In or Out? Handicapping bubble teams prior to Selection Sunday
As we get closer to the NCAA Tournament, Rivals.com embraces the bubble debate with a daily look at the teams on the fringes of March Madness. Analysts Rob Cassidy, Jamie Shaw and Dan McDonald will look at three bubble teams per day and attempt to predict whether they'll be dancing or find themselves on the outside looking in when the bracket is released. Keep in mind, this is not a look at how teams stack up now. Instead, it’s an attempt to project how things will look when Selection Sunday arrives.
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“Syracuse has work left to do, as it has just one Quad 1 victory this season. I don’t totally trust the Orange to play themselves into the field this week, either. Their first-round game with NC State is no gimme, after all. Yes, they won the last meeting by nine points, but it was a one-point game at the half and the Wolfpack turned the ball over 20 times in the contest. If Jim Boeheim's crew gets through round one, it’s conceivable that it would still need to upset Virginia to completely remove themselves from the bubble. I see this as an uphill battle.”
“I’m betting on Boeheim finding a way to do just enough to be in when the bracket comes out on Sunday. The Orange won five of their last seven coming into the ACC Tournament, with two good wins over North Carolina and Clemson to finish it off. They have been playing well enough that I think they beat NC State in the opening round and don’t be surprised if they knock off Virginia on Thursday.”
“I think this is the year of the mid-major, and the committee will reward a good mid-major program over a middling high-major. This year, Syracuse is 1-6 in Quad 1 games, it is 2-7 on the road and it has a bad Quad 3 loss to Pittsburgh. I don't like the Orange's resume for an NCAA Tournament team, barring a long ACC tournament run. They start with NC State and the winner of that game will then get No. 1 seed Virginia. Syracuse should need to win at least those two to have a chance.”
"Utah State needs a couple wins and possibly even a little luck when it comes to bid stealers in other leagues. I love the Aggies and think they’re a blast to watch. I’m simply playing the probabilities here, as it seems as though a number of things need to break their way in order to capture an at-large berth. Early-season losses to BYU, South Dakota State and VCU, combined with being swept by conference rival Boise State give the committee an easy excuse if they’re looking to cut a mid-major. Utah State has made itself too easy to dismiss."
“I think Utah State will need to run the table in the Mountain West Tournament this weekend to find itself on a bracket Sunday. There just aren’t enough quality wins on the Aggies' resume for them to steal a spot from an equally deserving team in a power conference. Back-to-back wins over San Diego State are nice, but I just don’t see enough of a pop elsewhere for them to make it in.”
The good news is the Mountain West could get three teams in the tournament this year. The bad news is I think Boise State and Colorado State are in a better position to join San Diego State. Utah State has a Top 50 NET ranking and they have won the previous two Mountain West Conference Tournaments, but that was behind the play of (now departed) Sam Merrill, who had the ability to carry a team. The Aggies have a college star and potential pro in Neemias Queta and they have someone in their rotation with an NCAA ring in Marco Anthony. Why I drag my feet with them is the two Quad 3 losses. They are 2-4 in Quad 1 games and their starting point guard is a freshman (guards win games in the tournament).
Xavier has not been particularly great lately. That’s not up for debate. Then again, neither is the fact that the Musketeers seem to be miles better than how they’ve played down the stretch and seem more deserving than a handful of teams that are considered solidly in as we speak. Zach Freemantle is the kind of player that can lead this team to a couple massive Big East Tournament wins. Look, if the Musketeers can get past a Butler team they’ve owned this season and a Creighton squad with a suspended head coach, they should find themselves solidly in the tournament. I’m not sure that’s a massive ask for a program that took down Oklahoma earlier this season.
“Like Syracuse, I think Xavier has some work to do this week in the Big East Tournament, but I think the Musketeers do just enough to get one of those last four spots. They should get by Butler on Wednesday and then the Creighton game will probably decide whether they get in or not. They lost a close one at Creighton and beat the Bluejays at home a couple weeks ago. Travis Steele’s bunch hasn’t played its best basketball since coming back from the last pause, but I think they’ll be ready to play this week and earn their spot.”
“This is the one I went back and forth on, because it's one where the eye test and the analytics collide. The eye test tells me I like their roster makeup, with toughness, good guard play, a veteran big and some perimeter guys who are not afraid to take big shots. The analytics tell me this is a team who started off 10-2, and is now hobbling into the Big East Tournament at 2-5 over their last seven games. Xavier has no Quad 3 or 4 losses, which is good, but it is 6-7 in Quad 1 and 2 games. Xavier starts the Big East Tournament with Butler, which Xavier is 2-0 against so far this season, and the winner of that game gets Creighton, with whom Xavier split 1-1. I think all they need to do is win the Butler game and they will be safe, but beat Creighton as well and the Musketeers are playing with house money.”