A well-timed four-game winning streak has helped the case for Duke basketball to get off the bubble and make the NCAA Tournament.
Sometimes all it takes to get on the bubble is a well-timed winning streak. Duke wasn’t even on the page last week but a four-game winning streak that includes triumphs over Virginia and Syracuse has breathed new life into the Blue Devils’ March Madness hopes.
Key losses can also doom a team, as we bid farewell to Syracuse, which is off the board this week after getting demolished by the Blue Devils in a game that the Orange had to have. Let’s take a look at the 16 teams closest to the cut line right now, beginning with the last four teams to avoid playing in the First Four.
Bubble Watch – Last Four Byes
North Carolina, Seton Hall, VCU, Xavier
The Tar Heels had a good week, going out and scheduling a non-conference game against Northeastern that they won before demolishing a Louisville team coming off of a lengthy COVID pause. This week follows a similar script for North Carolina, which added a non-conference matchup with Marquette before a big home game against Florida State and repeating the formula of a two-win week would get the Tar Heels even further off the bubble.
Things were going smoothly for Seton Hall before they hit a major pothole with a bad loss to Georgetown, adding a bad loss to a resume that can’t afford to take on too much water. The Pirates’ lone game of the week is against Butler on the road, which is a similar type of no-reward, high-risk game that they can’t afford to lose.
Just when we wanted to believe in VCU’s at-large resume the Rams went out and lost to George Mason, a middling A-10 foe, with the loss being made worse by the fact it came at home. VCU has a big game against Saint Louis tonight before wrapping the week with a trip to Dayton.
The problem for Xavier has simply been a lack of games due to a long COVID pause, which was compounded by returning with losses to UConn and St. John’s. Winning against Butler was necessary to stop the bleeding and the Musketeers need to beat Providence before getting a shot at a marquee win with a road date against Creighton.
Bubble Watch – Last Four In
Indiana, Louisville, Minnesota, UConn
The Hoosiers are hanging on by a thread after a damaging loss to Michigan State over the weekend, Indiana’s second loss in its last three games. A tough road trip to Rutgers comes mid-week before a big shot against Michigan at Assembly Hall that could be a life-saver to Indiana’s sagging resume.
Louisville will be a major test case for the selection committee since the Cardinals have barely played in the past month due to COVID pauses. Getting drilled by North Carolina in their first game back was not good, but strong wins over Virginia Tech, Seton Hall and Western Kentucky are propping up Louisville’s resume, which needs to put together a 2-0 week against Notre Dame and Duke.
Getting beaten up by Illinois wouldn’t be bad for most teams but could be a killer for Minnesota, which suffered its second home loss of the season and still hasn’t won outside of Williams Arena yet. Taking care of Nebraska on the road on Saturday would be well-advised for the Golden Gophers, who really shouldn’t test whether the selection committee would give an at-large bid to a team without a true road win on its resume.
The last team currently in the field is UConn, which should merit further discussion from the committee since they played a significant portion of their conference schedule without injured star James Bouknight. The Huskies got Bouknight back for a tight loss against Villanova and really need to take care of business against Georgetown and Marquette to maintain their place in the field.
Bubble Watch – First Four Out
Colorado State, Stanford, Richmond, Saint Louis
The Rams are the first team out of the field as they have been extremely unlucky with COVID issues, seeing their last five games get wiped out due to outbreaks with their opponents. The bright side is that Colorado State hasn’t added any bad losses to its resume, a trend they need to continue as they play a series with Air Force this week.
Stanford was on the right side of the cut line last week but had a disastrous loss to Washington State, which entered the matchup 6-10 in Pac-12 play and beat them by nine. The Oregon schools come to Palo Alto this week and the Cardinal really needs to sweep them to end up back on the right side of the cut line.
Losing by a dozen to VCU certainly hurt Richmond, but stabilizing with a win over Duquesne was critical. Topping UMass before a huge showdown with Saint Louis is an important step for the Spiders.
The Billikens pass the eye-test but have been hurt by losing a ton of games due to COVID, making disastrous losses like a 23-point defeat to Dayton take on even more weight. This week offers huge matchups with both VCU and Richmond, games that could either put Saint Louis safely in the field or ensure that winning the A-10 Tournament is the only way for the Billikens to reach March Madness.
Bracketology – Next Four Out
Duke, Utah State, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech
The Blue Devils’ four-game winning streak has been well-timed and scoring a one-point victory over Virginia is easily Duke’s best result of the season. Wrapping up their home slate with a win over Louisville would certainly be a help for a resume that still has bad losses to Miami and Notre Dame on it.
Utah State finally came off a COVID pause and got swept by Boise State, which aren’t bad losses since the Broncos are one of the Mountain West’s best teams but still damaging for a resume without much substance on it. A home series with Nevada rates as must-win since a loss in either game could relegate the Aggies’ only path to the dance to winning the Mountain West’s automatic bid in the conference tournament.
The momentum that Ole Miss was building came to a screeching halt with a loss against Mississippi State, adding a bad loss to a resume that simply has too many of them right now. Finding a way to sweep Missouri would offset that defeat while a game against Vanderbilt rates as a no-reward, high-risk effort that the Rebels have to get.
The NET rankings love Georgia Tech, which has a pair of quality wins over Florida State and Clemson and is ranked 49th in that metric, but their resume is being anchored by a pair of non-conference defeats to Georgia State and Mercer. Finding a way to sweep this week’s games against Virginia Tech and Syracuse would be the best way for the Yellow Jackets to make a strong push towards an at-large bid.
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