It’s officially crunch time for NCAA tournament bubble teams, with just a few weeks left in the regular season before conference tournaments begin and then Selection Sunday decides a fringe team’s fate.
Here’s a look at five teams that need to hit the accelerator here in late February if they want to be playing in March Madness.
Georgetown. The Hoyas (15-11) are 5-8 in Big East play and hanging on the right side of the bubble as one of the last four teams in the projected bracket. But a five-game stretch — that includes three on the road and four against NCAA tourney-projected teams — to close out the Big East regular season could be make or break for coach Patrick Ewing’s squad. What’s keeping Georgetown in right now are five Quadrant 1 victories and a top-10 strength of schedule.
Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (18-9, 9-7), which is seeking its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991, have lost four of their last six and have three of their final Big Ten games on the road — all against forecasted tourney teams. Usually finishing above .500 in a power conference with double-digit teams in the field will garner a tourney bid. But Rutgers only has three Quadrant 1 victories to go with a 1-6 road record.
Cincinnati. The Bearcats (17-9, 10-4) are the second-best team in the American Athletic Conference. But that doesn’t afford any safety net since the selection committee is looking at the full body of work outside of league play. Cincinnati just suffered a résumé-staining loss iat home against AAC bottom-feeder Central Florida. With four games left in the regular season, the Bearcats face tourney teams Wichita State and Houston with hopes of bolstering their credentials enough to offset any blemishes. They only have two Quadrant 1 wins, so adding to that profile category is a must.
Utah State. The Aggies (22-7, 11-5) have a real shot at an at-large bid but really need to finish out the regular season strong to position themselves well on Selection Sunday. That means winning the last two Mountain West games against San Jose State and New Mexico before the league tourney. If Utah State can lock up a No. 2 seed in the MWC tournament and get to the final against San Diego State, then they’ll likely be secure. Anything short of that and the committee could leave the Aggies out because of they have just two Quadrant 1 wins.
Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (17-9, 8-5) are currently out of the projected field, but they are doing one thing right: They’re beating other bubble teams. Mississippi State just completed a sweep of Arkansas and also owns a road win against Florida. The problems with its profile are a NET score of 50, a non-conference strength of schedule outside the top 100 and just two Quad 1 wins. If the Bulldogs can avoid bad losses and win on the road in their remaining five SEC games and then pick up a signature victory in the league tourney, then they will be an NCAA tournament-caliber résumé.
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