NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch - March 6 Update
It's the time where tournament bubbles are burst, but also when legends are made, and where teams can gain enough momentum to vault from also-ran status into tournament lore. Here’s looking at you, last year’s Connecticut and Virginia Commonwealth squads. Yet, to win the tournament, one must first get into the field of 68. Let’s take at which teams on the bubble look poised to sneak into the Big Dance, and which squads may have to wait until next year to have their shot at glory.
Tennessee (18-13, 10-6)
The downward spiral that had been the Volunteers’ season in Cuonzo Martin’s first year on the job has stopped at the perfect time. After ending Feb. 10-12 and a mile away from even thinking about the tourney, the Volunteers have won eight of their last nine, topped off with an impressive road win against Florida. The Volunteers can’t afford to, and shouldn’t, lose in the 2nd round of the SEC tournament against either Auburn or Ole Miss. Assuming they win, it’s hard to ignore a 10-6 conference record. Adding to the fact that elite recruit Jarnell Stokes graduated from high school early in order to give the Vols a consistent rebounder and tough inside presence in the second half of the season only makes the Volunteers a team catching fire when they need it most.
Drexel (27-6, 16-2)
No matter what way one wants to spin out, the Dragons have won 25 of their last 27 games. Despite their loss in the CAA title game, one that was a missed three-point attempt with three seconds left away from going into overtime, the Dragons have made their statement to the NCAA bid committee. While the squad has no game-changing victories, none of their losses are to teams with less than 18 wins. The CAA is no slouch of a mid-major conference, which makes it look like the Dragons at-large hopes will not be slain despite a heartbreaker of a conference final.
South Florida (19-12, 12-6)
Coach Stan Heath has yet to coach the Bulls to a tournament berth in his five seasons, but a 12-6 record in Big East play looks to change that fact in the near future. Despite the incredible fact that no Bulls player is averaging over 10 points per game this season, wins in six of their last eight after being torched by 30 points at Georgetown have fans in Tampa preparing to dance. Assuming the team doesn’t lay an egg against the winner of Rutgers and Villanova, their late-season push should be enough.
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Once again, the unproven Huskies enter the Big East tournament slumping and with doubts about their consistency. But once again, the reputation and strength of schedule that comes with playing in the Big East gives the Huskies a chance despite a below-.500 conference record. Uber-recruits Andre Drummond and Ryan Boatright have shown flashes of the NBA-level talent they possess, but have also disappeared completely when the Huskies needed them most. Still, the Huskies finally have coach Jim Calhoun back at the helm after missing a large chunk of the Big East season receiving cancer treatment. UConn has the talent to compete with anyone, as shown by their recent two-point loss to No. 2 Syracuse, and it’s up to Calhoun to turn the talent into results in crunch time.
Northwestern (18-12, 8-10)
After three straight years of NIT appearances, the Wildcats (again) have a real shot of gaining the school’s first ticket to March Madness and sending senior John Shurna (averaging almost 20 PPG) off in style. The 8-10 conference record isn’t pretty, and the Wildcats have at least to beat Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, but then they would face Michigan in the quarterfinals, with a win heavily improving their at-large chances. Both games this season, the Wildcats have lost in overtime to the Wolverines. If the third time is the charm, then the purple craze could begin in Evanston.
Harvard (26-4, 12-2)
After losing the ability to control their own destiny after a one-point loss to Penn, the Crimson are in for an nerve-wracking week. If Penn defeats Princeton, then they will force a one-game playoff with a tourney bid on the line. The Ivy League has never had an at-large bid, so if the Crimson blow their chance to lock up a bid, they could need some Linsanity-esque magic to avoid the NIT despite a school-record 26 wins.
With no impressive non-conference wins in a putrid Pac-12, the Wildcats went into their game against 10th-place Arizona State needing to win to keep their at-large hopes alive. So much for that. After an inexcusable loss, the Wildcats killed their late-season momentum and now may need a Pac-12 tournament title to make the Big Dance. It’s a sad state of the conference when a 12-6 record is a stain, not a star, on a team’s resume, and Arizona is about to prove that point.
Seton Hall (19-11, 8-10)
What looked like a breakthrough season for the Pirates after a 15-2 start with one of the nation’s best players of the first half, Herb Pope, has crashed. A résumé with only one terrible loss turned sour after a loss to Rutgers, followed by a baffling 28-point throttling by conference doormat DePaul to finish 8-10 in Big East play. The Pirates have a chance to stop their slide in a Big East tournament second-round matchup against Louisville, but without a quarterfinal victory, they will need some help. Considering the way the team hit rock bottom at the end of the regular season, the forecast is gloomy.
Iona (25-7, 15-3)
Unfortunately for the Gaels, NCAA bids for mid-majors aren't determined in the regular season. After leading the nation in points per game at 83.3, and finishing second in shooting percentage at just over .500, the Gaels are likely headed to the NIT after a loss in the MAAC semifinals to Fairfield. To make matters worse, Fairfield proceeded to lose in the championship game the next day. Having players with eye-popping statistics like Scott Machado (9.9 assists per game) and Mike Glover (.644 field goal perecentage) doesn't show up on the Gaels' resume, but the stench of that semifinal loss is likely to eliminate a team that was viewed by many as a trendy mid-major team to make a tournament run.