Like everything else in this women’s college basketball season, the bubble has taken on a slightly different look. Since the NCAA allows teams with fewer than 500 records to be eligible for overall selections, the door for Power 5 teams in the middle of the road is a little wider than usual.
Plus, there are two other spots that normally wouldn’t exist due to the Ivy League’s not competing this season and the Ohio State self-imposed postseason ban. And with such a limited non-conference season, most mid-majors haven’t had the opportunity to create a resume that can compete even with a team in eighth or ninth place in any of the Power 5 conferences.
That’s why teams like an 8-11 LSU or 10-10 Clemson are still in the mix this season. The only thing that is no different about 2020-21 is how important conference tournaments are in separating the last teams in the bubble. Here are the three that should play the biggest role in these decisions.
When where: March 3-7 in Greensboro, North Carolina
Anyone who has followed bracketology all season will be familiar with the ACC’s close relationship with the bladder. This week, four teams from the conference (North Carolina, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Clemson) are either “Last Four In” or “First Four Out”. Those four plus Virginia Tech and Florida State have been flirting with the cut line since early January. Some call it mediocre. Others see it as extremely competitive. The Greensboro game could provide that answer and will likely decide which of these teams makes the field. This week, seven ACC teams are included in the 64-team projection.
The Hokies, who have won five straight wins, and the Seminoles, who just knocked out Louisville, feel pretty confident about making the field now. The other four will have to win a game or two, possibly against each other, to see their names on Selection Monday. The ACC tournament could be particularly useful for the 9-8 Irish, who had just played their first game in two weeks and lost three times in a row before beating Pittsburgh on Monday. If Notre Dame can’t upset Florida State or Louisville to end the regular season, a deep run at Greensboro is essential.
Louisville and NC State are on the other end of the spectrum. Winning the ACC tournament is a must if either the Cardinals or Wolfpack are to remain in the discussion as possible number 1.
When where: March 3-7 in Las Vegas
Top-down, the Pac-12 likely needs more games in the regular season than a conference tournament, where some teams only play a game or two. This is especially true of the league’s bubble teams, and Washington State, Oregon State, and USC have to win some games in Las Vegas.
Beavers’ schedule has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19-related shifts. They may only be playing 13 of their originally planned 22 Pac-12 games. This could make the state of Oregon the most interesting test case for the committee, which made it clear in its first Top 16 reveal earlier this month that it was prefers to see more games for the evaluation process.
While the Beavers are only 7-6, they have won five of their last six games and look like a different team since point guard Talia Von Oelhoffen joined the squad. (It is under a Number of signatories in 2021 across the country to enroll in classes and join their college team; Oelhoffen’s seven-game college career coincided with a résumé turnaround where Oregon State is currently the last team in the field, but always, due to the NCAA’s waiver of eligibility this season still needs the work that a semi-final or final in the Pac-12 tournament could do.
Washington State needs wins of all kinds. Hoping for their first NCAA tournament since 1991, the Cougars upset the UCLA and Arizona wins, but they’re only 8-10. Yes, the NCAA allows teams with lost records to qualify, but Washington State shouldn’t count on it.
USC (8-9) and Colorado (8-8) are only seriously considered by the selection committee with great accomplishments in Las Vegas. Her hopes for the postseason rest almost entirely on the next week.
When where: March 3-7 in Greenville, South Carolina
For most teams in the SEC, the conference tournament is mostly about seeding. Eight teams from the league are pretty much determined to hit the NCAA tournament field.
The fate of the LSU – currently among the “Next Four Out” – should become clearer in Greenville. The Lady Tigers beat Texas A&M and Georgia, and played hard against South Carolina twice. That sounds like an NCAA tournament team.
But LSU also went 2-4 outside the SEC, has now lost four in a row, and has one of the least productive crimes in the country (59.8 PPG). That doesn’t sound like a tournament team.
So what is it for the tigers? That answer should come at the SEC tournament.