2024 NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Providence and Pitt win big


(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 also 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.

Automatic qualifiers (out of 32): 14 (1 possible bid thief – Drake)
Locks: 34
Projected to be in: 2
On the bubble: 13
Waiting game: 5

blake scaled


It’s time for Blake Hinson and Pitt to put up or shut up. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

ACC

Locks:

North Carolina,

Duke,

Clemson

On the bubble:

Virginia,

Pittsburgh

Waiting game:

Virginia

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

Virginia (22-9)

52/68

78/31

2-7

Wake Forest (20-12)

36/23

75/63

1-7

Pitt (21-10)

45/46

83/49

3-5

Movement: 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 to Pitt feel like a knockout punch for Steve Forbes and his crew. I’m putting Wake in the “waiting game” category for now, at least until the metrics update on Friday morning. Those have been Wake’s saving grace thus far, but it’s tough to see a path for a team that, as of Thursday morning, was 1-7 in Quad 1 games and will now watch the rest of the ACC tournament from home.

The win doesn’t lift Pitt off the bubble, but it gives the Panthers another Q1 victory — for a 4-5 record at the moment — and should boost their metrics ahead of tomorrow’s matchup with No. 1 seed North Carolina.

The Cavaliers end the regular season with zero bad losses, but without many quality wins, either — away at Clemson and Florida on a neutral court are the only Quad 1s. Virginia’s performance metrics do outpace the predictive ones, which is the opposite for Pitt and could help Virginia’s case between the two, pending how it fares against Boston College on Thursday evening.

Big Ten

Locks:

Purdue,

Wisconsin,

Illinois,

Northwestern,

Nebraska

Projected to be in:

Michigan State

On the bubble:

Ohio State

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

Northwestern (21-10)

51/41

50/27

5-6

Nebraska (22-9)

38/30

70/23

4-7

Michigan State (18-13)

23/19

17/45

4-8

Iowa (18-13)

59/52

20/53

3-9

Ohio State (19-12)

55/50

63/64

3-6

Movement: We’ve seen enough elsewhere to officially move Northwestern and Nebraska to the lock line, where they’ve been trending for the past couple of weeks. Even if both were to lose on Friday after a double-bye, nothing has happened thus far that suggests they would be in any danger of dropping to the bubble.

Wisconsin and Michigan State, two of the more divisive teams from an at-large perspective, both finished the regular season with a whimper. The Badgers lost at Purdue and have gone 3-8 since the start of February, while the Spartans lost at Indiana and dropped four of their last five. That said, Wisconsin — with a 12-12 record in Quad 1 and 2, no losses outside of that and a resume average (KPI and strength of record) in the low 20s — is in even if it loses to the winner of Rutgers and Maryland on Thursday. Michigan State still isn’t a lock after a win over Minnesota on Thursday, but it remains in the field and above the bubble. A win on Friday over Purdue would absolutely put a bow on lock status, while a loss probably keeps them in the waiting game pending other bubble teams and bid thieves. The Spartans’ metrics are absolutely Tournament caliber, but that’s the case for a number of bubble teams at the moment, and the resume still leaves something to be desired.

Ohio State ascended to the bubble when it won five of six after firing Chris Holtmann, including wins over Purdue, Nebraska and at Michigan State to add to Alabama on a neutral floor. A win over Iowa on Thursday night in the Big Ten tournament ends the Hawkeyes’ at-large hopes while keeping Ohio State in the hunt, and another win over Illinois on Friday could even get the Buckeyes into that “last four in/first four out” group, which would be an incredible climb after firing the head coach.

Big 12

Locks:

Baylor,

Houston,

Iowa State,

Kansas,

BYU,

Texas Tech,

Texas,

TCU

Waiting game:

Oklahoma,

Kansas State

On the bubble:

Cincinnati

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

Oklahoma (20-12)

44/43

15/30

4-12

Kansas State (19-13)

68/65

19/40

5-7

Cincinnati (20-13)

34/33

36/56

4-10

Movement: TCU 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 the Sooners 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. There’s a good chance the Sooners become a lock before Selection Sunday, so long as nothing truly crazy happens.

That could be curtains for Kansas State’s at-large hopes after the loss to Iowa State on Thursday. The Wildcats were still below the cut line based on most projections entering the game, but with so many bubble teams falling on Thursday, we’ll move them to “waiting game” until the metrics update on Friday and we get a clearer picture.

Cincinnati is lurking after another misleading Q1 win over injury-ravaged, short-handed Kansas that was without first-team, all-Big 12 standouts Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. Cincinnati remains below the cut line, but what the heck — a win over Baylor on Thursday puts them squarely in the mix.

nova scaled


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

Big East

Locks:

Marquette,

UConn,

Creighton

On the bubble:

Villanova,

St. John’s,

Providence

Waiting game:

Seton Hall

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

Seton Hall (20-11)

64/56

35/33

5-7

Villanova (18-14)

40/35

24/60

4-10

St. John’s (19-12)

39/29

32/44

4-9

Providence (20-12)

62/59

45/46

5-8

Movement: There will be white knuckles for Seton Hall until Sunday evening after St. John’s beat them by 19 in the Big East tournament. Entering the day, the Pirates were in according to most projections, often as one of those last four byes. A loss to the metric-darling Johnnies isn’t enough to drop Seton Hall below the cut line in a vacuum, but with other bubble teams and bid thieves still alive, it will be a stressful few days for the Pirates.

St. John’s, on the other hand, may have played itself into the field with the win. I’m keeping them on the bubble until some of the dust settles and metrics update, but Thursday’s result might have flipped the fortunes of the two teams involved. And the Johnnies could extinguish any doubts tomorrow with a win over UConn.

Providence is creeping toward that cut line with a massive win over Creighton on Thursday. The Friars are now 6-8 in Q1 games and 9-12 in the top two quads, including home wins over Creighton, Marquette and Wisconsin. Still on the bubble, but a team that was fighting uphill entering the week is gaining ground. Nova, after Wednesday’s uninspiring performance, is 10-11 in Quads 1 and 2 with wins at Creighton and over North Carolina and Texas Tech on neutral courts. The Wildcats face Marquette on Thursday night in what has developed into a must-win game for their bubble chances.

Pac-12

Lock:

Arizona,

Washington State

On the bubble:

Colorado,

Utah

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

Colorado (22-9)

26/26

85/42

2-5

Utah (19-13)

48/49

47/67

4-8

Movement: The Buffs will not go away quietly, winning at Oregon and Oregon State last week to stand firm on the bubble, although road wins over Washington and the Ducks are the team’s only Q1s wins. A victory on Thursday in the Pac-12 quarterfinals remains imperative, but Colorado is currently in a better position than Utah, which just lost two in a row to the same Oregon teams and now needs at least a couple of victories in the Pac-12 tournament to have a shot at an at-large. The Utes, with strong wins over BYU and at Saint Mary’s, remain in contention after a blowout win over Arizona State late Wednesday.

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

On the bubble:

Mississippi State,

Texas A&M

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

Mississippi State (19-12)

42/40

37/52

3-8

Texas A&M (18-13)

47/48

18/54

5-6

Movement: Mississippi State pushed the bubble limits with four straight losses to end the regular season when winning any of them might have been enough to keep them comfortably in the field. The Bulldogs, who do have quality home wins over Tennessee and Auburn, picked up a must-win over LSU on Thursday, coming back from a halftime deficit. Up next? No. 1 seed Tennessee. A win on Friday, and you can etch Mississippi State into the bracket on Sunday. A loss won’t knock them out, but it would likely be off to “waiting game” purgatory for the Bulldogs as the bubble sorts itself out.

Texas A&M finished strong, winning three Q2 games in a row over Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, along with previous wins over Tennessee and Kentucky at home and Iowa State on a neutral floor. The Aggies secured a second consecutive win over the Rebels on Thursday in a game that might have nudged them above the cut line thanks to a few losses elsewhere. Based on the past couple days, a win over Kentucky on Friday would probably be enough. A loss sends them to the waiting game line.

Mountain West

Lock:

San Diego State,

Boise State,

Utah State,

Nevada,

Colorado State

On the bubble:

New Mexico

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

New Mexico (22-9)

25/32

89/71

3-6

Movement: Colorado State’s win over San Jose St. on Wednesday avoids a bad loss and cements the Rams as a lock for the NCAA Tournament, with a second-round matchup against Nevada set for Thursday. That’s five locks now for the Mountain West.

New Mexico, however, remains in bubble trouble. The Lobos lost three of their last four and haven’t won consecutive games since January. The predictive metrics are still tournament worthy, as is their KPI, which is in the low 30s. But the strength of record and nonconference strength of schedule aren’t sterling, nor are only two Q1 wins. New Mexico seems to be wading in the “last four in/first four out” group, a fate that hasn’t changed with Wednesday’s Q4 win over Air Force.

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)

32/37

98/34

2-2

Indiana State (27-6)

27/42

130/39

1-4

Princeton (22-3)

49/57

195/29

0-0

Memphis (22-9)

70/71

99/62

1-3

Movement: We 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.

Memphis is done after a disappointing six-point loss to sub-.500 Wichita State in the second round of the AAC tournament on Thursday. The Tigers still had work to do to earn an at-large, but now have zero chance after such an early exit.

This is good news for fellow bubble teams, especially if FAU can win the auto bid. The Owls, who earned a double-bye to Friday, remain on the “projected in” line with just two Q1 wins (though one is a neutral-site over Arizona) and two Q4 losses, but are solid away from home, and the SOS, NET and resume average are all strong. That’s the profile of a team that should be in.

Indiana State is on at-large watch after losing to Drake in a tightly contested MVC title game. It was the ideal scenario for the league to get two teams in, and I think Indiana State has legit at-large credentials. But it’s going to be a long week for the Sycamores sweating this one out. Drake was previously on the bubble, but because their automatic bid could be the nail in the coffin for Indiana State in particular, it makes the Bulldogs a potential bid thief. 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.

James Madison punched its ticket with a blowout win in the Sun Belt championship game on Monday evening over Arkansas State, moving the Dukes off the bubble and onto the automatic qualifier line.

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 St. John’s guard Nahiem Alleyne and Wake Forest’s Hunter Sallis: Larry Radloff / AP and Grant Halverson / Getty Images) 





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