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March Insanity Bubble Watch: North Carolina tries to take out ACC companion Syracuse

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Welcome to March.

We suspect it will be a happier March for anyone who loves college basketball than the one we witnessed 12 long months ago.

It may not be a pleasant month for those falling on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble, but the fact that we can be sure that there will be a tournament in 2021 could make it better even for fans of those teams.

MORE: Bracket Predictions 1.0: Projection of the field of 68

Also welcome to the first ever Sporting News bubble watch of the season. We hope this helps you navigate the best time of the year.

NCAA bubble games on Monday

North Carolina in Syracuse, 7 p.m., ESPN

The Tar Heels (15-8, # 41 NET) took a huge step off the bubble with their 78-70 win on Saturday against ACC leader Florida State in what was Roy Williams’ 900. Career win turned into a great win. With wins over Louisville, Duke, Stanford and one in the first meeting with the Orange, the Tar Heels have a reasonable reason for inclusion that could only be damaged by a loss tonight.

This is in part because the dwindling hopes of Syracuse (13-8, # 56 NET), who suffered a major blow with consecutive losses to Duke and Georgia Tech, were getting some life.

Remember, it’s never about, “Well, the ACC is only going to get that many bids.” But when bubble teams end up in the same place, it makes a lot of sense to try and eliminate the competition.

Other bubble action:

Western Kentucky Florida International. Western (16-5, # 74 NET) leads Conference USA with a 9-2 record, a profit of 0.818 percent. This is the only C-USA team over 800 in league play. However, this is a highly competitive league whose tournament could produce one in half a dozen champions without the need for a major surprise, including UAB and Louisiana Tech (both 19-6 overall), North Texas (13-7) or Old Dominion ( 14) -6).

The Hilltoppers have the best case in the league, from their success at the conference to out-of-league wins over Alabama and Memphis. Bubble team fans will make it hard for the Hilltoppers to keep going.

Dayton at St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies (13-3, # 28 NET) are a projected # 10 seed of the Bracket Matrix composite from approximately 100 NCAA tournament projections. They rank first in the Atlantic 10 with a 11-3 record, but the pandemic limited them to just two games outside of the conference, so any league win will be critical to their overall event.

UMass at Saint Louis. The Billikens (12-5, No. 50 NET) are the functional opposite of their A-10 partners, the Bonnies. They did well in non-league play, setting a 7-1 record that included wins against LSU and NC State. But pandemic disruptions have limited them to nine league games, of which they have only won five. This is their last regular season game.

Saint Joseph’s at Richmond. The general odds for the Spiders (12-6, # 54 NET) are slim as they are only 6-4 in the A-10 and their best out-of-league win has collapsed with Kentucky’s year-long battles to win Games. This game won’t do anything in your case, but if you lose it will be destroyed. The spiders must excel in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which is held in their hometown.

Luftwaffe Colorado State. The Rams (14-4, # 28 NET) should end a solid regular season by beating one of the weakest teams in the Mountain West. Then comes the league tournament, which also includes bubble-bound Utah State and Boise State.

(All records pertain to Division I competition only. All NET leaderboards are from WarrenNolan.com.)

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Melinda Martin