Bubble Watch: How Wednesday's Games Will Affect the NCAA Tournament Picture

Who needs to make a splash in their conference tournaments? We're tracking where every bubble teams' NCAA tournament odds stand.
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The SI.com Bubble Watch updates every day until Selection Sunday, breaking down the biggest bubble games that day, the cases for all remaining bubble teams to get a bid to the 2019 NCAA tournament, and any movement that took place the previous day.

Biggest bubble games for Wednesday, March 13 (all times Eastern):

Conference tournament championship games

Patriot League: Colgate vs. Bucknell, 7:30 pm, CBS Sports Network

Clemson vs. NC State, noon, ESPN

This is the first big bubble game in a power conference tournament during Championship Week. No matter your exact thoughts on these two teams, you have to admit that they’re both just barely on either side of the bubble. This will serve as a de facto play-in game, though that doesn’t mean the loser will be out of at-large luck. It will, however, spend the rest of the week cheering against every single bubble team across the country. These teams played once in the regular season. with NC State earning a 69–67 victory in Raleigh.

TCU vs. Oklahoma State, 7 p.m., ESPNU

It’s tempting to say the Horned Frogs won’t have any trouble with Oklahoma State on Wednesday, but they lost to the Cowboys in Stillwater three weeks ago. A win will have the Horned Frogs in solid shape to make it to the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1952–53. Should they win, they could lock up a bid by beating Kansas State on Thursday.

St. John’s vs. DePaul, 9:30 p.m., FS1

The only way St. John’s will feel totally safe on Selection Sunday is if it beats Marquette in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday. To get there, the Red Storm will first have to take care of DePaul. They lost at DePaul two weekends ago, so there is some risk here. A loss to the Blue Demons would have St. John's at-large hopes in serious jeopardy.

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Syracuse is in position to get an at-large bid simply by avoiding bad losses. That would mean beating Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Clearing that low bar should keep the Orange safely in the field, but they’d remove whatever sliver of doubt might still exist if they beat Duke in the ACC quarters.

Other bubble games: Butler vs. Providence


No movers.

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

Spots Remaining: 12 (68 Spots — 41 Locks — 5 Near-Locks — 10 Unaccounted For Automatic Bids = 12)

Locks (41): Auburn, Baylor, Bradley, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Colgate, Duke, Fairleigh Dickinson, Florida State, Gardner-Webb, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Liberty, Louisville, LSU, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Murray State, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota State, Northeastern, Northern Kentucky, Purdue, Saint Mary’s, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Wofford

Near-Locks (5): Ole Miss, Syracuse, UCF, VCU, Washington

On the Bubble

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

Syracuse (20-12, NET: 44, Q1: 3-8, Q2: 4-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Syracuse's win over Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament on Wedneday guaranteed it will avoid the bad loss that could have knocked it out of the field. We now have the Orange as a near-lock for an at-large bid.

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

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.

Utah State (24-6, NET: 30, Q1: 2-2, Q2: 2-3, 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 it gets to the championship game, it won’t matter whether it wina or lose, at least in terms of it making the big dance for the first time since 2011.

TCU (20-12, NET: 47, Q1: 3-8, Q2: 6-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

All’s well that ends well, we suppose, but TCU didn’t inspire much confidence in its win over Oklahoma State on Wednesday, letting a 14-point lead slip away in the final minutes and falling behind by two with less than a minute left before being bailed out by a Desmond Bane three. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and the Horned Frogs go into the Big 12 quarters in decent shape. They can lock up their tournament bid by upsetting Kansas State on Thursday.

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.

St. John’s (21-11, NET: 66, Q1: 5-6, Q2: 5-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

St. John’s took care of business in the first round of the Big East tournament, cruising past DePaul to advance to the quarterfinals. The Red Storm can lock up an at-large bid by beating Marquette, but it would be surprising if they missed out on the dance at this point. A 21-win team with five Q1 victories, four of which came against Marquette, Villanova and VCU, is an awfully good bet to be a happy one 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.

Oklahoma (19-13, Q1: 4-10, Q2: 6-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Oklahoma simply needed to beat West Virginia on Wednesday to secure an at-large bid, but it was unable to accomplish that seemingly simple goal. The Sooners remain in our field of 68, but they’re now vulnerable to bid stealers, teams just barely on the wrong side of the bubble making a run, or the Selection Committee siding with top-tier mid-majors that fell short in their conference tournaments, like Belmont or UNC-Greensboro.

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.

NC State (22-10, NET: 32, Q1: 3-8, Q2: 6-0, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

If NC State’s game with Clemson in the second round of the ACC tournament felt like a play-in game for the NCAA tournament. that’s because it likely was. The Wolfpack rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit to win by one, which could place them into the field of 68 for good. They would lock up a bid by beating Virginia on Thursday, but, for now, the Wolfpack are in a good spot.

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.

Ohio State (18-13, NET: 55, Q1: 4-9, Q2: 4-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

The Buckeyes will get Kaleb Wesson back in the Big Ten tournament, and that's great news considering they are not an at-large worthy team without him. 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.

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 necessarily 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 they won’t need to care about at-large chances if they win that game. The bet here is that if Arizona State and Washington make it to the Pac-12 championship, both will go dancing.

Clemson (19-13, NET: 36, Q1: 1-10, Q2: 6-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Everything was going beautifully for Clemson in the first half against NC State in the opening game of the ACC tournament’s second round. The Tigers took a 16-point lead into the locker room at halftime and looked ready to claim an at-large bid. And then they didn’t score a field goal for a stretch longer than 10 minutes in the second half, allowing NC State to climb back into the game. The Wolfpack ultimately won by one point after two Markell Johnson free throws with 2.6 seconds left on the clock. Now, the Tigers have to hope they did enough in the regular season to get in. The thought here is they didn’t. But hey, they could be a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

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: 38, 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.

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 Mississippi 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: 77, 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: 46, 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 dashed 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: 2-3, Q2: 2-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 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.

Providence (18-14, NET: 75, Q1: 4-7, Q2: 6-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

The Friars are on the fringes of the bubble picture, but they could change that by beating Villanova on Thursday. A win there likely wouldn’t be enough for an at-large bid, but would put them one victory away from being a very interesting team on Selection Sunday. A loss, however, would send them to the NIT.

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