Editor's note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through Saturday's games.
It might be an exaggeration to say BYU's entire season had been building toward Saturday night's home game against Gonzaga, but only a slight one.
The Cougars are 15-2 in games in which Yoeli Childs has seen action this season, and the two losses came in overtime at Utah and by one point at San Francisco, respectively. Once the 6-foot-8 junior rejoined the rotation for good in late January, Mark Pope's team found its groove.
Now BYU has won eight straight games, with the highlight being 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. It says instead that this is one dangerous team that's set to move higher in the bracket than the No. 7 seed that had been projected for it before the 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a No. 10 seed in mock brackets, and the "three-bid ACC" mockery the league was enduring a few weeks ago now feels very out of date.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
Losing on a buzzer-beater on the road to the team that might win an outright Big East regular-season title isn't a problem for any team in either profile or performance terms. No, the worrisome part of Butler's 74-72 defeat at Seton Hall is merely that the contest marked the fourth game in the past five outings where the opposing offense has topped 1.10 points per possession. BU's exemplary body of work this season is quite rightly going to be rewarded with a nice seed, but the fact that this team has been outscored thus far in Big East play could make the Dawgs a popular pick to suffer a first-round upset in a 5-12 or 6-11 game.
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.
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.
Chris Holtmann's team has still put together a nice February, even with the 85-76 loss at Iowa added to the ledger. The Buckeyes have risen to the No. 6 line in the mock brackets during a stretch when they lost at Wisconsin, won at Michigan and emerged victorious at home against Indiana, Rutgers and Purdue. E.J. Liddell has become more aggressive on offense as the season has progressed, and the freshman led his team with 17 points in the loss at Iowa City. When OSU takes care of the ball (which can be a problem) and hits 3s (which is often), this team can play with anyone.
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.
Steady as she goes for the Badgers, who survived some open looks from Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic in the final minute and came away with a 69-65 win over the Boilermakers in Madison. Aleem Ford went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and scored a career-high 19 points. With a perimeter arsenal made up of D'Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl, Brad Davison and Ford, Wisconsin's 3-point accuracy has been markedly superior to its success rate inside the arc in Big Ten play. The Watch has been saying for some time that the Badgers' expected No. 8 seed could improve, and, well, that still looks like a live possibility. Three of Wisconsin's final five games are at home, and a seed-improving strong finish appears to be within reach.
Apparently, Ayo Dosunmu is kind of important. When the sophomore missed the Illini's game at Rutgers, Brad Underwood's team lost by 15. Yet when this same team faced the even more daunting prospect of a road game at Penn State, Dosunmu played and Illinois came away with a 62-56 victory. The Watch hesitates to credit any one Illini player with dispositive or even talismanic properties, particularly on an evening when the Nittany Lions recorded a season low for made 3s (four). Nevertheless, Dosunmu did lead all scorers with 24, and projected No. 8 seed Illinois did come away with possibly its biggest victory of the season. That's saying something with a group that could already claim road wins at Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin.
The winning streak is over at the RAC, as Michigan handed Rutgers its first loss at home since last March. The Scarlet Knights are being seen as a potential No. 8 or No. 9 seed, but Steve Pikiell's team might have to work hard to hold that position. This team's remaining schedule is brutal, even by Big Ten standards. Rutgers closes the regular season with games at Wisconsin, at Penn State, at home against Maryland and at Purdue. Currently 9-7 in the Big Ten, 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.
Work to do
Prior to Indiana's 12-point victory at Minnesota, the Hoosiers' only road win of the season had been recorded at Nebraska. Now Archie Miller's team is 17-9 and either projected as one of the last teams in or one of the first out. IU's NET ranking will creep upward from the 60s, and it certainly has room to do so. In any event, a key win in Minneapolis is about to be superseded by even larger games. Indiana will next host Penn State before playing back-to-back road games at Purdue and Illinois. On paper, the Hoosiers commit turnovers with regularity and allow opponents a high number of made shots. On the court at Williams Arena, however, Trayce Jackson-Davis looked incredible. This whole IU bubble thing could go right down to the wire again this season.
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 problem for Minnesota is twofold. First, the Golden Gophers are 12-13. Second, the university has been a member of the Big Ten since 1895, and, in 2020, that membership makes wins hard to come by. This question of just how bad can a record be and still be good enough came up last year with Texas, when the 16-16 Longhorns were relegated to the NIT (which they won). The Gophers probably will need something on the order of four wins in their final five games plus sustained heroics at the Big Ten tournament to avoid the same fate.
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
If the Trojans do make the tournament as a No. 10 or 11 seed as currently projected, the combination of Onyeka Okongwu and Nick Rakocevic could give some poor No. 6 or 7 seed fits. Say this for Andy Enfield, he can throw a front line at you that forces misses. Rakocevic is 6-foot-11, and Okongwu is listed at 6-foot-9 but plays much taller. The Pac-12 has converted a hair under 44% of its 2-point attempts against this defense. Still, first things first: USC faces a game at Utah and then closes at home against Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.
Backed into a corner where it absolutely had to have a victory, Stanford got one at Washington. The Cardinal now clock in at 17-9 and 6-7 in the Pac-12. While Jerod Haase's men would likely miss the tournament if the selection were held today, their seemingly immovable top-40 NET ranking is still in place and, most important, the bleeding has been stopped. (This team had lost seven of its previous eight contests.) Stanford is still alive, and heading to Washington State. The Cougars will be facing what might yet turn out to be one of the best defenses in the nation.
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 Shockers have held on to their expected spot on the No. 10 line in mock brackets by winning three in a row, against UCF, Tulane and South Florida. Now Gregg Marshall's men will close the season with games against Cincinnati, Temple, SMU, Memphis and Tulsa. Overall, that's a tougher slate than what WSU's seen the past week, and indeed the Shockers are 0-3 so far against the Bearcats, Owls and Golden Hurricane this season. Then again, Wichita State's been playing better of late and does have some cushion in the form of a couple of seed lines beneath it in the projected field. Call Marshall's team relatively safe, for now.
Mock brackets agreed Cincinnati was safely in the field of 68 in advance of the Bearcats losing at home in double-overtime to UCF. Rather remarkably, the defeat marks UC's fourth Quad 3 loss of the season. In an odd profile inversion, John Brannen's team is a beautiful 6-0 in Quad 2, but just 6-4 in Quad 3, with losses at Tulane, on a neutral floor to Bowling Green and at home to Colgate and, now, to the Knights. Cincinnati faces Wichita State and Houston in its next two games, and the importance of those outcomes is even greater than previously anticipated.
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, the Panthers were ideal until they went and lost back-to-back games at Loyola Chicago and at Indiana State. The first defeat came in overtime, but the second one was, if anything, even more heartbreaking for UNI fans. Ben Jacobson's team trailed by 20 only to make a closing 27-10 run to take the game down to the final possession in the eerily quiet Hulman Center in Terre Haute. But the Panthers fell short, and an automatic bid now appears to be this team's most realistic avenue to a spot in the field of 68.
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.