It’s officially March, and the presence of a couple of blue-blooded shows in the bubble will make the last days before Selection Sunday even more interesting. While North Carolina has made its way to lockdown status recently and Kentucky’s only path to dancing remains to win the SEC tournament, Michigan State and Duke are floating right over the cutoff line with two weeks to go. final. What must each perennial power do to score their ticket to Indianapolis?
Quadrant 1 record: 4–9
Quadrant 2 Record: 2–1
Key victories: Illinois, Ohio, Rutgers, Indiana, Duke
Bad losses: in northwest
Ten days ago, Michigan State had virtually no chance of making the NCAA tournament. The Spartans were 10-9, 4-9 in conference play, and a week earlier they had been beaten 30 at home by Iowa in what was the worst loss in Breslin Center history. A good week later, and the Spartans are very much alive in the bidding race. How? Essentially, the Spartans had a season of big win opportunities in six days. A road win at Indiana is a nice feather on his cap, but the real drivers were home wins over Illinois and Ohio State that catapulted the Spartans to SI’s most recent projected field. But a blowout loss in Maryland on Sunday took some wind from MSU’s sails and left it right at the cutoff line going into March.
The best part of the Michigan State resume is undoubtedly the quality it boasts. Having two victories over the top 10 teams in the NET is not something any other bubble team can claim now that Minnesota is out of contention. Throw in the two road wins against bubble teams, and MSU has a very attractive resume for a committee that has traditionally rewarded those with great wins over those with great metrics. Also working in favor of the Spartans is the lack of a catastrophic loss. The loss on the road at Northwestern isn’t great, but it sits comfortably in Quad 2 and won’t be a significant impediment to the selection. Compare that to other bubble teams like Drake, Georgia Tech and Ole Miss with multiple Quad 3 losses, and MSU looks good in that regard.
The main obstacle for the Spartans is a horrible net qualification. Going into March, MSU is ranked 77th on the RED, by far the worst mark among bubble teams. At the last NCAA tournament, St. John’s had the worst overall field NET at 73. In 2018, while wearing the RPI, the worst overall field RPI was also No. 73, this time from the state of Arizona. . Anything over 60 on the NET is a warning sign, and hitting 70 is far from ideal for selection. And considering that NET weighs the margin of victory heavily in their formulas and Michigan State still has two games against the giant Michigan, NET could get even worse for Selection Sunday.
The easiest way for Tom Izzo’s team to enter is to win one of their two games against Michigan. A third elite win against a clear No. 1 seed would likely score MSU’s ticket. But assuming they can’t win any of the games against the Wolverines, the Spartans desperately need to beat Indiana on Tuesday. That victory, combined with two losses to Michigan, would leave MSU at 14-12 and 8-12 in the Big Ten. Then they would likely play another team around the Big Ten bubble in their first game of the Big Ten tournament, which they would have to win before taking on one of the best dogs in the league in the quarterfinals. As of now, I think a 1-2 finish to the regular season combined with a 1-1 trip to Indianapolis would get MSU in, as long as his NET doesn’t get worse. One more win over one of the conference’s elite, whether it be against Michigan this week or another top-tier team in the conference tournament, would likely lock the Spartans to their 23rd consecutive NCAA tournament.
Quadrant 1 record: 1–3
Quadrant 2 Record: 5-3
Key victories: Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech
Bad losses: Notre Dame, in Miami
Like the state of Michigan, Duke was considered “self-bidding or bankrupt” until recently. But after a four-game winning streak in mid-February highlighted by a win over Virginia, the Blue Devils are back in the bubble and on the strong end of an overall appearance. In many ways, Duke’s résumé is the opposite of Michigan State’s: The Blue Devils have strong metrics but lack high-level wins and have three losses in the third quarter. While it’s doubtful that the home loss to Michigan State currently in Q3 will be viewed negatively by the committee, the road loss to Miami and a home loss to Notre Dame are less than ideal.
First, the good news for Duke fans. Metrics believe this team has the caliber of an NCAA tournament. NET is significantly lower at the Blue Devils than at KenPom, which has Duke as the 35th team in the country. That’s the second-best mark among bubble teams, behind only Georgia Tech. KenPom is one of the metrics the selection committee considers heavily when developing the field. The other good news for Duke is that their résumé is not as weak as having just one win at Quad 1 might imply. Georgia Tech and Clemson are solid wins that could eventually sneak into Q1, and the Blue Devils will also have multiple additional chances to Q1 in the next few days. The remaining two games of the regular season (at Georgia Tech in North Carolina) will be Q1 games, and Duke should have at least one or perhaps more Q1 chances while in the ACC tournament.
Now the bad news. Three losses in the third quarter are not good, even if Notre Dame and Michigan State are not bad teams. You never want something on your resume that stands out negatively, and having three losses in the third quarter stands out compared to the rest of the bubble. And while Duke is well liked by KenPom, his NET is less outstanding. The overall win-loss record isn’t brilliant either, and ACC teams won’t get the same benefit of the doubt this year as Big Ten teams, given the relative strengths of each conference. There is simply nothing special about this resume.
As mentioned above, Duke has a great opportunity to significantly improve that résumé in the next two weeks, and it will do so against heavily beaten teams. Winning two road games against potential NCAA tournament teams this week would move the needle for the Blue Devils, particularly since both would be Q1 wins. Throw in a chance to make a deep run in an open ACC tournament, and there are plenty of wins left for Duke. At a minimum, I think Duke needs to win one of the two remaining games of the regular season and win a game against a potential NCAA tournament team in the ACC tournament. That would probably put Duke right on the cutting line. If he can add three quality wins to his ledger for Pick Sunday (either through a deep run in the conference tournament or by sweeping this week’s games), I think Duke will find his way onto the field. .
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.