SportsPulse: We are just over a week away from Selection Sunday and for these teams a tournament berth is anything but guaranteed.
An NCAA tournament bubble team’s worst nightmare is a bid thief — a team not capable of making the field of 68 as an at-large entry that then unexpectedly wins the conference tournament’s automatic berth.
With 19 bubble teams currently in the mix and a total of 10 spots expected to be available on Selection Sunday, one less spot could bump a borderline team to the wrong side of the bubble.
Here’s a look at the 10 scariest candidates good enough to win their league tournament and steal an NCAA tournament bid that otherwise would’ve been a spot left to bubble teams.
Penn State (Big Ten): The Nittany Lions (13-17) upset Michigan and Maryland last month in Big Ten play and also beat Virginia Tech squad in non-conference action. PSU’s Lamar Stevens (19.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is an explosive scorer who can carry this team to four consecutive wins in the conference tourney.
Wichita State (AAC): The Shockers (16-13) have had down year after seven consecutive NCAA tourrnament appearances. But don’t count out a Gregg Marshall-coached team in March. Wichita State has won eight of its last 10 and has a solid 1-2 punch in Markis McDuffie (18.0 ppg) and Samajae Haynes-Jones (12.1 ppg) to knock off league kingpins Houston and Cincinnati, while playing spoiler to fringe teams like Central Florida and Temple.
Oregon (Pac-12): The Ducks (18-12) were supposed to be so much better but the season-ending injury of Bol Bol really set them back. Their opportunity has more to do with how bad and unpredictable the Pac-12 has been this season. The conference tournament’s top seed, Washington, recently lost to the tournament’s worst team, California, so anything can happen. Arizona State is the only bubble team in contention for another bid, but if another Pac-12 team like Oregon wins this wide-open tournament then the Sun Devils might be the team to get bumped out of the field of 68 as a result.
San Diego State (Mountain West): The Aztecs (19-11) have upset league leader Nevada and other probable bubble team Utah State, so this is wouldn’t be a big shocker. In both those Mountain West upsets, rebounding battles and second-chance points helped SDSU prevail.
South Carolina (SEC): If Frank Martin can coach an underdog team all the way to the Final Four as he did in 2017, he sure as heck can get this version of the Gamecocks (15-15) to knock off Tennessee, Kentucky or LSU and win the SEC tournament. South Carolina lost to all three of those teams in the regular season, so it will take an inspired effort. What’s aiding this possibility is how this team fared against other SEC opponents as the Gamecocks (10-7 in SEC play) could notch a No. 4 seed to get a first-round bye and only have to win three games.
Murray State (Ohio Valley): Ja Morant (24.1 ppg, 10.3 apg) is a projected top-three pick in June’s NBA draft, but the Racers (25-4) likely have to upset Belmont for Morant to be on display in March Madness. Murray State only lost twice in Ohio Valley Conference play so it wouldn’t be that big of an upset. But Belmont is a good enough mid-major to get an at-large if it doesn’t win the OVC tourney.
West Virginia (Big 12): It’s been a down season for the Mountaineers (12-18) but there have been some bright spots — including a win over Kansas and most recently Iowa State. Those wins were on their home court but there’s enough talent on WVU’s roster to play spoiler in the Big 12 conference tournament. Playing in the toughest league in the country makes any team battle-tested, so it’s not like the Mountaineers won’t know what they’re up against.
Saint Mary’s (WCC): The Gaels have a tall task in knocking off a dominant Gonzaga team that drubbed them by 48 points earlier in the season. But they might be best positioned to pull off the stunner. Jordan Ford (21.5 ppg) can erupt for major performances, and he’ll need a massive one to cut down the West Coast Conference tournament nets.
Davidson (A-10): The Atlantic 10 is likely to only get one bid if VCU wins the conference tournament. The Rams are relatively safe as an at-large bid should they lose to a team like the Wildcats (22-8), who are the second-best team in the league with an impressive backcourt tandem in Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson (the duo combines for 34 points a game).
DePaul (Big East): The Blue Demons (15-13) have fared much better in Big East play this year than previous seasons with seven conference victories, the most since 2007. And without a dominant Villanova team this year and Marquette recently struggling, there’s a possibility DePaul becomes all the worst enemy of all the Big East bubble teams — Georgetown, Seton Hall, Creighton, Xavier and Butler.
Thank you! You’re almost signed up for
Keep an eye out for an email to confirm your newsletter registration.
Results/records shown are against Division I opponents only. Breakdown data, compiled by bracketologist Shelby Mast, is updated through games played on March 6.
Temple (In for now, No. 11 seed)
► Profile: 21-8 (11-5) 57 NET, 86 SoS, 218 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Houston, Davidson, South Florida (twice), Memphis
- The Bad: Loss to Penn
Clemson (Out for now)
► Profile: 18-12 (8-9) 40 NET, 34 SoS, 124 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Virginia Tech, Lipscomb
- The Bad: No bad losses
North Carolina State (Out for now)
► Profile: 20-10 (8-9) 31 NET, 213 SoS, 353 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Auburn, Clemson, Syracuse, Penn State
- The Bad: Loss to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech
Seton Hall (In for now, No. 11 seed)
► Profile: 17-12 (8-9) 63 NET, 36 SoS, 95 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Kentucky, Maryland, St. John’s, Creighton (twice), Butler, Marquette
- The Bad: Losses to Xavier, DePaul, Saint Louis
Creighton (In for now, No. 12 seed — play-in)
► Profile: 16-13 (8-9) 48 NET, 13 SoS, 30 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Marquette, Clemson, Georgetown (twice), Butler, Xavier
- The Bad: No bad losses
Georgetown (Out for now)
► Profile: 18-12 (8-9) 72 NET, 89 SoS, 239 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. St. John’s, Butler, Liberty, South Florida, Providence, Villanova, Seton Hall
- The Bad: Losses to SMU, Loyola Marymount
Butler (Out for now)
► Profile: 16-14 (7-10) 59 NET, 20 SoS, 72 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Florida, Georgetown, St. John’s, Ole Miss, Creighton, Seton Hall
- The Bad: Loss to Saint Louis
Xavier (Out for now)
► Profile: 16-14 (8-9) 70 NET, 51 SoS, 146 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Villanova, Saint John’s, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler, Georgetown
- The Bad: Losses to Providence, San Diego State
Indiana (Out for now)
► Profile:15-14 (6-12) 56 NET, 25 SoS, 183 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Michigan State (twice), Louisville, Marquette, Butler, Penn State
- The Bad: Loss to Rutgers
Texas (In for now, No. 12 seed)
► Profile: 16-14 (8-9) 35 NET, 7 SoS, 16 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 — play-in)
► Profile: 18-12 (6-11) 52 NET, 26 SoS, 97 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) 68 NET, 76 SoS, 47 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: 17-13 (9-8) 34 NET, 50 SoS, 123 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Butler, Alabama, LSU
- The Bad: Loss to South Carolina, Georgia
Alabama (In for now, No. 12 seed — play-in)
► Profile: 17-13 (8-8) 55 NET, 21 SoS, 42 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: 24-6 (15-2) 32 NET, 64 SoS, 2 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Texas, Temple, Hofstra, Dayton
- The Bad: Loss to Charleston
Belmont (In for now, No. 11 seed — automatic qualifier Ohio Valley)
► Profile: 25-4 (16-2) 45 NET, 237 SoS, 70 NonCon SoS
- The Good: Wins vs. Lipscomb (twice), UCLA, Murray State
- The Bad: Losses vs. Jacksonville State (twice), Wisconsin-Green Bay
Utah State (In for now, No. 11 seed at-large)
► Profile: 25-6 (15-3) 30 NET, 104 SoS, 20 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: 24-6 (14-2) 46 NET, 247 SoS, 64 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) 58 NET, 141 SoS, 151 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, 262 SoS 180 NonCon SoS
- The Good: No good wins
- The Bad: Loss to Jacksonville State
Furman (Out for now)
► Profile: 24-6 (13-5) 44 NET, 206 SoS 277 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) 39 NET, 32 SoS, 44 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
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, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.