This is the final Bauer’s Bubble Watch of the season. It’s bittersweet, isn’t it? It feels like just yesterday that we began monitoring our bubbly buddies and hypothesizing their NCAA Tournament odds. But the big payoff is finally just around the corner. Selection Sunday—the great day of judgment—is tomorrow. All of our obsessing over the greatest sports phenomenon in the world will finally come to fruition with the reveal of the 68-team bracket. It’s like a second Christmas for college hoops fans the world over.
Perhaps it won’t feel so Christmas-y to the teams on the bubble who will be sweating out the entire hour-long selection show until they rejoice in ecstasy or weep in agony.
Now six weeks deep into this exercise, Bauer’s Bubble Watch needs no further introduction. Let’s glance at the breakdown of each of the three tiers of safety—lock, should be in (the category formerly known as “safe for now”), bubble—heading into the final weekend of play:
- Locks: 37 teams
- Should be in: 5 teams
- Bubble: 14 teams (for 7 available spots)
It’s a quick one today. Let’s roll out the bones one last time for each at-large contender in 2021’s final edition of Bauer’s Bubble Watch.
Locks: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Should be in: Georgia Tech
Bubble: Louisville, Syracuse
North Carolina: Wipe 2019-20 from memory because North Carolina is going back to the big dance. The Tar Heels did just about everything right in the ACC tournament without winning the thing outright, thoroughly stomping Notre Dame on Wednesday before upsetting Virginia Tech on Thursday and taking Florida State to the wire on Friday. In the span of about 16 days, North Carolina has transformed a worrisome résumé into one worthy of a No. 8 or 9 seed and the Bubble Watch stamp of approval. Nicely done, Heels.
Georgia Tech: A pair of Quad 3 losses and a rough non-conference strength of schedule prevents Georgia Tech from being a total lock, but really, there should be no reason for the selection committee to leave out the Yellow Jackets. The metrics are in good shape, they’ve got a winning record away from Atlanta, they’re 6-0 in Quad 2 with two more victories in Quad 1… that’s a tournament team. And if Georgia Tech defeats Florida State in today’s ACC championship game, that’s an automatic bid anyway. Even with a loss, it’s difficult to see any way that Josh Pastner and company are shipped to the NIT.
Louisville: Could Louisville be left out of the field? The general consensus is no; Bracket Matrix has the Cardinals in 125 of 133 projections. But that one-and-done ACC tournament loss to Duke has to make you wonder. Louisville owns a single Quadrant 1 win heading into judgment day to go with a so-so 4-4 road record, a Quad 3 loss to Miami, a mediocre NET rank of No. 56, and metrics ranging from 35th to 60th. That’s all bubbly stuff. I’d lean that Louisville is more likely to be in than out, but my word is no sure thing. These next 32 hours are going to be agonizing.
Syracuse: Some things never change. With the COVID pandemic raging throughout 2020 and into 2021, this was arguably the most “different” season in college basketball history. That didn’t stop Syracuse from ending up in the exact same spot that it ends up year after year after year: right along the tournament cut line. Had the Orange knocked off Virginia on Thursday, they’d probably be feeling pretty good about their chances of an at-large selection. But the Cavaliers put through a buzzer-beater triple to win it, and that was that for Syracuse’s season. Did the Orange do enough in the homestretch to qualify for March? Guess we’ll find out on Sunday.
What a heartbreaking way for Duke’s season to end. The Blue Devils were off the Bubble Watch last week after finishing the regular season 0-4, but they were likely to appear here again today following wins over Boston College and Louisville in the ACC tournament. But Duke had to withdraw before its matchup with Florida State due to a positive COVID test, and the Blue Devils opted to end their season, ruling out the possibility of even an NIT bid. When you feel bad for Duke, college basketball’s greatest supervillain, you know something tragic has happened.
Should be in:
Bubble: Wichita State, Memphis
Wichita State: A loss to NET No. 205 South Florida would have been absolutely disastrous for Wichita State’s at-large case, which most likely lies within the final four or eight teams inside the field. But the Shockers found a way to overcome a late deficit, advancing to the AAC tournament semifinals for a date with Cincinnati. We advise Wichita State to win that game, too—a loss to the Bearcats would be Quad 3—but a defeat there wouldn’t be as much of a dagger as the one the Shockers narrowly avoided on Friday.
Memphis: Memphis lives another day after slipping past UCF in the AAC quarterfinals, but the Tigers’ appearance on this page has always hinged on a potential rematch with Houston in the semis. Lo and behold, that’s what we have on Saturday. Simply put, the Tigers MUST defeat the Cougars to have a chance at an at-large; the lack of a Quad 1 victory is just too damning at this point. But if the Tigers do pull off the upset? That would be transformational.
Well, it was nice knowing you, SMU. The Mustangs, rusty as a pipe that’s been sitting at the bottom of a lake for 10 years, lost their opening conference tournament game to Cincinnati. That’s a Quad 3 loss, and that’s curtains for SMU, which finishes the season without a Quad 1 victory or even a single win against the projected at-large field. Disappointing for a team that only had the chance to play one game between Feb. 8 and today, but that’s reality.
Should be in: St. Bonaventure, VCU
Bubble: Saint Louis
St. Bonaventure: No change in status since Monday’s update. St. Bonaventure wraps up the A-10 auto-bid with a win over VCU on Sunday, while a loss to the Rams would be extremely unlikely to kick the Bonnies out of the field entirely.
VCU: VCU’s at-large situation is ever-so slightly less safe than St. Bonaventure’s, but it’s basically splitting hairs. Just like the Bonnies, the Rams should be in the picture come selection time, win or lose in the A-10 championship. Potential bid thieves like Georgetown and Oregon State could make things problematic First Four-wise, but that appears to be VCU’s absolute floor.
Saint Louis: So no one picked up the phone since the last Bubble Watch… not a great sign for a Saint Louis team that was looking to schedule a post-conference tournament game to better its bubbly (and likely outside-the-field) tournament status. The Billikens’ at-large chances appear to rely on other bubble teams popping themselves.
Locks: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
Should be in:
Nothing to see here…
Locks: Villanova, Creighton, UConn
Should be in:
Bubble: Xavier, Seton Hall
Xavier: That, my friends, is what a collapse looks like. Xavier began the season 7-0 and 4-2 in conference play before COVID issues started taking a toll on the Musketeers, resulting in Travis Steele’s group going 2-6 since the beginning of February with a pair of home wins over Butler and Creighton to show for it. Xavier now presents the selection committee with a team sheet bearing the No. 59 NET, No. 61 KenPom and a single win outside of the city of Cincinnati, which ranks NET No. 123. It’s not looking good.
Seton Hall: Seton Hall kept its slim bubble odds alive on Thursday, narrowly escaping St. John’s in overtime. Hooray! Seton Hall then promptly lost to bid-thief-hungry Georgetown on Friday. Boo! The Pirates’ at-large profile is looking fairly suspicious, especially in comparison with other bubble teams that have fared better in their own conference tournaments. My guess is that, with a 14-13 overall record and a NET ranking around No. 60, Seton Hall is on the outside looking in. I’m not confident enough in that belief to kick the Pirates off the bubble entirely, but I will say that Seton Hall fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
St. John’s fans REALLY shouldn’t get their hopes up, at least not for THIS Selection Sunday. The Red Storm had a heck of a season in Mike Anderson’s second year at the helm, but they needed to beat Seton Hall for the second time in a week to remain in the conversation. They got ousted in OT, popping the bubble once and for all. It may be NIT time for the Johnnies, but with breakout stars like Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander looking to return in 2022, the future sure looks bright in Storm-land.
Locks: Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Rutgers
Should be in: Maryland, Michigan State
Rutgers: 1991. That was the last time Rutgers appeared in the NCAA Tournament. Thirty years ago. Thirty! But no more. The Scarlet Knights took care of business against Indiana on Thursday, and that’s enough for a lock. It doesn’t even matter that they got hammered by Illinois on Friday; most teams do that (even Michigan!). Let the party commence in Piscataway.
Maryland: Thursday’s win over Michigan State brought with it a huge sigh of relief for Maryland, which had lost its final two in the regular season to fall to the very bottom of “safe for now” territory. No, the Terrapins’ 15-13 record is not impressive, but their eight Quad 1/2 wins, bad loss avoidance and No. 12 overall SOS are, and those numbers should signal a return to the bracket for the boys from College Park.
Michigan State: Under normal circumstances, a first-round conference tournament exit for the team ranked 70th in NET would be pop-worthy. Of course, these are not normal circumstances. Michigan State is the only team in the nation to defeat three top-five teams, and the Spartans have done so without taking a bad loss against the seventh most difficult schedule in the nation. That low NET and a 15-12 overall record prevent Sparty from lock-dom, but Tom Izzo and crew’s chances of being left out of March seem rather slim.
Locks: San Diego State
Should be in:
Bubble: Utah State, Colorado State, Boise State
Utah State: Well, well, well. What do we have here? Utah State going on a run in the Mountain West tournament, of course. It’s clockwork—akin to Syracuse being right on the bubble year after year. The Aggies’ win over Colorado State on Friday night (or more correctly, early, early Saturday morning) was massive, as it likely put them ahead of the Rams in the bubble pecking order, what with Utah State’s 2-1 head-to-head advantage alongside a higher NET and KenPom rank. But, of course, total safety is far from a guarantee at this stage. The only way to ensure a spot in the field is to follow in the footsteps of the Aggies teams of 2019 and 2020: beat San Diego State in the tournament final.
Colorado State: And so Colorado State plays the waiting game. Like the aforementioned Aggies, the Rams are positioned right along the at-large cut line, but their failure to contain Neemias Queta in the MWC semifinal could come back to bite them. Likely sitting behind Utah State on the bubble at this point, Colorado State needs the committee to value its gaudy overall record and bad loss avoidance and overlook its lack of quality wins and below-average metrics. The likes of Ole Miss, Syracuse and Louisville are the biggest competition now. And since each of these teams are done playing until Sunday, all we can do is speculate.
Boise State: After back-to-back, hard-fought wins over Utah State in mid-February, Boise State seemed to be close to a sure thing for March Madness. But the Broncos have collapsed as hard as any bubble team down the stretch, dropping four in a row: a pair of defeats at San Diego State (not great, but whatever), a Q4 home loss to Fresno State (yikes) and, finally, a first-round MWC tournament exit via Nevada (gulp). Unless the selection committee chooses to harp on a bright spot in the Broncos’ résumé (No. 14 NCOS, anyone?), the NIT seems inevitable—a truly disappointing finish for a team that showed so much promise for months.
Locks: USC, Colorado, Oregon
Should be in:
UCLA: Well, here we are. Monday, we specifically asked UCLA not to lose to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in order to make our lives easier in terms of assessing their at-large status. So much for that. Most projections still have the Bruins in the field, but even a quick glance at the résumé shows that there’s not a lot of meat on the bones: metrics in the mid-40s, a 5-9 Q1/Q2 record, and a home win over Colorado—the Bruins’ only against the tournament field. If the committee takes those quality wins as seriously as we think, UCLA could be in some real trouble.
Locks: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, LSU
Should be in:
Bubble: Ole Miss
Ole Miss: Did Ole Miss do enough? That’s the question the Rebels will be asking themselves for the next 32 hours, as their season ended Thursday night with an SEC quarterfinals loss to LSU. In isolation, that’s hardly the kind of defeat to put a lid on the Rebels’ at-large hopes. But it could mean the difference between in and out when you reel in the full profile. The good: Seven wins in the first two quadrants, a win over Tennessee and a head-to-head sweep of Missouri, and top-50 marks in KenPom and BPI. The not-so-good: Two Quad 3 losses, a meh strength-of-schedule, sub-60 performance metrics, and the absence of an impact win in the non-con slate. To me, it looks like the Rebels are a coin flip: a true 50-50.
Locks: Gonzaga, BYU, Loyola Chicago, Winthrop
Should be in:
Bubble: Drake, Western Kentucky
Drake: Bubble pandemonium has ensued over champ week, and that’s good news for Drake. The Bulldogs have long since cemented their case as 23-4 overall with the Missouri Valley silver to Loyola Chicago’s gold. In the meantime, the likes of Xavier, Boise State and UCLA have thrown a wrench into their own postseason status, and idle Drake has benefited. Of course, the Bulldogs have also watched Georgetown and Oregon State tear through their conference tournaments with bid thievery on the mind—certainly a scary proposition. Drake’s rooting interests lie firmly with Creighton and Colorado tonight.
Western Kentucky: Can a team ranked 80th in NET and 92nd in KenPom really compete for an at-large spot? My guess is no, but it would be silly to ignore Western Kentucky’s 20-6 record, respectable performance metrics, 9-4 record outside of Bowling Green and, most importantly, that win in Tuscaloosa back in December. A loss to North Texas in the C-USA title game today should send the Hilltoppers in the NIT, but the high points on WKU’s résumé prevent that thought from being a guarantee. Still, the Toppers should plan on beating UNT anyway. Definitely the recommended course of action here.