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Andy Wittry | | December 29, 2019

These conference wins would be huge boosts for NCAA Tournament hopefuls

Gonzaga is the new No. 1 in this week's Power 36 rankings

While conference play in college basketball technically started on November 5 (looking at you, Louisville-Miami) and while non-conference play continues deep into the regular season (looking at you, South Dakota-Peru State on Feb. 4), the games played from now until Selection Sunday will almost exclusively be played between conference foes.

In leagues like the Big 12, which has a round-robin schedule where every school plays each other at home and away, and the Big Ten, which has nine top-30 teams in the NET rankings as of Sunday, Dec. 29, conference play will offer no shortage of Quadrant 1 games.

Eight of Baylor's 18 Big 12 regular season games currently fall under the Quadrant 1 criteria.

So do 12 of Ohio State's remaining 18 conference games.

However, some of the country's top teams won't have as many opportunities for Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins, especially at home, which puts all the more importance on those teams winning those high-profile games in order to build their NCAA Tournament resumes.

For example, San Diego State, which is No. 1 in the NET rankings, has just two Quadrant 1 games left on its regular season schedule and so does Gonzaga (No. 5 in the NET).

That allows us to circle a handful of games for these teams as the most important remaining regular season games, regarding the potential boosts that wins would provide their resumes.

We went through the latest NCAA team sheets of many of the top teams in the country, plus some other NCAA Tournament hopefuls, and found conference games that would be huge boosts to their NCAA Tournament resumes.

As a reminder, the NET rankings are updated daily here, which means that the quadrants of past and future matchups can change between now and the end of the season. Quadrant 1 games are those played at home against opponents that rank in the top 30 of the NET, neutral-court games against opponents that rank in the top 50 and road games against opponents that rank in the top 75. You can read the full quadrant breakdown here.

We wrote about teams' remaining schedules based upon the NET rankings of their opponents through games played on Dec. 28.

San Diego State (No. 1 NET) at Utah State (No. 48 NET) – January 4
San Diego State at New Mexico (No. 58 NET) – January 29

As we mentioned earlier, the Aztecs are ranked No. 1 in the NET and they're one of three remaining undefeated teams in the sport. While their efficiency margin is among the best in the country – meaning by how many points they outscore their opponents, on average, per 100 possessions – the Aztecs need to capitalize on road trips to reigning Mountain West champion Utah State and New Mexico to improve upon their 3-0 record in Quadrant 1.

Since the Aggies and Lobos are currently the only Mountain West teams ranked in the top 75 of the NET, road games against those opponents are the only remaining Quadrant 1 games on San Diego State's schedule.

It goes without saying that San Diego State had a productive non-conference run, given its undefeated record, but the Aztecs have quality wins, not just a high quantity of them. Their wins over Creighton, BYU and Iowa fall under Quadrant 1, while wins over Utah and Colorado State fall under Quadrant 2.

A sweep of Utah State and New Mexico would give San Diego State five Quadrant 1 wins, which is an impressive total, but it'd be all the more impressive if that Quadrant 1 win total is paired with zero Quadrant 1 losses.

STAY UPDATED: NET rankings updated daily right here

Memphis (No. 13 NET) at Wichita State (No. 10 NET) – January 9
Wichita State at Memphis – March 5

Wichita State (No. 10 NET) and Memphis (No. 13 NET) are the American Athletic Conference's top two teams in the NET, which means the conference at large should benefit from the two schools playing twice in the regular season.

Wichita State will host Memphis in early January, then the Tigers will host the Shockers in early March, and as long as both schools stay ranked in the top 15 of the NET, each opponent will represent not just a Quadrant 1 win for the other, but a high-end Quadrant 1 win (home games against opponents ranked in the top 15 of the NET) – the best win available in college basketball.

Memphis enters conference play with a 2-1 record in Quadrant 1 games, while Wichita State is 1-1, so both schools could use a resume boost in the top quadrant during conference play. Each team represents the opponent's only remaining chance to pick up a Quadrant 1 win at home in the regular season.

Dayton (No. 12 NET) at Saint Louis (No. 59 NET), Richmond (No. 51), Duquesne (No. 65) – January 17, 25, 29

While the story of college basketball this season, at least from a 10,000-foot view, is the parity atop the sport, the rise of the Dayton Flyers isn't far behind. They nearly won the Maui Invitational and if they can beat North Florida, they'll enter conference play with an 11-2 record.

Dayton is currently No. 11 on, No. 12 in the NET and No. 18 in the AP poll, so humans and computers acknowledge that the Flyers are really good.

However, even though they have just two losses on the season, those two losses are currently limiting how high Dayton's resume can fly. There's no shame in neutral-court losses to Kansas (90-84 in OT) and Colorado (78-76 on a buzzer-beater in OT) but the defeats leave the Flyers with a 1-2 record in Quadrant 1.

Dayton's five remaining Quadrant 1 games are all on the road, including three in January against Saint Louis, Richmond and Duquesne. That means the Flyers are going to have to be road warriors this winter and spring in order to maximize their potential NCAA Tournament resume.

Richmond and Saint Louis' home games against Dayton are their only Quadrant 1 home games on their remaining schedules.

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Louisville (No. 15 NET) at Duke (No. 8) – January 18

For as strong as the ACC has been historically, the conference currently has just three teams ranked in the top 30 of the NET rankings, which limits the number of Quadrant 1 games, specifically Quadrant 1 home games, available in conference play.

For those three top-30 teams – Louisville, Duke and Florida State – there are even fewer chances for Quadrant 1 wins than the rest of the conference.

So Duke will enter ACC play with just four Quadrant 1 games on its remaining schedule and just two at home against the Cardinals and Seminoles. The game against Louisville is Duke's only Quadrant 1 game in January and depending on where Kansas (currently No. 4 in the NET) and Louisville (No. 15) finish the season, a win over the Cardinals could potentially be the Blue Devils' best win of their 2019-20 campaign.

Duke is already 4-0 in Quadrant 1 thanks to an impressive slate of wins in non-conference play, giving the Blue Devils' one of the strongest starts to an NCAA Tournament resume in the entire country. But their opportunities to add to their Quadrant 1 win total are currently limited, putting all the more importance on their January 18 date with the Cards.

Utah State (No. 48 NET) at San Diego State (No. 1), New Mexico (No. 58) – February 1, February 29 |New Mexico at San Diego State – February 11

Could the Mountain West make a run at being a three-bid league in 2020?

The conference sent two teams to the Big Dance in each of the last two seasons and three in 2015, so it's not an unrealistic possibility. But it might require Utah State or New Mexico ending San Diego State's undefeated record.

The Aggies are 0-2 in Quadrant 1 with three Quadrant 1 opportunities left – two against San Diego State and a road trip to New Mexico. The Lobos are 1-1 in Quadrant 1, also with two Quadrant 1 games remaining against the Aztecs.

All three schools have impressive records – the undefeated Aztecs are 12-0 while Utah State and New Mexico are 11-2.

Is it possible for the Mountain West's top three teams in the NET rankings to trade Quadrant 1 wins against each other, while dominating the rest of the conference, such that each school could get an NCAA Tournament bid?

That's a tight window for the Aztecs, Aggies and Lobos to thread the needle, making the Mountain West's multi-bid hopes an intriguing storyline to follow during conference play.

Auburn (No. 7 NET) at Arkansas (No. 36) – February 4

We have good news and bad news for Auburn. Which one do Tiger fans want first?

The good news is that their team, which is coming off of a Final Four appearance, is one of three remaining undefeated teams in the sport. That's not just good news, that's great news.

However, the bad news is that Auburn hasn't played a Quadrant 1 game this season and it's only remaining opportunities  – count 'em, seven of 'em – are all on the road: at Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.

This game will be a great opportunity for Arkansas as well. The Razorbacks' only non-conference, Quadrant 1 game is at Indiana on Sunday, which means they'll need to add quality wins in SEC play.

Of their seven Quadrant 1 games in conference play, six are on the road, leaving this home game against Auburn as their only chance to add a Quadrant 1 win in Fayatteville. Arkansas has a respectable NET ranking at No. 36 but with 10 of its first 11 games falling under Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4, the Razorbacks will need to prove to the selection committee that they can beat good teams – at home and on the road.

Gonzaga (No. 5 NET) at Saint Mary's (No. 32), BYU (No. 35) – Feb. 8, 22
BYU at Gonzaga, Saint Mary's – Jan. 9, 18
Saint Mary's at BYU – Feb. 1

Somewhat similar to the Mountain West, the West Coast Conference has three teams ranked above the rest of the conference in the NET rankings, with one team headlining the top three (San Diego State and Gonzaga, respectively).

Each conference's top trio keeps its hopes alive of being a multi-bid league.

Saint Mary's is 1-1 in Quadrant 1 with a win over Wisconsin and a loss to Dayton.

BYU is 2-3 with wins over Houston and Utah State, and losses to San Diego State, Kansas and Utah.

Both schools play Gonzaga at home and on the road in WCC play, which is all that an NCAA Tournament hopeful in the conference can hope when the league schedule is released. It gives teams two shots at a program that has made every NCAA Tournament since the 1999 season.

And the top-35 NET rankings of BYU and Saint Mary's are encouraging for Gonzaga because if both schools can climb into the top 30, the Bulldogs' home games against the Cougars and Gaels will become Quadrant 1 games.

Gonzaga has earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before and its 13-1 record and No. 5 NET ranking give the 'Zags the potential to earn another protected seed. But they aren't the only WCC team that's eyeing an at-large bid in 2020 and the results of the games between Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's in January and February may determine just how many of those teams go dancing in March.

Auburn (No. 7 NET) at Tennessee (No. 72) – March 7

Tennessee is 1-3 in Quadrant 1 and the Volunteers currently have seven remaining Quadrant 1 opportunities left on their schedule, with six of them coming on the road. The one that's in Knoxville is against Auburn at the end of the regular season, which could prove to be a critical game for NCAA Tournament selection and/or seeding for the Volunteers.

Yale (No. 55 NET) at North Carolina (No. 93) – December 30

Yale is the highest-ranking Ivy League team in the NET rankings at No. 55 but the Bulldogs are 0-2 in Quadrant 1 and and 2-1 in Quadrant 2 so far, which means their resume likely needs to improve in order to receive an at-large bid.

They currently don't have any more Quadrant 1 opportunities on their schedule and their next Quadrant 2 game is at North Carolina on December 30. North Carolina star freshman point guard Cole Anthony is currently sidelined with an injury and the Tar Heels' NET ranking would presumably improve once their best player returns to the court, so this is a chance for a true road win against a marquee opponent – at least in name, if not in NET ranking.

Yale's two Quadrant 2 games in conference play are at Penn and Harvard in February and March, respectively.

Stephen F. Austin (No. 62 NET) at Sam Houston State (No. 197), Abilene Christian (No. 241) – February 1, March 3

Stephen F. Austin is responsible for one of the biggest upsets of the season (and therefore, one of the season's best wins), when it won at Duke, ending the Blue Devils' non-conference, home winning streak.

The Lumberjacks' 1-1 record in Quadrant 1 is respectable but they don't have any more Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 games on their schedule, meaning that Quadrant 3 road games at Sam Houston State and Abilene Christian are the next-best chances for non-Quadrant 4 wins.

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