March Madness NCAA tournament Bubble Tracker: Four unsafe teams surging

Ah, March Madness. 

The NCAA tournament might be a few weeks away, but the sweating before Selection Sunday is already in full gear for bubble teams with something to prove. 

While the selection committee is examining the full body of work on a given team’s résumé, momentum is important to keep an eye on in March. Because which borderline teams are trending upward in the win column not only have a good shot at squeezing into the field, but they also are showing signs of peaking at just the right time — making them dangerous when the tournament starts.  

Here’s a look at four teams that are unsafe as of now, yet have momentum to drift to the right side of the bubble in the last week of the regular season and into conference tournaments. 

► Xavier: The Musketeers (16-13, 8-8 Big East) have won five consecutive games, including a home defeat of Villanova and road victories at St. John’s and fellow bubble team Seton Hall. While their recent success was precipitated by a six-game losing streak that pushed them far out of the projected field, now they’re inching closer to the right side of the bubble. With a road game at Butler and home game vs. St. John’s on tap to close out the Big East schedule, Xavier has opportunity to keep boosting up its NET score of 70, while potentially adding a Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 road) victory in the process.

► Creighton: While the Bluejays (16-13, 7-9) don’t have as good of a winning streak as Xavier and lost to the Musketeers Feb. 13, they have fluctuated with their place on the bubble throughout the winter. Three consecutive wins, including résumé-boosting road win at Marquette on Sunday, have moved Creighton close to inclusion as one of the “first four teams out” in the latest bracket projection. Home games against Providence and DePaul make for an easier schedule but also can’t bulk up the profile as much as needed — meaning there’s still probably work to do for the ‘Jays in the Big East tourney next week. And the bubble line will largely be shaped based on what happens there, considering Georgetown is the only fringe team currently in while Seton Hall and Butler have both lost three in a row to play themselves out of the projected field.

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BUBBLE WATCH: Winners and losers among tournament fringe teams

MAKING CASE: Tennessee gets revenge by hammering Kentucky

►Utah State: One win can change a lot this time of year, and the Aggies (24-6, 14-3 Mountain West) took advantage of their opportunity by beatingg Nevada on Saturday. A six-game winning streak, punctuated with that defeat of the Wolf Pack catapulted Utah State to a No. 11 seed that should stick unless it loses its MWC finale at Colorado State or other teams start to surge. This is a team that’s won 13 of 14 and has a lot to like on its profile starting with a top-30 NET score and top-25 non-conference strength of schedule. Still, USU isn’t exactly safe given how the Mountain West poses danger with ample resume-staining possibilities in the league tourney.

► Indiana: OK, so winning two games in a row isn’t really a win streak. But when those Q1 victories were at Wisconsin and a second win over Michigan State last week, they certainly signal some much-needed momentum for the Hoosiers (15-14, 6-12 Big Ten) following a span that saw them lose 13 of 14. Coach Archie Miller is finally getting this team up to par defensively, and it’s showing against top-tier opponents. But Indiana’s still not in the field because there just aren’t enough wins on their credentials — despite having more Q1 victories (six) than most fringe teams thanks to a solid non-conference slate. Games at Illinois and at home vs. Rutgers are must-wins to keep the momentum — and NCAA tourney chances — alive heading into the Big Ten tournament.



Results/records shown are against Division I opponents only. Breakdown data, compiled by bracketologist Shelby Mast, is updated through games as of March 3.

Temple (In for now, No. 11 seed)

Profile: 21-8 (11-5) 55 NET, 90 SoS, 221 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Houston, Davidson, South Florida (twice), Memphis
  • The Bad: Loss to Penn

North Carolina State (In for now, No. 12 seed — play-in)

Profile: 20-9 (8-8) 31 NET, 208 SoS, 353 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Auburn, Clemson, Syracuse, Penn State
  • The Bad: Loss to Wake Forest

Clemson (Out for now)

Profile: 17-12 (7-9) 40 NET, 32 SoS, 123 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Virginia Tech, Lipscomb
  • The Bad: No bad losses

Georgetown (In for now, No. 12 seed — play-in)

Profile: 18-11 (8-8) 72 NET, 91 SoS, 249 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. St. John’s, Butler, Liberty, South Florida, Providence, Villanova, Seton Hall
  • The Bad: Losses to SMU, Loyola Marymount

Seton Hall (Out for now)

Profile: 16-12 (7-9) 63 NET, 47 SoS, 95 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Kentucky, Maryland, St. John’s, Creighton (twice), Butler
  • The Bad: Losses to Xavier, DePaul, Saint Louis

Creighton (Out for now)

Profile: 16-13 (7-9) 57 NET, 11 SoS, 32 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Marquette, Clemson, Georgetown (twice), Butler, Xavier  
  • The Bad: No bad losses

Xavier (Out for now)

Profile: 16-13 (8-8) 70 NET, 44 SoS, 149 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Villanova, Saint John’s, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler, Georgetown
  • The Bad: Losses to Providence, DePaul, San Diego State

Butler (Out for now)

Profile: 15-14 (6-10) 60 NET, 19 SoS, 69 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Florida, Georgetown, St. John’s, Ole Miss, Creighton, Seton Hall
  • The Bad: Loss to Saint Louis

Minnesota (In for now, No. 12 seed — play-in)

Profile: 18-11 (8-10) 56 NET, 56 SoS, 162 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Wisconsin, Iowa, Washington, Nebraska, Indiana, Penn State
  • The Bad: Losses to Illinois, Boston College

Indiana (Out for now)

Profile:15-14 (6-12) 54 NET, 29 SoS, 189 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Michigan State (twice), Louisville, Marquette, Butler, Penn State
  • The Bad: Loss to Rutgers

Nebraska (Out for now)

Profile: 15-14 (5-13) 51 NET, 69 SoS, 210 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Clemson, Indiana, Seton Hall, Creighton, Minnesota 
  • The Bad: Losses to Illinois, Rutgers

Oklahoma (In for now, No. 9 seed)

Profile: 18-11 (6-10) 42 NET, 20 SoS, 31 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Wofford, Florida, TCU (twice), Creighton, Texas
  • The Bad: Loss to West Virginia

Texas (In for now, No. 10 seed)

Profile: 16-13 (8-8) 33 NET, 8 SoS, 17 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma 
  • The Bad: Losses to Providence, Radford, Georgia

TCU (In for now, No. 12 seed)

Profile: 18-11 (6-10) 48 NET, 36 SoS, 98 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Iowa State (twice), Baylor, Texas, Florida
  • The Bad: No bad losses

Arizona State (In for now, No. 12 seed — play-in)

Profile: 20-9 (11-6) 69 NET, 73 SoS, 35 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Kansas, Washington, Mississippi State, Utah State, Arizona, Oregon
  • The Bad: Losses to Southern California, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Utah, Princeton, Washington State

Florida (In for now, No. 11 seed)

Profile: 17-12 (9-7) 35 NET, 61 SoS, 127 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Butler, Alabama, LSU
  • The Bad: Loss to South Carolina, Georgia

Alabama (In for now, No. 11 seed)

Profile: 17-12 (8-8) 53 NET, 23 SoS, 39 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Liberty, Murray State, Arizona
  • The Bad: Losses to Northeastern, Texas A&M (twice), Georgia State

VCU (In for now, No. 10 seed — automatic qualifier Atlantic 10)

Profile: 23-6 (14-2) 36 NET, 42 SoS, 2 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Texas, Temple, Hofstra, Dayton
  • The Bad: Loss to Charleston

Belmont (In for now, No. 10 seed — automatic qualifier Ohio Valley)

Profile: 25-4 (16-2) 45 NET, 239 SoS, 71 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Lipscomb (twice), UCLA, Murray State
  • The Bad: Losses vs. Jacksonville State (twice), Green Bay

Utah State (In for now, No. 11 seed)

Profile: 24-6 (14-3) 30 NET, 98 SoS, 21 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. Nevada, Saint Mary’s, Fresno State
  • The Bad: Loss to San Diego State

Lipscomb (Out for now as at-large — in as Atlantic Sun automatic qualifier No. 12 seed)

Profile: 23-6 (14-2) 46 NET, 228 SoS, 68 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. TCU, Liberty, Vermont
  • The Bad: Loss to Florida Gulf Coast

UNC-Greensboro (Out for now)

Profile: 26-5 (15-3) 59 NET, 143 SoS, 155 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. East Tennessee State (twice), Furman
  • The Bad: No bad losses

Murray State (Out for now)

Profile:  25-4 (16-2) 50 NET, 273 SoS 195 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: No good wins
  • The Bad: Loss to Jacksonville State

Furman (Out for now)

Profile: 24-6 (13-5) 44 NET, 209 SoS 281 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins over Villanova, UNC-Greensboro, East Tennessee State
  • The Bad: Loss to Samford

Saint Mary’s (Out for now)

Profile: 20-11 (11-5) 38 NET, 39 SoS, 42 NonCon SoS

  • The Good: Wins vs. New Mexico State, San Francisco
  • The Bad: Losses to Western Kentucky, UC-Irvine, Harvard, Pepperdine


NCAA tourney Language Explainer:

  • Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
  • Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
  • Quadrant 3 wins, losses: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
  • Quadrant 4 wins, losses: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET

Note: Mostly all statistical data is used from The NCAA’s new NET rankings are also considered; that was rolled out at the beginning of 2018-19

About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his sixth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past five March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.

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