NCAA Bubble Watch 2023: Much-needed wins for UNC, Arizona State, more

With Selection Sunday two weeks away, the last few days produced significant results between teams in desperate need of Ws.

Here are my top 10 winners from last week, teams that put the doubters to rest, potentially got a bid, or took a big step forward to get a bid.

1. North Carolina: The Tar Heels desperately needed a win in Quad 1 and were running out of chances. But on Saturday, they got their biggest win of the season by beating Virginia. The Tar Heels are now 1-8 in Quad 1 games. UNC also beat Notre Dame last week (a needed road win) after beating Clemson at home the week before (another team in the ‘ACC ahead of them). As of Sunday night, the Heels are No. 47 in the NET metric.

UNC was the preseason No. 1 seed and a No. 2 seed to Kansas in the national championship game last season. An NCAA tournament berth is not a lock. But getting the win over Virginia helps the cause dramatically and avoids the embarrassment of not being on the field after a preseason No. 1 ranking.

2. Kentucky: The Wildcats were probably comfortable before this week, but Kentucky has won four straight, including beating Auburn and Tennessee at home and Mississippi State. Kentucky is now moving up the seed lines and is unlikely to be a double-digit seed. The goal for the Wildcats would be to see if they can get to No. 6 or No. 7 at the end of the SEC tournament. If they keep winning, they’ll keep climbing.

3. UConn: The Huskies were ranked as high as No. 2 earlier this season, but fell after losing five of six. Since then, UConn has won seven of nine games. While the Huskies won’t win the Big East, they can more than justify a high seed with their body of work. There’s a good chance the Huskies have the second-highest seed among Big East teams next to Marquette, though they could finish four games behind the Golden Eagles and possibly two behind either Xavier or Providence. There are still two games to play, but the Huskies are in line to compete for a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, pending the Big East tournament.

4. State of Arizona: Desmond Cambridge Jr.’s 60-foot putt. to beat Arizona at the buzzer on Saturday could make the difference for the Sun Devils. ASU had already bounced back from a crushing home loss to Colorado by beating Utah at home the previous week. They desperately needed a breakout win, especially on the road, with final trips to UCLA and USC looming. The Sun Devils enter the final week at 11-7 in the Pac-12, 20-9 overall with a 4-3 Quad 1 record. The 59 NET metric is not disqualifying. The Sun Devils will be on that streak and the win in Arizona could push them if they can find a way to get one more quality win next week or in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.

Arizona State upsets No. 7 Arizona

Arizona State upsets No. 7 Arizona

Desmond Cambridge’s 60-foot heave might have helped the Sun Devils earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

5. USC: The Trojans were under a lot of pressure on this final road trip of the season. And they swept Colorado and Utah. USC is 4-5 in Quad 1 games and 45 in the NET entering Sunday. 13-5 Pac-12 record, 21-8 overall, which includes a home win over UCLA, should be enough to put them in the field. But they have remained consistent in the last four groups. Getting a split against the Arizona schools would do wonders for the Trojans to cement a spot in the field. Not losing before the conference semifinals would also help the cause. The road sweep put them in a strong position heading into the final week.

6. Clemson: The Tigers have been around the top of the ACC for most of the season. But the overall curriculum was still a bit bland. So Clemson had to take care of business to bolster its case, especially after a three-game losing streak. There was cause for great concern after losing to Louisville two weeks ago. But Clemson throttled Syracuse and then rolled to a monster 25-point win over NC State in Raleigh. The schedule doesn’t lighten up with a road game at suddenly struggling Virginia before closing at Notre Dame. But victory over the wolf pack was essential to change the narrative. Clemson was 13-5 in the ACC, 21-8 overall through Sunday with a 58 NET and a 4-2 Quad 1 record. The numbers are there to get a bid, but the Tigers need to avoid a front-runner in the final two weeks.

7. Michigan: The Wolverines are playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines have had a 10-day stretch. Michigan beat Michigan State at home in an emotional game after a tragic shooting on Michigan State’s campus. Then the Wolverines beat Rutgers. And on Sunday, Hunter Dickinson buried a 3-pointer late in regulation to beat Wisconsin for the Wolverines’ third straight win.

Michigan ends the season at Illinois and Indiana. It is not an easy task. But Michigan is in position to earn a bid by playing well and reaching the semifinals in Chicago in the Big Ten tournament. The road is still ahead of them. Michigan is 11-7 in the Big Ten, 17-12 overall. The NET was 55 before Sunday’s game with a 5-10 record in Quad 1. Don’t be surprised to see Michigan at Dayton in a First Four game.

Hunter Dickinson hits a clutch 3-pointer against Wisconsin

Hunter Dickinson hits a clutch 3-pointer against Wisconsin

Michigan forced OT against Wisconsin on Hunter Dickinson’s big 3-pointer.

8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs beat Texas A&M on Saturday at home. The Bulldogs are 40 in NET, 4-7 in Quad 1. The Bulldogs had tough one-possession losses against Kentucky and Missouri (in overtime). So the win over the Aggies came at the right time. The Bulldogs have won seven of their last nine games with South Carolina at home and at Vanderbilt to end the SEC regular season. They are 19-10 overall, 7-9 in the SEC. But quality wins, even out of conference, notably outscoring TCU in overtime, could be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. Advancing a few rounds in the SEC tournament would certainly silence any critics.

9. Memphis: The Tigers are right on the bubble and still have a late season game against Houston. But to make sure the game matters, they needed to take care of what was ahead of them after losing in Houston two weeks ago. Well, the Tigers beat Wichita State by five and beat Cincinnati by three. They still have to go to SMU before the Houston game. But Memphis couldn’t afford another bad loss. The Tigers are 12-4 in the American, 22-7 overall with a 38 NET and a 2-3 Quad 1 record. They have the talent to win the American tournament, but reaching the finals would also be somewhat key to a bid.

10. State of Utah: The Aggies are a metric darling. Utah State is 32 in net through Sunday with just a 1-4 Quad 1 record. But the Aggies are doing what they need to do down the stretch: win. Utah State has won three straight, including a sweep of Nevada, to go 11-5 in the Mountain West, 22-7 overall. The Aggies finish the season at UNLV and host Boise State. Both games look like must-wins for Utah State to be in a position in Las Vegas in the Mountain West tournament to clinch a bid.

Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. It can be seen on the Big Ten Network as well as March Madness and, and hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, in newspapers for nine years.

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