2017 NCAA Tournament March Madness: Six most interesting bubble teams

We’ve made the final turn of the regular season and are less than two weeks from until Selection Sunday. The bubble is a coagulated mess every season, but because we’ve got an abundance of power-conference teams struggling to stay above .500 in their leagues, it seems more blah on the bubble than normal.

Nevertheless, we’ve got some intriguing bubble teams, and that goes beyond mere record discussion. Here are six programs with highly debatable resumes and the reasons you should be watching them. These squads could shake up the bracket, but they’re also fun to watch. 

To qualify for the list, the school must rank as a 9 seed or worse in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology. Being on the 9 line, that’s still fairly bubbly and certainly in danger of slipping out of the field with two losses in a row. None of these teams are comfortable at the moment.

Record: 17-13 | RPI: 78 | KenPom: 51 | Sagarin: 40 | KPI: 60

Current seed projection: First four out

A Final Four team last season, the Orange are so enticing because they’re a national brand with a cranky Hall of Fame coach, though the roster is mostly new. The most reliable player is a transfer from Colorado State who began his career at Little Rock, and almost nobody knew about him until a few weeks ago. John Gillon has been one of the five biggest breakout players this season. Wins over Virginia, Duke, Florida State and Miami could vault Syracuse into the field. But the Orange are certainly not in yet. Two wins would lock them in, I think. That means beating Georgia Tech, then winning the first game in ACC tournament play. A loss in either one, and the committee would be justified in sending Syracuse to the NIT. That RPI is stinky right now, and will loom especially large unless it rises into the 60s -- at least -- by the time the committee makes its decision. 

Record: 18-10 | RPI: 49 | KenPom: 57 | Sagarin: 43 | KPI: 53

Current seed projection: 10

I like the personnel. Last season, Seton Hall won the Big East title, then flamed out in the first round. Isaiah Whitehead’s departure for the NBA opened the door for Khadeen Carrington (17.4 ppg), who’s been pivotal. But Seton Hall’s case is bolstered most by Angel Delgado, who has been the second-best true big man in the country behind Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. Delgado has turned in double-doubles in 21 of his past 22 games (averaging 15.7 ppg and 13 rpg this season), and he’s a matchup problem for almost anyone. The Big East is a top-three league, and Seton Hall’s potential has been overshadowed; the losses do that to ya. I would think long and hard, in a good way, about penning them in for an upset. But they still must navigate through some tough Big East games. Saturday’s regular-season finale at Butler provides a gem of an opportunity.  

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Dan Hurley and the Rams are barely in for now, but could be a sleeper pick for the Sweet 16.  Getty Images

Record: 19-9 | RPI: 44 | KenPom: 53 | Sagarin: 54 | KPI: 45

Current seed projection: Last four in

The predictive and results-based metrics are along the same curve. If the Rams can win two more games, nudge all those metrics (RPI, KPI, Pomeroy) into the high 30s or low 40s, then they’re going to be in a pretty good spot. The Rams were my pick to win the Atlantic 10 regular-season title. That will not happen, but this team is talented enough to win a couple of games in the bracket; it could put it all together and win the A-10 auto bid, too. The Rams have beaten Cincinnati and Belmont, and the home win over VCU on Saturday was downright necessary. URI finishes up this week with a road game against Saint Joe’s and then home to Davidson. Win both, and I’m confident the Rams find their way into to the field. If that happens, Hassan Martin, EC Matthews and Jared Terrell will be worth the watch. 

Record: 16-12 | RPI: 45 | KenPom: 33 | Sagarin:48  | KPI: 49

Current seed projection: Last four in

Wake Forest would be fun to see in the NCAA Tournament for two reasons. First, the overdue Demon Deacons haven’t made the field in seven years. Second, John Collins is a guy with an ordinary name but a way-above-average game. He’s been one of country’s 20 best players -- maybe even top 15 -- and should be a first-round NBA Draft pick this June, thanks to Danny Manning’s expert tutelage of the former three-star recruit. The Demon Deacons need at least two more wins to have a somewhat-decent shot. Next up: a huge opportunity at home Wednesday vs. Louisville. I also get the feeling that winning at least one ACC tourney game is mandatory. What’s going to help Wake Forest is how it scheduled road games, and won those games, in November and December.

Record: 25-5 | RPI: 33 | KenPom: 45 | Sagarin: 52 | KPI: 51 

Current seed projection: 12 seed (via auto bid)

No doubt in my mind that a healthy Illinois State team is one of the country’s 36 best at-large teams. Most accomplished? That’s the tricky part. The Redbirds have lost once when their eight best players were healthy. The question: Would Illinois State be invited to the First Four if it loses a highly competitive game against Wichita State in the Missouri Valley final? I would put Illinois State into the field under that scenario, but am not confident the committee would do the same. Six losses might be too much with a non-league schedule that isn’t quite good enough. Illinois State has three sub-100 losses (Tulsa, San Francisco, Murray State) and that could be the death knell. The RPI is the best of any team listed here, though. That data point will be what carries ISU deep into discussions, so long as the Redbirds reach the MVC title game. 

Record: 27-4 | RPI: 40 | KenPom: 10 | Sagarin: 12 | KPI: 43

Current seed projection: First four out

There is no doubt about Wichita State’s ability, nor should there should be about about its inclusion, but as of now WSU is TBD. The Shockers rank so highly in many metrics, I find hard to believe they would be left out if they lost in the MVC title game. A loss prior to that? Maybe there’s a case. Maybe. But if you’re looking for the cleanest combination of “best” team and “most deserving” resume, Wichita State easily passes. This team also now has national appeal (not that does or should factor in its inclusion; it doesn’t and will not). Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie are the new stars, replacing Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Gregg Marshall is now viewed as a top-25 coach in the sport, and the Shockers would be favored on a neutral floor against all but 10-14 teams at this point. Legit. But the best wins are at Colorado State, vs. Illinois State and vs. Oklahoma.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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