This is the final weekend of college basketball’s regular season and for many teams, their next loss will officially end their pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. Sure, the games on Saturday and Sunday count the same on a team’s resume as a game from November or January but there’s a much greater sense of urgency and desperation on March 9 versus November 9 or January 9.
Here’s a look at the NCAA Tournament bubble teams that were winners and losers on the final Saturday of the regular season.
There are many candidates but Seton Hall might be the perfect microcosm for the Big East this season.
The Pirates lost their second and third games of the season – 80-57 at Nebraska and 66-64 at home to Saint Louis. Less than a month later they beat Kentucky on a neutral court.
After a 2-0 start in Big East play, they lost five of their next six.
Seton Hall recovered and climbed over .500 in conference play with a three-game winning streak against Creighton, Georgetown and Creighton again.
The Pirates followed that up with three losses to Xavier, St. John’s and Georgetown, only one of which is a likely NCAA Tournament team. That left them with a 7-9 record in Big East pay and 16-12 record overall heading into a pair of home games against Marquette and Villanova – clearly the two best teams in the conference.
What did Seton Hall do?
Win both, making a desperate push for an at-large bid.
The Pirates’ 79-75 victory over the Wildcats improved Seton Hall’s record in Quadrant 1 to 6-6 and it may have guaranteed an at-large bid for all intents and purposes.
[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]
Conference records aren’t an official NCAA Tournament selection criteria but they (often) be used as a barometer for where teams stand in regards to the bubble. TCU arrived in Austin, Texas, with a 6-11 record in Big 12 play and in the past six years of the conference’s current 10-team format, eight wins has been the threshold for at-large candidacy.
Six of the nine Big 12 teams that have gone 8-10 in conference play since 2013 have made the NCAA Tournament. But a Big 12 team hasn’t made the tournament after going 7-11.
The Horned Frogs will have the chance to be the first after they won 69-56 at Texas, which gave them their third Quadrant 1 win of the season.
As we wrote earlier this year, the NCAA Tournament bubble is inherently weak. Sure, there are “stronger” and “weaker” bubbles but the seemingly annual story line that “this is the weakest bubble in years” is probably overplayed and frankly, untrue.
However, given the down year in the Pac-12 and the Big East, plus the lack of multiple at-large candidates from the A-10, there are bubble teams this season that would likely be further down the list of bubble teams in a normal year. Take Clemson, for example.
The Tigers are 1-9 in Quadrant 1. The ACC offered them nine chances for a Quadrant 1 win (they had another in non-conference play against Mississippi State) and they only capitalized on one of them.
But a 67-55 win at home over Syracuse on Saturday may have slid Clemson to the right side of the bubble – for now.
Clemson is 6-3 in Quadrant 2 after beating Syracuse and the Tigers will play in the No. 8/9 game in the ACC Tournament. If they win, they’ll play the No. 1 seed in the next round.
The Tigers are far from safe but adding another Quadrant 2 win (and avoiding another loss) still made for a productive Saturday.
The Wolfpack were among the Last Four In of Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections, which were published Friday. With the potential for bid stealers, teams in the Last Four In can’t even feel safe as conference tournament action heats up.
NC State added another Quadrant 2 win after defeating Boston College 73-47 on the road. The Wolfpack are now 6-0 in Quadrant 2, which is a fairly strong record, given its 2-8 mark in Quadrant 1.
NC State will face Clemson in the No. 8/9 game in the ACC Tournament and each team could probably use one more, if not two, quality win to feel safe on Selection Sunday.
What an unspeakably strange week it was for Georgetown. Three days after losing by 32 points at DePaul, the Hoyas won 86-84 at No. 16 Marquette Saturday, which improved their Quadrant 1 record to 4-6.
In Friday’s NCAA Tournament projections, Georgetown was among the Next Four Out so the Hoyas’ latest win moved them even closer to an at-large bid. It might take at least two wins in the Big East Tournament for Georgetown to make the NCAA Tournament but Saturday’s win gives the Hoyas a real shot at making the tournament as they head to Madison Square Garden.
The Musketeers finished tied for third in the Big East after winning six of their final seven regular season games, capped off by an 81-68 win over St. John’s at home on Saturday. Exactly a month ago, Xavier was alone in last place in the conference but the Musketeers had a strong close to the season.
They were among the Next Four Out in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections, which were published before the team’s Quadrant 2 win over St. John’s. It would probably take at least two wins for Xavier, which is 17-14, to move into the projected NCAA Tournament field.
The Owls added a third Quadrant 1 win on Saturday, when they defeated UCF 67-62, which likely secured four NCAA Tournament bids for the AAC. Temple will enter its conference tournament with a 23-8 record and only one bad loss (at home to Penn, a Quadrant 3 defeat).
Temple Coach Fran Dunphy will almost certainly end his coaching career with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Spartans were among the First Four Out of Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections and they won their Southern Conference quarterfinal matchup against Samford 77-70 on Saturday. It was a Quadrant 3 win for UNC Greensboro so that win alone won’t move the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament field but it kept their hopes alive for both an at-large and automatic bid.
Next up is the winner of Furman and Mercer in the semifinals. Wofford and East Tennessee State are on the other side of the conference tournament bracket.
After sitting at 14-14 overall and 5-10 in the SEC two weeks ago, Arkansas is now 17-14 (8-10 SEC) after finishing the regular season on a three-game winning streak. The Razorbacks beat Alabama 82-70 in their regular season finale as those two schools moved in different directions in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Arkansas was in the Next Four Out of Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections so it needed to beat Alabama to keep its at-large hopes alive. With a 1-9 Quadrant 1 record, the Razorbacks likely need to make a run in the SEC Tournament to seriously entertain an at-large bid.
The Longhorns are going to test NCAA Tournament history and precedents for at-large bids after their 69-56 home loss to TCU on Saturday. It was their 15th loss of the season and no at-large team has made the NCAA Tournament with more than 15 losses.
Texas is just one game over .500 and that might be as big of a concern as the team’s number of losses.
At this point, Texas will need to either become the first team to earn an at-large bid with 16 losses or it will need to win the Big 12 Tournament to win the conference’s auto-bid. The third, and increasingly likely, outcome is that the Longhorns miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.
The Gators were among the Last Four In of Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections and they’ll enter the SEC Tournament with a 17-14 record and a 3-11 mark in Quadrant 1 games after losing 66-57 at No. 6 Kentucky. Florida led 31-30 at halftime and the Gators led 40-39 with less than 14 minutes to play but the Wildcats pulled away down the stretch at home.
With two Quadrant 3 losses and only three Quadrant 1 wins, Florida will likely be in trouble if it loses its first game in the SEC Tournament.
The Red Storm were 3-1 against Villanova and Marquette in the regular season and 5-9 against the rest of the Big East. St. John’s finished Big East play with a losing record after falling 81-68 at Xavier on Saturday.
The Musketeers were without sophomore Naji Marshall, who’s arguably the teams best player, and they still won by double digits.
St. John’s was a No. 10 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections so it might have some breathing room in terms of the bubble but it probably needs to win a game in the Big East Tournament to avoid sweating on Selection Sunday.
The Crimson Tide finished the regular season on a three-game losing streak after losing 82-70 at Arkansas on Saturday. Both teams sit at 17-14 overall (8-10 SEC) and Alabama missed out on a chance for another Quadrant 1 with the loss, just like it did in its previous two games against LSU and Auburn.
The Crimson Tide will enter the SEC Tournament with a 3-9 record in Quadrant 1. A 6-3 Quadrant 2 record and a 5-2 Quadrant 3 record aren’t particularly redeeming for a team with a lopsided Quadrant 1 record.
Alabama was a No. 11 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections but it might be firmly on the bubble after its latest loss.