Life on the Bubble: Big 12 edition

By: Chris O’Brien

The most recent Joe Lunardi bracket, this would have been before the Big 12/SEC Challenge had eight Big 12 teams in the field of 68.

After Saturday, I’m really only confident in six. You can catch up on what happened in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in this post – Big 12 Gets a Reality Check.

Let’s get started.

Big 12

Locks: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State.

And Kansas State is barely on the Lock list. The Big 12 is crazy, Kansas State is one win against Kansas away from a tie for first, but they could also drop four games in two weeks (Kansas, @ West Virginia, @ Texas, Texas Tech) and be on the bubble the rest of the season.

Bubble: Texas (14-7) KenPom: 41

Not as high of a KenPom as I would have expected.

Texas has no real bad losses. Five of those seven are a who’s who of Sweet 16 (or further) caliber teams: Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, Kansas, West Virginia (note – they did get embarrassed against the Mountaineers)

@ Baylor, @ Oklahoma State (only by 1). Not huge resume dings.

One interesting thing to follow with Texas is they have two out-of-conference wins (Alabama, Butler) that are like these low-priced stocks that might rise in value by end-of-season. I’m not sure how much the selection committee evaluates “when” you beat a team, but worth noting that TCU was No. 16 at the time Texas beat them, Texas Tech was No. 8.

Texas is reasonably safe, should be on a path to a Lock by March. If they can pick up wins against Oklahoma and/or West Virginia at home they should have enough to get in, even if they finish 9-9, maybe even 8-10, in conference.

Bubble: TCU (15-6) KenPom: 26

Seems crazy to put TCU on the bubble. Started 12-0. Spent time near the Top 10 of the AP Poll. Currently just outside of the KenPom Top 25.

But they just took a bad loss @ Vanderbilt. Only 2-4 in conference. Still have @ Kansas, @ West Virginia, @ Texas Tech on the schedule.

And they are without starting point guard Fisher the rest of the way.

Let’s breakdown the Bubble

This applies to all of the Bubble Teams, Big 12 and otherwise, so I don’t feel too bad about diving in the weeds here on the math of it all.

There are 24 conferences in NCAAB. 

Six conferences (Big 10, Big East, Big 12, ACC, SEC, Pac 12) send more than three teams and as high as 8-10.

Another four conferences average about two teams (American, Mountain West, A10, West Coast). This year the A10 will probably only send 1 (Rhode Island), but Mountain West should have two (Nevada, Boise State), American: 3 (Cinci, Wichita State, Houston), West Coast: guaranteed 2 but a real shot at three (Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, BYU).

Conference USA, MAC, Missouri Valley, and Southern are all likely one-bid leagues but can potentially send two if the regular season champion doesn’t win the conference tournament.

Teams to keep an eye out for in that grouping (this is worth jotting down for potential Cinderella picks too)

Loyola-Chicago – They are 17-4 with that big road win at Florida. If they win the regular season conference crown, that could be enough to get in, maybe at least the play-in game.

Wofford – A win at North Carolina could do the same thing. They also beat Georgia Tech too, who granted isn’t a top ACC team, but it’s a compelling argument to say, “Hey, if the ACC is sending 10, and we went 2-0 in the ACC, why aren’t we getting in?”

Western Kentucky – Middle Tennesee State has proven themselves the last two years in the NCAA Tournament and currently sits atop Conference USA. But Western Kentucky has the early season win over Purdue and played Villanova tough. If they can split the season series with MTSU and get to the conference championship game, I’d argue that’s enough for the play-in game.

Buffalo – Buffalo is currently undefeated in the MAC and 16-5 overall. Three quality losses to Cinci, Texas A&M (when they were No. 8), and Syracuse. Another decent loss to South Dakota State, who is likely a tournament team.

If Buffalo goes undefeated in conference and then loses in the conference tournament, I’d still put them in.

And then ten conferences will each send 1-team.

So, all of this to say, 18 mid-major conferences will account for around 25 teams. That gives the Power Six 43 spots to fight over. 

Using pretty conservative guesses here, this is what the locks look like for the Power 6:

ACC: 7 (Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Miami)

Big 10: 4 (Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan)

Big East: 4 (Villanova, Xavier, Creighton, Seton Hall)

Big 12: 5 (Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State)

SEC: 5 (Florida, Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee)

Pac 12: 3 (Arizona, Arizona State, USC)

Total Locks: 28

Then it becomes a race of roughly 25 bubble teams fighting it out for 15 spots.

Right now, TCU is at the top of the bubble list. And it’s hard to see them fall to a point where 15 bubble teams are considered above them. You could even argue their current case against at least five of those Locks listed above.

I wouldn’t panic yet if I were a TCU fan, but get ready for a challenging February.

Barely Hanging On to the Bubble: Oklahoma State (13-8) KenPom: 68

The road to the tournament for the Cowboys looks like this:

  • Go 9-9 in conference
  • Pick-up 1 or 2 wins against top dogs (Kansas 2 games, Texas Tech, @ West Virginia, Kansas State)
  • Florida State climbs back into the Top 25 to give that out-of-conference resume win more street cred

Bubbles popped

Baylor and Iowa State I feel comfortable saying their bubbles have popped for the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

The pie-in-the-sky dream of all ten teams getting in (I don’t know if anyone actually thought that, I’m not sure it’s mathematically possible) is over.

And even Joe Lunardi’s eight teams in feels like a bit of a stretch as well.

My Big 12 Bubble stock market picks:

Buy shares of Texas.

Sell shares of TCU.

Hold on Oklahoma State.


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