The 2014 NCAA tournament is just around the corner, and due to the presence of so many great teams in the country right now, it should be nothing short of incredible.
However, with only 68 spots in the bracket, there are certainly going to be some notable squads snubbed by the selection committee.
These bubble teams are currently sweating out the process and have to perform well in the various conference tournaments that take place over the next week.
Let’s take a look at a few of these tournament hopefuls that will need some luck and better have their collective fingers crossed come Selection Sunday, as they are in real danger of missing the Big Dance.
Green Bay Phoenix
The Phoenix are hosting the Horizon League tournament and should be able to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the champions. However, it’s going to be tough to convince the committee that this group deserves an at-large bid if it falters.
Green Bay has had a monster campaign and finished the season with a respectable 24-5 record. There are a few signature wins on its resume as well, including home victories over ACC champion Virginia and Conference USA co-champ Tulsa.
However, the Phoenix have not been perfect. They lost to fellow University of Wisconsin satellite, the Milwaukee Panthers, at home by 10 points. Valparaiso also took care of business against this team by 15 points back in January.
Green Bay has played an overall weak slate of opponents, as its strength of schedule is ranked No. 145 in the nation. Its RPI is just outside the top 50 (51), and it would take some good fortune to make the at-large field.
Will Green Bay earn an at-large bid if it doesn't win the conference tournament?
Falling in the Horizon League tournament could be extremely costly for this squad, as the committee is well aware that the event is being hosted on the Phoenix campus and the home team will be favored all the way through the championship.
It’s going to take some great play from diminutive point guard Keifer Sykes and the rest of this squad to keep the current winning streak alive and navigate through the tourney unscathed.
Expect to see the 5’11” star—who averages 20.4 points, 5.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game as a do-it-all backcourt talent—throw down some monster jams if it appears his team is lacking energy. He described why he loves to be aggressive on the court to Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated:
It has a huge effect on the team. They always tell me to stay aggressive. A dunk always ignites us and ignites me. We know with this team, all we need is a little bit of momentum to open a game up and get going.
The Phoenix have a target on their backs and every Horizon League team they play will be gunning to knock out the champs, helping to increase their own chance of making the prestigious NCAA tourney. Should they fall, Green Bay's odds of making the Big Dance are long.
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
The Lumberjacks have had one of the most interesting seasons in college basketball, compiling a 28-2 record ahead of the Southland Conference tournament, which they earned the No. 1 seed in and automatically move to the semifinals played on March 14.
However, if they fail to win that game and the championship, this team is likely going to be sitting out in the cold with little chance of convincing the selection committee that it deserves an at-large bid.
Their strength of schedule is downright atrocious, coming in at No. 308 in the country. That is an eyesore and is a far cry from the tougher schedules that most of the other tournament hopefuls have played.
With an RPI that currently ranks No. 65, Stephen F. Austin is the definition of a bubble squad.
Some, such as ESPN’s Brett Edgerton, believe that SOS shouldn’t be the biggest indicator of a team’s success, as he noted the Lumberjacks have not lost since November and deserve more credit:
SOS be damned. If you win 24 in a row and haven't lost since before Thanksgiving, you get a shout-out. Stephen F. Austin, I salute you.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) March 6, 2014
The players are definitely on board with that and certainly aren’t lacking confidence. Senior Desmond Haymon warned that potential opponents this March should be on their guard, as per Eric Prisbell of USA Today:
The teams, they had better be aware that we are coming. We're coming. I don't want to sound cocky. I want to be confident. I don't think anyone can beat us when we play our basketball.
The Jacks are downright scary when they are at the apex of their game, and just about any of their players can go off on a given night. They feature five players who average 9.9 points or better and rank second in the country in turnover percentage.
Factor in a tough defense that starts at half court, and you are looking at the recipe for an upset come March Madness—if the team makes it. Stephen F. Austin simply cannot afford to falter in the Southland tourney, as the conference has not played well enough to deserve two bids and bump another team in the process.
The Jacks' record may be special, but the committee will see it dropped the ball with the pressure on and pass them over on Selection Sunday.