Coming down to the wire now, with one week until Selection Sunday, the teams that need to do something to impress the committee have taken the unusual approach of playing poorly. Some teams (Auburn, New Mexico) have jumped into the fray, while others continue to stagger toward the finish line.
On the Way Up
Winning eight of their last nine, including victories against Tennessee and LSU, has propelled the Tigers into the tournament conversation. Outside of SEC play, however, they haven’t beaten anyone of note. The lack of a surge by anyone else is really helping their chances at this point. Two wins in the SEC tournament and they are in.
Steve Alford’s Lobos have the same streak (eight of nine) as Auburn and have beaten all of the Mountain West’s big boys (UNLV, Utah, BYU, and San Diego State). However, there are no wins that stand out outside of the conference, and all of the previously mentioned wins were at home. Still, they tied Utah and BYU for the top spot in a tough conference.
Six wins in a row, and the Aggies are almost a lock. Big wins over Texas and Missouri stand out, but they also have wins over Arizona and LSU, two teams that look to be in the tourney. They have very balanced scoring, and their defense, apart from the second half against Missouri, looks okay. Mark Turgeon had a team like this three years ago (Wichita State) and took them to the Sweet 16.
Saturday’s win at Minnesota was huge. Road wins are always at a premium, especially at this time of year. Add early wins against Duke and UCLA, and the Wolverines could be back in the tourney. Winning at least once in the conference tournament would help.
On the Way Down
Unless they do something special in the SEC tourney, they’re going to the NIT. They are 3-8 in their last 11, including an incomprehensible home loss to Georgia, who picked up their third conference win of the year. Somehow, I don’t think Tubby Smith is sympathetic to what Billy Gillispie must be hearing in Lexington.
Speaking of Tubby, the Gophers are doing their late-season best to dissuade the committee from extending a March Madness invitation. 3-6 in their last nine, including a painful loss to Michigan at home Saturday, is not what the committee is looking for. Most of what I’ve read or heard seems to indicate that they will get in, but I’m not sure why. The Big Ten is by far the most overrated conference in college hoops. More on that later.
The Rebels have on thing to be thankful for: The Mountain West tourney is being held in Las Vegas. That said, if I was a betting man, I would not spend anything more than say, nothing, on them to win. After beating Louisville on the road without Wink Adams and maintaining a high RPI ranking for most of the season, the Runnin’ Rebels have really been mediocre at best. They need to win this tournament to get in.
Losses in five of their last six have virtually assured the Bearcats of a ticket to the NIT, barring a special run in the Big East tournament. Yes, you can lose to Syracuse without slipping too much, but getting it handed to you by South Florida and then losing to Seton Hall at home won’t pay the rent.
The “Who Knows” and “Are You Kiddings?”
One of the 38 teams from the Big Ten that should receive a bid, the Badgers (18-11, 9-8 in conference) seem to have alerted the selection crew that they are ready for the Madness. Ironically, the madness would be having a mediocre team with a mediocre record in a mediocre conference get an at-large bid. There are better teams than Wisconsin that won’t even get a sniff.
The Wildcats (17-11, 8-9) also reside in the Big Ten. They are also mediocre. Yes, they have won some games (Ohio State, Purdue). They have also lost some games (Iowa, Minnesota 73-45). This means they are a competitive team in a competitive conference. It doesn’t mean they should be part of the field.
I think they’ll get in, just because we’re running out of teams. They’re faltering as they did toward the end of last season but had a big win in terms of selection against Kentucky on Saturday.
The best-case scenario for the Missouri Valley having two teams in might have blown up on the weekend. If the Bluejays had reached the final of their tournament and lost, this may have been the case. However, they were awful, blowing a 20-point lead against Wichita State before winning at the buzzer, then getting waxed by Illinois State. Pins and needles for Dana Altman’s crew.