College Basketball Bubble Teams That Will Be Most Dangerous Come Tourney Time
With Selection Sunday less than a month away, the NCAA tournament picture has become a little more predictable.
While chaos will surely ensue when Championship Week arrives, as of now we have a good idea of who is on the bubble and who is safely in the tournament.
According to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, there are currently 26 teams on the bubble and only 12 available spots. Some of those teams we are familiar with—Kentucky—and others we are not—La Salle. Either way, all 26 teams are going to be fighting during the last month of the season to get to the NCAA tournament.
Let's take a look at some teams on the bubble who could make noise when all the dust is settled.
Not often do the reigning national champions find themselves on the bubble, but the Kentucky Wildcats do this year.
2013 has been an up-and-down season for John Calipari and the Wildcats. They were a top-10 team to begin the year but failed to live up to expectations. They've lost nearly every big game they've had this year, which has landed them squarely on the bubble. To complicate things further, star center Nerlens Noel went down with an ACL injury two weeks ago and Kentucky was promptly blown out by Tennessee the following game.
After the Tennessee debacle, many had the Wildcats out of the tournament, but two wins later they've clawed their way back in (pun intended).
Kentucky enjoys an easy schedule the rest of the way, with two games against SEC bottom-feeders Mississippi State and Georgia and two other important tilts against Florida and fellow bubble-goer Arkansas. Win two of those four and its SEC Tournament opener and Kentucky should be in the tournament with at least 22 wins.
If it is able to get to the NCAA tournament, Kentucky will be a dangerous team, even without Noel. The Wildcats still have two other 5-star freshmen in Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, along with 2011 5-star recruit Kyle Wiltjer. The loss of Noel severely impacts them on the defensive end, but they will still be one of the more talented lower seeds in recent memory.
No team will be happier than Creighton when the calender turns to March.
February has been a dreadful month for the Bluejays, as they've gone 3-4 with one game remaining. Before February started, Creighton looked like a shoo-in for the tournament, but the team has struggled recently and has had its tournament hopes come into question.
The Bluejays are still in good shape, with wins over California and Wisconsin and a big home game against Wichita State to finished the regular season. Once tournament play begins, Creighton will be a very dangerous team.
The Bluejays have the never-say-die attitude of a small, scrappy school, yet they have the talent of an upper-echelon tournament team. A deadly combination such as that is dangerous once the tournament begins.
Doug McDermott leads the way with his 22 points and seven rebounds per game and is followed by fifth-year senior Gregory Echenique. Both give the Bluejays an experienced front line that most top teams don't have.
Creighton has struggled of late, but it will have two more regular-season games and the MVC conference tournament to straighten things out and play to its true potential.
California Golden Bears
As much as Creighton has hated February, California has loved it.
Already having gone 6-1 in the month with only a home game against in-conference foe Utah left, California has used the month of February as a perfect tune-up to March. John Gassaway included Cal in his "5 Teams Peaking Right Now" column on ESPN, and it'd be tough not to agree with him since Cal has won five straight and six out of seven.
Even more promising for the Golden Bears is the fact that their next three games come at home against teams who are below them in the Pac-12 standings. If they are able to go into the Pac-12 Tournament as winners of eight straight, they would not only be off the bubble, but they could even potentially earn a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
California's biggest strength is its backcourt with Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Both are averaging over 14 points per game and are two of the more dangerous players in the Pac-12. Put them together and the Golden Bears will have one of the most dynamic backcourts in the tournament field.
Guards are usually the players who carry teams the furthest in the tournament, as opponents can squeeze big men in the lane; Cal will be able to take advantage of this, as its guards are the backbone of the team.
St. Mary's Gaels
St. Mary's hadn't beaten anyone worth noting until it handled Creighton at home this weekend, solidifying itself as a tournament team and proving to us all how deadly it can be when March comes.
Its best player, Matthew Dellavedova, is a do-it-all guard who is capable of putting the team on his back when he is hot, as evidenced by his five three-pointers against Creighton on Saturday.
Much like Cal, the Gaels rely heavily on their guards for scoring as well as the three-ball. St. Mary's is one of the higher scoring teams in the nation, netting 76 points per game—22nd in the country—and shooting a high percentage as well (48.3 percent).
Dellavedova can be streaky at times, but if a top seed catches St. Mary's during one of its hot streaks, they could be in trouble.
La Salle Explorers
Not many people know about the small school from Philadelphia, but La Salle has the feel of a team that could pull a few upsets in the NCAA tournament.
La Salle has been fairly consistent all year, with a solid group of wins under its belt. It has beaten Villanova, Butler and VCU and was up by six points over Miami at halftime before imploding in the second half.
The Explorers have a senior leader in Ramon Galloway, who transferred from South Carolina after his sophomore year to be closer to his family in Philadelphia. It's a perfect story for tourney time—picture it: Galloway is carrying his team to an upset when the camera pans to his family and an out-of-breath Gus Johnson enunciates something prophetic (he's no longer at CBS, but you can still imagine it!).
The rest of the La Salle team is an experienced group of juniors and sophomores who should be able to match up with anyone. They've showed they can pull an upset during the regular season; next up is the NCAA tournament.
Maryland put itself in great shape to make the field of 68 with its upset win over No. 2 Duke last week, but followed it up by laying an egg at Boston College, clouding its tournament hopes. As of now, Maryland is in the "Next Four Out" category of Lunardi's S-Curve—not a good place to be with four games remaining.
Luckily for the Terps, they have a chance to make a run at the end of the season and propel themselves to the tournament. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are two of the worst teams in the ACC—if Maryland can go on the road and win those two games, it would help itself immensely.
The Terps' other two games are home against North Carolina and at Virginia, both of which are either tournament or bubble teams. If Maryland wins three of those games, plus one or two games in the ACC Tournament, it would be in good shape.
That's saying a lot for a team which has been inconsistent all year—yet there is no denying Maryland's talent.
Alex Len is a legitimate seven-footer and Dez Wells is an athletic wing who can get to the rim at any time. It's a very young and inexperienced team, one which averages 15 turnovers per game, but it's also extremely talented.
The Terps' win over Duke proved their talent, but to show that talent in the tournament, they must overcome their youthful mistakes and get there first.
St. John's Red Storm
St. John's is one of the most athletic teams in the nation—its problem is that is has no big men. It's not a good sign when a team plays in the Big East and its center stands at 6'9"—it's even worse when he's the tallest player on the roster.
Even more detrimental than its lack of size is the mental aspect of the game St. John's has yet to grasp. The Red Storm showed their inconsistency by losing three awful games this year to truly bad teams.
You will see no at-large team in the NCAA tournament with losses on its resume such as San Francisco, UNC-Asheville and Rutgers (who—trust me, out of first-hand experience—is truly bad).
The Red Storm's tournament chances may remain a long shot, but if they are to get hot (or lucky), they can be very dangerous. The have a bona-fide scorer in D'Angelo Harrison and another athletic wing in Jakarr Simpson
With two players who are as talented as these two on the roster, it is easy to see why St. John's would be scary if they are able to make the Big Dance.
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