Bubble teams from coast-to-coast can momentarily exhale and save their stock of antacids for the rest of Championship Week, as a major threat to their selection evaporated Monday night. The top-seeded Wofford Terriers completed a perfect 21-0 Southern Conference campaign by pulling away from the second-seeded UNC Greensboro Spartans to win the league tournament title in Asheville, 70-58. While Wes Miller’s Spartans finished with a 28-6 record, they’re unlikely to earn an at-large, even with a pair of Quad 1 victories. And that’s a shame, considering UNCG lost by just six points, 97-91, at LSU on Nov. 9, then hung with Kentucky Wildcats for 30 minutes at Rupp Arena on Dec. 1, before the Wildcats pulled away late to win 78-61.
But the threat returns this evening, as the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ resounding 100-74 WCC tournament win over the Pepperdine Waves Monday night only came in that event’s semifinal round. The Zags, with forward Killian Tillie back from a foot injury, play the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the conference title game tonight. And while the Gaels appear on plenty of other “First/Next Four Out” lists out there, my feeling is that their profile is more sizzle than steak, so they need to win this one. If they do, an at-large bid will indeed vanish. (And so may the Bulldogs’ No. 1 seed.)
After Tuesday’s full bracket, it’s time to dig into the profiles around the cut line and why I’ve projected these eight teams to be either in the NCAAs or destined for the NIT.
Note: Auto bid holders in this section are noted by the conference names in parentheses. Arrows indicate movement up or down seed lines relative to Monday’s projection. New entrants are marked with an asterisk. Teams that have clinched bids are in all caps.
1. East (Washington, D.C.)
Columbia, South Carolina (Fri./Sun.)
San José, California (Fri./Sun.)
Hartford, Connecticut (Thu./Sat.)
Tulsa, Oklahoma (Fri./Sun.)
4. Midwest (Kansas City, Missouri)
Salt Lake City, Utah (Thu./Sat.)
Columbus, Ohio (Fri./Sun.)
2. West (Anaheim, California)
Salt Lake City (Thu./Sat.)
Des Moines, Iowa (Thu./Sat.)
Jacksonville, Florida (Thu./Sat.)
3. South (Louisville, Kentucky)
San José (Fri./Sun.)
Des Moines (Thu./Sat.)
Bids by Conference: 9 Big Ten, 8 ACC, 8 Big 12, 7 SEC, 4 American, 4 Big East, 2 Mountain West, 2 Pac-12, 24 one-bid conferences
Now let’s take a closer look at the last four in the field and the first four teams left out.
Note: While team records reflect games played through Monday, March 11, 2019, NET data only reflects games played through Sunday, March 10, 2019. (Info from WarrenNolan.com.)
Last Four IN
Last four byes: St. John’s, TCU, Florida, Texas
Temple (23-8; 13-5 American Athletic)
NET: 50; Quadrant 1 (Q1) record: 2-6; Quadrant 2 (Q2) record: 6-1; road/neutral record: 8-5; strength of schedule (SOS): 78; non-conference strength of schedule (NCSOS): 219
The Owls would like to send head coach Fran Dunphy into retirement with one last NCAA bid, but they’re probably going to have win one game at a minimum in the American Athletic Conference tournament in Memphis to make that a reality. While Temple has a win over Houston, fourth in the NET, to check the “marquee Quad 1 win” box for the Committee — adding another over 28th-ranked UCF on Saturday for good measure, this profile has very little else on it. There’s no significant non-conference win nor is there a standout performance away from home — the closest result on both fronts is a 77-75 win over Davidson in Atlantic City.
Next game: Friday vs. the Wichita State/East Carolina winner in the American quarterfinals
Indiana (17-14; 8-12 Big Ten)
NET: 51; Q1 record: 6-9; Q2 record: 2-5; road/neutral record: 3-9; SOS: 54; NCSOS: 205
On Feb. 22, the Hoosiers lost to Iowa to drop to 13-14 and 4-12 in the Big Ten — in other words, likely out of both the NCAA and NIT pictures. Since then, Indiana has won four straight, highlighted by a double OT victory over Wisconsin and completed sweep of Michigan State. And those victories are a main reason why I suspect that Archie Miller’s team ends up in the field, despite the 14 total losses and midseason swoon. Indiana has five NET top 30 wins with three of those coming against teams in the top 15. With the Selection Committee indicating that it values high-quality wins over everything else, the Hoosiers have a real shot at sneaking in. However, a loss to the next team on this list in Thursday’s Big Ten tournament second round could be a problem, since such a result would worsen Indiana’s already poor 2-5 record in Quad 2 games.
Next game: Thursday vs. Ohio State in the Big Ten second round
Ohio State (18-13; 8-12 Big Ten)
NET: 55; Q1 record: 4-9; Q2 record: 4-3; road/neutral record: 5-7; SOS: 58; NCSOS: 157
While Indiana has rallied, the Buckeyes, 2-6 in their last eight, are fading down the stretch. Even though Ohio State has performed better than the Hoosiers against Quad 2 opponents and in games away from Columbus, the Buckeyes’ Quad 1 wins cannot compare to Indiana’s, as their best win came in Cincinnati in the season opener for both teams. And while Chris Holtmann’s team won in Bloomington during Indiana’s swoon, the Bucks’ other two Quad 1 wins came over Nebraska and Creighton, with only the latter being an at-large contender at this point. Simply put, those top wins just don’t compare to what Indiana has to offer. To be safe, Ohio State will likely need to not only beat the Hoosiers Thursday, but grab an unlikely win over Michigan State on Friday too.
Next game: Thursday vs. Indiana in the Big Ten second round
Clemson (19-12; 9-9 ACC)
NET: 35; Q1 record: 1-9; Q2 record: 6-3; road/neutral record: 4-6; SOS: 33; NCSOS: 116
The Tigers’ mere presence on this list and in the current field is testament to how weird 2019’s bubble is. Clemson’s three best wins, their lone Quad 1 triumph over a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech squad, and two Quad 2 victories over Syracuse and Lipscomb all came at home. Beyond those victories, the best things about the Tigers’ slate is that they have no sub-100 losses and a decent non-conference schedule, unlike their most direct bubble rival, NC State. Of course, Brad Brownell’s squad will get a shot against that very team in its next contest — hoping to avenge a two-point loss suffered in Raleigh on Jan. 26.
Next game: Wednesday vs. NC State in the ACC second round
First Four OUT
Belmont (25-5; 16-2 OVC)
NET: 45; Q1 record: 2-2; Q2 record: 3-1; road/neutral record: 12-3; SOS: 194; NCSOS: 76
I suspect that if the Jacksonville State Gamecocks had not swept the regular season series with the Bruins, the story might be different for Belmont. Still, the Bruins’ NET is high enough to ensure that Rick Byrd’s club is discussed in the Committee room. A pair of Quad 1 wins help Belmont’s case. However, since neither counts as “marquee,” I don’t think they’ll mean all that much ultimately. A non-conference sweep of Lipscomb basically only lifts the Bruins over the Bisons. One thing that really hurts Belmont’s case is the weakness of the OVC outside of its top four teams. The Bruins have 17 Quad 4, sub-200 wins, which is a mountain to overcome. All but three of those came in conference play.
Next game: Season complete
NC State (21-10; 9-9 ACC)
NET: 32; Q1 record: 2-8; Q2 record: 6-0; road/neutral record: 4-6; SOS: 214; NCSOS: 353
Based on their NET ranking of 32, the Wolfpack should be a stone cold lock. And a 8-8 combined record between Quads 1 and 2 doesn’t hurt NC State’s case either. But digging into the Pack’s profile, a few troublesome items are unearthed that could serve as red flags for the Committee. Fort starters, one of the Quad 1 wins came against the 14-17 Penn State Nittany Lions. Then there’s the fact that three of the Quad 2 victories came against teams from outside the top 100. Gaze over at Quad 3 and you’ll see a pair of losses, which would be forgivable if State had more than three wins over teams currently in the field, all of which came at home.
But Quad 4 is where Kevin Keatts’ squad finds itself in real trouble. Now much has been made of how important non-conference scheduling should be to the selection process. But in the reality bracketology operates in, the Committee has indicated through its past decisions that this factor matters. (For a more detailed discussion about this, please read Patrick Stevens’ exceptional Twitter thread on the topic from yesterday.) Yet despite this knowledge, NC State has no fewer than nine home victories over teams ranked 200th or worse in the NET, and unlike Belmont’s total above, all nine came in games the Wolfpack’s coaching staff lined up. As a result, the Wolfpack’s non-conference schedule ranking is dead last nationally.
Usually, this wouldn’t be an issue in the ACC, which typically allows you to rack up quality win opportunities to overcome any November/December scheduling weakness present. But according to KenPom, the Wolfpack’s ACC schedule ranked 14th out of the 15 members. That slate wasn’t enough to boost State’s NET overall strength of schedule into the national top 200! Making matters worse, NC State couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities it did have — going 0-7 in conference Quad 1 win chances.
If the Committee is aiming to make an example of a team for its scheduling, the Wolfpack are in real trouble, even with a win over Clemson on Wednesday.
Next game: Wednesday vs. Clemson in the ACC second round
Lipscomb (23-7; 14-2 ASUN)
NET: 48; Q1 record: 2-3; Q2 record: 1-3; road/neutral record: 11-4; SOS: 211; NCSOS: 61
The Bisons will long regret their inability to defeat Liberty at home, even if their win in Lynchburg doubled their final Quad 1 victory total. In a just world, Lipscomb’s Nov. 20 73-64 road victory over fellow bubble team TCU would help push Casey Alexander’s squad into the field of 68. Alas, the 47th-ranked Horned Frogs probably aren’t ranked high enough to count as a truly marquee win, especially since they’re just one spot higher than the Bisons. Like their Battle of the Boulevard rivals, the bottom of Lipscomb’s conference betrayed them. Lipscomb has 17 Quad 2 victories, just like Belmont, with 13 of those coming in Atlantic Sun play.
Next game: Season complete
Creighton (17-13; 9-9 Big East)
NET: 54; Q1 record: 3-10; Q2 record: 6-3; road/neutral record: 4-7; SOS: 14; NCSOS: 30
I’ve spent the last three capsules complaining about scheduling, so let me begin this one by complimenting the Bluejays on doing well on this front. Of course, they didn’t do quite enough, which is why they’re on this side of the cut line. While Creighton has a potential tie-breaking neutral-court win over Clemson and a significant late-season victory at Marquette, those are the exceptions rather than the rule. While Greg McDermott’s team finished 9-9 in the Big East, they went 1-7 against league members in the field, with the only win coming against the Golden Eagles. In other words, quality victories in New York will be a requirement for Creighton’s inclusion.
Next game: Thursday vs. Xavier in the Big East quarterfinals
Even though the power-conference portion of the postseason tips off this afternoon with a trio of ACC tournament games, none will have direct impact on the bubble picture. In fact, each team taking the floor in Charlotte today finished below .500. So, action really picks up on Wednesday, and my next update will include a viewing guide featuring all of the key matchups.