2024 NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Who’s playing waiting game on Selection Sunday?

The Athletic has live coverage of Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament bracket reveal. 

(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

Pure. Chaos.

Madness came early on Saturday, leaving a trail of stolen bids, burst bubbles and flummoxed bracketologists in its wake. Now? Selection Sunday is here.

We know we have four legit bid thieves: NC State in the ACC, Oregon in the Pac-12 and two more coming Sunday in the A-10 and AAC. Drake’s upset over Indiana State in the MVC title game might end up as a fifth functional bid thief. Wild.

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The bracket reveal is mere hours away. In the meantime, we’ll do our best to calculate the bubble math and take stock of an absolutely wild day of college hoops.

Here’s my best estimation of where things stand entering Sunday:

• There are 32 automatic qualifying bids via conference champions. There are 36 at-large bids. Total of 68.

• At least 21 of those 32 conferences will be one-bid leagues, including the Ivy League championship between Brown and Yale on Sunday. So let’s start with 21.

• Give at least four bids to the ACC: AQ and three at-large locks. That’s 25.

• Give at least five bids to the Big Ten: AQ and four at-large locks. That’s 30.

• Give at least eight bids to the Big 12: AQ and seven at-large locks. That’s 38.

• Give at least three bids to the Big East: AQ and two at-large locks. That’s 41.

• Give at least three bids to the Pac-12: AQ and two at-large locks. That’s 44.

• Give at least seven bids to the SEC: AQ and six at-large locks. That’s 51.

• Give at least six bids to the Mountain West: AQ and five at-large locks. That’s 57.

• Give two bids to the WCC: Saint Mary’s (AQ) and Gonzaga (lock). That’s 59.

• Give two bids to the A-10: AQ TBD on Sunday and Dayton (lock). That’s 61.

• Give at least one AQ bid to the MVC (Drake) and AAC (TBD). That’s 63, including all 32 AQs.

I feel pretty confident in everything above. The final five spots get dicey.

I have 14 teams playing the waiting game for five at-large spots: Virginia, Pitt, Wake Forest, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence, Villanova, Colorado, Texas A&M, Florida Atlantic and Indiana State.

Of those 14, I don’t see a realistic path for Wake Forest, Kansas State or Villanova. So let’s say 11 teams for five at-large spots.

Of those 11, I’m leaning toward the committee choosing Michigan State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, FAU and Colorado. That would leave Virginia, Pitt, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence and Indiana State below the cut line. But again, I’m not overly confident.

We’ll update the conference champions and automatic qualifiers throughout the day. Godspeed to the committee.

Automatic qualifiers (out of 32): 30
Locks: 33
Waiting game: 13

Pitt is likely on the wrong side of the cut line after Friday’s loss to North Carolina. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)


Automatic qualifier:

NC State


North Carolina,



Waiting game:


Wake Forest,


Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Virginia (23-10)




Pitt (22-11)




Wake Forest (20-13)




Movement: We have another bid thief: NC State. The Wolfpack pulled off the improbable, winning five games in as many days for their first ACC tournament crown since 1987. That’s bad news for those on the bubble playing the waiting game, including a few ACC foes.

Virginia avoided a nervy few days of the waiting game with a dramatic overtime win against Boston College on Thursday but couldn’t repeat the formula on Friday, losing to the Wolfpack in OT. The Hoos are a question mark — good performance metrics, meh predictive metrics, 2-6 in Q1 — and currently project to be right on the edge. It will be tough for the committee to justify an at-large spot with just two Q1 wins, which is why UVA will be watching Sunday’s selection show with bated breath.

Oh, Pitt. The Panthers came so close, winning 12 of their last 15 entering Friday, including road games at Duke and Virginia and twice over Wake Forest. But a 72-65 loss to No. 1 seed North Carolina in the ACC semifinals on Friday probably will put Pittsburgh on the wrong side of the cut line. Just barely. The predictive metrics are solid and the performance metrics have improved, with a resume average of 46.5 entering Friday. But of the respectable four Q1 wins, only one — at Duke — is in that top tier, and the nonconference strength of schedule is abysmal enough to turn off the committee when the bubble margins are so slim. I’m not ready to stick a fork in the Panthers just yet, so it’s off to the “waiting game” — where the odds are better than Wake’s — but still rather long.

Wake Forest was in trouble — and after this run of bid thieves, is almost certainly done as an at-large candidate. The Demon Deacons were already just below the cut line in a lot of bracket predictions, making Thursday afternoon’s loss to Pitt a knockout punch for Steve Forbes and his crew. Wake will stay in the “waiting game” for now, but might fall off this list entirely come Sunday morning.

Big Ten







Waiting game:

Michigan State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Michigan State (19-14)




Movement: Michigan State, one of the most divisive teams all season in terms of its metrics, is almost certainly in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large after Friday’s loss to Purdue. Considering they were projected as a 10-seed in that “last four byes” grouping entering the day, I’m going to move the Spartans to the “waiting game” for now, just to be safe until the rest of the day plays out and the metrics update on Saturday. But it would be an historic snub from a metrics standpoint if they are somehow left out. MSU’s resume still won’t blow anyone away, and I join so many others who are confounded by how good the predictive metrics continue to look, but with a bubble this soft, it will take significant chaos for the Spartans to drop.

So long, Buckeyes. Ohio State ascended to the bubble when it won six of seven after firing Chris Holtmann, including wins over Purdue, Nebraska and at Michigan State to add to Alabama on a neutral floor. But a three-point loss to Illinois on Friday more than likely leaves the Buckeyes on the outside looking in. A team sheet with a NET and strength of record in the 50s, nonconference strength of schedule in the 240s and three Q1 wins is unlikely to be enough. Heck of a surge by Ohio State, and interim Jake Diebler probably coached his way into a job, whether in Columbus or elsewhere. But too little too late as far as the bracket is concerned.

Big 12

Automatic qualifier:

Iowa State






Texas Tech,



Waiting game:


Kansas State

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Oklahoma (20-12)




Kansas State (19-14)




Movement: TCU nabbed a somewhat misleading Q1 win over a depleted Oklahoma squad on Day 2 of the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners were down three of their top six scorers on Wednesday, including leading scorer Javian McCollum, who re-aggravated a shoulder injury last week. Despite the circumstances, the victory is enough to lock in the Frogs, who advance to face Houston on Thursday in Kansas City.

Oklahoma should still be in the field as well, but we’re going to shift them to “waiting game” for the time being, at least until we see how things shake out with a few more of these bubble teams and potential bid thieves.

That should be curtains for Kansas State’s at-large hopes after the loss to Iowa State on Thursday, but until we get a clearer sense of how many bid thieves emerge, we’ll leave the Wildcats on the “waiting game” line.

nova scaled

Justin Moore and Villanova are out of chances. (Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

Big East

Automatic qualifier:





Waiting game:


Seton Hall,

St. John’s,


Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

St. John’s (20-13)




Seton Hall (20-12)




Providence (21-13)




Villanova (18-15)




Movement: Good luck to the committee when parsing these Big East bubble teams. Villanova and St. John’s have the edge in predictive metrics. Seton Hall and Providence have more Q1 wins and slightly stronger resume metrics. Nova beat Creighton away and North Carolina and Texas Tech on neutral floors but also lost to Saint Joe’s, Drexel and Penn in nonconference. The Friars beat Creighton twice, Marquette and Wisconsin, but also played 11 Quad 4 games. None of the Johnnies wins jump off the team sheet, but they would be a near-unprecedented snub in terms of their NET ranking. You can make a case for or against any of them, if you try hard enough.

One night after an uninspiring win over DePaul, Villanova put up a valiant effort, falling in overtime to Marquette. That probably burst the Wildcats’ very resilient bubble, but the strength of schedule and predictive numbers are enough to leave Kyle Neptune’s squad in the “waiting game.”

Nova joins Seton Hall, which will be white-knuckling it until Sunday evening after St. John’s beat them by 19 in the Big East tournament. The Pirates are still in according to most projections, but as other bubble teams and bid thieves stay alive, it’s been a stressful few days for the Pirates.

And now the Johnnies will have to wait and see as well. St. John’s may have played itself into the field with the win over Seton Hall, but it’s not quite enough to lift above the “waiting game” line following Friday’s loss to UConn. The predictive metrics are great, but three Q1 wins — the best being Creighton at home — leaves a lot to be desired.

Providence seemed to be squarely in that “last four in/first four out” mix ahead of Friday’s loss to Marquette. That one shouldn’t hurt the resume, but it all depends on what the committee values. And how those other bubble teams and bid thieves do over the next couple of days.


Automatic qualifier:




Washington State

Waiting game:


Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Colorado (24-10)




Movement: It’s off to the waiting game for Colorado. I expect the Buffs will get in as an at-large courtesy of their run to the Pac-12 championship, but with Oregon stealing the auto bid among a run of bid thieves on Saturday, there are no guarantees. I’ll reassess in the morning, but CU likely will have to wait for the selection show to be sure.

A semifinal win over Washington State on Friday gave Colorado a fourth Q1 win; it has a 10-10 record in the top two quadrants following the loss to Oregon. The metrics might seem inflated — the WSU victory is by far the best one of the season — but as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the NET has proven to be a reliable guide in recent years, and the committee has never kept out a team with the profile of Colorado’s predictive metrics. We’ll see if that changes on Sunday.

su scaled

Tolu Smith and Mississippi State rebounded with a strong SEC tournament. (Petre Thomas / USA Today)


Automatic qualifier:







South Carolina,

Mississippi State

Waiting game:

Texas A&M

Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

Texas A&M (20-14)




Movement: Texas A&M comes up short in the SEC semis against Florida despite a halftime lead, losing 95-90 in Nashville. The Aggies are now 7-7 in Q1 — more wins than any other team on the bubble, and only 10 other teams in all Division I — and 13-9 in the top two quadrants, along with great SOS metrics. The biggest thing holding it back is a 2-5 record in Q3. I think they are safely above the cut line, though auto bids for Colorado and/or New Mexico could send the Aggies to Dayton for a play-in game. Either way, the threat of bid thieves and limited remaining at-large spots will make for a long day of waiting on Sunday.

Congrats to Mississippi State, which climbs from “on the bubble” to a lock courtesy its win over Tennessee on Friday. The Bulldogs dropped to the bubble with four straight losses to end the regular season, but re-solidified itself back into the bracket by knocking off the Vols and advancing to the SEC semis. They were probably in regardless, but that result removes all doubt.

Mountain West

Automatic qualifier:

New Mexico


San Diego State,

Boise State,

Utah State,


Colorado State

Movement: I thought New Mexico escaped bubble trouble with back-to-back wins over Boise State and Colorado State, but the Lobos erased any less-convinced doubters with a win over San Diego State in the Mountain West championship. This doesn’t qualify as a bid thief from my perspective — I had New Mexico above the cut line entering Saturday — but the auto bid does solidify six spots for the MWC and puts a little more pressure on those other bubble squads.

robbie a scaled

Robbie Avila and Indiana State can only wait now. (Keith Gillett / AP)





Waiting game:

Indiana State,

Florida Atlantic

Automatic qualifiers:

Morehead State,




James Madison,





Saint Mary’s,

South Dakota State,

McNeese State,


Montana State,



Saint Peters,

Western Kentucky,

Long Beach State,

Grambling State,

Grand Canyon,



Team (Record) NET/KenPom SOS/SOR Quad 1

FAU (25-8)




Indiana State (27-6)




Movement: Temple’s win over FAU guarantees another bid thief in the AAC, with Temple facing UAB on Sunday. The Q3 semifinal loss — coupled with a pending bid thief — puts FAU in the “waiting game.” For now. FAU should be safely in the field, but I’m going to hold off on designating them as a lock for now.

We have another pending bid thief in the Atlantic 10. No. 6 seed Duquesne defeated No. 3 seed Dayton 65-57 on Thursday, knocking the A-10’s lone lock out of the conference tournament. Despite finishing third in the regular season, the Flyers were the only legit at-large candidate for the league, a reality reinforced when No. 1 seed Richmond and No. 2 seed Loyola Chicago both lost on Thursday. Now bubble teams everywhere are cursing the Flyers, who opened the door for either VCU or the Dukes to sneak into the NCAA Tournament via the auto bid.

Indiana State could be one of the schools to suffer for those upsets after losing to Drake in a tightly contested MVC title game. It was the ideal scenario for the league to get two teams in, but the Sycamores have had to sit idle as other bubble teams and bid thieves percolate.

Princeton’s upset loss to Brown in Ivy Madness — the first time a No. 4 seed has beaten the No. 1 seed — knocks the Tigers off the bubble line. It was unlikely the Ivy League would get an at-large anyway, but the only chance would have been a close loss for Princeton in the title game.

The Bracket Central series is part of a partnership with E*TRADE

The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Top photo of Texas A&M’s Andersson Garcia and Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith and Shawn Jones Jr: Matthew Maxey / AP and Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today)

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