NCAA Tournament 2022: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams with February Approaching

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 28, 2022

NCAA Tournament 2022: Stock Watch for Bubble Teams with February Approaching

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    With a little over six weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the "bubble" for the 2022 men's NCAA tournament is a crowded mess of teams picking up big wins and other teams adding questionable losses left and right.

    So, you know, business as usual.

    Who are the teams making positive strides, though? And which ones are in freefall mode, making room for the teams on the rise?

    Based on each team's five most recent games, we've highlighted the ones that have moved the most in each direction over the past couple of weeks.

    Not every team currently on the bubble will appear here. For example, the SEC's Florida, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are all close to the projected cut line right now, but none of them have moved much recently.

    But the ACC's Miami, North Carolina and Wake Forest?

    They've moved a ton.

    Teams are presented in no particular order, outside of oscillating between Stock Up and Stock Down.

    NET and RES/QUAL metrics are current through the start of play on Thursday, Jan. 27 and are courtesy of BartTorvik.

Stock Up: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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    Wake Forest's Alondes Williams
    Wake Forest's Alondes WilliamsIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Current Resume: 17-4, NET: 35, RES: 34.0, QUAL: 36.0, No. 9 seed in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: L vs. Duke, W at Virginia, W at Georgia Tech, W vs. North Carolina, W vs. Boston College

    In Wake Forest's case, it's not so much the quality of the opposition as it is the relentless margins of victory.

    The Demon Deacons' only Quadrant 1 win of the season was a road game against Virginia Tech nearly two months ago, as they've merely added two Quadrant 2 wins, one Quadrant 3 win and one Quadrant 4 win in their past four games.

    But because they beat Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Boston College by a combined margin of 76 points, they vaulted from No. 57 to No. 29 on KenPom in the span of 10 days and have surged into the projected tournament field.

    In this ACC, though, the Deacs could fall from grace just as quickly as they climbed the ladder.

    Aside from a road game against Duke on Feb. 15, their remaining schedule consists of road games against Florida State, Clemson, Syracuse and NC State, as well as home games against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame and NC State. If they win all nine of those games but don't win at Duke, they may enter Selection Sunday without a single win over a tournament team. That means they could get into trouble in a hurry if they lose some of those nine games.

    However, with the way they've been blowing out everyone in their path lately, Wake Forest sure feels like a team destined to dance.

Stock Down: North Carolina Tar Heels

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    North Carolina's Armando Bacot
    North Carolina's Armando BacotLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Current Resume: 14-6, NET: 43, RES: 44.5, QUAL: 34.3, No. 12 Seed in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: W vs. Georgia Tech, L at Miami, L at Wake Forest, W vs. Virginia Tech, W vs. Boston College

    There are two very different versions of North Carolina.

    The one that shows up in the Dean Dome is great. The Tar Heels are 11-0 at home, and with the exception of one bizarre high-scoring game against Brown back in the opening week of the season, they have been putting on a defensive clinic in Chapel Hill. Outside of that 94-87 battle, no team has scored more than 68 points at UNC. Even including that one dud, they've allowed 60.9 points per game at home.

    Pretty much everywhere else in the country, though, the Tar Heels are a hot mess.

    In those nine games, UNC has allowed an average of 83.4 points90.2 points in the six losses. And that inability to play away from home resulted in a 28-point loss at Miami and a 22-point loss at Wake Forest. That stretch of futility began just one month after a 29-point neutral-site loss to Kentucky.

    For a team with zero Quadrant 1 wins, getting absolutely smashed in back-to-back games against bubble teams is a big, bright red flag.

    The metrics still like them, but at this point, the Tar Heels need to prove they belong in the tournament field. And, unfortunately, there aren't many opportunities left to do so. They do still play Duke twice, and if they do their defensive wizardry thing at home next Saturday, that'd be a big step in the right direction. But they had better at least win a few of their remaining road games, too.

Stock Up: Boise State Broncos

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    Boise State's Marcus Shaver
    Boise State's Marcus ShaverSam Wasson/Getty Images

    Current Resume: 16-4, NET: 39, RES: 34.5, QUAL: 46.0, No. 11 Seed in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: W at New Mexico, W vs. Air Force, W at Utah State, W at San Diego State, W vs. Wyoming

    Not only has Boise State won five consecutive games, but it has reeled off 13 wins in a row since the start of December.

    Unfortunately, the Broncos opened the season 3-4 with nothing close to a quality win and a dreadful Quadrant 4 loss to Cal St. Bakersfield, so they pretty much had to go nearly two months without suffering a loss just to get into the mix for a bid.

    Along the way, though, they picked up two Quadrant 1 wins (the above road victories over Utah State and San Diego State), as well as four Quadrant 2 wins, so they've managed to put together a fine-looking wins-and-losses resume.

    The reason they aren't more comfortably in the projected field is because of all the nail-biters keeping their Quality metrics in check.

    While Wake Forest's past four wins were by a combined 76 points, Boise State's past four wins were by a combined 17 points. And while eking out Quadrant 1 road games is impressive, barely beating Air Force at home was a considerable misstep. The Broncos were 41st on KenPom heading into that game, and they had to win their three most recent conteststheir best wins of the season, by the wayjust to get back up to 41st.

    But if the season ended today, I am confident Boise State would be in the field, MWC auto bid or not. That certainly wasn't true a week ago.

Stock Down: Belmont Bruins

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    Belmont's Will Richard
    Belmont's Will RichardIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Current Resume: 16-5, NET: 47, RES: 57.0, QUAL: 54.7, Sixth Team Out in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: L vs. Murray State, W at SIU-Edwardsville, L at Morehead State, W at Eastern Illinois, W at Austin Peay

    The inherent peril of trying to get into at-large range as a member of what is traditionally a one-bid league is that you need to be basically flawless for two full months. Otherwise, you either miss out on your very limited opportunities for quality wins, suffer a borderline unforgivable loss, or both.

    Belmont did both recently, and in relatively ugly fashion to boot.

    Losing at home to Murray State wasn't the end of the world for the Bruins, but losing that game by 22 points is a tough pill to swallow.

    They were smack dab on the bubble heading into that one, boasting respectable-but-not-great wins over Iona, Saint Louis, Chattanooga, Furman and Drake to go along with losses to LSU (totally forgivable), Dayton and Ohio (less forgivable, but not awful). At that point, it felt like they would have a solid case for a bid if they split the season series with Murray State, didn't lose any other OVC games and lost to Murray State in the OVC championship.

    That path to the dance was still on the table until five days later when they lost by nine at Morehead State.

    In fairness, if they had to lose any non-Murray State game, that was the one. At least it was a Quadrant 2 result. But now their remaining schedule consists of (based on current NET rankings) eight Quadrant 4 games, one Quadrant 3 game and the Q1 rematch at Murray State. Even if they win all 10 of those games before losing the OVC championship, the Bruins would be questionable for a bid, at best.

Stock Up: Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon's Will Richardson
    Oregon's Will RichardsonJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Current Resume: 12-7, NET: 58, RES: 63.0, QUAL: 45.3, No. 12 Seed in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: W at Oregon State, W at UCLA, W at USC, W vs. Washington, L vs. Colorado

    It's always weird to say a team's stock is up immediately after one of its worst losses of the season, but there's no question Oregon is in better shape than where it started the month.

    Road wins over what were the No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the AP poll at the time tend to have that effect. Six Ducks scored in double figures in an overtime victory over UCLA, and then Will Richardson led the charge with 28 in a 10-point victory over USC.

    Up until that point, Oregon's only remotely noteworthy win of the season was a home game against SMU on Nov. 12and SMU isn't particularly close to the projected field at the moment. Yet, in the span of about 48 hours, the Ducks went from a complete afterthought to a team right on the tournament cut line.

    Then, in the span of 40 minutes against Colorado, they gave away a fair chunk of the goodwill they picked up in Southern California. That loss to the Buffaloes joins a previous home loss to Arizona State on the list of Oregon's Q3 no-nos. (The loss to the Sun Devils has been oscillating between Q3 and Q4, too.)

    The moral of the story is that wins over Arizona, UCLA and USC are great, but any losses elsewhere in the Pac-12 could be fatal for Oregon. The Ducks don't play any of the top three teams again until Feb. 19when they play all three in a rowso let's see if they can avoid any more bad losses for the next three weeks to remain in the thick of this race for a bid.

Stock Down: San Francisco Dons

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    San Francisco's Jamaree Bouyea
    San Francisco's Jamaree BouyeaYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Current Resume: 16-5, NET: 36, RES: 44.5, QUAL: 42.0, No. 10 Seed in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: W vs. Loyola Marymount, L vs. BYU, L at Gonzaga, W at Pepperdine, L vs. Saint Mary's

    The dream of a four-bid WCC is still alive. Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary's and San Francisco have thus far avoided suffering any losses to the bottom 60 percent of the league, and that quartet entered play on Thursday with a combined Q1 record of 10-10, a Q2 record of 12-4 and a Q3/Q4 record of 37-0.

    But occasionally sharing quality victories amongst each other was a key part of the four-bid blueprint, and after blowing a 23-point first-half lead against Saint Mary's on Thursday night, San Francisco has been the odd man out thus far with an 0-3 record against the rest of that top tier.

    The Dons have already lost their home games against both BYU and Saint Mary's, which are the two they should have won. So, at this point, they're going to need to pull off an upset, either at home against Gonzaga or on the road against the Cougars or the Gaelsassuming that previously postponed game at Saint Mary's gets made up.

    The good news is the nonconference wins over Davidson, UAB, Fresno State and Towson all look even better than they did at the timesome of them substantially so.

    But is four wins over potential Cinderella teams going to be enough for an at-large bid if San Francisco ends up going 0-7 (including a loss in the semifinals of the WCC tournament) against the top tier of this league?

    Probably not. So losing the first three of those seven games has pushed the Dons perilously close to the wrong side of the bubble. They absolutely must bounce back from Thursday's collapse to beat Santa Clara on Saturday, and they would be strongly advised to get a road win over BYU next Thursday.

Stock Up: Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas' Jaylin Williams
    Arkansas' Jaylin WilliamsMichael Woods/Associated Press

    Current Resume: 15-5, NET: 48, RES: 46.5, QUAL: 32.0, First Team Out in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: W vs. Missouri, W at LSU, W vs. South Carolina, W vs. Texas A&M, W at Ole Miss

    It's not easy to win five straight games in one of the best conferences in the country and still be on the wrong side of the bubble, but that should tell you that A) Arkansas' resume was in rough shape three weeks ago, and B) the Razorbacks have been taking advantage of a weak stretch of their conference schedule.

    Not all of it was weak, mind you. That 65-58 road win over LSU was nothing short of massive for a team whose best win of the season up to that point was a neutral-site game against the worst team in the Big 12 (Kansas State). That plus a 44-point blowout of Missouri was a fantastic one-two punch for improving both their Resume and Quality metrics.

    That said, four of the five recent wins were against teams not currently projected to make the tournament. Texas A&M is at least in that conversation, but that was a home win by three points in overtime. Good luck trying to hang a hat on that one.

    The Hogs are still undeniably on the rise, though.

    I had all but written them off two weeks ago, putting them on my Jan. 14 list of top programs most likely to miss the dance. At the time, they were 83rd in the NET and had an average Resume metrics ranking of 90.0 with bad home losses to Hofstra and Vanderbilt. It seemed like it was going to take a miracle for them to bounce back onto the bubble, but the defense improved by leaps and bounds to turn things around in a hurry.

    Though Arkansas is currently the first team out in the matrix, I had the Razorbacks as my second-to-last team in earlier this week. Now let's see if they can keep the good times rolling as the schedule ramps up.

Stock Down: Memphis Tigers

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    Memphis' Jalen Duren
    Memphis' Jalen DurenThomas Graning/Associated Press

    Current Resume: 11-8, NET: 78, RES: 88.5, QUAL: 55.3, Out in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: L at UCF, L at East Carolina, L vs. SMU, W at Tulsa, W vs. East Carolina

    It's laughable to even put Memphis in a bubble conversation at this point. However, I had the Tigers as a projected No. 10 seed prior to the above three-game losing streak, so they aren't that far removed from the mix.

    Not only have the Tigers been adding bad losses to their resume, but even their good wins seem to be betraying them.

    Their big win over Alabama in mid-December? Merely Alabama's sixth-most recent loss. Similar story with the November win over Virginia Tech. The November win over Saint Louis doesn't carry as much water as it did two weeks ago, either, now that the Billikens have added bad losses to Dayton and Massachusetts to drop out of the picture.

    Yet, the Tigers do have a Quadrant 1 win as well as four Quadrant 2 wins. If they could've just avoided adding to their growing stockpile of Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 3 losses, they would still be in good shape.

    Alas, it appears Memphis had so much fun winning last year's NIT that it wants to defend that title.

    I must point out, though, that Memphis has been all sorts of short-handed as of late. Four of the five team leaders in scoring average (DeAndre Williams, Landers Nolley, Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates) and the starting point guard (Alex Lomax) have missed at least three games each. If the Tigers happen to get healthy and pick up a statement win or two over Houston over the final month of the regular season, the selection committee might be willing to overlook some of these bad losses.

    As things currently stand, though, Memphis is nowhere close to the field.

Stock Up: Miami (FL) Hurricanes

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    Miami's Charlie Moore
    Miami's Charlie MooreLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Current Resume: 15-5, NET: 66, RES: 34.5, QUAL: 66.3, No. 11 Seed in Bracket Matrix

    Five Most Recent Games: W at Duke, L at Florida State, W vs. North Carolina, L vs. Florida State, W at Virginia Tech

    Yes, that's two L's in the past five games for a team on the rise.

    You don't see it often.

    But when you consider both of those L's were by a single point against a team also on the rise, that two of the W's were Quadrant 1 victories and that the third victory was a 28-point massacre of a fellow bubble team, it's easier to understand that a "two steps forward, one step back" journey is still a forward march.

    For Miami, the road win over Duke was, of course, the big one. The 'Canes used 15 steals against what was up until that point a sure-handed Blue Devils team to earn the best victory possible in this year's ACC.

    Wednesday night's half-court, buzzer-beating win at Virginia Tech was also pretty big, though, as the Hokies can seemingly do no wrong as far as the predictive metrics are concerned. They are 10-10 with no quality wins, but that still registers as a Quadrant 1 result for the Hurricanes.

    That one came just eight days after the 87-59 victory over North Carolina that jump-started UNC's plummet to the bubble. As far as KenPom rankings are concerned, that was actually Miami's best win of the season. The 'Canes jumped from 83 to 59 afterward, which made it much easier for the community of bracketologists to nudge them into the field.

    Now for the tricky part: Staying in the field by avoiding bad losses. A Feb. 12 road game against Wake Forest is the only Q1 game left on Miami's schedule, but remaining road games against Georgia Tech, Virginia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Syracuse are all potential tournament-resume land mines.