Published 7:00 AM EDT Mar 17, 2019
Selection Sunday is upon us. And with that, there’s a group of NCAA tournament bubble teams in a pool of sweat leading up to the the selection show at 6 p.m. ET. on CBS.
While conference tournaments helped some fringe teams bolster their résumés with quality wins, other teams with borderline credentials weren’t as fortunate.
Now, they wait.
The selection committee will examine each team’s entire body of work from November up until Sunday, with the differentiation between a No. 11 at-large seed in the NCAAs and a consolation NIT bid extremely close.
Here’s a look at the 10 teams feeling the most anxiety on Selection Sunday (and where they land in USA TODAY Sports’ bracketology):
St. John’s (in, No. 11 seed): The Red Storm (21-12, 8-10 Big East) finished the season on a horrible note, having lost five of their last seven, including a 32-point Big East tournament loss to Marquette. Fortunately, the selection committee examines the full body of work. And that’s where St. John’s has two wins over the same Marquette team as well as a victory over Villanova among its five Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-50 neutral, top-75 road) wins. What’s hurting this team’s profile is a non-conference strength of schedule in the 200s and a score of 72 in the NET — the NCAA’s new metric replacing the RPI this year. Shamorie Ponds (19.5 ppg) is an explosive scorer who could spearhead an unexpected run if the committee sees past the blemishes.
TCU (in, No. 11 seed): The Horned Frogs (20-13, 7-11 Big 12) also struggled down the stretch, having lost seven of their last 10 and finishing tied as the third-worst team in the Big 12. But don’t expect the committee to fall victim to the recency effect and not go by the full résumé, especially when it has no bad losses, a top-35 strength of schedule and a NET score in the low 50s. An argument can be made that a team playing in the country’s best NET conference, the Big 12, should be able to win more than three Quad 1 games.
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Temple (in, play-in No. 11 seed): The Owls (23-9, 13-5 American Athletic) got upset by Wichita State in the AAC tournament and were thrust to the dangerous “last four in” area of the bubble as a result. Temple only has two Quad 1 wins and could have really used one more to help offset a non-conference strength of schedule in the 200s. Luckily, one of those victories was against a Houston team that’s in line for a No. 3 seed.
Ohio State (in, play-in No. 11 seed): The Buckeyes (19-14, 8-12 Big Ten) beat Indiana in a battle of bubble teams in the Big Ten tournament before losing a close one to Michigan State. Borderline credentials aside, the committee should reward a top-45 non-conference strength of schedule and take into account that Ohio State’s three consecutive losses to close out the regular season were all without leading scorer Kaleb Wesson.
Arizona State (in, play-in No. 11 seed): A year ago, Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley was jumping into his pool in celebration as one of the last two teams to sneak into the field of 68. Should the committee include the Arizona State again this year, they’ll probably be headed to Dayton (again) to play in the First Four. This year the team has a better power conference record (12-6 to finish second in the Pac-12 standings). But that’s deceiving since the Pac-12 had such a disastrous year. A top-35 non-conference strength of schedule cannot be ignored, and neither can a Q1 win vs. Kansas. But neither can two resume-staining Quadrant 4 losses. It all depends on what the committee’s looking for most. Arizona State will hope it’s not its NET score in the 60s as compared to its more impressive RPI in the 40s.
Belmont (in, play-in No. 11 seed): Perhaps the worst spot for any bubble team to be is not playing, and that’s precisely where the Bruins have been for an entire week since losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference final. While other bubble teams climbed past Belmont on the bubble line in that span, here were are on Selection Sunday and coach Rick Byrd’s team should still have enough to persuade the committee. It starts with a NET score in the 40s and also is aided by a top-75 non-conference strength of schedule. Only two Quad 2 wins is a problem, but it’s a softer bubble with worse résumés out there this year.
Alabama (first team out): Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said of his team’s NCAA tournament hopes following an SEC tournament quarterfinal loss to Kentucky, “Hopefully, we’ll be able to sneak in.” That’d be exactly what Alabama (18-15, 8-10 SEC) would be doing should the committee decide to award it a rather undeserving at-large bid. But there have been worse 15-loss profiles to surprise us in the recent past. While the Tide have lost seven of their last 10, one of those wins was a Quad 1 neutral court victory over Ole Miss in the SEC tourney. The other major eye candy on this portfolio includes a Jan. 5 win over Kentucky, which pairs nicely with a top-20 overall strength of schedule that’s largely filtered by a stronger SEC this year. A non-conference win over Murray State also looks much better now.
UNC-Greensboro (second team out): The Spartans (28-6, 15-3 Southern) must wish the NCAA’s new NET metric hadn’t come along considering their RPI of 31 would have likely sealed an at-large bid if it were in use this year. That’s a far cry from their pedestrian NET score in the high 50s. UNC-Greensboro also only has two Quad 1 wins but all six of this team’s losses were to Q1 opponents — making for a peculiar résumé among fringe teams that have at least one or more Quad 2, Quad 3 or even Quad 4 losses staining their profiles.
North Carolina State (out): On the flip side of the coin, the Wolfpack (22-11, 9-9 ACC) could be the NET metric’s biggest fans given it’s given them a highly respectable top-35 ranking. That’s in comparison to an RPI high 90s. That’s because virtually all of N.C. State’s wins are against low-tier opponents. The Wolfpack only posted three Quad 1 wins despite playing in the ACC and have the country’s second worst (352nd) non-conference strength of schedule. Wonder why their NET score is so solid? Because they pummeled bottom feeders by large margins and it creates the illusion that this team is one of the 68 best teams in the country. It’s not, and this is where the NET’s aim to measure in-game prowess is undoubtedly flawed.
Indiana (next four out): Hoosiers coach Archie Miller believes his team has a sound case for being included in the NCAA tournament. He said: “I think the one thing in this stage when you’re comparing everybody — can you beat a team in the tournament? When you’re able to beat a Marquette or Louisville, you’re able to get a Michigan State twice. You’re able to get Wisconsin here lately. So are we capable? Yes.” His points are valid, considering no bubble team has more than Indiana’s six Quad 1 victories and the Big Ten is the second-best conference in the NET. However, any team that loses 13 of 14 games cannot expect the committee to ignore the other credentials — a 17-15 overall record and non-conference strength of schedule in the 190s. One more win (like the one IU gave up to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament) might’ve made the difference.
Honorable Mentions — the Big East’s Georgetown, Xavier and Creighton: All three of these Big East teams are long shots, but considering they still have a fighting chance they’re worth mentioning here. The Hoyas (with Marquette and Villanova among five Quad 1 wins), Musketeers (with a top-40 strength of schedule and Q1 win vs. Villanova) and Bluejays (with a top-55 NET score, top-30 non-conference strength of schedule) all have qualities that the committee will heavily consider and ultimately might buy into. But they also have qualities that could sink them — Georgetown’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 250 and its NET score is 80, Xavier has 15 losses, and Creighton has 14 losses and just three Q1 wins.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.