Cincinnati Bearcats (20-10) are in an unfamiliar spot - the bubble. Cincinnati is seeking it’s 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, but in each of the previous 9 seasons, Cincinnati entered conference tournament play on solid ground and their spot was never in question. In 2020, it is very much in the air and it’s probably 50/50 whether or not this team gets in.
The problem? Four quadrant 3 losses (Bowling Green, Colgate, Tulane, UCF). The good? 9-6 against quad 1-2 teams.
It’s hard to get a clean sense of Cincinnati’s standing because bracketologists like Joe Lunardi or ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS currently have the Bearcats “in” as a result of being the one seed in the conference tournament and therefore, giving them the benefit of the automatic qualifier. Cincinnati will need to beat USF or UCF on Friday, likely Wichita State or Uconn on Saturday and then a handful of teams with Houston most likely, on Sunday to earn the AQ bid.
An at-large bid is still on the table. Winning on Friday is a MUST. Winning on Saturday is going to be preferred. A loss on Sunday (if it’s to Houston, especially) may not be the end.
Most folks that have Cincinnati in the field have them as an 11 or 12 seed. It’s likely if Cincinnati wins the AAC they will be an 11 in the field of 64 and if they lose the AAC Championship, they could be an 11 in the play-in game. But there are a lot of moving parts.
The best way to track Cincinnati's chances is to keep tabs on those around them on the bubble.
Teams to Watch
Marquette - Losers of 6 of their last 7 games and 18-12 overall. Marquette is set up to play Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament on Thursday and losing 7/8 could put some doubt in the mind of the committee.
PAC-12 Tournament - Right now, Arizona State and UCLA are on Lunardi’s “last four byes” category. Arizona State and UCLA. Our old friend lost to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton in non-conference and also lost to Washington State. But they were also a crazy USC buzzer beater away from sharing the PAC-12 title. UCLA is poised to potentially play Stanford in their first game. Stanford leads the group of last four in. It’s possible this serves as an elimination game. It’s also possible that Cal upsets Stanford on Wednesday and opens a spot for someone. Root for Cal. Root against UCLA and Arizona State
Indiana - Hoosiers play Nebraska Wednesday night and then Penn State on Thursday. A loss on Wednesday is definitely the end. A win doesn’t do much, so definitely root for Penn State at the very least.
Texas and Texas Tech - These teams open up the Big 12 Tournament and it’s basically an elimination game. Loser is done, winner might be in, but let’s hope the winner loses the next game to Kansas. A win over Kansas would likely guarantee a bid for one of them.
NC State - Hard to even believe the Wolfpack are in this spot, but a loss on Wednesday to Pitt would certainly burst their bubble. A win matches them up with Duke on Thursday.
Xavier - Do you need an explanation? They play Depaul Wednesday night but who cares. Don’t worry about the bracket, just root against them at all costs. You would do it whether they are on the bubble or not.
Wichita State and Memphis - Cincinnati went 3-1 against these teams during the season. They are poised to match up with Wichita on Saturday. If they do, it becomes a de-facto elimination game. If they don’t, it means Wichita (or Cincy) is already out of the picture. Memphis has work to do and are poised to face Houston on Saturday. A win over the Cougars could boost their resume to the point where a loss on Sunday may still get them an at-large bid.
Richmond - Their path in the Atlantic 10 tournament is Davidson or LaSalle and then Rhode Island. If Richmond gets to the A10 Finals, that’s not good. Would be best for everyone if they lose early to knock them out of the equation. It would also be best for everyone if Dayton, who is tracking towards a 1 seed, simply handled their business and won the A10 tournament, avoiding a bid stealer.
Rutgers - NJ’s finest beat Maryland and Purdue in the final week of the regular season and that should be enough to push them in, regardless of what happens. However, CBS has them among the last four in so it’s worth noting they face Michigan at noon on Thursday. Go Blue.
Bid stealers - Root for every favorite to win their tournament. Right now, the bubble is manageable and Cincinnati is certainly among the top teams on it. However, if a team like Dayton loses or someone like Purdue goes on a crazy run, the bubble will grow and Cincinnati’s place will become less stable.