Bubble Watch: College basketball winners, losers among borderline NCAA tournament teams

 eu.usatoday.com  03/09/2019 22:32:00   Scott Gleeson

With Selection Sunday just a week away, teams hovering around the NCAA tournament bubble might be hitting the panic button right about now. 

Conference tournaments next week are opportunities for borderline teams to bolster their résumés, but the final regular-season game is also important to the big picture. For any fringe team, marquee wins boost questionable profiles this time of year.  

Here's a look at the biggest bubble winners and losers on Saturday: 

WINNERS

Seton Hall: The Pirates (18-12, 9-9 Big East) all but secured their NCAA tournament at-large bid by upsetting Villanova 79-75 at home on Saturday in the Big East finale. After losing three in a row to fall out of the projected field in late February, Seton Hall beat the league's two best teams — Marquette and now 'Nova — this past week to jump to a No. 9 or No. 10 seed. A win in the Big East tourney would be nice to help bolster a NET ranking in the 60s, but isn't exactly necessary thanks to those two new Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 road) victories that pair with non-conference wins over Kentucky and Maryland. 

Georgetown: The Hoyas (19-12, 9-9 Big East) escaped Marquette 86-84 on the road for a huge Quadrant 1 victory that will help them breathe easy heading into the Big East tournament in New York. Patrick Ewing's team still has some work to do to solidify a spot in the field of 68 in a week, especially when the team's NET score is in the 70s and a non-conference schedule in the 240s is weighing it down. But Saturday's victory is exactly what every bubble team is craving this time of year, and it helped reverse course following Georgetown's 32-point loss to DePaul this week. Expect this hot-and-cold team to sneak into one of the final spots in this week's bracketology.  

Arizona State: The Sun Devils (21-9, 12-6 Pac-12) beat Arizona on the road 72-64 to help improve their at-large case that was already pretty convincing. The reason ASU was a projected No. 12 seed before this has so much to do with the weakness of the Pac-12 as a whole this year, but a Quad 2 road victory only makes Bobby Hurley's team safer heading into the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. ASU's NET score in the 70s is way further back than its really strong 38 RPI, so it will be interesting to see how the committee assesses this team, whether it weighs heavy on that new metric or considers some of the other bright spots with equal value. 

Clemson: The Tigers (19-12, 9-9 ACC) entered Saturday as one of the "first four teams out" of the projected field, yet ended the day as likely one of the "last four in" after a convincing 67-55 victory against Syracuse — another Quadrant 2 win to add to their résumé that's highlighted by a top-30 strength of schedule. The one thing hurting Clemson's profile is a lack of Q1 wins, so while Saturday's outcome was ideal, there's still work to be done in the ACC tournament — where this team is likely to be aNo. 9 seed in Charlotte. 

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack (21-10, 9-9 ACC) hammered ACC doormat Boston College to avoid any type of résumé blemish that would sink their tournament chances. There's still a lot missing on this profile, and N.C. State could use another marquee win to help offset a non-conference schedule that ranks second worst in the entire country out of 253 Division 1 schools. But now the Wolfpack are likely to be a No. 8 seed facing off against Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament on Wednesday in a game that the selection committee could look at as an elimination game of sorts. 

Temple: The Owls (23-8, 13-5 American Athletic) took down a red-hot Central Florida team that had just beaten ACC kingpins Houston and Cincinnati. Saturday's 67-62 decision qualifies as a Quadrant 1 victory for a team that was already relatively in good shape as a No. 11 seed entering Saturday's action. This result means there's way less pressure once the ACC tournament begins next week. Avoid any resume stains and this profile should match what the committee will be looking for. But it's worth noting that the Owls' credentials are taking a hit with the NCAA's NET ranking of 55 whereas Temple's RPI of 30 would be much higher if that was still a deciding factor like previous years. 

South Carolina: The Gamecocks' very slim chances of getting an at-large stayed alive as a result of taking care of business in a 66-46 drubbing of SEC bottom-feeder Georgia. But the task of enhancing the résumé with only the SEC tournament left is quite high. South Carolina (16-5, 11-7) was listed on "life support" on the projected bracket field before Saturday's game, and likely will stay there. Despite a profile with an 83 NET score and a horrid Quad 4 loss to Wyoming, the Gamecocks should receive a favorable seed in the SEC tourney with less room to stub their toe and more room to boost their credentials against better teams. Still, this is a long shot. 

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LOSERS

Texas: The Longhorns (16-15, 8-10 Big 12) lost at home to fellow bubble team TCU 69-56 in a result that very well could shift Texas outside of the projected field. An unsafe No. 11 seed entering Saturday's game, the Longhorns have now lost four of five and have work to do in the Big 12 tourney — where they'll be a No. 6 or No. 7 seed — to secure an at-large bid. TCU, meanwhile, moved out of a play-in No. 12 seed and inched closer to the safety zone. Texas' top-35 NET score is what makes an omission tricky for the committee. Credit there goes to a top-five strength of schedule and five Quad 1 victories on this team's overall résumé.

Florida: The Gators (17-14, 9-9 SEC) are in trouble. Falling to Kentucky 66-57 on the road on Saturday is a respectable loss, but it was Florida's outcome last Saturday -- a head-scratching loss to Georgia — and a one-point overtime loss to LSU on Wednesday that ultimately have shoved Florida into the danger zone. A top-35 NET score and no bad losses on UF's credentials are strengths of this profile, but there's a lack of signature wins. Unfortunately, Saturday's game against UK might be the last chance the Gators get to enhance its credentials in that regard if it doesn't go on a favorable SEC tournament run. 

Butler: The Bulldogs (16-15, 7-11 Big East) likely played themselves out of the field and killed their dwindling at-large chances with an 83-70 loss to Providence — an outcome that puts them near last place in the Big East. Without a deep run in the Big East tournament that includes a Quad 1 win, this is an NIT profile because even with a top-25 strength of schedule, this team still has gone only 1-10 in Q1 opportunities. 

 

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