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Teams That Need Deep Tournament Runs to Keep Big Dance Hopes Alive

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2013

Teams That Need Deep Tournament Runs to Keep Big Dance Hopes Alive

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    College basketball’s regular season is in the books, and teams hoping to sneak into March Madness are almost out of time. Winning an automatic bid is the safest solution, but stringing together a few big wins in the conference tournament can sometimes rescue a weak at-large resume at the 11th hour.

    One team hoping hard for such an outcome is the Providence Friars. The Big East tourney will provide them with plenty of opportunities for statement wins—if they can go on a roll with their season hanging by a thread.

    Read on for more on Bryce Cotton’s squad and nine other teams whose Big Dance hopes will live or die by their showings in the next week.

UMass

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    A solid 9-7 record in the brutal Atlantic 10 is a good start to UMass’ March Madness hopes, but it’s almost all the Minutemen have.

    Their best nonconference wins came against other bubble-quality teams (Ohio, Providence), and they went 0-3 against A-10 powers Butler, VCU and Saint Louis.

    A conference tourney opener against George Washington will not do much for UMass’ portfolio, but potential rematches with Temple and VCU later on are a different story.

    Beating the Owls and Rams on the way to the A-10 final would give the Minutemen hope (albeit slim) of sneaking into the Big Dance as an at-large.

Arkansas

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    In a weird way, Arkansas’ poor position on the SEC totem pole might help it in the conference tourney.

    The seventh-seeded Razorbacks drew No. 10 seed Vanderbilt, but with the Commodores playing a de facto home game in Nashville, Tenn., a win for B.J. Young and his mates will look a lot better than usual.

    That hypothetical victory would also get Arkansas to 20 on the season, a total with some terrific signature wins (Florida, Missouri, Kentucky) dampened by the fact that all of them came in Fayetteville.

    If the Razorbacks can get through two more games to the SEC final, they’ll have added a second win over Kentucky and more than likely punched their ticket to March Madness.

Xavier

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    Xavier has added some much-needed quality wins in recent weeks, but Semaj Christon and Co. still have work to do. Wins over Butler, Memphis and Saint Louis are big assets, but losses to St. Joe’s, Dayton and (especially) Pacific really hurt.

    Xavier’s biggest disadvantage at this stage is that it has only 17 wins in total, so adding quality wins is less crucial than just adding more wins, period.

    With three games between them and a spot in the conference final, the Musketeers should have a good shot at a tournament berth just by getting that far.

Maryland

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    After nailing down their signature win of the year against rival Duke, the Terrapins went 2-4 in their final six games. With a wince-inducing 8-10 ACC record and no quality wins out of conference, Maryland needs all the help it can get from the ACC tourney.

    Beating Wake Forest in the first round is a must, of course, but it won’t impress the selection committee much.

    If the Terps want to go dancing, they’ll need a second win over the Blue Devils in the quarterfinals and another victory (likely against North Carolina), plus a good dose of luck.

Southern Miss

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    Conference USA is perpetually on the edge of being a one-bid league, which is bad news for second-place Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles got swept by conference-leading Memphis, and a loss at sub-.500 Marshall will do even more damage.

    Still, the team’s nonconference schedule was passable (including a win over Georgia and a couple of “good losses”), helping Southern Miss climb to 39th in the RPI rankings.

    The Golden Eagles won’t get another quality win unless they beat Memphis in the C-USA tourney final, but they might barely be able to eke out an at-large bid if they win the two games it will take to get there.

Alabama

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    The Crimson Tide would be in even worse shape than they already are had they suffered another bad loss against Georgia on Saturday.

    Trevor Releford’s half-court heave saved them against the Bulldogs, but it’ll take a big SEC tournament to save Alabama’s season.

    The Tide’s nonconference schedule featured as many bad losses as respectable wins, and even a 12-6 SEC record isn’t nearly as encouraging as it looks with so many of the league’s teams on the bubble.

    Alabama has a bye to the SEC quarterfinals already, meaning two chances (at most) for quality wins unless it somehow manages to take home the title.

    The Tide will need both those chances to fight their way into the at-large picture.

Providence

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    For a team whose only hope of making the Big Dance lies with its conference performance, Providence really failed to seize the moment on Saturday.

    The Friars’ usually dangerous offense deserted them on the road at UConn, and they managed just 59 points in an overtime loss.

    Conference wins over Villanova (twice), Notre Dame and Cincinnati are all going to work in favor of LaDontae Henton and his mates, but one more quality win won’t be enough.

    Providence will probably need to make it all the way to the Big East final (likely beating Cincinnati, Georgetown and Pitt along the way) to feel safe on Selection Sunday.

Arizona State

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    A 9-9 record in a middling Pac-12 would have Arizona State worried about its bubble position under the best of circumstances. The fact that the Sun Devils lost four straight to fall to that record is a huge blow to their hopes.

    On the flip side, ASU lucked into a No. 9 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, all but guaranteeing it two consecutive shots at quality wins (UCLA and likely Arizona) if it survives its tournament opener against Stanford.

    Added to a win over Cal and a sweep of Colorado, those wins might be enough for Jahii Carson and Co. to go dancing even if they lose in the league final.

Iowa

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    A nonconference schedule loaded with the Gardner-Webbs and South Dakotas of the world left the Hawkeyes with just a single quality win (over Iowa State) entering Big Ten play.

    The improving young team has pulled off a couple of valuable upsets, edging Wisconsin and crushing Minnesota, but its 9-9 league record is mostly a function of sweeping the bottom two teams in the standings.

    Unfortunately for Iowa, it opens the Big Ten tourney with a third shot at Northwestern, so even a win will do little for the Hawkeyes’ NCAA hopes.

    They’ll need to beat Michigan State and (probably) Ohio State in the conference semifinals to stake a claim to an at-large spot.

Baylor

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    Baylor took a gigantic step toward an at-large berth by shellacking No. 4 Kansas on Saturday night. The fact that the Bears still find themselves on this list is a pretty good hint about how the rest of their season has gone.

    Baylor’s best wins out of conference came against BYU (a good but NIT-bound squad) and at Kentucky (a bubble team in its own right until this weekend).

    Add in a 9-9 record against a Big 12 with lots of weak teams at the bottom, and the Bears are in serious need of wins over No. 13 Oklahoma State Thursday night and No. 9 Kansas State in the conference semis.

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