As the 2020 men's NCAA tournament nears, nothing is more dangerous to a team's resume than a "should win" game. While some losses are excusable, a surprising letdown can move the needle in the wrong direction for a bubble team.
Too many of those losses, and the bubble will pop.
Highlighted by a Big Ten clash between Indiana and Minnesota, Wednesday's slate is full of such matchups.
Looking at Bracket Matrix, the non-automatic qualifying 11 and 12 seeds are Virginia, Purdue, Cincinnati, Indiana, Georgetown and Utah State. Just outside of that "last teams in" section are Richmond, Arkansas, Stanford, Mississippi State, Alabama, North Carolina State and Minnesota.
Among those 13 teams positioned on Bubble Watch, 10 will take the floor Wednesday—and the only road team is Indiana. With the exception of NC State's clash with Duke, any loss can have a substantial impact in bracket projections.
Wednesday Bubble Schedule
Texas A&M (12-12) at Alabama (14-11), 7 p.m. ET
UCF (13-11) at Cincinnati (17-8), 7 p.m. ET
George Mason (14-11) at Richmond (19-6), 7 p.m. ET
Boston College (13-13) at Virginia (17-7), 8 p.m. ET
Providence (14-12) at Georgetown (15-10), 8:30 p.m. ET
No. 6 Duke (22-3) at NC State (16-9), 9 p.m. ET
Indiana (16-9) at Minnesota (12-12), 9 p.m. ET
South Carolina (16-9) at Mississippi State (16-9), 9 p.m. ET
Wyoming (6-20) at Utah State (21-7), 9 p.m. ET
The Main Event
Indiana has mustered only a 1-5 record since starting 15-4. For now, the Hoosiers remain in decent position thanks to a 4-7 mark opposite Quadrant I competition.
But if the recent skid adds another loss, how many additional letdowns can Indiana survive? Considering the remaining schedule has one NCAA lock (Penn State), two expected at-large teams (Illinois and Wisconsin) and two bubble teams (Purdue and Minnesota), that answer could be tested.
Minnesota is facing a similar question. At some point, the Golden Gophers will run out of excusable losses.
Ordinarily, a 12-12 record would set a program well outside of the bubble conversation. Minnesota, though, has 10 Q-I losses. And thanks to four Q-I wins, the Gophers are hanging around.
Wednesday's result is not a make-or-break game for either side. However, the loss is guaranteed to be a painful one.
The Disaster Games
Mid-major programs always have a much smaller margin for error, but Utah State has stretched it about as thin as possible.
While the Aggies hold a 21-7 record, they're 4-6 against Quadrant I and II teams and have a letdown to Air Force (NET ranking 209). If they endure an upset loss to Wyoming (NET 297), an at-large berth will be a tremendously small possibility.
Richmond, similarly, needs to avoid a hugely problematic loss when it hosts George Mason (NET 169).
Already on the wrong side of the bubble, Richmond is 4-5 opposite Q-I and Q-II competition and has a glaring loss to Radford (NET 162). A second Quadrant III loss would be tough to overcome.
Mississippi State managed a win over Arkansas last weekend, and it was especially important because of the remaining schedule. It's—to put it simply—meh. The Bulldogs only have two Quadrant I wins and might only have a chance at one more. Falling to South Carolina would badly damage their at-large hopes.
Alabama (vs. Texas A&M) and Cincinnati (vs. UCF) are both clinging to reasonable yet slender NCAA hopes. If either the Tide or Bearcats lose Wednesday, it'll be another bad loss to a resume that can handle one more, at most.
The 'This Didn't Help' Division
Georgetown is trending the right direction after upsetting Butler on Saturday. Wouldn't it be awfully bubbly of the Hoyas to lose immediately to Providence, a team searching for a return to the bubble?
In fairness, Georgetown has remaining games against three Top 25 teams in Marquette, Creighton and Villanova. The chances for a late resume boost are clearly available, so a second loss to the Friars wouldn't be crushing. Still, it would then require the Hoyas to manage an upset, and that's not comfortable territory.
Virginia finds itself in a comparable spot.
Head coach Tony Bennett's squad can lean on a victory over Florida State with a 3-3 record against Q-I teams. That success will keep UVA on the bubble. Yet the Wahoos already fell to Boston College once; a second defeat would be horrible.
The One Exception
North Carolina State losing to the nation's sixth-ranked team would not be stunning. This result against Duke is far less important than the Wolfpack avoiding a letdown against North Carolina, Pittsburgh or Wake Forest in the coming weeks.
Pulling off the upset, however, would be enormous.
Heading into this matchup, the Pack are 7-6 against Quadrant I and II competition. The problem is their best victories are over Wisconsin, UNC Greensboro, Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse. At this moment, only Wisconsin and Virginia are in the projected field. A trio of Quadrant III losses aren't helping either.
Depending on whom you ask, NC State might not even be on the current list of bubble teams. But if the Pack can surprise Duke, they'll promptly return to the discussion.