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Selection Sunday s about a month away. That means its time to start the Bubble Watch 2021 series, explaining where each team stands relative to the cutline.

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: locksshould be inover the bubbleon 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 March 5, 2021:

LOCKS

Houston (AAC): 19-3, NET: 5, SOS: 76, vs. Q1: 2-1

Virginia (ACC): 16-6, NET: 21, SOS: 65, vs. Q1: 3-4

Florida State (ACC): 15-4, NET: 13, SOS: 77, vs. Q1: 3-3

Clemson (ACC): 15-6, NET: 36, SOS: 9, vs. Q1: 3-6

Baylor (Big 12): 20-1, NET: 2, SOS: 142, vs. Q1: 7-1

Oklahoma (Big 12): 14-9, NET: 33, SOS: 39, vs. Q1: 5-8

West Virginia (Big 12): 18-7, NET: 17, SOS: 4, vs. Q1: 6-6

Kansas (Big 12): 18-8, NET: 15, SOS: 23, vs. Q1: 6-8

Texas (Big 12): 16-7, NET: 24, SOS: 10, vs. Q1: 6-6

Texas Tech (Big 12): 17-8, NET: 12, SOS: 56, vs. Q1: 4-8

Oklahoma State (Big 12): 17-7, NET: 30, SOS: 19, vs. Q1: 7-5

Villanova (Big East): 16-4, NET: 10, SOS: 59, vs. Q1: 3-3

Creighton (Big East): 17-7, NET: 26, SOS: 106, vs. Q1: 4-3

Michigan (Big Ten): 19-2, NET: 3, SOS: 31, vs. Q1: 7-1

Ohio State (Big Ten): 18-7, NET: 8, SOS: 32, vs. Q1: 7-5

Illinois (Big Ten): 19-6, NET: 4, SOS: 64, vs. Q1: 8-5

Iowa (Big Ten): 19-7, NET: 6, SOS: 97, vs. Q1: 6-5

Wisconsin (Big Ten): 16-10, NET: 25, SOS: 78, vs. Q1: 4-8

Purdue (Big Ten): 17-8, NET: 22, SOS: 48, vs. Q1: 6-6

San Diego State (MWC): 19-4, NET: 20, SOS: 33, vs. Q1: 0-3

Alabama (SEC): 20-6, NET: 7, SOS: 16, vs. Q1: 7-4

Tennessee (SEC): 16-7, NET: 23, SOS: 131, vs. Q1: 5-5

Arkansas (SEC): 20-5, NET: 11, SOS: 43, vs. Q1: 6-4

Missouri (SEC): 15-7, NET: 39, SOS: 6, vs. Q1: 7-4

Florida (SEC): 13-7, NET: 27, SOS: 60, vs. Q1: 5-3

USC (Pac-12): 20-6, NET: 16, SOS: 37, vs. Q1: 3-3

Colorado (Pac-12): 20-7, NET: 14, SOS: 68, vs. Q1: 3-4

Oregon (Pac-12): 18-5, NET: 34, SOS: 108, vs. Q1: 3-3

Gonzaga (WCC): 24-0, NET: 1, SOS: 82, vs. Q1: 7-0

BYU (WCC): 18-5, NET: 19, SOS: 11, vs. Q1: 3-3

SHOULD BE IN

Virginia Tech (ACC): 15-5, NET: 46, SOS: 149, vs. Q1: 2-2

COVID-19 contact tracing struck Virginia Tech this week, and it led to the cancellation of its contests against Louisville (50) and at North Carolina State (64). That means it’s just the ACC Tournament remaining, assuming the Hokies can play in it, before Selection Sunday. This resume is certainly in the tournament right now, and with only one more possible loss left, it should be in even if VT falls in its ACC Tournament opener. Still, I’m practicing some caution in case things go haywire. WINS TO LOCK: 1

Loyola Chicago (MVC): 19-4, NET: 18, SOS: 168, vs. Q1: 1-2

After taking care of business to close out the regular season like it should, Loyola is in a good position to dance with or without an MVC Tournament title. The only way it doesn’t happen is if the Ramblers get blown out in their first conference tournament game by a terrible team, and a combination of bid stealers and other bubble teams winning squeezes them out. That isn’t likely, but it is possible, hence why I have Loyola in this category. But with one win, it should be lockdom. WINS TO LOCK: 1

LSU (SEC): 15-8, NET: 28, SOS: 12, vs. Q1: 3-7

LSU bounced back from two-straight losses by beating up on Vanderbilt (106), 83-68. It’s a win that doesn’t do much for the resume, but it avoided an anchor loss that would have been pretty harmful. As such, the Tigers are looking likely to dance, but if they can find a win at Missouri (39) in their final regular season game, it will be guaranteed. Even with a loss, this probably wouldn’t be a bubble resume. It would now take losing out for LSU to sweat on Selection Sunday. WINS TO LOCK: 1

OVER THE BUBBLE

VCU (A-10): 17-6, NET: 35, SOS: 27, vs. Q1: 2-4

The Rams lost at Davidson (72), 65-57, last Saturday, and it didn’t help the resume. But St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Utah State all experiencing nice NET jumps did help the resume. As such, VCU is over the bubble and in a decent position to dance. The Rams have Dayton (80) in their first game of the A-10 Tournament, and a win would add a seventh Q2 win to their resume, while a loss would be their first Q2 defeat. VCU might be able to get in without a win in that game, but it would certainly knock it down to the bubble. It would be best to get the W and ensure a semifinals appearance that would likely be against Davidson again. If VCU gets to the conference tournament final, it will absolutely be in, no questions asked. WINS TO LOCK: 1/2

Rutgers (Big Ten): 13-10, NET: 37, SOS: 29, vs. Q1: 4-8

Rutgers went and did something really stupid: lost at Nebraska (127) by 21 points. That is a terrible thing to do if you’re trying to secure a tournament bid in March. But the Scarlet Knights remain in the field and in decent position to get in because of wins over Illinois (4), Purdue (22), at Maryland (31) and more. But the NET is edging closer to sub-40, and the overall record is now just three games above .500. Rutgers finishes the regular season at Minnesota (77), which has been struggling mightily for weeks. Is that game a must win? I’m not sure, because the Big Ten Tournament exists, but it’s about as close to that as possible. Rutgers needs to win at least one more game at some point to get into the field, and if it isn’t against the Gophers, it’ll have to come in the conference tournament. Still, I’m not sold just one win would be enough for absolute safety. WINS TO LOCK: 1/2

Maryland (Big Ten): 14-11, NET: 31, SOS: 13, vs. Q1: 4-9

Maryland picked up an important win against Michigan State (74) before losing at Northwestern (86) to end its five-game winning streak that has taken it from below-.500 to over the bubble. The loss to the Wildcats is just a Q2 defeat – not the end of the world – but it means Maryland needs to find at least one more win elsewhere to feel like its ticket is punched. Penn State (49) comes to College Park on Sunday, and a win in that game would have a good shot of locking up a March Madness bid. A loss, though, would mean work would have to be done in the Big Ten Tournament. Two losses, and it’s the NIT for UMD. WINS TO LOCK: 1

ON THE BUBBLE

Wichita State (AAC): 12-4, NET: 63, SOS: 24, vs. Q1: 2-3

Games have been tough to come by for the Shockers, but they finally played one this week! Wichita State won at Tulane (168), 78-70, which doesn’t help but at least doesn’t hurt. Just a home date with South Florida (206) is left on the regular season schedule, and that also won’t do a whole lot, unless WSU loses, which would seriously tank this resume. That game is a must win, and it’s also imperative the Shockers make a good run in the AAC Tournament. The only teams Wichita State can beat in the AAC that will help its resume are Houston (5), Memphis (55) and SMU (54), and it will probably only see one of those before the tournament final. That means the Shockers need to win out until at least the AAC Final to have any serious at-large hopes, which sounds crazy but isn’t that outlandish. But it makes every game very, very important. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 3/4

St. Bonaventure (A-10): 13-4, NET: 29, SOS: 55, vs. Q1: 2-2

The numbers I’m using don’t reflect it, but I’m writing this late enough in the day to know that the Bonnies took care of business against Duquesne (129) in their first A-10 Tournament game, which was a must-win game. Now, St. Bonaventure has Saint Louis (40) in the semifinals, and a win in that game would take it off the bubble. Right now, this resume has a very good NET, solid SOS numbers, and a positive road record, but other than a home win over VCU (35), St. Bonaventure hasn’t beaten any team in tournament contention. The Bonnies won’t necessarily be out with a loss to SLU, but without that many good wins to hang their hat on, I don’t think they can feel like they’re not on the bubble in the event of an L. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1

Saint Louis (A-10): 13-5, NET: 40, SOS: 221, vs. Q1: 2-1

Saint Louis also won its first game of the A-10 Tournament, defeating UMass (109), 86-72, and keeping its at-large hops alive. Right now, the Billikens are right on the edge, and they have to beat St. Bonaventure (29) in the semifinals to feel remotely safe. A loss would leave them without any more games more than a week until Selection Sunday, opening the door for bid stealers and other bubble teams to squeeze them out. So, the point is, the SBU game is an absolute must-have for SLU. Even with that victory, though, I’m not sure Saint Louis would be off the bubble, though it would certainly be on the right side of the cutline for at least the time being. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1/2

Louisville (ACC): 13-5, NET: 50, SOS: 52, vs. Q1: 1-4

The Cardinals got rocked in their first game back from a long COVID-19 layoff, but they’ve won two in a row since, first dispatching Notre Dame (88), then handling Duke (58) on the road in an important bubble showdown. Now, Louisville is 1-4 in Q1 contests and 6-0 in Q2 games, combining for a 7-4 record in both quadrants. Its NET is meh, its SOS numbers are okay, and it only has one anchor loss (at Miami (165) on Jan. 16). It’s the lack of a marquee win that is keeping this resume on the bubble, but that can change if the Cardinals win a W when Virginia (21) comes to town Sunday. A win in that game would solve Louisville’s bubble problems. A loss would mean work has to be done in the ACC Tournament. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1

North Carolina (ACC): 15-9, NET: 44, SOS: 35, vs. Q1: 2-8

UNC got the marquee win it needed by topping Florida State (13) last Saturday, but then it lost at Syracuse (51) in the next game. Now, the Tar Heels are 2-8 in Q1 games and a 3-7 road record. Those aren’t great. Still, North Carolina is on the right side of the bubble at the moment with a 6-0 Q2 mark, top-50 NET and top-40 SOS. A home date with Duke (58) is super important for both teams, and while it might not be a must-win for UNC, it’s about as close as it can get. Another Q2 win would be win, plus it would mean the Tar Heels would need less in the ACC Tournament for safety. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1/2

Duke (ACC): 11-10, NET: 58, SOS: 62, vs. Q1: 2-4

Duke is holding onto its spot in this category by a thread after losing two in a row to Louisville (50) and Georgia Tech (38). Both defeats were in OT, but the committee doesn’t really care about that – an L is an L. No team has ever been awarded an at-large bid without being at least two games above .500, so that has to be the first mark Duke aims to hit. Winning at North Carolina (44) this weekend would do that temporarily, with at least one win in the ACC Tournament securing it. But that doesn’t mean it would be enough. The Blue Devils are a combined 6-8 in Q1 and Q2 contests, but just 2-2 in Q3 games. Their NET is hovering near 60, and their SOS numbers aren’t reason for them to be included. It’s going to take more than a win in Chapel Hill for Duke to dance, but it has to start there. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 3/4

Georgia Tech (ACC): 14-8, NET: 38, SOS: 50, vs. Q1: 2-6

Georgia Tech has now won five in a row, most recently outlasting Duke (58) in overtime. It also added Ws over Syracuse (51) and at Virginia Tech (46) in this stretch, and now the team looks like it’s in good position to dance. But it’s not secured yet. GT is just 2-6 in Q1 games, and it has two anchor losses to Mercer (136) and Georgia State (138) bogging it down. On the plus side, the Yellow Jackets are now in the NET top 40, it’s a perfect 6-0 in Q2 contests, and it will have a good enough overall record to earn at-large consideration. They close the regular season at Wake Forest (180), and a win in that game would take them off the bubble. A loss wouldn’t necessarily spell doom, but it would knock them closer to the cutline and make the ACC Tournament more dire for victories than otherwise. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1

Syracuse (ACC): 15-8, NET: 51, SOS: 71, vs. Q1: 1-6

Finally, Syracuse is on the bubble! It wouldn’t be a college basketball season without the Orange balancing around the cutline in March. Syracuse moves up to this category after winning over North Carolina (44) and Clemson (36) in the span of three days, but it’s still on the wrong side of the bubble. This resume is just 1-6 in Q1 games, and that one win is a road one at North Carolina (64), which would need a miracle of its own to dance. Needless to say, that is not good. Neither is a 2-7 road mark. There are no more regular season games left for Syracuse, so that road record won’t be changing. That means the Orange need to do some real damage in the ACC Tournament, and the amount of wins necessary to get off the bubble will be affected by the matchups the bracket provides. But no matter who Syracuse faces, it will need multiple wins to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 2/3

Connecticut (Big East): 13-6, NET: 32, SOS: 89, vs. Q1: 3-3

UConn has won three in a row, most recently winning at Seton Hall (57), 69-58, on Wednesday. The Huskies are 3-3 in Q1 games and 3-3 in Q2 contests, with victories over USC (16) on a neutral floor, at Xavier (53) and the triumph over the Pirates as their Q1 Ws. Is this enough for UConn to be off the bubble? Not for me, although it’s moving in the right direction, especially with that top-35 NET. Connecticut ends the regular season versus Georgetown (91), and a win there would probably move it up a category. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1

Seton Hall (Big East): 13-11, NET: 57, SOS: 36, vs. Q1: 3-6

The Pirates have dropped three in a row, a terrible thing to do at this time of year. Their NET is now itching closer to 60, they’re just 6-10 in Q1 and Q2 contests, and the overall record is only two games above .500, meaning there is really no room for further error. Seton Hall ends its regular season at St. John’s (69) and absolutely cannot lose that game. At this point, it’s going to take much more than beating the Johnnies to get off the bubble, but it would at least be a start. Without that W, it might take a Big East Tournament victory for Seton Hall to dance, or at least a trip to the final. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 3/4

Xavier (Big East): 13-6, NET: 53, SOS: 67, vs. Q1: 1-2

After beating Creighton (26), Xavier decided to follow that up by losing at Georgetown (91), thus undoing some of the good it did in the previous game. Well done. Now, the Musketeers have a road date at Marquette (90) left, and they have to win or be left with a sizable task in the Big East Tournament. This resume doesn’t have a lot of meat to it, with only two wins over teams in the at-large bid mix (Creighton and Oklahoma (33) in December), and it’s 2-4 on the road. Beating the Golden Eagles would really help that road record, plus probably bring Xavier’s NET to about 50, and every spot counts. Still, Xavier will need something in the Big East Tournament to get off the bubble regardless. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 2/3

Michigan State (Big Ten): 14-11, NET: 74, SOS: 103, vs. Q1: 4-9

Michigan State played three games in the last week, going 1-2 with losses at Maryland (31) and at Michigan (3) and a victory versus Indiana (60). It has the team in basically the same place it was before: right on the edge. The Spartans finish their regular season by welcoming Michigan to East Lansing for the second half of their home-and-home, and it’s probably a must win. It’s either that or go super deep in the Big Ten Tournament, which would be required to get off the bubble anyway. The NET is so bad that MSU needs tons of elite-level wins to make up for it, and without beating Michigan, I’m not sure those will come. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 2/3

Drake (MVC): 22-3, NET: 42, SOS: 267, vs. Q1: 1-1

Drake is in the midst of the MVC Tournament, and it cannot afford to lose before the MVC Final. In fact, even if it makes it to the tournament final and loses, it might not be enough to get an at-large if it doesn’t lose to Loyola. It’s really that simple for the Bulldogs, and it begins by taking care of Northern Iowa (188) in their first game of the tournament. There is no way for Drake to get off the bubble without earning the auto bid. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 3

Boise State (MWC): 17-7, NET: 45, SOS: 45, vs. Q1: 2-4

Ah, Boise. First, you lose both games at San Diego State (20) in two massive opportunities to help your resume. Then, you fall at home to Fresno State (187) for your first Q4 loss of the campaign. Absolutely not what you want at this point in the season if you’re a bubble team. So, the Broncos now face the MWC Tournament with no wins over the league’s best team and a 4-6 combined Q1 and Q2 record, plus a 4-6 road mark. Boise State now must get to the MWC Tournament Final while beating one of the other MWC bubble teams or the Aztecs in the process in order to potentially get off the bubble, and at that point, it might as well win the whole thing and lock it up. Best case, Boise State barely gets in. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 2/3

Utah State (MWC): 16-7, NET: 48, SOS: 92, vs. Q1: 2-4

After dropping two in a row at Boise State (45), Utah State has taken care of business in three-straight outings, most recently downing Wyoming (185), 72-59, on Thursday. The Aggies still have plenty of work to do with just three Q1 and Q2 victories and two Q3 losses on their resume, but the foundation is still there for them to play themselves in. USU has to win at Fresno State (187) in its final regular season game, then do some damage in the MWC Tournament by beating at least one of the other fellow bubble teams or San Diego State (20). But the dream is alive, albeit not by a ton. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 2/3

Colorado State (MWC): 16-4, NET: 41, SOS: 136, vs. Q1: 2-3

Colorado State has won five games in a row, three of which has been since returning from a long COVID-19 pause. The Rams defeated New Mexico (303), 87-73, on Wednesday in a game that would have ruined this resume if it had gone the other way. A date at Nevada (105) is all that’s left in the regular season, and a win would give CSU its second Q2 win of the season and fourth Q1 or Q2 W, which would make a difference. Colorado State cannot afford to lose to anyone but the MWC bubble teams or San Diego State (20) the rest of the way if it wants to get off the bubble, and that might not be enough or there aren’t solid wins on the horizon, too. But to just get in? The Rams could do that by beating the Wolfpack and avoiding a bad loss in the MWC Tournament. That would be awfully risky, though. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 2

UCLA (Pac-12): 17-7, NET: 43, SIS: 95, vs. Q1: 2-5

After losing two games in a row at Colorado (14) and at Oregon (34), UCLA has dropped a category. The Bruins have a buffer between them and the cutline, but with a 2-5 Q1 record, a sub-40 NET, and just one win over teams that will be in the tournament, there is no way they can feel safe right now. UCLA welcomes USC (16) to Westwood to close the regular season, and a win would take it off the bubble and maybe even into lockdom. But a loss would leave the Bruins languishing on the bubble and force them to do something in the Pac-12 Tournament. They’ll have a bye to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, and the bracket will affect how much wins in the event would help. But right now, the focus should be on knocking off the Trojans. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 1

Ole Miss (SEC): 14-10, NET: 56, SOS: 84, vs. Q1: 3-4

Ole Miss beat Kentucky (66) at home Tuesday, following up an unhelpful loss at Vanderbilt (106) last weekend. The Rebels are still on the bubble, though not by much. They are 8-8 in Q1 and Q2 contests combined with victories over Tennessee (23) and Missouri (39) home and away, but they’ve also lost two Q3 games and their computer numbers aren’t a reason for inclusion. Ole Miss finishes its regular season with the Commodores coming to Oxford, and that is a must-win game for the home team. After that, Ole Miss will need to make some noise in the SEC Tournament to get on the right side of the bubble. WINS TO OFF THE BUBBLE: 3/4

BUBBLE BURSTING

SMU (AAC): 11-4, NET: 54, SOS: 96, vs. Q1: 0-3

Memphis (AAC): 15-6, NET: 55, SOS: 141, vs. Q1: 0-2

North Carolina State (ACC): 13-9, NET: 64, SOS: 150, vs. Q1: 1-6

St. John’s (Big East): 15-10, NET: 69, SOS: 133, vs. Q1: 2-6

Winthrop (Big South): 22-1, NET: 61, SOS: 277, vs. Q1: 0-0

Indiana (Big Ten): 12-13, NET: 60, SOS: 40, vs. Q1: 2-10

Minnesota (Big Ten): 13-13, NET: 77, SOS: 34, vs. Q1: 4-10

Western Kentucky (C-USA): 17-5, NET: 79, SOS: 145, vs. Q1: 1-3

Stanford (Pac-12): 14-12, NET: 70, SOS: 44, vs. Q1: 4-6

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