Bubble Watch 2021: Locks, Should Be, Over, On & Bursting
Welcome to Bubble Watch 2021!
Bracketology provides fans provide insight into how the committee sees teams and what the tournament would look like if the season ended that day. But there’s a lot that goes into it, and from only seeing the finished bracket, you don’t get the full picture.
That’s why we’re releasing a bubble watch where our bracketologist (me) breaks down where teams stand from the cutline and what they can do to remain or work themselves into the Field of 68.
There are five categories: locks, should be in, over the bubble, on the bubble and bubble bursting.
Locks are teams that could lose the rest of their games and still get an at-large bid. It’s a tricky thing to lock a team up, and so it isn’t done lightly. Just because a team is unlocked doesn’t mean it won’t be in the tournament. It only means there are enough potential losses left that the resume could fall apart and risk being left out.
Should be in teams aren’t quite locks, but they’re looking pretty solid. If Selection Sunday was tomorrow, they would be absolute locks, and there’s a slim chance they play themselves out of the field. But the possibility remains, and so they stay unlocked.
Over the bubble squads are exactly that. They wouldn’t be worried about being excluded if the season ended now, but the resume isn’t strong enough that a few mistakes wouldn’t drop them down onto the bubble.
Those on the bubble are either barely in or barely out. They are receiving significant enough consideration for at-large positions, but in no way could they feel safe if the tournament selection occurred now. Finally, bubble bursting teams have enough of a foundation laid that if they collected some quality wins, they could play themselves onto the bubble, but at the time aren’t receiving significant consideration for an at-large bid.
You can see all the resumes for yourself here.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the state of the bubble as of Friday afternoon on Feb. 19, 2021:
Houston (AAC): 16-3, NET: 8, SOS: 78, vs. Q1: 2-1
Virginia (ACC): 15-4, NET: 9, SOS: 38, vs. Q1: 3-3
Baylor (Big 12): 17-0, NET: 2, SOS: 163, vs. Q1: 6-0
Oklahoma (Big 12): 13-5, NET: 17, SOS: 21, vs. Q1: 5-5
West Virginia (Big 12): 14-6, NET: 18, SOS: 7, vs. Q1: 5-6
Villanova (Big East): 13-3, NET: 12, SOS: 126, vs. Q1: 2-3
Michigan (Big Ten): 15-1, NET: 3, SOS: 95, vs. Q1: 5-1
Ohio State (Big Ten): 18-4, NET: 6, SOS: 61, vs. Q1: 9-3
Illinois (Big Ten): 15-5, NET: 4, SOS: 77, vs. Q1: 6-4
Iowa (Big Ten): 16-6, NET: 5, SOS: 86, vs. Q1: 5-5
Alabama (SEC): 17-5, NET: 7, SOS: 19, vs. Q1: 6-3
Gonzaga (WCC): 21-0, NET: 1, SOS: 60, vs. Q1: 7-0
SHOULD BE IN
Florida State (ACC): 12-3, NET: 16, SOS: 40, vs. Q1: 3-2
COVID-19 has affected tons of programs across the country this season, and Florida State has been no exception. The Seminoles are coming off a pause that postponed games at Boston College and at Virginia Tech, one of which would have moved the needle with the victory. Since the break, Florida State avoided an anchor loss to Wake Forest at home and blasted Virginia in Tallahassee, 81-60, inching itself closer and closer to lock status. At this point, it’s purely a matter of overall games played holding FSU back from lockdom. It shouldn’t be long now.
Virginia Tech (ACC): 14-4, NET: 36, SOS: 85, vs. Q1: 3-2
A neutral outlasting of Villanova (12) and a home win over arch rival Virginia (9) are good for two top-15 NET wins, and a home triumph over Clemson (41) is a good second-level victory. The NET is solid, though some anchor losses could change that, and an overall 7-4 record versus Q1 and Q2 competition is plenty good enough for an at-large bid. Next up are home dates with Georgia Tech (61) and Wake Forest (125), both teams not currently in serious tournament contention. Take care of business in those contests, and the Hokies might be a lock.
Texas (Big 12): 13-5, NET: 20, SOS: 3, vs. Q1: 3-5
It’s been tougher for Texas since entering the meat of its Big 12 schedule, but that’s more on the strength of the conference than it is a detraction of the Longhorns. This team is very comfortably in the field, with no losses outside of Q1, a top-20 NET, great SOS numbers, and two top-20 NET road wins over West Virginia (18) and Kansas (19). As of now, Texas’s last three games are West Virginia, Kansas and at Texas Tech. Just one win out of those three could be enough to lock the Longhorns up before the Big 12 Tournament. Even going 0-3 might not make much of a difference. The Big 12 is just that good.
Texas Tech (Big 12): 14-6, NET: 15, SOS: 42, vs. Q1: 4-5
The Big 12 continues to own this portion of the bubble with another team with a similar-level resume in the No. 4 through No. 6 seed range. Texas Tech swept Oklahoma (17) and has road wins at Texas (20) and LSU (28) under its name, plus a 5-1 road mark and top-15 NET. The Red Raiders don’t need much more to be considered a lock, and it’s probable that only one win in its remaining schedule at Kansas (19), at Oklahoma State (38) and Texas (20) would be enough to lock up an at-large bid, though that might not even be necessary. Still, this resume needs slightly more meat to be considered untouchable on Selection Sunday.
Kansas (Big 12): 15-7, NET: 19, SOS: 44, vs. Q1: 4-7
Welcome to your next definitely-good-but-not-great Big 12 resume: Kansas. The Jayhawks have four top-25 NET wins over their belt (at Texas Tech (15), Oklahoma (17), West Virginia (18), Creighton (23)), a top-20 NET and a perfect 11-0 record in Q2, Q3 and Q4 games. The amount of losses, like the other Big 12 teams in this category, is why Kansas isn’t a lock yet. The remaining schedule is difficult, with Texas Tech and Baylor (2) still coming to town and a trip to Austin also on deck, so more losses are likely. But it shouldn’t take too many more Ws to see the Jayhawks move up in the world. It might not take any at all.
Oklahoma State (Big 12): 14-6, NET: 38, SOS: 68, vs. Q1: 5-4
Oklahoma State finds itself a bit behind its fellow Big 12 counterparts in the resume world, but it’s still good enough to join them in this category. The committee will appreciate the team’s 6-3 road mark, plus top-25 NET wins at Texas Tech (15), Kansas (19), Texas (20), and Arkansas (24). In all, the Cowboys are 6-5 in Q1 and Q2 games, which is plenty good enough for an at-large bid. The NET isn’t as good as the other Big 12 tournament candidates, which means losses would hurt the Cowboys more than others at this point. Their last games are at Baylor (2), Texas Tech (15), and a home-and-home with Oklahoma (17), so Ls are almost certain to come. With two wins in those games, though, it’s hard to see Oklahoma State missing the tournament, and it probably won’t even take that.
Creighton (Big East): 16-5, NET: 23, SOS: 141, vs. Q1: 4-1
This resume is very interesting, as is typical for Creighton. The Bluejays are 4-1 in Q1 games and 11-1 in Q1 and Q2 contests, which is worthy of a high seed. However, they’re also 2-4 in Q3 games, which is worthy of the NIT. The committee cares much more about who you beat than who beats you, so Creighton is looking good for a bid. A top-25 NET and 7-2 road mark help, too. It shouldn’t take a ton more for Creighton to enter lockdom, and avoiding yet another anchor loss when DePaul (178) comes to Omaha on Wednesday would help make that happen.
Wisconsin (Big Ten): 15-8, NET: 22, SOS: 87, vs. Q1: 3-6
The Big Ten has been insane this season, and Wisconsin’s resume is a product of it. Eight losses is a good amount for a team this close to lock status at this stage of the season, but when five of them are to teams in the NET top six, it makes more sense. The Badgers have been helped massively by Loyola’s campaign so far, boasting the home win over the Ramblers (13) in December as its best victory. Additionally, Wisconsin has triumphs at Rutgers (29), Louisville (33), at Maryland (35), Penn State (40), Indiana (42), and Minnesota (57), and that’s why its in this position relative to the bubble. If Wisconsin takes care of business at Northwestern (86) and can find a win in its otherwise-remaining schedule, I see a probably lock in its future.
USC (Pac-12): 18-3, NET: 14, SOS: 80, vs. Q1: 3-1
A seven-game winning streak has the Trojans atop the Pac-12 and looking very good for a tournament berth. Over the course of its current run, USC has picked up wins over UCLA (39) and at Stanford (53) to help it earn a 6-3 combined record in Q1 and Q2 games. There really isn’t much to say negatively about this resume. The only thing holding it back is a lack of elite-level wins, which won’t be coming through the Pac-12. But that wouldn’t keep USC out of the tournament with what else its done this season. It shouldn’t take too many more Ws for the Trojans to ride off into lockdom.
Tennessee (SEC): 15-5, NET: 11, SOS: 107, vs. Q1: 4-4
The Vols are very close to lock status, with four Q1 wins, no bad losses and a top-15 NET. What they don’t have is a Q1 win in the last several weeks, last picking one up Jan. 6 versus Arkansas (24). Though the wins haven’t been as stellar as in the first half of the season, the committee doesn’t put massive amount of stock into when you won your games. As long as you came out victorious, you get the credit. As such, Tennessee should see its at-large status shift to lock soon, especially with a relatively easy end to the regular season.
Missouri (SEC): 13-6, NET: 44, SOS: 6, vs. Q1: 6-4
Three-straight losses have Missouri trending further from lock status and closer to the cutline, though that’s still not much of a concern. The Tigers have two top-10 NET triumphs in home wins versus Illinois (4) and Alabama (7), plus wins at Tennessee (11) and at Arkansas (24) to help round out a 6-4 mark in Q1 contests. As such, the wrong side of the bubble isn’t something Missouri will likely see, though collecting losses like it has lately might make Columbia more nervous than necessary come Selection Sunday. The Tigers go to South Carolina (116) on Saturday, and a defeat there may knock this team down a category. An NET of 44 is passable for now, but losses to teams like the Gamecocks would tank it further. Mizzou would be better off not finding out just how far the tank could go.
OVER THE BUBBLE
Clemson (ACC): 13-5, NET: 41, SOS: 10, vs. Q1: 3-5
A neutral floor win against Alabama (7) is the best thing this resume has to offer, and that’s a pretty good thing. A home victory over Florida State (16) and neutral triumph versus Purdue (27), plus a 6-0 record in Q2 games, are also pretty good. A sub-40 NET and 1-4 road record are not. Clemson’s NET has climbed quite a bit lately as the team has won three straight, but it could go right back down into the 50s with a losing streak. Still, the Tigers cannot be considered a bubble team at the moment, and with continued avoidable of anchor losses, they could very reasonably be a lock before the ACC Tournament.
Purdue (Big Ten): 14-8, NET: 27, SOS: 23, vs. Q1: 3-7
A sweep of Ohio State (6) is the best thing this resume has to offer, and it’s a major reason why Purdue isn’t on the bubble. Those victories make up more than half of Purdue’s three Q1 wins, which explains the theme of this resume: lots of “great” losses and lots of good wins. The Boilermakers are 6-0 in Q2 contests, which helps even out its combined Q1 and Q2 record to a positive 9-7. A 3-6 road record isn’t great but not disqualifying, and the computer numbers are good enough for an at-large. By Big Ten standards, upcoming dates at Nebraska (144) and at Penn State (40) are friendly, and piling up wins in those games would probably cruise Purdue up a category.
Rutgers (Big Ten): 12-8, NET: 29, SOS: 20, vs. Q1: 4-7
How can a 12-8 team not even be on the bubble? A little bit of 2021 weirdness, and a lot of Big Ten insanity. Even with that record, Rutgers is in the NET top 30, a testament to how tough the conference is. It has a home win over Illinois (4) that’s this resume’s crown jewel, but Purdue (27), at Maryland (35) and at Indiana (42) account for this team’s other Q1 triumphs. In late January, Rutgers was 7-6 after five losses in a row, but the Scarlet Knights have won five of seven since to pull themselves back off the bubble. While this resume is currently in a good spot, the committee has never given an at-large bid to a team that didn’t finish at least two games above .500 by Selection Sunday. At this point, ensuring the overall record remains a few games above that mark is what’s required, almost regardless of who wins or losses might come against.
Loyola Chicago (MVC): 17-4, NET: 13, SOS: 150, vs. Q1: 1-2
Loyola has come roaring onto the scene lately, winning 11-straight games recently until Drake (34) found a win to win in the second half of the teams’ doubleheader last weekend. With an outstanding NET and a good collection of Q2 wins, Loyola is in a good spot right now, holding a 5-4 combined record in Q1 and Q2 outings and a perfect record in Q3 and Q4 contests. However, being in the MVC puts the Ramblers in a precarious position. Drake is the only team in the conference that will really help you with a win and not really hurt you with a loss, and those games are done, at least until the conference tournament. Loyola narrowly escaped Valparaiso (229), 54-52, on Wednesday and has two games with Southern Illinois (230) to go. Two wins could realistically lock the Ramblers in to an at-large bid. One loss might cause some concern. Two losses, and it’s right to the cutline this resume goes.
Colorado (Pac-12): 16-7, NET: 21, SOS: 88, vs. Q1: 2-4
Two-straight defeats at California (176) and at Oregon (43) have pulled Colorado down closer to the bubble, but its still not quite there. A top-25 NET, perfect 5-0 mark in Q2 games and victory at USC (14) are why. But the Buffaloes are now 6-3 in Q3 games, which isn’t great, and outside of the USC win, all of their wins are against bubble teams at best. There’s another game against USC and a date with UCLA (39) left to go, but first, Colorado should aim to avoid yet another anchor loss at Oregon State (124) in its next contest. A loss to the Beavers could be enough to pull it down to the bubble, but with an L there, Colorado will need to win over one of the Pac-12’s LA schools to feel remotely comfort heading into the Pac-12 Tournament.
Florida (SEC): 10-6, NET: 30, SOS: 56, vs. Q1: 3-3
Another unimpressive record on a decently impressive resume – get used to it in 2021. The Gators are 7-4 in Q1 and Q2 games, including wins versus Tennessee (11), at West Virginia (18) and LSU (28), rock a top-30 NET and have okay computer numbers. Their 2-2 record in Q3 games raises an eyebrow, and two-straight losses have brought Florida closer to the bubble. Next up is Georgia (89), a team not contending for a tournament bid, on Saturday. Take care of business, and Gainesville can relax a little bit. Take another L, and Florida might find itself on the bubble in my next Bubble Watch.
Arkansas (SEC): 17-5, NET: 24, SOS: 64, vs. Q1: 3-4
This was a resume I felt was lacking until recently, but Arkansas has done a lot to beef it up lately. Its last two wins were at Missouri (44) and Florida (30), finally giving the Razorbacks something better than the at Auburn (66) win it was boasting as its only Q1 victory before. Now, Arkansas is 3-4 in Q1 contests, which is fine, and 8-5 if you throw Q2 outings in there, too, which is more than fine. The NET keeps climbing, too. Arkansas would be wise to avoid an anchor loss at Texas A&M (135) in its next game, and if it does so and finds a W when Alabama comes to town in its next game, lockdom isn’t out of the question.
LSU (SEC): 13-6, NET: 28, SOS: 13, vs. Q1: 3-5
LSU has also played itself off the bubble recently by beating Tennessee (11), 78-65, on Feb. 13. It became the team’s best win of the season, providing this resume with its third Q1 win of the season and lifting its combined Q1 and Q2 mark to 5-6. The NET is in the top 30, the record in Q3 and Q4 games is perfect, and the SOS numbers are quality. Right now, this resume is definitely in. But would it still be so comfortable with losses to Auburn (69) and at Georgia (89) in LSU’s next two contests? Definitely not.
BYU (WCC): 15-5, NET: 25, SOS: 28, vs. Q1: 3-3
Despite Ls to Gonzaga in both meetings, BYU has played itself off the bubble. In the non-conference, the Cougars won at San Diego State (26), at Utah State (55) and against St. John’s (67) on a neutral floor. In WCC play, their only non-Gonzaga blemish came at Pepperdine (109), 76-73, on Jan. 27. If BYU takes care of business the rest of the regular season, it has a very good chance of being a lock before the WCC Tournament, and it should be able to do that. But trip up, especially at Loyola Marymount (103) or San Francisco (107), and it could be on the bubble by then.
ON THE BUBBLE
Wichita State (AAC): 11-4, NET: 68, SOS: 30, vs. Q1: 2-2
Wichita State wasn’t on the bubble until Thursday night when it knocked off Houston (8), 68-63, also supplanting the Cougars top the AAC standings. Now, the Shockers are in the throws of it. There is plenty of work to be done, though, with a bad NET and only one other victory against a team in the NET top 100. That could change quickly, though, as Wichita State has a home-and-home with SMU (59) as its next couple of contests. Those are its only remaining opportunities for wins the committee will care much about before the AAC Tournament, and adding at least one of them, or arguably both, is imperative.
Saint Louis (A-10): 11-3, NET: 32, SOS: 283, vs. Q1:1-1
Saint Louis started the season 7-1 before a long COVID-19 pause. After coming back, the Billikens lost two in a row, but they’ve since won four straight, including an important one versus fellow bubble team St. Bonaventure (45). Saint Louis is 2-1 in Q1 and Q2 games, its best win coming against LSU (28) in November, but also 3-2 in Q3 contests. This team has only played 14 games all season, so the canvas is just barely painted. The issue is, the season will end when it ends, regardless of how many games Saint Louis has finished. That means every upcoming game is that much more important as Saint Louis’s NET is that much more volatile. But opportunities at VCU (31) and Richmond (61) are on the horizon, and those are some big chances.
Richmond (A-10): 10-5, NET: 61, SOS: 101, vs. Q1: 2-2
The Spiders had a big opportunities at VCU (31) on Wednesday, but they failed to capitalize, 68-56. Now, Richmond is facing a daunting climb to the right side of the cutline, but it’s certainly not dead. Remaining dates at Saint Louis (32) and VCU at home remain before the A-10 Tournament, and a neutral win over Loyola Chicago (13) in December helps the Spiders hold a 4-3 combined record in Q1 and Q2 games. Other than that Ramblers win, though, Richmond is devoid of many substantive wins that will convince the committee its a tournament team and its NET is sub-60. There is plenty of work to be done, but Richmond is still on the bubble for now.
St. Bonaventure (A-10): 10-3, NET: 45, SOS: 46, vs. Q1: 1-2
The Bonnies dropped games at Saint Louis (32) and at VCU (31) in two of its most-recent three contests, missing out on major chances to bolster their at-large hopes. The only regular season games left on their schedule are Davidson (74) and Dayton (93), two teams not in contention for tournament bids and unlikely to move the needle much. Losses would hurt a good deal, though, with how few games St. Bonaventure has been able to play thus far. Both should be considered must-wins heading into the A-10 Tournament. This resume can’t handle much more blemishes, and one is guaranteed in the conference tournament if an at-large bid is on the table.
VCU (A-10): 16-4, NET: 31, SOS: 63, vs. Q1: 0-3
Its schedule has been spotted with postponements, but VCU has fought through and put itself in a pretty positive position for an at-large bid. Since losing at St. Bonaventure (45), 70-54, on Jan. 20, the Rams have won five in a row, including a victory in the rematch with the Bonnies, 67-64, and a triumph over arch rival Richmond (61), 68-56. While VCU is 0-3 in Q1 games, which is certainly holding this resume back, its 6-0 mark in Q2 contests and 16-1 record overall otherwise, plus an NET near 30, have it trending toward the safer end of the bubble. Still, the lack of a Q1 win means this resume can’t take much of a beating, and a loss to George Mason (157) on Saturday would be just that. Don’t let an anchor loss ruin your good work, Rams.
Louisville (ACC): 11-4, NET: 33, SOS: 45, vs. Q1: 0-3
The Cardinals haven’t played since Feb. 1, but they’re aiming to return Saturday at North Carolina (51) in a very important bubble showdown in the ACC. For Louisville, it presents an opportunity at a potential Q1 win (depending on how well North Carolina finishes out its season), something its resume is missing badly. The team is 0-3 in Q1 games, which is largely made up with a 7-0 mark in Q2 contests. But to go into Selection Sunday with a winless record in Q1 outings is risky. As of now, a top-40 NET, decent computer numbers and a healthy amount of secondary-type wins are enough for the Cardinals to be on the right side of the bubble, but that’s all very volatile with only 15 games played. If Louisville takes too long to shake the rust off, it could play itself out of the field.
North Carolina (ACC): 13-7, NET: 51, SOS: 54, vs. Q1: 1-6
This resume is starving for a high-level win. North Carolina is just 1-6 in Q1 games, and that one victory came at Duke (60), a team not contending for a tournament bid, earlier this month. A 5-1 mark in Q2 contests is why UNC is in the conversation, as well as no losses in Q3 or Q4 outings. But a 3-6 road record, sub-50 NET and only one win against a team currently in serious consideration for a tournament bid (Stanford (53) on a neutral floor), the Tar Heels need a lot more to feel remotely safe. A huge opportunity faces them Saturday as Louisville (33) is coming to Chapel Hill for its first game in weeks. The real prize for this team, though, comes in the next game when Florida State (16) comes to town. That’s UNC’s final shot at an elite-level win in the regular season, which is the gaping hole in this resume right now. We will know a lot more about North Carolina’s at-large hopes after its next two outings.
Connecticut (Big East): 10-5, NET: 52, SOS: 98, vs. Q1: 2-2
UConn was looking good. Then it lost four of five. Since, the Huskies have won two straight, including a victory at Xavier (49), 80-72, that the committee will appreciate (assuming the Musketeers don’t fall apart). James Bouknight is finally back after missing eight games, which is a massive relief for Storrs, and the committee will take his absence into account when evaluating this resume. Although things appear to be trending upward, the current reality for this resume is it’s right on the edge. A sub-50 NET isn’t great, and outside of the recent Xavier win and a victory over USC (14), 61-58, on a neutral court Dec. 3, UConn hasn’t beaten anybody of note. In all, it’s 2-2 in Q1 games and 3-5 when combined with Q2 contests. That’s not good enough to feel remotely safe, Bouknight or not. A huge opportunity at Villanova (12) looms for Saturday, which could alter the narrative entirely.
Seton Hall (Big East): 13-8, NET: 46, SOS: 37, vs. Q1: 3-6
Seton Hall has won four in a row to remain relative in the bubble conversation, including a win at UConn (52), 80-73. The run comes on the back of a three-game skid that tumbled the Pirates down to 9-8. An NET of 46 is nothing special but okay enough, though a losing streak would tank it. There’s no marquee win on this resume, which is its biggest issue. Seton Hall’s best win is at Penn State (40) right now, and while the Nittany Lions are better than their record and the committee will recognize that win as a notable one, if you’re in a major conference, you either have to do better than that or have a ton of Q2-level wins to make up for it. The Pirates only have three of those, and there’s no marquee win opportunities left in their regular season. But dates with fellow bubble teams UConn and at St. John’s (67) are on the horizon, and those could help ease the lack of a statement victory. Avoiding anchor losses goes without saying.
St. John’s (Big East): 14-8, NET: 67, SOS: 142, vs. Q1: 2-5
St. John’s was 7-7 on Jan. 16 following a 73-71 defeat to Marquette (100). Now, the Johnnies are 14-8 and coming off a 93-84 victory over Xavier (49), their fifth Q1 or Q2 triumph. when the Red Storm defeated Villanova (12) on Feb. 3, they entered the edge of the bubble conversation. With a sub-60 NET and 2-5 Q1 mark, plus two Q3 defeats and a loss at Georgetown (106), St. John’s is on the outside looking in. But the skeleton of an at-large resume is there. The hardest part – a marquee win – is done, though more is needed. St. John’s travels to Villanova next week, and a win there to complete the sweep would put this team right in the thick of things. But first, take care of business against DePaul (178) on Saturday. This resume can’t be adding a loss like that.
Xavier (Big East): 11-4, NET: 49, SOS: 48, vs. Q1: 1-2
Xavier only played one game between a 74-73 victory over Providence (82) on Jan. 10 and its loss to UConn (52), 80-72, on Feb. 13. After starting 8-0, the team is now 11-4 and trending down with two losses in a row, first to the Huskies, then next to St. John’s (67) this week. A victory over Oklahoma (17) on Dec. 9 is the best thing this resume has to offer, plus a trio of Q2 wins over the Red Storm, Toledo (71) and at Cincinnati (118). Its NET is volatile with how few games the team has played, and that’s been clear with its dip from the 30s to almost 50 following two Ls. A prolonged skid could tank this resume, especially with Butler (142) and at Providence coming up next. Do not lose these games, Xavier.
Indiana (Big Ten): 12-9, NET: 42, SOS: 59, vs. Q1: 2-8
Yes, in the Big Ten, you can be 12-9 and be on the bubble. You can even be on the right side of the bubble. Indiana is just 2-8 in Q1 games, but those Ws are about as good as they can get: a sweep of Iowa (5). A 6-0 mark versus Q2 competition fill the hole left by few Q1 triumphs, and a passable NET gives the Hoosiers a leg up on many other bubble teams. However, the committee has never given an at-large bid to a team that entered Selection Sunday fewer than two games above .500. An 82-72 victory over Minnesota (57) on Wednesday was huge, and so will every other W with Indiana’s current record. Even though beating Michigan State (91) on Saturday wouldn’t move the needle much on a quality win front, adding the cushion away from .500 would be huge, especially when the remaining regular season schedule only gets harder.
Maryland (Big Ten): 12-10, NET: 35, SOS: 8, vs. Q1: 4-10
Speaking of needing to stay comfortably above .500, here’s Maryland. The Terps have loaded up on losses, but every one of them has been in a Q1 contest. But still, 10 is a lot at this point of the season, no matter who they’re against. Maryland has picked up some seriously impressive wins thus far – namely at Illinois (4), at Wisconsin (22) and Purdue (27), plus a sweep of fellow bubble team Minnesota (57) – and the committee will love that two of those victories came away from home. Maryland has done the hard part. It has the marquee wins necessary to play in March. Now, it’s a matter of keeping that record safely above .500 so it remains eligible for selection. For how insane the Big Ten is this year, the remaining schedule is pretty easy. A date at Rutgers (29) is next, then the last three games are versus teams fighting to avoid the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The fate of the Terps is entirely in their own hands.
Minnesota (Big Ten): 13-9, NET: 57, SOS: 14, vs. Q1: 4-8
You know what the committee absolutely loves? Wins over NET top-10 teams. Minnesota has done that three times (Michigan (3), Iowa (5), Ohio State (6)). You know what the committee absolutely hates? A bad road record. Minnesota is 0-8 away from home, which is a little worse than merely bad. The reality for the Gophers at this point is this: win at Penn State (40) on March 3, or go very deep in the Big Ten Tournament to make up for not winning a single game outside of The Barn all season long. To get an at-large bid with an 0-9 road record would require some seriously impressive home Ws, which Minensota has. But I’m not convinced it would be enough without that road Penn State victory. However, toppling Illinois (5) at home on Saturday wouldn’t hurt, especially with how ugly the NET has become.
Western Kentucky (C-USA): 15-4, NET; 75, SOS: 117, vs. Q1: 2-2
The NET is brutal, but Western Kentucky did win at Alabama (7) in December, and the committee won’t forget about that. In Conference USA, you can’t have too many slip ups and still remain in at-large contention, and WKU has pretty much used all the available ones up at this point. The Hilltoppers are 4-2 in Q1 and Q2 games but 3-2 in Q3 ones, so picking up more anchor losses at all would likely take them off the bubble. But if they can run the table the rest of the regular season, then WKU might be in a position to lose in the final or semifinal CUSA Tournament and still get an at-large bid. It’s far from guaranteed, especially with an NET this bad, and I would recommend taking care of business in the conference tournament to be safe. But hey, there’s a chance, so here it is.
Drake (MVC): 19-2, NET: 34, SOS: 263, vs. Q1: 1-1
After starting the season 18-0 and dealing with a lengthy COVID-19 pause, Drake is right on the bubble. Its at-large hopes hinged entirely on whether or not it could take one of its back-to-back games against Loyola Chicago (13) last weekend, and in the second meeting, the Bulldogs got the W they needed in overtime, 51-50. Now, Drake can boast a Q1 win, and a top 15 on at that, to couple with a 4-0 mark in Q2 contests, a top-40 NET and 8-1 road record. There is very little room for error, though – any loss to a team on its remaining schedule (Evansville (240) and Bradley (174)) would likely hurt its NET severely. Drake doesn’t have to win the MVC Tournament to dance, but it definitely can’t lose to anyone more than twice before Selection Sunday.
Boise State (MWC): 16-4, NET: 37, SOS: 127, vs. Q1: 2-2
A road win at BYU (25) on Dec. 9 is the best thing Boise State has to offer, along with victories at Colorado State (47) and versus Utah State (55) and a top-40 NET. Its non-conference SOS is 2, but I don’t expect the committee to put much stock in that metric this season considering the Broncos played just four games outside of the MWC this campaign. Still, it doesn’t hurt, and this resume needs every little thing it can get. The Broncos are 3-4 in Q1 and Q2 games, which is not very inspiring, and have a bland resume, all in all. That can change before Selection Sunday, though, with a second game against Utah State coming on Friday, then two road dates at San Diego State (26) set for next week. Boise needs some wins in these games to continue its at-large push – going 0-3 is not an option.
San Diego State (MWC): 15-4, NET: 26, SOS: 50, vs. Q1: 0-3
The Aztecs haven’t lost to anyone outside of the NET top 60, and its NET and other computer numbers are pretty good. They’ve won seven in a row, a good response to dropping two at Utah State (55) in a row in mid-January. But none of that solves the issue of an 0-3 mark in Q1 games. It’s possible that the UCLA (39) win could become a Q1 victory if the Bruins get their act together, and if San Diego State continues its winning ways at Fresno State (208) and gets some Ws out of the Boise State (37) doubleheader, it might have enough to overcome zero Q1 wins. But right now, the team is 4-4 in Q1 and Q2 games combined – hardly enough to feel like you’re clear.
Utah State (MWC): 13-6, NET: 55, SOS: 165, vs. Q1: 2-3
The MWC bubble continues with Utah State. The Aggies have a home sweep of San Diego State (26) to their name, plus a home victory over Colorado State (47), but that’s literally it. Their next-best win is at UNLV (172) in a doubleheader that it split with the Rebels, they’re 2-2 in Q3 games, their NET is sub-50, the SOS numbers aren’t great, and they haven’t beat anyone of consequence away from home. After losing at Boise State (37), 79-70, on Thursday, the second half of the doubleheader is the team’s last shot at a Q1 or Q2 win in the regular season. Maybe a sweep of Nevada (105) and a run to the MWC Tournament Final with a win over one of the other bubble teams along the way would be enough for an at-large, but I’m not convinced. Chalk this second Boise State game up as a must-win for the Aggies.
Colorado State (MWC): 13-4, NET: 47, SOS: 39, vs. Q1: 2-3
Colorado State is won at San Diego State (26) and at Utah State (55), plus added a home win versus Boise State (37) to its resume Jan. 27. The Rams are 5-3 on the road, have a 3-4 combined Q1 and Q2 record, are a perfect 10-0 in Q3 and Q4 games, and have a solid SOS. The NET is currently top 50, but just one loss could change that, and no bubble team can truly feel safe outside of the NET top 50 without a plethora of Q1 wins, which CSU does not have. At this point, the Rams haven’t played since Feb. 6, which is concerning for a multitude of reasons. No remaining regular season games are against anyone of note, which means only anchor losses are possible. Those must be avoided.
Oregon (Pac-12): 13-4, NET: 43, SOS: 167, vs. Q1: 3-2
Stanford (Pac-12): 14-8, NET: 53, SOS: 58, vs. Q1: 3-5
UCLA (Pac-12): 15-5, NET: 39, SOS: 108, vs. Q1: 2-3
Is it harsh to have UCLA on the bubble? Maybe. But then again, the Bruins haven’t won a Q1 game since their victory at Arizona (54) on Jan. 9 and recently dropped a game at Washington State (101). The NET is good, though volatile, and a win versus Colorado (21) is solid. UCLA hasn’t beaten anyone in the NET top 50 otherwise, though, and really doesn’t have many wins to brag about. That said, the Bruins are certainly in right now and not especially close to the cutline, in part because of an 11-0 mark in Q3 and Q4 games. But that could change if it doesn’t take care of business versus Arizona State (120) and at Utah (96) in its next two games, both prime opportunities at dropping games a bubble team shouldn’t at this stage of the season.
Ole Miss (SEC): 12-8, NET: 56, SOS: 71, vs. Q1: 2-4
Before its currently four-game winning streak, Ole Miss wasn’t anywhere near the bubble. Now, though, it has victories over Tennessee (11) and Missouri (44), bringing it to 6-7 in Q1 and Q2 contests with a definitive marquee win. The NET isn’t going to be the reason this team is included, and a home loss to Georgia (89) isn’t great, either. As a 12-8 team, Ole Miss also can’t afford too many more losses, no matter who they’re against. But the Rebels have put themselves in the conversation with their recent efforts, and a path to a bid is there. Getting a sweep with a road win at Missouri next week would sure be a nice step in that direction.
SMU (AAC): 11-4, NET: 59, SOS: 136, vs. Q1: 0-3
Memphis (AAC): 12-6, NET: 63, SOS: 114, vs. Q1: 0-2
Syracuse (ACC): 12-6, NET: 50, SOS: 123, vs. Q1: 0-4
Georgia Tech (ACC): 10-8, NET: 62, SOS: 51, vs. Q1: 1-6
Duke (ACC): 9-8, NET: 60, SOS: 103, vs. Q1: 1-3
Providence (Big East): 11-11, NET: 82, SOS: 70, vs. Q1: 2-6
Winthrop (Big South): 19-1, NET: 70, SOS: 269, vs. Q1: 0-0