The 2014 NCAA tournament is just around the corner, but there is still plenty of time left before the selection committee sets the 68-team field and seeds it accordingly.
With conference tournaments still ongoing and some not set to finish until Sunday afternoon, there are plenty of programs with life still in them and fighting to earn a spot in the coveted Big Dance.
Let’s take a look at some of these squads that are said to be on the bubble, plus take a look at some unheralded teams that could make a lot of noise during March Madness.
Bubble Team: BYU
The Cougars are squarely on the bubble after failing to earn an automatic bid, which would have been earned by winning the West Coast Conference tournament final against favored Gonzaga.
However, this team has plenty of great wins under its belt, and that could be enough to impress the committee on Selection Sunday. BYU knocked out Texas and Stanford, and it hung tight with a number of opponents sure to be respectable seeds in the NCAA tourney.
Unfortunately, the Cougars have two major strikes against them. One is that they suffered through a handful of bad losses to subpar conference foes. Pacific, Pepperdine, Portland and Loyola Marymount all beat the odds and upset BYU at different points in the season, which doesn’t look great on the school’s resume.
Another major factor is the loss of superstar Kyle Collinsworth, who suffered a torn ACL in the WCC final against the Bulldogs.
The sophomore swingman led his team is rebounds and assists, plus chipped in the second-most points per game, so it will be tough for the team to convince anyone it can still be as effective without him in the lineup.
Head coach Dave Rose did not address a reporter’s question directly when he was asked if the committee would factor in Collinsworth's injury when determining if BYU was tournament-worthy, as per Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg:
I'm just really proud of our team. As a group we battled through a very difficult non-conference schedule. We had a couple games that we had a chance to win and didn't get them. The guys responded and fought back. We didn't get off to the best start in league play, but we finished really strong. That's how I personally feel about our team. We'll see what happens.
The Cougars could be in or out, but without Collinsworth, it is hard to imagine them making much noise this March.
Projection: BYU passed over on Selection Sunday.
Unlike BYU, Harvard is already in the tournament and has just been waiting to find out its seed after winning the Ivy League back on March 8.
The conference does not run a season-ending tournament and instead chooses to give its automatic berth to the squad that proved to be the best against the rest of the Ivy League.
March Madness’ official Twitter feed sent out a shot of the first official team in the tournament celebrating its feat:
Harvard wasn’t just amazing in the conference, although it was spectacular there and lost just one of its 14 games, but also against the rest of the slate as well.
The Crimson hold signature wins over Vermont, Boston University, Green Bay and many more. They only suffered two truly tough losses on the year, against Florida Atlantic and Yale.
Now, Harvard is back in the tournament for the third straight year and is looking to continue shocking the world. The team came in as a No. 14 seed last year and stunned New Mexico, proving that it deserves to be in the conversation as a legit early-round contender.
Head coach Tommy Amaker feels the same way, as per Pat Eaton-Robb of the Associated Press (as per the Charlotte Observer):
I think all coaches and programs are striving to be in a position where maybe you're the favorite or you're that type of team; you're a contender on a consistent basis. That's what we've talked about being.
This group has what it takes to win in March too. It connects on 38.74 percent of its three-point shots and can light it up from beyond the arc.
If the Crimson earn a respectable seed and catch a hot hand shooting for a few games during the Big Dance, they could easily waltz their way to the Sweet 16.
Projection: Harvard makes Sweet 16 run.
Potential Tournament Crasher: St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies were an afterthought for this year’s tournament, but they forced their way into the discussion after stunning St. Louis in the A-10 tournament and advancing to the semifinals.
St. Bonaventure is now two wins away from making the field, a fact that shocked Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports:
This team made a run to the 68-team field two years ago, showing up as a No. 14 seed and nearly pulling off a miracle victory against heavily favored Florida State in the second round.
Jordan Gathers and Charlon Kloof deserve much of the credit for the Bonnies’ advancement to the semifinals of the conference tourney, as Kloof helped set up the final shot that Gathers nailed.
The senior guard drew the defense in and kicked it out to the wide-open junior guard at the top of the key, who calmly drained it to give his squad a three-point victory over the Billikens.
It was the kind of moment that March Madness is founded on, and head coach Mark Schmidt wasn’t afraid to talk up the shot. He called it "probably one of the biggest shots in St. Bonaventure history," according to the Associated Press (via the New York Times)
St. Bonaventure proved that it isn’t going to be ignored and is now looking to navigate past St. Joe’s to make the A-10 final. If this Cinderella can somehow pull off the improbable during the conference tournament, don’t be surprised if it parlays that into some unexpected victories in the Big Dance.
Projection: St. Bonaventure makes tournament, advances to third round.