The NCAA men's basketball season is winding down, and with only a few games left to play, numerous teams are on the cusp of clinching March Madness berths. With Selection Sunday fast approaching, these teams will look to finish out the season with a flourish, as their hopes of entering the 2014 NCAA tournament are on the line.
The selection process is based in a large way on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). With just 68 slots available in the tournament, teams with lower RPIs will look to bolster their chances with convincing wins late in the season.
Let's take a closer look at a few bubble teams poised to make late-season runs and earn coveted spots in March's tournament.
Dayton Flyers (RPI: .5775)
Dayton got off to a hot start in the beginning of the season, beating No. 11 Gonzaga and losing to No. 18 Baylor by a single point. The Flyers cooled off in mid-January, losing four straight games before winning their last six straight.
Currently, Dayton is ranked 55th in RPI standings with a 19-8 record and sits seventh in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Luckily for the Flyers, their remaining schedule looks favorable for a late-season run.
With three of their last four opponents without a top-25 ranking, the Flyers have a great chance to capitalize on a weak schedule.
On Tuesday, Dayton plays a strong Saint Joseph's team, and that game is followed by contests against Massachusetts, No. 10 St. Louis and Richmond.
A fair schedule and the Flyers peaking at the right time set the tone for a Dayton tournament run. The success of this team will rest on the shoulders of Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver going forward. Both players have been fantastic from the perimeter this season and can't afford to let up now.
Sibert and Oliver have been averaging 12.5 and 12.1 points per game while shooting .434 and .418 from behind the arc, respectively. Keeping up at least the team's average of 74.0 points per game should be enough to continue the momentum and gain some wins.
Xavier Musketeers (RPI: .5746)
Like Dayton, Xavier started the season with a healthy record, winning 13 of its first 16 games. The team began to struggle down the stretch, however, and have now gone 5-5 over the past 10 contests.
The Musketeers' remaining schedule isn't all that friendly either. Two of their final four opponents are ranked, as they are set to take on No. 11 Creighton and No. 9 Villanova. They must also face a surging St. John's team and Seton Hall.
So, why does Xavier have a good shot of making the tournament? Because guard Semaj Christon will step up his game during the late-season stretch.
Despite losing to Creighton, Villanova and Seton Hall earlier this season, Christon showed up in a big way during those contests:
|Semaj Christon vs. Remaining Opponents in 2014|
|St. John's||Dec. 31||10||5||8|
|Seton Hall||Feb. 1||21||3||6|
Christon has a way of stepping up when it matters most, and the stakes don't get much higher as the NCAA tournament approaches.
The Musketeers also stepped up defensively to stop a skid earlier in the season by defeating Providence on Feb. 8. During an interview with Kevin Goheen of Fox Sports Ohio after the game, Christon stressed the importance of good defense:
We got over that we didn't score and we got the next stop. It's a great confidence boost. The second half has been kind of rough for us the last couple of games. I think we just stayed locked in the whole game. We wanted to win so bad that everybody was locked in and did what we had to do.
If Christon and Co. can produce that same kind of defense over their remaining four games, expect to see this team play deep into March.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (RPI: .5847)
Oklahoma State has been on a major losing streak of late. Before earning a win against Texas Tech on Saturday, the Cowboys dropped seven straight games. However, over those seven games, they put up points and came away with some close losses.
The Cowboys continued to hang with ranked teams in that stretch, losing 80-78 against No. 15 Kansas, 88-76 against No. 23 Oklahoma and 98-97 in three overtimes against Iowa State. Their lone blowout loss was against No. 19 Texas by a score of 87-68.
Still, Oklahoma State can produce points at will. The team is averaging 81.3 points per game, good enough for 15th in the nation. If the Cowboys can shore up their defense, they can make a late push into the tournament.
It won't be easy, as they must face TCU, No. 8 Kansas, Kansas State and No. 17 Iowa State over their remaining four games. However, all of these games are winnable for the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State crushed TCU in their last meeting by a score of 82-50, lost to Kansas by two points, lost to Kansas State by three points and took Iowa State into three overtimes.
Each game has a solid chance of going in the Cowboys' favor.
If Marcus Smart can continue to regain his form after coming back from a three-game suspension, this Oklahoma State team will be poised to remain competitive entering the NCAA tournament.