NCAA Tournament bubble watch: LSU, Clemson safe (for now), Duke’s chances in doubt?

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 23: Cameron Thomas #24 of the LSU Tigers shoots the ball during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on January 23, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 23: Cameron Thomas #24 of the LSU Tigers shoots the ball during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on January 23, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

Colorado State is rising while Clemson is sinking and Duke may have had their bubble burst in this week’s NCAA Tournament bubble watch.

Life on the bubble can be a turbulent ride for teams hoping to get into March Madness. Michigan State found out the hard way this week, going from the right side of the bubble to falling completely out of the field after a pair of losses.

The intrigue around the bubble watch often comes from the race for the last few spots in the field, so the format is changing a bit compared to last week. This article will break down the 16 teams closest to the cut line by four categories: the last four byes, the last four in, the first four out and the next four out.

Bubble Watch – Last 4 byes

Oregon, Clemson, LSU, Saint Louis

The teams in this tier can get split into two categories: those who have played a lot and struggled with their consistency and those who have been hammered by COVID. Clemson and LSU make up the first grouping for different reasons.

Brad Brownell’s team has sunk like a stone, getting blown out in four of its past five games before beating North Carolina on Tuesday night. LSU entered the week dropping three of its past four games, although two of the losses were quality foes, leaving this talented SEC outfit in need of marquee victories to maintain its position.

Oregon and Saint Louis have had major issues with COVID pauses. The Ducks have played once since Jan. 9, losing by 11 to Oregon State, and are hoping to come off another pause on Thursday. The Billikens came back from a month-long COVID pause last week and lost to Dayton, a damaging setback for one of the A-10’s most talented units, but non-conference wins over NC State and fellow bubbler LSU help Saint Louis maintain this position for now.

Bubble Watch – Last 4 in

Arkansas, Stanford, Utah State, Colorado State

These teams would be playing in the First Four games due to various flaws in their resumes. Arkansas has the best record of this bunch, entering the week 13-5 with a 5-4 SEC mark, but the Razorbacks have yet to beat a team that is a lock to make the field.

The most intriguing team in this group is Stanford, which recently toppled UCLA and has a non-conference win over Alabama that keeps improving as the Crimson Tide surge to the top of the SEC. The reason the Cardinal aren’t in the byes category is because they suffered a bad loss this week to a talented but underachieving Arizona State squad.

The final two spots here go to high-quality mid-majors in Utah State and Colorado State. These two conference foes out of the Mountain West have shown they can compete at a high level in a difficult league and get the nod over some .500-level power conference teams.

Bubble Watch – First 4 out

Seton Hall, Maryland, Richmond, VCU

The first team out of the field is Seton Hall, which has played a great schedule but hasn’t picked up enough wins to show for it. A road win at Xavier is nice but a 9-8 overall record and 6-5 mark in the Big East isn’t enough to distinguish the Pirates on a crowded bubble.

The Big Ten’s depth will hurt some teams from a pure loss accumulation standpoint and Maryland qualifies. The Terrapins have three great road wins in the league against Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota but they are the only conference wins Maryland had entering Tuesday’s game against Purdue. A poor non-conference slate also hurts the Terrapins, whose only notable opponent was Clemson, which beat Maryland by 16 to secure a leg up in the committee room.

Richmond and VCU round out this group as two more potential entrants from the A-10. The Spiders got unlucky that their road win at Kentucky doesn’t mean much against the worst Wildcats’ team in years while VCU has a poor man’s version of Arkansas’ resume, subbing in wins against the bottom of the A-10 for the bottom of the SEC.

Bubble Watch – Next 4 out

Penn State, Providence, Duke, Syracuse

The Nittany Lions have an outside shot to be the Big Ten’s 11th team in the field if they can get hot down the stretch. A win against Wisconsin last week pairs nicely with a non-conference victory over Virginia Tech but a rough stretch to start conference play means that Penn State will need multiple wins against top-tier teams to climb this list.

The Friars have one of the best wins of teams in this group with a road win at Creighton but the overall resume is very uneven. A tough loss to Georgetown over the weekend will be an anchor for Providence, which needs to generate some separation in order to make up ground on fellow Big East bubble teams like Seton Hall and UConn.

Duke was poised to end up in the First Four out before inexcusably losing by a bucket to a short-handed Miami team on Monday. There still aren’t many good wins on the Blue Devils’ resume so Saturday’s game against North Carolina is a must-win for them.

Syracuse keeps hanging around as well, scoring a nice win over Virginia Tech only to get demolished by Virginia. Getting swept by Pittsburgh is a killer but the Orange can make some noise this week by finding a way to sweep a pair of winnable games against Louisville and fellow bubbler Clemson.

Next. 20 biggest upsets in the history of March Madness. dark

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