There are nine new locks across college basketball’s top seven conference in this week’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Scouting, where we evaluate teams’ resumes and what opportunities they have left in the regular season to climb onto the right side of the bubble.
As a reminder, here’s how we’re defining each category.
Lock = These teams could lose literally every single game from today until Selection Sunday and we think they’d still make the NCAA Tournament.
Pencil them in = These teams will probably make the NCAA Tournament but we suggest you use pencil, not pen, when writing their names among the 2019 NCAA Tournament field – for now. If they keep winning, they’ll likely become locks soon.
Work to do = Pretty simple definition. These teams need to add wins, both in terms of quantity and quality, to make the NCAA Tournament. The amount of “work to do” varies from school to school.
Auto-bid or bust = This is also pretty self-explanatory. These teams better win their conference tournament if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
As the season progresses, teams can move between categories but decisions to put teams in the “lock” category are final.
We believe they’re safe regardless of what happens between the decision and Selection Sunday.
Locks: Houston, Cincinnati
Pencil them in: None
Work to do: UCF, Temple
Auto-bid or bust: Memphis, South Florida, Wichita State, Tulsa, SMU, UConn, East Carolina, Tulane
The AAC can be broken down pretty cleanly. Cincinnati joined Houston as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament after the Bearcats defeated UCF on Thursday and UConn Sunday. For casual observers of college basketball, there might appear to be a disconnect between Cincinnati’s record (currently 23-4) and its seed (a No. 7 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections) but the Bearcats have a winning record in both Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 with just two regular season games left in each quadrant.
The only thing certain about Temple and UCF is that they’re just barely on the right side of the bubble. They’re projected to be a No. 11 seed and a No. 12 seed, respectively, in Stadium’s latest projections.
The other eight teams in the conference have to win the AAC Tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament.
No. 40 NET | 0-3 Quadrant 1, 6-2 Quadrant 2, 8-1 Quadrant 3, 6-0 Quadrant 4
The Knights were the third-to-last team in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections and they avoided a potential bad loss with a 95-48 thrashing of SMU Sunday. All four of their remaining regular season games fall under Quadrant 1, so UCF could actually have a winning record in that quadrant even though it’s searching for its first Quadrant 1 win.
The Knights travel to South Florida and Houston this week.
No. 50 NET | 2-5 Quadrant 1, 5-1 Quadrant 2, 6-1 Quadrant 3, 7-0 Quadrant 4
The Owls have won three in a row, marking their longest winning streak since January 16. Their latest – a home win Saturday over Tulsa – was only productive in the sense that it prevented them from taking a second Quadrant 3 loss.
Temple has just one more regular season opportunity for a Quadrant 1 win (at Memphis on Tuesday) and one more opportunity for a bad loss (at home against Tulane on March 3), so those are the two games that could have the most dramatic impact on the Owls’ resume, positively or negatively. Temple is ranked as high as No. 40 in the advanced metrics listed on the NCAA’s team sheets and as low as No. 71, so computers have a wide range of opinions on the Owls, but none suggest they’re a shoe-in for the tournament. A few more wins, however, could change that.
[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]
Locks: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech
Pencil them in: Louisville, Syracuse
Work to do: NC State, Clemson
Auto-bid or bust: Miami (FL), Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
Unless one of the six schools in the ACC’s “auto-bid or bust” category can steal the auto-bid, the conference is looking at a best-case scenario of nine NCAA Tournament teams. NC State and Clemson are straddling the NCAA Tournament bubble, with the Wolfpack projected as a No. 10 seed in Stadium’s latest projections and the Tigers listed among the First Four Out. Both teams have just one Quadrant 1 win, which isn’t enough – especially in the ACC – to feel safe as an at-large candidate.
No. 22 NET | 4-9 Quadrant 1, 4-1 Quadrant 2, 6-0 Quadrant 3, 4-0 Quadrant 4
It’s probably fair to say that Louisville isn’t as good as their six-game winning streak (against a generally favorable ACC schedule) in January may have suggested and they’re not as bad as their 2-5 record in February (against a significantly more challenging level of competition).
Where does that put Louisville in regards to its NCAA Tournament seeding?
Maybe a No. 5 seed if it closes the season strong. A trip to Virginia on March 9 is especially noteworthy.
If the Cardinals’ slide continues, which would be especially concerning given their next two games are at Boston College and at home against Notre Dame, then maybe they’re looking at a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
No. 44 NET | 3-5 Quadrant 1, 5-3 Quadrant 2, 6-1 Quadrant 3, 4-0 Quadrant 4
The Orange were unable to capitalize on facing a shorthanded Duke team for the second time this season as the Blue Devils won 75-65 in the Carrier Dome Saturday night without Zion Williamson. But Syracuse’s road win at Duke in January is as valuable as any win in college basketball’s regular season, even if the Blue Devils weren’t at full strength.
The Orange added their second-best win of the season last Wednesday, when they beat Louisville 69-49.
Syracuse has three Quadrant 1 games left – at North Carolina, home against Virginia and at Clemson – and one Quadrant 3 game at Wake Forest. A win over the Demon Deacons and at least one of the three Quadrant 1 opponents listed above is probably enough to guarantee a single-digit seed for the Orange.
NC State (20-8)
No. 32 NET | 1-7 Quadrant 1, 6-0 Quadrant 2, 3-1 Quadrant 3, 10-0 Quadrant 4
Even though NC State is currently on the right side of the projected NCAA Tournament bubble, the concerning for the Wolfpack is that they only have one more Quadrant 1 game in the regular season. They’ve lost all seven of their Quadrant 1 games in ACC play with their lone win coming against Auburn in mid-December. That makes a win against Florida State in Tallahassee on March 2 that much more important for NC State.
Home games against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are must-win games simply because of the damage a defeat could do to NC State’s unconvincing resume.
No. 43 NET | 1-8 Quadrant 1, 3-3 Quadrant 2, 6-0 Quadrant 3, 6-0 Quadrant 4
Similarly to NC State, Clemson has just one Quadrant 1 win and only one more regular season opportunity to get one. That comes at home against North Carolina on March 2. The Tar Heels are 7-0 on the road in ACC play so the Tigers will have to do something no other team in the conference has done in order to double their Quadrant 1 win total.
Clemson’s other three remaining regular season games fall under Quadrant 2, which means the Tigers might have to make a run in the ACC Tournament unless they can win their next four games.
Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State
Pencil them in: None
Work to do: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU
Auto-bid or bust: Oklahoma State, West Virginia
The Big 12 could win up with 80 percent of its membership in the NCAA Tournament, which is something the conference has never done. The conference has earned seven bids in four out of the last five years, but never eight. That possibility hinges on how Texas, TCU and Oklahoma finish the season.
The Horned Frogs are 6-8 in Big 12 play and the Sooners are a more concerning 5-9.
No. 33 NET | 4-6 Quadrant 1, 7-1 Quadrant 2, 2-0 Quadrant 3, 5-2 Quadrant 4
Baylor’s 2-0 week last week, which started with a 73-69 win at Iowa State, was huge for solidifying the Bears’ NCAA Tournament resume. It gave them a Quadrant 1 win against the Cyclones (and arguably their best win of the season) and it put them four games above .500 in the Big 12.
With upcoming road games at Kansas State and Kansas, Baylor might be looking at a split of its final four regular season games but a 20-11 record (11-7 Big 12) entering the conference tournament would probably keep the Bears on pace of their current projection as a No. 8/9 seed.
No. 35 NET | 4-7 Quadrant 1, 4-3 Quadrant 2, 4-2 Quadrant 3, 3-0 Quadrant 4
Texas is just three games over .500 on the season and it’s .500 in Big 12 play, which may not be a sustainable combination for an NCAA Tournament hopeful. Three of the Longhorns’ four remaining games fall under Quadrant 1 – at Baylor, home against Iowa State and at Texas Tech – so they have the chance to solidify their status on the right side of the bubble or they could drop closer to .500 if their losses continue to pile up.
Texas has three high-level Quadrant 1 wins against North Carolina (neutral), Purdue (home) and Kansas State (road) but its overall record is worthy of a reminder that 15 losses is the most ever for an at-large team that made the NCAA Tournament.
No. 39 NET | 3-8 Quadrant 1, 7-2 Quadrant 2, 7-0 Quadrant 3, 0-0 Quadrant 4
The Big 12 offers no shortage of quality wins but the Sooners have largely been unable to capitalize. Oklahoma is 1-7 in Quadrant 1 games in conference play but it still has three more – at Iowa State, home against Kansas, at Kansas State – to right the ship.
The Sooners are projected to finish 7-11 in the Big 12, according to kenpom.com, which would make an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament unlikely with a conference record that’s four games under .500.
No. 41 NET | 2-6 Quadrant 1, 5-3 Quadrant 2, 7-0 Quadrant 3, 4-0 Quadrant 4
The Horned Frogs ended their three-game slide with a win over Iowa State Saturday. They still get to host two of the Big 12’s contenders, Texas Tech and Kansas State, and they’ll travel to two teams in the bottom half of the conference standings – West Virginia and Texas.
Two more regular season wins, which would put TCU at 20 wins overall and 8-10 in the Big 12, is probably enough to earn an at-large bid.
Locks: Marquette, Villanova
Pencil them in: St. John’s
Work to do: Seton Hall, Butler, Georgetown
Auto-bid or bust: Xavier, Creighton, DePaul, Providence
If you can make any sense of what is going on in the Big East for the 2018-19 season, please let me know. Villanova, the defending national champion, lost its third game in a row (and fourth loss in its last five games) on Sunday at Xavier, and the Wildcats hadn’t had a three-game losing streak since January 19, 2013. Xavier, which fell to last place in the Big East after a six-game losing streak, has since won four in a row and the Musketeers are now tied for fourth place.
Only three games separate third through 10th place.
In short, the Big East Tournament is going to be wild and a team that wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament otherwise could realistically steal the auto-bid.
St. John’s (20-8)
No. 47 NET | 6-4 Quadrant 1, 4-2 Quadrant 2, 2-2 Quadrant 3, 8-0 Quadrant 4
With 20 wins, including eight in the Big East and three against Marquette/Villanova, St. John’s isn’t far from assembling a resume that will unquestionably secure an at-large berth. The Red Storm finish the regular season with two games against Xavier and a trip to DePaul.
Seton Hall (16-11)
No. 63 NET | 3-6 Quadrant 1, 7-2 Quadrant 2, 3-3 Quadrant 3, 3-0 Quadrant 4
The Pirates were a No. 11 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections and all three of their remaining regular season games will fall under Quadrant 1 – at Georgetown and home against Marquette and Villanova. At risk of finishing at least two games below .500 in Big East play and four games below .500 in Quadrant 1, Seton Hall might need to win at least two of those three games to stay on the right side of the bubble.
No. 49 NET | 2-7 Quadrant 1, 5-5 Quadrant 2, 5-0 Quadrant 3, 3-0 Quadrant 4
Butler was among the First Four Out in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections and the only way that will change in a positive way for the Bulldogs is by winning on the road, where they’re 2-7 this season.
Their only remaining regular season Quadrant 1 game is at Villanova next Saturday and their only remaining Quadrant 2 game is at Providence the following weekend. Butler is one of five Big East teams that’s projected to finish 8-10 in conference play, according to kenpom.com, and that record may not be enough to make the NCAA Tournament this season.
No. 73 NET | 3-5 Quadrant 1, 4-4 Quadrant 2, 2-2 Quadrant 3, 7-0 Quadrant 4
Georgetown is the lowest-rated Big East team that still has a chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hoyas were in the Next Four Out of Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.
Unfortunately for them, a trip to first-place Marquette in their regular season finale is their only remaining Quadrant 1 game of the regular season. Georgetown might have to win at least three of its four remaining regular season games to have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Two games against DePaul is a favorable late-season draw for a team looking to add wins – of any kind – to its resume.
Locks: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa
Pencil them in: None
Work to do: Ohio State, Minnesota
Auto-bid or bust: Illinois, Rutgers, Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, Northwestern
We added four new “locks” for the Big Ten since last week as Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin and Iowa went a combined 7-1 last week with the only loss coming when Maryland beat Iowa. The Big Ten could potentially have at least one team at every seed line from a No. 2 seed to a No. 6 seed, so while the quality and resumes of the Big Ten’s six “locks” vary, each will make the NCA Tournament.
Since last week, we also dropped Indiana and Nebraska to the “auto-bid or bust” category after both schools went 0-2 last week.
Ohio State (17-10)
No. 42 NET | 4-7 Quadrant 1, 3-2 Quadrant 2, 4-1 Quadrant 3, 6-0 Quadrant 4
The Buckeyes have lost three of their last four games with the lone win coming at home against last-place Northwestern. That’s not particularly affirming for an at-large hopeful but Ohio State has three more Quadrant 1 games in the regular season – home against Iowa, at Purdue, home against Wisconsin – to beef up its resume.
If Ohio State can win at least two of its four remaining games, its NCAA Tournament hopes will stay alive.
No. 54 NET | 3-8 Quadrant 1, 5-3 Quadrant 2, 4-0 Quadrant 3, 5-0 Quadrant 4
It’s been almost a month since Minnesota’s last Quadrant 1 win, which came on January 27 against Iowa. The Golden Gophers were a No. 10 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projection and luckily for them, they won’t the chance to take a bad loss in the remainder of their regular season games.
However, three of their final four games are on the road and the lone home game is against Purdue, so it’s unlikely that Minnesota, which has lost five of its last six, will finish better than .500 in conference play.
Pencil them in: Washington
Work to do: Arizona State
Auto-bid or bust: Oregon State, Utah, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Washington State, California
The best news for the Pac-12 since last week’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Scouting is that Washington improved to “pencil them in” status from the “work to do” category. Arizona State was a No. 11 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections, so the Pac-12’s best-case scenario is if one of the conference’s other 10 teams wins the auto-bid and the worst-case is if Washington wins the auto-bid and Arizona State takes a few more losses, making it a one-bid conference.
No. 29 NET | 1-4 Quadrant 1, 5-1 Quadrant 2, 10-0 Quadrant 3, 6-0 Quadrant 4
The Huskies were perfect last week, beating Utah and Colorado at home, which unfortunately for their NCAA Tournament resume only meant that Washington added two more Quadrant 3 wins.
Their best remaining regular season opportunities are at Stanford and at home against Oregon – a pair of Quadrant 2 games – so Washington’s Quadrant 1 record will likely remain 1-4 until Selection Sunday. Arizona State is the second-highest ranked Pac-12 team in the NET rankings and the Sun Devils are only No. 62. The cut-off for a Quadrant 1, neutral-court win is No. 50, so even if Washington wins the Pac-12 Tournament, it isn’t projected to add any high-level wins.
Arizona State (19-8)
No. 62 NET | 4-1 Quadrant 1, 4-4 Quadrant 2, 4-1 Quadrant 3, 7-2 Quadrant 4
It’s a weird transition to break down Washington’s NCAA Tournament resume, then Arizona State’s. The Sun Devils are on the right side of the projected tournament bubble but their Quadrant 1 record (4-1) is the inverse of Washington’s (1-4). Arizona State can add a fifth Quadrant 1 Thursday at Oregon.
The Sun Devils are projected to finish with an 11-7 record in the Pac-12, according to kenpom.com, and yet they’re only a loss or two from potentially falling to the Last Four In or on the wrong side of the bubble.
Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State
Pencil them in: Auburn, Ole Miss
Work to do: Florida, Alabama, South Carolina
Auto-bid or bust: Arkansas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt
Since last week’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Scouting, Mississippi State moved to “lock” status, Auburn and Ole Miss improved to the “pencil them in” category and Arkansas dropped to “auto-bid or bust” after an 0-2 week that dropped the Razorbacks to 5-9 in the SEC.
No. 23 NET | 2-7 Quadrant 1, 7-2 Quadrant 2, 4-0 Quadrant 3, 4-0 Quadrant 4
Auburn’s 82-80 home loss to Kentucky on January 19 probably strings a little bit more after the Tigers lost 80-53 in Rupp Arena Saturday. They led the Wildcats 80-79 with 32 seconds left in their first meeting before losing by two. A win over Kentucky would’ve been Auburn’s best win of the season, replacing a victory over Washington on November 9.
Auburn still has three more Quadrant 1 opportunities available against Mississippi State, Alabama and Tennessee, with the Tigers hosting the Bulldogs and Volunteers. The Tigers’ goal should be to win at least two of those games, especially to improve their seeding from a projected No. 8 seed and avoid the 8/9 game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss (19-8)
No. 37 NET | 4-7 Quadrant 1, 3-1 Quadrant 2, 6-0 Quadrant 3, 6-0 Quadrant 4
The Rebels are another SEC team that’s a projected No. 8 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections. With upcoming home games against two of the top three teams in the SEC – Tennessee and Kentucky – that is likely to change, however. Winning either game, let alone both, would be Ole Miss’ best win of the season, while a pair of losses would drop the Rebels to 4-9 in Quadrant 1.
Arkansas and Missouri represent winnable road games for Ole Miss. The Rebels are projected to finish the regular season with a 21-10 record (11-7 SEC), which would make them a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
No. 31 NET | 2-10 Quadrant 1, 5-0 Quadrant 2, 4-1 Quadrant 3, 5-0 Quadrant 4
After it appeared the Florida was bound to flirt with a .500 or sub-.500 record this season, the Gators rattled off four straight wins, including a road win at LSU Wednesday. It was by far their best win of the season and doubled their number of Quadrant 1 wins. Florida was among the Last Four In of Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.
The Gators finish the regular season at home against LSU, then on the road at Kentucky and they might need to win at least one of those games to feel confident about their at-large hopes. They could reach the 10-win mark in conference play this week with upcoming games against Vanderbilt and Georgia.
No. 55 NET | 2-7 Quadrant 1, 7-3 Quadrant 2, 4-1 Quadrant 3, 3-0 Quadrant 4
The Crimson Tide is projected to be underdogs in its final four regular season games, according to kenpom.com, which isn’t a great spot to be in for the team that holds the distinction of being the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament field in Stadium’s latest projections.
Alabama travels to South Carolina, hosts LSU and Auburn, then visits Arkansas. The two home games are both Quadrant 1 games so it isn’t lacking opportunities to climb to the right side of the bubble.
South Carolina (14-13)
No. 80 NET | 3-8 Quadrant 1, 4-3 Quadrant 2, 3-1 Quadrant 3, 3-1 Quadrant 4
We’ll make this short because for all intents and purposes, South Carolina probably should fall under the “auto-bid or bust” category but the Gamecocks could theoretically climb into the bubble conversation.
Their final four regular season games are home against Alabama, at Missouri and Texas A&M, and home against Georgia. The road game against the Aggies is the only one that falls under Quadrant 1 and that alone wouldn’t even get the Gamecocks to the Next Four Out category. At the very least, South Carolina would have to win at least three (but maybe all) of its final four games, then make a serious run in the SEC Tournament.