NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch 2021: What will it take to dance?

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 into late February. Due to the pandemic, teams have vastly different resumes than normal with Selection Sunday coming soon.

Football season is over and college hoops have now taken center stage. As a result, we have officially reached bracketology crunch time. Teams across the country are using this final month of regular-season action 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.

This Bubble Watch page will dive into each of those teams unsure of their 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 | Missouri Valley | Mountain West | Others

For those that 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 6 seeds to the Big Dance and it would take a massive collapse to fall out of the field.

Firmly in the field: These teams only need to avoid bad losses over the final weeks of the season. They are currently slotted as a No. 7-9 seed in most bracketology projections and are >90% likely to reach the NCAA Tournament.

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 this weekend. They are either just above the cutline or have work to do to join the projected field. Better double-up on the antiperspirant.

BRACKETOLOGY: Latest field of 68
Conference tournament portal
SUBSCRIBE to today!

Metrics and resume statistics are current through the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27.

Atlantic Coast

Lead pipe lock: Florida State, Virginia, Clemson
Firmly in the field: Virginia Tech
Some perspiration: North Carolina, Louisville
Double the deodorant: Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse

Virginia Tech Hokies
NET: 51, Resume: 35.0, Quality: 48.7
Q1: 3-2 | Q2: 3-3 | Q3: 4-0 | Q4: 4-0

Virginia Tech is safely in the field right now as a projected No. 7 seed on the Bracket Matrix. The Hokies do not have a bad loss to date and also control a pair of excellent wins over Virginia and Villanova. Their quality metrics might not indicate those of a Top 25 team but it is hard to argue with their overall resume. This is one of the best teams in the ACC this season and there is only one game left scheduled (vs. Wake Forest) that would be classified as a “bad loss.”

I think that the Hokies are in very strong shape to reach the NCAA Tournament. With three regular-season games remaining, they might only need one win to move into the lock territory. There is a large gap between them and the cutline right now. Head coach Mike Young should guide this program to the Big Dance easily in his second season at the helm. Expectations = exceeded.

North Carolina Tar Heels
NET: 43, Resume: 45.0, Quality: 32.7
Q1: 1-6 | Q2: 6-1 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 2-0

Bluebloods have struggled greatly this season. North Carolina is also in the midst of a down year but it is certainly better than its 2019-20 campaign. The Tar Heels still find themselves on the right side of the cutline right now thanks to solid metric rankings and only one bad loss. They took an especially big leap earlier with a 45-point home beatdown of Louisville. The goodwill they built with that victory, though, was torn down a bit with a 13-point loss to Marquette. Their lack of more than one Q1 win continues to be tough to overcome.

In terms of “playing the quadrants,” there are four teams that UNC should root for moving forward: Pittsburgh, Stanford, Kentucky, and *gulps* Duke. These are all teams that UNC beat that could become/stay Q1 wins over the coming month. The lack of high-quality wins makes the Tar Heels’ positioning on the bubble tough to determine, but their metrics are all strong. Having Marquette rise into the NET Top 75 would also help as that would make that a Q2 loss.

Louisville Cardinals
NET: 48, Resume: 31.0, Quality: 45.7
Q1: 0-4 | Q2: 7-0 | Q3: 3-1 | Q4: 2-0

Louisville’s lack of high-quality wins has them in my “some perspiration” category. Also, getting absolutely manhandled by North Carolina far from helped their case. The 12-5 record is impressive but the NCAA Tournament selection committee showed in the Bracket Preview that they are prioritizing quality wins. That hurts the Cardinals as they are yet to secure a Q1 win. They are sliding closer to needing to swing by the grocery store for another antiperspirant.

All three of their remaining scheduled games come against teams either set to reach the NCAA Tournament or on the bubble. Head coach Chris Mack’s team is trending a bit in the wrong direction lately. They have dropped four of their past seven games and need to right the ship. The Cardinals will face Duke on the road this weekend in a major battle of ACC bubble teams. They are currently teetering in the No. 9-11 seed range and are on the right side of the cutline.

Duke Blue Devils
NET: 49, Resume: 62.0, Quality: 27.0
Q1: 2-3 | Q2: 4-4 | Q3: 3-1 | Q4: 2-0

Is Duke back? After starting the season just 7-8, the Blue Devils have rattled off four consecutive wins to appear right around the NCAA Tournament cutline. Amidst this winning streak is a home victory over Virginia that propelled them back into the national spotlight. While resume metrics are not particularly kind to this blue blood, efficiency metrics never sold their stock. Duke’s lowest KenPom spot of the year was No. 41 — that made it easier to climb once they started winning with more consistency.

Looking ahead, Duke’s final three scheduled regular-season games will come against NCAA Tournament hopefuls: Louisville (H), Georgia Tech (A), and North Carolina (A). I am of the opinion that they need to focus on taking at least two of those games to remain in the bubble conversation. Taking all three would put them on the right side of everyone’s cutline prior to the ACC Tournament. I am one of the few bracketologists that already has Duke in the field.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
NET: 40, Resume: 51.0, Quality: 38.7
Q1: 2-6 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3: 4-2 | Q4: 2-0

Georgia Tech has some work to do to reach the NCAA Tournament but its hopes aren’t dashed yet. All three major metric categories paint the Yellow Jackets as a bubble team and a hot finish could push all of those numbers into the Top 50. They did miss a pair of opportunities recently with losses to Virginia and Clemson. Both games were winnable, especially the latter, but the Yellow Jackets came up just short.

Since those defeats, though, Georgia Tech has responded with a three-game winning streak. They most recently picked up a massive resume-building win on the road over Virginia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are right in the thick of the bubble conversation (on the wrong side of my cutline) with back-to-back home games against Syracuse and Duke looming. It’s time to make a move.

Georgia Tech is currently the second-team-out of my bracketology. A win over Syracuse this weekend might put them into the field with the right results around them.

Syracuse Orange
NET: 55, Resume: 64.5, Quality: 45.7
Q1: 0-5 | Q2: 3-1 | Q3: 6-1 | Q4: 4-0

Pittsburgh dropping out of the NET Top 75 has given Syracuse a Q3 loss that mars a previously pristine Q3+4 record. This is a problem considering the Orange’s resume is void of quality wins. They are yet to add a Q1 victory and are just 3-6 in Q1+2 games in total. The committee showed a preference towards teams with quality wins during the Bracket Preview, and that is not good news for teams with resumes like Syracuse.

The Orange need to start collecting high-quality wins. In a down year for the ACC, this is harder than it usually would be but still plenty possible. Each of their last three scheduled games will come against quality competition: at Georgia Tech, vs. UNC, vs. Clemson. This team has work to do but enough time and opportunities to pull it off. Would it really be a college basketball season if Syracuse wasn’t on the bubble?


Big 12

Lead pipe lock: Baylor, WVU, OU, KU, Texas
Firmly in the field: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Some perspiration: None.
Double the deodorant: None.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
NET: 19, Resume: 43.0, Quality: 19.3
Q1: 4-7 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 3-0 | Q4: 6-0

Texas Tech feels like a lock and looks like a lock through the lens of the eye-test. Their NET and quality rankings also agree that they belong as a Top 6 seed and in very safe positioning for the NCAA Tournament. Yet, I am keeping them in my “firmly in the field” section this week as a result of their poor overall record against quality opposition. While the Red Raiders do boast some excellent wins (at LSU, Oklahoma twice, at Texas), they are just 5-8 in Q1+2 games. That is very pedestrian.

With games against TCU and Iowa State still looming on the schedule, there are possibilities for “landmine losses.” Taking care of the Horned Frogs and Cyclones would punch their ticket to the lock territory. I am far less in love with TTU’s resume than some other bracketologists at this time. I have them slotted as a No. 6-7 seed at this moment due to that lack of consistency against tougher competition.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
NET: 36, Resume: 22.5, Quality: 43.7
Q1: 6-4 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 2-1 | Q4: 6-0

The Big 12 is about as loaded and top-heavy as they come, making for a perfect storm to get 70 percent of the league in the NCAA Tournament. Five of those squads are already locked, in my opinion, and there’s very little doubt about the other two. The Cowboys are currently projected as a No. 7 seed by the Bracket Matrix and have a strong resume on the whole.

They have proven capable of beating some of the best teams in the country as evidenced by six Quadrant 1 wins. Only four teams have more. Considering the Selection Committee’s desire for high-quality wins this season, Oklahoma State looks to be in strong shape.

They only have one “bad loss” that resides in Q3 and that is easily overcome, especially with an above-.500 record in the quality games of Q1+2. As long as the NCAA does not rule on their postseason ban before Selection Sunday, I expect that the Cowboys will safely dance.


Big East

Lead pipe lock: Villanova, Creighton
Firmly in the field: None
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: UConn, Xavier, Seton Hall, St. John’s

UConn Huskies
NET: 42, Resume: 50.5, Quality: 32.0
Q1: 2-3 | Q2: 3-3 | Q3: 3-0 | Q4: 3-0

UConn started this season with a 7-1 record that included a very strong neutral-site win over USC that has aged *chef’s kiss* like fine wine. The Huskies also won four of their first five conference games during their return to the Big East. They proceeded to drop four of their next five following that point to fall perhaps onto the wrong side of the bubble. Even while having won three of four since then, they find themselves right around the cutline.

James Bouknight’s return is vital to note for this resume since he missed several games. Bouknight is the team’s offensive star and a future NBA player. The Huskies are simply much better with him on the floor and that could become evident down the stretch. The Selection Committee might even take into account that the team went just 4-4 without him.

That is the optimistic view. On the flip side, UConn is only 5-6 in Q1+2 games, signifying a lack of quality victories. The Huskies have work to do to solidify a spot in the field.

Xavier Musketeers
NET: 57, Resume: 44.5, Quality: 56.0
Q1: 1-2 | Q2: 4-3 | Q3: 4-0 | Q4: 3-0

Xavier started this season playing very well, leaping out to a 10-2 record as of Jan. 10. The Musketeers then only played one game — a win over rival Butler — over the entire next month due to COVID-19 protocols. Since returning to the court, they dropped back-to-back games to fellow Big East bubble teams in UConn and St. John’s, beat Butler again, and lost to Providence.

Considering their lack of quality wins (1-2 in Q1), collecting recent losses is concerning. All metrics have also started to drop the Musketeers closer and closer to bubble territory. Their NET, average resume, and average quality metrics all dropped by at least 10 spots relative to two weeks ago. That is not a great sign.

Xavier was previously seen as a No. 6-8 seed but is now looking more like a double-digit seed. The Big East isn’t as good this season as it has been in the past — there are some potential bad losses possible if Xavier isn’t careful. They have three games remaining on-schedule right now, including a critical home opportunity this weekend against Creighton.

Seton Hall Pirates
NET: 54, Resume: 61.5, Quality: 41.7
Q1: 3-6 | Q2: 3-3 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 2-0

Seton Hall’s record (13-10) isn’t particularly sparkly, but it has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation to date. Playing difficult matchups is only one step of the process, though, and the Pirates are right on the cutline due to those nine losses. Road wins over Penn State, Xavier and UConn have all aged fairly well but they also just suffered tough losses to Georgetown and Butler.

These defeats dropped the Pirates back toward the cutline after winning their previous four games. Seton Hall is a projected No. 11 seed on the Bracket Matrix (fifth-to-last team in) with UConn (H), St. John’s (A) left in terms of scheduled games. The Pirates are off this weekend but have work to do when they take the floor on Wednesday against the Huskies. Perhaps returning home will get them back in the wins column.

St. John’s Red Storm
NET: 75, Resume: 78.5, Quality: 69.7
Q1: 2-6 | Q2: 3-2 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 4-1

St. John’s had been trending in the right direction lately and a six-game winning streak plugged them into the bubble watch. The Red Storm followed that up by losing three of four, including games to Butler and DePaul – both of whom are in the Big East basement. Their most recent loss came by 23 points on the road against Villanova. A win there could have put them right back in the bubble conversation but now they have a ton of work to do.

The Red Storm have to finish their regular season with back-to-back wins over Providence and Seton Hall before entering the Big East tournament. Once there, they probably need at least a win or two to put themselves heavily in the conversation for a bid. It is a tough ask and disappointing considering how well they were trending just a couple of weeks ago.


Big Ten

Lead pipe lock: Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin
Firmly in the field: Rutgers
Some perspiration: Maryland
Double the deodorant: Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
NET: 31, Resume: 33.5, Quality: 29.0
Q1: 4-8 | Q2: 5-1 | Q3: 2-0 | Q4: 2-0

Rutgers has a very strong resume overall and a good case to already enter the “lock” category. They are a rock-solid 9-9 in Q1+2 games and boast a pair of elite wins over Illinois and Purdue. With only four games coming in Q3+4, they haven’t even given themselves much of a chance to suffer a bad loss. Head coach Steve Pikiell had an NCAA Tournament bid stolen from him a season ago due to COVID-19 but that shouldn’t be the case this time.

That is, of course, barring a collapse and that is why I haven’t locked Rutgers yet. The Scarlet Knights have already suffered one five-game losing streak (six of seven) this season and they cannot afford another. I am wary to lock this team due to their prior history of dropping several games in a row. They have lost three of their past five right now and have two scheduled regular-season games remaining. Rutgers should dance safely.

Maryland Terrapins
NET: 32, Resume: 38.5, Quality: 33.3
Q1: 5-9 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 5-0 | Q4: 2-0

I don’t want to do the math to figure it out, but Maryland must lead the nation in total Q1 games played this season (14). There should be no doubt about the fact that the Terps have been challenged night-in-night-out since the onset of this campaign. The downside is that they are just 5-9 in those games. Thankfully, the Terps fixed their barely-above-.500 record recently by sweeping Nebraska and then taking down Rutgers on the road.

A current four-game winning streak has pushed Maryland into pretty safe standing. Each of their three remaining scheduled games come against teams outside of the projected field (MSU, Northwestern, PSU); wins are likely and would keep them continue moving up while losses could drop them quickly back towards the cutline. Winning two would keep Maryland in a strong spot.

Indiana Hoosiers
NET: 53, Resume: 61.5, Quality: 37.0
Q1: 2-8 | Q2: 6-2 | Q3: 2-1 | Q4: 2-0

Indiana completed a season sweep of Iowa earlier that caused a massive leap in its odds of reaching the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those are its only sure-fire Q1 wins at this point and the Hoosiers’ overall record of 12-11 is far from great. IU is currently in 84 of 110 projected fields on the Bracket Matrix with an average seed of 11.29. They are the second-to-last team in the field.

With the Big Ten being as elite as it is this season, the biggest key for the Hoosiers is to simply stay above .500. If they can do that, that means they have picked up some quality wins along the way and have likely increased their metrics. They are in a precarious position right now, though, as one of the last teams in. A critical meeting with Michigan is up this weekend. A loss would put them at just .500 for the entire year; a win would push them back in most fields.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
NET: 65, Resume: 48.5, Quality: 59.0
Q1: 4-9 | Q2: 2-1 | Q3: 3-1 | Q4: 4-0

Minnesota has won just three of its last 12 games and has fallen closer to the bubble with each defeat. With four Q1 wins, they have proven capable of being very good teams, but they also have nine losses against that level of competition. Regardless, having “quantity of quality” might be exactly what the committee is looking for this season.

Only suffering one bad loss has helped as the Gophers have seemingly used their bad opponents as launching pads for quality metrics. Considering the gauntlet that the Big Ten is this season, Minnesota will not have an easy road to Selection Sunday and they will need to finish stronger than they have played lately. They take on Nebraska next in a must-win game.

The Gophers are the first team out of the Bracket Matrix field right now. They are occupying a spot in 66 of 110 fields.

Michigan State Spartans
NET: 69, Resume: 52.0, Quality: 53.7
Q1: 4-8 | Q2: 3-1 | Q3: 3-0 | Q4: 3-0

Michigan State took down Indiana (A), Illinois (H), and Ohio State (H) in three straight games and is now on the bubble. The Spartans have work to do to improve their overall metrics but there are opportunities to do exactly that. They finish with each of their final four games coming against KenPom Top 35 opponents. For a team that is fighting to claw back into tournament contention, that is perhaps the ideal schedule to make a run.

Quad 1 opportunities abound for this team, including both matchups with Michigan to close the regular season. If MSU can keep up its high level of play from that past week and carry that into more upsets, it has a shot at dancing. Coach Izzo lives for February and March. MSU is my first team out of the bracketology field heading into a road meeting with Maryland this weekend.


Pacific 12

Lead pipe lock: USC
Firmly in the field: Colorado, UCLA, Oregon
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Stanford

Colorado Buffaloes
NET: 16, Resume: 30.5, Quality: 18.0
Q1: 3-4 | Q2: 6-0 | Q3: 5-3 | Q4: 4-0

Colorado boasts excellent metrics this season and is very close to being a “lock” despite only three Q1 wins. The Buffaloes have collected solid, albeit not excellent, victories throughout the year and several dominating performances have contributed to being efficiency darlings. As long as they don’t fall apart completely down the stretch, the Buffaloes will dance. They are currently projected as a 7.63 seed and are in all 110 fields on the Bracket Matrix. An 18-point win over USC during this past week was very impressive.

UCLA Bruins
NET: 37, Resume: 28.5, Quality: 38.0
Q1: 2-3 | Q2: 3-2 | Q3: 8-0 | Q4: 4-0

UCLA is not in as strong of standing as it was a month ago, but they did right the ship during this past week. The Bruins have won four straight after dropping three of their prior four and are back in single-digit territory as a result. I pegged UCLA as a No. 9 seed in my most recent bracketology.

UCLA is now 5-5 in Q1+2 games this season. Not having any “bad losses” does help their resume, as do all of their metrics being a tad ahead of most bubble squads. Their schedule (as it stands) closes with two road games before hosting USC in the finale. KenPom has them as underdogs in all three; the Bruins need to outperform that in order to remain safe for the postseason.

Oregon Ducks
NET: 46, Resume: 31.0, Quality: 39.7
Q1: 3-3 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3: 4-2 | Q4: 4-0

A five-game winning streak ended with a 14-point road loss to USC this week but Oregon followed that up with a road win over Stanford. With an excellent 15-5 record, the Ducks remain on the right side of the cutline but lack quality wins. They only have one win to date over a single team projected to make the NCAA Tournament with a single-digit seed (Colorado). Their next best wins are over bubble teams in Stanford and Seton Hall. They also have a pair of head-scratching losses to Washington State and Oregon State.

Head coach Dana Altman seems to always get his teams playing well at the right time and that might be the case again this year. The Ducks have risen from being right near the cutline to being a projected No. 9 seed in my bracketology and are averaging a 9.28 seed in the Matrix.

Stanford Cardinal
NET: 60, Resume: 61.0, Quality: 64.7
Q1: 4-5 | Q2: 2-5 | Q3: 4-0 | Q4: 4-0

Stanford has struggled recently with back-to-back losses to Washington State and Oregon. They are now 6-10 in Q1+2 games. Head coach Jerod Haase seriously has to be *thrilled* with how well an 18-point win over Alabama (NET 8) has aged since Nov. 30. That win is keeping them in the conversation with two scheduled regular-season games remaining: Oregon State (H) and USC (A).

Stanford is the second team out of the current projected field by the Bracket Matrix while being featured in 43 of the 110 recent brackets. Holding four Q1 wins looks great, but their 2-5 record in Q2 games is keeping them on the outside-looking-in. The Cardinal have work to do and winning both of their final regular-season contests would get them back on the right side of my cutline heading into the conference tournament.


Southeastern

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

Florida Gators
NET: 27, Resume: 31.5, Quality: 26.7
Q1: 3-3 | Q2: 4-2 | Q3: 4-1 | Q4: 1-0

Florida is in pretty strong shape to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Gators hold a solid 12-6 overall record that includes a 7-5 record in Q1+2 games. They have beaten several solid opponents and hold a pair of signature wins over Tennessee and West Virginia. Though they have suffered a Q3 loss that drags them down a bit, their metrics and resume indicate a team that should safely dance. The Gators hold a 7.51 average seed right now.

LSU Tigers
NET: 30, Resume: 28.0, Quality: 28.7
Q1: 3-6 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 7-0 | Q4: 3-0

LSU lost its most recent game on the road to Georgia but that came on the heels of a strong three-game winning streak. The Tigers were very impressive during that trio of victories with each coming by double-digits, including one over Tennessee. As a result of their recent play, their metrics have leaped into the Top 30 pretty much across the board.

LSU was the fifth-to-last team in the projected field on the Bracket Matrix two weeks ago. Now? They are in 109 of 110 brackets with an average seed of 7.87. The Tigers landed a No. 9 seed in my most recent bracketology. Even without a high number of quality wins, LSU is in a strong spot right now. A big-time opportunity to assert themselves comes on Saturday at Arkansas. Vanderbilt (H) and Missouri (A) are the two games after this weekend.

Mississippi Rebels
NET: 59, Resume: 65.0, Quality: 53.0
Q1: 2-4 | Q2: 4-3 | Q3: 2-2 | Q4: 5-0

After clawing onto the bubble with a four-game winning streak over KenPom Top 100 opponents, Mississippi suffered a 10-point home loss to Mississippi State. The defeat set them back 13 spots on KenPom alone. They did respond, though, with a big-time road win over Missouri to reassert themselves as a team competing for a spot in the field. The Rebels are still on the wrong side of most projected cutlines but are in the hunt.

Head coach Kermit Davis’ group faces Vanderbilt this weekend in a must-win road game. The Rebels might need to go 3-0 in their final regular-season contests in order to push themselves onto the right side of the cutline prior to the SEC Tournament.


American

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

Wichita State Shockers
NET: 68, Resume: 35.0, Quality: 80.3
Q1: 2-2 | Q2: 2-2 | Q3: 5-0 | Q4: 2-0

Quality metrics have not been kind to the Shockers this season. The BPI, especially, is holding back Wichita State by ranking them at No. 99 in their model. This is still a hurdle that the team will need to climb to draw closer to the cutline but their overall record and lack of bad losses add intrigue to their bubbliciousness. The Shockers are 13-4 for the year and are currently in the midst of a five-game winning streak.

They most notably just picked up a huge win over Houston to propel themselves right into the thick of the bubble conversation. They have strong resume metrics and are 4-4 in Q1+2 without a bad loss. It would really help if their quality metrics would ever catch up. For now, the Shockers just need to keep winning and they will continue to move up slowly but surely.

SMU Mustangs
NET: 58, Resume: 44.0, Quality: 49.7
Q1: 0-3 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 2-0

SMU has pretty middling metrics overall, a complete lack of a Q1 win, but a very good overall record (11-4). Sum that all up and it is easy to see why the Mustangs are a bubble team. Although on the wrong side of the cutline right now, they are still in the hunt. SMU has already squandered its opportunities for a signature win, dropping both of its meetings with Houston, but can build up some momentum by beating up on the middle of the AAC. They face Cincinnati and Tulsa in their next two scheduled games – they need both wins before the conference tournament.

Memphis Tigers
NET: 61, Resume: 65.5 | Quality: 50.0
Q1: 0-2 | Q2: 3-3 | Q3: 5-1 | Q4: 5-0

Memphis started this season slowly but has since won seven of its last eight games while steadily improving both its record and its metrics. The Tigers are 0-2 in Q1 games so they lack quality, but the overall record (12-6) is solid and they have at least one opportunity for a signature win coming up. Memphis has yet to face Houston this year but a game is scheduled for March 7.

There aren’t many needle-moving chances in AAC play, but that game would both qualify. Winning would go a long way in Memphis’ rise toward the projected field. The Tigers currently hold the nation’s second-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating. They have work to do in order to dance, though. Three road games approach and they need to win at least two, in my opinion.


Atlantic 10

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

St. Bonaventure Bonnies
NET: 29, Resume: 28.0, Quality: 37.3
Q1: 1-2 | Q2: 2-1 | Q3: 6-0 | Q4: 4-0

St. Bonaventure has flown under the radar this season while emerging as one of the better mid-majors from a bracketology perspective. The Bonnies hold a 13-3 record that is void of bad losses. They most recently propelled themselves up the bracketoloy ranks with a road win over Davidson and a dominant 43-point win over George Washington. Their metrics are far beter now than they were earlier in the week.

The Bonnies have yet to win a game against a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team and they will never get a chance to either. They are currently the highest-rated team in the Atlantic 10 and are barely ahead of the cutline. The Bracket Matrix includes the Bonnies in 106 of 110 projected fields with an average seed of 10.75.

VCU Rams
NET: 35, Resume: 25.5, Quality 56.3
Q1: 1-3 | Q2: 7-0 | Q3: 4-2 | Q4: 5-0

VCU has a tough resume to figure out. On one hand, the Rams don’t have great quality metrics and only one fringe Q1 victory. On the other hand, though, their NET and resume rankings are excellent and their overall record of 17-5 is hard to ignore. A home loss to George Mason was detrimental recently but they got back on track nicely with a victory over Saint Louis.

They have won seven of their last eight now and have put a sliver of separation between themselves and the cutline. The Rams are a No. 10 seed in my bracketology and averaging a 10.56 seed in 107 of 110 brackets on the Matrix. They are more likely to reach the tournament at this point than miss.

Richmond Spiders
NET: 56, Resume: 58.0, Quality: 53.0
Q1: 2-4 | Q2: 3-0 | Q3: 6-1 | Q4: 1-1

Diving into the nitty-gritty, Richmond has been a bit of a mixed bag. The Spiders’ highly regarded nonconference wins over Kentucky and Northern Iowa have both aged horribly, but at least they still hold an excellent win over Loyola Chicago. Their losses to Hofstra and La Salle aren’t going away, but a 5-4 record in Q1+2 is solid.

Richmond’s resume doesn’t wow anyone but it is the prototype of a mid-major bubble team. A pretty good record in limited attempts against quality opposition, some head-scratching losses, and middle-of-the-road metrics. The Spiders are the fifth team out on the Bracket Matrix right now, making appearances in 14 of 110 fields. Work to do.

Saint Louis Billikens
NET: 44, Resume: 65.5, Quality: 45.7
Q1: 2-2 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 3-2 | Q4: 6-0

Saint Louis was nationally ranked for some time as it held a 7-1 record before going on a month-long pause. Upon returning from break, the Billikens promptly dropped back-to-back games to Dayton and La Salle. This put them behind the eight ball with a lot of work to do. They did win four straight after that but then dropped back-to-back road games to Dayton and VCU. The Billikens have a lot of work to do and might not be revisited as a potential at-large team until the A10 semis.


Missouri Valley

Lead pipe lock: None
Firmly in the field: Loyola Chicago
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Drake

Loyola Chicago Ramblers
NET: 12, Resume: 47.5, Quality: 24.3
Q1: 1-2 | Q2: 4-2 | Q3: 3-0 | Q4: 10-0

Not only has Loyola Chicago won 17 of 19 games but they are murdering their opposition more often than not. The Ramblers have seemingly put their three early losses out of their brain and are playing at an exceptionally high level, as is noted by their superb quality metrics and NET ranking. Loyola is one of the best teams in the country right now but its resume leaves a bit to be desired.

After all, while the Ramblers have pushed past three early losses, the committee hasn’t forgotten. Loyola has only one Q1 win this season and that is holding it back. The Ramblers split their road series with Drake but came out ahead in the efficiency department since they won by 27 and lost by one in overtime. I expect that the Ramblers will dance and as a single-digit seed this year.

Considering their lack of great competition in the MVC, they are currently “firmly in the field”.

Drake Bulldogs
NET: 33, Resume: 44.5, Quality: 58.0
Q1: 1-1 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3: 6-1 | Q4: 11-0

Drake, despite only two losses, is in a slightly worse position than Loyola Chicago right now but is still on the right side of the cutline. The Bulldogs’ NET is quite strong but efficiency metrics never seemed to buy into their hot start to the year. They are still 24-2, though, and that is hard to overlook. Drake also recently split their home series with Loyola. While the loss was ugly (by 27 points), the win was huge as it moved them to 5-1 in Q1+2 games.

Drake is a No. 10 seed in my bracketology right now as it remains a strong at-large contender. Losing Roman Penn to injury hurts them tremendously but they still have the talent to be dangerous. A two-bid MVC is definitely in reach. As long as the Bulldogs and Ramblers only lose to each other the rest of the year (head-to-head in the MVC Tournament), they should both dance. They deserve it.


Mountain West

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

San Diego State Aztecs
NET: 22, Resume: 28.5, Quality: 18.7
Q1: 0-3 | Q2: 5-1 | Q3: 6-0 | Q4: 6-0

San Diego State’s resume has yet to include a Q1 victory but its metrics are all incredible. It also holds a very solid 5-1 record in Q2 that’s worth praising. As a result, the Aztecs find themselves as an average 8.75 seed in all 110 projected fields on the Bracket Matrix. They might not be as good as they were a season ago, but this team hasn’t taken the colossal step back some had anticipated.

After consecutive losses to Utah State left people questioning whether SDSU was deserving of an at-large bid a month ago, they have rattled off nine straight victories since. The Aztecs are 18-4 overall and are well-liked by efficiency ratings. This puts them in good shape for next month.

Boise State Broncos
NET: 38, Resume: 38.0, Quality: 49.3
Q1: 2-3 | Q2: 2-2 | Q3: 4-0 | Q4: 9-0

Boise State secured back-to-back home wins over Utah State recently but followed that up with a loss on the front-end of a series with San Diego State. The Broncos are now a solid 4-5 in Q1+2 and their metrics indicate they should dance. They are featured in 109 of 110 Bracket Matrix fields with an average seed of 9.79. Finding a way to win the latter-half of the SDSU series would be huge.

All of their losses have come in Q1+2 as well, so they have avoided true landmines. I think the Broncos should be pretty safe, and their early-season road win over BYU has aged better than anyone could have anticipated.

Colorado State Rams
NET: 45, Resume: 34.5, Quality: 71.3
Q1: 2-3 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 3-0 | Q4: 7-0

Colorado State’s efficiency rankings are dragging down its NCAA Tournament potential. Outside of averaging a ranking of 70.3 in the BPI, KenPom, and Sagarin, its resume looks like a team that will punch its ticket to the dance. But those metrics are keeping the Rams on the fringe of the cutline for most bracketologists — some in, some out. The Rams close with home matchups with Air Force (twice) and New Mexico, as well as a road game with Nevada. Considering their precarious spot as the Bracket Matrix’s last team in, winning three is mandatory — winning all four would really help.

Utah State Aggies
NET: 52, Resume: 71.0, Quality: 56.0
Q1: 2-4 | Q2: 1-1 | Q3: 4-2 | Q4: 7-0

Utah State has dropped four of its last seven games and needs to make a big run to get back into the projected field. The Aggies are 14-7 but two wins over SDSU is not enough to keep them on the right side of the cutline. Winning their final three regular-season games is essentially a must, plus they need to make a decent run at least in the MWC Tournament. Utah State is not out of contention but has work to do and might need some help.


Others

Lead pipe lock: Gonzaga, BYU
Firmly in the field: None
Some perspiration: None
Double the deodorant: Western Kentucky
Make conf. tourney final and hope: Toledo, Belmont

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
NET: 83, Resume: 44.5, Quality: 85.7
Q1: 1-3 | Q2: 2-0 | Q3: 5-2 | Q4: 7-0

Western Kentucky’s NET and quality rankings do not add up to being a bubble team. Yet, they are in the mix thanks to a generally strong resume for a mid-major. The Hilltoppers are 15-5 overall and have six straight conference games. They have also had victories over Alabama, Memphis, and Marshall twice age well. WKU has work to do to be in position for an at-large bid — if they miss on the CUSA auto-bid — but it is a possibility. A loss at Houston by 24 did not help. WKU needs to win-out until the CUSA Tournament title game.

Lukas Harkins
Lukas Harkins

Heat Check CBB national writer and bracketologist