This is a look at ten potential bubble teams that lost games in the first ten days of the season that may come back to haunt them when it comes time for the Selection Committee to make their choices for at-large bids. To adapt an old adage, “You can’t win a bid in November, but you sure can lose one.” Each of these teams will have some work ahead of them to avoid watching March Madness from the comfort of their respective homes.
(Note: You might notice that none of these teams have ranks assigned to them. This is because the first DPI Rankings will not be released until December 1st in order to avoid outliers in the data. Thanks for understanding.)
Ole Miss – For fans of the SEC clamoring that their conference deserved more preseason love outside of Kentucky and Florida, this one had to hurt. An Ole Miss team that has been dancing recently opened up the season by falling in overtime to Charleston Southern at home, 66-65. The Rebels were outdone by a last-second Cedrick Bowen dunk, but games don’t get to overtime by accident. This was an unimpressive opener, to be sure, and although Mississippi did recover to win its second game, a win over Troy does not make up for much. The Rebs have some considerable work to do to make up for this early-season blemish.
Missouri – Oh, SEC. Losing to UMKC is an upset that is going to make life difficult for the Tigers, as it severely reduces its margin of error from here on out. This is especially considering the relatively weak conference schedule that Missouri will face. Yes, the Kangaroos might be a little better than originally thought (after toppling Mizzou, they went on to give Kansas State a good run for its money), but that hardly forgives the Tigers getting beat on their home court. UMKC took a 7-5 lead with 14:13 left in the first half and never gave the lead back. Eight missed free throws hurt Missouri quite a bit, especially considering they lost by, wait for it, eight points.
St. Joseph’s – Sure, the Hawks were never really a lock to make the tournament, anyway, but this home loss to Fairleigh Dickinson is going to look awfully suspect come March. Even if St. Joe’s is able to put together a nice season in the Atlantic 10, this will be a tough game to live down. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Mustafaa Jones hit a three-pointer with four seconds remaining to put the Knights ahead 58-57. In their next game, the Hawks rebounded by (barely) getting past Philly rival Drexel. Still, it was always going to be an uphill battle for St. Joseph’s to get into the Big Dance – but losing to the Knights, even by a point, certainly made it a steeper climb. A 52-point loss to Gonzaga in Spokane doesn’t help, either.
USC – Led by Tiegbe Bamba’s 19 points, Portland State pulled off an impressive upset of the Trojans in Los Angeles. While the postseason fate of Tim Floyd’s USC squad has always been in question, a loss like this is going to do them exactly zero favors. If you’re a major-conference team and you are going to slip up early in the year, at least try to avoid doing it in your own backyard. The odd thing about this game is that the Trojans shot 53% from the field and outrebounded PSU 43-25; however, a whopping 23 turnovers – yes, 23 turnovers – for USC, compared to Portland State’s four is all you need to see to understand how this loss happened. Combine this misstep with the 20-point drubbing that Akron handed USC and you will understand that the Trojans have to tighten things up on offense if they want to be relevant this season.
Tulsa – In this battle of cross-city rivals, the Golden Hurricanes found themselves wanting when the final buzzer rang against Oral Roberts. It was a sloppy game, with 60 combined fouls, 70 missed shots, and 22 missed free throws. However, it was Tulsa’s futility from downtown, where they shot 2-for-19 (10.5%), that really did them in. They also put ORU on the line for a ridiculous 44 free throw attempts. They will need to shore things up on both sides of the game if they want to challenge for an at-large bid in the American. One positive for Tulsa is that they corralled 19 offensive rebounds against the Eagles, but their lack of discipline and accuracy leave them with a blemish that might come back to bite them four months from now.
Clemson – With losses to two Big South schools in the first week of the season, the Tigers really shot themselves in the foot. They already have the odds stacked against them being in the ridiculously logjammed ACC, so an impressive non-conference record was probably necessary for reaching the NCAA Tournament. Losses to Winthrop (at home) and Gardner-Webb (in Puerto Rico) do not an impressive non-conference campaign make. Sure, they only lost by a combined five points, but these are still games that Clemson needed to win. They are going to have to pull some mighty upsets of their own in conference play to make up for these gaffes.
Florida State – The Seminoles started things out nicely enough with a win over Manhattan, but then inexplicably slipped against Northeastern at home in their next game. Like Clemson, Florida State never had much of a margin of error, so this one hurt quite a bit, especially given Miami’s impressive start to the year. The Hurricanes beat Florida and look like they could be a solid at-large contender. FSU, on the other hand, followed up their loss to the Huskies with an embarrassing 80-54 loss to Providence and a 75-69 loss to Massachusetts at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Leonard Hamilton is going to have some work ahead of him to make up for this early-season stumbling – and he may well need some luck from other teams, as well. As it stands, if the Seminoles don’t clean up their act, they’ll be watching the Big Dance from home this year.
Kansas State – Unlike Missouri, the Wildcats did avoid losing to UMKC; however, they couldn’t make it past Long Beach State. Don’t get me wrong, these 49ers are a really good club and Mike Caffey could take them dancing this year, but if you’re Kansas State, you simply have to win this game. Yes, it was an away game, but again, this Wildcat squad is not a lock for the NCAA Tournament, so losses like this one will not be doing them any favors in March. This loss is not as egregious as most of the others on this list, but it is definitely a bit of a head-scratcher for the folks in Manhattan. They’ll need to bounce back and make some noise in the Big XII to live this one down.
Marquette – Losing to Ohio State on the road is nothing to be ashamed of. Losing to Omaha at home, however, is more worrisome. The Eagles shot well enough, but put Omaha on the line too often. The Mavericks converted 26 of 30 free throws, which is one of the main reasons that they pulled this upset. Now that Marquette plays in a weaker Big East than in years past, they won’t have as many opportunities in conference play to make up for this kind of loss. As noted for some of the other teams on this list, the fact that the loss came at home is going to be especially troublesome come mid-March. Marquette will need to add some good-looking wins to its résumé to cover up this blemish.
Colorado – A loss to Mountain West opponent Wyoming isn’t the worst possible item to put on your resume, but when you lose by 23 points and only score 33… that’s not good. These Buffs did clobber Auburn, but this loss in Laramie was very peculiar. They shot only 28% while turning the ball over 13 times. This is probably the least detrimental loss of the ones mentioned on this list, but it should give fans in Boulder pause. If Colorado ends up on the at-large chopping block, a stinker like this one could be the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.
Again, all of these teams still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, but losses like these are the kind that the Selection Committee will point to when they pass over certain teams for at-large bids. Since all of these teams come from major or high mid-major conferences, they will all get a few chances to score big wins that might erase the damage done in the early weeks. For now, though, these teams look to be on the wrong side of fortune.