2024 NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Go time for Wake Forest, St. John’s and more – The Athletic

Justin WilliamsMar 11, 2024Supported By

(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

Conference tournaments are here and Selection Sunday is nigh, which means Bubble Watch is in full swing.

I’ll be making regular, daily updates to Bubble Watch from now until the bracket is revealed, so be sure to bookmark this page and check in all week as conference tourneys heat up and the NCAA Tournament field comes into focus. As soon as relevant games in each conference wrap up, I’ll have fresh thoughts on what it means for those teams and any other bubble watchers impacted by the results.

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I’m in Kansas City covering the Big 12 tournament, but I’ll do my best to update things in real time, and I’ll try to hop into the comments and answer questions as well. Even the mean ones.

An important note: an expanded “Movement” section for each conference will be refreshed as often as necessary, while the corresponding team charts will be updated each morning with accurate records, NET rankings and other metrics.

We’ll also keep track of the number of auto-qualifiers as they roll in, whether or not there are any “bid thieves” among them, and how the math is shaping up for the rest of the field.

As a reminder for our team designations, “locks” are for teams we believe have wrapped up an at-large bid if they don’t win the AQ. Those schools can’t move off that line (a precedent Wisconsin has seemed intent on breaking for the past six weeks). “Projected to be in” is for teams that aren’t quite locks but aren’t on the bubble, either; that list should shrink rapidly as the week plays out. Same for “on the bubble,” which specifically applies to those bubble teams that are still alive in their conference tournaments. This week, we’re adding the “waiting game” category for teams that are on the bubble but have been bounced and can no longer impact their own resume. The closer we get to Sunday, the more teams will get divided into the “locks” and “waiting game” categories. And we promise it will all make sense.

Automatic qualifiers (out of 32): 4. (1 possible bid thief – Drake)
Locks: 31
Projected to be in: 7
On the bubble: 18
Waiting game: 1

It’s time for Blake Hinson and Pitt to put up or shut up. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

ACC

Locks: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson On the bubble: Virginia, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Virginia (22-9) 51/66 80/32 2-6
Wake Forest (19-12) 38/26 72/62 2-5
Pitt (21-10) 44/46 83/45 2-6

Movement: Virginia ends the regular season with zero bad losses, but without many quality wins, either — away at Clemson and Florida on a neutral court are the only Quad 1s. The Cavaliers’ performance metrics do outpace the predictive ones, which is the opposite for Pitt and should help Virginia’s case between the two. Both did earn a coveted double-bye to the ACC quarterfinals. There’s a chance Virginia could get in with a loss in that first game, but the Panthers need to win. So does Wake Forest, which got a nice Q1 home win over Clemson on Saturday. The Demon Deacons will play the winner of Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, neither of which would boost the at-large resume by much. But losing to either would probably be enough to leave Wake on the outside looking in.

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Big Ten

Locks: Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois Projected to be in: Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan State On the bubble: Iowa, Ohio State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Northwestern (21-10) 50/42 50/29 4-6
Nebraska (22-9) 37/32 71/31 4-6
Michigan State (18-13) 25/19 18/42 3-8
Iowa (18-13) 60/52 19/44 3-8
Ohio State (19-12) 54/49 66/66 3-6

Movement: Wisconsin and Michigan State, two of the more divisive teams from an at-large perspective, both finished the regular season with a whimper.

The Badgers lost at Purdue and have gone 3-8 since the start of February, while the Spartans lost at Indiana and have dropped four of their last five. That said, Wisconsin — with a 12-12 record in Quad 1 and 2, no losses outside of that and a resume average (KPI and strength of record) in the low 20s — is in even if it loses to the winner of Rutgers and Maryland on Thursday. Michigan State isn’t a lock, and a loss to Minnesota on Thursday would rile up the haters, but it remains in the field and above the bubble. Same now for Nebraska, which finished the regular season strong and joins Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern with a double-bye to Friday in the Big Ten tourney. A win then would be worthy of a lock, but both should be in regardless.

Ohio State joins Iowa on the bubble, with the Buckeyes winning five of their last six after firing Chris Holtmann, including wins over Purdue, Nebraska and at Michigan State to add to Alabama on a neutral floor. Both Ohio State and the Hawkeyes are likely on the wrong side of the cut line, so naturally, the two face each other in the No. 7 vs, No. 10 matchup on Thursday. Winner stays in the mix. Loser is probably done for.

Big 12

Locks: Baylor, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, BYU, Texas Tech, Texas Projected to be in: TCU, Oklahoma On the bubble: Kansas State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
TCU (20-11) 40/33 34/37 4-10
Oklahoma (20-11) 43/40 21/24 4-11
Kansas State (18-13) 70/67 23/51 4-7

Movement: Texas Tech and Texas both move to the lock line after quality home wins to close the regular season — Tech against Baylor and Texas against Oklahoma. The Sooners stay on the “projected to be in” line with TCU, which lost to UCF on Saturday but has a couple very strong wins over Houston at home and Baylor on the road. Oklahoma has wins home wins over Iowa State and BYU and faces off against TCU in the second round of the Big 12 tournament. A win for either would be a neutral-floor Q1 and might be enough to bump them to a lock. A loss for either could potentially start some bubble chatter.

And bravo to Kansas State, which seems to rise from the ashes every couple weeks. The Wildcats are still a long shot and have struggled away from home, but a win over Iowa State on Saturday keeps them on the bubble and secured a first-round bye in the conference tourney, where they will face Texas with a chance to kick the conversation up a notch.

Justin Moore and Villanova have no margin for error left. (Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

Big East

Locks: Marquette, UConn, Creighton On the bubble: Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Seton Hall (20-11) 62/56 35/33 5-7
Villanova (17-14) 33/29 15/57 4-10
St. John’s (19-12) 39/31 34/46 3-9
Providence (19-12) 64/61 38/47 5-8

Movement: More bubble-on-bubble action in the Big East tournament, where Seton Hall and St. John’s will battle on Thursday. On Wednesday, Providence and Villanova have must-win games, and then probably need one more to feel any sense of comfort on Selection Sunday. Nova is in better shape of the two with a 10-11 record in Quads 1 and 2 (compared to 7-12 for the Friars) and wins at Creighton and over North Carolina and Texas Tech on neutral courts. The Pirates and the Red Storm have been given one last bubble challenge against each other, with the winner likely getting elevated to the “projected in” line by advancing to the Big East semifinals and the loser holding its breath until the bracket is revealed.

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Pac-12

Lock: Arizona, Washington State On the bubble: Colorado, Utah

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Colorado (22-9) 27/27 86/41 2-5
Utah (18-13) 52/51 42/69 4-8

Movement: The Buffaloes will not go away quietly, winning at Oregon and Oregon State this week to stand firm on the bubble, though road wins over Washington and the Ducks as the only Q1s, and just barely. A victory on Thursday in the Pac-12 quarterfinals remains imperative, but Colorado is currently in better position than Utah, which just lost two in a row to the same Oregon schools and now needs at least a couple victories in the Pac-12 tournament to have a shot at an at-large. The Utes, with strong wins over BYU and at Saint Mary’s, get their first chance to stay in contention against Arizona State on Wednesday.

Tolu Smith and Mississippi State have thrown away some golden opportunities. (Petre Thomas / USA Today)

SEC

Locks: Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina On the bubble: Mississippi State, Texas A&M

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Mississippi State (19-12) 42/39 39/49 4-8
Texas A&M (18-13) 46/48 17/52 5-6

Movement: Mississippi State is pushing the bubble limits with four straight losses to end the regular season, when winning any of them might have been enough to keep it comfortably in the field. Now the Bulldogs, who do have quality home wins over Tennessee and Auburn, could use a win against LSU on Thursday or else risk dropping to the “last four in/first four out” purgatory. Texas A&M is trending the opposite direction, winning three Q2 games in a row over Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, along with previous wins over Tennessee and Kentucky at home and Iowa State on a neutral floor. The Aggies will need a second consecutive win over the Rebels on Thursday to stay in the mix — unless a bunch of other bubble teams drop out before that.

Mountain West

Lock: San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State, Nevada Projected to be in: Colorado State On the bubble: New Mexico

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Colorado State (20-9) 36/36 61/54 5-7
New Mexico (21-9) 28/34 85/72 2-7

Movement: I think Colorado State is fine after bouncing back from a three-game skid with two wins to finish the regular season, but the Rams would be wise to nab a Q4 win over San Jose State in the Mountain West tournament on Wednesday to avoid anyone dragging them into the bubble discussion. Right now, they are closer to a lock than a bubble team. New Mexico, however, is in bubble trouble. The Lobos lost three of their last four and haven’t won consecutive games since January. The predictive metrics are still tournament-worthy, as is their KPI, which is in the low 30s. But the strength of record and nonconference strength of schedule aren’t sterling, nor is only two Q1 wins. New Mexico seems to be wading in the “last four in/first four out” group, which means it has to win Wednesday’s Q4 tilt against Air Force to stay above the cut line.

UNLV would have been on the bubble with a win over Nevada in the season finale, but a NET in the 70s, SOR in the 80s and three Q4 losses isn’t enough for consideration. The Mountain West tourney counts as home games in terms of UNLV’s metrics, but a win over San Diego State on Thursday would be significant, and the Rebs are on high alert as a bid-thief candidate this week.

Robbie Avila and Indiana State can only wait now. (Keith Gillett / AP)

Others

Lock: Dayton, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga Projected to be in: Florida Atlantic On the bubble: Princeton, James Madison, Memphis Waiting game: Indiana State Automatic qualifiers: Morehead State, Longwood, Stetson, Drake

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
FAU (24-7) 34/37 95/35 2-2
Indiana State (27-6) 29/43 129/34 1-4
Princeton (22-3) 48/57 192/28 0-0
James Madison (29-3) 55/68 324/39 1-1
Memphis (22-9) 69/71 96/56 2-3

Movement: FAU moves up to the “projected in” line after ending the regular season with a win over Memphis. The Owls have just two Q1 wins (though one is a neutral site over Arizona) and two Q4 losses, but they are solid away from home, and the SOS, NET and resume average are all strong. That’s the profile of a team that should be in, particularly with a double-bye to the AAC quarterfinals.

Indiana State is on at-large watch after losing to Drake in a tightly contested Missouri Valley title game. It was the ideal scenario for the league to get two teams in, and I think Indiana State has legit at-large credentials. But it’s going to be a long week for the Sycamores sweating this one out. Drake was previously on the bubble, but because their automatic bid could be the nail in the coffin for Indiana State in particular, it makes the Bulldogs a potential bid thief. We’ve written extensively about Princeton and James Madison, and at this point, both have earned the right to remain in the bubble conversation until the bitter end. Which for the Dukes, is Monday night against Arkansas State in the Sun Belt title game. Memphis joins as well, despite the loss to FAU. The Tigers are still on the outside looking in for the time being with just two Q1 wins, but the performance metrics are better than the predictive and put their resume numbers in line with fellow bubble teams such as Iowa, New Mexico and Wake Forest.

The Bracket Central series is part of a partnership with E*TRADE

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(Top photo of St. John’s guard Nahiem Alleyne and Wake Forest’s Hunter Sallis: Larry Radloff / AP and Grant Halverson / Getty Images) 

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Justin Williams covers college football and basketball for The Athletic. He was previously a beat reporter covering the Cincinnati Bearcats, and prior to that he worked as a senior editor for Cincinnati Magazine. Follow Justin on Twitter/X @williams_justin Follow Justin on Twitter @williams_justin

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