Is the NCAA Tournament bubble shrinking? Getting bigger? Staying the same size as every season?
It depends who you play and root for.
In short, after Saturday, the bubble is not being terribly kind to the ACC or Pac-12. There’s still time for all of these teams – North Carolina and Arizona State, namely – to fix things, but the window of opportunity is closing. All of the teams below could do themselves a favor by winning their respective conference tournaments. It would alleviate stress for both their coaching staff and fans, and give them momentum heading into the Big Dance. Seems reasonable, but?
Saturday takeaways: The Big 12 continues to make waves
NCAA Tournament automatic bids: Who has secured spots in March Madness?
Below are the bubble watch winners and losers from Saturday. Remember that everything can change day-to-day. This is an especially important note considering Rutgers, another bubble team, plays Sunday against Northwestern.
The best way to get off the bubble and make sure the committee thinks nice thoughts about you, of course, is to earn a statement win. The Tigers did exactly that with their 79-70 upset of No. 14 Tennessee – and they knew what was on the line.
“We’re at the point right now where it’s win or go home, so nobody’s worrying about their stats,” said Wendell Green Jr., who led the Tigers with 24 points. “We just lost to Kentucky and Alabama so we knew we had to get a win. We see all the bracketologists’ stuff, so we knew we needed to get a win.”
Thanks to Green for reading, too.
A 68-65 win over fellow bubble team Arizona State strengthens the Trojans’ argument, especially considering they controlled the game for more than 30 minutes (admittedly, things got a little dicey in the final couple of minutes).
The Trojans are about 15 spots ahead of ASU in the NET, too. This means if the Pac-12 is only destined to get three teams into the Big Dance, USC has a stronger case right now; UCLA and Arizona are already locks, of course. USC finishes as the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12, giving it a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Fresh legs are always nice if you’re trying to go on a run and lock up your spot.
The best argument the Cowboys have going for themselves is that they play in the toughest conference in America – every Big 12 team could probably win at least one NCAA Tournament game if they all got in. The second-best argument they have going for them after Saturday is that they won another game, beating Texas Tech 71-68. Now, Texas Tech isn’t one of the Big 12’s best teams, so OSU needs a solid Big 12 conference tournament to solidify its postseason plans.
What a difference a year makes. We’re nearing the anniversary of UNC’s national semifinal win over its hated rival, which not only vaulted the Tar Heels to the national championship game but ended the Hall of Fame career of one Mike Krzyzewski.
But that magic was nowhere to be found Saturday against the current Duke team. UNC lost 62-57 in a game that was gritty but definitely not pretty – and kept the Tar Heels squarely on the bubble.
Poor Pitt. Despite being towards the top of the ACC standings, no one really believes in the Panthers. Miami did pretty much everything it could to lose on its Senior Day, but Pitt couldn’t take advantage, falling 78-76.
On the surface, 14 conference wins seems solid – the problem is that the ACC is flat-out bad this year, and that could spell trouble for the Panthers if they make an early exit in the conference tournament. Should that happen, Pitt will join a few teams sweating out Selection Sunday.
Losing to a team right next to you in the standings is not the way to the selection committee’s heart, which makes Boise State’s 86-73 loss to Utah State a negative. The Broncos are likely still fine in terms of getting into the NCAA Tournament, but winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament would go a long way. (Boise State is the No. 2 seed. Utah State, also a bubble team, is the No. 3 seed and 19th-ranked San Diego State is the top seed and favorite to win.)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: North Carolina a big loser of the weekend