Analyzing USC and the NCAA Tournament Bubble


By winning five of their last six, the Trojans have stirred up about the viability of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The bubble is chock full of mediocre teams looking to reach the tournament. The selection committee will choose 37 at-large teams this year, and by my calculation, 13 of the 37 spots are open for teams to sneak in. For USC, they need a myriad of variables to flow their way. First, they can’t afford upsets in conference tournaments. Teams that wouldn’t normally make the tournament winning their conference means that at-large bids will have to be given to deserving teams that didn’t win. The Trojans also need bubble teams to flail down the stretch and lay an egg in the conference tournament. The main criteria for selection are: record, RPI, SOS, as well as record versus Top 50 teams. The committee looks at a teams body of work, including good wins and bad losses. Furthermore, the last 10 games serve as an indicator of how the team is doing. Ultimately, the selection committee follows the “eye test.” Does this team look like it should be in the tournament. Below are the profiles of several bubble teams that, according to Bracketology 101, would be in the NCAA tournament. They are sorted by RPI:

38. Michigan State (15-11)Conference: Big 10SOS: 3Top 50 W-L: 5-9Top 25 W-L: 1-7Last 10: 4-6

48. Florida State (20-8)Conference: ACCSOS:  58Top 50 W-L: 4-4Top 25 W-L: 1-3Last 10: 7-3

66. Gonzaga (20-9)Conference: West CoastSOS: 87Top 50 W-L: 3-5Top 25 W-L: 0-2Last 10: 8-2

77. Baylor (17-10)Conference: Big XIISOS: 78Top 50 W-L: 2-6Top 25 W-L: 0-3Last 10: 5-5

79. USC (17-12)Conference: Pac-10SOS: 51Top 50 W-L: 4-4Top 25 W-L: 2-2Last 10: 6-4

Looking at the rest of the teams, none of them have a much better profile than USC. Michigan State is projected to be on the right side of the bubble, but their record isn’t much better than USC’s. Their schedule has been tougher, but they haven’t been able to play .500 against the top teams like the Trojans have. Baylor has the same number of wins, a very similar RPI, but a worse win percentage against good teams. Yet, Bracketology 101 predicts them to be in the tournament. The number that may kill them is RPI. The selection committee loves RPI, and it could be a deal breaker. Also, these stats don’t tell the whole picture. The Trojans have some bad losses. One loss in particular people point to is the Rider loss. It is important to put that in context. USC was playing its third game in five days and didn’t have Jio Fontan eligible. Will the selection committee take that detailed of a look at USC? Probably not.

Unless USC makes it to the Pac-10 final, which is televised on CBS, I doubt the selection committee will even waste their time considering USC. The Trojans need to get to that game to even make the conversation because they aren’t on the tournament radar of any pundits right now. An at-large bid still seems very unlikely, but the Trojans do stack up