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Bubble Watch: Where Each Fringe Team Stands in the Final Stretch of the Season

By our math, there are 14 spots in the NCAA tournament field still up for grabs among the remaining at-large teams. Who needs the most help?

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The Bubble Watch updates every day until Selection Sunday, breaking down the biggest bubble games that day, the cases for all remaining bubble teams, and any movement that took place the previous day.

Biggest bubble games for Saturday, March 9 (all times ET):

Ohio Valley Conference championship: Murray State vs. Belmont (7 pm, ESPN2)

These teams are both on the at-large bubble, but one of them won't have anything to worry about after Saturday. Belmont has been the better team, but Murray State has future likely top-five pick Ja Morant. Both are capable of making a Sweet 16 run, but it's likey that only one will get the chance.

No. 23 Villanova at Seton Hall (noon, FOX)

The Pirates already did themselves a huge favor by beating Marquette earlier this week. They can essentially wrap up an at-large bid with a win over Villanova on Saturday. Villanova cruised to an 80–52 win the first time these teams met back in January.

Syracuse at Clemson (12 pm)

Two of the ACC’s premier bubble teams face off in a game that could lock the winner into the at-large picture. Syracuse would certainly assure itself a place in the tournament with a win, while Clemson would add a much-needed victory over a team worthy of at-large consideration. If the Tigers lose this one, they’ll need to do some damage in the ACC tournament.

TCU at Texas (12 pm, ESPN2)

This is a huge game for a couple of teams that are likely to be among the 36 best at-large candidates, but could still lose their way out of the field of 68. A win on Saturday would give either of these teams some breathing room going into the Big 12 tournament, and it’s hard to say that one needs it more than the other. This would go down as a Q1 road victory for the Horned Frogs, and could be the last win they need to secure an at-large bid. The Longhorns have a number of high-profile victories—North Carolina and Purdue chief among them—but a loss would drop them to 16–15 overall, and force them to win two games, and more likely three, to be in good shape on Selection Sunday.

Alabama at Arkansas (6 p.m., SEC Network)

Arkansas is still registering on the at-large radar, but it’s going to need to win at least three more games, including this one, to have a realistic shot at getting into the dance. Alabama is the truer bubble team here, and a win at Arkansas would add another Q1 victory to its résumé. The Crimson Tide will be in a good spot if they win this game and avoid any bad losses in the SEC tournament.

Other bubble games: NC State at Boston College; Butler at Providence; St. John’s at Xavier; Arizona State at Arizona; Florida at Kentucky; Oregon at Washington; DePaul at Creighton; Tulsa at Memphis; Georgetown at Marquette; Saint Joseph’s at VCU


VCU: On the Bubble to Near-Lock

All records and NET rankings are accurate as of Saturday morning. We assume that one of our locks or near-locks will win their conference’s automatic bid.

Spots Remaining: 14 (68 Spots — 29 Locks — 5 Near-Locks — 20 Unaccounted For Automatic Bids = 14)

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Locks (29): Auburn, Baylor, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Duke, Florida State, Gonzaga, Houston, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nevada, North Carolina, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin

Near-Locks (5): Oklahoma, UCF, VCU Washington, Wofford

On the Bubble

Ole Miss (19–11, NET: 36, Q1: 4–10, Q2: 3–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Our count says that there are 14 spots still up for grabs, and we have 24 teams realistically in the hunt for those bids. In other words, many teams at the top of this column, like Mississippi, are much closer to being near-locks than they are to falling out of the field. Mississippi has lost three straight after falling to Kentucky on Tuesday, but this is still a team with seven combined Q1 and Q2 wins, with at least four victories over teams that will get at-large bids. Mississippi is firmly in avoid-bad-loss territory, meaning it will be comfortably in the dance if it simply sidesteps any ugly losses for the rest of the season.

Syracuse (19–11, NET: 42, Q1: 3–7, Q2: 4–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Syracuse stuck with Virginia for about 25 minutes of action on Monday before the Cavaliers’ three-point shooting became overwhelming. Still, Syracuse goes into its regular season finale against Clemson in good shape. That’s a huge game for the Tigers, which we’ll discuss a bit later, but the Orange should be able to afford a loss there. They’re looking at the No. 7 seed in the ACC tournament, which sets them up for a matchup against a team off the at-large radar in their first game. A win there would mean facing Virginia, North Carolina or Duke, likely one of the Tobacco Road teams, in the quarterfinals. The Orange should be safe, so long as they don’t lose to both Clemson and whoever they play in their first ACC tourney game.

Minnesota (19–11, NET: 56, Q1: 3–9, Q2: 7–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Minnesota heads into the Big Ten tournament in relatively safe shape for an at-large bid. Its first game next week will come against a team off the at-large radar. So long as the Gophers win that one, they won’t have anything to worry about on Selection Sunday.

St. John’s (20–10, NET: 62, Q1: 5–4, Q2: 5–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Remember just a few weeks ago when St. John’s seemed a sure thing for the tournament? We even had them as a near-lock in the Bubble Watch. Since beating Marquette (for the second time) and Villanova, the Red Storm have lost to Providence, Xavier and DePaul. The six Q1 wins are great, but their metrics counteract at least some of that goodwill. If they can right the ship against Xavier this weekend, they should be in fine shape going into the Big East tournament. If they lose that game and their first Big East tourney game, it’s going to be a tense couple of days in New York.

Texas (16–14, NET: 34, Q1: 5–9, Q2: 4–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Monday’s loss at Texas Tech was expected for the Longhorns, but it does put a ton of pressure on them for their regular season finale against TCU at home on Saturday. If they lose that game, they’ll go into the Big 12 tournament at 16–15 overall. They’re locked into the 6-seed in the conference, which almost certainly means a quarterfinal matchup with either Kansas or Baylor. If they were to lose that game, it would be hard to see them getting an at-large bid. The committee typically doesn’t go for .500 teams or 16-loss teams, even if they won games against the likes of North Carolina and Purdue in the regular season. By beating TCU on Saturday, the Longhorns give themselves some breathing space in the Big 12 tournament.

Utah State (24–6, NET: 30, Q1: 3–2, Q2: 1–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Aggies wrapped up their regular season Tuesday with a win over Colorado State, though it wasn’t quite as important as the one they got over the weekend when they took down Nevada. They’re now in position to earn an at-large bid simply by avoiding a bad loss in the Mountain West tournament. Fresno State could be a stumbling block in the semifinals, but if they get to the championship game, it won’t matter whether they win or lose, at least in terms of their making the Big Dance for the first time since 2011.

TCU (18–12, NET: 53, Q1: 2–8, Q2: 5–4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

TCU is stumbling into the Big 12 tournament, losers of three straight in advance of Saturday’s regular season finale against Texas. That game is in Austin, which means the Horned Frogs are expected to start the conference tourney on a four-game losing streak. It’s still hard to imagine them missing out on the dance, but let’s play out their worst-case scenario: They lose to Texas on Saturday and go into the Big 12 tournament as the conference’s No. 8 seed, where they lose to either Oklahoma State or West Virginia in the first round. They’d end the year 2–8 or 2–9 in Q1 games, and possibly with one Q3 loss. Would that be bad enough to knock them out of the field? The bet here is no, but they don’t want to tempt fate.

Seton Hall (17–12, NET: 61, Q1: 5–6, Q2: 5–4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Seton Hall is one of the big winners thus far this week after knocking off Marquette at home on Wednesday. That didn’t simply give the Pirates their first meaningful win since December. It also put them on course to get an at-large bid by staying away from bad losses the rest of the season. During a week when many bubble teams have faltered, the Pirates came up with their third-best win of the season. They could remove any doubt surrounding their at-large status by beating Villanova at home on Saturday, but they do not need that game to get into the dance.

Florida (17–13, NET: 33, Q1: 3–10, Q2: 4–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

You know a great way to wash away a home loss to a team like Georgia? Come right back in your next game and beat a team like LSU. The Gators nearly did that, falling to the Tigers by one point in overtime. If we assume Saturday’s regular season finale at Kentucky is a loss, then the Gators will go into the SEC tournament at 17–14 overall, 3–11 in Q1 games, and 5–1 against Q2. We’d likely have them just barely in the field, but they’d need a win in the conference tourney to wake up on Selection Sunday with any confidence.

Ohio State (18–12, NET: 49, Q1: 4–8, Q2: 4–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

An Ohio State without Kaleb Wesson is not a tournament team, and that should have people in Columbus very worried considering that Wesson remains suspended. The Buckeyes looked terrible in a 68–50 loss at Northwestern on Wednesday. They had just 17 points in the first half and finished the game at 0.79 points per possession. The Buckeyes wrap up their season by hosting Wisconsin on Sunday, a game in which they’re likely to be underdogs, even if Wesson returns. A win in that game would likely have them safe, while a loss could force them to play on the first day of the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes have officially reached the danger zone.

Clemson (18–12, NET: 40, Q1: 1–9, Q2: 5–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Clemson did what it needed to do to start the week, winning at Notre Dame on Wednesday. The Tigers wrap up their regular season at home against Syracuse on Saturday. They’ll be favored, so for sake of the bubble conversation, we’ll give them a win. That puts them at 19–12 overall but with just one Q1 win going into the ACC tournament. Seeds in the ACC tourney can still change, but it’s quite likely that Clemson will play its first game against NC State in what would be a huge game for both teams. The winner, particularly if it’s Clemson, will be hard to keep out of the dance. The loser, particularly if it’s NC State, will be in trouble.

Alabama (17–13, NET: 57, Q1: 3–8, Q2: 6–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Alabama had two opportunities to pick up wins against tournament locks at home in the past week and let both slip away, losing to LSU over the weekend and Auburn on Tuesday by a combined 11 points. The fact that the games were close won’t matter when the committee sits down to debate their at-large candidacy. Saturday’s game at Arkansas is now a must-win. If they lose that win, they’re going to have to make a bit of a run in the SEC tournament to feel good about earning an at-large bid.

Arizona State (20–9, NET: 71, Q1: 3–3, Q2: 7–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 4)

Arizona State is going to be the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament whether it wins or loses at Arizona this weekend. Lose that game, though, and the Sun Devils may have to secure the conference’s automatic bid to get into the dance. The big problem for them is that they won’t have any opportunity to build their résumé until an eventual meeting with Washington in the championship game, and at that point, getting a win for the sake of building an at-large résumé won’t matter. The belief here is that if the Sun Devils simply beat Arizona this weekend and get to the Pac-12 championship, they will hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

NC State (20–10, NET: 35, Q1: 2–8, Q2: 5–0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Well, that home loss to Georgia Tech certainly wasn’t in the plans, was it? The Wolfpack now have as many Q3 losses as they do Q1 wins. A couple of weeks ago, after recent victories over Clemson and Syracuse, it was possible to overlook NC State’s 353rd-ranked non-conference strength of schedule. In case that laughably huge number has you asking yourself how many teams there are there in Division I, I’ll stop you right there and let you know there are 353. No team in the country played a worse non-conference schedule than NC State. If it misses out on the dance, it will know who to blame.

Murray State (24–4, NET: 52, Q1: 0–2, Q2: 1–2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

We have both Ohio Valley powerhouses, Murray State and Belmont, on the bubble, with the former in our current field of 68 as the conference champion. It’s a shame that likely only one of these teams will get to the dance, because they both have second-weekend potential. As exciting as soon-to-be-top-five pick Ja Morant is, Murray State has zero Q1 wins, and one combined win between Q1 and Q2. They aren’t thinking about an at-large bid yet, but if the Racers lose to Belmont in the OVC championship on Saturday, they will become the biggest fans of every team playing against a bubble team.

Indiana (16–14, NET: 50, Q1: 6–9, Q2: 2–5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

You can click here for our full take on why Indiana is this season’s most interesting bubble team. Yeah, a 14-loss team might not jump off the page at you, but how many 14-loss teams have five wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Marquette and Louisville? How many 14-loss teams have more Q1 wins than Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Iowa State and Villanova? How many 14-loss teams have zero Q3 and Q4 losses? Yes, Indiana is absolutely on the at-large radar. It cruised past Illinois on the road on Thursday, and must beat Rutgers on Sunday to remain in contention for an at-large bid. From there, two wins in the Big Ten tournament would likely assure theHoosiers a bid, and one could be good enough, depending on who the opponent is.

Creighton (16–13, NET: 52, Q1: 3–10, Q2: 6–3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

The argument for Creighton is similar to the one for Indiana, though without the same peaks. The Bluejays have just one win over a guaranteed tournament team—Marquette. they also have victories over fellow bubblers Clemson, Georgetown and Xavier, though they split with the Musketeers. They also split with Butler, which is a blip on the at-large radar. Creighton handled its business against Providence on Wednesday, and must do the same against DePaul on Saturday. From there, one win in the Big East tournament could have the Bluejays dancing.

Temple (22–8, NET: 55, Q1: 2–6, Q2: 5–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Temple still has just one win over an at-large quality team all season, a 73–69 home victory over Houston back in January. I don’t care how gaudy its record is, that’s not going to be enough to get the job done, especially since the computers don’t love them. The Owls’ regular season finale with UCF on Saturday has taken on huge importance. They absolutely need that game to prove to the committee that they can beat tournament-quality competition with even a modicum of regularity. From there, they still may need one more win against one of the AAC’s guaranteed or likely tournament teams, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF. Anything short of that, and Temple could be looking at a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

Furman (21–6, NET: 43, Q1: 1–5, Q2: 3–0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Furman kicks off its Southern Conference tournament on Saturday against Mercer. The Paladins will be a hard sell as an at-large bid, though they did beat Villanova back in November. Still, they can’t build their résumé without beating Wofford, and they can’t play Wofford until the SoCon championship. If they win that game, they won’t need an at-large bid. The only way Furman is an at-large team is if we’ve grossly miscalculated the bubble, or if every team in front of them has a dreadful week.

Belmont (25–4, NET: 44, Q1: 2–1, Q2: 3–1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Almost everything said about Murray State above applies to Belmont, as well, especially the part about its fans cheering against every bubble team. The Bruins, however, have a couple of Q1 victories, including one at Murray State, that could make them a better sell as an at-large team. Still, the bet here is that the OVC will be a one-bid conference. The conference’s powerhouses meet in the OVC championship on Saturday.

Georgetown (18–12, NET: 80, Q1: 3–6, Q2: 6–4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

When you’re chasing an at-large bid but still clearly on the outside of the field, you know what’s the last thing you need? A 101–69 drubbing at the hands of DePaul. The Hoyas have an opportunity to wash off that stink by beating Marquette on Saturday, but the damage may have already been done. The middle of the Big East is up for grabs, so we can’t project who Georgetown will play in its first game in the conference tournament, but it’s safe to say the Hoyas need at least two more wins this season to have a shot at an at-large bid.

Others in the Mix (in order of most likely to least likely to get an at-large bid): Lipscomb (in our field as an automatic qualifier), UNC-Greensboro, Arkansas, Xavier, Memphis, Saint Mary’s, Dayton, Liberty, Toledo, Providence, Butler, San Francisco