Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
All of the drama involving the projected field of 68 for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is on the bubble.
The Utah State Aggies appeared to lock up a berth in the Big Dance by beating the Colorado State Rams in a late-night Mountain West tournament semifinal Friday.
Utah State is one of the few bubble teams that helped itself over the past few days. The Syracuse Orange, Xavier Musketeers, Boise State Broncos and Ole Miss Rebels all lost in their respective conference tournaments.
Although Utah State looks like it’s in a good spot, the only way it can guarantee a spot in the field of 68 is by winning Saturday’s Mountain West final.
If the Aggies do not achieve that feat, they need the favorites in the Big East and Pac-12 finals to win to ensure two bid-stealers do not take away spots from bubble teams.
Utah State Has Played Its Way in for Now
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Utah State-Colorado State winner slotted into one of his “last four in” positions in his latest projection.
Utah State is now above the Saint Louis Billikens, who are the new “last team in” for the field of 68.
The Aggies enter Saturday’s final against the San Diego State Aztecs with six straight wins and eight victories in their past 10 games. Utah State’s resume is propped up by a regular-season sweep of San Diego State, the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West.
The matchup with the Aztecs at least ensures the Aggies will not suffer a bad loss one day before Selection Sunday. In the best-case situation, they will have their league’s automatic bid.
Craig Smith’s team can only be jumped in the projected field by one bubble team. The Memphis Tigers are on the “first four out” line and have a chance to earn a quality win over the Houston Cougars in the American Athletic Conference semifinal Saturday.
If Memphis wins that game, it could work itself into the field of 68, but Saint Louis would be the likely casualty if that happens. If Utah State loses, it needs help from the Creighton Bluejays and Colorado Buffaloes to ensure a bid-stealer does not emerge from the Big East and Pac-12.
Bid Stealers Could Change Bubble Picture
Utah State’s worst nightmare Saturday would be to lose to San Diego State and for the Oregon State Beavers and Georgetown Hoyas to win the Pac-12 and Big East titles.
If that occurs, two unexpected NCAA tournament bids would be handed out, and it would burst a few teams’ bubbles.
There is plenty of reason for concern because Oregon State and Georgetown turned in commanding performances against the top programs in their respective leagues.
Oregon State won wire-to-wire against the top-seeded Oregon Ducks on Friday, and it played Colorado tight in their second regular-season meeting on February 20. After that 61-57 defeat, Oregon State reeled off five wins in six games to put it one win away from the NCAA tournament.
Georgetown knocked off the Villanova Wildcats and Seton Hall Pirates as a decided underdog to land a spot in the Big East final. Patrick Ewing’s team has won five of its past six contests and owns a regular-season victory over Creighton.
Memphis could also be considered a bid-stealer out of The American if it knocks off Houston and the Wichita State Shockers in back-to-back games, but a win over Houston may be enough to move it above Saint Louis.
If the favorites win the Big East, Pac-12 and American finals, we can go back to comparing the resumes of Utah State, Saint Louis, Syracuse and others, most of whom failed to improve their bubble positions during Championship Week.