NCAA Bracket 2021: Predicting Top Bubble Teams on Selection Sunday

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2021

NCAA Bracket 2021: Predicting Top Bubble Teams on Selection Sunday

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Saturday's results across conference tournaments produced the worst-case scenario for bubble teams trying to get into the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    The Oregon State Beavers and Georgetown Hoyas came out of nowhere to win the Pac-12 and Big East tournaments, respectively, which sees them taking away two bids from the potential at-large field.

    The situation could get even more dire for the bubble squads Sunday if the Cincinnati Bearcats defeat the Houston Cougars in the American Athletic Conference title game. Cincinnati beat the Wichita State Shockers to get into Sunday's AAC final, and that result led to the Shockers being placed on the bubble.

    Wichita State joins the Drake Bulldogs, Utah State Aggies and Saint Louis Billikens in the most precarious bubble situations.

    The Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals look like they are going to make the field of 68 out of the ACC, but Selection Sunday could get nervy for them if Cincinnati delivers another upset.

Utah State

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Utah State and its Mountain West brethren will be the biggest casualty of the bid-stealers.

    At one point during Championship Week, the Aggies appeared to be in the field alongside the Colorado State Rams and Boise State Broncos.

    Boise State took itself off the bubble with a quarterfinal loss to the Nevada Wolf Pack, and the Aggies beat Colorado State in what became an elimination game for the field of 68.

    Craig Smith's team did not make life easy on itself, as it fell in the Mountain West tournament final to the San Diego State Aztecs. Utah State owns a 2-1 record against San Diego State, which is the saving grace for its resume at the moment.

    The Aggies do not have any good nonconference victories, and they went 4-4 against San Diego State, Colorado State and Boise State.

    Entering Sunday, Utah State is the "last team in" in ESPN's Joe Lunardi's latest projection. That title suggests that the Aggies will be out of the field of 68 if Cincinnati topples Houston.

    Even if Houston wins, Utah State will be in for a nervy few hours as its resume gets compared to those of Wichita State, Saint Louis and others.

Wichita State

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Wichita State played its way on to the bubble with two less-than-stellar performances in the AAC tournament.

    The Shockers were down double digits for long stretches against the South Florida Bulls before they eked out a quarterfinal victory. And on Saturday, Isaac Brown's team struggled again from the field and mustered 59 points in a loss to Cincinnati.

    Those uninspiring outings in Fort Worth, Texas, led to the Shockers being the "first team out" in Lunardi's latest projection.

    Just like Utah State, Wichita State does not have a strong nonconference win, and its resume is being propped up by a win over the top team in its conference. The February 18 victory over Houston might not be enough for Wichita State to get into the field of 68 since the AAC experienced a down year.

    The UConn Huskies' departure back to the Big East took away some of the league's quality, and it only had five programs record an above .500 record in league play.

    If Houston wins the AAC tournament, Wichita State's resume might get stronger, but it is still to be determined whether that would be enough to give it a better strength of schedule than Utah State, which played in a league that had four potential NCAA men's basketball tournament teams entering the conference tournament.

Saint Louis

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Saint Louis was one of the programs that was hurt more after a long COViD-19-related pause compared to other teams.

    The Billikens suffered back-to-back losses to the Dayton Flyers and La Salle Explorers and then experienced another losing run in February with a second defeat to Dayton and a loss to the VCU Rams.

    Saint Louis failed to reach the Atlantic 10 tournament final, as it lost by 18 points to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies in the semifinals Saturday.

    Without many quality wins in A-10 play, the Billikens do not have the stellar resume they boasted in January. They have nonconference wins over the LSU Tigers and NC State Wolfpack. Had Travis Ford's team avoided one or two of their bad losses in A-10 play, it likely would have been in decent shape on the bubble thanks to the win over LSU and a February 6 triumph over St. Bonaventure.

    But because the Billikens did not find their footing until the third game out of their pause, they could be on the outside looking in.

    The selection committee could take into account the break—that lasted most of January—when evaluating the Billikens, but they still suffered two losses in the middle of February.

    The win over St. Bonaventure would look better if the Bonnies defeat VCU in Sunday's A-10 title game, but it may not do enough to bolster the Billikens' overall resume since you could argue that Utah State and Wichita State have better in-conference wins.


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