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NCAAB: Big Names on the Bubble

NCAAB: Big Names on the Bubble

Big Names on the Bubble
By Joe Nelson

It is far too early to project the NCAA tournament field but there are a number of teams that are accustomed to dancing in March that still have some significant work to do. These are teams that most assume would be locks for the postseason based on success the last few years and projections for this year, but the reality is the overall resumes are not that impressive so far. The next few weeks of the conference season will be make-or-break for these teams that have reached prestigious levels in recent years but have proven little in the 2008-09 campaign.

Wisconsin: The Badgers played a quality non-conference schedule and all five losses came against good teams that will likely make the NCAA field. However it is hard to find quality wins for Wisconsin so far this season. The Badgers have been a 30-win team the past two seasons and entered the NCAA tournament as highly rated seeds and were also the Big Ten tournament and regular season champion last season. That will not carry weight with the selection committee this season however as Wisconsin has a lot of work to do.

The five losses came against Connecticut, Marquette, Texas, Purdue, and Minnesota so there is not a bad loss on the resume and all were competitive efforts except for the Purdue game. The best wins are at Virginia Tech and at Michigan however, two teams in a more precarious postseason position than Wisconsin, so Wisconsin needs to put together a strong Big Ten season. The Badgers only get to play Michigan State once and it will be on the road so delivering a marquee win may be tough. Wisconsin will probably need to finish above Illinois and Ohio State in the conference standings as both of those teams have much better non-league wins. At 3-2 currently in Big Ten play, Wisconsin probably needs to finish 11-7 at worst to assure a spot in the NCAA field.

UCLA: The Bruins have been a final four regular and have been highly ranked in the polls all year so most assume they will be a lock to not only be in the tournament, but likely as one of the better seeds. The strength of schedule has not been very strong so far this year however and there is a dearth of strong wins. UCLA projects as one of the better teams in the Pac-10 and presumably will finish well in league play to create a nice profile but the non-conference resume just is not there this season.

None of the three losses for UCLA were bad losses, losing at Texas, at home against Arizona State in overtime, and to Michigan in a neutral site game but there are no high quality wins. The best wins for the Bruins are against Miami OH, Southern Illinois, and DePaul, wins that will mean little by season’s end in the eyes of the tournament committee. UCLA is 4-1 in Pac-10 games so far beating storied teams that have taken a step back this season, Arizona and USC. With several marginal teams in the conference UCLA should get enough wins to be comfortably in the Big Dance but a cold stretch or a key injury could leave the Bruins on the bubble with little weight in the early season resume.

Florida: The Gators did not make the tournament last season but made a strong NIT run and many projected Florida to be back at a high level this season despite losing Marreese Speights to the NBA. Florida may look like the best team in the SEC right now but the conference is not going to earn a great deal of bids with Tennessee and Vanderbilt taking major steps back this year and inconsistent play from teams like Arkansas and Kentucky. The Gators are about to enter a daunting part of the conference schedule and momentum going the wrong direction could send these team to the bubble despite the gaudy 16-2 record at this point.

The best wins for Florida in non-conference play came against Bradley and Washington as the Gators played seven unlined home games to build the strong overall record. The two losses are respectable coming at Florida State and a neutral site game against Syracuse but the lack of quality wins could hurt the Gators, especially if the SEC continues its overall mediocrity. Florida has wins over Arkansas and Mississippi already in league play but both games came at home and the Gators struggled to win at Auburn in the opening SEC road game. This team has a lot of potential but is far from locked into a tournament bid and a strong SEC finish will be needed.

Kansas: Unlike some of the others teams on this list Kansas actually does have a nice non-conference win to hang on, beating Tennessee, but that win is looking less impressive by the day. The Jayhawks beat Washington and took Syracuse to overtime but also have a pair of bad losses, getting blown out against an average Arizona team and losing at home to Massachusetts. Wins over Temple and Siena are nice but ultimately will not be deal-makers for Kansas in a post-season bid.

Kansas lost badly at Michigan State which should not hurt them and picked up a big recent win over Texas A&M which could help in the Big 12 pecking order by season’s end. Kansas is 3-0 in league play but has not yet had to face any of the top teams in the conference. Kansas has the schedule working in its favor as it plays Oklahoma and Texas just once each but the Jayhawks will need to prove they can win on the road against some of the middle-of-the-pack teams in the conference. Another bad loss without a marquee win could really jeopardize the chances for Kansas as the overall Big 12 profile is not likely to project favorably against the Big East, ACC, or Big Ten.

Notre Dame:
The Irish have been highly ranked in the polls almost all season but a mediocre conference season could send the Irish back to the bubble. Already with five losses, the tough conference season will likely at least double that total. Notre Dame is such bad defensive team that they can lose to anyone in the Big East as St. John’s proved, and with three double-digit losses already this season Notre Dame will need to get a few big wins to stay in the upper echelon of the conference.

Notre Dame has played a high quality schedule and the non-conference win over Texas should be worth something but losing a neutral site game against Ohio State could hurt as the Buckeyes could end up with similar profile by season’s end and have an edge among similar teams competing for at-large spots. Notre Dame will need to finish above .500 in league play to get a bid and that is far easier said than done in this conference. Notre Dame will also have a nice opportunity to bolster the profile with a game at UCLA in February but the upcoming league schedule is brutal and the Irish could enter that game with a losing Big East record and with a loss be left scrambling the rest of the season.

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