2024 NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Texas and Texas A&M are making it interesting – The Athletic

By Justin Williams5h agoSupported 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.)

With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, the tournament field is beginning to become delineated. We’ve gotten the top-16 preview and some understanding of what the selection committee looks at and values.

We know that the NET, despite being used to categorize those ever-important quadrant matchups, is better understood as a guide rather than a definitive ranking when it comes to seeding the bracket. And yet, history tells us that it still provides considerable insight.

Advertisement

The NET was introduced before the 2018-19 season to replace the RPI, giving us four NCAA Tournaments worth of data. (The 2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.) In those four seasons, here are the highest-ranked teams to not make the dance and the lowest-ranked teams to get in as an at-large bid.

Season Highest NET to miss tourney Lowest NET to make tourney
2022-23 North Texas: 38 Pitt: 67
2021-22 Oklahoma: 39 Rutgers: 77
2020-21 Penn State: 42 Wichita State: 72
2018-19 NC State: 33 St. John’s: 73

Aside from NC State in 2018-19 (poor Wolfpack), every team ranked 35th or higher has made the tournament, and any ranking in the top 40 is relatively safe. Looking at the teams hovering around that mark as of Monday morning — Villanova, Nebraska, Nevada, St. John’s — it tracks that just about all of them are on the bubble. There are still a couple of weeks of resume-building to be done, but suffice it to say some in that group will make it and some won’t.

What about the teams above them, specifically those who have historically been safely in the field based on the NET but whose resumes currently feel lacking? We’ll call them The Anomalies, and there are five that stand out: Gonzaga (NET: 21), Wake Forest (25), Indiana State (33), Colorado (34) and Florida Atlantic (37). (All NET rankings are current as of Monday morning.)

Frankly, there are holes to be poked in Auburn’s resume and even Alabama’s under closer scrutiny, at least as far as Quad 1 wins. But those two teams are both in the top 10 in NET, KenPom and KPI and top 15 in Strength of Record (SOR) — so they’re making the tournament.

For the other five, we’ll dive in on them in their respective conference spotlight sections, look at how the teams have maximized their NET rating and what they still need to do to avoid remaining an anomaly once the bracket is revealed.

Weekly housekeeping: We’ve added three locks — BYU, Kentucky and Saint Mary’s — after all three secured notable wins last week. That brings us to 22 total.

ACC

Locks: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson Projected to be in: Wake Forest On the bubble: Virginia, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech

Movement: Following a brief rejuvenation — Virginia! Pitt! — the ACC has returned to an underwhelming state. Wake Forest moves up to “projected in” thanks to wins over Pitt and Duke and its elevated NET, which we’ll get to. Virginia drops back to the bubble after losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Pitt and VT hang on after each going 1-1 last week, but I wouldn’t have either in the field.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Wake Forest (18-9) 25/19 70/44 1-4
Virginia (20-8) 49/66 82/34 3-4
Pitt (18-9) 47/54 84/60 3-5
Virginia Tech (15-12) 56/55 28/70 3-8

Spotlight On: Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons have only one Q1 win, coming Saturday at home against Duke in a game that got overshadowed by a court-storming controversy. A nonconference home win over Florida back in November is right on the cusp of being a Q1, but that’s it, save for remaining tilts against Clemson at home and Virginia Tech on the road that feel critical. Wake has no bad losses (12-0 in Q3 and Q4) but is just 5-5 in Q2, and aside from Florida and Duke, none of the victories stand out. Of the nine losses, eight are by eight points or fewer, which helps explain the predictive metrics. The only outlier is a 21-point thumping at UNC. But with four games left in the regular season, it will be interesting to see how or if the at-large conversation changes for Wake if it can’t at least split those Q1 opportunities.

Ben Krikke, right, and Iowa have been coming on strong of late. (Ron Johnson / USA Today)

Big Ten

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

Movement: The Spartans, ever gluttons for punishment, stay on the “projected in” line despite Sunday’s last-second loss to Ohio State … but just barely. Currently at 24 in the NET, it’s unrealistic that they would miss the field entirely based on the precedent we mentioned, but MSU has been practicing witchcraft on the metrics all season, and with Purdue and Northwestern up next, Sparty quickly could be back on the bubble. Iowa joins the discussion after wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State and hanging tough with Illinois, although Fran McCaffery’s squad still has a ways to go. Nebraska and Northwestern, on the other hand, should feel rather secure.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Michigan State (17-11) 24/20 24/46 3-7
Northwestern (19-8) 53/43 47/26 4-5
Nebraska (20-8) 41/34 68/27 4-6
Iowa (16-12) 60/49 12/58 2-8

Spotlight On: Iowa

For a moment on Saturday, the Hawkeyes had Illinois on the ropes and looked to be surging into the bubble discussion. Then the Illini pulled away. But Iowa is still up to the top 60 in the NET, KenPom and SOR after consecutive Q1 wins before last weekend. The team has solid strength of schedule metrics and an explosive, uptempo offense; it’s still significantly on the outside looking in, but if Iowa can put everything together during the final weeks and win out over Penn State, Northwestern and Illinois, it becomes a more intriguing possibility.

Advertisement

Big 12

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

Movement: BYU joins the Land of Locks with a Q1 win over Baylor, only to promptly pick up a road loss against a reeling Kansas State club. The performance-based metrics continue to lag, but with four Q1 wins and the NET holding steady in the top 15, the Cougars are in. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is clinging to the bubble line on the heels of losses against Oklahoma State and at TCU. The Bearcats currently have four Q1 wins and the NET is decent enough to keep them in the conversation, but a loss at Houston on Tuesday could be the death rattle for their at-large hopes.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Texas Tech (19-8) 35/31 37/20 5-7
TCU (19-8) 30/25 41/21 3-7
Oklahoma (19-8) 39/38 52/25 4-6
Texas (17-10) 40/36 16/38 4-7
Cincinnati (16-11) 45/47 44/68 4-7

Spotlight on: Texas

The Longhorns can’t get over the hump. They haven’t won back-to-back games since January, which isn’t surprising in the Big 12, but it has prevented them from moving off the bubble line. The talent and resume should be enough to get them in the field, despite a lackluster nonconference showing, but the run-in won’t be easy, with trips to Texas Tech and a home game against Oklahoma still left. If Texas can at least split the next four, it should be fine. If not, and sitting in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings, it could leave the door open for other bubble teams to sneak ahead of them.

St. John’s regrouped through a tumultuous time last week to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. (Wendell Cruz / USA Today)

Big East

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

Movement: The Big East continues to be a conference divided: three surefire locks and a slew of the most poppable bubble teams in the field. I’m most bullish on Providence among this group, but none of them should feel in any way comfortable. Villanova, currently at No. 38 in the NET, has the vibe of a highest-ranked program not to make the tourney. St. John’s does sneak back in with a surprisingly big win, but Xavier just misses out again after a fourth straight loss to dip below .500.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Providence (18-9) 55/53 51/37 5-6
Villanova (15-12) 38/33 15/61 3-8
Seton Hall (18-9) 61/56 53/35 5-5
Butler (15-12) 62/58 3/48 3-11
St. John’s (16-12) 44/39 13/53 2-9

Spotlight on: St. John’s

The Red Storm jumped five spots in the NET with Sunday’s 14-point home win over Creighton. They entered Monday at No. 44, which admittedly feels high. St. John’s has several close losses but is just 2-9 in Q1 and the predictive rankings outpace the performance ones. With only a road trip to Butler and two Q4s left in the regular season, Rick Pitino is going to have to lead his team on a deep run in the Big East tournament to be anything more than a mediocre team with decent metrics — and Big East tournament games count as home games for the Red Storm’s resume.

Pac-12

Lock: Arizona Projected to be in: Washington State On the bubble: Colorado, Utah

Movement: Washington State moves up to the “projected in” line after a massive road win against Arizona before having an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday at Arizona State. Oregon, at No. 63 in the NET with 18 wins and a 2-4 Q1 record, is our highest NET team to not be listed as on the bubble. There’s just not enough on that resume in an already disappointing league.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Washington State (21-7) 36/37 79/29 5-3
Colorado (18-9) 34/30 76/56 1-5
Utah (16-11) 54/51 20/57 3-7

Spotlight on: Colorado

The next of our NET anomalies, the Buffaloes played well in an 89-65 win over fellow bubble foe Utah on Saturday. Q2 wins over Washington State at home and Richmond on a neutral floor help burnish the resume, but a January road win over Washington is the only Q1 win on the team sheet, to go with a pair of losses to Arizona by 67 (!) combined points. Colorado also has the unfortunate distinction of being another team where the predictive metrics are better than the performance rankings, which, when paired with an uninspiring nonconference slate and a 4-8 record away from home is a bad sign for its at-large chances, regardless of what the NET says. With Q3 matchups in three of the four remaining regular-season games, CU might have to run the table or reach the semis of the Pac-12 tournament to curry favor in the eyes of the committee.

Advertisement

SEC

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

Movement: Kentucky, humbled by a last-second loss to LSU mid-week, earns lock status with a bounce-back home rout of Alabama on Saturday. The Wildcats are that team where I won’t be shocked if they make an Elite Eight run or get bounced in the opening round. The defense is dreadful, but when the offense is humming, it’s good enough to overcome.

GO DEEPER

Going nuclear: Kentucky tantalizes with offensive outburst versus Alabama

Mississippi State moves up to safely in the field while riding a five-game winning streak, but the Bulldogs have a tough road ahead: vs. Kentucky, at Auburn, at Texas A&M, vs. South Carolina. A&M hangs on despite a four-game skid, but Ole Miss drops off having lost five of six.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Florida (19-8) 31/27 32/19 4-8
South Carolina (22-5) 48/48 85/13 4-3
Mississippi State (19-8) 28/28 50/30 3-6
Texas A&M (15-12) 58/57 10/66 5-6

Spotlight on: Texas A&M

The Aggies have a wheel seat on the struggle bus as losers of four straight. Two of those were defensible — at Alabama and at Tennessee — but two were not: at Vanderbilt and home against Arkansas. It leaves A&M at a so-so 15-12 overall, yet with five Q1 wins, including over Tennessee and Kentucky at home and Iowa State on a neutral floor, as well as a commendable nonconference schedule. The four-game skid has delivered a notable blow, but with opportunities still left against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, A&M has a chance to turn things around and reinvigorate its tournament ambitions.

Cam Martin, right, and Boise State are inching closer toward an NCAA Tournament berth. (Eric Draper / AP)

Mountain West

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

Movement: This league continues to dish out body blows to one another. New Mexico beats Colorado State but drops a Q4 to Air Force. CSU loses another to UNLV. Utah State takes down San Diego State. Boise State is on the edge of “projected in” glory and will be there next week if it can win at Air Force and avoid its last Q4 pothole on the schedule. Nevada is right there as well. I have all of these teams in the tournament.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
New Mexico (20-7) 26/32 89/59 4-3
Colorado State (18-8) 27/29 31/41 4-6
Utah State (20-5) 29/40 73/23 3-4
Boise State (17-8) 32/42 46/50 5-5
Nevada (21-6) 42/41 90/42 5-4

Spotlight on: Boise State

The Broncos have a unique, bell curve of a resume: 5-5 in Q1, solid NET and SOS but only 17 relevant wins and currently 50th in SOR with a pair of non-Division I victories. They do have quality wins over Saint Mary’s (neutral), New Mexico (away) and San Diego State (home), with New Mexico and SDSU still ahead. Win one of those and skirt a Q4 disaster against Air Force on Tuesday night, and Boise can breathe easy entering the Mountain West tournament in a league that looks primed to send a record six participants to March Madness this season.

Others

Lock: Dayton, Saint Mary’s Projected to be in: Gonzaga On the bubble: Florida Atlantic, Indiana State, Drake, Princeton, James Madison, Grand Canyon, San Francisco, McNeese State

Movement: Some big moves in the “others” category. Saint Mary’s, a winner of 15 in a row, is officially a lock, joining the Dayton Flyers on that line, while fellow WCC rival Gonzaga moves up to “projected in.” FAU, however, drops from “projected in” to “on the bubble” having dropped two of its last three. The Owls join a suddenly crowded group on the bubble line. We’re stingy with our “locks” here at Bubble Watch, so we’ll err on the side of inclusion when it comes to the bubble. Except with SMU, which inexplicably is still at 43 in the NET after back-to-back losses but drops out with a SOR of 81 and a 1-8 record in Q1 and Q2. The Mustangs aren’t making the tournament as an at-large – if Villanova isn’t the highest-ranked NET team left out, that distinction could fall to SMU. But the metrics, odd as they might be, are high enough to at least leave them in. The same goes for the collection of Grand Canyon, San Francisco and McNeese State. All three are in the top 60 of the NET, just behind James Madison and Princeton, with their own resume strengths and weaknesses. Then there is South Florida, which didn’t make the cut but entered the AP Top 25 this week, having won 13 in a row and 19 of 20. Even on that run, the Bulls are still in the 80s in the NET and 90s in KenPom, with zero Q1 matchups — unprecedented for an at-large resume — although they have 21 wins and are 55th in SOR. Honestly, I’ll be surprised if any of those teams (SMU included) earn an at-large bid, but for now, perhaps they can take solace in the bubble discourse.

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
FAU (21-7) 37/35 95/39 1-1
Gonzaga (21-6) 21/21 105/43 1-5
Indiana State (23-5) 33/46 134/36 1-3
Drake (22-6) 46/50 155/67 2-1
Princeton (19-3) 51/64 196/32 0-0
James Madison (25-3) 50/61 306/40 1-1
Grand Canyon (23-4) 59/68 252/49 1-1
San Francisco (21-7) 57/63 150/78 0-5
McNeese State (20-3) 52/65 311/51 0-0

Spotlight On: Gonzaga, Indiana State and FAU

The last of our three anomalies, none of which have the benefit of a power-conference safety net. All three certainly could win their conference tournaments to land an automatic qualifier and avoid any white-knuckling on Selection Sunday, and even runs to those conference title games might be enough to tip the scales. But as things stand right now, all three appear relatively safe based on the history of the NET, yet none should feel as such. Each has just one Q1 win. The Zags’ SOR is 43 and KPI is 67, with 18 of their 21 wins coming against Q3 and Q4 opponents. It’s a similar story for the Sycamores, whose metrics are better aligned but who also have 18 wins in the final two quadrants, as well as a Q4 loss. FAU dropped from 32 in the NET to 37 after Sunday’s road loss at Memphis, and the Owls have two Q4 losses.

Advertisement

Selection committee chair Charles McClelland is adamant that the committee is meticulous and obsessive about seeding the bracket. If that’s the case, there are several teams who will face far more scrutiny than the NET rankings suggest.

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

The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Top photos of Gonzaga’s Ben Gregg and Texas A&M’s Andersson Garcia: James Snook and Randy Sartin / USA Today)

 

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

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

Source

×