Bauer’s Bubble Watch: March 8

Story posted March 8, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by DJ Bauer

Can you have too many locks?

Well, that’s a dumb question; obviously you can have too many locks. If we gave locks to, say, 100 teams, then, yeah, that’s too many.

But from a standpoint of practicality, how many locks can you actually have? We ask this because this week’s Bubble Watch adds a whole heap of ‘em—nine, to be exact. If those nine locks, joining the 26 already locked in, were to make up the first 35 teams into the field (they don’t exactly), that takes us all the way down to the No. 9 seed line with only about 13 spots left open before we run into one-bid conference territory. Is that too many?

Let’s do some “empirical analysis,” or whatever. The guys over at the Bracket Project run a fantastic aggregate bracket projection every year via the Bracket Matrix, which compiles the projections of over 100 bracketologists (including yours truly!) and averages out the 68 teams projected to be in the bracket field as well as their seed lines. It’s a really nifty tool that has been around since 2006; make sure to check it out sometime.

And here’s a nifty fact: every season since 2012—the first that the Bracket Matrix incorporated 100 total projections—all at-large teams that appeared in at least 95% of brackets did eventually go on to make the tournament. Even the most notorious snubs in recent history—such as Colorado State in 2015 (91.1%), St. Bonaventure in 2016 (86.1%), USC in 2018 (92.5%) and TCU in 2019 (93.3%)—all failed to eclipse the 95% mark by the time Selection Sunday rolled around.

If we use this data trend to determine which teams are on the bubble, that means teams ranked No. 1 through 42 are all safe, having appeared in at least 98 (or 95%) of the current 103 projections in the Matrix. We run into the one-bid conferences starting with team No. 49, so that means spots No. 43 through 48 belong to the bubble. According to the Bracket Matrix, your bubble teams currently in the field are Wichita State, Drake, Michigan State, Colorado State, Xavier and Boise State. That’s probably about accurate, though those results might change a bit once the Matrix updates again later today (the Spartans should see a nice rise after their Sunday night win over Michigan).

As for the bubble teams projected outside the field… Well, unfortunately, we can’t really use a formula. Tulsa throws a big ol’ wrench in that with its 2016 at-large bid, the Golden Hurricane appearing in one—that’s right, one—total projection out of 144. A true curveball, that pick.

Now that we’ve done our analysis, let’s apply what we’ve learned to Bauer’s Bubble Watch. After all, Selection Sunday is now just six(!) days away. Minor conference tournaments are well underway with a handful already awarding automatic bids, and major conference tournaments are slated to begin this week. We’re in the homestretch, y’all. Let’s take a peek at our three categories—lock, safe for now, bubble—and assess the damage:

Locks: 35 teams
Safe for now: 9 teams
Bubble: 14 teams (for 5 available spots)

As mentioned before, we’ve got nine new locks today. On top of that, we pop five bubbles and revive a trio of teams from beyond the bubble’s reach.

Just one more Bauer’s Bubble Watch remains before the big day; it’ll be a quickie on Friday. For now, just sit back, relax, and let the Madness unfold.

 

ACC
Locks: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech
Safe for now: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Louisville
Bubble: Syracuse

Virginia Tech: I’m going to give Virginia Tech a lock, but I don’t feel great about it. The more I look at Virginia Tech’s résumé, the more confused I am by it. Mike Young’s squad beat Villanova on a neutral court and also took down Virginia in Blacksburg. That’s a lock, right? Well, maybe not—Virginia Tech ranks 42nd in NET and 34th through 47th in the metrics—all very bubbly territory—and their best true road win is at NET No. 82 Notre Dame. And aside from a win over Clemson at home, the Hokies don’t really have any second-tier victories behind Nova and UVA worth fawning over. But it just seems so unlikely that the Hokies could fall from their projected No. 8 seed to out of the bracket altogether. Then again, Virginia Tech did drop 19 spots in KenPom and 14 spots in NET after just one loss to Georgia Tech, which is a pretty good team. What if the Hokies lost their first ACC tournament game to a “less” good team like Notre Dame or Wake Forest? That wouldn’t be enough to kick them out, right? Right? I don’t think so… I think. These things get kind of confusing when you’ve played just two games in the past month.

North Carolina: North Carolina should be OK. Although the Tar Heels have only one true impact victory on their résumé (Feb. 27 vs. Florida State), they’ve amassed a skyscraper of Quad 2 dubs, including Saturday’s clobbering of archenemy Duke. The metrics also point to a tournament team: No. 39 in NET, No. 29 in SOR and No. 32 in KenPom. It’s probably in UNC’s best interest to beat the winner of Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest in its first ACC tournament game just to be on the safe side, but a loss there shouldn’t knock the Heels out of the bracket. It looks like March is on the menu again.

Georgia Tech: There’s just no quit in the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech very well could have packed it in and called it a season after an 0-2 start marked by losses to Georgia State and Mercer. Nope. Josh Pastner and company keep their heads up, and although they hit a rough patch in late January into early February, the Yellow Jackets have now found their stride and have been rewarded for their perseverance with six straight wins to end the regular season and a likely place in the field of 68. Like UNC, GT can suffer an early exit in the ACC tournament and probably remain OK, though it would be ill-advised. But come on. You’re telling me the selection committee doesn’t want to see (THIS GOOFBALL) in March? No chance.

Louisville: Let’s call Louisville one of very last “safe for now” teams seeding-wise, i.e. team No. 41 or 42. Like fellow ACC bubblers past and present, the Cardinals have long dealt with a dearth of truly superb wins, their best being either their Quad 1 overtime victory at Duke or their Quad 2 home defeat of Virginia Tech. That, paired with the No. 51 and No. 52 marks in NET and KenPom respectively, could potentially spell trouble. But six Quad 2 wins, a solid SOS (No. 51), above-average performance metrics, and a singular loss below Quad 1 probably point to an at-large bid. Let’s just be on the safe side and take care of Duke or Boston College in the ACC tournament on Wednesday. Sound good, Cardinals?

Syracuse: We should have known the Orange would return. After all, what’s college basketball without Syracuse on the bubble? Reality as we know it would shatter if it were anything else. Yes, the Orange are back. We asked them to beat North Carolina and Clemson in the final week of the regular season to earn re-entrance to this page; they did that. And—good news—NC State’s late-season surge has pushed the Wolfpack up to No. 66 in NET. That’s Quad 1 on the road! Syracuse has been dying for one of those all season, you know? So, yes, the Orange finally have a Quad 1 win, and they’ve still got half-decent metrics and a trio of victories against the projected at-large field. Probably need to beat NC State and Virginia in the ACC Tournament to have a true crack at the bracket, but, hey, Syracuse is back where it seemingly wants to be all the time: right on the bubble.

Yeah… Duke’s at-large case is looking mighty suspect. The Blue Devils were turning heads in mid-February with a four-game winning streak, highlighted by a Feb. 20 upset of Virginia. Now they’ve lost their last three, Saturday’s 18-point drubbing to North Carolina being the latest blow. It may not quite be auto-bid-or-bust for Coach K’s crew, but they do appear to have one foot in the grave. Anything but a deep, deep conference tournament run won’t suffice.

Is NC State making its way to the bubble? Eh… probably not. It’s hard to imagine the selection committee will seriously consider the Wolfpack’s lone Quad 1 win, iffy metrics, poor NCSOS and Quad 4 home loss to Miami for an at-large bid. But there’s no question that the boys from Raleigh have been blazing hot as of late, rattling off five straight wins heading into the conference tournament. Beating Syracuse on Wednesday is a must; beating Virginia on Thursday is too. If those two things happen, then we’ll talk.

 

American
Locks: Houston
Safe for now:
Bubble: Wichita State, SMU, Memphis

Wichita State: Just give Isaac Brown the AAC Coach of the Year trophy and be done with it. Wichita State, picked to finish seventh in the conference preseason media poll and expected to suffer further from the fallout of the Gregg Marshall resignation, has surpassed any and all expectations, reaching 13-4 overall and claiming the conference’s regular season crown for the first time. The Shockers may need to nab a couple more wins in the AAC tournament to improve their so-so NET and efficiency numbers, but the trials they’ve had to overcome already to get to this point will not be overlooked by the selection committee. Don’t be shocked if the Shockers are in the bracket in a week’s time, even if the AAC auto-bid goes to someone else.

SMU: Big surprise, SMU didn’t play any games last week. Make that 27—yes, 27—straight days that the Mustangs haven’t been on the court. Absurd! The good news: the Mustangs are FINALLY off COVID pause, and surrounding bubble teams haven’t exactly been helping their cases in SMU’s absence. So Tim Jankovich’s squad survives, if only barely, heading into the conference tournament. They’ll finally end their playing drought on Friday against Cincinnati. It goes without saying: that’s a must-win game.

Memphis: No, Memphis didn’t beat Houston on Sunday, and yes, the Tigers’ at-large odds are looking very slim. But Penny Hardaway’s guys deserve oodles of praise for going into the Fertitta Center and raising hell against the No. 9 team in the nation for a full 40 minutes. KenPom took notice; the Tigers now rank 40th in adjusted efficiency. But at the end of the day, a loss is a loss, and with it, Memphis takes zero Quad 1 wins into the conference tournament: a rough look for an at-large hopeful. If the Tigers can handle the winner of UCF vs. East Carolina on Friday, they’ll (most likely) get a second punch at Houston on Saturday. Gonna have to beat the Cougars this time around.

 

Atlantic 10
Locks:
Safe for now: St. Bonaventure, VCU
Bubble: Saint Louis

St. Bonaventure: In recent years, the Atlantic 10 tournament has been a cesspool of broken hearts and bid thievery, enough to make even the toughest top seeds quake in their boots. St. Bonaventure must not have gotten the memo. The Bonnies waltzed to the A-10 title game, defeating Duquesne and Saint Louis with style and ease on back-to-back days. A date with VCU for the conference crown remains in the hours before the selection show, but the end result shouldn’t matter. A loss in the championship is highly unlikely to kick the Bonnies out of the field; hell, it shouldn’t even kick them to the Last Four In. You can never be too certain with these weird mid-major profiles, but in St. Bonaventure’s case, we feel pretty certain.

VCU: Might as well just copy-paste that whole St. Bonaventure blurb right here; it’s basically the same exact story for VCU. The Rams did need to put a little more elbow grease into their postseason run—both Dayton and Davidson proved to be tough outs—but the end result is the same: VCU is going to the A-10 tournament title game, and it should still be in the NCAA Tournament even if it loses. A two-bid minimum for the Atlantic 10 is a near-guarantee.

Saint Louis: The chances of a third bid coming out of the A-10 rely on the Saint Louis Billikens, and the odds don’t look too great. What is likely the most talented team in the Atlantic 10 was just absolutely hammered by a month-long hiatus in January, resulting in messy L’s to Dayton and La Salle upon returning to the court. The Billikens eventually steered the ship in the right direction, knocking off St. Bonaventure and Richmond each once, but it may be too little, too late, as their defeat to the Bonnies in the A-10 tournament rematch ended their season… or did it? The NCAA is giving teams that didn’t win their conference tournaments the option to schedule more games before Selection Sunday, so long as they stay under the 27-game maximum. And so SLU, well aware of its likely-outside-the-tournament position, has gotten to work looking for an opponent to play before Sunday. Will anyone answer the call and give the Billikens a second chance on life? Guess we’ll find out.

Pop go the Spiders. A Richmond season that once began with five returning seniors, thrilling victories over Kentucky and Loyola Chicago, and an AP Poll ranking as high as No. 19 ends with an early A-10 tournament exit, three straight losses to finish the year, and complete uncertainty about the future. Disappointing, to say the very least. Even an NIT invite is far from assured at this point.

 

Big 12
Locks: Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
Safe for now:
Bubble:

Uh, yup. Same seven locks as last week and nothing else. And still no word on the NCAA’s decision regarding Oklahoma State’s appeal, so we’re probably good there. Move it along, folks.

 

Big East
Locks: Villanova, Creighton, UConn
Safe for now:
Bubble: Xavier, Seton Hall, St. John’s

UConn: What a turnaround for UConn. After starting the season 5-1 behind the scoring prowess of sophomore sensation James Bouknight, the Huskies looked extremely precarious in early February, dropping four out of five contests from Jan. 18 to Feb. 10 with the 6-foot-5-inch guard sidelined. Erase that from memory now; Bouknight picked up right where he left off in his return, and neither he nor UConn have looked back since. Winners of the last four including a huge one at Seton Hall on Wednesday, the Huskies are a certified lock, going back to the big dance for the first time since 2016. This all comes in their first season back in the Big East, too. Nothing shy of an incredible accomplishment for Dan Hurley’s guys.

Xavier: UConn has assured that the Big East will not be a two-bid league in March… but who’s to say it won’t be a three-bid league? Whereas the Huskies have been soaring down the stretch, the Musketeers have been crumbling, losing five of the final seven, two in the last week to Georgetown and Marquette. Remember, Xavier had just pulled out a season-saving victory over Creighton the week before. How the X-men could follow up that performance with back-to-back road defeats to non-tournament teams when the stakes are so high is just baffling. The Musketeers are still a ways removed from lights out, but they better beat Butler in the first round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday. A third straight L could potentially be the knockout blow.

Seton Hall: You thought Xavier’s late-season collapse was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Seton Hall has the Musketeers beat in terms of freefall, the Pirates now losers of four straight heading into the postseason. Those four? Georgetown, Butler, UConn and St. John’s. None of them are terrible on their own, but stacked on top of each other? That’s a different story. Seton Hall now places 58th in NET with a record just one game above .500. It’s going to take at least one victory (but more likely two or three) in the Big East tournament to keep the Pirates alive.

St. John’s: Not one, not two, but three teams declared dead have been brought back to life after the final week of the regular season: Syracuse with its wins over Clemson and North Carolina, Memphis with its near-upset of Houston, and St. John’s with victories over Providence and Seton Hall. They came in impressive fashion, as the Red Storm cast aside 11- and 18-point deficits to the Friars and Pirates respectively, ultimately triumphing in both contests by double digits. The résumé says there’s still work to do; NET No. 68, KenPom No. 63 and as many Quad 3/4 losses (two) as Quad 1 wins are no bueno. But why doubt the Johnnies when clawing out of massive holes is the one thing they’ve done best all season?

And, once again, showing up in the rearview mirror deep in the horizon is Providence, still lingering in the distance after a win over league-leading Villanova on Saturday. The at-large climb appears too steep to be reasonable, but let’s just see what the Friars do in the conference tournament before we declare that statement to be fact.

 

Big Ten
Locks: Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Safe for now: Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State
Bubble:

Rutgers: Rutgers sure does love to live on the edge, huh? Things were looking dicey there for a minute, as the Scarlet Knights were ground into fine powder by last-place Nebraska last Monday before they nearly let hapless Minnesota complete a 14-point comeback on Saturday. But the Knights pulled it out in OT, and that win should indicate the green light for this team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 30 years. If Rutgers can just take care of Indiana on Thursday—shouldn’t be a problem, the Hoosiers have been a trainwreck lately—then we’ll happily extend a lock to our friends from Piscataway: their first in three decades.

Maryland: The final week of the regular season is not a great time to start losing games to the likes of Northwestern and Penn State. It really seemed like Maryland had turned a corner in February, winning five straight with some of those W’s coming over quality opponents like Rutgers and Michigan State. But the bubble’s lingering grasp is an arms’ reach away from hauling the Terrapins back in. An early exit in the Big Ten tournament would put the Terps at 14-13 overall—certainly not a pretty mark and maybe one the committee would consider leaving for the NIT despite the résumé’s strength in NET, SOS, efficiency and Quad 1. Maryland remains in the field for now, but Thursday’s looming matchup with a terrifying Michigan State team could end up being more critical than previously imagined.

Michigan State: There’s only one team in Division I that has beaten three teams ranked in the AP Poll top five. Can you guess who? Well, this question appears in the Michigan State blurb, so you probably guessed Michigan State. You’d be correct. Tom Izzo can’t receive enough praise for the way he’s willed his Spartans to this late-season ascent; the man just gets the job done when it matters most. The odds of the selection committee leaving out a team with victories over Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State, no bad losses and the No. 6 overall strength of schedule are so low that MSU can probably lose to Maryland on Thursday and remain fine, though Last Four In would be in play at that point. But for now, the streak lives on. Congrats, Spartans.

Say hi to the corpse of Indiana. The wheels have fallen off over this five-game slide to end the season, essentially popping the Hoosiers’ bubble for good and maybe Archie Miller’s too; the Beaver Falls native is now 0-for-7 in his career against archrival Purdue. Even though Indiana’s overall résumé is still semi-decent, it’s looking very unlikely that the committee will consider a sub.-500 team for a spot in the field. And if it did, Penn State may be a more appetizing at-large option than the Hoosiers at this point. Seriously, the Nittany Lions rank 21 spots higher in NET, have one more Quad 1 win and own the toughest strength of schedule mark in the entirety of Division I. When you’re making 10-13 Penn State look good, you know something has gone horribly wrong.

The less said about Minnesota the better. Seven straight losses have put the Golden Gophers at 6-14 in conference play, 13-14 overall, 0-10 on the road, and closer to the NIT’s bubble than the NCAA’s. I’ve said it every week, and I’ll say it again: How did this happen to a team that beat Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa?

 

Mountain West
Locks: San Diego State
Safe for now:
Bubble: Colorado State, Boise State, Utah State

San Diego State: The San Diego State Aztecs are a lock despite not winning a single Quad 1 game this season. How can that be? Just look at the résumé: a 19-4 overall record, the No. 21 NET, efficiency numbers ranging from No. 18 to No. 22, six Quad 2 wins, four wins against the projected at-large field, no loss worse than NET No. 50, a 6-2 record on the road… the list goes on. When you have all that on your side, you don’t need a Quad 1 win. Indeed, the avoidance of a bad loss to UNLV on Wednesday confirms it: San Diego State is going back to the tournament.

Colorado State: What on earth is the Mountain West doing? If the conference wants to send as many teams as possible to the big dance, it should not be rescheduling trap games for its top contenders in the final week of the regular season. Colorado State’s Friday night loss at Nevada is the reason why. The Rams really didn’t need to play that game, and a win wouldn’t do much for the résumé, while a loss could be extremely hurtful. Lo and behold, they lost. Ultimately, that defeat doesn’t kill the Rams the way you might think—Nevada is a solid team, and with it being on the road, it’s only a Quad 2 error. But you’d think your conference would be lending you a hand instead of throwing danger in your path when you’ve been skirting along the tightrope that is the at-large cut line for over a month.

Boise State: Colorado State should be mad with the Mountain West. Boise State should be furious. Very few could have seen Boise State’s Tuesday night meltdown to Fresno State coming, but remember, this is March. Wild things are bound to happen every night. And there’s no beating around the bush here. That is a Quad 4 loss at home and a nasty right hook to Broncos’ at-large hopes. The good thing is that other bubble teams like Xavier and Seton Hall seem like they’re getting a kick out of beating themselves up at the worst possible time. But Boise State’s margin for error has gone from somewhat generous to razor thin.

Utah State: Fresno State nearly played spoiler for the second time in a week, as the Bulldogs had Utah State on the ropes for the entire 40 minutes on Saturday. But the Aggies pulled out the gritty road victory, ending their regular season the right way with four straight W’s. As a result, Utah State’s at-large path doesn’t seem so murky now, but the Aggies are still likely to be on the outside looking in, appearing in just 14 of 103 Bracket Matrix projections. Buckle up, because the Mountain West tournament is next, and the Aggies might know a thing or two about getting the job done in Vegas.

 

Pac-12
Locks: Colorado, USC, Oregon
Safe for now: UCLA
Bubble:

Oregon: It’s typically a good idea to trust in Dana Altman. There are few coaches in the nation better at making a square peg fit into a round hole and even fewer that do it more frequently. Oregon looked to be in serious trouble after COVID hit in January and the Ducks dropped back-to-back contests to Oregon State and Washington State. But they never hit the panic button, and with Altman’s chameleon-like coaching ability guiding the all-around excellent play of Chris Duarte, Eugene Omoruyi and a misfit cast of guys that are all pretty much the exact same height, Oregon got the groove back, winning 10 of the final 11 and stealing the Pac-12 regular season crown from either of the Los Angeles teams. Welcome back to March, Duckies.

UCLA: Is UCLA in bubble trouble? Well, I guess the Bruins remaining in “safe for now” answers that question, but that doesn’t rule out a possible fall to the bubble with an early Pac-12 tournament exit. After all, UCLA has lost three in a row to finish the regular season, and the team sheet depicts only a few decent wins; at home against Colorado is the only one against a team in the projected field (the head-to-head sweep of Arizona would mean a lot more if the Wildcats were postseason eligible). In all likelihood, the Bruins won’t be faulted for their lack of good victories considering they’ve compiled a 17-8 record against one of the 60 most difficult schedules with no loss worse than Quad 2, but the scarcity of quality wins is certainly a concern that should pervade the Bruins’ minds heading into the postseason. Taking care of Oregon State on Thursday is priority number one.

That has to be it for Stanford. Last week, we asked the Cardinal to take down USC to remain on the page. Instead, Stanford did the exact opposite, allowing the Trojans to score 50 before the Palo Alto natives scored 20. A 79-42 final is one hell of a dagger. The Cardinal are now 14-12, rank 71st in NET, and don’t possess a single metric better than their KPI of No. 66. It doesn’t matter that you have four Quad 1 wins when you fail to support it anywhere else. This isn’t “goodbye” goodbye for Stanford, but it sure feels like that final kiss-off is waiting in the wings.

 

SEC
Locks: Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, LSU
Safe for now:
Bubble: Ole Miss

Missouri: Nine teams in Division I own at least seven Quad 1 wins. Seven of these teams rank in the NET top 10. Two that don’t: Oklahoma State (NET No. 30) and Missouri (NET No. 45). That low NET rank is a product of the Tigers’ mediocre efficiency, which has more often than not bared its ugly head in recent weeks, but Missouri’s victories on the high end of the spectrum heavily outweigh any of the bad on its profile. You don’t get left out of March for having a sub-50 Sagarin when you beat Illinois, Alabama, Oregon, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida and Wichita State. Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers may be irregular, but they are going to be in the bracket.

Florida: Hindsight is 20/20, you know. And hindsight tells us that we should have locked in Florida last week. We posed that all the Gators needed to do to become a lock was knock off one of Missouri or Tennessee in the final week. They didn’t win either game, but that’s OK. Neither loss does much damage to a résumé flashing five Quad 1 wins, a top-30 NET score, a good SOS and super solid metrics across the board. A third straight L to the winner of the SEC tournament first-round game between Texas A&M and Vanderbilt would be detrimental seed-wise but not detrimental enough to remove Florida from the at-large field. Yes, even if the Gators go winless in the final two weeks, they’ll still be playing in March.

LSU: Two can tango, but three can still dance. LSU completes a trio of new SEC locks this week, which joins the existing certainty triumvirate of Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. The Tigers punched their ticket to the Madness with a Saturday win at Mizzou Arena, firmly planting themselves into the top 30 in NET and four of the five major metrics. There’s not a loss to be incurred that can keep this explosive offense out of the tournament.

Ole Miss: A lot of other Bubble Watches declared Ole Miss dead after a loss to Vanderbilt. You shouldn’t let a single result dominate your worldview, folks. (That’s a good tip for life in general, too.) We faithfully kept the Rebels on the page after their defeat to the Commodores, and we were rewarded for our patience, as Kermit Davis’ troupe ended the regular season by downing Kentucky and exacting revenge on Vanderbilt. And as it turns out, Ole Miss’ résumé isn’t too shabby; it’s got three Quad 1 wins, five more in Quad 2, a head-to-head sweep of Missouri and metrics that remain staunchly in bubble land. Don’t be too quick to pull the trigger on the bubble popping when the team sheet tells you a different story. (Yes, I know I popped Syracuse, Memphis and St. John’s last Monday before re-inflating them today. No, I will not be taking any questions at this time.)

 

Others
Locks: Gonzaga, BYU, Loyola Chicago, Winthrop
Safe for now:
Bubble: Drake, Western Kentucky

Loyola Chicago: Loyola Chicago was a lock before it won the Missouri Valley tournament, by the way. All the Ramblers needed to do to acquire lock-hood was avoid a bad loss in Arch Madness. They did that, smacking Southern Illinois 73-49 one night and Indiana State 65-49 the next. Even with a loss to Drake in the title game, Loyola would have been concrete. But that auto-bid security blanket sure feels nice, doesn’t it?

Winthrop: Winthrop, on the other hand, was absolutely NOT a lock before it won the Big South tournament. Even at 22-1, the Eagles were an outside at-large hopeful at best, possessing just two victories above Quad 3 to go with extremely subpar metrics and one of the worst strength-of-schedule marks in Division I. But none of that matters now; Winthrop obliterated Campbell in the conference title game to wrap up the Big South auto-bid. Only one question remains now: Where will the Eagles end up in the bracket? Their seeding will tell us whether or not they were truly a bubble team.

Drake: If there is justice in this world, Drake will be in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs concluded their best season in 14 years just one game shy of wrapping up the Missouri Valley auto-bid, but they battled hard in that title contest with Loyola without their two best players on the floor, and they’re 23-4 overall heading into the final week before judgment day. I would absolutely give Drake a bid; Darian DeVries’ squad has a top-tier win over Loyola from February, a 6-2 record through the first two quadrants and an 11-3 showing away from Des Moines, and—I repeat—they won 23 freakin’ games. But are those stats enough for the selection committee to overlook the Bulldogs’ two Quad 3 losses, weak SOS and NCSOS figures and second-rate metrics? We play the ever-excruciating waiting game now.

Western Kentucky: A win over Alabama can only carry you so far. Take it from Stanford, which appears to have no shot at an at-large bid at this point, despite topping the Crimson Tide in November. Western Kentucky is starting to feel like a stretch, too. The Hilltoppers incurred a second Quad 3 loss on Saturday in a 71-69 home defeat to Old Dominion; that result dropped WKU’s already undesirable KenPom of No. 85 to the even more undesirable KenPom of No. 97, and NET’s been taken along for the ride, now placing 86th. In short, the Toppers have a win over Alabama, an 18-6 record, and… that’s about it. Probably not going to cut it. The C-USA auto-bid might be the only way into March.

 

DJ Bauer is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email djbauer1999@gmail.com.

About the Contributors

DJ Bauer's photo

DJ Bauer

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

David “DJ” M. Bauer Jr. is a senior from Valencia, Pennsylvania majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is an editor, writer, producer, and play-by-play announcer for the CommRadio sports department. His writings include the Weekly NFL Game Picks series, Bauertology, and the NCAA Bubble Watch series. He is the co-host of the CommRadio talk show 4th & Long alongside Jeremy Ganes. Alongside Andrew Destin, Andrew Field and Zach Donaldson, he is one of CommRadio’s Penn State football insiders, a group of elite writers who cover Penn State football in depth during the 2020 season. He was also a production intern for the Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things baseball club. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).