Odds for CBB Bubble Teams Making the 2021 Men's NCAA Tournament Entering March
March is rapidly approaching, which means bubbles will burst and brackets will be busted.
It's been a strange men's college basketball season with stops and starts due to the coronavirus pandemic. Several teams have had games postponed and lost players to more than just injuries and academics. Duke even went as far as taking a mental health break.
It's not surprising some teams are struggling; what's surprising is which teams are struggling.
Some perennial contenders have been disappointing. Kentucky and Michigan State will likely sit out this year's edition of the Big Dance. Duke and North Carolina are in danger of missing out, as well.
As of today, the NCAA tournament field would likely include Duke and North Carolina, but they still have more work to do. They're on the bubble, so let's take a look at them and a few other similarly positioned teams in more depth.
Using odds from TeamRankings.com, we've ranked nine bubble teams from the worst odds of making the 2021 NCAA tournament to the best. These odds use computer simulations and take into account the remaining regular-season games, conference tournament scenarios and NCAA selection and seeding factors.
Wichita State: 13-4, 9-2 AAC, No. 68 NET
After head coach Gregg Marshall resigned in November following an internal investigation into allegations of physical and verbal abuse, Isaac Brown took over as the interim head coach. He's coached well enough to possibly have the interim tag removed.
Defeating No. 6 Houston for their fifth straight win, which matches their season best, bolstered the Shockers' case for a bid. It was a big upset that put Wichita State on top of the American Athletic Conference standings.
Brown is making a compelling case for himself by helping the Shockers make a similarly compelling case for an at-large bid. If Wichita State wins out and beats SMU, Tulane and Temple, then it could have a good case, but the Feb. 28 game against SMU is in doubt due to the Mustangs' COVID-19 contact tracing.
Odds: 36 percent
Syracuse: 13-6, 7-5 ACC, No. 46 NET
The Orange overcame a 20-point deficit to defeat Notre Dame and keep their tournament hopes alive over the weekend.
Syracuse used a press to get the Fighting Irish out of sorts and went on a 29-5 run to save its season. Head coach Jim Boeheim remarked that this came after his team previously "couldn't press a pair of pants."
Syracuse is still lacking a signature win. Its best chance to pick one up was taken away when last Wednesday's game against Louisville was postponed, and it's now 0-4 against Quadrant 1 teams.
The Orange will face Duke and Georgia Tech on the road and then finish the season at home against North Carolina. The Tobacco Road rivals are trending in the right direction, so Syracuse could knock them out. Alternatively, Duke or North Carolina could knock out the Orange.
Odds: 38 percent
SMU: 11-4, 7-4 AAC, No. 58 NET
SMU had to hit pause on its season because of weather-related issues in Dallas. It postponed a home game and went into an official shutdown on Feb. 18 due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Games against South Florida and UCF were postponed, which means the Mustangs will have had to sit out for four straight.
When they return, possibly against Wichita State on Feb. 25, they will have gone at least 18 days between games. Head coach Tim Jankovich has been dealing with his own coronavirus issues and hasn't coached since Jan. 11.
SMU could have helped its case by winning one of two games against Houston, so the contest against Wichita State will be key if it happens.
Odds: 39 percent
Maryland: 13-10, 7-9 Big Ten, No. 34 NET
Earlier in February, the Terrapins were projected to be one of the first four out of the tournament. But a veteran team led by senior Darryl Morsell and juniors Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala picked up back-to-back wins over Nebraska last week. A statement win in New Jersey against Rutgers on Sunday has Maryland in a good position moving forward.
The Terps have played an exceptionally tough schedule, most of which comes from playing in the deepest conference in the NCAA: the Big Ten. They have played 14 games against Quad 1 teams and had a stretch in which they faced nine ranked opponents in 12 games.
Mark Turgeon's squad has three big road wins against ranked teams (Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota), one at home against Purdue and a favorable schedule to end the regular season.
Odds: 48 percent
Xavier: 12-4, 5-4 Big East, No. 50 NET
Xavier faced Butler on Sunday night and ran away with it late in the game, pulling away with a 63-51 victory at home. It was a shaky win. The Bulldogs had three players out with injuries and played tough, never backing down to a deeper team.
The Musketeers were not particularly good from the field, and they were ice-cold from behind the arc, making only two in 19 tries. They missed three straight three-pointers in the final minutes of the first half and couldn't hit a shot for more than two minutes to start the second half. Colby Jones hit a jumper to break a 33-33 tie, and the game stayed close until a run in the final five minutes helped push it out of reach.
It was a needed win. Xavier has been forced to postpone 11 games this season, and with such a condensed schedule, each contest carries significant weight. Losses to UConn and St. John's preceded this victory, so the Musketeers were able to get back on track and stay on the bubble.
If they beat No. 14 Creighton next weekend, they'll have a better shot at an at-large bid.
Odds: 50 percent
Duke: 10-8, 8-6 ACC, No. 55 NET
One of the bluest of the bluebloods was left for dead a week ago, but a big week has it back on the radar. Duke walloped Wake Forest on the road, downing the Demon Deacons 84-60 on Wednesday night. On Saturday, it edged No. 7 Virginia in a 66-65 thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils have not been seeded lower than No. 4 since 2007, so being on the bubble is an unfamiliar place for this program. But they're handling it well. The most impressive part is that they're doing it without Jalen Johnson, their star big man who left early to prepare for the NBA draft.
However, it's not going to be an easy path to the dance.
The Blue Devils have regular-season games left against two other bubble teams (Syracuse and North Carolina), one borderline bubble team (Georgia Tech) and one team presumed to be a lock for the tournament (Louisville). That final contest against the Tar Heels at the Dean Dome on March 6 is make-or-break.
Odds: 54 percent
UConn: 10-6, 7-6 Big East, No. 54 NET
A win over No. 10 Villanova on Saturday would have locked up a tournament spot for the Huskies, but a 68-60 loss has them in bubble purgatory.
The majority of the Huskies' tournament resume is already written. Winning their last four games against Georgetown (twice), Marquette and Seton Hall would help, but they won't move the needle too much. A victory on the road at Seton Hall will be their best chance to strengthen their prospects, and their chances are good with James Bouknight back from an elbow injury.
But that's what UConn has been all season: just good, not great.
The Huskies have no wins over ranked teams, though their early-season nonconference outing against USC stands out as a quality victory. They'll have a chance for one if they can knock off Seton Hall on the road on March 3.
Good may not be enough.
Odds: 78 percent
Stanford: 14-9, 10-7 Pac-12, No. 57 NET
A triple-overtime loss to Washington State in Pullman on Saturday night didn't do much to help the Cardinal, but it didn't hurt their NCAA tournament prospects, either. A win against Oregon on Thursday could boost them past the bubble and into the tournament.
Stanford did itself no favors with a soft nonconference schedule. Other than one tournament that had them face Alabama (win), Indiana (loss) and North Carolina (loss), the Cardinal have no big nonconference wins to hinge their hopes on, and their 10-7 Pac-12 record isn't much to write home about.
Stanford turns the ball over more than any other team in the conference (15.2 per game) and doesn't grab many offensive boards (7.7 per game, ahead of only Arizona State in the Pac-12), which has hurt in close games. The turnover stat could be key since the Cardinal next face a Ducks team that averages more steals than any other team in the Pac-12 (7.6).
Odds: 80 percent
North Carolina 14-7, 8-5 ACC, No. 33 NET
The Tar Heels are headed in the right direction after winning three of their last four. A COVID-19 pause had a few games postponed, and they ended up putting Northeastern on the schedule in a rare late-season nonconference game, but Saturday's win over Louisville made a difference.
North Carolina absolutely walloped the Cardinals, winning 99-54. Day'Ron Sharpe had a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Eight of those rebounds were of the offensive variety, and the Tar Heels pulled down 16 on the offensive glass, converting them into 14 second-chance points. They dominated the Cards inside with 58 points in the paint.
Carolina's upcoming game against Boston College has been postponed, so its next game is against Marquette on Wednesday. But the big test comes Saturday when it hosts No. 16 Florida State.
North Carolina is probably in already, but a win over the Seminoles would secure that bid—and possibly a seed in the single digits.
Odds: 96 percent