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Bubble watch: Whose spots did Georgetown, Oregon State just steal?

Jeff Eisenberg
·12 min read
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They're even more anxious in Syracuse, Boise, Wichita and all the other bubble outposts around the nation.

Two bubble teams who were in the NCAA tournament bracket Saturday morning now no longer have a spot.

Georgetown and Oregon State, projected last in their respective leagues before the season, both qualified for the NCAA tournament and wrested bids away from bubble teams. The Hoyas clobbered Creighton on Saturday evening to capture the Big East tournament. Hours later, Oregon State waylaid Colorado to claim the Pac-12 tournament championship.

Those outcomes were nightmare scenarios for bubble teams vying for one of the last at-large spots in the NCAA tournament field. Neither the Hoyas nor Beavers would have made the field of 68 had they lost in their conference tournaments, but by claiming their leagues' automatic bids, they pushed the team they defeated into the at-large pool and shrunk the number of available spots by one.

Even worse for bubble teams, there's still one more bid thief lurking. Cincinnati can doom another projected at-large team to the NIT if it upsets heavily favored Houston in Sunday's American Athletic Conference title game.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 13: Dante Harris #2 of the Georgetown Hoyas celebrates after he is awarded the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Championship Tournament after the Big East Championship game against the Creighton Bluejays at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2021 in New York City.The Georgetown Hoyas defeated the Creighton Bluejays 73-48 to win the title. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 13: Dante Harris #2 of the Georgetown Hoyas celebrates after he is awarded the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Championship Tournament after the Big East Championship game against the Creighton Bluejays at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2021 in New York City.The Georgetown Hoyas defeated the Creighton Bluejays 73-48 to win the title. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Which bubble teams lost their spots to Georgetown and Oregon State on Saturday night? And whose bid rests on Houston's ability to stave off an upset on Sunday afternoon? Here's a look at our projection of which bubble teams just got squeezed out:

LAST FOUR BYES

MARYLAND (16-13, 9-11 Big Ten, NET: 34, KenPom: 31)

  • Q1 record: 5-10

  • Q2 record: 3-3

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 0

  • Next game: Done

Maryland's victory over Michigan State in its opening Big Ten tournament game should be enough to allow the Terrapins to sleep well leading up to Selection Sunday. They have the feel of a 10 or 11 seed that avoids the First Four. While Maryland's record is an eyesore, 21 of its 29 games came against the top two quadrants. Maryland also boasts a sweep of Michigan State and big-time wins away from home over Illinois and Wisconsin.

MICHIGAN STATE (15-12, 9-11 Big Ten, NET: 70, KenPom: 56)

  • Q1 record: 5-11

  • Q2 record: 4-1

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 0

  • Next game: Done

Michigan State should be able to survive a disappointing early loss to Maryland at the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans had already built their resume with a late-season surge that included massive victories over Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois. While Michigan State is only 15-12 overall and No. 70 in the NET, no other bubble team can match the Spartans' collection of elite wins. That should be enough to extend the Spartans' streak of NCAA tournament appearances, albeit likely as a double-digit seed.

VCU (19-7, 10-4 A-10, NET: 35, KenPom: 43)

  • Q1 record: 2-5

  • Q2 record: 7-0

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Rhode Island, George Mason)

  • Next game: vs. St. Bonaventure, Sunday

The Atlantic 10 title game doesn’t appear to have been must-win for either VCU or St. Bonaventure. Both were likely playing to improve their NCAA tournament seeding, not simply to make the field. Of the two there was probably slightly more pressure on the Rams to win. While their 9-5 record in the top two quadrants is unassailable and includes non-league wins over Memphis and Utah State, they do have a dismal home loss to George Mason weighing down their profile.

LOUISVILLE (13-7, 8-5 ACC, NET: 56, KenPom: 54)

  • Q1 record: 1-6

  • Q2 record: 6-0

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Miami)

  • Next game: Done

Louisville played like it was safely in the NCAA tournament field Wednesday during a listless loss to Duke. Now the Cardinals get to find out if they were right. A 5-1 record against fellow bubble teams Duke, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall and Western Kentucky will help Louisville, but those are the best teams the Cardinals beat. Is that enough? Probably. But is Louisville in jeopardy of sliding to the First Four? Yes.

LAST FOUR IN

UCLA (17-9, 13-6 Pac-12, NET: 46, KenPom: 46)

  • Q1 record: 2-6

  • Q2 record: 3-2

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Oregon State)

  • Next game: Done

UCLA has been a projected NCAA tournament team for months, but the Bruins are begging the committee to take a closer look at a flimsy resume. They dropped their final four games culminating with Thursday's collapse against Oregon State in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. Give UCLA credit for avoiding bad losses this season, but the Bruins don't have many eye-catching wins either. Colorado is the only NCAA tournament-bound team the Bruins have beaten. They also swept Arizona, which is ineligible for March Madness this season.

DRAKE (25-4, 15-3 Valley, NET: 43, KenPom: 53)

  • Q1 record: 1-2

  • Q2 record: 5-0

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Valparaiso, Bradley)

  • Next game: Done

Of all the teams on the bubble, Drake may be the toughest for the committee to evaluate. All three of Drake’s Quadrant 1 opportunities this season came against a formidable Loyola (Chicago) team. The Bulldogs lost twice by double figures and won once by a single point in overtime. The next best team Drake beat is 92nd in the NCAA’s NET rankings, however, three of the Bulldogs’ four losses came without leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill, who could return from injury for the NCAA tournament.

SYRACUSE (16-9, 9-7 ACC, NET: 40, KenPom: 41)

  • Q1 record: 1-7

  • Q2 record: 5-1

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Pittsburgh)

  • Next game: Done

At the end of a college basketball season that has mostly defied prediction, it’s comforting to see that one outcome never changes. As usual, Syracuse finds itself right on the bubble. Reece Beekman hit a 3-pointer as time expired in Thursday's ACC quarterfinal to help Virginia advance and keep the Orange's fate in doubt. A Syracuse victory would have addressed the glaring weak spot in the Orange’s profile — a 1-7 record in Quadrant 1 games. Before late-season wins over North Carolina and Clemson, Virginia Tech was the lone NCAA tournament contender the Orange had beaten.

UTAH STATE (20-8, 15-4 MWC, NET: 37, KenPom: 38)

  • Q1 record: 3-5

  • Q2 record: 1-1

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (UNLV, South Dakota State)

  • Next game: vs. San Diego State, Saturday

Last year, San Diego State defeated Utah State twice in the regular season, only to lose in the Mountain West title game. A year later, the Aztecs returned the favor, putting the shackles on an Aggies team that had beaten them twice during the regular season. The missed opportunity to seal an NCAA bid could prove costly for Utah State, but the guess here is the Aggies did enough to at least reach the First Four. They backed up a second-place finish in the regular season by also reaching the Mountain West title game, proving they're a top-two team in a league that merits multiple bids.

FIRST FOUR OUT

WICHITA STATE (16-5, 11-2 American, NET: 62, KenPom: 72)

  • Q1 record: 2-3

  • Q2 record: 2-1

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Cincinnati)

  • Next game: Done

When Alterique Gilbert's potential game-winning 3-pointer caromed off the rim, it didn't just end Wichita State's hopes of winning the American Athletic Conference tournament. It also ensured the Shockers will have a nervous 24 hours until the unveiling of the bracket. For a team that won the American's regular season title, Wichita State’s résumé is pretty thin. In non-league play, the Shockers only notched one notable win, a road victory at fellow bubble team Ole Miss. Wichita State also only played three games against its league’s upper-echelon teams, splitting two matchups with Houston, dropping a lone meeting with Memphis and missing SMU altogether.

SAINT LOUIS (14-6, 6-4 A-10, NET: 45, KenPom: 47)

  • Q1 record: 2-3

  • Q2 record: 2-1

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Dayton, La Salle)

  • Next game: Done

For Saint Louis to make a strong case for an NCAA bid, it needs the selection committee to consider the context of its two worst losses. The COVID-stricken Billikens hadn’t played in a month and had scarcely practiced when they lost at home against Dayton and then on the road at lowly La Salle. Remove those losses, and the rest of Saint Louis’ résumé is NCAA tournament-caliber. Wins over LSU and St. Bonaventure are the two highlights.

COLORADO STATE (18-6, 14-4 MWC, NET: 51, KenPom: 63)

  • Q1 record: 2-4

  • Q2 record: 1-2

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 0

  • Next game: vs. Utah State, Friday

If Colorado State misses the NCAA tournament, the Rams will look back at Friday night's Mountain West semifinal loss to Utah State as a squandered opportunity. In a matchup of Mountain West bubble teams, the Rams managed just 50 points and fell apart in the second half. That wasn't the ideal final impression to leave for a team whose margin for error was razor thin. Colorado State’s entire resume is splitting with San Diego State, Boise State and Utah State in the regular season and suffering no Quadrant 3 or 4 losses.

OLE MISS (16-11, 10-8 SEC, NET: 53, KenPom: 48)

  • Q1 record: 3-5

  • Q2 record: 4-4

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Vanderbilt, Georgia)

  • Next game: vs. LSU, Friday

Once 3-6 in the SEC and seemingly going nowhere, Ole Miss played itself onto the bubble by winning eight of its final 11 games. The Rebels edged Tennessee and Auburn during that hot streak and swept a pair from Missouri. Ole Miss had a big opportunity to boost its resume in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday night, but the Rebels lost a back-and-forth battle to NCAA tournament-bound LSU. That 76-73 loss dooms Ole Miss to a long 48-hour wait to find out if it did enough during its late-season surge to make the field of 68.

NEXT FOUR OUT

BOISE STATE (18-8, 14-6 MWC, NET: 50, KenPom: 14-6)

  • Q1 record 2-4

  • Q2 record: 2-3

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Fresno State)

  • Next game: Done

Of the Mountain West’s three bubble teams, Boise State once appeared to be the safest. The Broncos had the best non-conference win, an upset of BYU in Provo in early December. Boise State had also won three of four head-to-head against Utah State and Colorado State. The Broncos’ undoing could be a regular season-ending three-game losing streak that included a damaging Quadrant 4 home loss to Fresno State. There was pressure on them to atone by at least beating Nevada on Thursday in a Mountain West quarterfinal, but they stumbled once more and perhaps doomed themselves to the NIT

DUKE (13-11, 9-9 ACC, NET: 50, KenPom: 34)

  • Q1 record: 2-5

  • Q2 record: 5-4

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Miami, Notre Dame)

  • Next game: vs. Florida State, Thursday

An ill-timed positive COVID test ends Duke’s hopes of preserving its streak of 24 NCAA tournament appearances. The Blue Devils probably needed to reach the ACC title game to have realistic hope of an at-large bid. Duke achieved little of note in non-league play and then went 9-9 in an ACC loaded with good teams but lacking its usual array of great ones. While Duke boasts a marquee win over Virginia and victories over potential NCAA tournament teams Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Syracuse, the Blue Devils are still a pedestrian 7-9 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games. They also have Quadrant 3 losses to Miami and Notre Dame dragging them down.

XAVIER (13-8, 6-7 Big East, NET: 60, KenPom: 61)

  • Q1 record: 1-3

  • Q2 record: 5-4

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Butler)

  • Next game: vs. Done

Xavier had already used whatever margin for error it had with back-to-back losses to Marquette and Georgetown to end the regular season. As a result, blowing a 14-point lead against Butler in the first round of the Big East tournament could be a death blow for the Musketeers. The second-half collapse adds a Quad 3 loss to an already shaky resume. How on earth did Xavier not face Villanova, split with Creighton and still lose 8 of 14 games against Big East foes?

MEMPHIS (16-8, 11-4 American, NET: 52, KenPom: 40)

  • Q1 record: 0-4

  • Q2 record: 4-3

  • Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Tulsa)

  • Next game: Done

Twice in the past week, Memphis has battled top-10 Houston to the final buzzer. Twice the Tigers have come up just short of a season-changing upset. Last Sunday, it was a tie-breaking 45 footer at the buzzer that beat Memphis. In Saturday's American Athletic Conference semifinals, the Tigers missed 12 free throws and lost a back-and-forth game by two. Had Memphis won that game, it might be projected to make the NCAA tournament right now. The Tigers instead enter Selection Sunday without a single Quadrant 1 victory, a stat that is likely to relegate Penny Hardaway's program to the NIT.

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