NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch 2021: What will it take to reach March Madness?

The 2021 NCAA Tournament is approaching. Our bubble watch dives into what teams need to do to prove they belong as a tournament team.

The 2021 NCAA Tournament is rapidly approaching. While this season has perhaps felt a bit sped-up due to all the COVID-19 related pauses across the nation, the campaign has chugged along and is already Selection Sunday. Due to the pandemic, teams have vastly different resumes compared to normal.

As a result of it being Selection Sunday, we have officially reached bracketology crunch time. Teams across the country have used this final month to cram in last-minute results for their resume to submit to the selection committee. While many teams have already emerged as “locks” due to dominant records and metrics, there are still several with uncertain postseason futures.

The bubble situation was impacted greatly on Saturday evening by a pair of bid-stealers. Georgetown and Oregon State both won their respective conference tournaments to shrink the bubble pool by two spots. Cincinnati could also join that group of bid-stealers if they upset Houston on Sunday. Bubble teams everywhere will be rooting against the Bearcats.

MORE: March Madness bid thieves that could shape the field

This Bubble Watch page will dive into each bubble team unsure of its positioning. The piece includes categorizing each team into where they belong on the bubble as well as individual breakdowns of their resumes and what they need to do from this point forward.

To fast-forward to a specific conference, click here:

ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
AAC | Atlantic 10 | Mountain West | Others

For those who have not followed my Bubble Watch in prior years, here is a breakdown of the categories and their meanings:

Bubble Watch Categories:

Lead pipe lock: Sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams. These teams are projected to land Top 10 seeds to the Big Dance and it would take a massive collapse to fall out of the field.

Firmly in the field: This category no longer exists as it is late enough in the season where a team is either a lock or sweating at least a little bit for Selection Sunday.

Some perspiration: These squads are on the right side of the bubble right now but cannot afford to suffer many losses down the stretch. Adding a signature win or two wouldn’t hurt either.

Double the deodorant: These are the teams that would be sweating out Selection Sunday most if it were today. They are either just above the cutline or have work to do to join the projected field. Better double-up on the antiperspirant.

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Metrics and resume statistics are current through the morning of Sunday, March 14.

Atlantic Coast

Lead pipe lock: Florida State, Virginia, Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Louisville, Syracuse

Louisville Cardinals
NET: 56, Resume: 36.0, Quality: 51.3
Q1: 1-6 | Q2: 6-0 | Q3: 4-1 | Q4: 2-0

Louisville’s lack of high-quality wins has them doubling up the deodorant for this weekend. The 13-7 record is solid but the NCAA Tournament selection committee showed in the Bracket Preview that they are prioritizing quality wins. That hurts the Cardinals as they hold just one Q1 win, picked up just a couple of weekends ago at Duke. The victory over the Blue Devils was a great place to start but they followed that up with back-to-back double-digit losses to Virginia and Duke.

The latter defeat came in the ACC Tournament, so the Cardinals are out of opportunities to prove themselves to the committee. I still have Louisville in the field, but as my third-to-last team in. They need to run to the store for deodorant, root for conference tournament favorites, and hope. Will their strong 6-0 record in Q2 make up for their lack of high-quality victories?

Syracuse Orange
NET: 40, Resume: 43.5, Quality: 35.7
Q1: 1-7 | Q2: 6-1 | Q3: 6-1 | Q4: 3-0

A buzzer-beater from Virginia’s Reece Beekman on Thursday afternoon dashed Syracuse’s hopes of a potentially stress-free Selection Sunday. The loss to the Cavaliers isn’t particularly detrimental on its own, but the Orange are now out of opportunities to prove they belong in the field. I still have Syracuse in my projected field as a “Last Four In” team but barely. Can they survive the bid-stealers?

Syracuse’s metrics are mostly better than other bubble teams and that is a strong reason for inclusion. With that said, though, the door is wide open for the committee to leave the Orange out; after all, they had eight Quadrant-1 chances this season and won just one of them. They’ve been consistent against worse teams, but the lack of quality wins is glaring.

Would it really be a college basketball season if Syracuse wasn’t on the bubble?


Big 12

Lead pipe lock: Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
Some perspiration: None.
Double the deodorant: None.

Oklahoma State is a lock as long as the NCAA does not rule on their postseason ban before Selection Sunday. That’s pretty much it. The Cowboys’ resume is loaded with quality wins and metrics have caught up to them being an excellent team. Cade Cunningham will play in March as long as a decision is not made to ban them from the postseason. OK State is a projected No. 3 seed.


Big East

Lead pipe lock: Villanova, Creighton, UConn, Georgetown
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Seton Hall, Xavier

Seton Hall Pirates
NET: 55, Resume: 57.0, Quality: 48.0
Q1: 3-8 | Q2: 4-3 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 2-0

Facing a second consecutive must-win game, Seton Hall was unable to take down Georgetown in the Big East Tournament semifinals. The Pirates are now out of opportunities to prove themselves to the committee and have entered the “wait and hope” phase of the bubble life. Their loss also set the Hoyas on their path to winning the league’s automatic bid, shrinking the at-large pool.

I do not think it likely that they will dance, but they do have seven Q1+2 wins and decent enough metrics that the committee will probably give them a little thought. There have been some surprising selections in years past — maybe Hall will be the next in that list. They are my ninth team out.

Xavier Musketeers
NET: 59, Resume: 56.5, Quality: 58.7
Q1: 1-3 | Q2: 5-4 | Q3: 4-1 | Q4: 3-0

Xavier, just like last season, entered the Big East Tournament as one of the last teams in the projected field. And, again, just like last season, the Musketeers were upset in the opening round with a brutal loss. Coach Steele’s team blew a double-digit halftime lead (led by as many as 19 at one point) and dropped a Q3 game to Butler. This is a major killer to a resume that was already very pedestrian. Xavier is now in “wait and hope” mode.

The Musketeers are on the outside looking in of my projected field now, but the committee has made surprising selections in the past. Even with only one Q1 win for the year and generally below-bubble metrics, Xavier has to hope that it can be the next in that line of surprising selections. It feels like this team is going to miss out on the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, though. I think they are a longer shot than Seton Hall.


Big Ten

Lead pipe lock: Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin, Rutgers
Some perspiration: Maryland
Double the deodorant: Michigan State

Maryland Terrapins
NET: 35, Resume: 47.5, Quality: 35.0
Q1: 4-10 | Q2: 3-3 | Q3: 6-0 | Q4: 2-0

Maryland walked away victorious in arguably the nation’s most pivotal “bubble battle” on Thursday afternoon by taking down Michigan State. The Terrapins were plus-25 in points off turnovers in the win as they rebounded nicely from back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Penn State. Head coach Mark Turgeon’s team has overachieved compared to preseason expectations and is in pretty good shape to land an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

I pegged them as a No. 10 seed in my Sunday morning bracketology update — this comes after a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Quarterfinals. They would have eliminated all doubt if they upset the Wolverines but I still think that this team should safely dance.

MSU Spartans presented by Rocket Mortgage
NET: 70, Resume: 50.5, Quality: 54.3
Q1: 5-10 | Q2: 4-2 | Q3: 2-0 | Q4: 4-0

As is the case with every bubble battle, somebody has to be on the losing end. Unfortunately for Michigan State, they were the ones that took the L on Thursday. I still have the Spartans sneaking into the projected field right now, but they are in my “Last Four Byes.” Without any additional opportunities to prove themselves before Sunday, this is a precarious situation. MSU is in need of doubling its antiperspirant in advance of the bracket reveal.

From a resume perspective, it is easy to see the positives and negatives with Michigan State. On the plus side, they have five Q1 wins and no bad losses. On the downside, though, they are just 5-11 in Q1 as they have won fewer than one-third of their big opportunities; they also have fairly pedestrian metrics that do not propel them above other bubble teams.


Pacific 12

Lead pipe lock: USC, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: UCLA

UCLA Bruins
NET: 46, Resume: 47.0, Quality: 44.0
Q1: 2-6 | Q2: 3-3 | Q3: 8-0 | Q4: 4-0

“I do think that UCLA can survive a loss to Oregon State but they’d be better off not risking it.”
Narrator: They risked it.

UCLA lost its opening game of the Pac-12 Tournament to Oregon State. This marked the Bruins’ fourth consecutive loss dating back to the regular season as they have stumbled to the finish line perhaps more than any other bubble team. The defeat also helped propel the Beavers to win the automatic bid, shrinking the bubble pool. Overall, UCLA’s 17-9 record and Top 50 metrics might be enough to keep them in the field but they have made things far more stressful with this losing streak than they could have been. UCLA is my fourth-to-last team in the field right now.

The aforementioned record and metrics are keeping the Bruins on the right side of the cutline. If the committee is looking for a reason to keep them out, though, they wouldn’t need to do much digging. UCLA is just 5-9 in Q1+2 games this season, a mark that lacks the quantity of quality and displays struggles to consistently beat good teams.


Southeastern

Lead pipe lock: Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, LSU
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Mississippi

Mississippi Rebels
NET: 53, Resume: 67.5, Quality: 48.3
Q1: 3-5 | Q2: 4-4 | Q3: 4-2 | Q4: 5-0

I am admittedly a tad higher on Mississippi’s resume than others but bid-stealers knocked them out of my projected field. The Rebels will be sweating out Selection Sunday in a big way with their fingers crossed in hopes of hearing their name called. They are my second team out.

Mississippi’s metrics are a tad behind most bubble teams, but they do have the advantage of a pretty solid 7-9 record in Q1+2 games. Those performances against good teams give them an edge over some others on the bubble (Colorado State, Boise State, Xavier, etc.) even if only three of the wins came over NCAA Tournament teams. They will be an interesting team for the selection committee to evaluate.


American

Lead pipe lock: Houston
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Wichita State, Memphis, SMU

Wichita State Shockers
NET: 72, Resume: 37.5, Quality: 77.0
Q1: 2-3 | Q2: 2-1 | Q3: 6-1 | Q4: 4-0

Quality metrics have not been kind to the Shockers this season. The BPI, especially, is holding back Wichita State by ranking them at No. 96 in their model. They also recently suffered a critical loss to Cincinnati in the ACC Tournament semifinals; this marked their first “bad loss” of the year and also opened up the possibility of another bid-stealer. With Oregon State and Georgetown already stealing bids, this pushed the Shockers to my first team out on the morning of Selection Sunday,

Wichita State will be sweating out the rest of the weekend in hopes of hearing its name called.

Memphis Tigers
NET: 52, Resume: 61.5 | Quality: 40.3
Q1: 0-3 | Q2: 4-3 | Q3: 6-1 | Q4: 6-0

Memphis needed at least one quality win to push into my projected field. Yet, their hopes were dashed with two losses to Houston by a combined five points over the last two weeks. They are still without a Q1 for the year and that is likely to hold them back from reaching the dance. To look on the bright side, their quality metrics are a touch ahead of most bubble teams and the committee could potentially use those as a reason for inclusion. The Tigers are my seventh team out.

SMU Mustangs
NET: 65, Resume: 52.0, Quality: 56.7
Q1: 0-3 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3: 2-2 | Q4: 5-0

SMU has pretty middling metrics, a complete lack of a Q1 win, but a very solid overall record (11-5). Sum that all up and it is easy to see why the Mustangs are a bubble team. A loss to Cincinnati on Friday has seemingly eliminated hope of an at-large bid, though. The Mustangs are now in my “Next Six Out” and need the committee to be very generous for them to dance.


Atlantic 10

Lead pipe lock: None
Some perspiration: St. Bonaventure, VCU
Double the deodorant: Saint Louis

St. Bonaventure Bonnies
NET: 27, Resume: 29.5, Quality: 33.0
Q1: 3-2 | Q2: 3-1 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 4-0

St. Bonaventure is pretty close to a lock right now. I have the Bonnies slotted on my No. 10 seed line and they have already reached the Atlantic 10 championship. They should dance even if they lose out on the automatic bid to VCU. They will finish the year above .500 in Q1+2 games with only one bad loss and excellent metrics across the board (relative to the bubble). SBU is not yet locked because of the possibility of bid-stealers and the committee might have them lower than I do right now. I think they are very safe, though.

I want to lock the Bonnies so bad; I think they deserve it.

VCU Rams
NET: 36, Resume: 26.0, Quality: 50.7
Q1: 2-4 | Q2: 7-0 | Q3: 6-2 | Q4: 4-0

VCU has a tough resume to figure out. On one hand, the Rams don’t have great quality metrics and only two fringe Q1 victories. On the other hand, though, their NET and resume rankings are excellent and their overall record of 18-6 is hard to ignore. Losses to George Mason and Davidson have been detrimental but they did the latter without star Nah’Shon Hyland. The committee should take that into account.

Hyland returned to action in VCU’s A10 Tournament opener and was superb. He led the way with 30 points in their win over Dayton to reach the conference semifinals. He followed that up with 12 in their win over Davidson. VCU is on the right side of the bubble and would likely survive losing in the A10 title game to Bonaventure (which they have already reached). A win and they would obviously hold the automatic bid.

Saint Louis Billikens
NET: 43, Resume: 63.0, Quality: 45.7
Q1: 2-2 | Q2: 2-2 | Q3: 4-2 | Q4: 6-0

Saint Louis has been a quiet winner of the last week. The Billikens already went out in the Atlantic 10 a while ago, but they have steadily moved up in the at-large conversation as other bubble teams have dropped games. There is a legitimate argument for them to be included in the projected field right now; they are my third team out. In order for them to backdoor their way into the field, the Billikens need to root against Cincinnati and hope the committee appreciates what they were able to do in their 20 games played (and give them a break from two losses after a COVID pause). Oregon State and Georgetown stealing bids greatly impacted SLU.


Mountain West

Lead pipe lock: San Diego State
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Utah State, Colorado State, Boise State

Utah State Aggies
NET: 39, Resume: 51.5, Quality: 45.3
Q1: 2-5 | Q2: 2-1 | Q3: 7-2 | Q4: 8-0

Utah State, previously thought to be potentially left for dead, swept Nevada at home to return to the bubble conversation. Back-to-back wins over UNLV and Colorado State in the MWC Tournament have pushed this team to the championship game of the league. Neemias Queta is refusing to go down without a fight as arguably the best defender in the entire nation.

Utah State is 20-8 overall, which is a bit hard to imagine considering they started the season just 1-3. It is too bad that while many of us have forgotten about those three early losses, the committee has not. The Aggies have been working from behind the eight ball since early December.

Following a loss to San Diego State in the MWC Tournament final game, Utah State is my last team in the field. The Aggies were greatly negatively impacted by Oregon State and Georgetown stealing bids.

Colorado State Rams
NET: 51, Resume: 48.5, Quality: 70.3
Q1: 2-4 | Q2: 1-2 | Q3: 4-0 | Q4: 10-0

Colorado State fell to Utah State in the “bubble battle” that was the MWC semifinals. This pushed the Rams onto the wrong side of my projected cutline as my third team out; the low-quality metrics are a killer on their resume. With that said, though, there is still a shot that they belong in the field barring any bid-stealers. I think that there are a few contenders that the committee will consider for the last few spots in the field and the Rams will be one of those teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are on the outside looking in but selected as a potential COVID-19 replacement team.

Boise State Broncos
NET: 50, Resume: 55.0, Quality: 58.0
Q1: 2-4 | Q2: 2-3 | Q3: 4-0 | Q4: 9-1

With a loss in its MWC Tournament opener to Nevada, Boise State lost its last four games dating back to the regular season. The most recent defeat has pushed the Broncos back onto the wrong side of my projected cutline as my fourth team out. Without any more opportunities to prove to the committee that they belong, the best that Boise State can do is wait and hope. Their metrics are all middling and they have a weak 4-7 Q1+2 record with a Q4 loss; I struggle to see them dancing, though the committee has made surprising selections in the past.


Others

Auto-bids: Gonzaga, Loyola Chicago, Winthrop, UCSB, North Texas, Ohio, Liberty, UNCG, Abilene Christian, Morehead State, Eastern Washington, Grand Canyon, Cleveland State, Drexel, Oral Roberts, Iona, Hartford, Appalachian State, Mount St. Mary’s, Norfolk State, Texas Southern
Lead pipe lock: BYU
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Drake

Drake Bulldogs
NET: 45, Resume: 50.0, Quality: 61.7
Q1: 1-2 | Q2: 5-0 | Q3: 6-2 | Q4: 11-0

Drake lost in the MVC final to Loyola Chicago. That is far from a bad loss, but it also leaves the Bulldogs with nothing to do but hope for the next several days. They boast an excellent overall record, but rather pedestrian metrics and only one Q1 win. I am in favor of rewarding teams with great records such as Drake, but whether or not the committee agrees with me remains to be seen. Drake needs to root for mid-major (and Big East) conference favorites to win their tournaments and for other bubble teams to fall early. As of right now, Drake is my seventh-to-last team in the field.

Lukas Harkins
Lukas Harkins

Heat Check CBB national writer and bracketologist