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NCAA tournament bubble teams hold out hope over weekend

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

Even with only three-plus days of games before the 68-team NCAA tournament field is announced, it is difficult to pin every at-large selection down.

Upsets can still happen, bid thieves can still emerge in conference tournaments and profiles can change in the final moments of the season.

Still, it's reasonably clear what the pool of teams is that remains questionable for inclusion in the postseason field. Those finished for the regular season are a bit easier to assess, but it still is worth looking at the borderline candidates for roughly the final six spots in the field (barring surprises):

Brigham Young: The Cougars were strong away from Provo (12-5) and notched a solid victory over Gonzaga. They also beat fellow bubbler Oregon and played a decent nonconference schedule. Dave Rose's team probably is safe unless there's a rash of upsets.

Dayton/Xavier: These two meet in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals Friday. It might have been a de facto elimination game, though Dayton could be done in under any conditions thanks to unexplainable losses to Miami (Ohio) and Rhode Island.

Drexel: Yes, the Dragons have 27 wins. A whopping 16 of them came against teams ranked outside the top 200 in the RPI. A strength of schedule ranked 209th entering Thursday according to CollegeRPI.com could well be the undoing of Bruiser Flint's bunch.

Iona: The Gaels possess a profile similar to Drexel's: Lots of wins (25), perhaps not many of great quality, with a better nonconference schedule strength and a couple of ugly losses. Don't bet on Iona's inclusion, though, like Drexel, the Gaels could make noise if they get in.

Miami: The Hurricanes played late Thursday against Georgia Tech, with a win setting up a meeting with Florida State. A second defeat of the Seminoles, coupled with a victory at Duke, might be enough to nudge Jim Larranaga's team into the field.

Mississippi/Tennessee: Both SEC teams exist on the fringe of the bubble, and both need long conference tournament runs to stake a reasonable claim to a bid. Mississippi played a late game Thursday against Auburn, with a showdown with Tennessee at stake.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack breezed past Boston College in the first round of the ACC tournament. They still possess no wins against teams in the top 50 of the RPI. Beating Virginia and (potentially) North Carolina over the next two days might be required.

Northwestern: The Wildcats' entire resume can be summed up thusly: They beat Michigan State and they didn't lose to anyone they shouldn't have. They may have hurt their chances, however, by losing to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament Thursday night.

Oregon: Like N.C. State, the Ducks own no top-50 wins. Given the dearth of quality teams in the Pac-12, Oregon might need to win the league tournament. The Ducks opened play Thursday against Colorado in a game that ended well after midnight on the East Coast.

Seton Hall: The bad: The Pirates (20-12) were subpar down the stretch, losing 10 of 15 to close the season. The good: Seton Hall is a relatively decent 7-9 against the top 100. There are worse profiles out there, though the Pirates haven't done much of value besides beating Georgetown over the past two months.

Texas: The Longhorns' fate might have been decided in a late-night quarterfinal against Iowa State on Thursday. Texas has done little away from home (4-9), is well below .500 against the top 100 (4-10) and remained an at-large candidate into the last few days of the season. And that tells you all you need to know about this year's bubble.

Washington: The biggest indictment of this season's Pac-12: Its regular-season champ likely is headed for the NIT. The Huskies bombed out of the league tournament Thursday against Oregon State; with one top-50 win, a 6-8 mark away from home and 4-8 record against the top 100, Washington is a tough sell as an at-large pick.

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