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Baylor Basketball Bracketology

What Baylor needs heading into championship week

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor is living life on the bubble. Bracket Matrix, a site that collects 110 different bracketing sites and averages the results, has Baylor as the final at large team. The Bears appear in 68 of those brackets.

In the field of 68, there are eight at large spots left, barring bid thieves (which we’ll cover below). Maybe someone can quibble and claim Florida State, Oklahoma, St. Mary’s or Kansas State haven’t wrapped up bids. But I don’t think so. Those teams have strong resumes and will not be knocked out.

We’ll look at the final bids:

Bid Thieves:

Conference USA/Middle Tennessee State- Kermit Davis’ squad seems like they will get into the tournament, even with a loss in the Conference USA Tournament. They lack great wins, so it’s possible this team won’t earn an at large bid. But CUSA is earning a bid anyway. If Middle Tennessee State doesn’t win the league, there may only be seven bids left.

Atlantic 10/Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure- Rhode Island is getting into the field. Their RPI is 16, and they have wins over Providence and Seton Hall. Rhode Island doesn’t rank highly in advanced metrics, and they have some mediocre losses. But they won’t miss the field.

St. Bonaventure may not get an at large, but if they make the Atlantic 10 final, they’re almost assuredly in the field. They have an RPI of 21. The advanced metrics hate this team. They don’t have too many good wins. In a perfect world, Rhode Island would win the Atlantic 10, and St. Bonaventure would lose early.

West Coast Conference/Gonzaga and St. Mary’s- Gonzaga is certainly making the tournament. The issue is whether St. Mary’s is a lock. The Gaels’ RPI is 36. Other than at Gonzaga, they don’t have much. If they lose to BYU, they may not make the field, but they rank 25 on KenPom. Some folks would tell you that doesn’t matter. I just can’t imagine a team ranking that highly—and with a brand name and a win at Gonzaga—will not make the tournament.

Mountain West Conference/Nevada- Nevada is making the tournament. Boise State might make the tournament, if they can lose to Nevada in the final. But they’re not in the field now. Root for Nevada.

At Large Possibilities:

In on Bracket Matrix (plus St. Bonaventure):

Arizona State- It’s wild this team is here. They rose to a top five spot in the A.P. poll. But they finished PAC-12 play at 8-10. They own a win at Kansas and against Xavier. If Colorado can knock them off in the first round of the PAC-12 tournament, then they might miss the field. But with their quality wins, I think they’ll make it.

Texas- I think the Longhorns are in, as long as they don’t lose to Iowa State on Wednesday. Texas finished 8-10 in the Big 12—the same record as Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They own a pretty good RPI (48) and picked up a nice victory over West Virginia.

USC- The Trojans are a weird team. With a loss at home to a terrible Princeton team, they own a quadrant four loss. If the Trojans lose in the second round of the PAC-12 tournament, they could be left out.

Providence- The Friars have terrible advanced metrics, but a strong RPI (43). They have wins over Xavier, Creighton, Villanova and Marquette. I think a loss to Creighton in the opening round would put them on the wrong side of the bubble.

UCLA- UCLA owns the No. 38 RPI. Getting swept by Colorado and a lack of good non-conference wins leaves them on the bubble. Hope for an early UCLA loss in the PAC-12 Tournament.

Alabama- Jerry Palm won’t even consider this team because their win/loss record is 17-14. But they have some impressive wins, including over Oklahoma, at Florida, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Auburn. Although I normally wouldn’t advise this, root for Texas A&M over them in the opening round. A 17-15 record may be too much to overcome.

Baylor- The Bears’ two weaknesses are non-conference strength of schedule and total losses. In the future, Baylor has to drop some of these home games against sub 250 RPI teams and add a few mid major league games or low power five games. With how strong the bubble is this year, I think Baylor will miss the tournament with a loss to West Virginia on Thursday. With a win, I think they’re in.

The Bracketmatrix teams left out:

Syracuse- They picked up a giant win over Clemson on Saturday. A home win over Maryland is the best they have in non-conference play. The Orange went just 6-10 in games against non-Pittsburgh ACC teams. Syracuse has been the most difficult team for bracketologists to predict the last several years, and unless they ruin their chances by losing to Wake Forrest in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, then they could once again be tough to predict.

Marquette- Baylor could really use a DePaul win over Marquette on Wednesday. Marquette finished 18-12. They swept Creighton and beat LSU. But this team doesn’t have too many good wins. They’re an interesting case, especially if they make it to the Big East semi-finals.

Louisville- The Cardinals have zero good non-conference wins. They finished 7-9 in non-Pittsburgh ACC games. They rank well in advanced metrics. If they beat Florida State, they’re probably making it. Root for the Seminoles.

Oklahoma State- I think this team should be in the field. They swept Kansas and beat Texas Tech and Florida State. The rest of their non-conference was terrible, and they have the 88th RPI. Root for the Sooners on Wednesday. That win, and especially the opportunity to beat Kansas for the third time, would give Oklahoma State a great chance to go dancing.

Utah- I’m worried this team could go on a run in the PAC-12 Tournament. Other than beating Missouri and UCLA, their resume is not good. But this is a good team, and they’ve won a lot lately.

Nebraska- This team does not belong in the field. The advanced metrics don’t like them. Their RPI is 64. Yes, they finished 13-5 in the Big 10. But they own one win over a team in the field (Michigan). They also were just blown out by Michigan. This team has no business making the tournament.

Boise State- We covered their case above. They don’t have many losses. A finals appearance in their conference tournament could do it.

LSU- At 17-13, they probably need a deep run in St. Louis to make the tournament. But they have a great win over Michigan and just blew out Mississippi State. They’ll get another shot at the Bulldogs in the opening round.

Mississippi State- They played a terrible non-conference schedule and have the 69th ranked RPI. A deep run in the SEC Tournament could put them in the field.

Washington- They beat Kansas in Kansas City. But things haven’t gone well lately for Washington. This team is catastrophically low on KenPom (97). They beat Arizona and won at USC. Maybe they can get in with a deep run in the PAC-12 Tournament.

Penn State- They have three wins over Ohio State, but not much else. This team ranks very highly in advanced metrics, but they have the No. 76 RPI. I don’t think they’re making it.

Notre Dame- This is a team to worry about. Bonzie Colson missed much of the season. But this team won the Maui Invitational and is loved by advanced metrics. If they can notch a few wins in the ACC Tournament, they might make the field. And to be fair, this team would have easily made the field had they stayed healthy.

What it means:

There’s always a chance someone like Oregon could make the PAC-12 final and sneak in. But that’d be a wild scenario, and it still might not be enough.

There are 20 teams fighting for the final eight spots. Nebraska, Penn State, Washington, LSU, Mississippi State and Boise State are going to need deep runs to make the field. That would leave 14 teams for the final eight spots. Regardless of what happens in the conference tournaments, all of those teams will feel like they belong in the field. A few of those teams will probably get hot, a couple will flame out and a bid thief could leave fewer spots for everyone.

This is a fairly strong bubble. Baylor might make the field with a loss on Thursday. But I worry they could get left out because the bubble is much better this season than it is most years. The Bears came back from a 2-7 conference start to put themselves in a position to make the tournament. Now they need to find one more win.