Bubble Watch: Fringe Contenders Get One Last Shot at NCAA Tournament

A few bubble teams saw their tournament hopes dashed on Thursday, but several more helped their own causes with a signature win in the 48 hours before Selection Sunday.
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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. For an up-to-the-minute look at who's in the field of 68, check out our Bracket Watch.

Biggest bubble games for Friday, March 15 (all times ET)

Other bubble games: Arizona State vs. Oregon


Seton Hall: On the Bubble to Lock
Florida: On the Bubble to Lock
Minnesota: On the Bubble to Lock
Oklahoma: On the Bubble to Lock

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

Spots Remaining: 7 (68 Spots — 50 Locks — 11 Unaccounted For Automatic Bids = 7)

Locks (50): Auburn, Baylor, Bradley, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Colgate, Duke, Fairleigh Dickinson, Florida, Florida State, Gardner-Webb, Gonzaga, Houston, Iona, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Liberty, Louisville, LSU, Marquette, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Murray State, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota State, Northeastern, Northern Kentucky, Oklahoma, Purdue, Saint Mary’s, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas Tech, UCF, VCU, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Washington, Wisconsin, Wofford

On the Bubble

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

Oklahoma (19-13, NET: 38, Q1: 4-10, Q2: 6-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Oklahoma didn’t do itself any favors by losing to West Virginia in its first Big 12 tournament game, but this team is likely safe after what it did in the regular season. We may ultimately have them a line too high, but it’s impossible to see them not getting one of the 36 at-large bids.​

Florida (19-14, NET: 33, Q1: 4-11, Q2: 4-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

The Gators came up with a monster victory on Friday, downing LSU in the SEC quarterfinals. That should get them over the hump and into the field of 68. Selection Sunday won’t be entirely comfortable if they lose on Saturday, but they certainly have a better than average chance to hear their names called.

Utah State (25-6, NET: 30, Q1: 2-2, Q2: 2-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

New Mexico pushed Utah State to the brink on Thursday night, but the Aggies came out of it with a win, avoiding a bad loss they may not have been able to afford. There’d likely have to be a couple of bid thieves pop up over the weekend for the Aggies to fall out of the field, but they can secure their place by winning on Friday and advancing to the Mountain West championship game.

TCU (21-12, NET: 48, Q1: 3-9, 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 that was likely the last one the Horned Frogs needed to secure an at-large bid. They stuck with Kansas State in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, but ultimately came up just short. Still, this should be a tournament team.

Ohio State (19-14, NET: 55, Q1: 5-10, Q2: 4-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

Ohio State will remain in the Bubble Watch until the bracket is released on Sunday, but the Buckeyes are likely safe. Their regular season includes wins over Cincinnati, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana and Creighton, and they have just one loss outside the top-two quadrants. They won’t be a high seed, but they should get an at-large bid.

NC State (22-11, NET: 32, Q1: 3-9, 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.

St. John’s (21-12, NET: 64, Q1: 5-7, Q2: 5-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

A 32-point loss isn’t the last data point you want to give the committee, but the Red Storm should still be on solid ground heading into Selection Sunday. Even after getting waxed by Marquette in the Big East quarterfinals, the Red Storm have five Q1 victories and 10 combined Q1 and Q2 wins. They could find themselves in Dayton for the First Four, but they are far more likely than not to be dancing.

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. Still, with early-round tournament losses by Clemson, Indiana and Creighton, the door is open for one of the four mid-majors in the at-large discussion to buck that trend. We see Belmont’s as the strongest résumé.

Arizona State (22-9, NET: 67, Q1: 3-3, Q2: 8-2, Q3+Q4 Losses: 4)

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. They handled UCLA with ease on Thursday, and that has them one step closer to an at-large bid. If they advance to the Pac-12 championship, it likely won’t matter if they win it or not, at least in terms of getting into the dance. Win or lose, they will be there. Of course, they have to get to the Pac-12 championship first.

Temple (23-9, NET: 50, Q1: 2-6, Q2: 6-1, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Temple is going to have a nervous couple of days after losing to Wichita State on Friday. The Owls have a couple wins over at-large locks—Houston and UCF—but they don’t have any other victories against teams near the at-large field. With that in mind, they’re competing with teams like Arizona State, St. John’s, NC State and Indiana for an at-large bid.

Indiana (17-15, NET: 51, Q1: 6-10, Q2: 2-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Indiana remains one of the most interesting teams on the bubble, which we wrote about earlier. After losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, though, the Hoosiers are a much tougher sell as an at-large bid. Those six Q1 wins, including two over Michigan, and one apiece over Wisconsin, Louisville and Marquette, have them in the discussion, but 15-loss teams that are just two games over .500 typically don’t get invites from the Selection Committee. Their road could be even tougher in a season that has four mid-majors—Belmont, UNC-Greensboro, Lipscomb and Furman—with legitimate at-large cases.

Clemson (19-13, NET: 35, 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.

UNC-Greensboro (27-6, NET: 58, 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 they face 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.

Memphis (21-12, NET: 53, Q1: 2-8, Q2: 2-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Memphis kept itself on the bubble with a dominant victory over UCF in the AAC quarterfinals on Friday. They’re likely still on the outside of the tournament field, but they could change that by advancing to the AAC championship game. If they beat Houston on Saturday, they will certainly be a topic of discussion in the committee room.

Lipscomb (23-7, NET: 47, 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.

Off the Bubble

Alabama (18-15, NET: 59, Q1: 3-10, Q2: 7-3, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Alabama made a run at an at-large bid in the SEC tournament by beating Mississippi, but its loss to Kentucky on Friday likely took them out of the running. The Crimson Tide will be an interesting team to watch in the NIT, assuming we’re right.​

Texas (16-16, NET: 38, Q1: 5-10, Q2: 4-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 1)

No .500 team has ever earned an at-large bid, and we don’t think the committee is going to make history, at least in that way, this season. Texas may have wins over North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas this season, but it will not be putting on its dancing shoes.

Xavier (18-15, NET: 70, Q1: 4-9, Q2: 5-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Xavier had an at-large bid, or at least much better odds for an at-large bid, in its grasp on Friday, leading for nearly all of the second half in its Big East quarterfinal with Villanova. The Wildcats ultimately fought their way back and forced overtime, prevailing in the extra period. The Musketeers will likely be left on the outside of the tournament field.​

Creighton (17-14, NET: 54, Q1: 3-10, Q2: 6-4, Q3+Q4 Losses: 0)

Does anyone want these last four bids to the tournament? Creighton fell to Xavier in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday, effectively ending their quest for an at-large bid. The total body of work does not hold water against fellow power-conference bubblers like Indiana and Clemson, and it’s likely that the committee will prefer at least one of the mid-major quartet of Belmont, UNC-Greensboro, Furman and Lipscomb.

Georgetown (19-13, NET: 78, Q1: 5-6, Q2: 6-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Georgetown made an impressive run at the end of the season to get on the bubble, but after Thursday’s drubbing at the hands of Seton Hall, the Hoyas will have to settle for a trip to the NIT.

Providence (18-15, NET: 69, Q1: 4-8, Q2: 6-5, Q3+Q4 Losses: 2)

Providence hung with Villanova through most of their Big East quarterfinal, but the Wildcats kept them at arm’s length and ultimately came away with an 11-point win. The Friars have been hanging around the fringes of the at-large picture for most of the last two months, but they really needed this one to have a realistic shot at a happy Selection Sunday. They’ll be one of the most dangerous teams in the NIT.