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Bubble watch: Duke and Indiana stumble; UConn bolsters NCAA Tournament profile

  | USA TODAY

The NCAA Tournament bubble fluctuates at a rapid rate in the final weeks leading up to Selection Sunday.

Such is the case for Connecticut, which started the day as the very last team out on the first four out list of USA TODAY Sports’ most recent bracketology. The Huskies simply took care of business by beating a middling Marquette team in Big East action. That same Marquette team just beat North Carolina, another team drifting near the bubble, earlier in the week. 

With Virginia Commonwealth, one of the last four in, losing to Davidson on Saturday, UConn (12-6, 9-6 Big East) likely will vault into the projected field with just two weeks before the 68 teams are unveiled. 

Here are the biggest winners and losers on the bubble from Saturday’s action. 

Winners

UConn. Coach Dan Hurley clearly has himself an NCAA Tournament team when leading scorer James Bouknight is on the court. How the NCAA selection committee assesses the team’s losses when Bouknight was out will be interesting. UConn’s NET score in the 40s should suffice but it could use another Quadrant 1 victory to add to the two on its profile. That cold come next week in a road clash vs. Seton Hall. 

North Carolina. The Tar Heels (15-8, 9-5 ACC) erased a 16-point deficit to come back and beat No. 9 Florida State, 78-70. It’s a win that likely will keep UNC in the projected field and helps offset a loss to Marquette earlier this week. North Carolina was missing marquee wins on its profile, and that problem was solved Saturday. 

Xavier. The Musketeers (12-5, 5-5 Big East) upset Creighton 77-69, in Big East play to help build their case for the selection committee. Adding a Quadrant 1 win is exactly what bubble teams need right now, and Xavier got one. This shifts them closer to a No. 10 seed over a less safe No. 11 seed. 

Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (13-8, 9-6 ACC) were one of the last four in entering Saturday and then got the best of Syracuse, 84-77, behind 31 points from Moses Wright. Beating another bubble team doesn’t always bolster the portfolio but it was a quality win that serves as a reminder to the committee for which team is better in a head-to-head clash. 

Colorado State. The Rams (15-4, 12-3 Mountain West) avoided a profile blemish by hammering Air Force, 72-49. As a projected No. 11 seed, CSU is safe for now but has to keep on winning. A 45 NET score is ideal, but another Quadrant 1 victory would help inch CSU to safety. 

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Losers

Duke. The Blue Devils (11-9, 9-7 ACC) got 37 points from Matthew Hurt but it wasn’t enough to take down Louisville in an 80-73 loss that likely pushes Duke out of the projected field. The Blue Devils’ top 50 NET score is decent but there just aren’t enough wins on this profile. The final two weeks will be crucial for Mike Krzyzewski and Co., who face Georgia Tech and North Carolina on the road to close the regular season. 

Indiana. Coach Archie Miller’s hot seat just got hotter. Granted it was wishful thinking to expect the Hoosiers (12-12, 7-10 Big Ten) to knock off first-place Michigan but now Indiana’s pathway to the NCAA Tournament just got tougher with the opportunity for a major profile-enhancing win gone. There just aren’t enough wins on this team’s portfolio to contend with other bubble teams at the moment. 

Minnesota. The Gophers (13-12, 6-12) suffered a resume-staining loss to Big Ten bottom-feeder Nebraska, 78-74. That’s exactly what Minnesota doesn’t need to build its case for the committee in crunch time. As one of the “first four out” starting the day, now Minnesota will be further down the bubble — away from inclusion

Syracuse. The Orange (13-8, 7-7 ACC) have now lost to two fellow ACC bubble teams — Duke earlier this week and Georgia Tech on Saturday. Syracuse draws yet another bubble team in North Carolina on Monday. A NET score in the 50s and zero Quadrant 1 victories is a problem for this team. 

VCU. The Rams (17-6, 11-4 Atlantic 10) fell out of first place in the Atlantic 10 with a 65-57 loss to Davidson. They also dipped out of the projected field. The Atlantic 10 has several bubble teams (Saint Bonaventure, Richmond and Saint Louis are the others) so whichever team doesn’t get the automatic bid likely will be sweating big time. 

Boise State. The Broncos (18-6, 14-5 Mountain West) lost to San Diego State, 62-58, and now are far less safe than they were when they started the day as a No. 9 seed. Both SDSU and Boise State were in the same seeding range so whichever team lost was going to drift closer toward the bubble. 

Georgia. The Bulldogs (14-10, 7-10 SEC) lost to South Carolina, a basement SEC team, 91-70. Their barely-in-the-mix résumé was suspect before that ugly setback. A NET score in the 80s and non-conference strength of schedule of 252 all but solidify this team’s fate: out of the tournament. 

Ole Miss. The Rebels (13-10, 8-8 SEC) suffered what every bubble teams tries to avoid in a loss to SEC doormat Vanderbilt, 75-70. Ole Miss’s NET score is in the 50s and a non-conference strength of schedule of 256 stands out in a bad way. After breathing life into its postseason fate with a win over Missouri, losing to Vanderbilt was the worst follow-up imaginable. 

NCAA Tournament language explainer:

  • NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
  • Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
  • Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
  • Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson

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