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Bubble Watch Begins: Five teams who may find themselves in the Field of 68 without a conference title

Is it ever too early to start talking Bracketology?

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament Seattle Regional-Climate Pledge Arena Views Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The calendar has officially turned to 2024, and in the world of college basketball, that means a few things. For starters, conference play is about to heat up. Enough with the buy games, exam breaks, and games against non-D-Is. It’s time for rivalries, road trips, and a prompt sorting out of the contenders vs. pretenders.

It’s a little early for bubble talk, sure, but then again, we live in a society that produces Bracketology in July, so we’re gonna dive right in. As conference play progresses, this column will take shape a little more, but for now, here are the mid-major teams that just might find themselves sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

The At-Large Candidates

Green Bay Phoenix

Record: 8-3 | NET: 37 | SOS: 62

Charlie Creme Projection: Last Four In

Last Week: Def. Cleveland State 85-72 | This Week: Def. Purdue Fort Wayne 72-46, Jan. 5 at Northern Kentucky, Jan. 7 at Wright State

Good wins: at Creighton (NET 19), vs. Washington State (NET 23) | Bad Loss: at Northern Iowa (NET 194)

In a normal year, Green Bay might be at an advantage by playing in the Horizon League – traditionally one on the women’s side with real quality, even beyond the bubble. The Phoenix could bank on multiple conference games against top 100-125 NET teams to try and pad a resume. This year, however, it appears that Cleveland State and maybe Purdue Fort Wayne are the only such opportunities. Thankfully for Green Bay, however, Kevin Borseth put together a non-conference schedule worthy of at-large consideration, and his team took advantage with a pair of wins over high-major competition. For that reason, the Phoenix are better equipped than the Vikings for at large consideration, but they should try to keep conference slip-ups to a minimum to be safe.

Davidson Wildcats

Record: 11-1 | NET: 41 | SOS: 260

Charlie Creme Projection: 9 seed (AQ)

Last Week: OFF | This Week: Jan. 2 at La Salle, Jan. 7 vs. VCU

Best win: at Duke (NET 26) | Bad Losses: NONE

The Atlantic 10 always seems to be a fun league, but the teams at the top continue to rotate. This year, Davidson is set up to make an at-large case, provided the Wildcats’ win over Duke ages well. For now, Creme projects Davidson as a 9 seed, but there is significant potential to do better than that. The Wildcats face VCU (NET 77) this week before traveling to George Mason (82). While the women’s game doesn’t use the quad system in the same way that the men do, both are chances for quality wins. Heck, we’re probably not far from seeing the Rams and Patriots in this column themselves.

Princeton Tigers

Record: 10-3 | NET: 47 | SOS: 31

Charlie Creme Projection: 11 seed (AQ)

Last Week: Won at Vermont 67-47, Won at Le Moyne 66-55 | This Week: Jan. 6 at Cornell

Good wins: at Middle Tennessee (NET 59), vs. Oklahoma (NET 72), vs. Seton Hall (NET 39), at Villanova (NET 50) | Bad Losses: NONE

Every committee member evaluates teams using the same written criteria, but each have their own biases. I’m curious how Princeton will be viewed because of how the Tigers played in their losses. That first one at UCLA – one of the best teams in the country – came on the road by three points. They also lost to Indiana on a neutral by single digits and at a respectable URI team by two. Should that matter? It’s reflected to an extent in the analytics, but how much better would we view Princeton if one more three from UCLA didn’t fall or one call went another way? Food for thought as Ivy League play gets going.

Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders

Record: 10-4 | NET: 59 | SOS: 153

Charlie Creme Projection: 11 seed (AQ)

Last Week: Lost at Grand Canyon 68-59 | This Week: OFF

Good wins: vs. Tennessee (NET 88), at Houston (NET 95), vs. DePaul (NET 84) | Bad Losses: at Grand Canyon (NET 103)

The committee’s mission is to pick at-large teams it feels can win games in the NCAA Tournament. I’m not sure if Middle Tennessee is there yet. Judging by the Lady Raiders’ resume (side note, can we stop calling women’s teams the “Lady Whatevers”), it’s clear they can win a lot…in the WNIT. Tennessee, Houston, and DePaul project as quality teams on the outside looking in, and MTSU beat every one of them. Unfortunately, they don’t have a game remaining on their schedule against a team that even hits that level, and this is college basketball, so you can count on a weird CUSA slipup somewhere. If MTSU keeps them to a minimum, it has a shot at an at-large, but for now, winning the CUSA Tournament is its best bet.

Ball State Cardinals

Record: 9-2 | NET 98 | SOS 239

Charlie Creme Projection: 12 seed (AQ)

Last Week: Def. Oakland City 95-58 | This Week: Jan. 3 at Western Michigan, Jan. 6 at Akron

Good win: vs. Georgia (NET 76) | Bad Losses: NONE

Much like MTSU, the Cardinals do not have a win against a projected tournament team and won’t unless Georgia goes on a run in the SEC. A brutal 239 SOS is also an anchor that will weigh them down come March. That number should go up a little during MAC play, but probably not to the point where it would make a meaningful difference. This week, Ball State can help itself with a pair of road wins – the committee likes to see you win away from home. Other than that, those games against Toledo later on will be huge if the Cardinals don’t want to rely on winning the MAC Tournament.