NCAA Tournament 2012: 10 Bubble Teams That Will Be Sweating on Selection Sunday

Thad NovakCorrespondent IFebruary 29, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: 10 Bubble Teams That Will Be Sweating on Selection Sunday

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    With conference tournaments already here for some schools, time is short for the teams that haven’t yet locked up an NCAA tournament berth. More spots in the big dance will be claimed in the next week and a half, but plenty of teams will need some help and a lot of luck if they’re going to join the field of 68.

    Perhaps the most surprising name on this list is the UConn Huskies, who could miss the chance to defend their national title. Even with Shabazz Napier turning in some brilliant performances in place of the departed Kemba Walker, UConn has limped to a 7-10 record in the Big East and will need another sensational conference tournament just to play in March Madness.

    Read on for a closer look at the Huskies and nine other hopefuls who will have to scramble for the final few spots in the NCAA tournament field.

10. Seton Hall

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    The often-downtrodden Pirates have been one of the pleasant surprises of the season, beating several other bubble teams out of conference—VCU, Dayton, St. Joseph’s—and scoring a major Big East victory over Georgetown by a convincing 18-point margin.

    For all its successes, though, the Hall is just 8-9 in conference play heading into the regular-season finale at dangerous DePaul.

    The Pirates split the season series with UConn and lost to Villanova and Rutgers, leaving them far from secure in their postseason hopes.

    Still, a win over DePaul on Saturday plus one Big East tournament win would probably put Seton Hall in the field of 68.

9. Miami

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    After scoring a serious upset over then-No. 16 Florida State on Sunday, the Hurricanes are still very much in the discussion for an at-large berth.

    That performance, combined with a stunning OT triumph at Duke, gives Miami two major signature wins to balance out a disappointing 17-victory total.

    The Hurricanes aren’t out of the woods yet, as a rough non-conference performance (9-4, with losses to Ole Miss and West Virginia) is sure to hold them back.

    If they can avenge their home loss to NC State in tonight’s visit to Raleigh, they’ll be a big step closer to an at-large berth.

8. Texas

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    The Longhorns took their lumps in the early season, falling to Oregon State and NC State in an iffy non-conference run.

    As Myck Kabongo and his fellow freshmen have found their sea legs, though, Texas has rallied to beat Iowa State and Kansas State to climb back to .500 in the top-heavy Big 12.

    Last Monday’s near-upset of Baylor might have put Texas over the top for a tournament berth, but the Longhorns couldn’t close the deal.

    A win tonight over Oklahoma becomes vital—especially with Kansas looming in the regular-season finale—and a couple of victories in the conference tournament will likely be called for as well.

7. Cincinnati

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    Although the Bearcats have notched a couple of impressive wins in Big East play—Notre Dame and Louisville have both fallen in Cincinnati—they’ve tended to follow their best performances with momentum-killing flops.

    Losses to the likes of St. John’s and South Florida have left Cincinnati on shaky postseason ground.

    Mick Cronin’s team gets no help from a terrible non-conference schedule featuring exactly one opponent (fellow bubble team Xavier) that has even a prayer of an NCAA berth.

    Considering that the Bearcats not only lost to the Musketeers but also to lowly Presbyterian College, a strong finish will be imperative, starting with tonight’s daunting home date with No. 7 Marquette.

6. Northwestern

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    Selection Sunday could spell the end of a historic streak: The Wildcats are the only team in the six major conferences that have never appeared in the NCAA tournament.

    For that hope to be realized, though, Northwestern is going to need a strong finish against a very tough Big Ten.

    The Wildcats are just 7-9 in conference play, but they have beaten front-running Michigan State and taken down Seton Hall in non-conference action. 

    Assuming they don’t pull off a miracle at home tonight against Ohio State, John Shurna and his mates will need to finish with a win at Iowa and then win at least two games in the Big Ten tourney to make their big dance debut.

5. Washington

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    If the Huskies can pull off an entirely manageable sweep in their Los Angeles road trip this week, they’ll be outright champions of the Pac-12. Astoundingly, that still might not be enough to secure an NCAA tournament bid.

    Should Washington falter in the conference tournament—and they lost their only meeting with likely finals opponent Cal—UW's at-large credentials are far from a lock for a spot in March Madness.

    They haven’t beaten a single tournament-bound opponent, and a weak 7-5 non-conference record includes a 19-point home loss to South Dakota State.

4. Virginia Commonwealth

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    The darlings of March Madness a year ago, VCU snuck into the field of 68 on one of the last at-large bids available.

    If they’re going to defend their Final Four spot, it looks like the Rams will need to hope for another flash of generosity from the selection committee.

    Bradford Burgess and company have been good, but not impeccable in CAA play, finishing second to Drexel with a 15-3 conference record.

    More critically, VCU’s non-conference showing will be met with resounding indifference thanks to a loss to Georgia Tech and a general lack of quality opposition—their strongest win came against...South Florida? 

3. Xavier

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    Last night’s loss to Saint Louis may have completed the Musketeers’ descent from Final Four dreams to NIT reality.

    After enjoying a top-10 ranking early in the year on the strength of an eight-game winning streak—with Vanderbilt and Purdue among the defeated victims—Xavier saw it all come crashing down thanks to an idiotic brawl following their win over Cincinnati.

    Long after the suspensions from the fight had been served, Xavier was taking uncharacteristic losses to teams such as UMass and Dayton.

    For all Tu Holloway’s prodigious talent, he’ll need to lead a deep A-10 tournament run for the Musketeers to have any shot at an at-large bid.

2. UConn

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    Ranked for a large chunk of the season, the Huskies have seen everything go to pieces during a 3-9 slide in conference play.

    The latest ignominy was last night’s two-point loss at lowly Providence, which dropped UConn to 7-10 in the Big East and a lackluster 17-12 overall.

    The Huskies’ biggest edge is their strength of schedule (the nation’s toughest), and wins over Florida State, Harvard and Notre Dame are all pluses.

    Still, somebody’s going to need to step into Kemba Walker’s postseason shoes and lead another dash through the conference tournament to put the defending champs back in the big dance.

1. Mississippi State

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    Ranked as recently as two weeks ago, the Bulldogs are in a tailspin that could easily see them crash-land in the NIT. Five consecutive losses have dropped MSU to 6-8 in SEC play and a middling 19-10 overall.

    With their non-conference victories over Texas A&M and Arizona no longer carrying much weight, the Bulldogs have only an overtime squeaker at Vanderbilt to point to as a signature win.

    Even if they win their final two in the regular season—and the last is against Arkansas, who’s already beaten them this year—it’s going to take a strong showing in the SEC tournament to send these Dawgs dancing.