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Bubble Watch: Which Teams Have Work to Do in Their Conference Tournaments?

It's the calm before the storm of Championship Week. Which of this weekend's losers need to make a splash in their conference tournaments?

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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. Our Bracket Watch will also be updated all week as the results roll in.

Biggest bubble games for Monday, March 11 (all times Eastern)

Conference tournament championship games

Southern: Wofford vs. UNC-Greensboro, 7 PM, ESPN
MAAC: Iona vs. Monmouth, 9 pm, ESPN2


No movers.

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

Spots Remaining: 13 (68 Spots — 34 Locks — 5 Near-Locks — 16 Unaccounted For Automatic Bids = 13)

Locks (34): Auburn, Baylor, Bradley, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Duke, Florida State, Gardner-Webb, Gonzaga, Houston, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Liberty, Louisville, LSU, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Murray State, Nevada, North Carolina, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Wofford

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

On the Bubble

Teams listed in order of current seed in Bracket Watch seed list.

Syracuse (19-12, NET: 44, Q1: 3-8, Q2: 4-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Syracuse lost twice this week and four of its last five going into the ACC tournament. That’s not exactly a great way for a bubble team to wrap up its regular season, but the Orange are still in relatively solid shape. They’ll play the winner of Boston College and Pitt in their first game in the ACC tourney, and a win there matches them up with Duke in the quarterfinals. Should they beat Duke, they’d clearly be off the bubble, but that shouldn’t be necessary to get them into the field. So long as they take care of the BC-Pitt winner, they should receive an at-large invite.

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

The Aggies wrapped up their regular season with a win over Colorado State, though it wasn’t quite as important as the one they got 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.

Seton Hall (18-12, NET: 62, Q1: 6-7, Q2: 6-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

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Seton Hall almost certainly played its way into the field with a huge week, knocking off Marquette and Villanova. The overall record and NET ranking may not jump off the page, but few teams yet to lock up an at-large bid can point to wins over Kentucky, Maryland and the two best Big East teams on their résumé. The Pirates would remove whatever scant doubt remains by beating Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday, but they should be able to afford a loss in that one.

TCU (19-12, NET: 47, Q1: 3-8, Q2: 5-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

TCU got a huge win Saturday, going into Texas and coming out with a 69–56 win. It’s possible that a week from now we look back at that as a de facto play-in game to the Big Dance. TCU finished eighth in the Big 12 standings, which means it has to play in the first round of the conference tournament. It’s tempting to say the Horned Frogs shouldn’t have any trouble with Oklahoma State on Wednesday, but they lost to the Cowboys in Stillwater three weeks ago. Still, they’ll be significant favorites, and a win there should be enough to get the program its first consecutive NCAA tournament bids since 1952–53.

Minnesota (19-12, NET: 56, Q1: 3-9, Q2: 7-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Minnesota heads into the Big Ten tournament in good position 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.

Temple (23-8, NET: 50, Q1: 2-6, Q2: 6-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Temple got a huge win Saturday, taking down UCF for its second win over a guaranteed or likely tournament team. The Owls still need to avoid bad losses in the AAC tournament but are in much better shape for the dance than they were one week ago. A run to the AAC championship game would almost certainly include a win over Houston or Cincinnati. That would be enough for the Owls to lock up a spot in the field of 68.

St. John’s (20-11, NET: 66, Q1: 5-6, 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 twice and DePaul. The five Q1 wins are great, but their metrics counteract at least some of that goodwill. They’re now stuck playing in the first round of the Big East tournament, drawing DePaul to kick things off. A loss in that one would put them in some real jeopardy of missing the tournament. The only way they’ll feel totally safe is if they advance past DePaul and then beat a reeling Marquette squad in the conference quarterfinals.

Ohio State (18-13, NET: 55, Q1: 4-9, 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 are going to need at least one win in the Big Ten tournament to get into field, and their first game comes against Indiana. That may be the purest play-in game to the NCAA tournament that we’ve seen in a conference tourney, championship games excluded, in a long time.

Florida (17-14, NET: 33, Q1: 3-11, Q2: 3-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Florida ended its season with three straight losses and goes into the SEC tournament as the No. 8 seed. The losses this week to LSU and Kentucky were, of course, understandable, though a split would’ve had the Gators in fine shape for an at-large bid. The loss to Georgia that started the losing streak could haunt the Gators. If they lose to Arkansas on Thursday, they’re going to be a tough sell as an at-large team. That would put them at 17–15 with three Q1 wins and just two over guaranteed or likely at-large teams. Consider the Arkansas game a must-win for the Gators.

Clemson (19-12, NET: 35, Q1: 1-9, Q2: 6-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Clemson had the week it needed to have, beating Notre Dame and Syracuse to go into the ACC tournament as the conference’s No. 9 seed. The Tigers will play NC State in their first game, and the winner of that will be assured a bid to the Big Dance. The loser won’t be eliminated from at-large contention but will have a nervous few days before Selection Sunday.

Indiana (17-14, NET: 51, 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. Indiana’s game with Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday will likely serve as a play-in game to the Big Dance.

Arizona State (21-9, NET: 67, Q1: 3-3, Q2: 8-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 4)

Arizona State took care of business in its regular season finale, downing Arizona in Tucson. The Sun Devils are the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which, in most years, would mean that they’re nowhere near the bubble. In what will likely go down as the worst basketball season in the conference’s history, that is not the case. Arizona State won’t have any chance to strengthen its résumé until a possible championship game meeting with Washington, and it won’t need to care about at-large chances if it wins that game. The bet here is that if Arizona State and Washington make it to the Pac-12 championship, both will go dancing.

Creighton (17-13, NET: 54, 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 off the at-large radar. The Bluejays play Xavier in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday, a must-win for both bubble teams. That could be enough to get Creighton into the field, but it’d be guaranteed a spot if it went on to beat Villanova in the semifinals.

Texas (16-15, NET: 39, Q1: 5-9, Q2: 4-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

We’ve been beating the drum for Texas all season in the Bubble Watch, but at some point the losses become too abundant to wave away. At 16-15, the Longhorns will need to do significant damage in the Big 12 tournament, even with wins over North Carolina, Marquette and Kansas on the résumé. They’re the No. 6 seed in the Big 12 and will face Kansas in the quarterfinals on Thursday. That is a must-win game for the Longhorns. The Selection Committee has never taken a .500 team as an at-large selection, and that’s unlikely to change this year. That would be enough to keep the Longhorns in the conversation, but, realistically, it’ll take two wins to get them an at-large. Should they beat Kansas, they’d play Kansas State, Oklahoma or West Virginia in the semifinals.

NC State (21-10, NET: 32, Q1: 2-8, Q2: 6-0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

NC State begins its ACC tournament on Wednesday against Clemson. As we said in Clemson’s capsule, that is almost certainly a play-in game, with the winner essentially guaranteed an at-large bid. It would be unlikely for a generic ACC team that goes 21-11 to be left out of the tournament, but the Wolfpack could face that reality if they lose to Clemson. Their three best regular season wins were against Auburn, Clemson and Syracuse, and they have as many Q3 losses as Q1 wins. If they lose to Clemson, their tourney lives will hang on the performances of teams like Arizona State, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, St. John’s, Temple and Indiana in their respective conference tournaments.

Alabama (17-14, NET: 58, Q1: 2-9, Q2: 7-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Alabama has lost three straight games and now enters the SEC tournament in need of at least one win to feel confident about its at-large status. Its first game in the tournament comes on Thursday against Mississippi, which is already safely in the field. The Crimson Tide beat Mississippi in their only meeting in the regular season, a 74–53 drubbing at home in January. If they win that game, they’d play Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday. The only way Alabama won’t be in any trouble is by knocking off the Wildcats, and a loss to Ole Miss would put an end to its at-large hopes. Should the Crimson Tide beat Mississippi and lose to Kentucky, they’d almost certainly be one of the last four teams in or first four teams out of the field.

Georgetown (19-12, NET: 76, Q1: 5-6, Q2: 6-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Georgetown bounced back from a terrible loss to DePaul to beat Marquette in its regular season finale. The Hoyas now have five Q1 wins on the season, and are firmly on the at-large radar going into the Big East tournament. They play Seton Hall in the quarterfinals on Thursday and are on the same side of the tournament bracket as Marquette. Two wins would likely be enough to get the Hoyas into the field—depending on what other bubble teams do—but a win over Seton Hall could also be good enough. The only way the Hoyas will go into Selection Sunday completely hopeless is if they lose to the Pirates.

Belmont (25-5, NET: 45, Q1: 2-2, Q2: 3-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

After losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game, Belmont now has to sit and wait and hope it did enough to earn an at-large bid. The Bruins beat Murray State during the regular season and beat Lipscomb twice, but they aren’t going to show the committee a résumé that includes any wins over at-large teams. Could Belmont win a game or two if it made the tournament? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the committee hasn’t shown much of an appetite for taking similar teams in recent years. We expect to see Belmont as one of the top seeds in the NIT.

UNC-Greensboro (27-6, NET: 57, Q1: 2-6, Q2: 2-0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

After losing to Wofford for the third time this season, this time in the Southern Conference championship game, it’s likely that UNC-Greensboro will be on the outside looking in at the field of 68. If the committee does opt to take the Spartans, they will have some second-weekend juice, but it simply hasn’t smiled on teams like them in recent memory. The Spartans lost by six at LSU and led Kentucky in the second half in Lexington, but couldn’t finish off either of those games. If they had equality of opportunity, they may have won the types of games that typically get teams into the dance, but that’s the uphill battle mid-majors fight. It may not be fair, but it is their reality.

Furman (22-7, NET: 41, Q1: 1-5, Q2: 3-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Furman’s loss to UNC-Greensboro in the SoCon semifinals all but ended its hopes for an at-large bid. The Paladins do have a great win over Villanova on the résumé, but faces the same problems as Belmont. What’s more, if the committee does opt for a mid-major that fell short in its conference tournament, UNC-Greensboro and Belmont are almost surely ahead of Furman in the pecking order.

Lipscomb (23-7, NET: 48, Q1: 2-4, Q2: 1-2, Q3+Q4: 1)

Lipscomb led the Atlantic Sun from wire to wire but fell to Liberty in the conference championship game. Now, the Bisons have to hope they did enough in the regular season to earn an at-large bid. While we’d like to see more teams like Lipscomb get at-large bids, we don’t see it happening for them this season. They have one win over a team on the at-large radar (TCU), two losses to another mid-major that lost in its championship game, Belmont, and one loss to a team nowhere near the at-large radar, Florida Gulf Coast. That has not added up to an at-large bid in recent years.

Others in the Mix (in order of most likely to least likely to get an at-large bid): Arkansas, Xavier, Memphis, Saint Mary’s, Dayton, Toledo, Providence.