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Bracketology 2021: With two at-large bids zapped, the bubble is an uncomfortable place

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Yesterday, nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong for bubble teams. Well, other than Houston holding off Memphis in the second American Athletic semifinal.

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- San Diego St vs Utah St
Utah State could have made things easier for themselves on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

This morning’s full bracket

NET info is current as of the morning of Sunday, March 14, 2021. All data reflects games against Division I opposition only and originates from WarrenNolan.com’s selection sheets. WAB info from BartTorvik.com. Logos from SportsLogos.net. All times are Eastern.

Last Four Byes

Michigan State, UCLA, VCU, Maryland

This group changed as a result of Georgetown and Oregon State’s conference championship wins and another examination of the at-large pool on my part. Remember that VCU controls its own bid destiny, as the Rams meet fellow bubble team St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 title game (1 p.m., CBS). Look for the Bonnies to drop down into this group with a loss in Dayton.

Last Four In

Syracuse

Record: 16-9 (9-7 ACC); 3-8 R/N; 1-7 vs. Quad 1; 6-1 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: North Carolina (1-1, H win), Clemson (1-1, H win), Virginia Tech (H)
Bad Losses: Pittsburgh (0-2)
NET: 40
Strength of Record (SOR): 41
KenPom: 41
Sagarin: 34
Wins Above Bubble (WAB): 0.5 (45th)

Syracuse’s advanced metrics rose after Thursday’s loss to Virginia at the buzzer. With Georgetown’s win on Saturday, Seton Hall on the outside looking in, and Duke also on the wrong side of the cut line, Jim Boeheim’s squad owns two more wins over teams in the field than ACC rival Louisville. But much like the Cardinals, all of the Orange’s quality wins came at the Dome. While Syracuse could have really used a victory over a Virginia, leaving the Selection Committee with a strong final impression might just be enough. With their archrivals now in, Orange fans will be cheering hard against another former league rival, Cincinnati, in this afternoon’s American final (3:15 p.m., ESPN).

Louisville

Record: 13-7 (8-5 ACC); 5-4 road/netural (R/N); 1-6 vs. Quad 1; 6-0 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: Georgia Tech (H), Virginia Tech (H), Duke (H/A), Seton Hall (H)
Bad Losses: Miami (Fla.) (A)
NET: 56
SOR: 36
KenPom: 54
Sagarin: 40
WAB: 1.3 (39th)

For a team that many of us in the bracketology racket had safely in the field just as a week ago, I still can’t understand why that was the case. Not only does Louisville have a middling 7-6 record in games against Quad 1 and 2 opponents, but just two of those victories came against teams currently projected in the field—Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Plus, both came on the Cardinals’ home floor. This is a squad that, should it qualify, looks destined to play an extra game. However, by losing to Duke on Wednesday, Chris Mack’s squad risked being passed by surprise auto bid winners, including former conference mate Cincy.

Drake

Record: 23-4 (15-3 MVC); 12-2 R/N; 1-2 vs. Quad 1; 5-0 vs. Quad 2
NET: 45
SOR: 46
KenPom: 53
Sagarin: 70
WAB: 1.5 (36th)

After a couple of days among the “Last Four Byes” group, Drake is back near the cut line, thanks to circumstances beyond its control. That’s a theme for the Bulldogs in 2020-21 because had they gotten the opportunity to play (and defeat) Colorado during their common season-opening exempt event at Kansas State, we might not be having this discussion. Instead, Drake was scheduled against, and defeated, the hosts (183rd in the NET) and South Dakota (178th) in Manhattan. When Darian DeVries’s squad finally got its chance at a top-tier squad, it was blown out at home by eventual Arch Madness champ Loyola by 37 in game one. Amazingly, the Bulldogs managed to win the rematch the following day by a single point in overtime to earn their solitary Quad 1 victory. Honestly, it’s Drake’s losses that hurt more than anything else, as the defeat against the Ramblers and a 17-point loss at 228th-ranked Valparaiso, combined with another bad loss, to No. 174 Bradley, have helped to deflate the Bulldogs’ NET.

However, Drake’s great overall record, 6-2 mark in Quad 1 and 2 games, and impressive record away from the Knapp Center should result in a bid, particularly with the quality of teams around them.

Utah State

Record: 19-8 (15-5 MW); 10-7 R/N; 2-5 vs. Quad 1; 2-1 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: San Diego State (2-1 2 H W, 1 N L), Colorado State (2-1 1 H W, N)
Bad Losses: South Dakota State (N), UNLV (2-1 A)
NET: 39
SOR: 64
KenPom: 40
Sagarin: 50
WAB: -1.1 (65th)

Utah State could not claim its third straight Mountain West title, so the Aggies now have an anxious Sunday ahead of them. Will a pair of home wins over San Diego State and home and neutral-site wins be enough for Craig Smith’s team?

If Utah State ends up out, a home loss to BYU and a disappointing 1-2 trip to Sioux Falls to start the season might combine to cost the Aggies a bid.

First Four Out

Saint Louis

Record: 14-6 (6-4 Atlantic 10); 2-5 R/N; 2-2 vs. Quad 1; 2-2 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: Saint Bonaventure (H), LSU (H)
Bad Losses: Dayton (0-2), La Salle (A)
NET: 43
SOR: 61
KenPom: 47
Sagarin: 52
WAB: -0.8 (60th)

Over the past few days, there were rumors that Travis Ford was trying to line up a non-conference game to bolster Saint Louis’s case. Well, the NCAA put the kibosh on that. So, the Billikens are stuck with their profile. Therefore, an inability to win away from Chaifetz Arena and scheduling issues created by CoVID look likely to conspire to keep SLU out. Sure, Saint Louis has Quad 1 wins over LSU and Saint Bonaventure, along with Quad 2 victories over Richmond and NC State, but road losses to Dayton (part of a season sweep), VCU, and (most damagingly) La Salle are all red flags. Plus, losing by 18 to the Bonnies in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals means the Billikens left the Committee with a lousy final impression.

Wichita State

Record: 14-5 (11-2 American); 6-3 R/N; 2-3 vs. Quad 1; 2-1 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: Houston (1-1 HW), Ole Miss (A)
Bad Losses: Cincinnati (N)
NET: 72
SOR: 42
KenPom: 74
Sagarin: 64
WAB: 1.3 (40th)

Wichita State played with fire on Friday, when the Shockers defeated USF by just one, and got burned on Saturday, losing to Cincinnati by the same margin. Despite their performance in Fort Worth, Issac Brown’s first Shocker team is within striking distance of a bid, thanks to a good home win over Houston, a potential tie-breaking victory at Ole Miss, and a lack of bad losses. Wichita State’s metrics are all over the place, with Wins Above Bubble and strength of record having the Shockers within at-large range (though the Shockers’ WAB ranking dropped eight spots after Saturday’s loss), while NET, KenPom, and Sagarin are more sanguine. The Shockers’ NET dropped by eight this morning, knocking them out of the top 70, while their SOR rank dropped by 10 places. Oregon State’s win last night looks like it’s popped Wichita State’s bubble, but a Cincinnati win over Houston this afternoon might just finish the job.

Ole Miss

Record: 16-11 (10-8 SEC); 6-7 R/N; 3-5 vs. Quad 1; 4-4 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: Tennessee (H), Missouri (H, A)
Bad Losses: Georgia (0-2), Mississippi State (1-1, A win), Dayton (A), Wichita State (H), Vanderbilt (A)
NET: 53
SOR: 63
KenPom: 48
Sagarin: 57
WAB: -1.3 (69th)

For a time on Friday night, it looked like Ole Miss was going to leap into the field by toppling LSU. The Rebels ended up falling, but since the Tigers only won by a 76-73 score, the result didn’t do too much damage to Mississippi’s metrics. If the Selection Committee puts extra weight on computer numbers in this most disjointed of seasons, the Rebels might end up as a surprise at-large. While Ole Miss has some strong wins, there are too many questionable losses that could give the Committee a reason to leave Kermit Davis’s team out.

Boise State

Record: 17-8 (14-6 MW); 7-7 R/N; 2-4 vs. Quad 1; 2-3 vs. Quad 2
Quality Wins: BYU (A), Colorado State (1-1 A), Utah State (2-0 H)
Bad Losses: Nevada (0-3), Fresno State (1-1 H)
NET: 50
SOR: 70
KenPom: 60
Sagarin: 58
WAB: -0.7 (59th)

Heading into Thursday, Boise State’s Wins Above Bubble mark was right at zero, making the Broncos the quintessential bubble team. However, after an 89-82 loss to Nevada—the Broncos’ third to the Wolf Pack—that’s no longer the case. While Leon Rice’s squad owns the best win of any of the three Mountain West teams hanging around the cut line— at WCC runner-up BYU, and a sweep of Utah State, the Broncos also own four of the worst losses.

Boise State ended the season by dropping four straight, two of which did not feature forward Abu Kigab. However, the Selection Committee generally considers injuries only during seeding, not selection, which does not work to the Broncos’ benefit.

Next Four Out

Duke, Colorado State, Memphis, Seton Hall