John Gasawayespin Insider
- ESPN Insider sponsor of ESPN University Basketball
- I started beating university tournaments in 2004.
- Wrote for the Basketball Prospectus and the Wall Street Journal.
Thanks to a one-point home win over Virginia, the Duke Blue Devils are now here on Bubble Watch. It takes a little getting used to.
In the legendary annals of Bubble Watch, you don’t often see Mike Krzyzewski’s team. Probably very early in the tournament discussion, of course. But then, as the national team approaches Sunday, we have to be part of teams that are locked in, and without exception, Duke is nowhere to be found on those fields.
The Blue Devils have not been seeded No. 4 in the NCAA tournament since 2007. Every February, you’ll see Bubble Watch detail some of the other teams as the Blue Devils prepare for another race as the top seed. I mean, every February so far.
Congratulations to Krzyzewski’s team. Duke won three in a row for the first time since early January. Matthew Hurt scored five three-pointers against Tony Bennett’s defense, scoring 22 points in a game that featured just 61 possessions. And despite all the drama surrounding the departure of Jalen Johnson and the Blue Devils’ struggles, this team now ranks second in offensive effectiveness in the ACC game, behind only Florida State.
At 10-8 and 8-6 in the ACC, Duke at least has a chance to score. Shot from outside. That’s still more than could be said of this team a week ago.
The Blue Devils could make a significant bid to the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but they have work to do in the meantime. There, for the first time in living memory, you will find Duke… …as part of the ACP’s work in Bubble Service.
Here is our current projection of the bubble:
Traditional competitive auctions with only one bid (minus Ivy): 20 teams
Locks: 13 teams
Bubble: 45 teams out of 35 available spots
Must be in play: 23 teams
Work: 22 teams
ACC: Big 12: Big East: Pac-12: SEC: US: Others.
Locks: Virginia, Florida
should be in
Virginia Tech Hokies.
Despite a relatively modest number of points in the CCA race, the Hokies are aiming for a place in the middle of the league table without drama. How did Mike Young’s team pull off this magic? The extra-time victory over Villanova in November on neutral ground contributed to this, as did the 5-1 record in Conference games decided by seven points or less. Virginia Tech’s defense has a high percentage of misses at the rim and does well to limit opponents to just one shot. Meanwhile, Keve Aluma has hit 63% from 2 and has notched three double-doubles in his last four outings.
Meet the Mercury Tigers, who have clung to their status despite a journey of ups and downs. On the one hand, Clemson posted wins by eight or more points against a true who’s who of the tournament’s opponents, namely Purdue, Alabama and Florida State. On the other hand, the Tigers were also sprinkled by Virginia (35 losses), Georgia Tech (18 losses), Duke (26 losses) and the aforementioned Seminoles (19 losses). When you add it all up, you get a respectable spot on the NET, but also a likely No. 8 that could cause serious skepticism about laptops next month.
the Cardinals of Louisville
Louisville wore the No. 8 bracket for several weeks, the bubble watch position came into play like a seed. Now that Chris Mack’s team is back from the KOVID-19 break, we still don’t know what to do with this team. The cards were buried by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 99-54. This profile still beats Virginia Tech and Seton Hall. NET was in the top 35 before the move to UNC. But Louisville has already lost four of its last six games, and its next home game against Notre Dame makes it even more important. Perhaps the Tar Heels game was just a flash in the pan for the team coming back from halftime. A win against the Fighting Irish would support that theory.
Completion of task
North Carolina Tarred Heels
When the Tar Heels pick up the pace and break the offensive glass, the results can be impressive. This was true throughout Roy Williams’ tenure in Chapel Hill, and it was applied again in UNC’s 45-point home victory over Louisville. The Cardinals returned from the COWID-19 break, and this is not the strongest version of the Cardinals that opponents have faced or will face this season. North Carolina, however, accelerated the card game, the fastest it has ever played this season. Day’Ron Sharpe alone recorded eight offensive rebounds, and as a team the Tar Heels recovered 47% of their misses. It’s an important win, to say the least, for a team that was seeded #11.
Duke Blue Devils
Everyone says Duke is in the conversation now. What does that mean? This essentially means that the Blue Devils are a risky proposition, with a focus on risk. Think of the conversation (or ITC, as we like to say here at Bubble Watch HQ) as an unspoken euphemism: They are at the bottom of the 8-10 teams that are likely to be off the field. Duke’s profile includes a catalyst victory over Virginia and a win over Clemson. Therefore, the season finale against North Carolina in Chapel Hill will be a must for Mike Krzyzewski’s team. But yes, this team is in talks, and that in itself is a big step forward and above all unforeseen.
At halftime of the Orange’s home game against Notre Dame, Syracuse’s chances in the tournament did not go well. After the Fighting Irish led by 14 at the break, Jim Boeheim’s team finished the game with a score of 40 to 12 and won by 8 points. Fitting honors go to Buddy Boeheim, who won with 29 points. At least a win keeps the conversation going with a Syracuse team that needs everything to have a great chance. The first step will be to reach a consensus state of four out of four, and the Orange will need to win their next game at Duke to reach this goal.
Locks: Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia…
should be in
The Longhorns of Texas.
At the start of the second half, Texas held a 19-point lead over West Virginia. Then the pillow went away. A timeout between Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones seemed to mark the turning point, and the Longhorns lost 84-82 in Austin. Shaq Smart’s squad has lost five of its last eight games and will likely continue the gradual decline of the UT seed that has been evident throughout February. At the beginning of the month, the Longhorns were considered the #2 seed. This waiting time has now dropped to line four.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders have lost two in a row, and while there is no shame in losing to West Virginia and Kansas, the offense seems rather sluggish. Texas Tech scored just 132 points from 133 possessions in two defeats, and Chris Beard’s squad scored less than 48% of their 2-2 conference points. Of course, the Big 12 offers easy games, and the challenges for the Red Raiders will continue. Oklahoma State and home games against Texas are yet to come. This is a team that was drafted as the No. 5 seed and could very well end up with a profile that includes wins against LSU and Texas and a season sweep at Oklahoma.
You don’t want to play that defense now. The Jayhawks run the ball on that end, and Bill Self’s team has limited five consecutive opponents to one point per possession. This series, of course, included three games against Iowa State (home and away) and Kansas State. Still, KU’s performance throughout the Big 12 season seems exceptional. Sure, nobody catches Baylor with the best defense in the league, but Kansas held their conference opponents to just 0.95 points per possession. The Jayhawks are in line for a spot in five. Rank determined and can move on to an even higher seed.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Technically, the state of Oklahoma is not eligible for the post-season. However, the Cowboys have appealed the decision to the NCAA and while the appeal is pending, USO will be allowed to participate in the tournament. That’s exactly what the Cowboys are doing: Cade Cunningham is the Big 12’s top scorer and is expected to be No. 1 or close to it in the 2021 NBA Draft. Mike Boynton’s team, ranked No. 7, excels at forcing holes on defense and focusing on offense. Oklahoma State likes to go to extremes.
should be in
Marcus Zegarowski, who was named Big East Player of the Year in the preseason, scored 25 points in the Bluejays’ 86-70 victory over Villanova in Omaha. Hitting 71% of his 2’s and 46% of his 3’s (on 12-26 shooting at the other end of the arc), Creighton repeated his feat with the same staggering accuracy he achieved in January’s 89-53 victory over Seton Hall. Of course CU’s offense could explode at any time, and a big win against a tournament favorite has the potential to boost the No. 6 placement Creighton has shown in the series. If and when that happens, you have to give Greg McDermott’s defense some credence. The Bluejays are tied with UConn for the title of best D game in the Big East.
Facing numerous COVID-19 stoppages, Xavier struggles to perform well enough to make his best win count. In December, the Musketeers hosted Oklahoma in Cincinnati and won 99-77. Many rests followed, however, and Travis Steele’s team is now recovering from two consecutive losses against UConn (in a game in which James Booknight did not play) and St. Les Mousquetaires were 11-4 in the NET rankings in the 40s and an expected 8th place finish in their rankings. This spot in the Dud Brackets seemed like a stepping stone, but given the struggles of this team, Xavier needs to win as soon as possible to keep this spot alive.
Completion of task
Seton Hall Pirates
Before the defeat of Georgetown (81-75), the Pirates spent the month of February trying to get out of the danger of the bubbles and resort to the relative safety of a projected spot on the No. 10 list. Losing to Hoyas square 2 doesn’t have to undo all the good work. Seton Hall could fall into the fork, but regardless of the seeded players, Kevin Willard’s team has always had to defend its place against other Big East teams playing on the bubble. The Pirates close out the season with a home game against UConn and an away game at St. John’s. The Pirates will hope to finish the season with a win at home against UConn. St. John’s. Hall, the Huskies and Johnny are competing for the stakes, and it should be an intense series of bubble battles.
The Connecticut Huskies.
UConn’s eight-point loss against Villanova keeps the Huskies in place for now. Where exactly? That’s a good question. Fake hook suppliers show Dan Hurley’s group as one of the last teams on the floor or one of the first to leave. The danger for the Huskies right now is that the schedule isn’t necessarily filled with opportunities for a team to play comfortably in this position on the field. UConn closes out the season with two games against Georgetown, a home game against Marquette and a visit to Seton Hall. Of course, an away win against the Pirates would be the most valuable prize, but would it be enough?
St. John’s Red Storm
There is probably an aphorism of doors closed and windows open that applies to the current situation in St. John’s. The Red Storm lost 88-83 to DePaul at home, a Quad-4 loss and the first loss this season for the team. Mike Anderson’s team’s NET rating was already dangerously low (in the 60s), and a loss against the Blue Devils will only exacerbate this problem. It’s depressing for a Big East 8-8 team, and that’s the point of opening the window. St. John’s John’s will play Villanova in its next game. Win this, and maybe a team that won against the Wildcats this season will have another chance to win.
Locks: Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa.
should be in
The Badgers have lost three of their last four games and, depending on the fate of Penn State and Maryland, Greg Gard’s men may not have beaten an NCAA team in the tournament since mid-January at Rutgers. Bubblewatch already described the recent layoffs in Wisconsin and here’s another one. The Badgers hit just 8 of 36 times in a 77-62 loss against Iowa in Madison. And, at the risk of denying the Hawkeyes’ defensive prowess, it was against the previously allowed Iowa defense. Since Wisconsin entered the game with a No. 5 spot, the Badgers’ spot dropped. This process must continue.
Boilermakers from Purdue
In a season where Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Iowa are dominating the headlines, the cocktail players are quietly finding themselves in a position to take a very good spot in the series. Matt Painter’s men still have games at Penn State and home games against Wisconsin and Indiana. If Purdue were to win, they would be facing a team that stands 18-8, 13-6 in the historically strong Big Ten. The Coagulators are currently considered probably No. 6, but a couple of wins could change that figure.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Scarlet Knights made Michigan sweat. With the Wolverines seemingly out of the game, Rutgers rallied and made things a little more interesting before losing by seven points in Ann Arbor. Steve Pikiell’s squad is expected to finish at the top of the list, which will strictly be the program’s best ranking in the era of modern tournaments. It’s also the only program spot since 1991, when Rutgers was seeded No. 9 (and lost to Arizona State in the final 64). Don’t be fooled by the apparent normality around RU. It’s a big deal.
Completion of task
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota’s position has become more precarious. Joe Lunardi, an official friend of Bubble Watch, dropped the team to last place after the Golden Gophers lost at home to Illinois (94-63). Richard Pitino’s team has yet to win a single home game this season. This was offset for a while by the excellent lineup of opponents who lost at Williams Arena : Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue and St. Louis. Louis, among others. But the Gophers are 13-10, 6-10 in the Big Ten and with a NET ranking that could drop into the 60s. It all seems uncertain, but Minnesota can turn the situation around with enough wins over Northwestern and Rutgers at home and Nebraska and Penn State on the road.
Who says blue programs will struggle in 2021? Michigan State looked like a regular Gonzaga in the 52-point explosion at Indiana. The Hoosiers’ 78-71 defeat was not fatal to the tournament hopes of a team previously ranked No. 11. However, this defeat is a costly missed opportunity. Instead of another win, Archie Miller’s squad now has a second Quad-3 loss on their profile (the other was a Northwestern win in Bloomington). IU closes out the season with away games at Rutgers, MSU and Purdue and a home game against Michigan. At this point, the Hoosiers really need to win at least one of these games.
The Terrapins did what they needed to do, winning two home games against Nebraska and winning 13-10 and 7-9 in the Big Ten. Mark Turgeon’s boys are barely off the tournament field, and the Terrapins have the best chance for another important win in their next game. Maryland plays at Rutgers, and a win there would take its place alongside wins already over Illinois and Wisconsin (not to mention a home win over Purdue and a season sweep at Minnesota). The Terps still have a chance.
should be in
At the height of its career, USC saw its seven-game winning streak end with an 81-72 home loss against Arizona. It was an impressive performance by the young Wildcats, and besides, it was far from the end of the world for the Trojans. Andy Anfield’s group still have a chance of progressing in the near future. Evan Mobley is still the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and in fact he scored 23 points and four blocks in the loss against Arizona. But the road isn’t getting any easier for USC. The next games are in Colorado and Utah.
After home losses to Cal and Oregon, the Buffaloes had to cut their lead in the standings by one line. What was once a No. 6 spot is now a No. 7 spot, and that’s where Colorado will likely stay after their four-point win at Oregon. Now it’s time to move on to the main event, not just for CU, but for the entire conference. Three teams have been added to the Pac-12 field for the remainder of the bubble-watch season: USC, UCLA and Colorado. On the final weekend of the regular season, Tad Boyle’s team hosts the Trojans and then the Bruins in Boulder.
Mick Cronin’s team, ranked No. 9 with a record of 16-5, relies entirely on Pac-12 teams other than USC to determine the quality of UCLA’s victories. The Bruins lost to Ohio State and San Diego State, so a three-point home victory over Colorado is now a distant memory and no longer the subject of this profile. To say the least: This game is the Bruins’ only win against a top-tier opponent. UCLA will have a chance to change that when they close out the season with games against Buffalo and the Trojans.
Completion of task
Ducks of Oregon
With five consecutive wins and, most importantly, a 60-56 home victory over Colorado, Oregon consolidated their projected No. 9 position in the field (68). The win over Buffalo joins Seton Hall and Stanford as the most important wins for the team this season. Chris Duarte has scored on both ends of the arc all season, the senior Pac-12 has the highest steal percentage, and as a team the Ducks have forced their opponents to turn the tables. The only potential cloud on this horizon is the calendar. Dana Altman’s group would finish the season with four away games.
After an epic 85-76 three-set defeat at Washington State, the Cardinals stand 14-9 and 10-7 in the Pac-12. In the showdown with the Cougars, Jerod Haas’ group presented itself in a different way than it did on or off the field. The Quad-2’s defeat out will not change Stanford’s position in the standings any more than all the wins and losses of the other teams in the bubble. Either way, the Cardinals can always play Oregon and Oregon State at home. Although Stanford has struggled at times this season with a high turnover rate and a low percentage of offensive rebounds, this team can still play on the court if they give themselves enough scoring opportunities.
should be in
Apparently the volunteers like having their ads posted here on Bubble Watch. With wins over Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Colorado, the No. 4 seed should already have clinched a spot. Instead, Kentucky defeated Tennessee 70-55 in Knoxville. So the flights here will cool off a bit longer under the unsealed locks. You have to admit that Rick Barnes’ people are attractive in some ways. Tennessee has a 5-5 record since their home win over Vanderbilt in mid-January.
In just four days, Cuonzo Martin’s team has seen their position in the field drop two places, from No. 4 to No. 1. 6. This slide was halted for a time by the Tigers’ easy 93-78 win at South Carolina. Jeremiah Tilmon, in action for the first time since the defeats against Arkansas and Georgia, came off the bench and shared the top scorer spot with Dru Smith with 17 points. The Tigers now have a chance to secure a spot in the midterms with home games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, as well as a visit to Florida at the end of the season.
The Arkansas Razorbiks
The Razorbacks have won seven SEC games in a row and are on track. The team that was in danger of falling off the projected field just a month ago is now considered a likely No. 8. In his second season in Fayetteville, Eric Musselman plays the defense that was so familiar to rivals in Mountain West Nevada when the coach was there. The Hogs limit their opponents to a single shot and force them into a series of turnovers. Musselman’s team has a shot at the top of the rankings, as Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls entered the 2015 tournament as the No. 5 seed.
Mike White’s team looks to bounce back from a seven-point home win over Georgia. It was a welcome turnaround for a group that still remembers with freshness the return from a KOVID-19 break when they were just 11 years old in Arkansas. UF appears in parentheses as the number 8, hitting his own 2 and doing an excellent job of limiting his opponents’ attempts to 3 points. The Gators still have to play out at Auburn and Kentucky before coming home for the season finale against Missouri.
With the way Alabama, Arkansas and now LSU are playing, the SEC has a good chance to be No. 3 in the country, not far behind the Big Ten and Big 12 in terms of conference strength. The Tigers have contributed to the league’s reputation with three consecutive wins and have an average margin of one win in these games, scoring exactly 17 points. Cameron Thomas led his team for Auburn with 27 points and LSU climbed to eighth place in the standings.
Completion of task
Ole Miss Rebel
Sometimes the bubble seems perfectly clear. It’s one of those moments: Ole Miss needs to win its next match at Missouri to stay on Bubble Watch. After losing to No. 10 Mississippi at home, the Rebels stand at 12-9 and 7-7 in the SEC. Wins over Tennessee and Missouri have balanced this team out, but now they need more wins to stay there. Despite being a good defensive team, Ole Miss hit just 27.6% of its 3 points in the SEC game.
Completion of task
Wichita State Shocks
In 40 minutes of basketball, the Shockers may have started in third or fourth place, only to find themselves in the thick of the action for the next four eliminations. A five-point win at home against a ranked opponent like Houston would have the same effect. But Wichita State will have to work to keep its place in the bubble. With two games left in the season finale against SMU, Isaac Brown’s squad will conclude with away games at Tulane and Temple. But at 13-4 and a win over the loaned Cougars, the Shockers are now close enough to take their chances. Good job, Coach Brown.
Perhaps in the distant future, the committee will be completely replaced by a measure that measures the difficulty of replicating a team’s victories and defeats, taking into account the opponents and the places where these records were set. If this happens and the strength of the shot (SOR), the win of the bubble (WAB) or something similar tips the scales, it’s good news for SMU. In an SOR world, the Mustangs would be ranked 10th at 11-4. In the real world, however, Tim Yankovic’s people on the grid become fifties and populate the edges of the bubble. Keep winning, SMU.
should be in
Barring unforeseen setbacks, BYU appears to be on track for the least intense qualifying Sunday in the West Coast Conference – a key goal Gonzaga hasn’t reached since Saint Mary’s in 2017. (Although the Cougars and Gaels probably would have had drama-free qualifying Sundays in March if they had). Mark Pope’s team looks to be a potential No. 8 after wins at San Diego and Utah and a win on neutral ground against St. John’s.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers
Congratulations to the Ramblers who won a tie for first time this season. Prior to its 54-52 home victory over Valparaiso, Loyola Chicago had lost by no more than five points at the 0-3 scoreline. Porter Moser’s team has two more home games, both against Southern Illinois. With their top 10 ranking and a record of 19-4, the Ramblers are well on their way to reaching their current 9th place in basketball.
the Aztecs of San Diego State
Not only are all of San Diego’s losses good, but Brian Dutcher’s men haven’t lost a game in over a month. Defeats against BYU, Colorado State and Utah State (twice, both games in Logan, Utah) are offset in the Aztecs’ profile by a first win against UCLA and 16 other victories. This performance made SDSU the No. 9 seed in the pool, a position that can still be improved by a final two-game series against Boise State, which will be played in San Diego.
Completion of task
I think it’s fair to say that things went badly in VCU. First of all, Bubble Watch wishes good luck to Bones Hyland, Rams top scorer and Atlantic Player of the Year. Hyland was ejected in the closing minutes of the decision against George Mason in Richmond after apparently injuring his left leg. He did not return and VCSU lost to the Patriots 79-76 in overtime. The Rams entered the game as the No. 10 seed, but a loss in Quad 3 could put a previously unranked team in the NET Top 35 in the same zone as the other A-10 bubble hopuls. The tournament photo for Mike Rhoades’ team went dark after 45 minutes of basketball.
Boise State Broncos
Utah State’s sweep of Boise State in two games reinforced a profile that had already made the Broncos a likely No. 11 seed. Leon Rice’s squad now has two wins over the Aggies, as well as BYU and Colorado State. BSU will conclude the season in San Diego, and even a win there could put the Broncos in a position to make their mark in the Mountain West tournament. Derrick Alston Jr. has scored 49 points in two games against the Aggies and is the instigator of a championship leading offense in the MWC game.
Despite trailing by 10 points in the second half, Drake Loyola managed to beat Chicago by one point in Des Moines. This victory marks a complete turnaround after the Bulldogs’ defeat against the Ramblers 24 hours earlier at the same Field 27. The win was also achieved without AU top scorer Shankwan Hemphill, who missed both games against Loyola due to a broken leg. It is unknown if Hemphill can be back in time for a possible NCAA tournament, but it looks like his team can really make it. Drake is 20-2, and the Bulldogs had a good record before beating the Ramblers in Quad 1.
Saint Bonaventure Bonnie
Few bubble teams have a profile more focused on conference play than the Bonnies, who have had just two off-conference opponents (Akron and Hofstra) due to a COVID hiatus at the beginning of the season. The good news for Mark Schmidt and his men is that St. Bonaventure played very well in the Atlantic 10, combining solid defense with a large dose of offensive punch. At this point, if to mock, the brackets provide for a No. 11 placement for a team with a NET ranking in the 30 and a good percentage of wins in a limited number of games. Note that even in VCU’s three-point loss, Jalen Adaway was terrific, scoring 23 points on 13 shots and grabbing eight rebounds.
In a public bubble, Mountain West, Colorado State, defeated the other three major league contenders 1-1: Boise State, San Diego State and Utah State. So far, this record and a NET ranking in the 40s have been enough to reward the Rams with a spot among the last teams on the field or a spot among the first teams off the field. It is at least one of the most precise plans in the country, and the CSU is implementing all of them without a single senior member of the rotation. But can Nico Medved’s men maintain that position if the MWC calendar no longer offers Quad-1 opportunities? We’ll know soon enough.
St. John’s Louis Billikens
The good news for the Billikens is that they still have a viable, albeit difficult, path to a big bet, even though they were swept in the season series by Dayton. SLU’s high NET rating (in the low 30s before its second loss against UD) and the team’s wins over St. Bonaventure and especially LSU give this profile enough strength to put the Billikens among the first teams to leave the field. But Travis Ford’s men must now start the season with three wins in their final games at VCU and at home against Richmond and UMass.
At 12-5 and 5-3 in the Atlantic 10, Richmond is struggling with the possibility that the shortened and interrupted regular season may not give the team enough room to maneuver to secure their ticket to top-level competition. Of the Spiders’ remaining chances, only one away game remains at St. John’s. Louis promises to raise the profile of the team significantly. Improvements are really needed because Richmond is in different projection areas on many of the next four lists. The Spiders may have some work to do as they embark on the revamped A-10 tournament.
Residents of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Charles Bessey is being traded as a late first round draft pick in 2021. The 6-foot-2 junior has blocked shots all season, dominated the defense and scored many points on offense. In the Hilltoppers’ 73-71 victory at Alabama in December, Bessie scored a 27-12 double-double against one of the strongest defenses in the country, as we now know. All of this makes you wonder why WKU is so low on the bubble list. The losses to Charlotte and Louisiana Tech enabled Rick Stansbury’s group to achieve a NET rating in the 1970s. The rest of the way will improve this figure somewhat, but an equally viable trick might be to deactivate ABU to get an automatic offer.