2021 NCAA Tournament Bubble Breakdown (Update: Friday March 12th)

So far this week, teams on the bubble have faltered and not won big key games. Can that change today for Mississippi, Colorado State, Utah State, and Seton Hall?

Xavier is right on the bubble heading into the final weekend of the regular season (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Welcome to our 2021 Bubble Breakdown, where we’ll examine how teams stand as we head toward Selection Sunday. If you want to see where we project every team to be seeded, check out our full Bracketology projections.

In this post, we will list the resumés and our automated projections for teams near the bubble, either in our out of the field.

And remember, once Selection Sunday hits, we turn our attention to predicting the actual tournament games to help you win your March Madness pools. If you want to see our bracket predictions, remember to go to Bracket Picks 2020 once the field is set.

First, some thoughts on how the Committee selects teams and how you can use that info to project the bubble.

The Selection Committee Values “Quality Wins”

The NCAA Selection committee has made two big changes in recent years:

  • In 2018, they changed how they classified wins and losses on the team sheets. Previously, the sheet grouped games based only on the RPI ranking of the opponent: Top 50, Top 100, etc. In 2018, that switched to organizing results in Quadrants, which account for where the game was played.
  • In 2019, they switched from using the RPI to using the NET as the underlying ranking tool for organizing teams. The NET has not been fully explained by the NCAA, but it does appear to be a much better judge of true team strength than the RPI was.

Despite the underlying changes in the ranking system, the 2019 selections showed that the Committee still valued accumulating “good wins” against the top tier of opponents, and still largely forgave “bad losses” as long as they were offset by big wins. (Unfortunately, the committee never released a final bracket in 2020, so we only have one season of NET-based selections to evaluate.)

2019 Examples

Here are some examples showing how the volume of wins in the top two Quadrants mattered at the bubble:

  • In 2019, 6 teams were selected as at-large bids with a NET ranking outside the Top 50. They averaged 4.3 Quad 1 Wins, and 11.0 Quad 1+2 Wins. Five of the six had at least a .500 record against Quad 1+2 combined.
  • In 2019, 8 teams were not selected as at-larges and went to the NIT, despite being in the Top 50 in NET rankings. They averaged 2.5 Quad 1 Wins, and 6.5 Quad 1+2 Wins. All 8 of them had losing records against Quad 1+2 combined, often well under .500.

Certainly not every Quadrant 1 win is the same, and wins over the top few teams in the tournament field carry more weight, but the evidence from 2019 followed previous decisions from when the RPI was the organizing tool. Teams that have opportunities–and then get big wins–have an advantage when it comes to at-large selection.

That’s why when summarizing some bubble teams below, we list the overall NET ranking, as well as Quad 1 wins and overall Quad 1 and 2 record.

2021 Bubble Breakdown, Friday, March 12th

After Thursday’s action, we still have 41 teams projected comfortably in the field. That still leaves 7 uncertain spots, with many bubble teams now being eliminated. Basically, none of the teams that could have solidified their chance in the field did so yesterday. Some did win, but those wins merely keep them on the bubble area, heading into another game today.

Right on the Bubble

Here’s a snapshot of some key info on the bubble teams. Our automated projections on chances, along with the NET rankings, Strength of Record rankings, Quad 1 wins, Quad 1+2 record, and notable wins over tournament locks or other bubble teams.

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Wins Over Tournament Locks/Bubble
Wichita State71%623324-4Houston, Mississippi
Syracuse92%394217-8Clemson, UNC, Va Tech
Louisville98%573617-6Va Tech, Ga Tech, Seton Hall
Drake53%444516-2Loyola-Chicago
Colorado State70%484923-5San Diego St, Boise State, Utah State
UCLA99%474325-8Colorado
Mississippi54%525837-8Tennessee, Missouri (2x)
Seton Hall98%555037-11Connecticut, Xavier
Saint Louis47%456024-4LSU, St. Bonaventure
Utah State33%416623-5San Diego St. (2x), Colorado St
SMU22%564404-3NONE
Memphis14%537104-6Wichita State, SMU
Xavier2%605516-7Creighton, Oklahoma
Boise State3%516724-7BYU, Colorado State, Utah State (2x)

None of the longer shot at-large candidates in the Big Ten that needed a deep run won yesterday, so those options are off the table.

UCLA had a chance to solidify their place in the tournament. Instead, they blew a lead and lost in overtime to Oregon State. Now they wait, but they are very vulnerable, with only one win all year over a team in the field. Teams with that kind of outlook have been snubbed at the bubble before when the majority of people thought they would make it.

Wichita State is the one team that can lock up a bid today, with a win in their quarterfinal game with South Florida. A loss, though, would further muck up the bubble picture.

Syracuse and Louisville now wait nervously to see if any other bubble teams that are still alive can make a push, or if a bid thief emerges. The following teams have no at-large chance, but are now in their conference semifinal and could still take an auto bid: Georgetown (vs. Seton Hall), Nevada (vs. San Diego State), and Oregon State (vs. Oregon).

Colorado State plays Utah State today in the Mountain West semifinal. If Colorado State wins, they likely lock up a spot and eliminate Utah State. A Utah State win further clouds the bubble picture, and probably puts the Aggies in, but not safely, and leaves the Rams right on the bubble along with teams like UCLA, Syracuse, and Louisville.

Mississippi has basically moved into the field for now based on what other bubble teams haven’t done. Now, they get to try to add a statement win against LSU.

Xavier and Boise State are listed here but very long shots at this point.

SMU and Memphis need to win today to keep hope alive.

 


2021 Bubble Breakdown, March 11th

We are graduating up five more teams as locks into the tournament: VCU, St. Bonaventure, Michigan State, Maryland, and Georgia Tech.

VCU are both solidly in heading to a Sunday showdown as other bubble teams have fallen by the wayside in recent days. And as a practical matter, having them both seeded in the field over the weekend means no big adjustments for the committee on Sunday afternoon as a result of the title game, as they are scrambling to wrap up the bracket.

Michigan State and Maryland play on Thursday, but with how the week has shaped up so far, the teams near the bubble cannot surpass them on quality of wins or overall outlook.

Georgia Tech has a winning record against the top two Quads, and has four wins over other teams we now have projected as locks into the field. None of the bubble teams are at that number other than Penn State and Minnesota, two teams that have a lot of work to do because of their overall record and number of losses.

That means we now have 41 teams in the field, and it leaves 7 spots for remaining bubble teams, and maybe less if a bid thief emerges in any of the conference tournaments.

Right on the Bubble

UCLA and Louisville, meanwhile, move down from our “Likely In” to “Right On The Bubble” grouping, because this large group now lists every team that we think has a chance at getting an at-large if they do not win an auto bid, but is not safely in the field with a few days to go.

If someone gets called on Sunday who is not on this list, it would be truly stunning

We also added a column for Wins Over Tournament Locks, because who teams beat often can be a deciding factor at the bubble.

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Wins Over Tournament Locks
UCLA99%423925-8Colorado
Wichita State63%643424-4Houston
Louisville97%573717-6Va Tech, Ga Tech
Syracuse88%394215-7Clemson, UNC, Va Tech
Drake36%454716-2Loyola-Chicago
Colorado State52%505223-5San Diego St
Boise State26%435924-6BYU
Mississippi38%536238-8Tennessee, Missouri (2x)
Utah State25%496823-5San Diego St. (2x)
Duke26%516527-9Virginia, Clemson, Ga Tech
Seton Hall87%585536-11Connecticut
Xavier2%625316-7Creighton, Oklahoma
Saint Louis33%466024-4LSU, St. Bonaventure
SMU21%554504-3NONE
Penn State24%414938-12Wisconsin, Va Tech, VCU, Rutgers, Maryland (2x)
St. John's10%665026-8Villanova, Connecticut
Minnesota5%755447-13Michigan, Iowa, Ohio St, Purdue, Mich St
Indiana11%605729-13Iowa (2x), Maryland
Memphis15%527204-6NONE

As noted, a maximum of 7 spots are available to this group.

By looking at the overall record against the top teams, and that they have only one win over a tournament team, you can see why UCLA is not safe yet. They probably should not lose to Oregon State today.

Wichita State just probably needs to avoid a bad loss, because their win over Houston likely gets them in if they get to the American semis.

Louisville, Drake, Saint Louis, and Xavier are all done, but we list them here because we either have them projected in the field now, or it would not be a total surprise, even if unlikely, if they got selected. Duke is also now done with the surprising news that they are withdrawing from the ACC Tournament because of a positive COVID test.

Duke is a little more likely than Saint Louis or Xavier to get their name called on Selection Sunday, in a vacuum, but practically speaking the Committee cannot put them in the field, or even in the first four alternate teams, if they just had to withdraw from playing.

Today is moving day for the rest of the bubble teams. All three Mountain West teams are in action and a loss would be devastating. Syracuse can lock up a bid with a win over Virginia, or keep themselves right on the bubble heading to Selection Sunday with a loss.

Ole Miss is right near the bubble entering SEC play. St. John’s and Seton Hall play in an elimination game.

Minnesota, Indiana, and Penn State are all long shots and need multiple big wins, but can stay alive with upsets today.

 


2021 Bubble Breakdown, March 8th

This breakdown will focus on teams that are still fighting to get an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament, and where they stand as we enter the conference tournaments.

Rather than just include teams that our automated projections have between 10% and 90% to make the tournament, we are including teams we think are on the bubble, or either above or below it, based on a more detailed manual review of their overall resumés including specific outcomes and results.

For this week, we have 36 teams that we are putting in “Lock” status. With only one loss possible for teams, these are teams that have definitely done enough.

That leaves roughly 12 more spots, and this update includes XX total teams fighting for those remaining spots.

Teams Graduating Up From the Bubble

Two more teams played their way into the tournament and into lock status by winning over the weekend: North Carolina and Rutgers. That has us up to 36

Here is a summary teams that we are projecting to be “locks” for the tournament, after a close examination of their results so far, plus the impact of any remaining games (assuming they lost them all).

  • Tier 1 (3): Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan
  • Tier 2 (4): Illinois, Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa
  • Tier 3 (9): Arkansas, West Virginia, Houston, Kansas, Florida State, Purdue, Oklahoma State, Texas, Virginia
  • Tier 4 (7): Villanova, Creighton, Clemson, USC, Colorado, Texas Tech, Tennessee
  • Tier 5 (9): BYU, Missouri, Oklahoma, San Diego State, Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida, Loyola-Chicago, Connecticut
  • Tier 6: (4): , LSU, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Rutgers

Some of the teams below are in near-lock status, and practically speaking, should be good regardless of any further results as well.

Teams That Are Likely In

The following 7 teams are currently above the cutline to play in the First Four games, and are projected to be in the field. Even if they lost their next game, it would take a lot of other things to happen to have them in jeopardy, though they could slip to the First Four games with a poor showing.

Again this week, we show our automated projected odds (which aren’t always in agreement with how teams are classified here) as well as the NET ranking, Strength of Record (SOR) Ranking, Quad 1 wins, Quad 1+2 record, and Quad 3+4 losses.

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
St. Bonaventure100%273436-31
VCU99%353129-42
Louisville99%512817-51
UCLA100%414025-80
Georgia Tech92%384128-62
Michigan State87%673059-110
Maryland86%344846-120

These teams generally don’t have many bad losses and enough quality wins, and Those factors put them a cut above the teams truly right on the bubble.

The two who are most concerning are UCLA and Louisville. Right now, they are clearly above the bubble teams on overall outlook. But UCLA has just one win over a team safely in the field (Colorado at home) and Louisville’s best win is either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech at home. That isn’t an issue right now, but if either loses right away AND there are some upsets and movement upward from the bubble teams, it will be time to re-examine.

Right on the Bubble

These 11 teams are right on the bubble, fighting for the final 4-5 spots as we enter tournament week.

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Drake0%474716-22
Wichita State74%653524-40
Colorado State19%505223-50
Syracuse76%494315-71
Boise State35%436024-61
Saint Louis0%446224-42
SMU25%564404-31
Utah State27%487023-52
Seton Hall94%585836-111
Xavier25%574916-70
Mississippi12%536438-82

Wichita State

Wichita State remains at the top of this group, and thanks to the win over Houston, likely just needs to avoid a bad loss in the first game of the tournament against South Florida or Temple. Reaching the American final would clinch it.

Drake

There’s no two ways about it. Drake is squarely on the bubble and will probably be one of the biggest wild card decisions all week. Their resumé looks similar, but slightly better than, Belmont in 2019, when Belmont got into the First Four as the one surprise result that most bracket experts did not predict. It also looks very similar to a couple of Saint Mary’s teams that got left out right on the bubble (2016 and 2018).

If you have a crystal ball on how the committee will view Drake’s injuries, their close overtime win against Loyola-Chicago earlier this year, and their 25-4 record, please share it. They are exactly the type of team that sometimes gets in and sometimes does not depending on the happenstance of tournament week and the whims of the committee.

Boise State, Colorado State, and Utah State

The Mountain West remains Bubble Central for this week after Colorado State lost a heartbreaking game to Nevada where a game-tying buzzer shot was ruled out. Colorado State and Utah State are on the same side of the bracket and if they both win will meet in the semifinals in what could be a pivotal game. Boise State gets Nevada in the first game, which counts as a neutral court Quad 2 game as of now, before a potential showdown with San Diego State.

Syracuse

The good news for Syracuse is that most of the other bubble teams did little to help their case recently. More good news is that they do have three wins over likely tournament teams, including the last win over Clemson. The bad news is that they have only one Quad 1 win, and that can often be a recipe for heartbreak for a major conference team. They probably need to beat NC State to open the ACC Tournament.

There have been eight teams in the last five years that the Bracket Matrix consensus has missed, and Syracuse has accounted for two of them. This year will likely test predictions right at the bubble again.

Saint Louis

Saint Louis is another wild card that has been eliminated from their conference tourney, but we will keep on the bubble because they are in the mix depending on what else happens this week.

Right now, they have a NET ranking inside the Top 50, a 4-4 record against the top two Quads, and a wins over LSU and St. Bonaventure. They look like a team that should be right at the cutline.

Their two worst losses also came right after they returned from a month-long COVID pause. Will the committee take that into consideration and discount those games? If so, they probably have a better overall outlook than most of the other teams in this bubble group. But that’s a big if.

Seton Hall and Xavier

Xavier and Seton Hall both had key games this weekend on the road and both lost. Now, they have work to do in the Big East tournament. Xavier might be in today still, but the tournament isn’t selected today. Because of their loss, they dropped all the way to the No. 7 seed and have to face Butler before getting a chance at Creighton. Because of that extra game against Butler, we project them with only a 19% chance of advancing to the semis. That’s probably what they will need to do in order to get a spot. (The other wild card for Xavier is similar to Saint Louis, does the committee discount some of their results after multiple COVID pauses?)

Seton Hall, meanwhile, has lost four in a row to fall to 13-12, and they have one win over a team currently projected in the field (at Connecticut, who were without James Bouknight). The Pirates get a rematch with St. John’s and then do get a chance because they are on the same side of the bracket with a Villanova team suddenly hit by injuries.

SMU

SMU has some major challenges entering this week, even though their overall rankings should put them in the discussion. The first is that they haven’t played in several weeks, and the first game back will be a win-or-go-home tournament game. They also have a lack of wins over any tournament teams, and missed out on playing Wichita State twice because of their COVID pause, and also did not play Houston this year. That probably means they need to at least get to the final now.

 

Still In Consideration

Finally, these 8 teams still have some path to an at-large, even if the odds are long. As Lloyd Christmas might say, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Team Percent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Memphis16%527504-61
St. John's14%685026-82
Duke10%607126-92
Indiana11%615628-131
Penn State13%405137-121
Providence23%775737-120
Stanford21%716745-111
Saint Mary's37%6466041

We are not even saying these teams could definitely get an at-large, but they would at least be able to get in the discussion for an at-large spot, short of needing to win the auto bid, by getting multiple big wins and probably in most cases reaching the conference title game.

 


2021 Bubble Breakdown, March 4th

The regular season is about to wrap up this weekend for most conferences, and some have already moved on to tournament play.

This breakdown will focus on teams that are still fighting to get an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Rather than just include teams that our automated projections have between 10% and 90% to make the tournament, we are including teams we think are on the bubble, or either above or below it, based on a more detailed manual review of their overall resumés including specific outcomes and results.

For this week, we have 34 teams that we are putting in “Lock” status. With only a handful of games remaining, these teams could lose every game and still make the tournament, though their seeding would be impacted.

That leaves roughly 14 bubble spots, and this update includes 31 total teams fighting for those remaining spots.

Teams Graduating Up From the Bubble

Four teams have won their way off the bubble and are now projected to be safely in the field. Those four teams this week are Connecticut, Oregon, San Diego State, and Virginia Tech.

Here is a summary teams that we are projecting to be “locks” for the tournament, after a close examination of their results so far, plus the impact of any remaining games (assuming they lost them all).

  • Tier 1 (3): Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan
  • Tier 2 (4): Illinois, Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa
  • Tier 3 (6): Villanova, Arkansas, West Virginia, Houston, Kansas, Florida State
  • Tier 4 (7): Purdue, Oklahoma State, Texas, Virginia, Creighton, Clemson, USC
  • Tier 5 (10): BYU, Colorado, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, San Diego State, Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida
  • Tier 6: (4): Loyola-Chicago, LSU, Connecticut, Virginia Tech

A handful of other teams that we’ll discuss in the next section are realistically in Tier 6 in terms of the quality of their resumes, and where they project to be seeded. These teams have near-lock status. However, we’re being strict here and not including them in the locks if losing out would potentially knock them out of the field, even if losing out is very unlikely, and even if they’d still probably be in after losing out.

The main difference between those teams and Loyola-Chicago, for example, is basically just that the downside for Loyola is limited, as they can only lose once in their conference tourneys and are done with the regular season. They can’t string together a losing streak.

Teams That Are Likely In

The following 8 teams are currently above the cutline to play in the First Four games, and are projected to be in the field. Some of them are the near-locks that we mentioned above. They might be able to withstand losing every remaining game and still get in, but it would at least be up for debate.

For this week, we updated the table to include Strength of Record (SOR), which appears on the team sheet that the committee will review, and is similar in concept to “Wins Above Bubble.” While the NET ranking, number of top quality wins and the overall record against the top two Quadrants is key, this is another piece of information that could affect committee decisions (particularly where the NET ranking and SOR are very different).

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 RecordQuad 3+4 Losses
Louisville100%502417-41
North Carolina100%453428-81
UCLA100%422825-70
Rutgers96%373748-100
Maryland86%324746-110
VCU81%353918-42
St. Bonaventure79%314214-30
Georgia Tech75%384026-62

These teams are all currently in the Top 50 in both NET and SOR. They generally don’t have many bad losses, and those factors put them a cut above the teams truly right on the bubble.

Let’s take UCLA, though, as an example of why these teams are listed here and not fully in lock status (Even though our automated projections do have three of them at 100% to make the field, including the Bruins.) UCLA could lose to USC (they will be an underdog) and then lose in the Pac-12 Quarterfinal (to a team like Oregon State or Stanford). That would likely drop their NET ranking near 50, drop the SOR into the 40’s, and leave them a sub-par 5-9 against the top two Quadrants. They would have no bad losses and would probably still get in, but it would at least be uncertain, especially if there were a string of other upsets that bumped up bubble teams.

All the teams included here are basically one win from locking up a spot. Georgia Tech, the team with the lowest odds in this group, gets Wake Forest this weekend. If they win that, they will very likely be in even if they were to lose their first ACC tournament game.

Right on the Bubble

These 13 teams are right on the bubble, fighting for the final 5-6 spots.

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 RecordQuad 3+4 Losses
Wichita State84%622924-40
Michigan State56%723648-100
Colorado State25%405023-40
Xavier46%534426-60
Seton Hall96%565336-101
Drake25%414815-12
Saint Louis27%436114-32
Boise State38%445824-61
Syracuse61%514515-71
SMU32%544304-31
Memphis19%557004-51
Utah State27%477623-52
Western Kentucky26%764614-41

Wichita State

Wichita State is at the top of this group, as they just need to avoid a bad loss over the course of two games. They get South Florida at home this weekend, and if they win that, will be the top seed in the American Athletic Conference Tourney. Then, they would just need to win the quarterfinal, against South Florida/Temple. They don’t even need a big win beyond that, but avoiding a lower quad loss in these two games will solidify them in the field.

Michigan State

Michigan State can lock up a bid by beating Michigan, who they play twice to close the season. That’s easier said than done, but they have a 36% chance of winning at least one of them based on our projected win odds. Even if they lose both, they could still add a statement win in the Big Ten tourney. Lose all three, though, and they would likely be out with a falling NET ranking, and an 8-13 record against the top two Quads.

Boise State, Colorado State, and Utah State

In the Mountain West, Colorado State and Utah State still have regular season games left that present risk. Boise State needs to probably beat San Diego State in the Mountain West semi after losing their last three games, including a bad loss at home against Fresno State. Colorado State might be able to get in just by avoiding bad losses and reaching the semis, but Utah State looks like they will need to reach the MWC final to be in the at-large discussion. Realistically, 1 or 2 of these teams will make it, but probably not all three.

Seton Hall and Xavier

Xavier and Seton Hall are in very similar positions and may be heading for a bubble showdown in the Big East tourney. Both have dangerous road games to close the regular season (Xavier at Marquette, Seton Hall at St. John’s). They could potentially face off in the 4/5 game in the Big East quarters. If one of them gets two more wins they are likely in, but only one more win would leave each right on the cutline, and losing their last two games would see either of them out of the field.

Drake and Western Kentucky

These two mid-majors still have some hope for an at-large. Drake, at this point, probably needs to reach the Missouri Valley final, and then might be able to absorb losing in the final, if it was to Loyola-Chicago. But anything short of that puts them at risk of being left out, particularly with injury issues to their two best players.

Western Kentucky is a wildcard, and is the type of mid-major who occasionally gets their name called in a surprising committee decision. They played Alabama, Houston, and Louisville in the non-conference, beating Alabama. Selection committees sometimes reward that type of team. To be in consideration, though, they can’t take a bad loss, and they still have several potential opportunities for that with two more regular season games plus the quarterfinal game. A run to the final might get them an at-large even if they lost the auto bid, considering the number of Top 100 teams at the top of Conference USA.

Saint Louis

Saint Louis likely needs to advance to the A-10 Final to be in at-large consideration. The good news is they are our mostly likely projected winner of the Atlantic-10 tourney (27% chance) despite only earning the 4-seed. The 5-seed, Massachusetts, rates worse than several teams below them in the tournament seeding, thanks to this shortened and weird year. If Saint Louis can win that quarterfinal game and then add a quality win over St. Bonaventure, the Selection Sunday afternoon tipoff for the final could make it easy for the committee to just slot them in the field (justifiably) in a close call, regardless of that result.

Syracuse

The Orange are back on the bubble after wins against North Carolina and Clemson at home. The problem for Syracuse is they almost certainly need to win a quarterfinal match against someone like NC State or Duke, and then beat one of the top teams in the conference. Their overall numbers are there for a bid, but they have a lack of big wins against top competition in road/neutral situations. They probably need to add another Quad 1 win to get in. History is littered with power conference teams that look the part, except they lost all their toughest games, and got left out by the selection committee.

SMU and Memphis

Finally, the other two American Conference teams on the bubble are in a different spot than Wichita State. They need big wins. SMU will be further hindered because they will be coming off a COVID pause (if they can play in the AAC tournament at all). Memphis does get Houston to close the regular season, and would likely draw them again in the semis. Win one of those big games, and Memphis shoots up the bubble. Don’t, and they have no chance.

 

Still In Consideration

Finally, these 10 teams still have some path to an at-large, even if the odds are long. As Lloyd Christmas might say, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

TeamPercent Chance NETSOR Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 RecordQuad 3+4 Losses
Duke21%587226-82
Mississippi7%576738-82
Indiana27%605428-121
St. John's10%695625-82
Penn State11%496026-121
Providence14%826526-120
Stanford15%707145-111
Saint Mary's12%657303-71
Mississippi State7%798027-102
Minnesota5%785246-121

Most of these teams probably need to reel off at least three wins, against top competition, to get back into the mix.

Duke needs to win at North Carolina and in their first ACC tournament game against someone like NC State or Syracuse, and then probably beat a top ACC team in the quarterfinals.

Indiana needs to win at Purdue and in their opening game of the Big Ten against one of the tournament-type teams (Maryland, Rutgers, Michigan State), and then maybe knock off Michigan or Illinois.

Ole Miss needs to win at Auburn, win their first game in the SEC tournament, and then beat someone like Arkansas, Alabama, or LSU.

For most of the others, it’s make a run to the conference title game, or bust. So yes, we are saying there’s a chance, but it’s a slim one for most of these teams, with little margin of error, in some games where they will be bigger underdogs.

(Update: Richmond was removed after losing in the Atlantic-10 Tournament to Duquesne.)


2021 Bubble Breakdown, February 25th

For this week, we are changing it up a bit. Rather than just include teams that our automated projections have between 10% and 90% to make the tournament, we are including teams we think are on the bubble, or either above or below it, based on a more detailed manual review of their overall resumés including specific outcomes and results. Thirty-two teams are above our bubble this week (basically, the top 8 seeds), and this week’s report includes 34 other teams that are either in our field, or outside of it, but with a case for an at-large bid if they get the necessary results the rest of the year.

Teams Graduating Up From the Bubble

  • UCLA (wins over Arizona and Arizona State)
  • Loyola-Chicago (no games)

UCLA moved to 12-3 in the Pac-12 with the Arizona sweep. They have four tougher games remaining (at Utah, Colorado, and Oregon; vs. USC) but aren’t at risk of any bad losses.

Loyola-Chicago, meanwhile, didn’t play. But if you are a mid-major with a good resumé, that’s actually not a negative. With only two home games against Southern Illinois remaining (where we project them with 96% win odds in each), Loyola is in great shape now. They are 10th in the NET rankings, have a winning record against the top two NET Quadrants, and zero other losses. It’s a resumé that is a lot closer to a 6 or 7 seed than the bubble as we head toward the Missouri Valley tournament.

Meanwhile, after closer examination of some key factors, we bumped several teams down, some of whom were above 90% to make it last week, and some who are still above 90% in our projections. As Gran Moff Tarkin might respond after being told that an analysis has revealed some vulnerabilities: “I think you overestimate their chances.”

Those teams are Indiana, Louisville, Seton Hall, and Virginia Tech. We’ll discuss each of them below.

Teams That Are Likely In

The following 10 teams are currently above the cutline to play in the First Four games, and are projected to be in the field, but shouldn’t feel safe about their tournament outlook. If they play up to expectations down the stretch, they should get in, but a poor finish could knock them out. These are teams that would be roughly on the 9 to 11 seed lines right now.

TeamPercent ChanceChangeNETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Virginia Tech61%-30%514436-50
Maryland79%26%314156-100
Louisville97%4%483907-41
San Diego State73%-1%252504-40
Boise State69%5%324824-40
VCU92%12%355908-32
Connecticut82%8%413425-51
Oregon68%-8%473326-32
North Carolina97%-4%443217-71
St. Bonaventure92%24%365714-30

All of these teams except Virginia Tech are currently inside the NET Top 50, generally a good indicator of making the field, at least for high major teams, as long as they have a decent number of quality wins. The one exception is Virginia Tech, who is now just outside it after the upset loss to Georgia Tech. However, the Hokies have three Quad 1 wins, a winning record against the top two Quads, and no bad losses, so they pass the test on all those accounts.

Louisville and North Carolina are given greater than a 95% chance of making the field in our automated projections. However, because both are lurking just inside the Top 50 now (after North Carolina’s home loss to Marquette and Louisville’s blowout loss to North Carolina) and neither have great Quad 1 wins and records, it’s hard to consider them quite that safe.

Maryland has moved from right on the bubble to near the top of the “Likely In” group over the last few weeks. No other bubble team can beat their five Quad 1 wins to go with no bad losses.

Saint Bonaventure would be safer, but for their closing stretch. They still have enough games left that bad losses could shift their outlook. If they beat George Washington and Dayton at home to close out the regular season 14-3, they should feel a lot safer entering Atlantic 10 tournament play next week.

Right on the Bubble

This list of 12 teams features our last six teams in the field, including our projected First Four teams that would play on Thursday, plus our first six out. Basically, these are teams right on the cutline based on their performance to-date plus their future projected games, and if you told us one got chosen instead of the other because of the preferences of this particular committee, it would not be a surprise.

TeamPercent ChanceChangeNETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Minnesota58%-11%615046-100
Stanford74%-13%585346-90
Indiana54%-37%533128-101
Duke52%16%492626-71
Drake24%-1%346815-11
Georgia Tech47%32%384126-62
Seton Hall96%-1%544235-91
Colorado State19%1%457223-40
Wichita State49%32%677824-40
Richmond32%8%526025-32
Michigan State24%16%755646-90
Western Kentucky25%2%768824-22

Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan State are all now on the bubble. Not much separates them. Of course, Indiana may be the “controversial” one here because if you are on social media during an Indiana loss, you will see lots of talk about how horrible the Hoosiers are.

So why do we have them still (barely) inside the field after a rough week, now that they are 12-11? For one, they are still right on the cutline in terms of their NET ranking. Second, they have eight wins against the top two Quads. That’s tied with VCU for the most of any team appearing in this Bubble Breakdown. Indiana has played themselves onto the bubble, and needs results, but the schedule provides them a chance. Their final three games are Quad 1 games (Michigan, at Michigan State, at Purdue), and their first game in the Big Ten tourney probably will be as well. If they go 2-2, and get to 10 total wins against the top two Quads, it’ll be tough to keep them out.

Drake has two must-win games against Bradley this weekend, particularly in light of losing point guard Roman Penn. But if they close the regular season winning both to get to 25-2, they have a solid chance to get in the field even with a conference tournament loss. If they falter against Bradley, on the other hand, any margin of error is gone and the committee could keep them out.

Georgia Tech and Michigan State have played themselves onto the bubble in the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Seton Hall could be in trouble, despite what our automated projections say. They’ve fallen outside the NET top 50, have a losing record against the top two Quads, don’t have any great wins (0-4 combined against Villanova and Seton Hall), and just lost games to Georgetown and Butler over the last week.

Still In Consideration

Finally, these 12 teams all appear inside the NET Top 85 right now, and have an outside chance of getting into the tournament field as an at-large if they can make a run down the stretch and add some good results.

TeamPercent ChanceChangeNETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Xavier31%-19%595814-50
Mississippi11%-6%575526-72
SMU31%-5%605404-31
Providence27%17%806226-101
Utah State23%-7%554523-52
Saint Louis18%-29%504712-32
Penn State18%-14%394935-111
Syracuse23%-1%565203-61
Memphis18%-6%625103-51
Kentucky9%5%654335-130
Saint Mary's18%-1%698103-61
Davidson10%-2%827002-52

Xavier has fallen off the bubble, and now really needs to get results to get back in the mix. The Musketeers have been as impacted as anyone by COVID, with three different pauses, but it’s doubtful the committee gives them any benefit of the doubt for that. They were 8-0 at one point but have lost 5 of their last 9, spread across two months. The only win over an at-large caliber team was against Oklahoma in December. They will miss out on playing Villanova because of the postponements, which is not a good thing when you need a big win to get in the field. They really need to beat Creighton at home this weekend to have any chance at an at-large.

Ole Miss had an uneven week, losing to Mississippi State before winning at Missouri. Had they won both they would be right near the bubble but for now there is still work to do.

Kentucky is an interesting one. At 8-13 you might think they are done. If they can close the regular season with wins against Florida and at Ole Miss, they can get to 10-13, get a draw against one of the worst teams in the SEC to start, and then try to make a run. A Kentucky team at 12-14 or 13-14 (meaning a run to the SEC semis or final) would at least be in the discussion, given their tough schedule and that they would have 5 or 6 top quality wins by that point. A lot has to happen, and the margin of error is about gone, but there is a path for Big Blue Nation.

Dropped Out of Bubble Consideration This Week: Notre Dame, St. John’s, TCU

 


2021 Bubble Breakdown, February 18th

As noted above, the following are teams that have between a 90% and 10% of making the NCAA Tournament, according to our projections, with at least some portion of that percentage based on getting an at-large selection. (So we exclude teams that have more than a 10% chance, but only by virtue of winning the automatic bid). Some of these teams below will eventually earn an automatic bid. We incorporate that in their overall projected tournament percentage.

But first, the teams that have moved off the bubble in the positive direction.

Teams that Moved Above 90% to Make the Tournament

LSU (won vs. Tennessee)
Arkansas (won at Missouri, won vs. Florida)
Indiana (lost at Ohio State, won vs. Minnesota)

LSU and Arkansas were close last week, and shot up with big wins and are now competing for top six seed spots. Indiana might be controversial to move above the bubble for now (as they were listed at the 11-seed line in the Bracket Matrix before Wednesday’s win over Minnesota). But the Hoosiers are now 8-8 against Quad 1 and 2 teams this year, and that’s about twice as many top quality wins as most of the teams that will be on the bubble.

They aren’t a lock (we have them at 91%) but it would take a big losing streak for Indiana not to make the tournament as an at-large selection.

Meanwhile, one team (North Carolina) dropped from just above the 90% mark last week to just below this week.

Teams That Are Likely In

The following 9 teams are currently above the cutline to play in the First Four games, and are projected to be in the field.

TeamPercent ChanceChange since Last WeekNETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
UCLA90%+2%494023-50
North Carolina87%-4%533316-70
Stanford87%+9%555045-80
Loyola-Chicago84%+2%112715-40
VCU80%+16%315706-31
Oregon76%+10%463125-22
San Diego State74%+3%252604-40
Connecticut74%+21%523923-50
Minnesota69%-11%574445-90

North Carolina dropped into this group. They failed to get what would have been a key win at Virginia last Saturday. Then, they played Northeastern as a non-conference replacement just to get a home game, after the Virginia Tech game was postponed. A home game against Virginia Tech would have been huge for the Tar Heels. As it stands now, they have somehow played only four home conference games in the ACC (out of 12 games) and none of those have been against teams likely to be in the tournament. Saturday’s game at home against Louisville is now fairly important.

For the rest of this group, they mostly improved their chances this week.

  • Loyola-Chicago split at Drake, winning big in the first game and losing the second in OT;
  • VCU got wins over fellow bubble hopefuls St. Bonaventure and Richmond in the last week;
  • Oregon swept their road trip to the Arizona schools;
  • Connecticut beat Xavier and Providence to move up from the bubble, and also got James Bouknight back from his elbow injury that cost him eight games.

The one big exception was Minnesota, who lost on the road to two other teams near the bubble, Indiana and Maryland. Minnesota does have four Quad 1 wins, but are now 5-9 against the top two Quads combined, and dropped to 0-8 on the road this year. Those are factors that have them in danger of being left out right on the bubble if they do not close well.

Right on the Bubble

This list of ten teams features our last five teams in the field, including our projected First Four teams that would play on Thursday, plus our first five out. These are teams right on the cutline based on their performance to-date plus their future projected games.

TeamPercent ChanceChangeNETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
St. Bonaventure68%-9%415914-30
Boise State64%+19%375223-40
Maryland53%+21%354245-100
Xavier50%-29%504914-40
Saint Louis47%+4%323612-12
Duke36%+15%613015-62
SMU36%-3%585604-31
Utah State30%-6%544523-42
Drake25%-5%346715-11
Colorado State18%+1%457323-40

Remember, though, that these projections are based on the favorites getting automatic bids, but “bid thief” scenarios will pop up where a team that wins an auto bid could knock others out and shrink the bubble. We’ll break those scenarios down in more detail in coming weeks.

The bubble is squarely hovering over the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 right now. So a lot of these questions will be answered on the court in those conference tournaments in a few weeks. Boise State and Utah State play a second match on Thursday night, after Boise State won the first game, that looms large in bubble considerations.

Maryland got a big win over Minnesota and then swept Nebraska in back-to-back games due to a COVID-induced schedule. At 13-10, the Terrapins are very much in tournament consideration now.

Xavier is in a bit of a tailspin. The Musketeers have not had a consistent schedule over the last month due to prolonged COVID-related pauses, and now are on the bubble. Duke, meanwhile, has played themselves back into striking range of a tournament spot.

Finally, we are probably a little low in our estimates for Colorado State and Drake based on the number of Quad 1&2 wins each has. If Selection Sunday was today, they would both probably be in the field. Drake was able to get an overtime win over Loyola-Chicago to avoid a home sweep, and keep their at-large hopes alive. They now need to avoid losses before the MVC tourney. Colorado State lost out on a couple of potential Quad 2 games at Nevada when they were postponed for COVID over the weekend.

Still In Consideration

Finally, these 14 teams still have a 10% or better chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament. While hope is not dead, it’s certainly in need of a shock to the system.

TeamPercent ChanceChangeNETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Penn State32%-21%384635-91
Syracuse24%-5%514802-51
Richmond24%-10%606124-32
Memphis24%-3%635102-51
Western Kentucky23%-2%748624-22
Saint Mary's19%-16%697803-51
Mississippi17%+3%565326-62
Notre Dame17%+2%655813-100
Wichita State17%-4%778713-40
St. John's16%+3%676325-62
Georgia Tech15%-2%625515-62
Davidson12%0%736903-32
Providence10%-5%836525-101
TCU10%-4%1029613-71

While you would not fancy the chances of any of these teams to make the tournament, if you collectively add up our estimates for all 14 teams, it adds up to 2.6 teams getting in the tournament on average. So the chances are good that at least one of these teams, and maybe 2-3, get the big wins and go on a run necessary to make it as an at-large (or win their conference automatic bid).

Penn State had a costly home loss to Nebraska last weekend. That’s the kind of result that will keep you out of the tournament. The Nittany Lions close with five games against teams we project in the field, so they have the opportunity but need to pull some upsets.

Ole Miss and St. John’s are two teams that have an opportunity to move up, as both have two Quad 1 wins and are hovering near .500 against the top two Quadrants. If either can score a big win down the stretch they can get right in the middle of the bubble discussion. Ole Miss will have to win at Missouri (2/23) to get in that discussion, while St. John’s goes to Villanova next week.

Syracuse and Notre Dame meet in what feels like an elimination game from at-large consideration this Saturday. Both are lacking in top quality wins and are several games under .500 against the top two Quadrants.

Dropped Out of Bubble Consideration This Week: Michigan State, South Carolina, Utah


2021 Bubble Breakdown (Thursday, February 11th)

Teams That Are Likely In

The following 12 teams are currently above the “Last Four In/First Four Game Participant” cutline, and are projected to be in the field.

TeamPercent Chance NETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
LSU89%322923-60
Indiana88%452327-71
UCLA88%473823-50
Loyola-Chicago82%122703-30
Minnesota80%493745-70
Arkansas80%262315-50
Xavier79%334115-20
Stanford78%614824-80
St. Bonaventure77%405914-20
San Diego State71%222504-40
Oregon66%593214-22
VCU64%366104-31

What sets these teams apart from those below them is a combination of very few bad losses, NET rankings inside or near the Top 50, and predictive power ratings high enough that they have a good shot of maintaining their trajectory, and making the field.

Most have 4 or more combined Quad 1&2 wins, and at least one Quad 1 win. The only ones that do not currently have a Quad 1 win are Loyola-Chicago (who plays Drake twice this weekend), VCU (the neutral wins over Utah State and Memphis are very close to the Quad 1 cutline) and San Diego State (who has three potential conference opponents that could be Quad 1 in the MWC tournament).

Right on the Bubble

These eight teams would constitute our projected Last Four In and First Four Out. These are teams right on the cutline based on their performance to-date plus their future projected games.

TeamPercent Chance NETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Connecticut53%644713-50
Penn State53%314635-90
Boise State45%385322-40
Saint Louis43%404202-12
SMU39%585504-31
Utah State38%514523-32
Richmond34%545823-22
Maryland32%434844-100

The Atlantic 10, Big Ten, and Mountain West are Bubble Central right now. Four teams from both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 appear in this bubble report as a whole, with two from each conference right here on our cutline. The conference tournaments in those two leagues will go a long way toward separating teams from the pack.

One interesting question for 2021 is how the selection committee will treat teams with overall losing records or records right near .500 this year. Because of shortened non-conference schedules, some teams from power conferences could have resumes that would normally put them in … if the committee doesn’t enforce some unwritten “must be over .500” quota. (No team has yet to be selected as an at-large who was not at least 3 games over .500.) The difference between a 12-13 team this year and an 18-14 team in the past is missing out on some of the more winnable non-conference games, so we’ll see if the committee considers that this year.

Maryland and Penn State are right in the heart of such a debate. All 10 of Maryland’s losses are in Quad 1 in the tough Big Ten. Penn State has only played two total games outside the top two Quadrants. These two teams are likely to have a larger number of quality wins and play most of their schedule against tourney-caliber teams, but also have a high loss total.

Still In Consideration

Finally, these 18 teams still have a 10% or better chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament. While hope is not dead, it’s certainly in need of a shock to the system.

TeamPercent Chance NETTR Predictive Quad 1 Wins Quad 1+2 Record Quad 3+4 Losses
Saint Mary's35%667903-41
Drake30%306304-01
Syracuse29%504902-60
Memphis27%605003-51
Western Kentucky25%778924-22
Wichita State21%748614-40
Duke21%764013-52
Colorado State17%467324-40
Georgia Tech17%625615-52
Providence15%866625-100
Notre Dame15%676213-90
South Carolina15%1037811-62
TCU14%1009713-71
Mississippi14%575425-71
St. John's13%716824-71
Davidson12%696903-32
Michigan State10%855714-70
Utah10%806714-52

Two of the teams listed here commonly appear in many brackets: Colorado State and Drake. Both are outside the Top 60 in our current predictive rankings. Colorado State currently is 3-4 against the top two Quadrants, and has the lowest predictive rating of the four Mountain West contenders, which matters as our projections also include conference tournament potential matchups.

Drake is 19-1 overall, and the current 4-0 record against the top two Quadrants may look nice. But that’s questionable to hold up, as those four wins are over teams that would qualify as lower end of Quad 2 (at Missouri State and Indiana State). They have two big games against Loyola-Chicago this weekend. We’ve seen mid-majors like Drake come up short on Selection Sunday plenty of times, and they likely need to beat Loyola-Chicago at least once this weekend to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid.

One mid-major wildcard flying under the radar is Western Kentucky, who has a winning record against the top two Quads and a big road win at Alabama that the committee could use to justify their inclusion. They also play in Conference USA, where three other teams are currently in the NET Top 100, and they play North Texas twice on the road later this month in games that will count as Quad 1 or 2.