The NCAA basketball rankings are important, as they provide a means to measure the talent level of colleges around the country.
However, a ranking inside the Top 25 isn’t as necessary as it is in college football come the postseason. As long as a team gets into the NCAA tournament, it has just as much of a chance to play for the championship as the top-ranked programs.
It’s a common sight in March Madness to see an unheralded, unranked school knock out a ranked powerhouse in a winner-take-all meeting. It’s those types of Cinderella stories that make the Big Dance the marquee sports event of the year.
While fans love to focus on the Cinderella squads making these runs, it’s important to project which programs could play the role of Goliath this spring. Let’s take a look at the latest Top 25 rankings, then highlight a couple of ranked schools that seem ripe for an upset in the tournament.
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes|
|2||Wichita State (14)||31-0||1555|
|10||San Diego State||25-3||995|
No. 13 Creighton Bluejays
The Bluejays were dominant throughout much of their inaugural Big East campaign, winning 10 games in a row at one point and racking up signature wins against quality opponents like Villanova.
They parlayed that run of success into a respectable ranking, but recently the Bluejays have hit a wall.
Creighton has lost two straight games to unranked opponents, including a six-point defeat to Xavier and a surprising 12-point faltering against Georgetown.
The team didn't shoot above 40 percent in either of the losses and definitely needs to turn things around before March Madness—if it can.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports noted that the key to halting Creighton is limiting Ethan Wragge. He pointed out that the Hoyas held the forward to one field goal on six attempts and it resulted in a big win:
Stop Ethan Wragge, stop Creighton. Georgetown held the sharpshooter to 3 points on 1-6 FGs. Won the game.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 5, 2014
Xavier seemed to realize that as well, giving Georgetown the blueprint when the Musketeers kept the senior to just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.
Wragge only averages 10.9 points on the year, but he normally does it efficiently, shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 48.2 percent from three.
As per ESPN’s John Gasaway (via Dirk Chatelain of Omaha.com), the Bluejays’ defense is also in complete disarray right now.
The team has given up an average of 1.17 points per possession over the past three games, a stark contrast to the 0.85 points per possession it averages on the season.
How far will Creighton go in the NCAA tournament?
This is the absolute worst time for a program to start having issues with scoring the basketball and stopping opponents from doing exactly that.
Creighton should head into the tourney with a respectable seed, but it might not last long with these glaring issues rearing their head. Don’t be surprised if a low-seeded opponent pushes the Bluejays to the limit and possibly even ends this team’s run before it gets started.
No. 15 Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati was one of the premier schools in the country earlier in the season, but recently it has gone astray from what won it 15 straight games and had it ranked No. 7 in the polls.
The team has dropped down to 24-5, primarily because of two straight losses and three losses in the last five games. The Bearcats are still ranked No. 15 in the AP poll, but could fall out completely if they continue this stretch of concerning play.
Cincinnati has been shooting just 30.3 percent during its three most recent losses, a terrible figure for a team that ranks near the bottom of the country with an average of 68.4 points per game.
The Bearcats play at a deliberate pace and often look for high-percentage shots, so missing easy looks is going to lead down a quick path to downfall.
Head coach Mike Cronin was especially angry after the most recent defeat to UConn, as his squad could not hide the broad side of a barn or take care of the ball.
You can see him venting some of his frustrations in a confrontation with a referee in the midst of the game here, courtesy of SportsCenter:
ICYMI: Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was HEATED about a call in 2nd half of No. 11 Bearcats' loss to UConn. » http://t.co/9SkVzPplQe— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 1, 2014
The Bearcats lost, 51-45, while shooting 27.1 percent from the field and turning the ball over 20 times. Cronin was not afraid to speak of his disappointment after the ugly loss, as per Bill Koch of Cincinnati.com:
We’ve got a bad attitude right now. We have no humility. We’re arrogant and we got taught a lesson. Why? Accolades, people thinking that we’ve accomplished something. Man, the season’s just starting. You play bad, you’re going to lose, man. I saw it coming all week I told them in there I’m not coming out here and making excuses. I did everything I could all week. I’m frustrated with my team right now. This is the most disappointed I’ve been in them since the Xavier game. The guys have got ability but right now we’ve got no accountability. Our leaders failed us immensely this week. To walk into here and think that we were just going to show up and win is a joke. It’s a complete joke.
Those aren’t the types of things that a coach pleased with his team is usually saying in March.
That statement is truly a bad sign and unless the players use it as a wake-up call, they will find themselves with a poor seed and facing a quick exit in the NCAA tournament.