2024 NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Villanova hangs on for dear life – The Athletic

Justin WilliamsMar 14, 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.


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): 14 (1 possible bid thief – Drake)
Locks: 34
Projected to be in: 2
On the bubble: 19
Waiting game: 2

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


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

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Virginia (22-9) 52/68 78/31 2-7
Wake Forest (20-12) 36/23 75/63 1-7
Pitt (21-10) 45/46 83/49 3-5

Movement: Wake Forest’s win over Notre Dame on Wednesday doesn’t do a ton to help its bubble standing, but it keeps the Demon Deacons in the mix for another day and sets up a critical bubble showdown with Pitt on Thursday afternoon. Also, Virginia Tech’s loss to Florida State early on Wednesday eliminates a fringe bubble team that could have been disruptive if the Hokies made a run. The Hoos end 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. Virginia’s performance metrics outpace the predictive ones, which is the opposite for Pitt and should help Virginia’s case between the two, particularly if either loses on Thursday.


Big Ten

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

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Northwestern (21-10) 51/41 50/27 5-6
Nebraska (22-9) 38/30 70/23 4-7
Michigan State (18-13) 23/19 17/45 4-8
Iowa (18-13) 59/52 20/53 3-9
Ohio State (19-12) 55/50 63/64 3-6

Movement: We’ve seen enough elsewhere to officially move Northwestern and Nebraska to the lock line, where they’ve been trending for the past couple weeks. Even if both were to lose on Friday after a double-bye, nothing has happened thus far that suggests they would be in any danger of dropping to the bubble.

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 still isn’t a lock after a win over Minnesota on Thursday, but it remains in the field and above the bubble. A win on Friday over Purdue would absolutely put a bow on lock status, while a loss probably keeps them in the waiting game pending other bubble teams and bid thieves. The Spartans’ metrics are tournament-caliber, but that’s the case for a number of bubble teams at the moment, and the resume still leaves something to be desired.

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 cutline, 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, TCU Waiting game: Oklahoma On the bubble: Kansas State, Cincinnati

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Oklahoma (20-12) 44/43 15/30 4-12
Kansas State (19-13) 68/65 19/40 5-7
Cincinnati (20-13) 34/33 36/56 4-10

Movement: TCU nabbed a somewhat misleading Q1 win over a depleted Oklahoma squad on Day 2 of the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners were down three of their top six scorers on Wednesday, including leading scorer Javian McCollum, who re-aggravated a shoulder injury last week. Despite the circumstances, the victory is enough to lock in the Frogs, who advance to face Houston on Thursday in Kansas City. Oklahoma should still be in the field, but we’re going to shift it to “waiting game” for the time being, at least until we see how things shake out with a few more of these bubble teams and potential bid thieves. There’s a good chance the Sooners become a lock before Selection Sunday, so long as nothing truly crazy happens.

Elsewhere in the conference, Kansas State held on for a 78-74 win over Texas on Wednesday evening to stay on the bubble, and Cincinnati is lurking after a definitive, 20-point win (and another misleading Q1 victory) over a short-handed Kansas that was without first-team, all-Big 12 standouts Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. Cincinnati remains below the cut line, but what the heck — a win over Baylor on Thursday puts the Bearcats squarely in the mix.

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) 64/56 35/33 5-7
Villanova (18-14) 40/35 24/60 4-10
St. John’s (19-12) 39/29 32/44 4-9
Providence (20-12) 62/59 45/46 5-8

Movement: More bubble-on-bubble action on deck in the Big East tournament, where Seton Hall and St. John’s will battle on Thursday. Providence and Villanova claimed must-win games on Wednesday — Providence over Georgetown, Nova just barely squeaking one out over DePaul — but both need one more to feel any sense of comfort on Selection Sunday. Nova, despite Wednesday’s uninspiring performance, 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 Wildcats face Marquette on Thursday and the Friars get Creighton. That comes after the Pirates and the Johnnies have their 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.



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

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
Colorado (22-9) 26/26 85/42 2-5
Utah (19-13) 48/49 47/67 4-8

Movement: The Buffs will not go away quietly, winning at Oregon and Oregon State last week to stand firm on the bubble, although road wins over Washington and the Ducks are the team’s only Q1s wins. A victory on Thursday in the Pac-12 quarterfinals remains imperative, but Colorado is currently in a better position than Utah, which just lost two in a row to the same Oregon teams and now needs at least a couple of 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, remain in contention after a blowout win over Arizona State late Wednesday.

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


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) 42/40 37/52 3-8
Texas A&M (18-13) 47/48 18/54 5-6

Movement: Mississippi State pushed the bubble limits with four straight losses to end the regular season, when winning any of them might have been enough to keep them comfortably in the field. The Bulldogs, who do have quality home wins over Tennessee and Auburn, picked up a must-win over LSU on Thursday after coming back from a halftime deficit. Up next? No. 1 seed Vols. Pick up a second win over Tennessee on Friday, and you can etch Mississippi State into the bracket. A loss won’t knock them out, but it would likely be off to “waiting game” purgatory for the Bulldogs as the bubble sorts itself out.

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, Colorado State On the bubble: New Mexico

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
New Mexico (22-9) 25/32 89/71 3-6

Movement: Colorado State’s win over San Jose St. on Wednesday avoids a bad loss and cements the Rams as a lock for the NCAA Tournament, with a second-round matchup against Nevada set for Thursday. That’s five locks now for the Mountain West. New Mexico, however, remains 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 are only two Q1 wins. New Mexico seems to be wading in the “last four in/first four out” group, a fate that hasn’t changed with Wednesday’s Q4 win over Air Force.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 aren’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)


Lock: Dayton, Gonzaga Projected to be in: Florida Atlantic On the bubble: Princeton, Memphis Waiting game: Indiana State Automatic qualifiers: Morehead State, Longwood, Stetson, Drake, James Madison, Samford, Charleston, Wagner, Oakland, Saint Mary’s, South Dakota State, McNeese State, Colgate, Montana State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1
FAU (24-7) 32/37 98/34 2-2
Indiana State (27-6) 27/42 130/39 1-4
Princeton (22-3) 49/57 195/29 0-0
Memphis (22-9) 70/71 99/62 1-3

Movement: James Madison punched its ticket with a blowout win in the Sun Belt championship game on Monday evening over Arkansas State, moving the Dukes off the bubble and onto the automatic qualifier line.

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 MVC. 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. Princeton remains on the bubble as the No. 1 seed in the Ivy League’s four-team conference tournament, which begins on Saturday with a semifinal matchup against Brown. 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 puts 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


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 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