5 bubble teams that could do damage in men’s NCAA tournament (if they get in)

March is officially here, which means — among many other things — the intensification of all things bubble.

Talk about how much we love the bubble, talk about how much we hate the bubble, talk about how much we don’t care about the bubble, talk about how weak the bubble is, talk about how strong the bubble is; It all plays significantly well for the next two weeks.

One of the most common refrains you’ll hear from people who “don’t care” about the bubble — but somehow still find themselves mixed up in these sort of conversations every March — is that there’s far too much attention paid during these weeks to teams that have no real shot at doing anything of substance in the NCAA tournament.

This talking point would make a lot more sense if there hadn’t been such a lengthy recent history of March Madness success coming from teams who barely squeaked into the field of 68.

For starters, even though the “First Four” — those four games typically played in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday featuring the lowest-seeded four teams in the field and the last four at-large teams to get in — has been fairly controversial and often mocked since its inception in 2011, a team coming out of Dayton has won at least one game in the tournament’s “main draw” in every year but one since the First Four became a thing. The only time it hasn’t happened was in 2019.

Overall, the First Four has produced a total of 22 victories in the “main draw” of the tournament, five Sweet 16 squads, and two Final Four teams, the most recent being UCLA in 2021.

Furthermore, every single Final Four but one since 2012 has featured at least one team seeded No. 7 or worse. Since 2011, a total of 12 teams seeded seventh or worse have crashed the season’s final weekend, and a solid chunk of those teams have been squads who found themselves near or around the center of “bubble” talk during the final weeks of the regular season.

With all of this in mind, here are five teams likely to be double-digit seeds that could do significant damage in the NCAA tournament … if they get in.

1. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Record: 18-10

NET Ranking: 27

Everything about Wake Forest screams “10 or 11 seed that wins multiple games in the Big Dance.” The advanced metrics love them, they shoot the hell out of the ball from the outside, they have a well-respected head coach, and they have a handful of players who all have the potential to play March hero.

The problem is they only have a single Quadrant I victory, and they just backed up their “signature win” over Duke with an atrocious loss to Notre Dame. If they take care of business against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and then end the regular season with a quality win over a likely tournament team in Clemson, they should be safely in the field of 68 regardless of what happens in the ACC tournament.

Assuming that happens, watch out. Wake will be a nightmare draw for some six or seven seed.

Gonzaga v Portland

Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Record: 22-6

NET Ranking: 19

This one is a layup.

Gonzaga has been to 24 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and has made the Sweet 16 in each of the last eight years, the third-longest streak in the history of the sport.

This year’s Zags are fully on the NCAA tournament bubble despite having just one loss since Jan. 11. Included in that run of success is a quality road win over Kentucky that is looking better and better with every recent Wildcat triumph.

Mark Few’s team has a golden opportunity on Saturday night with a road win over arch-rival Saint Mary’s, who just so happens to be a perfect 15-0 in the West Coast Conference. Do that, and the Bulldogs can likely make the NCAA tournament without needing to win the WCC tournament next week.

Keep in mind that the last time Gonzaga was this firmly entrenched on the bubble (2016), they wound up winning the WCC tournament and making a run to the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed. This year’s group absolutely has the offensive talent necessary to pull off something similar.

Creighton v St. John’s

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

3. St. John’s Red Storm

Record: 17-12

NET Ranking: 40

It’s pretty simple, really. Imagine being an overachieving young head coach who has guided his team to a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament, more than said coach’s fan base could have hoped for at the beginning of the season. Now imagine your reward for all of this success is squaring off against Rick Pitino — arguably the greatest March Madness coach of all-time — in the first round.

Pitino’s team is red hot at the moment, but still has some work to do in order to solidify itself a spot in the field of 68. Wins over lowly DePaul and Georgetown are musts, and so is (probably) at least one victory in the Big East tournament.

The St. John’s roster is deep as hell, and Pitino has five or six guys with the potential to star on any given night. Any team that could also be sent to Dayton for the First Four should be rooting for them to drop one of their next three.

Desert Classic - Arizona v Florida Atlantic

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

4. Florida Atlantic Owls

Record: 21-7

NET Ranking: 36

Another addition to the list that is relatively straightforward. Florida Atlantic was a missed buzzer-beater away from playing for the national championship last season, and they returned virtually every key contributor from that team.

While the Owls haven’t lived up to their preseason top 10 billing, they’re still plenty dangerous, a fact which was on full display when they beat Arizona on a neutral floor back in December.

Dusty May’s has already lost four American Athletic Conference games, and has lest itself with virtually no wiggle room as we head towards the final week of the regular season. A tricky road game against North Texas and a home game against a Memphis team they’ve already lost to will provide a pair of sizable must-clear hurdles.

If FAU makes the field, there’s a strong chance that they could be assigned a worse seed than the one they were given a year ago. That doesn’t mean this group doesn’t have the potential to repeat last year’s March magic.

NCAA Basketball: California at Colorado

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5. Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 19-9

NET Ranking: 30

Most bracketologists have Colorado just on the outside looking in right now, which is a good thing for fellow bubble teams that could potentially face them in Dayton.

The Buffaloes have one of the things that so many other teams on the bubble do not: Star power.

KJ Simpson is on an absolute scoring tear at the moment and has a legitimate case to be Pac-12 Player of the Year. Tristan Da Silva was already a college star and his numbers are just as good as they were a year ago. And then you have freshman sensation Cody Williams, who might wind up being the first college player selected in this summer’s NBA draft.

Stars tend to shine on college basketball’s biggest stage, and Colorado has three who have the potential to steal the show this March.

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