March Madness 2021: Highlighting Tournament's Most Dangerous Bubble Teams
The Duke Blue Devils may be the team catching the most attention around the NCAA men's basketball tournament bubble, but their next opponent could be the more dangerous ACC bubble team in the field of 68.
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets reeled off four consecutive victories and possess a handful of Top 25 wins in conference action.
One train of thought suggests Tuesday's ACC clash is an elimination game for the loser, and if the Yellow Jackets pick up another solid win, they might be a tough lower seed to play in the first round.
The UConn Huskies fit into that category as well since they have one of the top young guards in the county and have gotten hot over the last few weeks.
While Georgia Tech and UConn are gaining traction as popular power-conference bubble threats, the Utah State Aggies are flying under the radar out of the Mountain West.
Utah State needs to do some work in the coming weeks to enter the field of 68, but if it does, center Neemias Queta could be a tough matchup for any March Madness qualifier.
Georgia Tech's Saturday victory over the Syracuse Orange placed it into the "last team in" position on the projected bracket from ESPN's Joe Lunardi.
The Yellow Jackets sit on the line ahead of Duke, who is listed as one of the four "first teams out" ahead of Tuesday's showdown in Atlanta.
Josh Pastner's team started the season with back-to-back poor losses against the Georgia State Panthers and Mercer Bears, but it has made up for it by knocking off a trio of ranked foes in the ACC.
Georgia Tech beat the Clemson Tigers by 18 points on January 20 after a 17-day pause and defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies on the road on Tuesday. The other Top 25 win came against the Florida State Seminoles.
The 13-8 team also has a few tight losses to the Virginia Cavaliers and Clemson, which proves it can compete with some of the better sides in the country. In comparison, Duke has a single win over a Top 25 team that it just earned on February 20.
During their four-game winning streak, the Yellow Jackets received increased production from senior Moses Wright, who had 57 points in his last two games.
Since they are outside the top four in the ACC standings, the Yellow Jackets should have a shot at one of Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech or Clemson in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
If they avenge their January 26 loss to Duke and knock it further away from the bubble, the Yellow Jackets may only need one upset at the conference tournament to solidify their spot in the field of 68.
UConn getting hot at the right time behind the play of a star guard is a tale as old as time.
James Bouknight has been cast in the role of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, and he is only expected to perform better as he gets back to full strength.
Since the sophomore's return from injury on February 16, the Huskies are 3-1, and Bouknight turned in a trio of 20-point performances.
In that span, Bouknight shot at his season-long field-goal percentage of 47.1 or better. He made nine of his 15 shots in Saturday's win over the Marquette Golden Eagles.
While Bouknight will catch most of the spotlight in the coming weeks, the Huskies have another star scorer in R.J. Cole who could be the perfect complement to him in a bid to take down a higher-seeded team.
Cole has 11 consecutive double-digit performances and chipped in five or more assists in four of his last six games.
UConn is on the "last four byes" line in Lunardi's Sunday projection, but that does not mean it is clear of the bubble just yet.
The Huskies need to avoid losing to the Seton Hall Pirates and Georgetown Hoyas in the final week of the regular season to enter the Big East tournament in good standing.
Two victories in the next week is also mandatory for UConn, that way it can absorb a potential early exit at Madison Square Garden.
With the way Bouknight and Cole are playing, the likelier path for UConn in March is to make a run in New York and be tagged as one of the most dangerous double-digit seeds in the field of 68.
Utah State got back on track with a pair of wins over the Nevada Wolfpack on Friday and Sunday.
Those two victories will not bolster the Aggies' resume much, but they helped their position on the bubble after a handful of teams suffered defeats in the last week.
Entering Sunday, the Aggies were on Lunardi's "first four out" line, but they have an opportunity to improve their resume in the Mountain West tournament.
The Mountain West is arguably the toughest mid-major conference. The San Diego State Aztecs, Boise State Broncos and Colorado State Rams could all make the field of 68.
Utah State poses a tough matchup for any one of its Mountain West foes, and any potential NCAA tournament opponents because of Queta's presence in the paint.
The seven-foot junior eclipsed the 30-point threshold in both games against Boise State and toppled Nevada with 26 points on Sunday. He is averaging 14.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game and he has four straight double-doubles.
Queta has four players around him that average over nine points per game and shoot over 40 percent from the field.
Utah State already has two victories against San Diego State and a win over Colorado State. If it earns another one to reach the Mountain West tournament final, it should be in decent shape to reach the field of 68.
Since Queta is so dominant down low, the Aggies could surprise a higher seed if he takes over games like he has for stretches of the season.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.