10 NCAA Basketball Teams Hitting the Panic Button as Conference Tournaments Open

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2014

10 NCAA Basketball Teams Hitting the Panic Button as Conference Tournaments Open

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    Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

    With Selection Sunday just a week away, NCAA basketball teams that haven’t yet cemented their tournament resumes are getting desperate. The last chance bubble teams get to make a case for sneaking into the field of 68 is the conference tournament—and for many teams, a strong conference-tournament showing is their only hope.

    Slumping Missouri, for example, just wrapped up its regular season with a humiliating 27-point defeat to Tennessee in Knoxville. If Jordan Clarkson and his mates are going to have any hope of an at-large bid, they’ll need at least one more quality win in the SEC tournament.

    Herein, a closer look at Frank Haith’s Tigers and nine more teams which risk a trip to the NIT if they don’t put in some serious work in the next week.

Georgetown

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    Despite an imposing No. 8 strength-of-schedule ranking, Georgetown has run out of room for error in the Big East tournament.

    The Hoyas have dropped four of their last six, and though they’ve played spectacularly on neutral courts, their only road wins have come against bottom-feeders DePaul and Butler (in OT).

    Georgetown is well-stocked with good wins (including Michigan State and Creighton), but its 17-win total is extremely precarious.

    An upset loss to DePaul on Wednesday would finish the Hoyas, but even a second-round defeat in the rubber match with Creighton might be enough to keep this team out of the March Madness field.

Pittsburgh

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    Since Feb. 12, the once-streaking Panthers have lost four games (including at home to Florida State and NC State) and won two others in overtime against punchless Notre Dame and middling Clemson.

    Worse, the season sweep of the Tigers is as strong as any of Pitt’s best wins, up alongside a neutral-court trouncing of Stanford.

    A quick exit in the ACC tournament would be the last straw for Lamar Patterson’s squad, so a win over the Wake Forest-Notre Dame victor in the Panthers' tourney opener is a must.

    Even assuming they get the job done there, they’ll probably need to beat North Carolina in the next round to feel at all secure heading into Selection Sunday.

Tennessee

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    Tennessee certainly helped itself by demolishing Missouri on Saturday, but with bad losses to Texas A&M and Vandy to worry about (not to mention a neutral-court pratfall against UTEP), there’s still more than enough reason for anxiety in Knoxville.

    The Volunteers’ last win over anyone better than a fellow bubble candidate came way back on Dec. 30, when they walloped ACC champion Virginia.

    In a soft SEC tournament field, statement wins will be hard to come by, so avoiding bad losses is essential.

    The Vols must take care of business against Arkansas—their likeliest opponent in their SEC tourney opener—and they’d be a lot better off if they could somehow upset Florida while they’re at it.

Dayton

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    Although Dayton has secured some big wins in Atlantic 10 action, the Flyers have an unusual number of terrible losses for a bubble contender.

    Conference defeats against Richmond and Rhode Island were bad enough, but the real killers will be non-league disasters against Missouri Valley also-ran Illinois State and Pac-12 cellar-dweller USC.

    Lucky for Jordan Sibert and his mates, they’ll have a shot at more quality wins in the A-10 tourney, but they can’t afford to let that chance go to waste.

    Wins over the George Mason-Fordham winner and then against St. Joe's will be vital to keeping Dayton in the at-large discussion, and a semifinal victory would seal the deal if it were to come against tourney favorite St. Louis.

Louisiana Tech

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    No team on this list is more likely to need an automatic bid than Louisiana Tech, given the utter lack of respect Conference USA is generating in the post-Memphis era.

    With luck, the Bulldogs could still sneak in if they make it to the finals of their league tourney before bowing out.

    Anything less, though, and they’ll be done in by their pitiful schedule—No. 249 nationally—despite a great road win over Oklahoma.

    The Bulldogs have loads of potential, highlighted by playmaker Kenneth Smith and shot-blocker Michale Kyser, but potential alone won’t get them to their first Big Dance since 1991 (when P.J. Brown patrolled the paint).

Missouri

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    Had Missouri even put up a fight against Tennessee, the Tigers wouldn’t be in such bad shape. Instead, a 27-point beatdown leaves them with three bad losses in their last five games.

    Mizzou hasn’t won away from home since edging Arkansas on Jan. 28, so it’s crucial that Jabari Brown and his mates take down Texas A&M (who nearly upset them in Columbia last week).

    Even with a win in that contest, they’ll be sweating out Selection Sunday unless they can pull off a miracle against Florida in the next round.

California

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    It took a one-point overtime win against Colorado for Cal to avoid entering the Pac-12 tourney on a four-game losing skid.

    With a home loss to Utah and a season sweep at the hands of Arizona State to explain, the Golden Bears can’t afford to stand pat with 19 wins.

    Another victory over (one assumes) the Buffaloes in the Pac-12 quarters will be pretty much a requirement, but even that might not be enough for Justin Cobbs and company.

    Keep a close eye on a presumptive semifinal date with Arizona—already a Cal victim once this year—which would give the Golden Bears a chance to put themselves over the top.

Minnesota

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    The good news for Minnesota is that it boasts the third-toughest schedule in the entire country. The bad news is that it has the losses to prove it, entering the Big Ten tournament at just 19-12.

    Having suffered upsets against Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue in consecutive games at one stretch, the Gophers can’t afford to take another soft loss in their Big Ten tourney opener.

    Even assuming they survive their opening rematch with the Nittany Lions, they’ll be praying for an upset of Wisconsin to give them their first quality win away from home.

Providence

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    It seems hardly fair that the Friars, who have already played more than enough overtime minutes to add up to an entire extra game, should still need to show the selection committee more.

    A weak schedule—No. 214 out of conference—and questionable losses (especially at home to Seton Hall) have left the 20-11 Friars on thin ice, though.

    Bryce Cotton and company will open the Big East tourney against St. John’s, and the loser will likely be done as far as the Big Dance is concerned.

    Even with a win, the Friars would do well to upset Villanova in the semifinals if they want to be confident in their at-large prospects.

Florida State

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    With a defense that’s tied for 16th nationally in shooting percentage allowed, FSU is back to playing Leonard Hamilton’s kind of basketball.

    Yet an intermittent offense has kept that from being winning basketball on too many occasions, including a terrible home loss to Miami last month.

    With a mere 18 wins to their credit, the Seminoles will have to have at least one more in ACC tournament action.

    Even with a victory over Maryland, an upset of Virginia—which just showed its mortality in falling to the Terps on Sunday—might well be needed for Florida State to go dancing.