We've had all week to sit around and watch, but there hasn't been much watching of interest so far. But everything changes today: more than 50 games are on tap as every major conference tournament is in play, and the vast majority of the bubble is in action.
Where we stand as of Wednesday night: Tennessee remains in the Last Four In according to the Bracket Matrix, appearing in 81 of 97 projections. A dozen of those 81 have the Vols as an 8, 9, or 10 seed. These are clearly folks who believe in Ken Pomeroy, who spoke about the Vols on Sports 180 yesterday.
The matrix actually feels pretty good about every team except the last one in: Arkansas holds the final spot right now but appears in just 48 projections, with California (41), Minnesota (21), Providence (10), and St. John's (8) making up the First Four Out. BYU appears to have won its way to safety, while Georgetown's bubble almost certainly burst last night.
We will also continue to point out the value of having a Top 50 RPI if you play in a major conference; no team fitting this criteria has been left out of the NCAA Tournament since field expansion to 68. As we look at these bubble contenders, we'll be using RPI Forecast and their projection data for what teams would need to do in these next few days to move into the Top 50. And remember: even if some of these teams seem safer than others, the Vols are also trying to avoid the play-in game in Dayton, so every loss counts and every chance to move up the seed line is valuable.
Here's your bubble viewing schedule for college basketball's day of quantity:
Florida State vs Maryland - ACC Second Round - 12:00 PM - ESPN
The Noles are in the Next Four Out category, which at this point puts them in just three projections in the matrix. Beating Maryland is worth only the next opportunity: a date with ACC Champion Virginia on Friday. Florida State almost certainly has to win its way to Saturday to get back in the conversation, but if they beat the Cavs they should finish with a Top 50 RPI and would have 20 wins.
Missouri vs Texas A&M - SEC Second Round - 1:00 PM - SEC Network
Mizzou is off the board in the matrix but faces an identical situation to Florida State: win on Thursday to get to the conference champion on Friday. If Missouri found a way to beat Florida, their RPI could jump into the high 30s even with a loss on Saturday. The burden and blessing there is another potential bubble elimination game with either Tennessee or Arkansas.
Pittsburgh vs Wake Forest - ACC Second Round - 2:00 PM - ESPN
The Panthers currently appear in 93 of 97 projections in the matrix, and at 23-8 (11-7) and an RPI already at 44 you'd have to think they're safe as long as they win this game. Our friends from Wake have helped our RPI with upsets over Duke and North Carolina in the regular season, so we'll see if they can make Pitt sweat.
Providence vs St. John's - Big East Quarterfinals - 2:30 PM - Fox Sports 1
Double bubble trouble! With both currently in the First Four Out there's no way the loser should survive this. Providence has the healthier RPI number (53 to 58). Here again, opportunity awaits the winner with Villanova on their side of the bracket for a potential Friday matchup. We can say whatever we want about just having to beat Arkansas, but if Virginia, Florida, and Villanova all go down to bubble teams on Friday, all bets are off. Someone has to lose here, but someone has to win too.
Dayton vs Fordham - Atlantic 10 First Round - 2:30 PM
Like Pitt, Dayton is in 93 of 97 projections and currently has an RPI of 39. The only way they should be in trouble is with a loss to Fordham, who was 2-14 in league play. However, a win sends them to face St. Joseph's on Friday, another bubble team, so depending on the selection committee's opinion of the A-10 there could be some drama there.
Utah vs Arizona - Pac 12 Quarterfinals - 3:00 PM - Pac 12 Network
Utah, like Florida State, is in just three projections in the matrix but won their way to Thursday by beating Washington in the first round. And so here's another chance for a bubble team to take down a conference and potential NCAA Tournament one seed on Thursday, which is the only way the Utes are going to challenge with an RPI currently at 75. To move that number into the Top 50 RPI Forecast predicts Utah would have to make it all the way to the finals.
Arkansas vs South Carolina - SEC Second Round - 3:30 PM - SEC Network
Tennessee gets the winner. The Gamecocks had no problem with Auburn last night in an 18 point win (sending Tony Barbee packing) and played Arkansas fairly well in Fayetteville before losing 71-64 on February 19. Arkansas almost certainly has to win this one after their nosedive at Alabama, and probably needs to go through us as well to get in; doing so would give them a Top 50 RPI. I'll take whatever outcome we get here; there's no need to pull hard against Arkansas because we can take care of them ourselves.
Colorado vs California - Pac 12 Quarterfinals - 5:30 PM - Pac 12 Network
The Buffs are the lowest seeded team (10) to appear in every projection in the matrix, but with an RPI of 32 they're probably safe regardless of outcome here. California is the current first team out, but they too could get their shot at Arizona if both teams win today. Seems like we'd rather have Colorado put Cal out of their misery here.
Minnesota vs Penn State - Big Ten First Round - 6:30 PM - ESPN2
Winner gets Wisconsin on Friday, and for the Gophers it would almost certainly take two wins if not more to get in after an 18-12 campaign. But if Minnesota does win their way to Saturday, they're projected to have an RPI in the high 30s. The bubble seems so firm right now, but could really get blown wide open if a number of these teams win high profile games today or tomorrow, and then we'd really see how much the selection committee values a Top 50 RPI.
Southern Miss vs UTEP - Conference USA Quarterfinals - 8:00 PM
Just one to keep an eye on. Southern Miss is 23-5 with an RPI of 35. They're the first champion of a one-bid league in the bracket matrix as a 12 seed. If they got knocked out in the conference tournament, the selection committee would at least discuss them. So unlike the other names on this list, you want the Golden Eagles to win.
Xavier vs Marquette - Big East Quarterfinal - 9:30 PM - Fox Sports 1
Joined at the hip with Tennessee all year, Xavier also finds itself in the Last Four In. Winner here gets Creighton, another opportunity game. If you want to cheer for one bubble team, Xavier would be it since our strength of schedule and RPI are more heavily impacted by teams we played twice.
(Also, keep an eye on Stanford, who was scheduled to tip off around midnight last night against Washington State. If they won they're through to take on Arizona State tonight; the Cardinal are currently a 10 seed in the matrix.)