Sports

Saturday’s winners and losers among tourney fringe teams

Indiana got off on the right foot in March by upsetting Michigan State for the second time this season Saturday — getting its first winning streak of the New Year. 

The Hoosiers (15-14 6-12 Big Ten) had lost 12 of 13 before this week began, but Tuesday’s overtime win against Wisconsin and the upset of the Spartans pushes them right into the equation for bubble teams that are fighting to squeeze into the field of 68 on Selection Sunday, two weeks from now. 

Coach Archie Miller was asked on Fox after the win what it meant for Indiana’s NCAA tournament hopes. 

“We’ll be right there (as a contending bubble team),” he said, hardly exhaling any anxiety. “But we still have to win.” 

Indiana is doing exactly what borderline teams from power conferences must do by putting all its past losses to good teams in the rear-view mirror and gaining new life here in March as the urgency fully sets in.

But Miller knows 15 wins isn’t enough to make the NCAA tournament, and how his team finishes out the last two weeks will make or break its postseason fate. 

Here’s a look at Saturday’s biggest winners and losers on the NCAA tournament bubble:

Winners

Indiana: The Hoosiers beat Michigan State 63-62 to add another Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 road) victory to their résumé. Two wins against Michigan State, to go along with victories against Marquette, Wisconsin and Louisville, will stand out as eye candy to the selection committee. Indiana has no résumé stains, but ultimately more wins are needed because this team’s 58 ranking on the NET, the NCAA’s replacement for the RPI, isn’t great. A road game at Illinois and home game vs. Rutgers is ideal to close out the regular season. Win those and maybe a game in the Big Ten tournament and then the credentials will be tournament-worthy for Miller’s team. 

Georgetown: In a battle between two Big East bubble teams, the Hoyas (18-11, 8-8 Big East) got the best of Seton Hall in a 77-71 double-overtime thriller. It’s these types of games that could serve as de facto elimination games in the eyes of the selection committee. Georgetown entered the day as one of the “first four teams out” in the projected field, while Seton Hall entered as one of the “last four teams in.” While no profile is the same, there’s a strong chance these middling Big East teams swap spots based on this result. In reality, both these teams have work to do, and in Georgetown’s case a non-conference strength of schedule of 247 could be a dealbreaker. 

Central Florida: As far as résumé-boosting wins go, Central Florida’s 69-64 victory against American Athletic leader Houston is as good as it gets because it gives UCF something it was drastically missing — a marquee victory. The Knights (21-6, 11-4 AAC) were on the No. 11 line before this win and now they’re even safer. It’s even bigger considering UCF’s last two games are against Cincinnati and fellow bubble team Temple. 

REVENGE: Tennessee beats Kentucky, making case to reclaim a No. 1 seed

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Texas: The Longhorns (16-13, 8-8 Big 12) beat Iowa State convincingly 86-69 on their homecourt. Jase Febres (eight 3-pointers on Saturday) is proving to be a steady fill-in for leading scorer Kerwin Roach II, who has been out with a suspension for the last three games. Texas had fallen to the No. 11 line, thanks to a one-point loss to Baylor earlier this week, but this outcome (a Quad 1 win) should push the Longhorns closer to a safer seed. 

Oklahoma: The Sooners (18-11, 6-10 Big 12) inched closer to the safety zone by beating West Virginia 92-80. Oklahoma is a projected No. 9 seed despite having struggled against Big 12 foes thanks to a top-20 non-conference strength of schedule and 42 NET score. The Sooners have now won three of four, which was necessary considering they’re facing league kingpins Kansas and Kansas State to close out the regular season. 

Auburn: A safe No. 8 seed entering Saturday’s action, an 80-75 home win against Mississippi State might have sealed the Tigers’ inclusion in the field of 68. Auburn (19-9, 8-7 SEC) has a top-25 score in the NET to go with a top-30 strength of schedule and enough quality wins now to convince the selection committee. 

VCU: At the No. 10 line currently, the Rams (23-6, 14-2 A-10) can’t afford to have any slip-ups, which means Saturday’s 69-66 win against Richmond was as necessary as it gets this time of year. The problem with the Atlantic 10 is that one profile blemish can be the difference between the right side of the bubble and the wrong side. What should prop this team up for the committee is the second-best non-conference strength of schedule in the country. No one can say VCU didn’t challenge itself this season. 

Utah State: The Aggies picked up a huge marquee victory in taking down No. 13 Nevada at home, 81-76. The win actually vaulted Utah State (24-6, 14-3) over the Wolf Pack (26-3, 13-3) for first place in the Mountain West by a half game, and strengthens the Aggies’ case for earning an at-large bid if they don’t book a trip via the conference tournament.  

Losers

Clemson: The Tigers (17-12, 7-9 ACC) were listed on “the first four out” category of bracketology heading into Saturday’s home game against North Carolina. They end the day still out of the projected field, and now a solid Quadrant 1 opportunity is lost. Clemson’s 81-79 loss to the Tar Heels hurts because there’s really only one marquee victory on this team’s résumé — a home victory over Virginia Tech. Now there’s only Q2 possibilities in the final two games, and it’d be best for the Tigers not to stub their toe before the ACC tournament. But ultimately, Saturday might have been the last chance for eye candy that the committee will be looking for on Selection Sunday. 

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack (20-9, 8-8 ACC) had a good chance to acquire a Quadrant 1 road win at Florida State, but the opportunity slipped away. It’s a shame because this profile is relatively bare thanks to a non-conference strength of schedule of 352. N.C. State’s only decent wins — Auburn, Clemson and Syracuse — all came at home. This team now will face bottom-feeders in its final regular-season ACC games, so there’s no more opportunity to bulk up the profile before the conference tournament. This outcome might push N.C. State closer to the No. 12 seed line despite its NET score remaining in the low 30s. 

Alabama: The Crimson Tide (17-12, 8-8 SEC) are really in need of quality wins to help offset some ugly losses, and a 74-69 home loss to LSU slipped away from them. A projected No. 11 seed entering Saturday’s action, this result does nothing to secure them. There’s still only two Quad 1 wins on ‘Bama’s résumé, and even if one of those was against Kentucky, that might not be enough in two weeks. 

TCU: The Horned Frogs (18-10, 6-9 Big 12) have lost two in a row after Saturday’s 81-66 loss to Big 12 leader Texas Tech, and that’s not a recipe for success two weeks out from Selection Sunday. Still, TCU has no bad losses (thanks to the Big 12) and a top-25 strength of schedule to entice on its profile. 

Butler: The Bulldogs (15-14, 6-10 Big East) hurt their NCAA tourney hopes with Saturday’s 75-54 loss to Villanova, not so much because falling to ‘Nova doesn’t count as a respectable loss, but because it was their last chance to really enhance their résumé with two Big East games left before the conference tournament. Butler still has a shot, but three losses in a row isn’t doing any favors. 

Ohio State: The Buckeyes (18-11, 8-10 Big Ten) getting blasted by Purdue 86-51 won’t do its NCAA tourney status any good. It’s a road loss to a good team, but it’s also a numbers game at this point. One loss can move a team one seed back and closer to the danger zone (No. 8 to No. 9 seed in this case). OSU has lost four of six and needs to finish strong in its remaining Big Ten games — at Northwestern and vs. Wisconsin — to secure its at-large bid. 

Ole Miss: Similar to Ohio State, the Rebels’ No. 8 seed might have been pushed back thanks to a loss on Saturday. Ole Miss (19-10, 9-7 SEC) fell to Arkansas 74-73 on the road and is still likely fairly safe heading into the final week of the regular season. But the more the losses pile up, the more a non-conference strength of schedule of 156 will come to light. 

South Carolina: For a team that basically had to win to keep its NCAA tourney hopes alive, Saturday’s 78-63 loss to SEC bottom-feeder Missouri really wasn’t the right turn of events. The Gamecocks (14-15, 9-7 SEC) might still have a long shot, but a NET score in the low 80s all but sinks the possibility without a major win streak to close out the season.  

Florida: The Gators lost at home Saturday night, 61-55, to a Georgia team that entered just 1-14 in Southeastern Conference play. It’s a loss that moves Florida (17-12, 9-7 SEC) back to the No. 9 seed line. The Gators could make up some ground in their quest for an at-large bid as their final two games are against LSU and at Kentucky, but winning those games are big asks. 

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