Bubble Teams No One Wants to Play in the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament
We are nipping and tucking for real now in the final portion of college basketball's regular season.
The conference tournaments will help sort the wheat from the chaff before the selection committee closes its war-room door, but there is still the hard work of determining who among the remainder is most worthy to crack that hallowed field of 68.
I won't tell the committee how to do its job. Some teams will make it, others won't. It's the nature of the beast.
But what I can do is look at the bubble as it exists right now and identify those teams that no one will want to play if the committee motions them past the velvet rope. Some teams are peaking at just the right time, others have the talent to explode at any moment and all of the squads included here would be a tough out for any opponent in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
These are the nine bubble teams, listed in no particular order, that I certainly wouldn't want to see staring at me across the bracket.
Conference: Atlantic 10
Record: 21-7 (11-3 conference)
The Hawks have held a special place in hoophead history since 2004, when Jameer Nelson and Delonte West led their team to a 27-0 regular-season record and an Elite Eight Big Dance berth.
This year, Saint Joseph's hasn't done a great deal against top opponents, especially out of conference, but the Hawks won six straight and eight of nine to grab second place in the A-10.
They appear to be peaking at the right time, and their efficient attack, in this incarnation keyed by guard Langston Galloway, could lead them to wins over mistake-prone teams come tourney time.
Record: 18-11 (9-8 conference)
When it comes to the tournament, knowing thyself is an invaluable asset.
And Florida State knows itself. The Seminoles are a defensive team first and foremost, and they're coming on strong, holding their last five opponents to below 70 points per game on average.
Aaron Thomas, Okaro White and Ian Miller help catalyze the offense as well as the defense. They are also a battle-tested group, thanks to their ACC schedule and tough out-of-conference slate.
Their underrated attack could cut both ways in the tournament.
Conference: Big 12
Record: 20-10 (8-9 conference)
The eye-popping strength of the Bears' schedule would pay big dividends when or if they reach the Dance. There won't be much that will intimidate them.
Granted, they haven't had a great deal of success against the top teams, but they have had some, knocking off Kentucky in December, Oklahoma State in February and Iowa State in March.
Baylor brings a balanced attack (including an impressive collective rebounding effort) that might keep the Bears from beating themselves down the stretch.
Conference: Big East
Record: 20-10 (10-7 conference)
Providence begins and ends with its do-it-all point guard, Bryce Cotton.
After struggling badly in the first half of February, the Friars have righted the ship and returned to the bubble conversation with three straight wins in the past two weeks. During that stretch, Cotton has averaged 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists on 47.5 percent shooting.
If he can keep it up, who knows? As the floor generals for their teams, point guards can play pivotal roles in the tournament. Right now, it's hard to pinpoint one better than Cotton.
Conference: Conference USA
Record: 25-5 (12-3 conference)
Southern Miss might be the conference leader now, but given the presence of Louisiana Tech and other less-than-easy outs in Conference USA, the Golden Eagles should be considered bubblicious until the conference postseason concludes.
Not surprisingly, strength of schedule is hampering Southern Miss on the bracketological stage. The fact that the team managed only 38 points against its best opponent—a crushing November loss to Louisville—is not a good indicator.
So the Golden Eagles are walking a thin line between now and Selection Sunday. But the thing is, they're doing a pretty admirable job, taking their last four and 11 of 13.
Buoyed by their three seasons on the bubble and one of the most accomplished players in program history (senior guard Neil Watson), the Golden Eagles are a veteran club that seems to genuinely covet more than just the March Madness limelight.
Record: 21-8 (9-8 conference)
The Ducks kept their fire alive Tuesday with a huge win over Arizona State. What may have mattered more in the grand scheme of things, though, is the manner of the victory.
Oregon, the nation's eighth-highest-scoring team, poured 85 points on the Sun Devils. But the real keys were in how the Ducks knuckled down, got stops, avoided mistakes and grabbed big rebounds to salt away the win.
This isn't the first time they have shown guts in a winning effort. It's been commonplace for Oregon of late, and it will serve the team well if it can keep it rolling into the Dance.
Record: 21-9 (10-7 conference)
It is not hard to argue that Arkansas has hopped off the bubble and secured its tournament destiny, thanks to a six-game winning streak and a season sweep of Kentucky.
But a so-so conference record is holding back the high-flying Razorbacks, as is a bad early-season loss to Cal.
Their score-in-bunches backcourt of Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls combine with impressive freshman forward Bobby Portis to make a formidable combo no one wants to see coming at them.
Record: 18-11 (9-7 conference)
The SEC's fifth-placed team has to travel to Auburn Wednesday night. The Tigers have 12 wins there this season, so it's not quite the gimme one might expect.
Tennessee, though, is probably up to the task. The Volunteers have been plagued by inconsistency, but nice wins lately over Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Georgia (plus a well-played but tough loss to Texas A&M) might suggest they're heading in the right direction.
A balanced starting five, led by two beastly post players in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, will offer a bruising test for anyone, provided they continue to execute to their potential.
Record: 20-9 (8-8 conference)
Did someone say frontcourt?
Missouri, known in recent years for its frenzied guard play, has received decent performances lately out of post players Jonathan Williams and Torren Jones. If they can keep that up, that might remove some defensive pressure from star guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson.
They probably need to win out in games over Texas A&M and Tennessee, but if they can do it, their guards give them an edge in frenetic mid-March play.
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