Bubble Watch: Winners, losers among NCAA tournament fringe teams before Selection Sunday
Selection Sunday is just a few days away and it's win or go to the NIT for a good chunk of NCAA tournament bubble teams competing in conference tournaments.
With only 10 spots open, 16 teams with borderline credentials are looking to enhance their résumés enough to meet the selection committee's demands. Here's a look at the winners and losers from Thursday's conference tournament action:
Ohio State: In a matchup between two borderline Big Ten teams with probably the highest bubble implications of any game, the Buckeyes (19-13, 8-12 Big Ten) escaped a late rally from Indiana to hold on for a 79-75 win in the conference tournament. After starting the day as a projected No. 12 seed that'd be heading to Dayton for a play-in game, this outcome likely pushes Ohio State closer to the safety zone. Do the Buckeyes need a neutral court win against Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney quarterfinals? Perhaps, but the committee should take into account that OSU's three consecutive losses to close out the regular season were all without Kaleb Wesson. The sophomore big man's return Thursday vs. Indiana showed what a different team OSU can be with him in the lineup.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide (18-14, 8-10 SEC) got a much-needed Quadrant 1 (top-50 neutral court) win over Ole Miss in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, earning a matchup with Kentucky. The one thing 'Bama's profile was majorly lacking was a marquee win, as the Tide only had two. Now they've got three to go with a top-20 strength of schedule. After starting Thursday as one of the "first four out," this victory likely catapulted 'Bama to the "last four in" realm.
Alabama Crimson Tide forward Donta Hall (0) and Alabama Crimson Tide guard Dazon Ingram (12) celebrate after a win against the Mississippi Rebels in the SEC conference tournament at Bridgestone Arena. (Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)
Florida: The Gators (18-14, 9-9 SEC) took care of business by beating Arkansas, 66-50, to advance to the quarterfinals of the SEC tourney against top-seeded LSU. After starting Thursday as one of the "first four teams out" of the projected field, it'll likely take an upset of the Tigers to lock up a bid. Otherwise, it will be a lot of rooting against other bubble teams for coach Mike White's team. What makes UF's résumé so unique is its top-35 NET score — a number the committee will circle that favors its chances as compared to an RPI of 60. UF's next loss would be its 15th, and very few 15-loss teams have historically gone dancing.
Minnesota: The Gophers (19-12, 9-11) were inching near the "last four in" at the start of Thursday, so a setback loss to a dangerous Penn State team in the Big Ten tournament second round would've certainly moved them near the wrong side of the bubble. Instead Minnesota kept its postseason fate in the balance though by surviving PSU in overtime, 77-71. That gives the Gophers another Quadrant 1 win ahead of facing Purdue in the quarterfinals, but win or lose that game this looks like a team that's close to locked to make the field of 68.
Xavier: The Musketeers (18-14, 9-9 Big East) knocked of Creighton, 63-61, in the Big East tournament for their sixth win in seven games. Xavier's late charge has put them right in the thick of the bubble chaos, but this team likely needs to do more to hear its name called on Selection Sunday thanks to a NET score in the 70s. And beating Villanova in the Big East semifinals is a tall task.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers (17-15, 6-14 Big Ten) upset Maryland, 69-61, in the Big Ten tournament second round for an outcome that inches them near the bubble, but one win won't turn an NIT profile into an NCAA tourney one that quick. Another win over Wisconsin would make things interesting, but it might take getting to the final to even make a solid case for Tim Miles' group.
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Indiana: The Hoosiers have a profile that undoubtedly will challenge the committee because after Thursday's Big Ten tournament result, this team now has 15 losses. How could a 15-loss team make the NCAAs? By winning six Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 road) games.
Indiana's De'Ron Davis (20) reacts to an offensive foul call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Chicago. (Photo: Nam Y. Huh, AP)
Coach Archie Miller made his case to reporters at the Big Ten tournament: "Our résumé at the end of the day, if you put it up there with a blank sketch I'm sure it compares favorably to some other teams. … I think the one thing in this stage when you're comparing everybody — can you beat a team in the tournament? And this team can win a game in the tournament because it's played good ball here lately. When you're able to beat a Marquette or Louisville, you're able to get a Michigan State twice. You're able to get Wisconsin here lately. So are we capable? Yes. Did we do enough? I'm not sure."
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack bowed out of the ACC tournament by falling to top-seeded Virginia, 76-56. That's a respectable loss and N.C. State even was leading at halftime, so that should help its overall NET score from facing a dominant UVA team. It encapsulates a lot of N.C. State's résumé, too. The Wolfpack have a horrid RPI, but a top-35 NET ranking. Ultimately, it might be the non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 352nd keeping this team out.
TCU: Although the Horned Frogs (20-13, 7-11 Big 12) avoided staining their résumé by getting past Oklahoma State on Wednesday, coming up short in a 70-61 loss to Kansas State means TCU will be sweating it out until Selection Sunday. A top-30 strength of schedule plays in their favor, but playing in the Big 12 should equate to more than three Quad 1 wins.
St. John's: The Red Storm (21-12, 8-10 Big East) didn't come up with a tourney-locking signature victory and definitely didn't do anything to improve its NET score in the 60s by getting steamrolled by Marquette in the Big East tourney quarterfinals. Good news is St. John's avoided losing to DePaul, but now its fate is in other bubble teams' hands. While still somewhat safe, a bid thief could change that illusion of comfort.
Providence: The Friars (18-15, 7-11 Big East) had slim chances, but would've had their NCAA tournament hopes reverberated had they knocked off Villanova in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. A résumé-staining loss to UMass likely will solidify this 15-loss team's omission.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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