Conference championship week in men’s college basketball always has a way of bringing out a sense of urgency for teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Most intriguing are conference tournament matchups between two bubble teams. Win and advance. Or lose and wait to hear about your postseason fate.
Such was the case for several Big East teams: Seton Hall started Thursday as one of the “next four out” but then vaulted up the line by knocking off fellow bubble foe St. John’s in the Big East quarterfinals. St. John’s had just recently taken Xavier’s spot as one of the “last four in” to start the day but now will fall out of the projected field of 68.
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Duke’s season came to an abrupt end after a positive COVID-19 test with COVID-19 let to the team’s ACC Tournament game against Florida State to be called off. Without playing that game, the Blue Devils’ credentials aren’t enough to go dancing. Fellow ACC bubble team Syracuse will be a closer call. After the Orange defeated North Carolina State on Wednesday, they fell on a buzzer-beater to top-seeded Virginia.
Here’s a look at all the winners and losers on the NCAA tournament bubble from heading into Friday’s conference tournament action:
Seton Hall (First four out). The Pirates (14-12, 10-9 Big East) beat St. John’s 77-69 in overtime. This victory moves them up to the “first four out” but they’ll need to win Friday against Georgetown in the semifinals to stay in the mix for a likely spot in the First Four. It hurts Seton Hall that the Hoyas upset Villanova because the opportunity to beat ‘Nova would have been a better boost to the profile. The Pirates’ tournament resume has a NET score in the high 50s as a weakness but a top-30 strength of schedule will help.
Syracuse (In – No. 12 seed). Despite losing to top-seeded Virginia on a buzzer-beater on Thursday, the Orange (16-9, 9-7 ACC) are squeezing into the projected field as one of the “last four in.” They have done enough by beating North Carolina State in the second round – their third win in a row. Still, without another game to play, it’s gonna be close for coach Jim Boeheim’s team. The committee will see just one Quadrant 1 win on the team’s profile.
Wichita State (In – No. 11 seed). The Shockers (16-4, 11-2) couldn’t afford a bad loss, so surviving South Florida 68-67 in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinal matchup was a much-needed win. WSU’s NET score in the 60s is troublesome, as are just two Quadrant 1 wins. But there’s enough there otherwise, including a top-15 non-conference strength of schedule.
Utah State (First four out). The Aggies (19-7, 15-4 Mountain West) hammered UNLV 74-53 in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals to stay in consideration for an at-large bid. They’re currently on the “first four out” line because there’s only two Quad 1 wins and one Quad 2 victory on the resume. .
Ole Miss (Next four out). The Rebels (16-10, 10-6) are among the “next four out” group following an SEC tournament win over South Carolina. Coach Kermit Davis’ group has won three in a row but lost to Vanderbilt on March 6 for a major résumé stain. More winning is needed for an at-large bid.
Rutgers (In – No. 10 seed). The Scarlet Knights (15-10, 10-10 Big Ten) handled Indiana 61-50 in the Big Ten tournament’s second round. Starting the day as a relatively secure No. 10 seed, this win fully secures Rutgers’ inclusion in March Madness. A top-40 NET score and five Quad 1 victories will be too appealing for the committee to overlook.
Maryland (In – No. 10 seed). In a matchup between two likely safe Big Ten bubble teams, the Terrapins (16-12, 9-11 Big Ten) got past Michigan State 68-57 in the Big Ten’s second round before falling against Michigan on Friday. Five Quad 1 wins and a top-15 strength of schedule solidifies an at-large bid.
Georgia Tech (In – No. 9 seed). The Yellow Jackets (16-8, 11-6 ACC) aren’t just off the bubble. They’re one of the hottest teams going dancing, having won seven in a row. Beating ACC bottom-feeder Miami (Fla.) 70-66 in the tournament quarterfinal was necessary to avoid a late setback.
Connecticut (In – No. 9 seed). Another formality, the Huskies (15-6, 11-6 Big East) played themselves off the bubble thanks to a 94-60 win over Big East doormat DePaul in the quarterfinals.
Colorado State (In – No. 12 seed). The Rams (18-5, 14-4) are barely in the projected field. Beating Fresno State 72-62 on Thursday in the Mountain West Conference tournament was necessary to stay on the right side of the bubble. Just two Quadrant 1 wins and a strength of schedule of 120 won’t impress the selection committee, so CSU needs to win more to stay safe.
Southern Methodist (First four out). The Mustangs needed to win their opener in the American Athletic Conference tournament to be seriously considered for an at-large bid. Then they lost 74-71 to Cincinnati in the quarterfinals despite Kendric Davis’ 35 points. Coach Tim Jankovich’s team has decent tournament credentials but one area the committee will likely harp on will be scheduling — SMU has a non-conference strength of schedule in the 270s. As a result, the program owns zero Quadrant 1 wins.
Duke (Out). The Blue Devils (13-11, 9-9 ACC) appeared to be playing themselves into NCAA Tournament contention after beating Louisville on Wednesday but a positive COVID-19 test within the program ended its season on a sour note..
St. John’s (First four out). After starting the day as one of the “last four in,” Thursday’s loss to Seton Hall flipped the Red Storm (16-11, 10-9 Big East) to one of the “first four out.” The committee will likely keep this team out based on a NET score in the 60s and a non-conference strength of schedule in the 230s.
Boise State (In – No. 12 seed). The Broncos (18-8, 14-6 Mountain West) fell to Nevada 89-82 in the quarterfinal of the Mountain West Tournament. That setback – the third consecutive loss to the Wolf Pack – could be costly for this team that’s hanging onto a spot in the First Four. Boise State’s resume features the second best non-conference strength of schedule in the country and a NET score in the low 40s. But there are just two Quadrant 1 wins to go with a bad loss to Fresno State.
Xavier (First four out). The Musketeers (13-8, 6-7 Big East) lost 70-69 in overtime to Butler in the Big East tournament’s first round. That loss could cost Xavier a shot at playing in the NCAA tourney. They went from “last four in” to “first four out” with the loss and now sit and wait for a tense Selection Sunday.
Stanford (out). The Cardinal (14-13, 10-10) solidified their place after losing in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament to California. Stanford was in the mix to notch an at-large bid before losing its final five games of the season.
NCAA Tournament language explainer:
- NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
- Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
- Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
- Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his eighth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past seven March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson