilermakers with those conquests including the likes of Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana twice, most recently on the road in Bloomington! That leaves Purdue in a second place tie with Maryland at 11-4 in a Big Ten that is one of the best conferences in the land, with only 13-2 Wisconsin having a better conference mark. With that said, do not punch the Boilermakers’ ticket to the Big Dance just yet as their next two games are major road tests at Ohio State and Michigan State.
UCLA Bruins: Yes, we get that UCLA is just 17-12 overall and 9-7 inside a Pac-12 that is the lowest ranked of the six major conferences as a whole according to the Pomeroy Ratings. However, the Bruins may be saved by facing a good non-conference schedule that leaves them facing the 13th ranked SOS in the country overall, again according to Pomeroy. And that is not to mention a noticeable improvement of their play that began with a home upset of Utah on January 29th, and even though the Bruins are just 6-3 beginning with that game, they covered the spread in a 10-point loss at Arizona and the other two losses were each by two points on the road at Arizona State and California respectively.
Stanford Cardinal: Last week we had the Cardinal as the first of our last four teams in, so in actuality we are dropping them two spots to the third team of this group and thus into potentially precarious territory. The irony of that is that Stanford went 2-0 over the last seven days, but they were not really resume-helping wins as they came at home as heavy favorites over California and Oregon State. The Cardinal are ranked 34th overall on the Pomeroy Ratings, but they had lost four out of five games prior to the California win with two of the losses coming to a Washington State team ranked 188th on Pomeroy and to 118th ranked Colorado. Stanford still has a chance to improve its standing though as it closes the season with a home game vs. a hot Oregon team and then road dates at Arizona and Arizona State that should really show where the Cardinal stand.
Pittsburgh Panthers: Pittsburgh looked dead in the water a few weeks ago at 16-9 overall and 5-6 inside the ACC, but they have since won three of their last four games with the lone loss being a covering road effort at second ranked Virginia, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed off, and this stretch began with an impressive 13-point home win over North Carolina. The Panthers moved up to literally being our last team in by going 2-0 the past seven days including an important road win at Syracuse, as previous road failures this season were holding the Panthers back. Pittsburgh would get to 21-11 overall and 10-8 in the ACC by winning two of its last three games, two of which are on the road at Wake Forest and Florida State, and we think that is enough to squeeze in provided no conference tournament upsetter takes this spot.
First Four Out
Colorado State Rams: We have been bouncing back and forth with the Rams all year and they are still 24-5 overall and 11-5 in the Mountain West Conference. That leaves them third in the conference behind San Diego State and Boise State, but the reason we currently have Pittsburgh ahead of them for the last team in is scheduling. The Panthers get the benefit of the doubt for playing in an ACC that is ranked third among all conferences as a whole according to Pomeroy, while the Rams have accumulated their gaudy stats vs. a schedule ranked 163rd in SOS. We do not expect to see more than two Mountain West teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, and it could even be just one if the only MWC team that is securely in, San Diego State, wins the conference tournament.
Texas Longhorns: This may come as a shock to some considering the preseason hype surrounding the Longhorns, but the fact of the matter is that they are surprisingly eighth in the Big 12 with a 6-9 conference mark as well as a pedestrian 17-11 overall. Texas got to this point by losing their last three games to West Virginia and Oklahoma on the road and Iowa State at home. Yes, that is excellent competition but the Horns are lacking a statement win to offset those losses. With that being said, Texas could still get into the Big Dance if it wins its last three regular season games and then wins at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. The Longhorns will have earned it if that happens as the next two games are at Kansas and home to Baylor.
Boise State Broncos: Remember what we said about the Mountain West potentially getting just one team in the tournament? Well, Boise State is currently second in the conference at 12-4, just one game behind 13-3 San Diego State, as well as 21-7 overall. But like Colorado State, the Broncos could fall victim to scheduling as they have faced schedule ranked 126th in SOS according to Pomeroy. Perhaps other MWC teams should take a cue from the Aztecs by scheduling stronger non-conference games, as a non-conference win by San Diego State over Utah helps give it the respect that the rest of the conference may lack. Of course, Boise State recently losing to a Fresno State team ranked 194th on Pomeroy does not help either.
BYU Cougars: Different conference, same story! The fate of the Cougars could come down to how many teams the selection committee wants to have in the field from the West Coast Conference, where Gonzaga could potentially be a one-seed and yet could be the only representative of the conference. The only other candidates appear to be the usual suspects in St. Mary’s and these Cougars, but there are good enough reasons to leave both of those teams out. In the case of BYU, it still has just two wins all season vs. teams currently ranked in the Pomeroy Top 100 in Stanford and St. Mary’s while at the same time showing three losses to teams ranked worse than 100th, getting swept in both meetings with 113th ranked Pepperdine and also losing to 107th ranked San Diego.