The NCAA Tournament bubble has never been a zen place for men’s college basketball, spurring serious anxiety for teams and their coaches in the last several weeks of the regular season on an annual basis.
That’s where Indiana coach Archie Miller finds himself once again after several years of coaching the Hoosiers on and off the bubble since his tenure began in Bloomington in 2017. Indiana will likely be one of the “last four in” or “first four out” following Saturday’s 78-71 loss to Michigan State.
Playing in the Big Ten can work in Indiana’s favor in the sense that there are ample opportunities for marquee victories. But the Hooisers must capitalize.
That’s what bubble team Wichita State did in winning a huge Quadrant 1 game (top-25 home, top-75 road) over top-10 team Houston. All it takes is one victory like that and now the Shockers are in the projected field.
It’s make-or-break time for bubble teams. Here’s a look at how they fared Saturday.
BIG-TIME VICTORIES: Three blue-blood programs get key wins
Duke. The Blue Devils (12-8, 8-6) jumped back into the bubble discussion by picking up Quadrant 1 victory over Virginia in a narrow 66-65 decision to make a case for the selection committee. This win will put Duke back in contention, but there’s still work to be done. With a down ACC, this might’ve been the team’s last chance to bolster the profile, and it capitalized big time.
North Carolina. The Tar Heels (14-7, 8-5 ACC) got the signature victory their profile is needing more of by cruising past Louisville 99-54 in ACC play. UNC’s profile is looking better and it likely will be in the No. 10-seed range following Saturday’s result. No bad losses help offset a poor non-conference strength of schedule and NET score in the 50s.
Georgia Tech. For a team that started the day as one of the “next four out,” its comfortable 27-point win over Miami (Florida) keeps the Yellow Jackets (11-8, 7-6 ACC) in contention for an at-large bid. A NET score in the 60s is too high and a non-conference strength of schedule of 294 will stand out to the selection committee. Georgia Tech needs to keep winning to make its case.
Syracuse. The Orange (13-6, 7-5) started Saturday as one of the “next four out” and likely used a 75-67 win over Notre Dame in ACC play to inch closer to the right side of the bubble. Syracuse’s NET score of 50 is decent but the biggest downfall on the portfolio is zero Quadrant 1 wins. Two of the final three ACC games will provide that for coach Jim Boeheim’s team.
Richmond. The Spiders (12-5, 5-3) just need more wins on their NCAA portfolio so beating Duquesne 79-72 helps. Richmond has a Quadrant 4 loss to La Salle, so capitalizing on winnable games in Atlantic 10 play makes a difference.
Indiana. The Hoosiers (12-10, 7-8 Big Ten) lost to Michigan State 78-71 to drift toward the wrong side of the bubble. The loss came despite 34 points and nine rebounds from Trayce Jackson-Davis. A projected No. 11 seed entering Saturday, this setback puts Miller’s team in a tight position to close out the regular season. Indiana has three of its last four games on the road, including a rematch with MSU on March 2.
Connecticut. The Huskies (10-6, 7-6 Big East) came close to knocking off Villanova, which would have given coach Dan Hurley’s squad a much-needed Quadrant 1 win. The return of leading scorer James Bouknight is a promising sign for UConn but the selection committee can only be so lenient with taking injuries into account. Sporting a 52 NET score and no bad losses, it’s just marquee victories that are keeping the Huskies out of the field as one of the “first four out” in bracketology.
Seton Hall. The Pirates (13-9, 10-6) lost to Georgetown 81-75 and likely will fall out of the projected field. They entered Saturday as one of the “last four in” as a play-in game No. 12 seed, but losing to a middling Big East team is not the recipe for a safer profile. A top-50 non-conference strength of schedule could be a difference-maker in the committee’s eyes, but Seton Hall needs more winning momentum.
VCU. The Rams (16-5, 9-3) fell to a mediocre George Mason team 82-79 in overtime, and that drastically hurts their profile. Despite sporting a NET score in the 30s, VCU has zero Quadrant 1 wins to its name and adding an ugly loss to a middling Atlantic 10 opponent won’t bolster this team’s cause in the eyes of the selection committee. This pushes VCU from a relatively safe No. 9 seed in the projected bracket to a much less safe No. 10 or No. 11 seed where one more bad loss could shove the Rams to the wrong side of the bubble.
Minnesota. The Gophers (12-10, 6-10 Big Ten) were no match for Illinois’ potent offensive attack in a 94-63 loss that sets this team further back. Minnesota’s NET score is in the high 50s and its non-conference strength of schedule is 171, but aiding its profile are four Quadrant 1 victories thanks to Big Ten play. Saturday just didn’t pave way for another.
Pittsburgh. The Panthers (9-9, 5-8) have moved away from at-large contention following a 79-72 loss to Florida State, not because it’s a bad loss but because it’s a missed opportunity to acquire a Quadrant 1 win. A NET score in the 80s and just one Quad 1 win just won’t cut it.
Stanford. The Cardinal (14-9, 10-7) lost to Washington State in a triple-overtime thriller 85-76, and it’s bad news for its NCAA dreams. Stanford started the day as one of the “first four out” and now will slide further to the wrong side of the bubble. A NET score in the 50s and non-conference strength of schedule of 101 don’t do this team any favors.
Ole Miss. The Rebels (12-9, 7-7) fell to Mississippi State 66-56 after starting the day as one of the “first four out.” Now, it could be an uphill climb for Ole Miss to drift back towards the right side of the bubble. Only two Quad 1 wins and a dreadful non-conference strength of schedule of 244 are eyebrow raisers.
NCAA Tournament language explainer:
- NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
- 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: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
- Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson