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NCAA tournament bubble breakdown: Projecting who’s in and who’s out
Oregon’s unexpected run from the sixth seed to the Pac-12 tournament title didn’t just secure an NCAA bid for the Ducks.
It also crushed the dreams of some unsuspecting bubble team vying for one of the last at-large spots in the field.
Thanks to its 68-48 rout of top-seeded Washington in Saturday night’s Pac-12 title game, Oregon claims the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and pushes the Huskies into the at-large pool. That probably will shrink the number of available spots for teams on the bubble because Washington should still make the NCAA tournament whereas the Ducks would not have with a loss.
The lone silver lining for bubble teams is that Oregon was the only potential bid thief to win on Saturday. Buffalo and Utah State both took care of business in their respective conference title games, as did Houston and Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference semifinals.
Which bubble team did Oregon squeeze out of the NCAA tournament field? And which are already on life support? Below is an attempt to answer those questions and project how the selection committee will assess the bubble.
LAST FOUR BYES
OKLAHOMA (19-13, 7-11, NET 38, KenPom 39)
Best wins: Wofford, Kansas, Florida, TCU (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (West Virginia)
Oklahoma appeared headed toward a stress-free Selection Sunday before suffering maybe its worst loss of the season Wednesday night. The Sooners dumped their opening-round Big 12 tournament game against West Virginia, one of the league’s only two teams not in contention for an NCAA bid. Where that leaves Oklahoma is still in decent shape but no longer stress-free. Marquee wins over Wofford, Kansas and Florida bolster the Sooners’ argument, as do strong KenPom and NET rankings and a sweep of fellow bubble team TCU.
FLORIDA (19-15, 9-9, NET 32, KenPom 28)
Best wins: LSU (2), Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Arkansas
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (Georgia, South Carolina)
If Florida sneaks into the NCAA tournament and avoids the First Four, the Gators can point to their SEC quarterfinal upset of top-seeded LSU. Their second victory of the season over the Tigers will go a long way toward compensating for a 4-11 Quadrant 1 record that includes a long list of missed opportunities against quality teams at home. Throw in victories over Ole Miss and Alabama and very solid NET and KenPom numbers, and Florida looks like a good bet to make the field. It also didn’t hurt that the Gators acquitted themselves well again Saturday in a narrow SEC semifinal loss to Auburn.
ARIZONA STATE (22-10, 12-6, NET 63, KenPom 61)
Best wins: Kansas, Mississippi State, Utah State, Washington
Q3, Q4 losses: 4 (Utah, at Vanderbilt, Princeton, Washington State)
There were two paths to an at-large bid in this year’s beleaguered Pac-12. Either win the league convincingly like Washington, or do work in non-conference play like Arizona State. The Sun Devils entered Pac-12 play with three of the league’s five best wins, victories over full-strength Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State. They then did just enough in the Pac-12 to avoid nullifying that good work, claiming second place in the league and reaching the conference tournament semifinals. Arizona State has some bad losses against the likes of Vanderbilt, Princeton and Washington State, but the Sun Devils are 11-6 against the top two quadrants. That’s better than almost every bubble team and good enough to send Bobby Hurley’s team back to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.
WASHINGTON (26-8, 15-3, NET 40, KenPom 51)
Best wins: at Oregon, Colorado (3)
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (at Cal)
Winning the Pac-12 by three games might be enough to snag a top-two seed most years. This season, it’s all that’s saving Washington from being on the wrong side of the bubble. The Huskies are 10-7 against teams in the top two quadrants, but none of those 10 victories came against an at-large-caliber NCAA tournament team. Their most impressive win came against an Oregon team that defeated them two out of three times including a 68-48 rout in Saturday’s Pac-12 title game. The best part of Washington’s resume is actually one of its losses. The Huskies came within two of defeating Gonzaga in Spokane. In 2012, Washington became the only power-conference team ever to win its league title but miss the NCAA tournament. Surely, that can’t happen twice to the same program . right?
LAST FOUR IN
ST. JOHN’S (21-12, 8-10, NET 72, KenPom 79)
Best wins: Marquette (2), Villanova, VCU, at Creighton
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (Georgetown, DePaul)
When St. John’s led Villanova deep into the second half on Jan. 8, the Johnnies appeared to be on track to make the NCAA tournament with ease. They were minutes away from improving to 15-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big East. Those days feel like a long time ago now given how the second half of the season has gone. A talented but erratic St. John’s team dropped 11 of its final 18 games to fall perilously close to the bubble. The argument in favor of St. John’s is a 10-10 record against the top two quadrants, including a total of three wins over Big East frontrunners Marquette and Villanova. The argument against the Johnnies is their soft non-conference strength of schedule, bloated computer numbers and sub.-500 record in a weaker-than-usual Big East.
OHIO STATE (19-14, 8-12, NET 55, KenPom 44)
Best wins: at Cincinnati, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (Illinois)
Ohio State’s opening-round Big Ten tournament victory over fellow bubble team Indiana could be what sends the Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament. It at the very least was a win they had to get to stay in contention after dropping three straight without suspended standout forward Kaleb Wesson to end the regular season. While Ohio State’s 4-10 record against Quadrant 1 foes isn’t anything remarkable, the Buckeyes do own a road win at Cincinnati, a season sweep of Indiana and single wins against Minnesota, Iowa an Creighton. They also have only one Quadrant 3 or 4 blemish, a respectable home loss against Illinois.
TEMPLE (23-9, 13-5, NET 51, KenPom 76)
Best wins: Houston, UCF, Davidson, Memphis
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (Penn)
Temple is the mayonnaise of 2019 bubble teams. The Owls’ profile is the most boring of any team vying for one of the final at-large spots. On one hand, they’ve only dropped one game to anyone outside the NET top 100, a Big Five loss to Penn. On the other hand, they’re just 2-6 against Quadrant 1 opponents and those victories over Houston and UCF are their only wins over likely NCAA tournament teams. Temple had a chance to solidify its bid in the American tournament, but the Owls crashed out in Friday’s quarterfinals against Wichita State. That ensures a nervous wait to see if they’ll send Fran Dunphy into retirement with an NCAA tournament appearance.
BELMONT (26-5, 16-2, NET 47, KenPom 53)
Best wins: at Murray State, Lipscomb (2), UCLA
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (at Green Bay, Jacksonville State)
Belmont’s case will come down to whether the committee values an elite mid-major that didn’t get many chances for marquee wins or a middling power-conference team that had plenty of opportunities but only took advantage of a few. If the committee prefers the former to the latter, the Bruins should be at the top of the mid-major pecking order. In non-league play, Belmont won at UCLA, lost by 11 at Purdue and swept a pair of games from fellow bubble team Lipscomb. The Bruins then shared the Ohio Valley regular season title with Murray State but lost to the Racers in a hotly contested conference tournament title game. No bubble team has a gaudier record than Belmont, but it’s the antithesis of Texas’ from a strength of schedule standpoint. Seventeen of the Bruins 26 victories came in Quadrant 4 games.
FIRST FOUR OUT
TCU (20-13, 7-11, NET 50, KenPom 48)
Best wins: Iowa State (2), Florida, Baylor, Texas (2)
Avoiding a massive collapse against Oklahoma State on Wednesday prevented TCU from doing irreparable damage to its NCAA tournament hopes, but the Horned Frogs couldn’t solidify their spot with a deep Big 12 tournament run. They lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 quarterfinals, ensuring that they’ll be on of the last teams in the NCAA tournament field or one of the first left out. Helping TCU’s case is a sweep of Iowa State, wins over Florida and Baylor and a dearth of Quadrant 3 and 4 losses. Hurting it is a pedestrian 3-9 record against Quadrant 1 foes and a head-to-head home loss to fellow bubble team Lipscomb.
INDIANA (17-15, 8-12, NET 53, KenPom 43)
Best wins: Michigan State (2), Wisconsin, Louisville Marquette
Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Indiana’s season of wild swings ended in the ideal way. Just when it seemed the Hoosiers might recover from an injury-plagued midseason swoon in which they dropped 12 of 13 games, they instead fell by four points to fellow bubble team Ohio State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. Now Indiana can only wait and hope that its collection of Quadrant 1 wins and lack of sub-100 losses are enough to offset a middling 17-15 overall record. The Hoosiers have six Quadrant 1 wins including a season sweep of Big Ten champion Michigan State and marquee wins over Wisconsin, Marquette and Louisville. That’s more than every other bubble team, two or three times as many in some cases.
UNC GREENSBORO (28-6, 15-3 NET 59, KenPom 80)
Best wins: Furman (2), East Tennessee State (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Many bubble teams on this list had more than a dozen chances against power-conference foes bound for the NCAA tournament. UNC Greensboro, on the other hand, only had two, both on the road against top 10 opponents. The Spartans lost by six to LSU in Baton Rouge and pushed Kentucky for 35 minutes in Lexington. UNC Greensboro’s margin for error for an at-large bid was miniscule after those losses, and the Spartans made a good run at threading that needle. In a top-heavy Southern Conference featuring four of the nation’s best mid-majors, UNC Greensboro went 4-1 against Furman and East Tennessee State but lost to eventual league champ Wofford all three times they played. Where that leaves the Spartans is anyone’s guess. They have only lost once to a team outside the NET top 15 all season, but they’re also lacking many noteworthy wins.
TEXAS (16-16, 8-10, NET 37, KenPom 29)
Best wins: North Carolina, Purdue, at Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (Radford)
Never before has a team earned an at-large bid with a .500 record or 16 losses, but Texas can cling to a shred of hope of being the first. A ridiculous 19 of Texas’ 32 games came against opponents in the NET top 50 this season and the Longhorns won seven of those, notching victories over North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma. They’re also top 40 in the NET an top 30 in KenPom, which compares favorably to other bubble teams. It’s a long shot that Texas makes the NCAA tournament because of the precedent it would set, but the committee could have incentive to give the Longhorns a hard look. Including them would send the message that the committee rewards a tough non-conference schedule, something that is good for the health of the sport.
NEXT FOUR OUT
NC STATE (22-11, 9-9, NET 33, KenPom: 32)
Best wins: Auburn, Syracuse, Clemson (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest)
North Carolina State should be very grateful that the NCAA decided to adopt a new metric this season as its primary tool for gauging the strength of teams. The Wolfpack enter Selection Sunday 33rd in the new NET rankings compared to 98th in the now-defunct RPI, a gap that could be the difference between competing for one of the final at-large bids and not even being in the discussion at all. The problem for NC State is that the closer you examine its resume, the less deserving it looks. The Wolfpack played the 353rd-best non-conference schedule, went 9-9 in the ACC and beat only two likely NCAA tournament teams — Auburn and Syracuse. That’s simply not enough.
ALABAMA (18-15, 8-10, NET 58, KenPom 60)
Best wins: Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss (2), Murray State
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (Georgia State, Texas A&M)
The Tide are the very definition of power-conference mediocrity, having done just enough to stay in the hunt despite achieving little of note in non-league play, finishing below .500 in the rugged SEC and falling in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. They do own marquee victories over Kentucky and Mississippi State, a sweep of Ole Miss and a win over the fighting Ja Morants of Murray State, but they’re also just 3-10 against Quadrant 1 competition overall. That last stat may be what ultimately costs Alabama. It had had a lot of chances for quality wins, but failed to capitalize on enough of them.
CLEMSON (19-13, 9-9, NET 35, KenPom 30)
Best wins: Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Lipscomb, at South Carolina
Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Whatever slim hope Clemson had extinguished when the Tigers lost to NC State in the opening round of the ACC tournament. They probably needed to win that one and topple Virginia a day later to make any semblance of a compelling at-large case. Clemson owns a marquee win over Virginia Tech, useful victories over Syracuse and fellow bubble team Lipscomb and respectable computer rankings , but that is not enough to compensate for the glaring flaw on its resume. The Tigers are just 1-10 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season, a stat that is nearly impossible to overcome.
LIPSCOMB (25-7, 14-2, NET 50, KenPom 52)
Best wins: at TCU, at Liberty, at SMU, Vermont
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (at Florida Gulf Coast)
If a mid-major earns a surprise at-large bid on Sunday, UNC Greensboro is probably a better bet than Lipscomb. All seven of the Bisons’ losses are worse than any of UNC Greensboro’s and their list of quality wins is only slightly better. Winning at fellow bubble team TCU is a boost for Lipscomb, as is a top 50 NET ranking. But being swept by fellow bubble team Belmont hurts, as does a 17-point road loss at Clemson, another bubble team. All in all, Lipscomb has the look of a team that’s bound for the NIT. The Bisons needed to beat Liberty in the Atlantic Sun title game last weekend, but they fell six points short.
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