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#pounditFriday, March 31, 2023

5 bubble teams that made a big move this weekend

Jim Larranaga

Believe it or not, Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away. That may have crept up on college basketball fans, but coaches and teams on the bubble know that date is coming quick. The time for statement wins is running out, so any team fighting for a spot in the Big Dance needs to make its move as soon as possible.

We’re headed down the home stretch, and these five teams have their foot on the gas in their attempt to speed past their bubble competitors in the last few days.

1. Marquette

When the Golden Eagles beat Villanova on Jan. 24, conventional wisdom placed them comfortably in the tournament. Toppling the defending champions en route to a 14-6 record looked like the perfect way for Marquette to punch its ticket.

Things changed over the next two weeks. Marquette lost four of five, with its only win coming over lowly DePaul.

Losing to Providence, St. John’s, and Georgetown (all bubble teams or worse) removed any good will Marquette earned with the Villanova win. This weekend, the Golden Eagles got a chance to right the ship, welcoming Xavier to Milwaukee. Xavier is hobbling into March with the injury bug creeping into full-on epidemic territory, but when Selection Sunday rolls around, a win over the Musketeers will still count as a top-50 win. Marquette took advantage and won handily, 83-61.

With four regular season games left, the Golden Eagles likely need a 3-1 finish to feel anything close to safe before heading to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. Had they lost to Xavier at home, their bubble might have popped this weekend.

2. Pittsburgh

Most Bracketologists had Pittsburgh not just on the wrong side of the bubble, but even outside of contention for an at-large bid at this point. After the Panthers lost 9 of their first 10 conference games, the NCAA Tournament seemed like a pipedream.

Pitt responded by bouncing back and winning two of three coming into this week. An at-large bid was still an uphill climb, but Pitt took the first step with a win over Florida State, a top-15 team in the RPI. Due to a weak crop of mid-majors this season, power conference bubble teams should be able to earn an at-large bid with a sub-.500 conference record.

Pitt faces a gauntlet the rest of the way, with games at Wake Forest, against North Carolina, and at Georgia Tech and Virginia. Four wins would be a minor miracle, but Pitt kickstarted its big finish with the win over the Seminoles. For now, the Panthers survive to stay on the bubble another week.

3. Miami

Bubble teams have two ways to make major moves in this stage of the game. Beating a top team is huge for attracting attention and improving the resume, but beating a fellow bubble team can kill two birds with one stone.

Miami did both over the last few days with wins over Clemson and Virginia. Clemson has been clawing its way up and down the bubble this season, while the Canes have been a little safer for most of the season. Topping the Tigers is a good reminder of why and how Miami earned a spot atop the bubble.

Beating Virginia made things even more comfortable for Miami. Not only did the Canes clinch a .500 or better record in the ACC, but beating the Cavs in Charlottesville is quite the feather in Miami’s cap. Even with a tough slate remaining (vs. Duke, at Virginia Tech, at Florida State), Miami did enough this weekend to earn a bid.

4. Georgia Tech

Elsewhere in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets got back to .500 in conference play and earned a needed win over Syracuse, a fellow bubble dweller. Treading water in America’s toughest conference has kept Tech in the bubble conversation, while their RPI (76) and Strength of Schedule (49) are nothing to write home about.

Georgia Tech’s best win out of the ACC is a nice victory over VCU in overtime. Second best? Probably a December win over Wofford. That makes every conference game endlessly more important for Tech and the stretch run gives them plenty of opportunities to impress.

The Jackets play four more times in the regular season, but have no more meetings with Duke, UNC, Louisvile, Virginia, or Florida State.

Though nothing is easy in the ACC, avoiding that group of big bad wolves gives Tech a chance to finish with a run of wins.

5. Michigan

Most wouldn’t qualify a win and a loss over a three-day stretch a big move for a team on the bubble, but Michigan will happily accept a split against two top Big Ten teams.

The Wolverines beat Wisconsin on Thursday — a huge win for the tournament resume. Sunday night, Michigan traveled to the Barn to face a (likely) tournament-bound Minnesota squad.

Wins are crucial as we careen towards March, but avoiding losses (and losing streaks) can be just as important.

Games against Wisconsin and at Minnesota looked like a tough weekend for Michigan, but John Beilein and crew will live to fight another day thanks to their split.


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