NCAA Tournament 2021: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Start of Championship Week

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

NCAA Tournament 2021: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams at Start of Championship Week

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    Jose Alvarado
    Jose AlvaradoCurtis Compton/Associated Press

    While there's no question that March Madness is more significant, conference championship week is the most exciting stretch of the men's college basketball season.

    And for bubble teams, this is the defining stretch of their campaign.

    Although an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament is at stake, most bubble teams won't ultimately make a deep run. Still, they can pick up a quality win (or two!) to pad their resumes at a crucial time. On the other hand, early losses in conference tourneys can be crushing for a fringe team's March Madness aspirations.

    This list, which is subjective, highlights some of the most notable bubble teams. The focus is on their current situations and conference tourney outlooks, not a projection of upcoming results.

Stock Up: Michigan State Spartans

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    In a matter of three weeks, Michigan State has vaulted from a bubble-watch afterthought to a strong possibility for the NCAA tournament.

    Victories over Indiana (twice), Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan have bolstered the Spartans' hopes dramatically. They're a win or two during the Big Ten tournament from extending the program's NCAA tournament streak to 23 straight.

    But that's not a foregone conclusion. Maryland awaits MSU in the opening game of the Big Ten tourney, and the Terrapins smoked the Spartans by 18 points in late February.

    If the Spartans win, they're likely in. The situation would be far less enjoyable for Michigan State with a loss.

Stock Down: Duke Blue Devils

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Following the departure of key freshman Jalen Johnson, Duke began to trend upward. Four straight wins, including one over ACC champion Virginia, had the Blue Devils back in the NCAA picture.

    But once again, they're slipping.

    Duke lost consecutive overtime games to Louisville and Georgia Tech, and then North Carolina dismantled the rival Blue Devils. They finished the regular season 11-11 as the No. 10 team in the ACC and face a difficult road through the conference tournament.

    As it stands, Duke's path would include Boston College, Louisville and Florida State. Win all three and the Blue Devils would be a March Madness option again.

    Anything less, however, and Duke probably wouldn't like the outcome on Selection Sunday.

Stock Up: Connecticut Huskies

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    When you observe the totality of a resume, the timing of a loss isn't overwhelmingly important. As any number of bracketologists analyze the field on a daily basis, however, late-season letdowns seem like they're particularly devastating.

    During the final month of the regular season, Connecticut side-stepped all potential mines.

    Other than falling on the road to Villanovathe most excusable loss possible in the Big Eastthe Huskies won six games. They picked up two Quadrant 1 wins (Xavier and Seton Hall) and two Q-2 wins and improved to 8-0 against everyone else.

    UConn, the No. 3 seed in the Big East tourney, can likely lock in an NCAA berth with a win over Providence/DePaul in the quarterfinals.

Stock Down: Seton Hall Pirates and Xavier Musketeers

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Unfortunately for the Big East, both Seton Hall and Xavier are moving in the wrong direction at the worst moment.

    Seton Hall has dropped four straight games, falling to 13-12 on the season. Xavier, meanwhile, has managed only two victories in the last seven contests. The Musketeers are 13-7 but basically clinging to wins over Creighton, Oklahoma and Toledo.

    Both programs need a strong Big East tournament.

    Xavier is up first, taking on Butler with a clash against Creighton at stake. While toppling Butler won't be enough to lock it in, upsetting Creighton could do the trick.

    Despite opening the Big East tourney a day after Xavier, Seton Hall has a more tenuous outlook. The Pirates meet St. John's, which defeated them in the regular-season finale. Seton Hall probably needs victories over St. John's and Villanova to have a reasonable chance at rejoining the 68-team field.

Stock Up: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Curtis Compton/Associated Press

    After a 7-3 start to the season, Georgia Tech endured a 2-5 stretch and dropped onto the bubble.

    Heading into the ACC tournament, however, the Yellow Jackets might actually be OK. Since that rough period, they've notched six straight winsincluding victories over Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Dukeand edged a little higher than the most dangerous slots on the bubble.

    Most importantly, the surge has helped Georgia Tech nearly exit "bad loss" territory.

    As long as No. 5 Clemson wins in the second round of the ACC tourney, the No. 4 Jackets can only fall to an NCAA lock. And if they win, that would only strengthen their solid resume.

Stock Down: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Consider this more "stock evaporated" than simply down; Minnesota is trapped in a never-ending freefall.

    In mid-January, the Golden Gophers held an 11-4 record that featured wins over Saint Louis, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. If they could avoid a total collapse as the schedule eased up, the Gophers would be headed to the Big Dance.

    Well, about that.

    Minnesota has lost 10 of its last 12 games, plummeting out of the projected field. Worse yet, the Gophers have fallen to Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State in the last two weeks. Bad losses are piling up and mitigating the strength of their marquee wins.

    At the very minimum, the Gophers desperately need a deep run in the Big Ten tournament. The last seven weeks haven't provided any reason to believe it's possible, though.

Stock Up: Utah State Aggies

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    Neemias Queta
    Neemias QuetaJohn Locher/Associated Press

    At the expense of two Mountain West counterparts, Utah State has a real opportunity to steal a bid.

    During the final week of the regular season, Boise State and Colorado State lost to Fresno State and Nevada, respectively. As a result, the Aggies indirectly closed the gap on their resume comparisons and snagged the No. 2 seed in the MWC tournament.

    Utah State will challenge either UNLV or Air Force in the quarterfinals Thursday. And if Colorado State also wins, the semifinal clash may basically have an NCAA bid on the line.

    Even last week, that wouldn't necessarily have been the case. One loss made all the difference.