NCAAB teams battling the bubble

NCAAB teams battling the bubble

NCAAB teams battling the bubble
By JOSH NAGEL

March is just around the corner, which means it’s time to engage in the annual late-February tradition of extensive dialogue about bubbles that have nothing to do with the turn of spring.

Naturally, we’re referring to the proverbial yet ubiquitous NCAA tournament bubble, on which numerous teams perilously sit as they vie to be included in the 65-team field come selection Sunday.

There are more bubble-basking teams than we have room to discuss, but here's a look at five teams who might need to help themselves in order to avoid seeing their bubble burst.

Syracuse Orange

Record: 20-8, 8-7 Big East
Key wins: Florida, Kansas, Memphis
Key losses: Villanova (twice), Louisville, Cleveland State
RPI: 24
Remaining games: Cincinnati, Rutgers, at Marquette

Prospects for getting into the NCAA tournament: Uncertain, though the Orange are fortunate to have early-season wins over Kansas and Memphis to fall back on as they make their case. Unfortunately for Syracuse, it has developed a reputation for recent late-season meltdowns and it might be in the midst of another. A home win over Villanova Sunday would have helped its portfolio. Now, Syracuse likely needs to win three of its last four and take a game or two in the Big East tournament to feel secure. But remember, the Orange finished 10-8 in the conference a couple of years ago and was left out of the field. If it happens again, we don’t want to hear whining from Jim Boeheim about the injustice of it all. This team will have only itself to blame.

Tennessee Volunteers

Record: 17-10, 8-5 SEC
Key wins: Marquette, Florida, South Carolina
Key losses: Gonzaga (twice), Kentucky (twice), Kansas
RPI: 25
Remaining games: at Florida, at South Carolina, Alabama

Prospects for getting into the NCAA tournament:  Good but not great for this erratic Volunteers squad. They could have helped themselves a lot with a win in one of their two meetings with Gonzaga or a non-conference win at Kansas. But losses to inferior SEC clubs such as Ole Miss and Auburn don’t help. So long as they finish above .500 in SEC play, the Vols should be OK. But a win in the conference tournament wouldn’t hurt.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 18-8, 8-7 Big Ten
Key wins: Miami, Michigan, Purdue
Key losses: West Virginia, Michigan State, Northwestern
RPI: 43
Remaining games: at Purdue, at Iowa, Northwestern

Prospects for getting into the NCAA tournament: Fading and a disappointing about-face for a club that started 9-0 and had designs on contending for the Big Ten title. Hurt by injuries and a recent wave of one-and-done NBA defections, coach Thad Matta’s club has managed to hang around but suffers from a lack of real signature wins in the Big Ten aside from a road triumph at Michigan. The Buckeyes probably need to take three of their final four conference games and at least one conference tournament win.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Record: 18-9, 7-6 Big 12
Key wins: Siena, Texas A&M, Nebraska
Key losses: Gonzaga, Michigan State, Washington
RPI: 31
Remaining games: Texas, Kansas State, at Oklahoma

Prospects for getting into the NCAA tournament: Probably a long shot for a Cowboys club that has certainly improved under first-year coach Travis Ford, but is likely a year away from a breakout season. The Cowboys could have helped their cause with a non-conference win over Michigan State, Gonzaga or Washington. And they missed their chance to get a signature Big 12 win by losing at home to Oklahoma. If they take three of their last four in the Big 12 and have a strong conference tournament, they have an outside chance.

Arizona Wildcats

Record: 18-9, 8-6 Pacific 10
Key wins: Kansas, Gonzaga, UCLA
Key losses: UAB, Texas A&M, Stanford
RPI: 42
Remaining games: at Washington State, at Washington, California, Stanford

Prospects for getting into the NCAA tournament: Much better now, thanks to a string of seven wins in their past eight games that salvaged what was shaping up as a disastrous first season in the post-Lute Olson era. Wins over UCLA and Washington in that span, combined with big non-conference wins over Kansas and Gonzaga, put the Wildcats in the familiar position of seeing their school name etched into a bracket come selection Sunday. The Wildcats also have history on their side. They were by far the least-qualified bubble team to make the NCAA field last year but this year’s resume, barring a serious setback, will merit their invitation without having to rely heavily on the benefit of the doubt.

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