These teams could sneak into March Madness



The meaning of “bubble” has changed in sports during the last year, but the beloved NCAA Tournament bubble is back as strong as ever.

Bubble now also references when an entire league enters into one joint quarantine – like the NBA, NHL and MLB did for their postseasons last fall – in order to limit exposure risk to COVID-19.

Men’s college basketball is bringing the 68 teams picked on Selection Sunday to Indianapolis next week for the return of March Madness after a one-year hiatus. Here is a closer look at seven teams that sit squarely on the 2021 NCAA Tournament bubble – maybe included, maybe wait-listed to fill a vacated spot in the bracket in case a team withdraws because of COVID-19 – with conference tournaments winding down Saturday and Sunday:

Syracuse (16-9)

Knocked out of the ACC Tournament quarterfinals on a buzzer-beater by Virginia and now on COVID-19 watch after a positive test forced the Cavaliers to withdraw from the ACC semifinals. The Orange went to the Final Four in 2016 and Sweet 16 in 2018 after sneaking into the field as a double-digit seed.

Syracuse's Buddy Boeheim; UCLA's Tyger Campbell
Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim; UCLA’s Tyger Campbell
Getty Images (2)

Michigan State (15-12)

Far from its normal position as a top-two seed, Michigan State is clinging to hope after blowing a 12-point lead in a Big Ten Tournament second-round loss to Maryland. Does the best conference in the country – at least at the top – deserve nine berths? Sparty hopes so.

St. Louis (14-6)

Playing a larger non-conference schedule than other bubble teams – and getting a win against LSU – should help St. Louis, as long as it is not out-of-sight, out-of-mind. The Billikens were eliminated in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals and have been waiting around since March 6.

Drake (25-4)

Loyola claimed the automatic berth, so is the Missouri Valley Conference a two-bid league? Only Belmont and Gonzaga have more wins this season. But Drake has one win in three top-50 games (all against Loyola) and the No. 188 strength of schedule.

Boise State (18-8)

Blame lies in the mirror if Boise State’s bubble bursts. A season-ending four-game losing streak, including one-and-done in the Mountain West tournament, might just be too much to overcome. A bigger-picture look shows quality wins against BYU and Utah State (twice).

UCLA (17-9)

Just one win over a team likely headed to the Big Dance (Colorado) and four straight losses headed into Selection Sunday, including a dirty Quad 3 loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament. That’s a good way to take a sure bid and put it in jeopardy.

Ole Miss (16-10)

Could be the last team in or the first team on the stand-by list. Ole Miss is tough to define because it has won and lost blowouts, won and lost high-scoring games and won and lost defensive struggles.


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