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Bubble Watch 2024: Brace yourself for NCAA tournament drama

For all the success Amir Abdur-Rahim and Chris Youngblood have found in their first coaching and playing seasons, respectively, at South Florida, the Bulls have a bit more work to do to get onto the bubble. Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

This week, South Florida broke into the men's AP Top 25. With good reason.

Anyone who watched the Bulls defeat Florida Atlantic and SMU on consecutive Sundays knows USF is playing like a top-25 team.

Amir Abdur-Rahim's team has won 13 straight. At 21-5 and 14-1 in American play, the Bulls have already clinched at least a share of the conference's regular-season title.

Yet South Florida is nowhere to be found here at Bubble Watch. How can this be?

On the measures the NCAA men's basketball committee uses to select the field, the Bulls are not yet at the same level as bubble teams. Then again, the margin between South Florida and the bubble has been shrinking for weeks.

The strongest portions of USF's profile are its résumé metrics. NCAA-approved rankings such as strength of record and KPI both show the Bulls in the 60s or even in the 50s, depending on the day. These aren't stellar rankings, perhaps, but, for a team that suffered early-season losses at home to Maine and Central Michigan, they're impressive nonetheless.

Conversely, South Florida is less competitive with bubble rivals in measures of team strength. Earlier this month, Bubble Watch chronicled the daunting selection odds traditionally faced by teams below the mid-50s in the NET rankings. The Bulls are in the 80s in the NET and in the 90s at KenPom.

Still, Rutgers wrangled an at-large bid from the committee in 2022 despite a NET ranking of 77. If South Florida keeps winning, it can at least equal the Scarlet Knights on this criterion. Since the start of February, the Bulls have already raised their NET ranking by more than 30 spots.

By "keep winning," by the way, Bubble Watch recommends USF keep doing so all the way to the finals of the American tournament. On this subject, Abdur-Rahim might consider texting either Utah coach Craig Smith or VCU coach Ryan Odom for advice. Smith and Odom were the head coaches at Utah State in the 2021 and 2023 tournaments, respectively. In both years, the Aggies stormed into March on win streaks that carried them all the way to the Mountain West tournament final. In both years, USU lost in the conference tournament final to San Diego State. Nevertheless, the Aggies earned double-digit seeds in both brackets.

That's the kind of run that South Florida is on now.

That's the kind of run the Bulls will need to extend to earn an at-large bid.

Or, who knows, USF might just take the committee out of this question entirely and win the automatic bid. Either way, at 13 wins in a row and counting, South Florida is fast approaching bubble status.

Here is our current projection of the bubble: