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NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Does Duke have a chance to make the field?
USA Today Sports’ Scott Gleeson breaks down the bottom of the field heading toward the NCAA tournament.
When Wichita State parted ways with longtime coach Gregg Marshall — the man that helped the program reach the 2013 Final Four and transition to the American Athletic Conference — the idea of playing in the 2021 NCAA Tournament felt like an afterthought.
But here we are in March, and Wichita State players are cutting down nets, having just won a share of the AAC regular season with a comfortable victory Saturday over South Florida. The win also shifts WSU to a much safer projected No. 10 seed and further from the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Marshall resigned after an investigation into allegations he had physically and verbally abused players became public.
Coach Isaac Brown, who spent six years under Marshall as an assistant, took over as the interim in November and then was offered the full-time gig with a five-year contract.
Less than a week after the Shockers’ season ended last March, a walk-on and six scholarship players announced their decisions to transfer. This year, WSU faced several interruptions due to COVID-19. Despite five game postponements since the end of January, WSU hasn’t lost since Jan. 21 and has won seven in a row.
Wichita State. The Shockers rolled over South Florida 80-63 and now are building a case that will make it difficult for the committee to keep them out of the NCAA Tournament. The problem with WSU’s profile is a NET score in the 60s. A top-25 non-conference strength of schedule should ultimately work in this group’s favor.
Connecticut. The Huskies (14-6, 11-6 Big East) improved upon their No. 10 seed they started the day off with by handling Georgetown 98-82 behind James Bouknight’s 21 points. When Bouknight, the team’s leading scorer, is on the court this team has lost just two games. The selection committee considers injuries and that should make UConn relatively safe right now for its inclusion in the field.
Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (14-10, 10-10 Big Ten) defeated Minnesota 77-70 to essentially end the Gophers’ chances of an at-large bid. In Rutgers’ case, it’s coming off a loss to Big Ten bottom-feeder Nebraska, so winning is essential to avoid major sweating on Selection Sunday.
Drake. The Bulldogs (25-3, 15-3 MVC) survived Missouri State for a 71-69 win in the MVC Tournament semifinals. Had Drake lost, it likely would have been sweating big time on Selection Sunday. Instead, now it faces Loyola-Chicago, ranked No. 22 in the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll, for the Valley tournament final. Should Drake not claim the league’s automatic bid, its credentials are still good enough to squeak in as a No. 11 or No. 12 seed.
Saint Bonaventure. The Bonnies (15-4, 12-4 Atlantic 10) defeated another A-10 bubble team in Saint Louis, 71-53, which likely pushes the Billikens out of the conversation. In Saint Bonaventure’s case, this win helped keep it relatively safe in the No. 11 seed range. Two Quadrant 1 victories aren’t flashy enough, but a top-30 non-conference strength of schedule and top-30 NET score will be difference-makers on Selection Sunday.
Virginia Commonwealth. Currently projected as a No. 11 seed, the Rams helped solidify their NCAA Tournament case by advancing to the A-10 tournament championship game with a 64-52 win over Davidson. Though VCU can guarantee its entry into the Big Dance by beating St. Bonaventure in the title game, the Rams are aided by a top-35 NET ranking. – Jace Evans
Utah State. The Aggies are one of the “First Four Out” in the latest projections, but they avoided a stumble by closing out their regular season slate with a 57-51 victory over Fresno State. Utah State sports a top-50 NET ranking and enters the Mountain West Tournament, which it’s won the past two seasons, on a four-game winning streak.
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Duke. The Blue Devils (11-11, 9-9 ACC) badly needed a Quadrant 1 win and failed to get it in a 91-73 road loss to archrival North Carolina. That’s Duke’s third loss in a row after a four-game winning streak resuscitated the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Now it’s going to take a deep run in the ACC tournament for coach Mike Krzyzewski’s group to have a chance. A NET score in the high 50s and just two Quad 1 wins isn’t enough to entice the committee. Duke hasn’t missed the tournament since 1995.
Louisville. The Cardinals (13-6, 8-5 ACC) have a deceptive profile and with Saturday’s 68-58 loss to Virginia, now they’re in hot water. Starting the day as a No. 10 seed, a loss to the ACC’s top team wasn’t surprising, but it was a missed opportunity to inch toward the safety zone heading into the ACC tournament. Now coach Chris Mack’s group will need to get at least one more win to secure its inclusion. There’s only one Quad 1 win on the profile and a NET score of 49.
Indiana. Consider Indiana’s postseason hopes dashed unless coach Archie Miller can inspire this group to a deep run in the Big Ten tournament. The Hoosiers (12-14, 7-12) fell 67-58 to Purdue for their fifth consecutive loss — the wrong recipe for a bubble team in March. A NET score of 59 and losing record just won’t cut it, even playing in the Big Ten.
Georgia. The Bulldogs (14-11, 7-11) lost to the best team in the SEC, Alabama, 89-79. That might’ve been expected, but it was also Georgia’s major shot at vaulting to the right side of the bubble by acquiring a marquee victory. Instead, Georgia’s on life-support and its March Madness hopes will have to be resuscitated with a deep run in the SEC tournament.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson