The NCAA Tournament selection committee may have provided fans with a snapshot of the projected top 16 seeds this past weekend, but there was no overview of the bubble teams that are in hot water a month out from Selection Sunday.
The final month of the men's college basketball regular season will be crucial for fringe teams with borderline credentials to determine if they're worthy of being among the field of 68. One résumé-staining loss can be a deal-breaker for some teams, while for others a Quadrant 1 (top-25 home, top-75 away) victory can make all the difference.
Here's a look at which teams are sweating the most. Selection Sunday is March 14.
A projected No. 10 seed in USA TODAY Sports' latest bracketology, the Tar Heels (12-7, 7-5) have a NET score of 57 with no bad losses. What's glaringly missing on UNC's portfolio is more Quadrant 1 wins. There is a road win over fellow bubble team Duke serving as the marquee victory. North Carolina will have Q1 chances in three of the next four ACC games — against Virginia Tech, Louisville and Florida State.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams (middle) talks to the Tar Heels during a timeout against Pittsburgh in the first half at the Petersen Events Center. (Photo: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports)
A projected No. 10 seed, the Bulldogs (20-2, 11-2) saved their at-large bid hopes by beating Loyola-Chicago on Sunday by one point — one day after losing by 27 to the Ramblers in Missouri Valley play. Drake, previously unbeaten just a few weeks ago, may have lost its mantle in the MVC but that one major victory speaks volumes because the Ramblers have a top-10 NET score.
Projected as a No. 11 seed, the Bonnies (10-3, 8-3) have a difficult path to the safety zone while playing in the Atlantic 10 — the ninth toughest conference in the country according to NET rankings. There's very little chance to add Quadrant 1 victories — which is what Saint Bonaventure is missing most. Still, there are no bad losses. A top-15 non-conference strength of schedule and 41 NET score bolsters this team's profile.
Another A-10 team and currently projected No. 12 seed, the Billikens (10-3, 3-2) just need to start piling up wins after missing a significant portion of the season due to COVID-19. Road games against Dayton and league leader Virginia Commonwealth are opportunities to improve their standing. A NET score of 33 works against a dreadful 217 strength of schedule.
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Sports Pulse: Scott Gleeson walks us through what teams to look out for
The Hoosiers (11-9, 6-7) largely benefit from playing in the Big Ten, the country's toughest conference in the NET rankings. A NET score of 50 and non-conference strength of schedule of 124 weigh this team down, but adding two Q1 wins to the résumé would inch coach Archie Miller's team further from its projected No. 12 seed to a possible play-in game.
A projected No. 12 seed, the Aggies (14-5, 11-2) are among several bubble teams hailing from the Mountain West (San Diego State and Colorado State being the others). Utah State's profile is in trouble the most despite being out front in the MWC race. Two Quadrant 3 losses and a strength of schedule of 157 are hurting this team big-time.
A projected No. 12 seed in a play-in game, the Pirates (12-8, 9-5) have a top-30 strength of schedule, NET score of 45 and three Quadrant 1 victories. But there just aren't enough wins on this Big East team's profile and a Quadrant 3 loss works against this team.
Another Big East bubble team, the Huskies (9-5, 6-5) are one of the first four teams on the outside looking in and the reason for that is there just aren't enough wins. Coach Dan Hurley has done an excellent job of turning around the program as it's transitioned to the Big East this year, but the injury to leading scorer James Bouknight has made life difficult as far as establishing a team identity. Beating fellow Big East bubble team Xavier in its last game was a step in the right direction.
A currently projected first four out team, Stanford (13-8, 9-6) is trying to stay away from the bubble alongside fellow Pac-12 foes Oregon ad Colorado. The reason the Cardinal are currently in worse shape than those teams is a lack of marquee wins. Much of that can be traced to the poor overall showing of the Pac-12 this year, as the conference is sixth in the NET conference rankings among the seven power leagues.
The Blue Devils (8-8, 6-6) aren't even near the first four outside of the bubble and their NCAA Tournament chances are hanging in the balance now because there isn't enough on their profile to impress the committee for a team with a .500 record. There's room to enhance the portfolio in the ACC but Duke needs to start piling up victories because a loss to Miami (Florida) is the deal-breaker right now. News that star freshman Jalen Johnson is sitting out the rest of 2020-21 is not ideal.
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
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson
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