Odds for Each CBB Bubble Team Making 2021 Men's March Madness with 4 Weeks to Go
The bubble for the 2021 men's NCAA tournament has an unusually abundant supply of mid-majors. Boise State, Colorado State, Drake, Richmond, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Utah State and VCU are all in the mix for at-large bids, but what will it take for them to secure a spot in the field?
Before we dive in, allow me to put a gigantic "assuming these games get played" disclaimer on everything. Between the pandemic and the recent/ongoing weather conditions all over the country, scheduling has gotten so messed up that we've already seen the following just in the past couple of days:
- North Carolina tweeting out a plea for someone to come play because its game against Virginia Tech scheduled for Tuesday was postponed. (The Tar Heels got a home game against Northeastern out of it.)
- Texas at Oklahoma was originally scheduled for Tuesday, then pushed to Wednesday, then pushed to Thursday and then postponed, all because of the snowstorms in those two states.
- As of Tuesday afternoon, St. Bonaventure was scheduled to host Fordham on Wednesday night. By Wednesday morning, that game was scrapped and replaced with a Thursday afternoon road game against George Mason, due to Fordham's shutting down its campus for two weeks for COVID-19 reasons. But a few hours after the new game was scheduled, it was also nixed because of inclement weather in Virginia.
While I hope all of these games get played, I'm well aware things are subject to change.
Beyond that, the NCAA tournament bubble is a constantly moving target.
While we will say that Team A needs to do X, Y and Z to get into the tournament, it might not actually be enough if more bubble teams than usual play well down the stretch or if a bunch of conference tournament "bid thieves" turn projected auto bids into at-large bids and reduce the number of available spots.
Conversely, Team A might fall short of accomplishing X, Y and Z but could still get in if enough other teams sputter to the finish line and lower the bar for a spot in the field.
However, people are constantly asking what it would take for specific teams to get into the dance, and this is our best guess at those minimum requirements for the eight squads surrounding the cut line.
You can't bet on them, but these are the tournament odds we've generated for the last four in and first four out, according to Wednesday's Bracket Matrix update, listed in descending order of how safely in the field they are (or aren't).
St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Resume: 10-3, NET 41, KP 49, 1-2 vs. Q1, 3-1 vs. Q2, 6-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Fourth-to-Last In
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: vs. Davidson, vs. Dayton
St. Bonaventure has played in enough games to qualify for the tournament, but barely. The NCAA decided in September that the minimum for consideration is 13 games against D-I opponents. But it's still super weird to be looking at a 13-game resume in the second half of February. In a normal year, 13-game resumes are what we're evaluating around New Year's Day.
However, as this year's NCAA tournament selection committee chair Mitch Barnhart said during last weekend's top-16 reveal: "It is not the committee's job to speculate, to sit here and say 'What if they played? What if they had more games on their resume?' We just have to evaluate the resumes as they lie."
St. Bonaventure's resume lies in good shape, but with so few games on it, that's still liable to change in a big way.
If the Bonnies win each of their remaining contests, go ahead and lock them in. They already have good-not-great wins over VCU (home) and Richmond (road), and they haven't suffered any bad losses. There's about a 45 percent chance they'll win both remaining games.
A home loss to either Davidson (NET No. 73) or Dayton (NET No. 93) would prove problematic, though.
Neither would be a terrible loss, but either would be St. Bonaventure's worst loss of the season. And for a squad that has two wins over bubble teams and little else worth mentioning on a 13-game resume, adding even a borderline Q2/Q3 loss could push them out.
It wouldn't be the final nail in the coffin, though. Because St. Bonaventure is in the field with a slim cushion, one loss would probably bump the Bonnies down to first or second team out heading into the A-10 tournament—where there will be ample opportunity to pick up nice wins, possibly against fellow bubble teams in "loser goes home" scenarios.
Tournament Odds: +115
Colorado State Rams
Resume: 14-4, NET 45, KP 69, 2-3 vs, Q1, 1-1 vs. Q2, 10-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Third-to-Last In
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: vs. Air Force, vs. Air Force
Colorado State was supposed to play road games against Nevada on Saturday and Monday. However, just like its Feb. 9 and 11 games against New Mexico and its Feb. 16 game against Northern Colorado, they were called off for health and safety reasons.
But from a purely "What are the odds that team gets into the tournament?" perspective, the Rams are perhaps better off not playing those games at Nevada.
The Wolf Pack would have given Colorado State a serious test. They won two home games against Boise State earlier this month. When they got swept at San Diego State, it was by a combined seven points. They had to replace all four of their leading scorers from last season, but in his second season at the helm, Steve Alford already has this team building toward something. The Wolf Pack will be a factor in next year's at-large conversation.
They are just outside the NET Top 100, though, so those would have been Quadrant 2 games. Even going 1-1 in that series likely would have hurt Colorado State's resume, and there's a distinct possibility the Rams could have gone 0-2 and dropped out of the bubble mix altogether.
Instead, they're scheduled to finish the regular season with two home games against 4-16 Air Force—games that KenPom.com gives the Rams a 96 percent chance of winning. (Roughly a 92.2 percent chance they win both.)
Colorado State isn't exactly sitting pretty on the projected overall seed list, though.
By not getting to play those games against Nevada, the Rams are locked into entering the MWC tournament with just three wins against the NET top 125, splitting each of their season series with Boise State, San Diego State and Utah State. They're also an oar-less boat hoping not to get tossed around by the ocean, since each of the seven teams directly behind the Rams has at least one big opportunity remaining to improve its resume.
Tournament Odds: +145
Resume: 10-5, NET 52, KP 37, 2-2 vs. Q1, 1-3 vs. Q2, 7-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Second-to-Last In
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: at Villanova, at Georgetown, vs. Marquette, at Seton Hall, vs. Georgetown
The big question with Connecticut is whether the selection committee will overlook the fact that four of its five losses came in the games played without its best player.
James Bouknight was an obvious candidate for Big East Player of the Year before an elbow injury suffered in early January. He scored at least 18 points in each of his first five games, including a 40-point effort in trying to carry his team to a home win over Creighton. The Huskies fell short in overtime of that game, but Bouknight did lead them to victory over USC on a neutral court. And in his first game back in six weeks, he went for 18 points in a 73-61 win over Providence.
Without question, Connecticut is better when he's on the floor. But if it wants the committee to discount/disregard the questionable losses to St. John's and Providence that transpired without Bouknight, Connecticut needs to play well down the stretch with him back.
A win at Villanova this Saturday, though unlikely, would be massive. If the Huskies can't get that one, we would strongly advise winning each of the final four games. A loss to Georgetown or Marquette would be bad, and while a loss at Seton Hall wouldn't be bad, it would (coupled with a loss to Villanova) leave the Huskies at 13-7 overall with an 0-5 record against the Big East's top three teams.
If that's their path, the margins in these final few games could prove vital. Connecticut's NET ranking isn't great, but close road losses to Villanova and Seton Hall and comfortable wins in the other three games would give the Huskies a boost in the metrics.
And from there, we would wait to see what happens in the Big East tournament and how willing the committee is to downplay what went down without Bouknight.
Tournament Odds: Even
Utah State Aggies
Resume: 14-6, NET 54, KP 52, 2-3 vs. Q1, 1-1 vs. Q2, 10-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Last Team In
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: at Boise State, vs. Nevada, vs. Nevada
A little over a month ago, Utah State was sitting at 9-3 with good metrics but nothing even close to a quality win. Based on current metrics, it was eight Quadrant 4 wins and a non-D-I victory over College of Idaho. In mid-January, this team was nowhere close to a bid.
Then in the span of six days, the Aggies won three consecutive home games against San Diego State (two) and Colorado State to rocket not only into the at-large conversation but also into the projected field.
Since then, however, they have lost three out of five, including a bad loss to UNLV. The two Quadrant 3 wins (at UNLV, at Fresno State) didn't do anything to help.
As of Wednesday morning, the Bracket Matrix still had Utah State in. I've had the Aggies out for a while, though, and Wednesday night's loss at Boise State made it that much more difficult to envision this team receiving an at-large bid.
I wish that weren't the case for Utah State. I don't root for or against anyone, but this team was robbed of a chance to play in last year's NCAA tournament (won MWC tournament), and big man Neemias Queta is one of the best mid-major players in the country. The world deserves to see him in the dance.
If the Aggies win each of their three remaining games, that would likely do the trick. There's only about a 1-in-4 chance they'll pull that off, though.
A 2-1 finish with a decent showing in the Mountain West tournament would make things interesting, but any loss in these final three games would need to be made up with a win over one of Boise State, Colorado State or San Diego State in the MWC semifinals. Short of that, Utah State will need to settle for trying to win the NIT instead.
Tournament Odds: +250
Resume: 14-8, NET 55, KP 60, 4-5 vs. Q1, 1-3 vs. Q2, 8-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: First Team Out
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: at Washington State, vs. Oregon, vs. Oregon State, at USC
Who's ready for a little game of "Fun With Arbitrary Quadrant Cut Lines?"
Within the past week, it was determined that Stanford's first five home games—which were played in Santa Cruz instead of Palo Alto because of COVID-19 restrictions—will be considered as neutral-site contests instead of as home games, per ESPN's Joe Lunardi. As a result, the Cardinal's wins over NET No. 47 Arizona and NET No. 49 UCLA now appear as Quadrant 1 wins. (The 18-point neutral-site win over Alabama is still a massive Quadrant 1 result too.)
Meanwhile, North Carolina (No. 53 NET) dropped out of the top 50, so Stanford's neutral-site loss to the Tar Heels is a Quadrant 2 result. And the Cardinal's road win over NET No. 134 Oregon State is forever teetering between Quadrants 2 and 3. (If the Beavers slip to 136, that win drops to Quadrant 3.)
The point is if you just focus on records by quadrant instead of looking at the individual wins and losses, Stanford looks great. However, it's possible the Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State wins will all drop down one quadrant over the weekend and make things look less impressive for the Cardinal.
Either way, they need to finish strong. Anything short of 3-1 would be a problem.
That's because wins over Washington State and Oregon State are imperative, and they arguably need a win over either Oregon or USC to both bolster their quality-win supply and avoid entering the Pac-12 tournament with 10 losses. There's nothing magical or damning about that figure, but a double-digit number in the loss column will stand out like a sore thumb on this year's bubble.
Maryland also has 10 losses, but the Terrapins have much better metrics and a better collection of top wins. Stanford will likely miss the cut if it finishes with a similar record.
Tournament Odds: +190
Saint Louis Billikens
Resume: 11-3, NET 32, KP 35, 1-1 vs. Q1, 1-0 vs. Q2, 9-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Second Team Out
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: at Dayton, at VCU, vs. Richmond, vs. George Mason
After a COVID-19 pause of more than a month, Saint Louis returned to back-to-back Quadrant 3 losses to Dayton and La Salle.
Despite playing just eight games in the first two months of the season, the Billikens appeared to be in great shape before those losses. But their incomplete resume needs help.
In addition to having played just three games against the top two quadrants, Saint Louis is 1-2 away from home with the lone victory coming against NET No. 318 Fordham. And if the committee pays any mind to SOS ranks this year, Saint Louis' (272) sticks out in an ugly way.
The good news is that number should improve, because the Billikens are scheduled to play three more games against the top two quadrants within the next 10 days.
The bad news is they need to win at least two of those games (and the regular-season finale vs. George Mason) to maintain a strong case for a bid. And even that might not be enough if the loss comes against VCU, since that's the only Quadrant 1 opportunity of the bunch.
First things first: Avenge the January loss to Dayton on Friday night.
The Flyers have been all over the place this season, boasting wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Saint Louis, Davidson and Rhode Island, but saddled with an 11-7 record. They're a far cry from the team that likely would have been a No. 1 seed in last year's NCAA tournament, yet the Flyers have knocked off a bunch of respectable foes.
A loss at Dayton would just about eliminate Saint Louis from the at-large conversation. Conversely, a win would push the Billikens' "chance to dance" a little north of 50 percent in our eyes. Kind of a huge game.
Tournament Odds: +185
Resume: 13-10, NET 35, KP 34, 4-10 vs. Q1, 1-0 vs. Q2, 7-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Third Team Out
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State, at Northwestern, vs. Penn State
Maryland is the odd team out of this group.
For almost everyone else on the bubble, the general sense is: I wish we could have seen that team play more games at full strength or against quality opponents.
For the Terrapins, it's more like: They've lost 10 games, but what fringe tournament-caliber team wouldn't have lost 10 times against that schedule?
Thanks to quality wins at Illinois, at Wisconsin, vs. Purdue and a sweep of Minnesota, it's just a question of whether Maryland can make its record palatable enough to the selection committee.
The Terps took a nice step in that direction with wins over Nebraska on back-to-back nights earlier this week. A 3-1 finish would get them to 16-11 overall and 10-10 in Big Ten play. While the committee doesn't care about conference record, going .500 in this league has to count for something.
But while the back end of this schedule is nowhere near as grueling as the first 13 games were, going 3-1 will not be easy.
A loss at Rutgers is likely, but Maryland should win the home games against Michigan State and Penn State and the road game against Northwestern. It's not like the Terrapins will be heavily favored in any of those contests, though.
They wouldn't necessarily be toast if they go 2-2, but it would probably put them in a position of needing to win their first game of the Big Ten tournament, which looks like it would come in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup against Indiana or Rutgers.
Could Maryland win that game? Absolutely. Would it be more challenging than the three contests listed above that it should win? Also absolutely.
Tournament Odds: +120
Resume: 11-5, NET 60, KP 62, 2-2 vs. Q1, 2-1 vs. Q2, 6-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Spot in Bracket Matrix: Fourth Team Out
Remaining Regular-Season Schedule: vs. Duquesne, vs. Fordham, at Saint Louis, at Massachusetts, vs. VCU
Richmond was already the fourth team out before it lost by 12 at VCU on Wednesday night.
Despite that blown opportunity, the Spiders will likely remain the fourth team out in the next matrix update, in large part because there aren't that many teams vying for a bid this year. I won't say the bubble is better or worse than ever, but it is smaller than usual. Beyond this group, the only teams you could make a compelling argument for are Ole Miss, St. John's and now Wichita State is in the hunt after its Thursday night win over Houston.
But while Richmond stayed at fourth out, it does feel like the gap between Richmond and the field is growing. The number of teams it needs to leapfrog hasn't changed, but it has more work to do to catch them.
The Spiders do have one solid Quadrant 1 win (Loyola-Chicago on a neutral court) as well as a pair of road wins over Davidson and Kentucky that are straddling the Q1/Q2 barrier. (As of Thursday morning, Davidson is No. 73 in the NET and Kentucky is No. 76, making the former a Quadrant 1 win and the latter a Quadrant 2 win.) Adding a road win over Saint Louis (NET No. 32) or a home win over VCU (NET No. 31) would make for a nice addition to an already respectable list.
Based on its projected seeding, Richmond needs at least one of those wins—possibly both—and could not afford a loss to a team like Massachusetts or Fordham.
Using KenPom projection probabilities, there's only an 8 percent chance that Richmond wins all five of those games and roughly a 31 percent chance that it goes 4-1. That means there's around a 60 percent chance it loses at least twice and enters the A-10 tournament in need of a minor miracle.
Tournament Odds: +275