Bubble watch heats up as tourneys start in power conferences
The suspense begins to build Wednesday for teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble as more of the major conferences begin postseason play.
While the Atlantic Coast Conference began its tournament Tuesday, the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference and Big East all open tournament competition Wednesday. Here are some questions regarding the NCAA Tournament field that still need to be answered.
How many of the so-called blueblood programs are making it in?: One of the main stories of this unusual season has been the way many established powers have struggled more than usual. Kansas and North Carolina have been up and down, but Kansas remains a lock for an NCAA bid and North Carolina figures to make it as well. Duke has more reason to worry, while Kentucky’s only hope is to win the SEC Tournament.
How many teams make it from the Big Ten?: As strong as the Big Ten has been this season, its bubble teams haven’t played well lately, with Michigan State being the notable exception. No. 3 Illinois, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Iowa and No. 9 Ohio State are likely No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Purdue and Wisconsin will make the field as well. Rutgers, Maryland and Michigan State have reason to be optimistic but shouldn’t take anything for granted. That makes Thursday’s Michigan State-Maryland and Rutgers-Indiana matchups particularly interesting.
Will Drake join Missouri Valley rival Loyola-Chicago in the field?: Drake won’t be playing again this week after losing to No. 18 Loyola in the MVC championship game Sunday. That means the Bulldogs will be watching the other conference tournaments anxiously. Plenty of mock brackets currently have Drake among the last teams in the field. The Bulldogs need to root against other bubble teams and hope nobody makes a Cinderella run through a conference tournament to steal a bid away.
Can the Mountain West Conference get multiple bids?: No. 19 San Diego State is a sure bet to earn an NCAA bid. Boise State, Colorado State and Utah State also have shots to make it, but none of those teams can afford an early loss in the Mountain West Tournament that starts Wednesday in Las Vegas. Utah State particularly needs a big week.
Will the ACC bubble teams deliver on Wednesday?: This is the tournament to watch on Wednesday with Syracuse, North Carolina, Louisville and Duke all playing as they try to secure bids. Syracuse faces North Carolina State, Louisville meets Duke and North Carolina faces Notre Dame.
Tuesday’s games didn’t have much impact on the bubble, but here’s a look at teams that helped or hurt their chances.
Duke (12-11, 9-9 ACC): Duke probably didn’t help itself much by throttling Boston College 86-51 in the first round of the ACC Tournament, but a loss would have completely knocked the Blue Devils out of at-large consideration. Duke probably needs to win at least a couple more games to give itself any realistic hope for a bid. The Blue Devils haven’t missed an NCAA Tournament since 1995.
Pittsburgh (10-12, 6-10 ACC): The Panthers had realistic NCAA hopes before a late-season collapse that culminated with a 79-73 loss to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Pitt has lost seven of its last eight games.
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