College Basketball Teams Whose 2014 NCAA Tournament Hopes Are on Life Support

Jake CurtisFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2014

College Basketball Teams Whose 2014 NCAA Tournament Hopes Are on Life Support

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    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    With less than two weeks before the NCAA tournament field is announced on March 16, a number of teams are clinging to fading hopes of getting into the 68-team field. These teams are barely in contention for one of the at-large NCAA bids, perhaps needing to win their conference tournaments to earn an NCAA berth.

    A lot of teams, including Xavier, Colorado, Oregon, Baylor, Oklahoma State, St. Joseph's, Arkansas, BYU and Pittsburgh, are on the bubble and still have work to do to secure a bid. But all those teams look as though they would be in the NCAA tournament field if the selections were made today, March 6.

    Instead, the teams featured here appear to be on the outside looking in or are in serious jeopardy of dropping out. These squads need something significant to happen in their favor, and perhaps something bad to happen to others, to get them over the hump and into the NCAA field. They are still alive in their quest for an at-large berth, but barely.

    The NCAA tournament projections provided by ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and USA Today helped gauge each squad's place in the pecking order. It should be noted that results in conference tournaments throughout the country will have a significant impact on teams' chances of landing an at-large berth. In other words, everything is speculative.

Nebraska

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    A late-season surge has lifted Nebraska into contention for an at-large berth. ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and USA Today all project that the Cornhuskers would be in the NCAA tournament field at the moment, but all three sites have them as one of the last teams in. Victories in seven of its last eight games has pushed Nebraska into fourth place in the Big Ten. Given the strength of the conference, that would seem to be enough for an at-large berth.

    However, the Cornhuskers are just 18-11 overall, and they put themselves in a deep hole with a loss to Purdue and one to UAB earlier in the season. They own two signature wins (Ohio State and Michigan State, the latter on the road), but their 11-point loss at Illinois on Feb. 26 was particularly crippling.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    Nebraska needs to win its final regular-season game against Indiana and Wisconsin to have a shot at an at-large berth. The Wisconsin game is particularly important. A home victory over the Badgers on Sunday would provide another signature win and would impress the selection committee. That and a first-round win in the Big Ten tournament might be enough to lift the Cornhuskers into the NCAA field. A loss to Wisconsin might require the Cornhuskers to get to the Big Ten tournament title game to make the NCAA field.

St. John's

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    St. John's is barely even in the discussion for an at-large berth, and it would need a lot of things to go right to make the NCAA tournament. The Feb. 9 victory over Creighton gave the Red Storm some hope, but that is their only victory in eight games against top-50 RPI teams. A road victory over Providence and a home win over Georgetown are the other high points, but that is not enough to overcome a 19-11 record and an RPI ranking of 63. Failing to win the Feb. 22 road game against Villanova, where the Red Storm trailed by a point with 58 seconds left, was a major blow.

     

    Path to an NCAA bid

    A road win against Marquette in the regular-season finale on Saturday is almost a requirement, and that alone won't get the Red Storm in. St. John's also would need a few wins in the Big East tournament, including a victory over Villanova or Creighton. Depending what happens in conference tournaments elsewhere, it's possible that only a conference tournament title will get the Red Storm into the NCAA tournament.

Yale

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Yale is two games behind Harvard in the Ivy League standings with two games left. The only way Yale can get an NCAA tournament berth is to win the automatic bid from the Ivy League. The results of all four games that affect Yale must go in Yale's favor for the Bulldogs to get in. That is a lot to ask.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    Unlike the other teams whose NCAA tournament status is in question, the Bulldogs know exactly what they must do. They must beat Harvard on Friday at Yale, and then beat Dartmouth the next day at Yale. Harvard must then lose to Brown on Saturday. If that happens, Yale and Harvard would finish tied for first and would meet in a playoff game next week at the Penn Palestra.

    The Bulldogs would then have to win that playoff game to get the automatic NCAA berth for the Ivy League, which does not have a conference tournament. It's a lot to ask, but a lot is working in Yale's favor. The Bulldogs beat Harvard on the road earlier in the season, and their final two regular-season games are on their home court.

    Harvard, meanwhile, finishes up on the road, and, if it loses to Yale on Friday, would have to play another road game the next day against a pretty good Brown team. A playoff game in Philadelphia would be a virtual toss-up, with Yale having the momentum.

Tennessee

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Tennessee is tied for fourth in the relatively weak Southeastern Conference. It has one outstanding win, a 35-point victory over Virginia, but that was back in December, and the Vols have no signature wins since. An 18-11 overall record that includes three losses to teams ranked outside the RPI top 100 won't get it done for teams in the SEC this season. ESPN.com, USA Today and CBSSports.com all have Tennessee close to making the NCAA field, but only ESPN.com has it in the tournament as of now. The Vols' last regular-season game against Missouri doesn't offer the opportunity to improve their resume much.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    The Vols need another impressive win, and they can't get that until the SEC tournament. First, the Vols must avoid a crippling loss by winning at home against Missouri on Saturday. Then, Tennessee probably needs at least two wins in the SEC tournament, with one of the victories being against Kentucky or Florida. With the SEC's unusual tournament format, it's unclear whether Tennessee would be better off being seeded No. 4 or No. 5 for the event.

    A No. 4 seed would give the Vols a double bye into the quarterfinals, but a No. 5 seed would provide them an opportunity for an additional victory. In any case, the Vols probably need to get to the SEC tournament semifinals to have a shot at an at-large berth and may need to get to the title game.

Georgetown

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Georgetown started the week on life support but got a breath of oxygen by beating Creighton on March 4. That lifted the Hoyas into the discussion for an at-large berth. But they still may be on the outside looking in. Georgetown has a number of good wins, having beaten Michigan State and Virginia Commonwealth as well as Creighton, and its strength of schedule is strong.

    But the Hoyas are just 17-12 overall and sit in seventh place in a 10-team conference (Big East) with an 8-9 record. Georgetown has three losses to teams ranked outside the top 140 in the RPI (two to Seton Hall and one to Northeastern). With an RPI of 58 and 12 losses, the Hoyas have not done enough yet.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    If Georgetown beats Villanova on the Wildcats' home court in its regular-season finale on Saturday, that may be enough to push the Hoyas into the NCAA tournament field. Consecutive wins over the top two teams in the Big East (Creighton and Villanova) would mean a lot, especially with the latter coming on the road. The Hoyas still might have to win a game or two in the Big East tournament to get in. If the Hoyas lose to Villanova, they may need to get to the conference tournament finals, or perhaps win the tournament entirely, to feel secure about an NCAA berth.

    The selection committee sometimes considers how a team looks in losses, so staying competitive in a road game against Villanova may be a factor. Playing Villanova at this stage is a blessing and a curse. Beating Villanova in Philadelphia is a major challenge for the Hoyas, but it provides an opportunity for a significant victory.

Minnesota

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Minnesota has lost seven of its last 10 games and is tied with Indiana for seventh place in the Big Ten heading into its regular-season finale against Penn State on Sunday. Even a victory over the Nittany Lions is not going to help the Gophers much. Minnesota has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, according to ESPN.com. That and victories over Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa are the only reasons the Gophers are still in the discussion for an NCAA tournament berth.

    But an 18-12 record probably is not good enough for a team that has losses to Northwestern and Purdue on its record. CBSSports.com and ESPN.com both have the Gophers as one of the "first four out" at the moment, while USA Today has them as the fifth of the "last five in." Considering upsets in other conference tournaments are likely to squeeze out some of the at-large teams currently projected to make the field, the Gophers' situation does not look good at the moment.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    Minnesota must beat Penn State. A loss to the Nittany Lions would be a virtual death knell, requiring the Gophers to win the Big Ten tournament to get an NCAA berth. Even if Minnesota beats Penn State, the Gophers would need to win at least one game in the Big Ten tournament, and probably two, to have a shot. They need another win over one of the Big Ten's top three teams: Michigan, Michigan State or Wisconsin.

West Virginia

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    When West Virginia beat Iowa State by 25 points on Feb. 10, things looked pretty good for the Mountaineers. It was their second win over a quality opponent, having beaten Oklahoma just five days earlier, and it gave them a 7-5 record in the strong Big 12. However, West Virginia then lost three in a row, a streak halted only by a March 1 victory over TCU, which is winless in conference play.

    Just as discouraging is the fact that West Virginia has been hurt by injuries that leave it at less than full strength. At 16-14 overall and 8-9 in the conference, the Mountaineers are not projected to make the field by any of the major outlets. (USA Today lists West Virginia among the "no longer considered" teams.) The quality of the opposition in West Virginia's final game against Kansas will make it difficult to collect another victory.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    The Mountaineers' chances of landing an at-large berth are hanging by a thread. The positive aspect of playing Kansas at home on Saturday is that it gives West Virginia an opportunity for a quality win. If the Mountaineers beat the Jayhawks, they could jump right back in the picture for an at-large bid. There is little reason to believe the Mountaineers, in their current state, can win that game, but the opportunity is there.

    Even if West Virginia wins that game, it probably needs to reach the Big 12 finals with an impressive win along the way to earn an at-large berth.

Florida State

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    ESPN.com lists Florida State as one of its first four teams out of the NCAA tournament field. CBSSports.com and USA Today do not even have the Seminoles that close. Florida State has won three games in a row to at least put itself in the discussion for an at-large berth.

    But it has gone 0-4 against the elite teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and its two quality wins, against Virginia Commonwealth and Massachusetts, came before Jan. 1. It just doesn't have enough eye-catching wins for a team that is 18-11 overall, has an RPI ranking of 59 and resides in seventh place in the ACC.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    The Seminoles' final regular-season game, against Syracuse on Sunday at Florida State, gives them the opportunity they need. Beating the Orange, who have struggled lately, would not put the Seminoles in the NCAA tournament field by itself, but it would provide an avenue to get there. Beating Syracuse on Sunday, then winning two games in the ACC tournament might be enough, since a second victory in the conference tournament would include a win over one of the ACC's four elite teams.

    Even that would not assure the Seminoles an NCAA tournament berth, but it would give them a chance. Getting to the ACC title game presumably would do the trick.

Southern Mississippi

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    With a 25-5 overall record and a RPI ranking of 35, Southern Mississippi is likely the only Conference USA team with a chance to earn an at-large NCAA tournament berth. But the Golden Eagles are merely tied for first place with Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa, and may need to win the Conference USA tournament to get in. ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and USA Today all have the Golden Eagles in their projected NCAA tournament field at the moment, but they are seeded No. 12 in all three.

    That means they are likely to drop out if they lose another game anywhere along the line. Southern Miss' best win is a road victory against North Dakota State, and that is unlikely to sway the selection committee, which also will see the bad losses to Western Kentucky and UAB and a strength of schedule that ranks 160th.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    Southern Miss probably needs to win the Conference USA tournament to get in. If the Golden Eagles win their final regular-season game at Tulane on Thursday, then get at least to the Conference USA tournament semifinals, they would be in contention for an at-large berth. Getting to the conference tournament finals would improve their chances, but even that would not guarantee them a spot in the NCAA tournament field.

Providence

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Providence took a step toward an at-large berth with its double-overtime victory over Marquette on March 4. Nonetheless, the Friars remain on shaky ground, primarily because of the difficult schedule ahead. The Friars face a road game against Creighton on Saturday in their final regular-season game, and then are likely to face a strong, motivated team such as St. John's, Xavier or Marquette in their opening game of the Big East tournament.

    Two losses at the end of the season might doom an at-large berth for Providence, which may feel the pressure of seeking its first NCAA tournament berth in 10 years. Beating Villanova on Feb. 18, a game Providence lost in double overtime, might have changed the Friars' NCAA tournament status considerably. As it is, Providence has a borderline RPI ranking (No. 52), only one quality win (Creighton) and tough games ahead.

     

    Path to an NCAA Bid

    Although Providence will be an underdog against Creighton on Saturday, a road victory against a quality opponent such as the Bluejays would go a long way toward assuring Providence an NCAA tournament berth. Even if the Friars lose that game, one win in the Big East tournament may be enough to get the Friars into the NCAA tournament. Two wins in the conference tournament should be enough to ensure it.

Dayton

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Dayton (21-9) was out of the NCAA tournament picture until it won eight of its last nine games, at least giving it hope. Beating Saint Louis on the Billikens' home court on March 5 only further bolstered the Flyers' at-large chances. ESPN.com and USA Today barely has Dayton in the NCAA field at the moment, but CBSSports.com has it as an 11 seed, ahead of the "last four in."  

    Dayton has three losses to teams outside the top 120 in the RPI rankings, and the Flyers' best wins are against Gonzaga and Atlantic-10 foes George Washington, Massachusetts and St. Louis. The Flyers are only in sixth place in the Atlantic-10, which typically is not enough to earn an at-large berth, even though conference record technically is not a criterion for selection. When the smoke clears from upsets in other conference tournaments, the Flyers will need a resume that is noticeably better than one they currently have.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    The Saint Louis game was key. Beating the Billikens on the road might be enough to get Dayton into the NCAA tournament, although losses in the next two games could jeopardize the bid. Had Dayton lost to Saint Louis, the Flyers probably would have needed to beat Richmond in their regular-season finale and win two games in the Atlantic 10 tournament to have a chance to get in.

California

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    California is different from the other teams on this list. The Bears probably would be in the NCAA tournament if selections were made today, but their current direction leads to pessimism about their postseason status. Cal started Pac-12 play 5-0 and has a win over Arizona under its belt. But the Bears have lost eight of their last 12 games, including a loss to USC, which is 0-15 in the conference otherwise.

    More significant is that the Bears have lost by a margin of at least 18 points in three of their past five games. Although the selection committee depends primarily on wins and losses and other objective data to make its choices, subjectivity comes into play sometimes. The Bears' recent performances won't impress the committee members, and an 18-12 overall record is not good enough to leave questions.

     

    Path to an NCAA bid

    After losing to Utah on March 5, Cal needs to handle its business at home against Colorado in its regular-season finale on Saturday. Even with that win, the Bears still may need two conference tournament victories to get an NCAA tournament berth. Results in other conference tournaments could have an impact on Cal's NCAA chances, too.

     

Missouri

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    Why the Outlook Is Grim

    Two things are working against Missouri: The Tigers are just 3-6 in road games (a category that's important to the selection committee), and they are just 9-8 in the Southeastern Conference, which is not particularly strong this season. Being in sixth place in the SEC, only a half-game ahead of LSU, does not distinguish a team.

    Missouri beat UCLA early in the season, and it has two wins over Arkansas, but nothing else stands out. An RPI ranking of 54 does not help either. Missouri remains in contention for a berth because it has avoided catastrophic losses. CBSSports.com is the only one of the three projection sites that has the Tigers in the NCAA field, and it has Missouri as one of its last four teams in.

     

    The Path to an NCAA Bid

    Missouri needs to win its final regular-season game against Tennessee on Saturday, which will be pivotal for both teams. Even if the Tigers win that game, they probably need to win at least one game in the Southeastern Conference tournament to have a shot at an at-large berth.