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NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Florida Gators Slip Further

Without playing a game, the Gators' bubble hopes have slipped.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The bubble teams of the world got more bad news last night when Gonzaga beat St. Mary's 85-75 for the West Coast Conference title. According to the Bracket Matrix, the Zags had been out of the field of 68 and the Gaels had been in. Now, Gonzaga is the one with the WCC auto-bid and St. Mary's is in the at-large pool.

Now, the Vanderbilt Commodores are still in decent shape according to the combined wisdom of 102 bracketologists. A whopping 98 of them have Vandy in the bracket with a projected 10-seed in their most recent updates, which is actually two more than have South Carolina, a projected 9-seed, in the Big Dance.

The SEC team that has suffered the most this week is the Florida Gators. They had been solid a member of the First Four Out for a couple of weeks now, but upsets in the mid-major conference tournaments have taken a toll.

The current Bracket Matrix projection is something of a transitional fossil when it comes to the bubble, as it doesn't yet reflect St. Mary's loss, but it's still worth a peek since it does largely factor in the MVC, Horizon, and MAAC upsets. Florida ended up in just 14 of the most recent brackets, which compares unfavorably to other bubble teams who weren't mid-major upset victims like Michigan (in 15 brackets), Tulsa (45), and UConn (79). None of those teams are even projected as in, though. They're behind teams that are barely in like Syracuse (84), VCU (84), and St. Bonaventure (93).

The Gators do however have one advantage over the likes of Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, and St. Mary's at this point: they're not done. They must beat Arkansas to start off their SEC Tournament run, and if they do, they get to play RPI No. 22 Texas A&M. Beating the Aggies would be the kind of win UF just doesn't have enough of, so winning two games in Nashville might be enough to put the Gators ahead of some other teams. They'd probably need some help from elsewhere—something like Northwestern beating Michigan in the Big Ten, or Memphis beating Tulsa and Cincy denying UConn in the American—but opportunity is at hand.

Category St. Mary's Wichita State Vanderbilt Valparaiso Monmouth Florida
Record vs. D-1 26-4 23-8 19-12 24-6 27-7 18-13
RPI 35 48 51 52 54 57
vs. RPI Top 50 2-1 1-4 2-7 1-1 2-2 2-8
vs. RPI Top 100 6-2 4-7 7-10 4-2 4-4 7-12
vs. RPI Top 150 8-4 10-8 10-12 9-5 10-4 11-13
150+ Losses 0 0 0 1 3 0
SOS 159 105 28 163 164 11
KenPom 34 11 23 38 65 44

St. Mary's actually got good RPI news with its loss, because Gonzaga is now 45th instead of in the 60s. The Gaels swept the Zags in the regular season, so instead of being 0-1 against the top 50, they're 2-1. Gonzaga may not stay above 50—and of course it'd be better for SMC to have the auto-bid—but it's just an interesting quirk of how things worked out.

The SEC teams will actually need to pay close attention to Tennessee. UT had dropped to 151 in the RPI yesterday, which meant the Gators then had a 150+ loss and Vandy had two fewer RPI top 150 wins. Today, though, Tennessee is back up to 147. The best thing for UF and VU would be for the Vols to beat Auburn today in the SEC Tournament to try to stay above 150. There isn't really a difference between UT being 147 and 151, but when the committee draws arbitrary lines and then gives those lines significance, it suddenly matters to the bracket creation process.

But you can also see here how beating Texas A&M would be a boost for Florida. It'd give the Gators a third top 50 win, which would officially be more than any of these other teams. Strength of schedule is merely an amplifier, so a team actually has to have some good wins for it to kick in. The high SOS number for UF would amplify the boost the team would get from beating the Aggies.

So here's the Bubble Big Board for today:

Conference Acceptable Champions Bubble Teams
A10 Dayton, St. Joe's VCU, St. Bonaventure, G. Washington
AAC Cincy, Temple UConn, Tulsa, Temple
ACC UVA, Miami, UNC, Duke, ND Pitt, Syracuse
Big 12 Baylor, KU, ISU, OU, Texas, TTU, WVU None
Big East Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall Butler, Providence
Big Ten MSU, UMD, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, UW Michigan
Horizon Valparaiso Valparaiso
MAAC Monmouth Monmouth
Mountain West San Diego State San Diego State
MVC Wichita State Wichita State
Pac-12 Oregon, Utah, Cal, Arizona, Colorado, USC, Oregon State None
Sun Belt Arkansas-Little Rock Arkansas-Little Rock
WCC St. Mary's St. Mary's

I decided to shrink the definition of what a bubble team is and declare anyone projected 9-seed or better in the Bracket Matrix to be off the bubble. The closer we get to Sunday, the fewer positions that truly are in doubt. Before I was only calling any team an 8-seed or better safe, but it's time to expand the definition. Welcome to the Acceptable Champions column, USC and Oregon State.

The ACC is where the bubble action is today, as there is a huge game today between Pitt (projected 10-seed) and bubble dweller Syracuse (in, barely). If you believe Florida State is still a credible bubble team, it goes against NIT-bound Virginia Tech today as well. Elsewhere, if you don't happen to think Oregon State is quite as safe as I'm calling it, the Beavers go against sub-.500 Arizona State.