Editor's note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through Monday's games.
The Cougars are 15-2 in games in which Yoeli Childs has played this season, and the two losses came in overtime at Utah and by one point at San Francisco. Once the 6-foot-8 junior rejoined the rotation for good in late January, Mark Pope's team found its groove.
BYU has won eight straight games, with the highlight the 91-78 win over the Bulldogs. After two games of very un-BYU-like mediocre shooting from the field, the Cougars returned to their exceptionally accurate norm against the Zags.
Jake Toolson drained five 3-pointers, and Childs posted an 11-of-16 effort inside the arc against the formidable front line of Gonzaga. It was a vintage BYU shooting performance.
A good shorthand for how well Pope's team is shooting is supplied by Villanova's national championship team of 2018. The Cougars are just as accurate from the field in West Coast Conference play this season (recording a 60.4 effective FG percentage) as the Wildcats were that season in Big East play (60.3).
No, that doesn't guarantee a national title for BYU. But it does say that this is one dangerous team that's set to move higher in the bracket than the No. 7 seed that was projected for it before its win against the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga's 40-game regular-season WCC win streak is no more. BYU is poised to earn its highest seed since the days of Jimmer Fredette. It was a big night at the Marriott Center.
Here's our current projection of the bubble:
Bids from traditional "one-bid" leagues: 21 teams
Locks: 19 teams
The bubble: 44 teams for 28 available spots
Should be in: 16 teams
Work to do: 28 teams
Work to do
Over the past two games, Virginia has won both a shootout (at home against Boston College) and a rock fight (at Pittsburgh), a degree of versatility that could serve the Cavaliers well in the tournament. Make no mistake, a tournament bid is indeed looking likely now that Tony Bennett's men have won seven times in their past eight outings. The Hoos have risen all the way to a No. 10 seed in mock brackets, and the "three-bid ACC" mockery the league was enduring a few weeks ago now feels very out of date.
A six-point loss at home to tournament lock Florida State is going to leave NC State more or less where it was before the game: projected as one of the last teams or even as the last team in the group of 36 at-large entrants. The Wolfpack got this far by winning at home by 22 over Duke in their previous outing. Kevin Keatts' men can stay in the field by hoping against hope that there are zero bid thieves this year or, better yet, by improving their projected seed. That process starts on the road -- at North Carolina.
Should be in
The Watch has been on something of a mission to see to it that this Texas Tech offense is recognized as being really good. If the 10 offenses and 10 defenses in the Big 12 had a competition to determine which was the best unit in conference play so far (relative to the respective league averages), this Red Raiders offense would rank No. 1. Yes, better than the Kansas defense, and better than the Baylor defense. Also, better than the KU offense. You get the idea. Texas Tech rang up 87 points in just 66 possessions in its 30-point win at Iowa State. These guys are good, even if 80 yet-to-be-played minutes against the Bears and Jayhawks end up bringing their numbers down a bit. Duly noted.
Work to do
After losses to Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma State, the Sooners are suddenly looking very bubbly at 16-11 and 6-8 in the Big 12. OU's projected seed has done a fair imitation of a stock ticker in 1929 and plunged down to the No. 11 line. This next game coming up is therefore a bit more important than Oklahoma perhaps realized when it agreed to play at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. That is where OU will host Texas Tech, and where Lon Kruger's team will try to recapture some momentum on offense after scoring just 0.92 points per possession over the past three outings.
Should be in
This looks like one shaky No. 6 seed. Marquette has lost three in a row, with each margin of defeat clocking in as larger than the one before. Nevertheless, a beautiful top-25 NET ranking has been sufficient to this point to elevate the projected seed of a team that's 17-9 and 7-7 in the Big East. The ranking will now dip slightly, and the Golden Eagles' seed line in mock brackets will follow suit for as long as the losses continue. In its past three games, Marquette has made fewer than 31% of its 3s as players not named Markus Howard have combined for 14-of-52 shooting from beyond the arc.
The collapse is on at Butler. In early January, this was a 15-1 team whose only loss was to Baylor. Since that point, the Bulldogs are 4-8, up to and including Sunday's 81-59 defeat at Creighton. The problem is defense: BU's past three victorious opponents (Georgetown, Seton Hall and the Bluejays) have shot 54% on their 3s and scored 1.20 points per possession. LaVall Jordan's team was still showing up as a projected No. 5 seed on the eve of this particular destruction, but all bracket placement bets are off now. Present-tense Butler is not good at basketball.
Work to do
The Xavier offense turned in its worst game yet in Big East play in the Musketeers' nine-point loss at home to Villanova. There's never a good time to have a worst effort, naturally, but losing to a tournament lock is preferable to suffering a truly bad loss when trying to hold on to a projected No. 10 seed. At 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big East, Travis Steele's men will now try to rebound at home against DePaul. Hosting the Blue Demons at the end of February is the kind of game that will draw little attention if Xavier wins, but the bubble talk will ratchet up significantly in the event of a loss.
Patrick Ewing's team is coming off consecutive losses at home against Providence and on the road at DePaul. These defeats have pulled Georgetown back down and out of the projected field after the Hoyas had managed to reach that promised land on the strength of their win at Butler. Now this is a team that's 15-12 and just 5-9 in the Big East. If there's good news for Ewing behind those rather unsightly numbers it's that Georgetown does close the season with opportunities for good wins. Marquette, Xavier, Creighton and Villanova await.
The Friars entered Saturday's home game against Marquette on many "First Four Out" lists, and, 40 minutes later, Ed Cooley's team emerged with an 84-72 victory. Providence has come a long way since it lost three consecutive games to Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston in November. In fact, the Friars' record against the Big East (9-6) is better than what the team accomplished in the nonconference portion of its schedule (7-6). That odd amalgam is adding up to a top-50 NET ranking and a close call for the committee. The Friars close with games against Villanova, Xavier and DePaul, and a record in the neighborhood of 18-13 looks probable heading into the Big East tournament.
Should be in
The Hawkeyes are known for great offense, but, even by local standards, what Iowa did to Ohio State in a nine-point win at home was impressive. Luka Garza and his mates ripped through what on paper is a good Buckeyes defense and put 85 points on the board in 70 possessions. Doubt this Iowa defense all you want. There's no "but" coming here, by the way -- you seriously should doubt this Iowa defense. The Watch will add only that your skepticism might not pay off as soon as you think with this particular projected No. 6 seed. The Hawkeyes do know how to score.
What was it the Watch said about Ohio State again? Oh, right: "When OSU takes care of the ball (which can be a problem) and hits 3s (which is often), this team can play with anyone." At home against Maryland, Chris Holtmann's men took care of the ball (10 turnovers in 64 possessions) and hit 3s (10 of them). The result was a seven-point win for the Buckeyes over an opponent that might earn a No. 2 seed. On the subject of seeds, OSU is thought to be in line for a spot on the No. 6 line. Judging from Ohio State's recent performance and remaining schedule, that might be a bit low. Three wins in the closing four games are a possibility for the Buckeyes, and winning out isn't out of the question.
Michigan built its five-game win streak on defense, shot volume and luck, more or less in that order. The Wolverines' opponents have converted fewer than 43% of their 2s during this run, and Jon Teske recorded seven blocks in just 51 minutes in wins against Indiana and Rutgers. When UM hasn't been forcing misses inside the arc of late, it has been taking outlandishly good care of the ball. Juwan Howard's men committed just three turnovers in 67 possessions in the eight-point win at Purdue, and this offense's shot volume over the past five games has been peaking. Plus, opponents have hit just 23% of their 3s in recording their five losses. Add it all up, and Michigan has risen to a projected No. 7 seed.
During this current four-game win streak, Wisconsin is riding the wave of a perimeter tsunami. More than half of the Badgers' attempts have come from beyond the arc during this stretch, and Greg Gard's men have been connecting on 43% of those tries. At the same time, the more paint-centric Micah Potter has continued to develop after finally becoming eligible in December. Against the Scarlet Knights, the 6-foot-10 junior scored 18 points in 17 minutes. Now, can Gard's team lock in what looks like a potential No. 7 seed? Are these guys really playing better, or are they surfing a nice stretch in the schedule (three home games and a visit to Nebraska)? The upcoming contest at Michigan could shed some light.
Illinois continues to win despite not shooting as accurately from the field as its Big Ten opponents. That has been true of the conference season as a whole, and it was the case again Monday, when the Fighting Illini defeated Nebraska by 12 points in Champaign. In a game in which Brad Underwood's team connected on just 44% of its 2s and 26% of its 3s, taking care of the ball and pulling down 19 offensive boards made the difference. Illinois might not shoot the lights out, but it rebounds at both ends and can claim the league's No. 2 defense in Big Ten play, behind that of Michigan State. This conveyor belt of many misses followed by many offensive boards is carrying the Illini toward an anticipated No. 8 seed.
Here's where the Watch left the Rutgers discussion prior to the Scarlet Knights' eight-point loss at Wisconsin: "The Knights will have done very well for themselves if they finish conference play over .500. They will have done fine if they finish at .500. They will make things interesting if they lose all four and finish under .500." Now that the Knights have lost the first of those final four games, Steve Pikiell's men are 18-10 and 9-8 in the Big Ten. Their anticipated seed is creeping downward toward the No. 9 line. Games remain at Penn State, at home against Maryland and at Purdue.
Work to do
For a team that seemed to be facing a potentially bleak bubble picture just a few days ago, Indiana has compiled a nice body of work in the category of home wins. Florida State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and now Penn State have all come to Bloomington, Indiana, and all five surefire tournament teams have left town with a loss. Although this hasn't seemed to help the Hoosiers' NET ranking (which was still plumbing the depths of the high 50s at tipoff on Sunday), the who's who of victims is going to be a good talking point in the committee room. Now envisioned as a No. 11 seed, IU is trending in a positive direction.
In the span of two weeks and four games, all losses, Purdue has fallen out of the projected field. The Boilermakers' defense has ceased forcing turnovers, and opponents have been hot from outside. Matt Painter's team has dropped to 14-14, and as the Watch noted previously with reference to Purdue, no team has ever earned an at-large bid with an overall winning percentage under .533. The Boilers have remaining home games against Indiana and Rutgers, as well as a road date at Iowa.
The Watch hesitates to engage in wild speculation, but what if Minnesota beats Maryland in Minneapolis in this next game? A victory over the Terrapins at Williams Arena would lift the Golden Gophers to 14-13 and 8-9 in the Big Ten. They'd be alive and breathing, in other words, as opposed to 13-14, 7-10 and facing impending road games at Wisconsin and Indiana. (Fine, those road games are impending either way.) Note for example that Richard Pitino's group blends in seamlessly with the bubbly likes of NC State, Cincinnati and Indiana in terms of having a 50-something NET ranking. At a minimum, a win over the Terps would restart this conversation.
Should be in
After a wild overtime loss at home to Oregon, the Wildcats now face the impending two-game road trip at USC and UCLA with a 19-8 record. Arizona has been slotted as a likely No. 6 seed for a while now, and Sean Miller's group might be the most balanced Pac-12 team on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats also receive a boost by recording a significantly higher shot volume than what they allow their conference opponents to achieve.
The Sun Devils survived a scare and won 74-73 at home against Oregon State to extend their current win streak to seven games. ASU is now 10-4 in conference play and alone in first place. Best of all, Bobby Hurley's team has risen all the way to the No. 9 line in the mock brackets. During this win streak, Arizona State's defense has been more or less the same as it was before, but the offense has made a great leap forward behind rotating featured scorers Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge Jr. and Rob Edwards.
Work to do
The good news for USC after losing five of its past seven games is that the Trojans will finish the regular season with three home games. The bad news is that the opponents will be Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA. Andy Enfield's team is coming off a 14-point loss at Utah that carries a partial asterisk: Nick Rakocevic was limited to five minutes against the Utes due to illness. Be that as it may, USC is going to have to get a win or two against three of the league's better teams to keep that projected No. 10 seed.
Stanford isn't in the projected field yet, but if the Cardinal hadn't just posted wins at Washington and Washington State, we wouldn't even be discussing this matter. Jerod Haase's group is still in "first four out" territory, and the remaining schedule consists of home games against Utah and Colorado and road tests at Oregon State and Oregon. You might know Stanford as the bubble team with the surprisingly excellent NET ranking (top-35), a fact that might soon prove helpful but hasn't yet been sufficient to give an 18-9 Cardinal team a firm beachhead in the mock brackets.
While the Watch has seen just one Selection Sunday conducted under the numerical auspices of the NET, even that brief exposure to the NCAA's new way of doing things suggests UCLA's NET ranking is prohibitively low. The Bruins were No. 90 in the NET before they beat Colorado on the road. A win of that magnitude will improve the ranking, of course, but it's still going to be exceptionally low compared to other Bubble Watch teams. The committee will consider that number, wins at Arizona and Colorado and, most infamously, a loss at home in December to Cal State Fullerton. Meanwhile, UCLA, at 10-5, is in the thick of the Pac-12 title race.
Should be in
The Tigers' six-point win at South Carolina was important in its own right and will become even more so if, by chance, LSU loses at Florida in its next game. Had the game against the Gamecocks gone the other way, and if Will Wade's men do come up short in Gainesville, you would then be looking at four losses in a row for this group. Instead, the Tigers are 19-8 and holding on to their projected No. 8 seed. This has been easily the best offense in the league in SEC play.
Work to do
Playing Kentucky into the final seconds at Rupp Arena suggests to the Watch that this could be the last time you see Florida listed under "Work to do." Well, that, and a projected No. 9 seed in mock brackets. It didn't look like it from beyond the arc against the Wildcats, but the Gators have been the most accurate shooting offense in the league in SEC play. Those makes will come in handy during the remainder of the regular season, because UF's schedule is no picnic. The home games will be against LSU and UK, and road games at Tennessee and Georgia will pose their own challenges.
Before Mississippi State lost by 12 at Texas A&M, mock brackets agreed that the Bulldogs would be one of the first two or three teams left out of the field of 68 if the selection had been made at that time. A Quad 2 defeat in College Station doesn't improve that situation, naturally, but it might not change it much either. MSU is hovering on the boundary of the top 50 in the NET rankings at 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the SEC. Ben Howland's team closes with games against Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina and Ole Miss, a stretch in which each win will lessen the amount of profile enhancement needed at the SEC tournament to have any shot at a bid.
For the first time in the young life of Bubble Watch 2020, Arkansas won a game. Beating Missouri at home isn't going to get this team in the tournament, but losing to the Tigers was going to bounce the Razorbacks out of the Watch. So, yes, congratulations go out to the Hogs for still being here. Eric Musselman's men are a bubbly 17-10 overall but a more problematic 5-9 in the SEC. Is the committee going to give an at-large bid to a team with a top-50 NET ranking and road wins at Indiana and Alabama despite, say, a 7-11 mark in KenPom's sixth-ranked conference? Probability would seem to favor an answer in the negative, but who knows? For now, Arkansas is lurking outside the projected tournament field.
Nate Oats' men recorded a 103-78 win at Ole Miss, keeping this team's bubble dreams alive for another game at least. Perched on many "next four out" lists, Alabama is 15-12 and now facing a bubble showdown on the road at Mississippi State. Oats has the Crimson Tide playing at a fast pace, one that has created good looks and led to the league's best 2-point shooting in SEC play. John Petty Jr. made four shots from beyond the arc in Oxford, Mississippi, and led the Tide with 21 points.
The concern for South Carolina is that Frank Martin's men are outside the projected field and running out of opportunities. A road game at Alabama is the best remaining profile game on the schedule, and a NET ranking in the 60s suggests that even a 4-0 finish that lifted South Carolina to 20-11 might not be enough for a bid. The Gamecocks are likely to arrive at the SEC tournament needing a quality win or two.
Should be in
For the second time in three outings, Houston lost by one point on the road. After losing in overtime at SMU, the Cougars fell 60-59 in regulation at Memphis when a would-be game winner by Caleb Mills missed the target as time expired. Kelvin Sampson's men are 21-7 and still slated to be a No. 7 seed by the mock brackets, but UH will have to work to keep that position. With games remaining against Cincinnati and UConn, as well as a rematch against the Tigers in the season finale, it's conceivable Houston could finish with at least three losses in its final six contests.
Work to do
The most likely outcome for the Shockers would appear to be a seed in the Nos. 9-to-11 range in the NCAA tournament. That looks more probable than this team missing the bracket entirely, and it also recommends itself as more likely than the Shockers rising to a No. 8 seed (or higher). Barring a big 11th-hour push by Memphis or a bid thief at the American tournament, no remaining WSU regular-season opponent is going to receive an NCAA bid. That limits Wichita State's ability to improve its seeding. On the other hand, two victories in the last four games (say, home wins against Temple and Tulsa) might prove sufficient, even if the Shockers were to drop both games on the road (to SMU and Memphis).
Cincinnati was a bubble team before its three-point win at home over Wichita State, and it's a bubble team now. A victory is far better than the alternative, naturally, but defeating the Shockers on one's home court is a Quad 2 win. The real profile-boosting opportunity for the Bearcats and their 50-something NET ranking is still to come, in the form of a road game at Houston. A second win against the Cougars would give John Brannen's team one sweet sound bite: "swept both Houston and Wichita State in the regular season." Until then, UC will continue to sweat it out as one of the last teams in the projected field.
Whether or not Memphis was a "Next Four Out" member prior to the Houston game depended on which mock bracket you were referencing. In some mocks, the Tigers were absent completely. Then Penny Hardaway's team beat the Cougars by a point at home, and now Memphis is at least keeping this discussion alive. When it mattered most, the Tigers played one of their finer defensive games of the season, holding a very good UH offense to just 59 points on 67 possessions. Now, Hardaway's group gets a chance to prove it can get the job done on the road, with games upcoming at SMU and Tulane.
Should be in
The Cougars did it. Everyone said that if Gonzaga was going to be prevented from running the table in West Coast Conference play, it would have to be BYU that would take down the Zags in Provo, Utah, in late February. That's precisely what happened. Mark Pope's men rang up 91 points and won by 13. On a night when the Cougars' offense recorded 1.24 points per possession, BYU handed the Bulldogs' defense its worst game since November 2017. It was a methodical performance by a highly accurate Cougars offense, and it should push Pope's team higher in the bracket than its previously projected No. 7 seed.
With wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State (by 40, no less, on a neutral floor in Phoenix) and BYU, the Gaels are endeavoring to pull off the most difficult WCC trick of all and build an at-large case that does not involve Gonzaga. (SMC lost to the Bulldogs by 30 in Moraga, California.) So far, it's working. Saint Mary's is shown as a No. 9 seed in mock brackets and has risen to "Should be in" status here at Bubble Watch. Randy Bennett's team has a good chance of sporting a 24-6 record when it arrives in Spokane, Washington, for the season finale with the Zags.
The Rams' overtime loss at Davidson leaves them at 19-7 and trending more toward a No. 10 seed, perhaps, than the No. 9 that had been penciled in for them. URI still gets a shot at Dayton at home, a game that stands out as possibly the largest remaining obstacle in the Flyers' quest to run the table in Atlantic 10 play. While the opportunity against UD possesses plain seed-boosting potential, road dates at Fordham and UMass and a home game against Saint Louis will need to be safely tucked away in the win column for Rhode Island to remain in the good graces of "Should be in."
Work to do
Utah State continues to take care of business against a schedule that no longer includes San Diego State. The Aggies took two cracks at the Aztecs and lost both games. It is probable that Craig Smith's team will finish the regular season more or less where it is now, right at the line between "in" and "out." In that case, it would be helpful for USU to meet, and defeat, SDSU in the Mountain West tournament.
The 11-point victory at LSU in December still stands out on the Buccaneers' profile, as does a top-40 NET ranking. At 25-4, ETSU appears to be the best team in a very good Southern Conference, and Steve Forbes' group may well earn the league's automatic bid. Still, there's enough here to make a strong case for an at-large if Furman, UNC Greensboro or some other team should win the conference tournament.
The Spiders were a consensus pick as one of the last teams in the projected field until they lost at St. Bonaventure by four. That goes into the books as a Quad 2 defeat, one that's not necessarily all that damaging except insofar as what it might reveal. Richmond will close its season with a road game at Duquesne, and the Dukes figure to be just as tough as the Bonnies if not more so. Chris Mooney's team is a highly efficient outfit on offense inside the arc, one that also plays very good defense.
The Flames haven't lost in nearly a month, keeping an intriguing at-large candidacy alive and running their record out to 26-3. In NET terms, the best win on this profile is a neutral-floor victory over Akron. If that doesn't sound sufficiently impressive, keep in mind the Zips really might be the second-best opponent this team has faced. (The best was LSU, and Liberty lost in Baton Rouge 74-57.) When a team has a great record against a so-so schedule, metrics like strength of record can be helpful. The Flames are in the low 50s in SOR, and they're in the high 50s in the NET. Classic bubble territory.
The Lumberjacks constitute an intriguing selection test case that might never happen. Kyle Keller's team, of course, recorded one of the best profile wins of the entire Division I season, an 85-83 overtime victory at Duke in November. Is that, plus a 24-3 record, sufficient for an at-large? Don't hand off the question to the rating systems, because they're squabbling. Stephen F. Austin is one team where the NET ranking (high 80s) and the strength of record metric (high 40s) disagree. The Jacks would therefore pose a singular challenge for the committee, though, again, we might never see the ending to this at-large thriller. SFA is likely to win the regular-season Southland title and thus earn a bye straight into the conference tournament semifinals. That tournament will be played on a laudably neutral floor in Katy, Texas, 170 miles from Nacogdoches. An automatic bid could be in the offing.
Mike Rhoades' team is about to fall out of the bubble picture completely. The Rams have lost four straight and five of their last six after their 80-62 defeat at Saint Louis. This latest loss dropped VCU's NET ranking to the mid-50s, and even that feels unduly adulatory for a team with a 2-9 record in Quads 1 and 2. The best-case scenario for Rhoades' men has now become a 21-10 record (11-7 in conference play) entering the Atlantic 10 tournament, and that may not be good enough for an at-large bid. It's been a surprisingly mediocre showing for a group that returned four starters from last year's A-10 title team, was picked to win the league again this season and was ranked No. 25 in the preseason AP poll.
With a victory at Colorado and a top-40 NET ranking, Northern Iowa appeared to be the ideal candidate to deliver the Missouri Valley its first at-large bid since 2016. That is, until the Panthers went and lost back-to-back games at Loyola Chicago and Indiana State. A subsequent win at home over Southern Illinois at least put UNI back on track. Nevertheless, an automatic bid now appears to be this team's most realistic avenue to a spot in the field of 68. (For one thing, that top-40 NET ranking is now "merely" top-50.) On paper, Ben Jacobson has the best team in the Valley, and maybe the Panthers are due for a good March turn after their 57-54 loss to Bradley in last year's Arch Madness title game.
Yale pulled off a two-game sweep in the state of New York with wins at Cornell (in two overtimes) and Columbia, but any dreams of an at-large are still on the brink of becoming pure fantasy after its loss at Penn. The defeat was the second loss in Ivy play for the Bulldogs, and it came at the hands of a Quakers team that entered the night 12-8. Put more simply, it was a Quad 4 loss, Yale's first of the season. It's going to be very difficult for James Jones' men to put together one of the 36 best at-large profiles in the nation from this point forward. It will be much more difficult, one might venture to say, than winning the league's automatic bid.