Starting conference championship week as one of the “last four in,” Indiana played its way into the NCAA Tournament field by upsetting Illinois in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on Friday before succumbing to a last-second loss to Iowa in the semifinals.
The Hoosiers still have done enough to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. They’re a classic example of a power conference team that was on the outside looking in before the final week but vaulted ahead of other bubble teams at the last minute. The trickle-down effect in play left teams that exited early in their league tours (ahem, Wake Forest and Xavier) watching from home in despair.
Similar to Indiana, Texas A&M has used conference championship week to bolster its overall profile. After a huge upset of Auburn on Friday, the Aggies followed it up with another momentous Quadrant 1 victory over Arkansas on Saturday to reach the SEC tournament final. That outcome pushes Texas A&M into the “last four in” category, where they should squeeze into the field of 68 – even with a loss on Sunday in the title game.
The NCAA selection committee pays attention to the entire body of work, but one game – especially at this point of the season when bubble teams are neck and neck – can make the difference. We saw that with SMU on Friday. The Mustangs started as one of the “last four in” but secured their bid into the field of 68 by drubbing Tulsa. No matter what happens in the AAC tournament the rest of the way, the Mustangs have likely locked up an at-large bid.
NCAA Tournament bracketology:Kentucky steals No. 1 seed from Auburn ahead of Selection Sunday
A look at the winners and losers of the bubble:
► saturday’s games
Texas A&M. The Aggies (22-11, 9-9 SEC) came out of nowhere to enter the bubble mix, first with a 67-62 upset of Auburn in the SEC tournament quarterfinals Friday and then again with an 82-64 win over Arkansas in the semifinals. Coach Buzz Williams’ team is red hot but even if it doesn’t lock up the SEC’s auto bid, A&M’s profile is there. A NET score in the 50s and four Quadrant 1 wins paired with no bad losses make an overall decent tourney portfolio. Last four in.
Indiana. The Hoosiers (20-13, 9-11 Big Ten) fell on a last-second three-pointer 80-77 to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament semifinals Saturday. But what Indiana did before is likely enough to send this team dancing. The win that solidified inclusion was Friday’s 65-63 upset of Illinois in the quarterfinals. That came after an opening-round win against fellow bubble team Michigan. Indiana has five Quadrant 1 victories, which helps offset a non-conference strength of schedule in the 240s. In the field, No. 11 seed.
► friday’s games
Virginia Tech. The Hokies (22-12, 11-9 ACC) knocked out North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals to reach the championship game vs. Duke. But it may take beating the Blue Devils – and garnering the league’s automatic bid – if Virginia Tech wants to securely reach the field of 68. That’s because even though this team’s NET score of 30 is super impressive, just two Quadrant 1 victories will make it a down-to-the-wire decision. This epic late run started for Virginia Tech with Darius Maddox’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to sink Clemson in overtime Wednesday and then another upset vs. Notre Dame in the ACC tourney quarters before toppling UNC on Friday. First four out.
SMU. The Mustangs (23-7, 13-4 American Athletic) needed to win their first game in the AAC tournament and did, routing Tulsa 83-58. SMU’s number of wins and NET in the 40s is helping to keep it safe for now, but coach Tim Jankovich’s squad only has two Quadrant 1 wins on its résumé so acquiring one more would make SMU a shoo-in for the selection committee. In the projected field, No. 11 seed.
Dayton. The Flyers (23-9, 14-4 Atlantic 10) avoided a résumé stain by beating UMass in its Atlantic 10 tourney opener 75-72 but now will likely need to escape fellow bubble team Richmond to feel more comfortable on Selection Sunday. The biggest concern on Dayton’s profile is three Quadrant 4 losses. Last four in.
► saturday’s games
Saint Louis. The Billikens (23-11, 12-6 Atlantic 10) got toppled by Davidson 84-69 in the tournament semifinals — an outcome that likely will send Saint Louis to the NIT. This group barely clipped fellow bubble team Saint Bonaventure 57-56 in the quarterfinals to keep its at-large bid chances alive, but Saturday’s result means Saint Louis will be in the “next four out” category going into Selection Sunday. A NET score in the 60s and just one Quadrant 1 victory will stand out in a bad way. Next four out.
► friday’s games
rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (18-13, 12-8 Big Ten) hung tight with a red-hot Iowa team but couldn’t pull out the upset in an 84-74 loss in the Big Ten quarterfinals. That means there will be major sweating for Rutgers heading into Selection Sunday. The team has a whopping six Quadrant 1 victories, which the selection committee will love. But there’s also a Quadrant 4 loss on the profile and a dreadful non-conference strength of schedule of 327 – both of which the committee will not love. Last four in.
Oklahoma. The Sooners (19-14, 7-11 Big 12) gave Texas Tech all they had in a 56-55 loss in the Big 12 tournament semifinals. That came after a momentous upset of Baylor that helped to resuscitate coach Porter Moser’s team to have at-large bid hopes. But this will be close for Oklahoma, currently one of the “first four out.” Four Quadrant 1 wins help offset a non-conference strength of schedule in the 200s. First four out.
Colorado. Another team to resuscitate its Big Dance hopes on Thursday, the Buffaloes (21-11, 12-8 Pac-12) couldn’t muster an upset of Arizona in the Pac-12 tourney semis, falling 82-72. Colorado had momentum after bouncing former bubble team Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament quarters. A NET score in the 70s and just one Quadrant 1 victory are hurting this team’s cause. Others considered for at-large bid.
► Thursday’s games
St John’s. The Red Storm (17-15, 8-11 Big East) narrowly fell to Villanova 66-65 in the Big East tournament quarters and now find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble with nothing to do about it but watch other fringe teams to see if they stumble. A NET score in the 60s and a Quadrant 4 loss stand out in the wrong way on this team’s tourney portfolio so a win over Villanova would’ve done this team many favors. If only. Others considered for at-large bid.
Florida. With the postseason on the line, the Gators (19-13, 9-9 SEC) rallied to force overtime vs. Texas A&M but ultimately fell 83-80 on Thursday in the SEC tournament. That likely shoves coach Mike White’s team out of NCAA Tournament contention and closer to the NIT. Florida’s NET in the 50s, poor non-conference strength of schedule, and a Quadrant 4 loss will stand out too much for the selection committee. Others considered for at-large bid.
► Wednesday’s games
Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (23-9, 13-7 ACC) got upset in overtime vs. Boston College 82-77 to get eliminated from the ACC tournament in the second round. It’s the worst outcome for a team that started the day as one of the “last four in.” Now Wake Forest has been pushed to the wrong side of the bubble. There’s just one Quadrant 1 victory on the credentials and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 345th. First four out.
Xavier. The Musketeers (18-13, 8-11 Big East) lost to Butler 89-82 to exit the Big East tournament in the first round. The selection committee will be relying on Xavier’s body of work from November-January to determine inclusion in the field of 68. Xavier has five Quadrant 1 wins and a NET in the 40s. First four out.
NCAA Tournament language explainer:
- NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral site games vs. 1-50 NET; away games vs. 1-75 NET
- Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral site games vs. 51-100 NET; away games vs. 76-135 NET
- Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral site games vs. 101-200 NET; away games vs. 136-240 NET
- Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral site games vs. 201-plus NET; away games vs. 241-plus NET
note: Most statistical data is used from WarrenNolan.com. The NET rankings (NCAA Evaluation Tool) are also a reference point.
About our college basketball reporter: Scott Gleeson has covered men’s college basketball for USA TODAY since 2012, contributing to bracketology and running Bubble Tracker before tackling everything March Madness following Selection Sunday. He correctly forecasted Virginia would win the national championship in 2019 before the season began and also picked Loyola-Chicago as a Cinderella mid-major in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.