NCAA Tournament 2012: 10 Bubble Teams That Will Be Sweating on Selection Sunday
College basketball’s regular season has finally ended and conference tournaments are beginning.
That means there is just one more week for teams to state their case for being among those selected to play in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
While a number of teams are already firmly in the field of 68, many more are still on the outside looking in. And the beauty of conference tournaments is that anything can happen.
Last year, the Connecticut Huskies made an improbable run through the Big East Tournament as a No. 9 seed, becoming the first team to win five games in five days en route to a National Championship.
Every year, there are far more bubble teams than there are spots in the tournament. No matter how well a team plays this week, it still may be too little too late.
On the other hand, winning a conference tournament automatically punches the ticket to the big dance, so there is always a chance.
Here are 10 bubble teams that need to make an impression this week, but even so will be sweating on Selection Sunday.
With the Big 12 suddenly becoming a deep conference with more than one elite team, the Texas Longhorns find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being very firmly on the bubble as Selection Sunday approaches.
Texas is often an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament lock by this time in the season, but not this year.
Thanks to unexpectedly great seasons from teams like the Missouri Tigers, Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas State Wildcats, the Longhorns have been pushed to the periphery.
The team has a 19-12 record overall and is just 9-9 in Big 12 play. The Longhorns’ best wins are against Iowa State, Kansas State and the Temple Owls. But none of those three victories qualifies as the marquee win Texas needs to secure a tournament berth.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, the team does not have an embarrassing loss on its resume.
Although losses to the Oregon State Beavers and Oklahoma State Cowboys will not inspire much confidence in the selection committee.
If Texas can knock a few teams off in the Big 12 Tournament (Baylor, Missouri or Kansas preferably), it will probably sneak into the field. But an early exit could spell NIT for the Longhorns.
Oh, Northwestern. Will you really have to wait one more year?
It is hard to believe that the Northwestern Wildcats have never played in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Every time it looks like the team has finally secured the big win it needs to go dancing, the Wildcats will go on a losing streak to put them right back on the bubble.
This season was no different. When Northwestern beat the Michigan State Spartans, the team was 12-5, with four of those five losses coming to ranked teams. NCAA Tournament, here they come!
But then, of course, Northwestern went 6-7 the rest of the year, narrowly missing out on beating the Indiana Hoosiers, Michigan Wolverines and, most importantly, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The team got completely crushed by the fading Minnesota Golden Gophers and were beaten twice by the Purdue Boilermakers.
While it would be a great story to see Northwestern made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, it just does not look like this is its year.
At the beginning of the season, the Xavier Musketeers were ranked in the Top 25 (even sneaking into the top 10 in December) and thought to be a sure-bet to win the Atlantic 10.
The Musketeers are three games back in their conference, a measly 19-11 overall and haven’t been ranked since before the New Year.
Tu Holloway no longer even remotely resembles the Player of the Year candidate he was early on this season and the team has faded with him.
Xavier, a team many thought would be a lock to make the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, is fighting for its life to get off the bubble.
The Musketeers simply have too many losses to teams it would have crushed at the beginning of the season. Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Dayton are all solid teams in the A-10,but not in the national picture.
Xavier might stumble into the tournament on the strength of its early-season victories against the Vanderbilt Commodores, Cincinnati Bearcats and Purdue Boilermakers, but not because of their play lately.
And don’t think voters will overlook a loss to the Hawaii Warriors or the complete thrashing by the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles.
Simply put, Xavier does not deserve to be in the tournament. But as of now, the team still has a chance.
The South Florida Bulls, once the doormat of the Big East Conference, are having one of the best seasons in school history.
The team is 19-11 overall and a surprising fourth—with a 12-6 record—in the Big East.
Yet, unfortunately for the Bulls, their spot in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is still not secure.
South Florida fell victim to a few losses early in the season—to the Old Dominion Monarchs, Penn State Nittany Lions, Southern Miss Golden Eagles and Auburn Tigers—that are not awful, but will definitely not help the Bulls prove it is a tournament-caliber team.
In conference play, South Florida came into its own and started playing great basketball. The team did not lose to an unranked opponent until its most recent game against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
The only problem for the Bulls is that its only marquee win was against the Louisville Cardinals, who recently dropped out of the rankings. South Florida won the games it was supposed to, but could not pull off an upset that would have secured its tournament berth.
South Florida plays the epitome of team basketball—no player is averaging 10 points per game. Instead, seven are playing over 20 minutes per game and scoring between seven and nine points a contest.
The Seton Hall Pirates are another traditional Big East laughingstock that has come into its own and is enjoying a very successful season.
However, the Pirates, like the South Florida Bulls, are in danger of missing the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The team is 19-11 overall and just 8-10 in conference play.
The main thing dooming Seton Hall’s tournament hopes? A six-game losing streak in the middle of conference play that dropped the team from 15-2 overall to 15-8 and 4-7 in the Big East.
The team was able to rebound and win three straight and also upset the eighth-ranked Georgetown Hoyas at the end of February, but that might not be enough.
To make matters worse, Seton Hall ended the regular season on a two game losing streak to embarrassingly bad opponents in Rutgers and DePaul.
If the Pirates can make some noise in the Big East Tournament and, best-case scenario, upset one of the top teams in the Big East, it will probably be enough to send them to the big dance.
Seniors Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope deserve to play in the NCAA Tournament after all they have given to the school. The two need to put together just a few more stellar games to make it happen.
North Carolina State
The North Carolina State Wolfpack had their chances. And then a brutal schedule just compounded the team’s problems.
If the team doesn’t make the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, those are the two things it will look back on.
Most notably, the Wolfpack surrendered a 20-point lead in a loss to the then-No. 4 Duke Blue Devils in the middle of February. A win against a Top Five team so close to Selection Sunday would almost certainly have turned the tides for NC State.
The team also lost by one-point to the Virginia Cavaliers. If it had won both of those games, the Wolfpack would be 11-5 in the ACC and have an almost identical record to the No. 17 Florida State Seminoles.
But NC State could not pull off either win and was then trapped by a schedule that forced the team to play Duke, Florida State and the North Carolina Tar Heels in a row.
The Wolfpack lost all three of those games and then lost in overtime to the Clemson Tigers in their next outing.
The silver lining for the team is that it was absolutely not expected to challenge for a spot in the field of 68. NC State has far exceeded expectations, but unfortunately, that might not be good enough for this team.
When the West Virginia Mountaineers began Big East play, the team was 10-3 overall and seemingly poised for a great year.
However, West Virginia then went 9-9 in conference play to place the team squarely on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bubble.
The team has an enigmatic style of play, losing games it should win easily and then coming within a shot or two of upsetting some of the top teams in the nation.
The Mountaineers lost by 20 points to the Seton Hall Pirates, by 16 points to the St. John’s Red Storm and narrowly escaped the very awful Providence Friars in overtime.
Yet, the team also lost by a combined four points to the Baylor Bears (in overtime) and the Syracuse Orange—teams that, when West Virginia faced them, had just one loss between them.
The question the selection committee faces is which Mountaineer team will show up if granted a spot in the NCAA tournament?
Is the squad capable of upsetting a few teams and making a run to, say, the Elite Eight?
Or has West Virginia showed its true colors by losing seven of its last 11 games?
As late as Feb. 18, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were ranked in the Top 25 and seemed to be a lock for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The team appeared to have finally turned things around after a tumultuous 2010-11 season involving many suspensions and discipline issues.
But then the Bulldogs steered off-course again.
Mississippi State lost five games in a row, dropping their SEC record to 6-8. In that streak, the Bulldogs lost to three teams with losing conference records including the Auburn Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs who both have 5-11 marks in the SEC.
A team that features Renardo Sidney, Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie should not be fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth. Yet, some players have a tendency to disappear, causing the team to struggle.
Mississippi State does boast wins over the Vanderbilt Commodores and Alabama Crimson Tide, both tournament teams, and lost to the Baylor Bears by just two points.
But is the team worthy of the big dance? A run to the championship game of the SEC Tournament would certainly make voters think so.
How many NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bids will the ACC get this season? Four bids almost definitely.
But what if the conference is granted a fifth?
Then the Miami Hurricanes and NC State Wolfpack will have to battle it out for the last spot.
Miami’s record is 18-11 overall and 9-7 in the ACC. The team has won two fewer games than NC State, but the contest between the two is much closer than that.
Miami is lucky because it has two big wins on the season—beating the then-No. 5 Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium and toppling the Florida State Seminoles by 16 points.
So why don’t the Hurricanes have an edge?
First and foremost, the team has lost to the Wolfpack twice. In choosing between two teams, nothing helps voters more than head to head matchups.
Also, Miami’s non-conference record is nothing to write home about. The Hurricanes beat no one of note and suffered unfortunate defeats to the Mississippi Rebels, Memphis Tigers, West Virginia Mountaineers and Purdue Boilermakers.
Win two or three of those four games and suddenly, Miami could be an NCAA tournament lock.
If it does end up coming down to the Hurricanes versus the Wolfpack for a place in the big dance, Miami better hope it can impress some people in the ACC tournament this week. Otherwise, the team will likely be NIT-bound.
The good news is that the Arizona Wildcats are 21-10. That is a pretty good record for a team hoping for an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bid.
However, the team is just 12-6 in the Pac-12, good for fourth place in the conference.
Keep in mind this is the Pac-12, a conference that might end up with fewer bids than the West Coast Conference and dead even with Conference USA.
Not really a ringing endorsement.
The Pac-12 has not had a team in the Top 25 since conference play began. So unfortunately for Arizona, that means the team cannot notch a marquee win before Selection Sunday.
The Wildcats did finish the season strong, winning seven of their last 10 games and beating the California Golden Bears.
However, the team did lose to the Arizona State Sun Devils, UCLA Bruins and Colorado Bears this season. Those games will not impress anyone.
Arizona needs to advance to at least the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament to give themselves a chance at reaching the big dance. But if the team loses early on, consider it out of the field altogether.