NCAA Tournament bubble watch: Who’s in, who’s out? — Spartans safe?

Michigan State is hanging on for a NCAA Tournament bid while Pittsburgh is Lon the outside looking in.

The NCAA Tournament is just over six weeks away and it’s time for everyone to start taking a look at bubble watch. The next few months will be fascinating as teams jockey for the precious at large bids to March Madness, where a 2-0 week can produce delirium while an 0-2 stretch can induce panic for teams with sketchy resumes.

The first Bubble Watch update runs as a companion piece to the Bracketology spotlight on the race for the top seeds in the dance. Let’s start with a look at the last four teams currently in the field, beginning with Michigan State.

Bubble Watch – Last 4 in

Michigan State Spartans (8-4 overall, 2-4 in Big Ten)

Currently on a COVID pause, the Spartans raced off to a 6-0 start in the non-conference portion of their schedule but are just 2-4 in Big Ten play with a bad loss to Northwestern in the mix. Michigan State’s road win at Duke has taken a big hit with the Blue Devils’ struggles so the Spartans need to start beating quality teams in Big Ten play to get further into the field.

Stanford Cardinal (9-5 overall, 5-3 in Pac 12)

A buzzer-beating win over UCLA was a major boost to the Cardinal, who snapped a two-game skid while adding another quality win to their resume. A win over Alabama in non-conference play is getting better by the week but Stanford needs to win more games in the Pac-12 to feel good about their chances.

Seton Hall Pirates (9-6 overall, 6-3 in Big East)

The Pirates have mostly taken care of business in Big East play, which has led to solid overall and conference records, but Seton Hall needs to find a signature win to lift itself out of this portion of the bracket. This week’s homestand against Creighton and Villanova, the Big East’s two best teams, feels imperative to at least split for the Pirates.

Richmond Spiders (9-4 overall, 3-2 in Atlantic 10)

The Spiders are clinging to the field by a threat after a damaging loss to La Salle in league play. A win at Kentucky is usually liquid gold for an at-large team but the Wildcats’ struggles mean that Richmond, which passes the eye test as a tournament team, needs to clean up in A-10 play to feel good about their chances.

Bubble Watch – First 4 out

Maryland Terrapins (9-7 overall, 3-6 in Big Ten)

The deep Big Ten will present some challenges for the selection committee with Maryland among them. Their overall record, league record and non-conference schedule aren’t great but the Terrapins’ three conference wins were on the road at Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, all of whom were ranked when Maryland played them. Those three victories are better than most at-large contenders can offer up but the Terrapins need more wins, in general, to get on the right side of the cut line.

Utah State Aggies (12-5 overall, 9-2 in Mountain West)

The Aggies are one of the Mountain West’s best teams but have been haunted by a poor showing in non-conference play, missing opportunities to accumulate wins against teams like VCU, BYU and South Dakota State. A two-game skid has dropped Utah State out of first place in the conference and they need to avoid bad losses to improve their resume.

Pittsburgh Panthers (8-3 overall, 4-2 in ACC)

A sweep of Syracuse and a win over Duke got the Panthers on the radar but they squandered their momentum by losing to Wake Forest, the ACC’s worst team. That game, combined with a season-opening loss in a buy game against St. Francis of Pennsylvania, becomes a massive anchor to Pittsburgh’s at-large chances.

Syracuse Orange (9-5 overall, 3-4 in ACC)

A big win over Virginia Tech last week appeared to signal progress for the Orange but it was promptly squandered by getting blown out at Virginia. Getting swept by bubble-watch rival Pittsburgh and their traditionally soft non-conference schedule also hurts Syracuse, which needs to pick up quality ACC wins to get off the bubble.

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