March Madness is the best time of the year. Whether its conference tournaments, Selection Sunday, office pools or even the tournament itself, there is plenty of excitement as we try to make sense of who’s in, who’s out and who’s going to win it all.

A big part of the lead up to the tournament is trying to determine just who is going to make it in as the at-large teams. The bubble is considered extra soft this year and as the conference tournaments continue to play out things become clearer by the day. In the end, though, there are a handful of teams that, no matter how things play out, will be considered tournament-worthy right up until the brackets are announced on Sunday. Below are the five teams who warrant attention as we make our way to the final 68 teams and whose fates could be determined by the games we watch in the next 48 hours

1. Kentucky

My, how the mighty have fallen. After beginning the season ranked #3 by the AP and having perhaps the highest-regarded player in the nation in Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats had an up-and-down season that featured great wins over Florida and Missouri and poor losses to Texas A&M and Georgia. Friday’s blowout loss to a bad Vanderbilt team couldn’t have come at a worse time for the ‘Cats, who needed another win to show the committee that they were capable of handling business in their own conference. A bad loss to a weak conference opponent doesn’t really show that.

The Numbers:

  • RPI: 56
  • BPI: 51
  • SOS: 73
  • Record v. Top 100: 7-9
  • Best win: Florida
  • Worst loss: @ Georgia

The Verdict:

Personally, I’d like to see Kentucky in, if only because I sort of feel bad that they lost their best player (Noel) to a knee injury and are grinding for a tournament bid. Unfortunately, I don’t think their resume holds up against other bubble teams that have similar or better arguments. Their name recognition could give them a boost, but three losses in their last four games to relatively bad teams isn’t going to cut it.

2. Iowa

Ever since it became apparent that the Gophers were a lock for the tournament I was torn on whether or not I wanted to root for the Hawkeyes to get in. On one hand they are part of the Big Ten, and having more representation is always a good thing. On the other hand, come on, it’s IOWA. The Hawkeyes have been an interesting case this year – they played a horrible non-conference schedule (one of the worst in the nation) and never really got a signature win during the season. They missed several close opportunities against Michigan State and Indiana, but could never get over the hump. Nevertheless, they enjoyed an RPI boost from playing in the B1G and never really lost bad games either. They’re a classic case of solid but unspectacular.

The Numbers:

  • RPI: 78
  • BPI: 43
  • SOS: 124
  • v. Top 100: 6-10
  • Best win: Minnesota
  • Worst loss: Virginia Tech

The Verdict:

A win over Michigan State on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament would have gone a long way towards solidifying Iowa’s invite to the Big Dance. Unfortunately, it was another close loss to a great team that will have the Hawkeyes watching from the sideline. Their lack of competition early killed their RPI and they never were able to claim a signature victory this season. Oh well, eight teams from the Big Ten would have been something.

3. La Salle

Haven’t heard of La Salle, you say? That’s okay. The Gophers beat them in the NIT last year and the Explorers have had a high RPI all season, but consistently have flown under the radar. They’ve beaten who they should have beaten but, like most bubble teams, lack a truly elite win to put them into “lock” status for the tournament. With that said La Salle is squarely on the bubble after missing out on a chance to advance in the A-10 tournament over Butler. A lone loss to Central Connecticut State way back on Nov. 18 continues to haunt them, but wins over Butler and VCU show that they are definitely a solid team.

The Numbers:

  • RPI: 40
  • BPI: 53
  • SOS: 79
  • vs. Top 100: 5-8
  • Best win: Butler
  • Worst loss: Central Connecticut State

The Verdict:

The bubble is extremely soft this year, which is good news for La Salle. The A-10 is a sneaky good conference and they went 11-5 in it this year with some wins over the best in the league. And that RPI – a shiny 40 – is hard to say no to.  That said, I think La Salle gets in. They took a bad loss to CCSU, but they’ve been solid the rest of the way. Compared to some major conference teams on the bubble their resume stands out.

4. Middle Tennessee State

What a curious case the Blue Raiders are, and a prime reason that I hate the fact that tournament bids for mid-major conferences are determined by the conference tournament. MTSU had an amazing season for a mid-major, going 28-5 and a ridiculous 19-1 in conference play. Yes, they played in the Sun Belt, but they still did everything asked of them during the season. They scheduled hard during the non-conference, didn’t take bad losses and pretty much got the job done. Unfortunately, they play in the Sun Belt, so signature victories are hard to come by. And they had the misfortune of losing in their conference tournament, which means they don’t get the automatic bid and are squarely on the bubble.

Nevermind the fact that they only lost once in the conference prior to that, or won 28 games overall. No, their entire fate is determined by a conference tournament game at the end of the season. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

The Numbers

  • RPI: 29
  • BPI: 47
  • SOS: 134
  • v. Top 100: 2-4
  • Best win: Ole Miss
  • Worst loss: Arkansas State

The Verdict:

For the sake of March Madness and what it stands for, the Blue Raiders have to be in. Can you really punish them for taking a single bad loss after such a successful season? Their biggest warts are that they didn’t beat anyone significant, but they also didn’t lose a lot of bad games. And they won 28. 28! If it comes down to Kentucky or Middle Tennessee, who do you reward? I say MTSU.

5. Ole Miss

Perhaps the highest-profile major with the most to gain from this weekend’s conference tournaments is Ole Miss. They’ve been in and out of the national spotlight all season with  dramatic wins and the always-entertaining Marshall Henderson. The problem? Their strength of schedule sucks and they’ve taken some bad losses in the conference this season. That said, they’ve beaten Missouri twice, have 8 wins in the top 100 and went 12-6 in the SEC.

The Numbers

  • RPI: 50
  • BPI: 38
  • SOS: 143
  • v. Top 100: 8-6
  • Best win: Missouri
  • Worst loss: Mississippi State

The Verdict:

Ole Miss had the most to gain in the SEC tournament, but with Kentucky going down to Vanderbilt they now lack the opportunity for an additional solid win to show they belong. Instead, they need to beat Vanderbilt and at the very least be competitive in the finals against either Alabama or Florida. Losing to Alabama would be a death knell for the Rebels, since the Crimson tide is also a bubble team. Of course, this could all be moot if Ole Miss ends up winning the conference tournament itself. In the end I don’t think they have enough to convince the committee. I say they’re out.