2024 NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Big day on SEC bubble


(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

Conference tournaments are here, and Selection Sunday is nigh, which means Bubble Watch is in full swing.

I’ll be making regular, daily updates to Bubble Watch from now until the bracket is revealed, so be sure to bookmark this page and check in all week as conference tourneys heat up and the NCAA Tournament field comes into focus. As soon as relevant games in each conference wrap up, I’ll have fresh thoughts on what it means for those teams and any other bubble watchers impacted by the results.

I’m in Kansas City covering the Big 12 tournament, but I’ll do my best to update things in real-time, and I’ll try to hop into the comments and answer questions as well. Even the mean ones.

An important note: An expanded “Movement” section for each conference will be refreshed as often as necessary, while the corresponding team charts will be updated each morning with accurate records, NET rankings and other metrics.

We’ll keep track of the number of auto-qualifiers as they roll in, whether or not there are any “bid thieves” among them, and how the math is shaping up for the rest of the field.

As a reminder for our team designations, “locks” are for teams we believe have wrapped up an at-large bid if they don’t win the AQ. Those schools can’t move off that line (a precedent Wisconsin has seemed intent on breaking for the past six weeks). “Projected to be in” is for teams that aren’t quite locks but aren’t on the bubble, either; that list should shrink rapidly as the week plays out. Same for “on the bubble,” which specifically applies to those bubble teams that are still alive in their conference tournaments. This week, we’re adding the “waiting game” category for teams that are on the bubble but have been bounced and can no longer impact their own resume. The closer we get to Sunday, the more teams will get divided into the “locks” and “waiting game” categories. And we promise it will all make sense.

ALERT: Even on a day with no conference title games on the schedule, we have a legit bid thief pending after Dayton’s loss to Duquesne on Thursday. Scroll down to the Others section for details.

The at-large spots are dwindling quickly.

Mississippi State is officially a lock with Friday’s win over Tennessee, advancing the Bulldogs to the SEC semifinals. Michigan State should be in as well after Friday’s loss to Purdue, but we’ll err on the side of caution for now and move the Spartans to the “waiting game” with so many matchups still left on the docket.

Allowing for the still lingering possibility of bubble AQs or outright bid thieves in the ACC, AAC, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC, there are probably only four to six at-large spots that are legitimately up for grabs, which is why still being alive in the conference tournament is such a valuable commodity at this stage. Conventional wisdom has the likes of Michigan State, Oklahoma and Seton Hall above the cut line, but those teams can’t do anything to improve their fate. Whereas the likes of Virginia, Pitt, Ohio State, Colorado and a few others can still pull a Mississippi State — or better yet, earn an automatic bid.

That explains the knot that is currently in the stomachs of Wake Forest, Villanova and — gulp — Indiana State, as those faint hopes of sneaking into an at-large spot are slipping further and further from their grasp.

I’ll keep updating where things stand for teams and conferences throughout the day, and be sure to check out Bracket Watch for those “last four in/first four out” specifics and keep up with everything that’s on in our live tracker. But in the fight for those final bubble spots, Mississippi State just reiterated that the most important thing one can have on the resume is a game still left to be played.

Automatic qualifiers (out of 32): 14 (1 possible bid thief – Drake)
Locks: 35
Projected to be in: 3
On the bubble: 2
Waiting game: 11

blake scaled


Pitt is likely on the wrong side of the cut line after Friday’s loss to North Carolina. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

ACC

Locks:

North Carolina,

Duke,

Clemson

Waiting game:

Virginia,

Wake Forest,

Pittsburgh

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Virginia (23-9)

50/63

78/25

2-6

Pitt (22-10)

40/40

83/42

4-5

Wake Forest (20-13)

44/28

67/62

1-7

Movement: We have another potential bid thief lurking: Keep your eyes peeled for NC State.

Virginia avoided a nervy few days of the waiting game with a dramatic overtime win against Boston College on Thursday but couldn’t repeat the formula on Friday, losing to the Wolfpack in OT. The Hoos are a question mark — good performance metrics, meh predictive metrics, 2-6 in Q1 — and currently project to be right on the edge. Personally, I think it will be tough for the committee to justify an at-large spot with just two Q1 wins, which is why UVA will be watching Sunday’s selection show with bated breath.

Oh Pitt. The Panthers came so close, winning 12 of their last 15 entering Friday, including road games at Duke and Virginia and twice over Wake Forest. But a 72-65 loss to No. 1 seed North Carolina in the ACC semifinals on Friday will probably put Pittsburgh on the wrong side of the cut line. Just barely. The predictive metrics are solid and the performance metrics have improved, with a resume average of 46.5 entering Friday. But of the respectable four Q1 wins, only one — at Duke — is in that top tier, and the nonconference strength of schedule is abysmal enough to turn off the committee when the bubble margins are so slim. I’m not ready to stick a fork in the Panthers just yet, so it’s off to the “waiting game” — where the odds are better than Wake’s — but still rather long.

Wake Forest is in trouble. The Demon Deacons were already just below the cut line in a lot of bracket predictions, making Thursday afternoon’s loss Pitt feel like a knockout punch for Steve Forbes and his crew. The metrics have been Wake’s saving grace thus far, but it’s tough to see a path for this team.

Big Ten

Locks:

Purdue,

Wisconsin,

Illinois,

Northwestern,

Nebraska

Waiting game:

Michigan State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Michigan State (19-13)

24/19

22/46

3-8

Ohio State (20-12)

53/49

65/53

3-6

Movement: Michigan State, one of the most divisive teams all season in terms of its metrics, is almost certainly in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large after Friday’s loss to Purdue. Considering they were projected as a 10-seed in that “last four byes” grouping entering the day, I’m going to move the Spartans to the “waiting game” for now, just to be safe until the rest of the day plays out and the metrics update on Saturday. But it would be an historic snub from a metrics standpoint if they are somehow left out. MSU’s resume still won’t blow anyone away, and I join so many others who are confounded by how good the predictive metrics continue to look, but with a bubble this soft, it will take significant chaos for the Spartans to drop.

So long, Buckeyes. Ohio State ascended to the bubble when it won six of seven after firing Chris Holtmann, including wins over Purdue, Nebraska and at Michigan State to add to Alabama on a neutral floor. But a three-point loss to Illinois on Friday more than likely leaves the Buckeyes on the outside looking in. A team sheet with a NET and strength of record in the 50s, nonconference strength of schedule in the 240s and three Q1 wins is unlikely to be enough. Heck of a surge by Ohio State, and interim Jake Diebler probably coached his way into a job, whether in Columbus or elsewhere. But too little too late as far as the bracket is concerned.

Big 12

Locks:

Baylor,

Houston,

Iowa State,

Kansas,

BYU,

Texas Tech,

Texas,

TCU

Waiting game:

Oklahoma,

Kansas State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Oklahoma (20-12)

45/45

18/32

4-12

Kansas State (19-14)

70/69

13/45

5-8

Movement: CU nabbed a somewhat misleading Q1 win over a depleted Oklahoma squad on Day 2 of the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners were down three of their top six scorers on Wednesday, including leading scorer Javian McCollum, who re-aggravated a shoulder injury last week. Despite the circumstances, the victory is enough to lock in the Frogs, who advance to face Houston on Thursday in Kansas City.

Oklahoma should still be in the field as well, but we’re going to shift them to “waiting game” for the time being, at least until we see how things shake out with a few more of these bubble teams and potential bid thieves.

That should be curtains for Kansas State’s at-large hopes after the loss to Iowa State on Thursday, but until we get a clearer sense of how many bid thieves emerge, we’ll leave the Wildcats on the “waiting game” line.

nova scaled


Justin Moore and Villanova have no margin for error left. (Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

Big East

Locks:

Marquette,

UConn,

Creighton

Waiting game:

Villanova,

Seton Hall,

St. John’s,

Providence

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Seton Hall (20-12)

65/61

27/40

5-8

St. John’s (20-12)

32/26

40/43

3-9

Providence (21-12)

57/53

38/37

6-8

Villanova (18-15)

39/34

16/64

4-11

Movement: Good luck to the committee when parsing these Big East bubble teams. Villanova and St. John’s have the edge in predictive metrics. Seton Hall and Providence have more Q1 wins and slightly stronger resume metrics. Nova beat Creighton away and North Carolina and Texas Tech on neutral floors but also lost to Saint Joe’s, Drexel and Penn in nonconference. The Friars beat Creighton twice, Marquette and Wisconsin, but also played 11 Quad 4 games. None of the Johnnies wins jump off the team sheet, but they would be a near-unprecedented snub in terms of their NET ranking. You can make a case for or against any of them, if you try hard enough.

One night after an uninspiring win over DePaul, Villanova put up a valiant effort, falling in overtime to Marquette. That probably burst the Wildcats’ very resilient bubble, but the strength of schedule and predictive numbers are enough to leave Kyle Neptune’s squad in the “waiting game.”

Nova joins Seton Hall, which will be white-knuckling it until Sunday evening after St. John’s beat them by 19 in the Big East tournament. The Pirates are still in according to most projections, but as other bubble teams and bid thieves stay alive, it’s been a stressful few days for the Pirates.

And now the Johnnies will have to wait and see as well. St. John’s may have played itself into the field with the win over Seton Hall, but it’s not quite enough to lift above the “waiting game” line following Friday’s loss to UConn. The predictive metrics are great, but three Q1 wins — the best being Creighton at home — leaves a lot to be desired.

Providence seemed to be squarely in that “last four in/first four out” mix ahead of Friday’s loss to Marquette. That one shouldn’t hurt the resume, but it all depends on what the committee values. And how those other bubble teams and bid thieves do over the next couple of days.

Pac-12

Lock:

Arizona,

Washington State

Projected to be in:

Colorado

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Colorado (23-9)

26/24

85/39

2-5

Movement: Props to Colorado. A semifinal win over Washington State on Friday gives the Buffs a third Q1 win, a 10-9 record in the top two quadrants, and further boosts the school’s already stellar metrics. I still feel like the metrics are inflated and the resume is underwhelming — the WSU victory is immediately and by far the best one of the season. But as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the metrics have proven to be a reliable guide in the past, and Colorado’s are too high to have on the bubble at this point. Until the committee proves it will a team with that profile out, CU gets bumped to the “projected to be in” line ahead of a Pac-12 title game that could remove all doubts.

And if not? Bid thief. Oregon’s win over Arizona on Friday isn’t enough to put the Ducks on the bubble. It does, however, put Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Bubble teams will be rooting hard against the Ducks on Saturday as they try to sneak into the dance.

su scaled


Tolu Smith and Mississippi State have thrown away some golden opportunities. (Petre Thomas / USA Today)

SEC

Locks:

Alabama,

Tennessee,

Auburn,

Kentucky,

Florida,

South Carolina,

Mississippi State

On the bubble:

Texas A&M

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Mississippi State (20-12)

41/37

42/47

3-8

Texas A&M (19-13)

46/48

23/49

5-6

Movement: Congrats to Mississippi State, which climbs from “on the bubble” to a lock courtesy its win over Tennessee on Friday. The Bulldogs dropped to the bubble with four straight losses to end the regular season, but re-solidified itself back into the bracket by knocking off the Vols and advancing to the SEC semis. They were probably in regardless, but that result removes all doubt.

It’s been a big day for the SEC bubble squad, with Texas A&M taking out Kentucky on Friday evening. The Aggies aren’t quite off the bubble just yet, but add a sixth Q1 win and advance to face the winner Florida vs Alabama. A&M is now 6-6 in Q1 and 13-8 in the top two quadrants with great SOS metrics. The biggest thing holding it back is 2-5 record in Q3, so we’ll leave the Aggies on the bubble for now, but they could elevate to “projected to be in” depending how the rest of the evening develops.

Mountain West

Lock:

San Diego State,

Boise State,

Utah State,

Nevada,

Colorado State

Projected to be in:

New Mexico

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

New Mexico (23-9)

23/27

87/63

4-6

Movement: New Mexico escaped bubble trouble with back-to-back wins over Boise State and Colorado State. Not a lock quite yet, but the Lobos have secured the “projected to be in” and should be fine win or lose against San Diego State in the Mountain West title game on Saturday.

robbie a scaled


Robbie Avila and Indiana State can only wait now. (Keith Gillett / AP)

Others

Lock:

Dayton,

Gonzaga

Projected to be in:

Florida Atlantic

On the bubble:

Princeton

Waiting game:

Indiana State

Automatic qualifiers:

Morehead State,

Longwood,

Stetson,

Drake,

James Madison,

Samford,

Charleston,

Wagner,

Oakland,

Saint Mary’s,

South Dakota State,

McNeese State,

Colgate,

Montana State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

FAU (24-7)

33/36

99/35

2-1

Indiana State (27-6)

28/44

130/41

1-4

Princeton (22-3)

49/56

190/27

0-0

Movement: A Q3 semifinal matchup with Temple will keep FAU on the “projected to be in” line for another day. The Owls are closer to a lock than the bubble, but the AAC remains a possible bid-thief conference.

We definitely have a bid thief in the Atlantic 10. Or at least we will come Sunday. No. 6 seed Duquesne defeated No. 3 seed Dayton, 65-57 on Thursday, knocking the A-10’s lone lock out of the conference tournament. Despite finishing third in the regular season, the Flyers were the only legit at-large candidate for the league, a reality reinforced when 1-seed Richmond and 2-seed Loyola Chicago both lost earlier on Thursday. Now bubble teams everywhere are cursing the Flyers, who opened the door for either Saint Joseph’s, VCU, St. Bonaventure or the Dukes — four teams with three combined Q1 wins — to sneak into the NCAA Tournament via the auto bid.

That’s one less spot up for grabs, and Indiana State could suffer for it after losing to Drake in a tightly contested MVC title game. It was the ideal scenario for the league to get two teams in, but the Sycamores have had to sit idle as other bubble teams and bid thieves percolate.

Princeton remains on the bubble as the No. 1 seed in the Ivy League’s four-team conference tournament, which begins on Saturday with a semifinal matchup against Brown.

The Bracket Central series is part of a partnership with E*TRADE

The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Top photo of Texas A&M’s Andersson Garcia and Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith and Shawn Jones Jr: Matthew Maxey / AP and Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today)





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