Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Bursting or Floating

Kyle Neptune and Villanova hope to avoid the NCAA tournament bubble conversation.

March has officially arrived and that means March Madness is here. With that, 68 teams will have the chance to compete on the biggest stage and cut down the nets. That also means several teams are jockeying for position or a chance to dance. Now is the time to dive into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch list.

One team that will not be on this list is Gonzaga, especially after the drubbing of St. Mary’s and likely increasing their ranking to a top 20 team. Here are the 12 teams that will likely be vying for the last 6 spots in the Big Dance!

NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch

These 12 teams will be listed in order of their current NET rankings, as of Sunday, March 3rd. Of course, the NET is flawed, but it is an important metric for what the Committee decides to do.

Villanova Wildcats: 17-12, NET: 26, KenPom: 24

Remaining Schedule: @ Seton Hall, vs Creighton

The Wildcats have had an interesting year. Truthfully, they should be judged as having two different seasons: with Justin Moore and without Justin Moore. They are coming off a big win at Providence that saw them slide into most projected fields. Their NET and KenPom rankings appear to have them quite safe. Their issue is a 2-3 record in Quad 3 games and only 4 Quad 1 wins.

They have two tough games remaining. If they win both, they will likely be around an 8-9 seed. If they lose both, a conversation about missing out on the Dance becomes real. Split and win one conference tourney game and they should be fine.

New Mexico Lobos: 20-9, NET: 28, KenPom: 38

Remaining Schedule: vs Fresno State, @ Utah State

New Mexico seems solidly in the field based on NET rankings as well. They definitely don’t have eye-popping wins but the Mountain West is fairly strong this year which helps. Ending the year at Utah State is tough, but if they could win that one they really stamp their case.

Again, it is a tough conference and one that usually has an interesting conference tournament. The Lobos cannot afford to drop an early conference tournament game. As of now, they’d be the 6 seed in their own conference tourney and then likely have to play a team like San Diego State in their second game. New Mexico is not as safe as their rankings indicate and the conference tournament results will loom large. They likely need at least two wins in the conference tournament.

Colorado Buffaloes: 19-9, NET: 30, KenPom: 28

Remaining Schedule: vs Stanford, @ Oregon, @ Oregon State

Colorado is interesting. They have no bad losses but also no good wins: 1-5 in Quad 1, 11-0 in Quad 3+4. It is usually difficult to earn a tournament berth without a big win. Unfortunately, they also do not have any games left that would give them that notable win. This is a team that must win the games they are expected to win for the rest of the year. Ideally, they face Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game and win or lose, they would likely be in the field.

If Colorado does lose a few down the stretch, which they have a history of, then it is possible they could be on the outside looking in. Going on an Oregon road trip against teams that have no chance at a postseason berth is less than ideal for the final week of the season.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: 18-11, NET: 31, KenPom: 21

Remaining Schedule: vs Georgia Tech, vs Clemson

Wake Forest got the win they desperately needed against Duke and entered the field. They followed that by losing to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and now might be on the outside looking in again. Much like Colorado, they are 1-6 in Quad 1 and really do not have any big wins outside that Duke game.

The home game against Clemson to end the season is a must-win. The Demon Deacons are a team that can win multiple tournament games but they must get there first. Given their explosive shooting ability, making a deep ACC tournament run is not out of the question, but beating Duke or UNC is likely necessary to feel good about their spot.

Florida Atlantic Owls: 22-7, NET: 35, KenPom: 39

Remaining Schedule: @ North Texas, vs Memphis

How Cinderella has slipped. The Owls were preseason top 5 and now are firmly in the NCAA tournament bubble conversation. Teams like this must avoid the bad losses and Florida Atlantic has not. They have 2 Quad 3+4 losses which is problematic. Additionally, while the record is solid, they have played way too many close games against bad teams which is why their NET ranking is not great.

Florida Atlantic is wildly talented but they have not lived up to the hype this year. Again, this is a team that can win multiple tournament games, but they must get there first. Also, their last two regular season games are particularly tough. The American will not get many tournament teams but several teams are tough and talented which makes each game a dangerous one. Currently, South Florida might be the only team dancing from the American but don’t count out the Owls.

St. John’s Red Storm: 17-12, NET: 39, KenPom: 29

Remaining Schedule: @ Depaul, vs Georgetown

St. John’s has started to figure it out after a public shaming by Rick Pitino. They now are 5-9 in Quad 1 games which is a great mark for a bubble team. They also have managed to avoid most of the bad losses. Now, it will be important to avoid dropping a game to the two worst teams in the league to finish the year.

I fully expect the Red Storm to go dancing. They should finish the year 19-12 and then have a chance to win a game or two in the Big East tournament. They are talented and well-coached and that is a dangerous combination.

Pittsburgh Panthers: 19-10, NET: 44, KenPom: 44

Remaining Schedule: vs Florida State, vs NC State

The Panthers have flown under the radar for some time. That is mainly because their strength of schedule is awful and they have played the same amount of Quad 1+2 games as Quad 3+4. With that, they have only won 2 Quad 1 games so they are still searching for some quality wins.

Given the incredibly poor nonconference SOS, it seems unlikely that Pittsburgh will make it to March Madness. Passing the teams ahead of them on this list will require at least 2 more quality wins and they may not even get an opportunity to play in 2 more quality games. If they lose to NC State, they will be heading to the NIT.

Utah Utes: 18-11, NET: 46, KenPom: 48

Remaining Schedule: @ Oregon State, @ Oregon

The Pac-12 is at the heart of the NCAA tournament bubble conversation. Utah started the year well and had many people taking note. They have since sputtered and a lot of that is because they have played fewer home games.

Utah is going to be an interesting case. They really challenged themselves in the nonconference and the committee could reward them for that. The Utes dropped a close one to Houston and then beat Wake Forest and St. Mary’s which really helps their resume. They caught a cold stretch last month and dropped 4 of 5 but have begun to roll teams again. If they can string together 4 or 5 straight here, they have a legit case.

Truthfully, this will be a test for how much the NET matters because the strength of schedule and strength of record numbers are pretty good but the NET has them out.

Virginia Cavaliers: 21-9, NET: 49, KenPom: 70

Remaining Schedule: vs Georgia Tech

Virginia is backpedaling into March. The Cavs have not been able to score and are a tough watch. It is one thing to lose games, but to get blown out a handful of times is bad. Virginia has done nothing to earn a tournament berth. Sure, they have 2 Quad 1 wins but lately they do not even appear to be competitive with tournament teams.

The ACC has had a bad reputation over the last few years for making NCAA tournament cases. That likely continues this year as it is UNC, Duke, Clemson, and then everyone else. There is not much positive to say here. Best of luck Virginia but don’t hold your breath. With a KenPom rank of 70, that NET rank is about the only positive.

Iowa Hawkeyes: 18-12, NET: 57, KenPom: 49

Remaining Schedule: vs Illinois

Iowa is 8-11 in Quad 1+2 and middle of the pack in a bad Big 10. They do still have a huge game at home against Illinois that would give them a chance to earn another Quad 1 win. However, the NET ranking is just too low right now. Iowa has a lot of work left to do for a favorable outcome on Selection Sunday.

This is one team that I do not believe is even in the conversation yet. Iowa appears to be a few good wins away from that 11 seed line.

Seton Hall Pirates: 18-11, NET: 62, KenPom: 60

Remaining Schedule: vs Villanova, vs Depaul

Seton Hall looked great early on and seemed like they could contend in the Big East. The issue is they have 3 losses of 20 or more in the last month against tournament teams and then squeaked out wins against non-tournament teams. The NET ranking has been in a free-fall for Seton Hall and that’s concerning.

The Pirates are well-coached and have good guards. The Big East loves drama so do not be surprised if they make a little run and find themselves in a Big East championship game. The issue is they cannot shoot and it is hard to win games that way. The metrics and statistics have the Pirates on the outside. It does not help that the Big East has 3 NCAA tournament bubble teams.

Providence Friars: 18-11, NET: 63, KenPom: 59

Remaining Schedule: @ Georgetown, vs UConn

Another Big East team hoping for good luck on Selection Sunday. Providence is similar to Seton Hall but with a worse nonconference strength of schedule. The Friars are 10-0 in Quad 4 games. While it is important to win games, playing half your season against the worst teams in the nation is not ideal.

Providence does have 5 Quad 1 wins. It is a team that is good enough to be in the tournament, especially if Bryce Hopkins never got hurt. Unfortunately, that is not reality. The poor strength of schedule outweighs the Quad 1 wins and current roster construction, most likely.


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