Just a handful of teams remain as bid thieves that could alter the March Madness at-large picture.
The 2021 March Madness bracket release is quickly approaching. Friday’s action featured two major COVID-related tournament cancellations, a coaching kerfuffle, and plenty of exciting finishes.
Just two days remain in the regular season and more than half of the tournament’s automatic qualifiers will be crowned by Saturday night. Tickets to the field of 68 continue to disappear, and four potential bid-stealing teams could shake things up even more.
Below we identified four teams that can still win their respective conference tournaments in leagues otherwise projected to have at-larges.
- Saturday: vs. Creighton — 6:30 p.m. ET (Fox)
For the first time in the Patrick Ewing era, Georgetown has won three consecutive Big East contests. The string of wins has come at the right time, too, as the Hoyas will enter Saturday just 40 minutes from returning to the NCAA Tournament, something the program hasn’t accomplished since 2015.
Ewing’s squad dominated Marquette in the first round, edged Villanova in the final seconds on Thursday, and then held off Seton Hall while leading almost the entire way on Friday. Big man Qudus Wahab is playing the best basketball of his career during this run, averaging 15.3 points and seven rebounds with only two total turnovers in 85 minutes in the Big East tournament. Georgetown and Creighton split their regular-season series with the Hoyas taking the Feb. 3 contest 86-79 and the Bluejays returning the favor 63-48 just six days later.
Projected seed as AQ: 12-13
- Saturday: vs. Colorado — 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
How about this run from the Beavers? Picked to finish last in the Pac-12, Oregon State lurked in the shadows during league play before earning the tournament’s No. 5 seed. Wayne Tinkle’s squad has made the most of the opportunity, stunning UCLA in overtime on Thursday and then led in-state rival Oregon by as many as 19 in an 11-point win in the semis.
Oregon State has only one NCAA Tournament appearance over the last three decades and is still in just its first year without Tres Tinkle, the program’s all-time leading scorer. The Beavers have been on a tear of late with the fifth-highest efficiency margin improvement in college basketball over the past month. To notch a March Madness berth, OSU will have to take care of a Colorado team that hasn’t lost since Feb. 18. Something has to give.
Projected seed as AQ: 12-13
- Saturday: vs. Wichita State — 3 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
- *Sunday: vs. Memphis/Houston — 3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Is this finally the year Cincinnati’s March Madness streak snaps? Mick Cronin guided the Bearcats to nine consecutive tournaments before heading to UCLA, and now John Brannen will need a superb 80 minutes of basketball to extend the run to 10. This isn’t your typical Cincinnati group as Brannen’s team pushes the tempo and has struggles defending.
Nevertheless, Cincy is set to take on the AAC regular season champs on Saturday. Wichita State suffered its fair share of blows from the Bearcats in their only contest on Jan. 10, which was closely contested for about 30 minutes before the Shockers distanced themselves late. Isaac Brown and Wichita State have been one of college basketball’s great stories this season, though the Shockers have looked beatable in recent weeks, needing to survive with a late charge call on Friday vs. Tulane following a handful of nail-biting finishes.
Projected seed as AQ: 13-14
- Saturday: vs. Houston — 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
- *Sunday: vs. Cincinnati/Wichita State — 3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Penny Hardaway’s group is attempting to sneak its way back into the tournament picture. While the Tigers probably have the best at-large hopes of the four potential bid stealers, anything besides Sunday’s AAC title likely won’t be enough.
Memphis looks to avenge its most recent loss, a stunning defeat last Sunday vs. Houston when Tramon Mark drilled a buzzer-beating shot to all but seal the Tigers’ AQ-or-bust fate. Six days later, Memphis has another crack at its first Quad-I victory of the year and will lean on its defense once again, which leads the nation in adjusted efficiency. Keep an eye on guard Boogie Ellis, who is shooting 44.2 percent from the field in wins vs. 30.6 percent in losses. He had 12 points and three assists in Friday’s quarterfinal win over UCF.
Projected seed as AQ: 11-13