March Madness bubble: Will Duke and/or Michigan State make NCAA Tournament?

For the first time in 25 years, the NCAA Tournament may not have Duke and Michigan State in March Madness who are on the wrong side of the bubble.

Time is running out for teams on the bubble to make their move. This week’s action is absolutely critical for squads in need of resume-boosting wins since only a handful of opportunities are left to win ahead of the conference tournaments next week.


There has been quite a bit of movement on the bubble so let’s take a look at the 16 teams closest to the cut line once again. We’ll get started, as always, with the last four teams who will avoid the First Four action if the season were to end today.

Bubble Watch – Last four byes

North Carolina, VCU, UConn, Drake

The Tar Heels looked like they would get off this page entirely after beating Florida State on Saturday but find themselves right back on it after a head-scratching loss to Syracuse. Finding a way to beat Duke on Senior Night could be the difference between a relatively stress-free week in the ACC Tournament or a nail-biting affair.

VCU followed a good win against Saint Louis with a tough loss to Davidson, albeit one where they were down star guard Bones Hyland, whose availability for the postseason remains an open question. The A-10 Tournament is next up for the Rams, who are back in action on Friday, and as long as they don’t lose in their opening game they should be in good shape for Selection Sunday.

Getting James Bouknight back has been huge for UConn, which swept its week against Marquette and Georgetown with Bouknight averaging 22 points per game in the wins. Wednesday’s game with Seton Hall is a true bubble affair for the Huskies, who have to win to avoid ceding ground to a fellow Big East bubbler.

Drake ended the regular season with a loss and is now down two key starters heading into Arch Madness this week. There’s a shot that Tank Hemphill will be back if the Bulldogs get to the NCAA Tournament but a paper-thin non-conference schedule could mean trouble if Drake gets clipped early in the conference tournament.

Bubble Watch – Last four in

Boise State, Seton Hall, Xavier, Georgia Tech

Losing a pair of games to San Diego State won’t hurt the Broncos too much but a split would have done wonders for Boise State’s resume. Avoiding a landmine loss to Fresno State tonight would be wise ahead of the Mountain West tournament.

Sitting around and waiting for a game to come isn’t fun when you’re on the bubble, which Seton Hall has had to deal with after dropping a pair of damaging contests to Georgetown and Butler last week. The Pirates are facing a must-win contest against UConn on Wednesday along with a tough road game against St. John’s to try and avoid falling further down the bubble picture.

The big issue for Xavier had been a lack of games due to a COVID pause, a problem that was compounded when the Musketeers returned with three losses in their first four games. The X-men got a big win over Creighton to stop the bleeding but have a pair of low-reward, high-risk road games against bad teams this week in Georgetown and Marquette.

The last team in the field right now is Georgia Tech, whose win over Virginia Tech last week put them on the right side of the cut line. Tonight’s contest against Duke is a de facto tiebreaker for the Yellow Jackets since the Blue Devils already have a head-to-head win against them this season.

Bubble Watch – First four out

Utah State, Michigan State, Duke, Saint Louis

The Aggies are the first team out of the field after getting back on track with two solid wins over a tough Nevada team this week. Picking up victories in makeup games against Fresno State and Wyoming would be well-advised to set Utah State up for success ahead of the Mountain West Tournament.

Michigan State looked like they were on the right side of the cut line before getting blasted against Maryland on Sunday. Tuesday night’s game against Indiana is a must-win for the Spartans, who probably need to find a way to split their home-and-home with Michigan to set themselves up for a path to the dance that doesn’t involve a deep run at the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State’s 22 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament are the third-longest active streak in NCAA basketball.

The late-season surge for Duke hit a pothole in Saturday’s loss to Louisville, which completed a season sweep of the Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski’s team needs to find a way to at least split its road trip to Georgia Tech and North Carolina this week to give themselves a chance to make some noise in the ACC Tournament. Duke basketball has made March Madness 24 straight years, trailing only Kansas and their 30 straight trips, but the Blue Devils will likely be sweating Selection Sunday unless they can make some noise in the ACC Tournament.

The last team in this group is Saint Louis, which closed its regular season with a win against UMass that was more like a case of bad loss avoidance. The Billikens are back in action on Friday in the A-10 Tournament and likely need to get to at least the final to feel good about their chances of making the field.

Bubble Watch – Next four out

Indiana, SMU, Syracuse, Minnesota

The Hoosiers are fading fast after dropping four of their past five games. There is still a sweep of Iowa on Indiana’s resume but the Hoosiers really need to find a way to split their trip to Michigan State and Purdue before making a serious run at the Big Ten Tournament next week.

SMU has solid metrics that merit at-large consideration but a lengthy COVID pause has kept them from playing games. The Mustangs are slated to return to action against Tulsa on Sunday and will need to find a way to get a shot at Houston in the AAC Tournament to get a further look from the Selection Committee.

Monday’s win over North Carolina gets Syracuse back on the page this week but the Orange’s overall resume leaves a lot to be desired. Finding a way to beat Clemson on Saturday and scoring a few big wins in the ACC Tournament would do a lot more to change hearts and minds about Syracuse on the selection committee.

The Golden Gophers are clinging to the page thanks to some of their massive home wins but losses to Northwestern and Nebraska have all but killed their at-large chances. Anything short of sweeping Penn State (and scoring a road win, something that hasn’t happened for Minnesota all year long) and Rutgers this week will knock the Golden Gophers out of the bubble watch altogether.

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