Bauer’s Bubble Watch: Feb. 15
Clarity. Something that bracketologists and bubble watchers alike enjoy. Clarity is what came on Saturday afternoon, as the NCAA Tournament selection committee revealed its current top 16 teams. There were a handful of minor surprises in that preview show—Oklahoma as the No. 12 overall team stuck out—though nothing was extremely out of the ordinary. While it was good to find out which 16 teams the committee considers the best of the best in college hoops, this reveal served a further purpose: educating analysts about what they’re looking for in a tournament résumé.
The uncertainty of the 2020-21 season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic seeped into the postseason selection process as well—what factors will the committee value most? Good wins? Strength of schedule? High efficiency? Will road wins matter as much as they did in years past? Will teams be punished for having to take time off due to COVID? A lot of these questions remain unanswered, but Saturday’s reveal certainly taught us one thing: teams with ELITE wins (not just good wins) are going to fall in the committee’s favor.
Take, for example, the aforementioned Oklahoma. Most bracketologists had the Sooners slotted as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed heading into Saturday. But the committee ended up placing them on the No. 3 line, despite the fact that Oklahoma ranked no higher than 16th among NET and the various predictive and performance metrics. So why so high on the Sooners? Because of their elite wins. Two of their four Quad 1 victories are also Quad 1A (that’s the best of the best), coming at home over Alabama and on the road against fellow top-16 team Texas. They also own a pair of home wins over West Virginia (the No. 10 team in the reveal) and Kansas. Strength of schedule also seems to play a factor, as Oklahoma’s No. 22 rank in that category likely helped their cause.
Want more proof? Missouri made the top 16. Despite their NET ranking of No. 35 and similar scores among efficiency metrics, the Tigers snuck into the field at No. 16. Why? Elite wins—five in Quad 1 and four in Quad 1A over the likes of Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois (all three of which also appeared in the top 16). And there’s that strength of schedule helping out again—Missouri ranked 7th nationally and 13th out of conference.
So, with these revelations in hand, let’s apply what we’ve learned to 2021’s second edition of Bauer’s Bubble Watch. Today, we find that eight new teams have done enough to earn lock status (bringing the total to 10), one team has had its bubble popped, and one new face enters the fray. Let’s go conference by conference and explain who’s feeling good and who’s got work to do.
Safe for now: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Clemson
Bubble: North Carolina, Syracuse, Georgia Tech
Alright, let’s lock in the Cavaliers. Virginia appeared as the top No. 3 seed and No. 9 overall team in Saturday’s top-16 preview then proceeded to wallop North Carolina later in the day. And with No. 6 Villanova losing big at Creighton, it’s possible that the Cavaliers are now looking at a No. 2 seed with five regular-season games to go. Considering their NET rank of No. 6, eight wins across Quadrants 1 and 2, and top-10 ranking in every metric but KPI, the Cavaliers can afford to take a few hits down the line and still rest easy about their tournament status. As such, Virginia is a lock.
Florida State is not quite there. While the Seminoles have returned from their 13-day COVID pause and even earned a spot just outside the top 16 according to selection committee chairman Mitch Barnhart, they didn’t look all that great in their first game back, needing overtime to defeat 6-9 Wake Forest at home. Virginia and Virginia Tech are up next, so the Seminoles will have to learn to roll with the punches rather quickly.
The COVID rounds finally made their way to Virginia Tech, which hasn’t played since Feb. 6 and likely won’t take the floor again until Feb. 20 (the Hokies’ Feb. 16 matchup against North Carolina has been postponed). With no new data to digest, Virginia Tech stays squarely in “safe for now,” though the selection committee’s preference for elite wins certainly seems like a good thing for VT’s case; the Hokies own a pair of top-15 victories over Villanova and Virginia.
Likewise, Louisville took a pause of its own, the Cardinals’ most recent result being their 74-58 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 1. Set to return to action on Wednesday against Syracuse, the Cardinals—NET No. 33 and KenPom No. 31—remain safe for now.
The selection committee’s fondness for elite wins is excellent news for Clemson. The Tigers, which remain bubbly in terms of NET ranking (No. 45) and efficiency (KenPom No. 46), possess a Quad 1A win from their non-con slate (Alabama on Dec. 12) and one bubbling just below the threshold (Purdue on Nov. 26). Throw in the 15th best strength of schedule and no losses below Quad 1, and Clemson’s tournament résumé seems to be in pretty good shape.
North Carolina’s chance for a statement win came and went, as the Tar Heels failed to put up even 50 points in Charlottesville on Saturday. Even with the loss, Roy Williams’ squad is likely still in the field, but sub-50 marks in NET and KPI and a lone Quad 1 win mean the Tar Heels cannot be certain about their position. A win over Louisville this Saturday could erase a lot of doubt.
Syracuse clings to its bubble spot with a 2-0 week, but neither win—not NC State nor Boston College—does much to move the chains. The Orange still have no Quad 1 wins, and the victory over the Wolfpack was just their second in Quadrant 2. According to the committee, that’s bad news. And no team higher than NET No. 33 remains on Syracuse’s schedule, so the path to an Orange at-large bid may simply end up being out of reach.
Sunday’s matchup between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh was essentially a bubble elimination game. The Yellow Jackets won, so they stay on the page, while the Panthers, now 9-7 with one Quad 1 win and a plethora of sub-70 metrics, exit stage left. And even the Yellow Jackets are hanging on by a thread with a singular Quad 1 win over Florida State to their name. A loss to Boston College or Miami this week might send them packing.
Safe for now:
Bubble: Wichita State, SMU, Memphis
Houston becomes our second lock of the week. The Cougars are probably the most precarious addition to the locks, considering their remaining schedule is filled with Q3 landmines. But they benefit greatly from appearing as a No. 2 seed and the No. 8 overall team in Saturday’s top-16 preview, and their NET ranking of No. 5 and top-15 metrics across the board leave little to be desired. Houston should be perfectly fine.
The question of which AAC bubble team is closer to the field—Wichita State or SMU—has seemingly been answered: Wichita State. The Mustangs may have a 22-spot lead in NET and a 28-spot lead in KenPom, but unlike the Shockers, they don’t have a Quad 1 win or good SOS and NCSOS marks. Still, Wichita State’s low NET and predictive metrics (BPI No. 114, blech) are problematic. The Shockers need good wins badly. They’ll have their chance to earn one on Thursday, as they’ll get a second crack at Houston—this time at home.
So what about SMU? Experiencing COVID issues of their own, the Mustangs had to postpone Sunday’s key bubble matchup against Wichita State for the second time. They’re running out of time (and games) to make a statement, as hinted to by the aforementioned lack of a Quad 1 win. What’s keeping the Mustangs afloat is their metrics, all ranging in bubbly territory. But without a primary victory, SMU’s résumé seems unlikely to make the cut.
Memphis is essentially in the same boat as SMU—on COVID pause with no top-tier wins to point to—but with slightly worse metrics, meaning the Tigers’ tournament status is even more dire. Sunday would have provided a great opportunity to snag that first Quad 1 win, as the Tigers, winners of three straight, would have walked into Houston upset-minded. But instead, their momentum is brought to a screeching halt by COVID, and that Quad 1 opportunity vanishes into air. That’s a tough break.
Safe for now:
Bubble: VCU, St. Bonaventure, Richmond, Saint Louis
The Atlantic 10 has a new leader, and its name is VCU. The Rams had a fabulous week, taking down Dayton on the road before edging out previous A-10 leader St. Bonaventure at home. Unfortunately, neither of those wins count as Quad 1, so the Rams stay on the bubble for now, but their NET (No. 31) and performance numbers (No. 19 KPI, No. 34 SOR) point to a team that should feel more safe than not.
On the flip side, St. Bonaventure is starting to feel the heat. The Bonnies, once sitting pretty atop the A-10, have lost two of the last three—not good for a team that possesses just one Quad 1 win. St. Bonaventure can always fall back on its inexplicably good strength of schedule, but the metrics? Not so much. KenPom, BPI and Sagarin all have the Bonnies ranked 50th or worse, and their SOR—Now No. 44—has started to slip as well. Mark Schmidt’s squad will have to limit the damage it receives over the few remaining games.
Richmond’s return from pause on Sunday was a nice underhand pitch in the form of Division III school St. Mary’s College of Maryland, though that win does nothing to help the tournament cause. No, the Spiders will need to boost their team sheet the hard way by facing A-10 competition once again. First up? It’s not an easy one: crosstown rival VCU on Wednesday.
Perhaps the Saint Louis we expected to see is finally coming around. Since dropping two in a row after their return from a month-long pause, the Billikens have won three straight, earning victories over Rhode Island and Fordham last week. Neither of those wins move the meter very much, but they do indicate a Saint Louis team living up to its previous expectations. What really helps the cause is LSU’s victory over Tennessee on Saturday. Now the Billikens’ home win over the Tigers back in November counts as Quad 1: their first. Saint Louis still has work to do to beef up its mediocre résumé, but the future looks much brighter than it did even a week ago.
If not for a pair of early-season Quad 4 losses to La Salle and Fordham, Dayton would probably be considered on the bubble. The Flyers could be 13-4 with two Quad 1 wins, no losses worse than Quad 2 and semi-respectable metrics. But because of some silly mistakes that happened back around the turn of the new year, Dayton seems destined for the NIT. It just goes to show that the full body of work—not just what you’ve done lately—matters.
Locks: Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia
Safe for now: Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma State
Baylor is joined in lock heaven this week by fellow Big 12 team Oklahoma. A close look at the Sooners reveals a mammoth of a résumé: five Quad 1 wins (three of which are Quad 1A), no losses worse than NET No. 40, a top-20 strength of schedule, and no metric worse than No. 21. Saturday’s enormous overtime victory in Morgantown is just the latest addition to an already stellar team sheet. And that win came AFTER the selection committee’s top-16 reveal. It’s a done deal. Oklahoma is going to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Logic dictates that, even with the loss to Oklahoma, West Virginia should join the Sooners in lock land. The Mountaineers match Oklahoma’s Quad 1 output of five wins and even best the Sooners in strength of schedule (No. 5 overall) and worst loss (NET No. 28). It seems like there’s enough evidence to give WVU the green light.
Texas Tech isn’t quite on the same level as Oklahoma or West Virginia, but the Red Raiders are very close. Chris Beard’s squad actually tops the Mountaineers and Sooners in NET (No. 14) but falls a Quad 1 win and about 20 spots in SOS behind of being on even ground. The Red Raiders—placed 14th in the top-16 reveal—are clearly knocking on the door of lock-dom, but since their lone contest last week (vs. West Virginia on Feb. 9) resulted in a loss, they’ll stay at the top of “safe for now” territory this time around.
Aside from strength of schedule, Texas places fourth behind the three aforementioned borderline lock Big 12 teams in just about every important category—a marked change from the prior vision that the Longhorns were the conference’s second best team behind Baylor. But fifth in the Big 12 is nothing to be ashamed of, and the Longhorns are still in excellent position to grab a top-four bid, especially after a 2-0 week against Kansas State and TCU snapped their losing streak. Now let’s see how Texas does against tougher competition; Oklahoma and West Virginia are on tap.
Kansas being the sixth-best team in the Big 12 is certainly an odd sight, but that says more about the depth of the conference than about Kansas, which is still in fine standing for an at-large invite. Like Texas, the Jayhawks were on a worrisome slide a week ago, and, like Texas, they helped to erase much of the worry with a week full of winning. The ending stretch is arduous—Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor are all ahead—but a win in any of those three games should have Kansas in the field for good.
Oklahoma State rounds out the top-heavy Big 12. Similar to Clemson, the Cowboys aren’t the hottest in the metrics department (KenPom No. 44, BPI No. 66), but their four Quadrant 1 victories over Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas and strength of schedule of No. 40 spell out a clear tournament invite. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that pesky NCAA investigation...
TCU, meanwhile, needed a splash win to appear on the bubble. Instead, the Horned Frogs scraped by NET No. 229 Iowa State at home then got stomped by Texas. Now ranking 101st in NET, TCU is just about dead.
Safe for now: Villanova, Creighton
Bubble: Seton Hall, Xavier, UConn, St. John’s
With a Wednesday domination of Marquette and the selection committee’s No. 6 overall seed under its belt, Villanova rolled into Saturday afternoon’s bout in Omaha feeling good about its chances to become a lock on Monday. Then Creighton blew the doors off the Wildcats, shooting nearly 60% from the field in the 86-70 win. That leaves the Wildcats with more Quad 1 losses (3) than wins (2) to go with their not-so-great SOS of No. 135. Maybe those numbers don’t spell No. 6 overall seed anymore, especially with Alabama, Virginia and Oklahoma taking care of business over the weekend. When it’s all said and done, Villanova will, in all likelihood, end up with a top-four seed. But, for the moment, we’ll opt to leave them out of lock-ville for one week more, just for the sake of safety.
Besides Colorado, there may be no team in “safe for now” territory more up-and-down than Creighton. At their best, the Bluejays have shot 60% against Villanova and have bested Seton Hall by 36 points. At their worst, they’ve been beaten at home by Georgetown, Providence and Marquette: a trio that makes up the three Quad 3 losses on Creighton’s résumé. But the Bluejays have beaten their fair share of quality opponents too, and their 7-2 road record is nothing to ignore, even in this unusual season. It’s a confusing résumé, but it’s one that’s safely in the field.
Seton Hall is slowly climbing its way to safety. Once losers of three straight in late January, the Pirates have rattled off three victories in a row and now sit at 12-8 with six wins across the first two quadrants and a very solid SOS of No. 27. The résumé isn’t quite good enough yet to lift the Pirates off the high end of the bubble, but a couple more wins down the stretch ought to do it.
Xavier’s first game in two weeks didn’t go as planned; the Musketeers lost at home to fellow bubble team UConn. That’s hardly the type of loss to kick Xavier out of the field, but it is enough to put the Musketeers’ tournament status in jeopardy, however slight. After all, the résumé reveals a shortage of Quad 1 victories (Oklahoma in December is the only) and unkind predictive metrics (No. 52 KenPom, No. 43 Sagarin). Even at 11-3, the Musketeers find themselves shy of security.
UConn may have just saved its season. You can blame the Huskies’ four losses in late January and early February on the absence of James Bouknight, but at the end of the day, those losses are losses, and they sunk UConn’s résumé down to the tournament cut line. But a resilient performance at Xavier on Saturday notched the Huskies their second Quad 1 win of the season, and Bouknight should be back any day now. UConn is not out of the woods yet, but it did manage to avoid total meltdown.
St. John’s, which worked so hard over the last month to dig out of the massive hole it dug itself in the early season, received a swift blow to the gut on Tuesday with an overtime defeat at Butler. That loss doesn’t kick the Red Storm off the bubble, but it does make their job a lot harder, as they have less than a month to amend their sub-70 NET and sub-60 KenPom scores. Another lengthy winning streak may be required.
The No. 81 NET, No. 71 KenPom and overall record of 11-10 indicate that Providence is not quite back on the bubble yet, but it is worth noting that the Friars have won two straight after their 2-7 start to the new year. They pulled off a miraculous late-season rise last year; can they do it again in 2021? Probably not, but we’ll keep one eye open anyway.
Locks: Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois
Safe for now: Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Rutgers
Bubble: Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland, Penn State
The dreaded return from COVID pause: a time typically marked by sluggishness, lack of coordination and, in turn, losing. So it only makes sense that Michigan in its first game back since Jan. 22 would… beat Wisconsin by eight in Madison? Huh. Turns out the Wolverines are really, really good, and that No. 3 overall seed in Saturday’s preview show had good reason behind it. Lock ‘em in.
Ohio State gets the lock treatment too. The Buckeyes probably should have been cemented into the field last week, but we opted to take the safe route. No need for safety today. Chris Holtmann’s squad is elite and only getting better, now winners of the last six straight. Sunday’s impending battle against the Wolverines is going to be massive for seeding purposes.
Illinois—the selection committee’s No. 5 overall team—is the Big Ten’s final lock of the week. The Fighting Illini rank among the game’s elite teams, and their résumé reflects it: six wins in Quad 1, four more in Quad 2, the No. 4 NET, and gaudy efficiency metrics as far as the eye can see. There’s no doubt about it now; the Illini will be back in the Madness for the first time since 2013.
The Big Ten is very close to having four locks, as Iowa sits on the doorstep of total safety. The Hawkeyes have a good argument to be included already; it’s pretty hard to find any fault with their résume, which includes eight wins across the first two quadrants, a single loss below Quad 1 and a number of top-five efficiency scores. But here’s the hesitation: Iowa’s remaining schedule is unusually difficult. Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin twice are all ahead. An 0-4 outing against that slate is unlikely, but it’s not impossible. Let’s put a pin in Iowa and check back in one week’s time.
How much longer can Wisconsin continue its win-lose pattern and remain a highly seeded team? Seriously, the Badgers have alternated wins and losses since Jan. 20. That’s not a good thing for a team that was once projected as high as a No. 2 seed. At the moment, the Badgers are in no danger of missing the tournament—just look at their eight Quad 1/2 wins and NET rank of No. 18. But they can’t become a lock if they can’t string together a winning streak.
Purdue appears to be in the same situation as Wisconsin. The Boilermakers haven’t won two in a row since mid-January, and their resulting 13-8 record isn’t the prettiest. Just like the Badgers, the Boilermakers have a plethora of Quad 1 and 2 wins to fall back on and are far removed from the uncertainty of the bubble, but the elusive lock will continue to remain elusive until consistency returns to West Lafayette.
Rutgers’ winning ways were snapped on Wednesday at Iowa, but that’s no sin, and the Scarlet Knights got right back into the W column on Saturday against Northwestern. Rutgers has always fought hard against one of the 30 toughest schedules in the nation, and it should be rewarded with a bid for its four upper-echelon victories and relative avoidance of bad losses. No lock in Piscataway yet, but the Scarlet Knights are in fine position to earn one eventually.
The difference between home Minnesota and away Minnesota is night and day. In Minneapolis, the Golden Gophers are 13-1 with four of those victories coming in the uppermost quadrant. But on the road, the Gophers are winless in seven tries, Sunday’s loss to Maryland being their most recent failure. Could the committee justify leaving out a team with four Quad 1 wins because of an 0-7 road record in a year without fans? Who knows? We’re entering uncharted waters.
Indiana has a fascinating résumé of its own. The Hoosiers look great in a lot of territories: five Quadrant 2 wins, an average predictive metric rating of No. 31, and a head-to-head sweep of Iowa. So where do they falter? Oddly, at the top. Indiana has a whopping eight Quadrant 1 losses. Normally, those top-tier defeats don’t do much to hurt your tournament odds, in moderation. But eight of them? That might be a different story.
And now we’re back to the .500 duo. Maryland is first, bringing the same strengths (four Quad 1 wins, No. 1 SOS, No. 20 NCSOS) and weaknesses (10-10 Division I record, No. 55 BPI, No. 56 SOR) as it did last week. Again, it’s hard to imagine the committee taking a .500 team over a mid-major with 20-some wins, but the Terrapins are in luck; their remaining schedule is among the Big Ten’s easiest—Nebraska twice, Michigan State, Northwestern and Penn State (the Big Ten’s bottom four teams) all appear. Maybe Maryland won’t be .500 entering Selection Sunday after all.
It is getting mighty hard to justify keeping Penn State on the bubble. Yes, the Nittany Lions are a top-40 team according to NET and KenPom. Yes, they have three Quad 1 wins and an SOS just shy of the top 10. But a 7-10 record is just too much to overlook. And Saturday’s home loss to Nebraska is absolutely backbreaking, as it actually falls all the way in Quadrant 3. If Penn State can’t pick up a win against Ohio State or Iowa this week, that has to be curtains, no matter what the analytics say.
We’ll put Michigan State in the same territory as Dayton, TCU and Providence: not on the bubble but worth keeping an eye on. The Spartans appeared to be back in the conversation after their Tuesday win over Penn State… then they promptly lost by 30 to Iowa on Saturday. The remaining schedule isn’t very kind, so the Spartans, while worth observing, likely have one foot in the grave.
Safe for now:
Bubble: San Diego State, Boise State, Colorado State, Utah State
San Diego State’s previously assumed hop, skip and jump to safety became elongated with the reveal of the committee’s preference for elite wins, of which the Aztecs have none. But they remain in fairly good standing anyway, thanks to highly favorable metrics and just one loss below Quadrant 1. If San Diego State can take care of business against Fresno State this week, it should be just fine heading into its final regular-season series against Boise State.
Bad memories of Nevada will linger on Boise State’s team sheet for the remainder of the season, but at least they didn’t linger into this past weekend, as the Broncos swept UNLV to avoid any further damage. The No. 2 NCSOS and a pair of Quad 1 wins likely have Boise State in the field right now, but the Broncos will need to perform down the stretch, as two critical series remain—Utah State this week and San Diego State next.
Idleness as a mid-major often has the potential to be detrimental, and Colorado State could become a victim. Since their last game on Feb. 6, the Rams have seen surrounding bubble teams better their tournament outlooks, while the company from Fort Collins has had to sit still at 13-4, hovering around No. 45 in NET and No. 70 in KenPom the entire time. Those numbers aren’t exactly flattering, and when you’re not playing, there’s not really anything you can do about it. The sooner Colorado State can safely take the floor, the better.
Ditto on the point above for Utah State. The Aggies haven’t hit the hardwood since Feb. 4 due to COVID, putting their extremely borderline résumé to a halt while being surpassed by fellow bubble hopefuls. Utah State is slated to return on Wednesday, but the Aggies can’t afford to have any rust in their re-appearance, considering Boise State is the opponent. Utah State will likely need to take one of two from the Broncos to remain a serious at-large contender: a daunting task considering the circumstances.
Safe for now: USC, Colorado
Bubble: UCLA, Oregon, Stanford
It’s becoming increasingly clear that USC is the Pac-12’s best team. Powered by freshman sensation Evan Mobley, the Trojans have won their last six and 12 of their last 13 en route to a 17-3 record. Their excellence hasn’t gone unnoticed, as Mitch Barnhart named the Trojans as the committee's first team outside the top 16. USC is slightly lacking in the quality wins department (nothing better than NET No. 29), but it’s a relatively minor gripe for a résumé that is very close to acquiring a lock.
The Colorado conundrum continues. The Buffaloes might be the only team in the country that can dominate a tournament hopeful like Stanford in its own gym then lose by nine to Quad 3 California two days later. Just confounding stuff. A 16-6 record, a NET of No. 19 and a KenPom of No. 14 say near lock. More Quad 3 losses than Quad 1 wins and a sub-100 SOS say bubble… Guess it’s “safe for now” for the Buffaloes once again.
All of a sudden, UCLA isn’t in the best spot. Previously the Pac-12’s crown-holder at 8-0, the Bruins have lost three of the last five and haven’t looked the part of a tournament team in either of the wins. The metrics reflect this slump, as each but SOR now appears in the bubbly 40s. Throw in just three wins within the first two quadrants, and it seems fair to drop UCLA to the bubble. The high end of the bubble, maybe, but the bubble nonetheless.
Leave it to Dana Altman to get his Ducks in a row (pun intended). Oregon is doing its best to climb off the heart of the bubble, sweeping the Arizona teams in a weekend road trip to reach 12-4 overall and to re-enter the NET top 50. The pair of home losses to Washington State and Oregon State remain bubble-worthy blotches, but the Ducks’ newfound success seems to be the trend more indicative of things to come.
We hereby award Stanford the title for bubbliest résumé of them all. The vast majority of projections have the Cardinal straddling the line between last four in and first four out, and it could honestly go either way. The committee approves of the Cardinal’s solid SOS, aversion of bad losses and their enormous neutral-court win over Alabama? Put ‘em in! Or maybe it disapproves of their low supply of elite victories, No. 60 NET and below-average efficiency numbers? Keep ‘em out! It’s a true toss-up. And that means Stanford has work to do.
Safe for now: Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, Arkansas, LSU
Bubble: Ole Miss
The final new lock of the day belongs to Alabama. A 2-0 week brings the Crimson Tide’s win totals to six in Quad 1, two in Quad 1A and four in Quad 2—excellent numbers that are only further padded by a top-10 NET ranking, an elite SOS and top-10 metrics everywhere but BPI. Alabama is in, and that’s for certain.
Consistency remains as problematic as ever for Tennessee. The Volunteers don’t have any abhorrent marks on their résumé, but their loss to LSU on Saturday was their fifth in 12 SEC games: a surprisingly high number for the preseason conference favorite. A top-four seed is still within Tennessee’s reach, especially considering the Vols are favored in each of their remaining regular-season contests, but they need to find a way out of this apparent funk before that notion can become a reality.
It doesn’t seem like a low NET ranking or efficiency is going to hurt Missouri too badly seed-wise, as the selection committee rewarded the Tigers with the No. 16 overall seed for their five Quadrant wins and top-10 strength of schedule. No, only Missouri can hurt Missouri. Since stunning Alabama on Feb. 6, the Tigers have dropped back-to-back games to Ole Miss and Arkansas. Sure, these losses aren’t the kind that are going to prevent the Tigers from dancing in March, but they do raise questions about the viability of Missouri as a title contender. Just like Tennessee, there’s a lot to figure out here.
Florida hasn’t played since Feb. 3 due to—you guessed it—COVID. The unfortunate part of this is that they’ve missed a plethora of potentially résumé-boosting games in that span, including LSU and Tennessee. The fortunate part is that the Gators’ résumé was in good shape before they went on break, and it remains that way today. The goal is to return Tuesday against Arkansas; we’ll see if that ends up happening.
Arkansas can breathe a sigh of relief. For the longest time, the Razorbacks were toting a gaudy record but a weak résumé, NET No. 65 Auburn being the best win on it. No longer! Arkansas snagged a huge one in Missouri on Saturday, putting one of those “elite” wins on its team sheet. Paired with a 16-5 record, a top-25 NET and top-30 metrics across the board, the Razorbacks can sleep a little easier. They’re still a long way removed from a lock, but they’re certainly safe for now.
LSU is right there with Arkansas. That losing spell at the end of January appears to be a thing of the past, as the Tigers have won two in a row, including a 13-point victory over Tennessee on Saturday. Lack of quality wins used to be a knock on LSU’s résumé; now the Tigers have three in Quad 1. And let’s not forget about that No. 13 SOS, No. 26 NET and No. 16 KPI. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, but for now, LSU is safe.
Welcome to the bubble, Ole Miss! The Rebels were one of our “on-the-radar” teams last week, but now, with four straight victories in tow, they’re a formal bubble team. Two of those four victories are absolutely massive: 52-50 over Tennessee and 80-59 over Missouri. Like St. John’s, the Rebs have been rising, but their work isn’t done yet—they still need to spruce up that Q1 record (2-4 at the moment) and their iffy performance metrics to help conceal their two Quad 3 losses. Regardless, this late-season surge has been impressive, and Ole Miss surely deserves to be in the at-large conversation.
Safe for now:
Bubble: BYU, Loyola Chicago, Drake, Western Kentucky, Toledo, Belmont, Winthrop
BYU couldn’t upset Gonzaga last Monday (that’s OK, Cougars, no one can), but that loss doesn’t do much to hurt the résumé. The Cougars, owners of five wins across the first two quadrants and the No. 21 SOS, are in a very good spot for a high-bubble team. A pair of wins this weekend over Pacific and Loyola Marymount should have BYU feeling safe.
What Loyola Chicago has done this season is remarkable. As a mid-major from the little old Missouri Valley, the Ramblers have put together a résumé that borders on “safe for now.” Just look at the numbers: No. 10 NET, No. 10 KenPom, No. 15 BPI, no loss worse than Quadrant 2 and, finally, a Quad 1 win with the victory at Drake on Saturday. The Ramblers couldn’t quite get the sweep of the Bulldogs, falling in overtime on Sunday, but their body of work remains impressive nonetheless.
Disaster averted. Even after an 18-0 start, Drake’s schedule was never all that impressive, as not a single one of those 18 games landed in Quadrant 1. Then the losing started happening and quickly, as the Bulldogs fell to Valparaiso on Feb. 7, a week before losing to Loyola at home by 27. But Drake showed resilience on Sunday, downing the Ramblers in overtime and notching an absolutely critical Quad 1 win in the process. The possibility of a two-at-large-bid Missouri Valley is still very much alive.
Just keep winning, Hilltoppers. It’s all you can do to grab the committee’s attention. They’ve done a nice job of it lately; Western Kentucky has won its last six in a row. But wins in Conference USA don’t tend to move the meter much, so WKU has been stuck in this low NET, low KenPom limbo for weeks, even with the pair of Quad 1 victories in hand. Only one thing the Hilltoppers can do about it—just keep winning.
It might be time to stick a fork in Toledo. The Rockets were once the proud owners of a surprisingly deep résumé, highlighted by solid metrics, a Quad 1 win and just a singular Quad 3 loss—no biggie. But Toledo has gone cold at the worst time, dropping two in a row to Ball State and Bowling Green: both sub-140 teams in NET. As a result, the Rockets’ once-valid numbers have begun to crumble. One more L might do them in for good.
Let’s put Belmont and Winthrop together since their at-large circumstances are pretty much the exact same. To put it succinctly, the Bruins and Eagles are a combined 40-2—the clear cream of the crop in their respective conferences. But they’re also a combined 1-0 in games above Quadrant 3, signified by Winthrop’s neutral-court win over UNC Greensboro on Dec. 1. The question for each team remains the same as it did last week: Can the committee leave out a two-loss, non-autobid Belmont or Winthrop because of a poor schedule? The sad truth is that the answer is probably yes. Let’s hope the Bruins and Eagles take care of business down the stretch so we don’t have to face that possibility.
DJ Bauer is a senior majring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.