Ball State women's basketball bubble watch: Who to watch this week
With just three games left to play in the 2017-18 regular season, Ball State women's basketball (22-4, 11-4 MAC) finds itself on the edge of an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.
But there's one problem: They have company.
In the Mid-American Conference alone, two other teams — Central Michigan (22-4, 14-1 MAC) and Buffalo (22-4, 13-2 MAC) — would also find themselves in no-man's land if the season ended today.
Of the three teams, Central Michigan is likely on the best footing if it happens to lose in the Mid-American Conference tournament, likely being a lock as long as it suffers no more than one more loss within the MAC. Buffalo and Ball State, however, are assured of nothing if they don't win the conference tournament.
That means the Cardinals, Chippewas and Bulls are looking outside of the MAC to see how other teams on the bubble are fairing with their end of season slates.
Purdue, Oklahoma, Nebraska, West Virginia, USC, South Dakota State and Creighton all are vying for the tournament's final spots along with Ball State and Buffalo according to ESPN's bracketology.
The Boilermakers (18-11, 9-6 Big Ten) are arguably the committee's toughest challenge to judge. Purdue has wins over USC (17-10, 7-9 Pac-12), No. 15 Maryland, Michigan and Rutgers, all of whom will likely find their names called on Selection Monday.
However, Purdue also has losses to Ball State, Ohio, Indiana (twice), Georgia Tech and Nebraska, a group of teams who aren't necessarily locks in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue hosts Michigan State Saturday at 2 p.m. to close out the regular season.
Nebraska (19-8, 10-4 Big Ten) suffered a tough loss to Indiana over the weekend. The Hoosiers have won seven straight and they could get the committee's attention with another solid week. Nebraska looks to rebound against Penn State Thursday night.
USC (17-10, 7-9 Pac-12) failed to get a win over either No. 12 Oregon State or No. 8 Oregon last weekend, which would likely have cemented its place in the tournament. USC must avoid losses to Utah or Colorado this week, which would hurt its tournament chances even more.
Oklahoma (15-12, 10-6 Big 12) and West Virginia (20-8, 8-8 Big 12) are the bubble teams within the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners close out the season this week hosting Texas Tech and traveling to No. 6 Texas with a chance for a huge resume-boosting win. WVU hosts No. 25 Oklahoma State and travels to No. 3 Baylor to close its regular season.
Creighton (17-9, 11-5 Big East) and South Dakota State (22-5, 11-1 Summit League) are in a similar spot to the MAC teams vying for a tournament slot. Both come from smaller conferences, however the Big East often gets multiple bids in, earning three bids last season compared to the MAC and Summit league that got one bid apiece.
Other mid-majors to watch include Florida Gulf Coast, Drake, Western Kentucky, Dayton, Mercer, South Dakota and Quinnipiac. All the teams in this group currently lead their conferences, but a loss in their conference tournaments would put them right back on the bubble.
As for Ball State, every game is vital at this stage, but this week's road matchup with Central Michigan on Wednesday is a critical opportunity to show the committee that it can beat an elite-level team in its conference, as the Cardinals are 0-2 this year versus CMU and Buffalo.