As college basketball’s regular season enters its final month, several low and mid-major teams are in the process of crashing the party. Drake, Loyola Chicago, Colgate, St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis are in the top 40 of the NET, and ostensibly, on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Meanwhile, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, Indiana and Duke are sitting outside the top 40 and in danger of missing the Big Dance.
There’s plenty still to sort out, and things are almost guaranteed to normalize a bit as those teams from lesser leagues suffer a loss or two against the Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 opponents dotting their conferences. Some of the major conference teams outside the top 40 are also likely to rise sheerly because they will have numerous opportunities to add Quadrant 1 wins over the next few weeks.
Last week, we predicted which sub-50 NET teams will end up making the Big Dance. So this week we’ll look at the group currently inside the top 40 and give them some bulletin board material. In this era, it’s more like fodder for their official Twitter accounts, but the point remains the same. These are teams inside the top 40 of the NET in early February who our writers believe will miss the NCAA Tournament.
As we sit here on this Wednesday, the Nittany Lions are No. 35 in the NET. They’re are also 6-8. Interesting team in that the predictive metrics are still bullish, relatively speaking, on this group as well. Sagarin’s got PSU at 43 and KenPom all the way up at 38. To be clear, teams sitting at .500 or worse have no chance of making the NCAAs, so Penn State has a steep hill to climb in the toughest conference.
There are eight games remaining with five of them at home, so that is a help. If anything, a case like Penn State goes to show why overall records — and the losses that should never be discounted — should be as influential in selection chatter with bubble teams as the metrics provide. In strength of record, which is results-based, Penn State sits at No. 55, its worst of the six metrics on the team sheets. If you’re not top 50 in SOR and you’re not at least three game above .500, you’re not dancing. That will be the case with this team this season. — Matt Norlander
With a three-game winning streak at its sails, a .500 record in Big Ten play and a well-earned four wins in Quad 1 opportunities, Rutgers is right now looking like a single-digit seed in the tourney. But I’m not hopping aboard quite so fast. Not yet. Remember, just before this stretch, this Rutgers team had lost five straight, including six in a seven-game span. (The Big Ten is a meat-grinder.) The recent rally is commendable but not necessarily indicative of a complete about-face. A close win over Indiana, a shellacking of a dreadful Michigan State team, a close shave against a sputtering Northwestern bunch — all good but not great wins, save for stealing one at IU.
The schedule won’t get much easier than it’s been of late. After three consecutive wins — all over unranked opponents — six of its final eight games are against opponents ranked inside KenPom’s top 50, including five in the top 40. Its hot start to the season has given it a built-in margin for error to drop a few of those late in the regular season, but it looks like a gauntlet the rest of the way for Rutgers. And for a team that hasn’t been to the Dance since 1991, I’m not so sure it has the mettle to make it through this stretch unscathed and still worthy of an at-large bid. — Kyle Boone
Due to the cancellation of two games against New Mexico this week, San Diego State has just six games remaining on its regular-season schedule and zero Quad 1 wins. The Aztecs are 13-4 (7-3 Mountain West), but the NET formula only recognizes 12 of those wins since one came against St. Katherine of the NAIA. In short, the resume is lean, and there aren’t many opportunities left to build it. A two-game set with Boise State scheduled for Feb. 25 and Feb. 27 represents a pair of Quad 1 opportunities to close the regular season. But even a split of that series would leave the Aztecs at 1-3 in Quad 1 games and 2-4 against the MWC’s upper tier.
A 73-58 victory over UCLA to open the season on Nov. 25 is probably the Aztecs’ best win so far. San Diego State hasn’t shown a whole lot since then, however, posting just a 1-3 record against the tandem of Colorado State and Utah State. Aside from Boise State and San Diego State, those are the only teams from the Mountain West with legitimate aspirations for an at-large bid. So, barring a two-game sweep of Boise State, the Aztecs seem likely to find themselves losing ground in the NET over the coming weeks, and that means they’ll probably end up on the wrong side of the bubble. — David Cobb
Let the record show that I was the last to pick here, so my options were limited. But of my limited options, it’s pretty clear Maryland is the most likely candidate of the remaining top-40 NET teams to miss the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, Tuesday’s win at Purdue was a great step in the right direction. But the Terrapins, who are 39th in the NET, are still very much on the bubble thanks to a 4-8 record in the first two quadrants.
They’re still just 10-8 overall, 4-7 in the Big Ten — a conference so difficult and deep that going on a long winning streak is basically impossible. In fact, Maryland is currently projected to be an underdog in each of its next two games. So while I’m not ready to rule anything out, there would be nothing too surprising about Maryland finding itself just on the wrong side of the bubble when Selection Sunday arrives. — Gary Parrish