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Joe Boozell | | January 15, 2019

These 7 college basketball teams seem destined for the NCAA tournament bubble

Andy Katz bracket breakdown

Every college basketball game matters, to some degree. But each game especially matters for these teams.

They are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. Here are seven schools who could wind up on the bubble come Selection Sunday.


Syracuse has found itself in this spot frequently as of late. We can see it now: Watch the Orange struggle down the stretch in the ACC, manage to snag a First Four spot, and wind up in the Sweet 16.

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At 11-5, Syracuse has shown glimpses of being the team we expected it to be. But the Orange have been inconsistent, and just suffered an ugly 14-point home loss to Georgia Tech. The defense is still good. It ranks 15th in KenPom and is stingy in just about every aspect. The offense has been another story.

The Orange rank 95th on that end, and they just don't seem to have enough efficient scorers. Syracuse's best shot is to muck the game up and pull it out in the end; that's worked in the NCAA tournament lately. It will have chances to earn big wins with teams like Duke, North Carolina and Virginia still on the schedule.

Keep an eye on the Orange these next few months.


Florida feels like the best team on this list, but at the end of the day, the resume is the resume. The Gators are 9-6, and while just about all of their losses are defensible, you'd like to see them win a game in which they don't have a clear talent advantage.

Tennessee beats Florida, 78-67

There is reason to think Florida will play its way out of this group. The Gators rank sixth on defense, and that should sustain. The offense has lagged behind, and that's mostly because Jalen Hudson (and KeVaughn Allen, but to a lesser degree) have struggled. Those guys are proven college scorers who haven't looked like themselves this year. If they return to form, Florida could earn a single-digit NCAA tournament seed.

That's no guarantee, of course. Florida is dangerous, but it has to notch a few signature wins.


The Bearcats are the most likely team on this list to earn an auto bid, but this is assuming they don't. They're 14-3 with a win over Ole Miss, which is solid. But the way the AAC unfolds may have more to do with their at-large resume than their actual record.

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Cincinnati won't have the chance to earn marquee wins in its conference. Houston and UCF are good, but do wins over either of them really move the needle? The Bearcats have lost to two of the best teams they've played in Mississippi State and Ohio State.

If Cincinnati only loses a couple of games in the AAC, it should be fine. But drop a few against lesser opponents (like East Carolina), and the Bearcats may be nervous on Selection Sunday.


Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports Images butler-basketball

Butler has been a mixed bag this season. They beat Florida the first time they met, and lost by 34 the second time. The Bulldogs are 10-7 with wins over Ole Miss, Florida and Creighton. That's a decent resume.

The Big East is wide open this year, and it's easy to picture Butler's season going in either direction. It lacks its usual identity. Butler teams of the past are usually more disciplined and better-coached than the opponent. We haven't seen that edge this year.

Butler hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 2014. We'll see if the Bulldogs can find some stability.

Arizona State

Arizona State has been a funky team to try to evaluate the past few years. The Sun Devils' offense is fast-paced and fun, and when it's clicking, one of the toughest to stop in college basketball. They can play with anyone, as Kansas knows. But they just throw up too many clunky performances to be trusted.

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Arizona State is 11-5 overall, but 4-5 in its last nine games. The Kansas win is big, and it also has a nice one over Utah State. A good Pac-12 showing should be enough to clinch an NCAA berth, but the Sun Devils are 2-2 in league play thus far.

And we know they faded last season after an incredible start. You never know which version of Arizona State is going to show up, which is both exciting and frustrating if you're a Sun Devils fan.


You'll notice something with bubble teams: they usually lack balance. Creighton is another example. Its offense is great; the Bluejays rank seventh on that end and lead the country in effective field goal percentage. That's par for the course for Greg McDermott.

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The defense is... not great. Creighton ranks 153rd there. It's off to a 1-3 Big East start, too, and only notched one noteworthy win in the nonconference over Clemson.

In the Bluejays defense, though, it's usually easier to fix a team's defense than its offense. Creighton has enough talent to succeed, and while it doesn't have any ace individual defenders, effort and strategy pay more dividends on offense than defense. That stuff can be fixed.

We'll see if the Bluejays can make adjustments in the next few months.


Minnesota has been a pleasant surprise this season after struggling to meet expectations in 2017-18. The Golden Gophers are 13-3, ranked 53rd at KenPom, and have one of the best players in the country in Jordan Murphy.

They also have two big wins over Nebraska and Wisconsin, with opportunities to pick up more quality Ws as Big Ten play progresses. That said, the schedule is also incredibly difficult, and the win percentage figures to take a hit. Minnesota still has to play Michigan twice and Michigan State once. Nine of the Gophers' remaining 15 games are against top-25 KenPom teams. Their road is brutal.

If they can manage to go .500 or so the rest of the way, Minnesota will be fine. But that's not a sure thing.


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