Iowa, Maryland and 5 Bubble Teams in Need of a Marquee Win This Week
As we inch towards the end of January, college basketball fans are beginning to get a general idea of how the NCAA tournament bubble will shape up.
The bubble is still very large, as many teams could cement themselves as sure-fire tourney teams and others could fall apart and wind up not even making the NIT.
Right now, a bubble team is essentially any team that either barely in the field of 68 or on the fringe but still has some work to do before Selection Sunday.
This week, Iowa travels to Ohio State in search of its first Top 25 win, Maryland goes to Duke looking to do the same, and Georgetown will host Louisville with the hope of returning to the top tier of the Big East.
Fran McCaffery has steadily built Iowa into a potential NCAA tournament team. The Hawkeyes, who played in the NIT last season, had a solid nonconference win over Iowa State in December, but they are going to need much more than that to get into the Big Dance.
Iowa added a good win to the resume by beating Wisconsin on Saturday, but the real opportunity comes tonight when the Hawkeyes travel to No. 14 Ohio State.
In each of its first three Big Ten games, Iowa fell to nationally-ranked opponents. Two of the losses, to Indiana and Michigan State, were by a combined seven points. But coming close is not going to be enough for the selection committee in a little under two months.
With four ranked opponents on their remaining schedule, the Hawkeyes will likely have to win at least two of these to go dancing.
Ohio State has not been playing too great in its last few games. The Buckeyes were blown out by Illinois, struggled to pull away from Purdue, nearly had a huge collapse against Michigan, and then lost a close game to Michigan State.
La Salle will actually get two opportunities for a big-time win this week. On Wednesday, the Explorers host No. 9 Butler, and on Saturday they play at No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth.
The Explorers' strong RPI (No. 40) puts them on the bubble at this point in the season, but their 3-4 record against top-100 opponents would definitely keep them out of the field of 68 if Selection Sunday were this weekend.
These two games will likely be La Salle's last chances to make a statement, as they are the final Top-25 opponents on its schedule.
A win over either Butler or Virginia Commonwealth combined with a record of 12-4 or better in the Atlantic 10 could allow La Salle to sneak into the NCAA tournament as a low seed.
Wyoming's weekend win over No. 15 San Diego State put the Cowboys safely into the NCAA tournament, but only for now. Because of the Cowboys' poor strength of schedule, a home loss to Boise State and a 13-point loss to Fresno State, they will need to take advantage of every opportunity they get in the Mountain West.
This week, Wyoming plays at UNLV, which is currently top 25 in RPI.
A strong road win over a high-caliber team, which the Cowboys are yet to achieve, would help solidify Wyoming's spot in the field of 68.
Brigham Young has made the NCAA tournament each of the past six seasons. But this year, the Cougars did nothing to help themselves in nonconference play, with their best win coming against the struggling Virginia Tech Hokies.
Although the BYU is in the RPI Top 50, it is 0-3 against the top 50 and 2-5 against the top 100. Right now, that resume will only get Dave Rose's club into the NIT.
With two games against Gonzaga and one against St. Mary's on their remaining schedule, the Cougars will have to win at least two of those games to receive any consideration for an at-large bid.
The first such game is Thursday night at Gonzaga, kicking off a three-game road trip.
Iowa State was largely unimpressive in nonconference play. The Cyclones' only notable win was over Brigham Young, but they also had no bad losses.
In their Big 12 opener at Kansas, the Cyclones took the Jayhawks to the wire and appeared on their way to a marquee win, but late heroics by Ben McLemore kept Fred Hoiberg searching for his first Top 25 win of the season.
Since then, Iowa State has won three straight games over teams in the bottom of the conference to remain in contention one game out of first place.
This weekend, the Cyclones will host Kansas State, which enters a game versus Kansas on Tuesday with a 4-0 conference record. The Wildcats are ranked No. 11 in the country.
Assuming Iowa State takes care of business at Texas Tech on Wednesday, a win over Kansas State could potentially put the Cyclones in a first-place tie entering the final week of January.
Maryland has a good overall record because its nonconference strength of schedule ranked No. 308.
In ACC play, the Terrapins have a Top-25 win over North Carolina State, but a home loss to Florida State and a blowout defeat at the hands of North Carolina keep Maryland on the wrong side of the bubble at the moment.
But that can change quickly if the Terps take advantage of their trip to No. 1 Duke on Saturday.
After Syracuse's win over Louisville last weekend, the Blue Devils reclaimed the top spot in the polls just in time for Maryland's visit.
Ryan Kelly is out with an injured foot, and the Blue Devils are clearly more vulnerable without their senior forward. Over the last two seasons, when he does not play Duke is only 2-3.
Still, the Blue Devils' hold the No. 1 ranking, and a win for Maryland would increase their NCAA tournament chances exponentially.
Just a few weeks ago, Georgetown looked like a clear, NCAA tournament team. The Hoyas upset UCLA and nearly beat Indiana at the Legends Classic, and then they beat Tennessee, which at the time looked like a solid win.
After losing only once in nonconference play, the Hoyas have already lost three times in the Big East, but on Monday they picked a huge road win over No. 24 Notre Dame.
With two Top-25 wins away from home, Georgetown would probably be in the tournament as about a No. 9 seed today, but the Hoyas could strengthen their resume with a win over No. 5 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.
Especially in a competitive Big East league where a couple of losses to lower-level teams like Seton Hall or DePaul could occur, having a top five would be quite significant.