2011 NCAA Tournament: 5 Teams Under the Radar Who Could Steal a Bid
With the expansion of this year's NCAA Tournament to 68 teams, there will be three extra at-large bids available.
Due to an increasing number of power conference teams hovering around .500, there are opportunities out there for teams to make a late-season run and work their way into the discussion for an at-large bid.
Here are five teams around the nation who are not currently part of the NCAA bubble discussion but could still be serious players in the at-large picture.
With four weeks left in the season, they still have time to make some noise.
RPI rankings listed based on CBSSports.com RPI rankings.
15-9 overall; 4-6 ACC (eighth place)
RPI: 72, SOS: 45
Quality wins: West Virginia, Boston College
Bad losses: Central Florida
Miami seemed a total afterthought in the ACC a week and a half ago, when they were tied with Wake Forest for last place in the conference.
With three straight wins, Miami has crept up to eighth place but is still buried behind the mass of five- and six-win teams in the ACC—Florida State, Clemson, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Maryland—who are currently dominating the NCAA bubble picture.
The Hurricanes improved to 4-6 in league play after escaping with a one-point win at Wake Forest Wednesday night.
The Hurricanes are magnetically attracted to tight ACC games. Each of their last eight ACC games has remarkably been decided by four points or less. The 'Canes have gone a respectable 4-4 in that stretch.
Their tournament résumé is currently highlighted by a December win over West Virginia, but not much else. In order to create a résumé that’s worth the committee’s time, Miami will need to beat a couple of teams in the top third of the ACC down the stretch.
They will have a terrific opportunity this weekend, when Duke visits Miami after its matchup with North Carolina. The 'Canes also have home games remaining against Clemson and Maryland; they will likely need to win both of those. They also have games at Florida State and Boston College, who they beat earlier this year.
If Miami can get to 8-8 in the ACC and produce a strong showing in the ACC Tournament, they may be in a position to earn some consideration on selection weekend.
17-8 overall; 5-5 Atlantic 10 (seventh place)
RPI: 58, SOS: 77
Quality wins: George Mason, New Mexico
Bad losses: East Tennessee State
Dayton seems to wind up in a very similar position each year—strong pre-conference play, followed by an up-and-down conference season that keeps them on the outside of the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Dayton, last year’s NIT champions, were 12-3 heading into this year’s Atlantic 10 season. Two of those three losses were to Cincinnati and Old Dominion, two teams who look to be right on the bubble.
The win over George Mason continues to gain strength as the Patriots keep inching up the RPI ranks. Dayton also has road wins over Seton Hall and Ole Miss. Nothing great for the computer ratings, but they could do worse than road wins against Big East and SEC teams.
A loss at Rhode Island on Wednesday night drops Dayton back to .500 in the A-10. That certainly won’t cut it if they have any hope of serious at-large consideration.
However, the Flyers still have some major opportunities to get key conference wins—and all at UD Arena. They will host Temple this weekend and then play Duquesne and Xavier back-to-back later in February.
If Dayton can win two of those three, especially if one of those wins is Xavier, then they should have a résumé worthy of some additional consideration heading when the Atlantic 10 tournament rolls around.
15-10 overall; 5-7 Big Ten (eighth place)
RPI: 62, SOS: 11
Quality wins: at Clemson, at Michigan State, Penn State (twice)
Bad losses: at Indiana
Michigan has quietly recovered from a disastrous stretch in January where it lost six straight games. They have arguably been the best Big Ten team not named Ohio State in the past two weeks.
After a win over Northwestern on Wednesday night, Michigan improved to 5-7 in league play. They now sit just half a game behind the three teams receiving the most bubble attention—Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State. The Wolverines just beat Penn State this past weekend in State College. That should help push them above the Nittany Lions on the list of Big Ten teams under consideration.
The rest of their schedule is manageable—the Wolverines will not play Ohio State or Purdue the rest of the way. They have a legitimate shot to finish 9-9, and that would make them a contender for an at-large bid. In order to really build a serious case, Michigan may need a win against Wisconsin, at home, and against Illinois, in Champaign.
If the other middle teams in the Big Ten continue to struggle, Michigan could really take advantage and put itself in great position to steal a bid from a team like Minnesota, or maybe even Illinois.
17-7 overall; 5-4 MWC (fifth place)
RPI: 60, SOS: 88
Quality wins: BYU, Colorado State, Colorado
Bad losses: Wyoming
Despite the tremendous success of BYU and San Diego State this season, the Mountain West is not quite perceived as the four-bid league that it was last year. New Mexico, one of those four teams, won the regular season title last year and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s Lobos, currently stuck behind Colorado State and UNLV in the conference standings, have not quite enjoyed the same success. However, they are not too far off the bubble radar, thanks in large part to their win over BYU on January 29 at The Pit.
New Mexico played a respectable non-conference schedule, facing Dayton, Northern Iowa, Texas Tech, Colorado and California. The Lobos won two of those games against the two Big 12 teams they faced.
In order to make a late-season push for the MWC’s third (or perhaps fourth) NCAA Tournament bid, the Lobos must win a key game on the road. They will play back-to-back games against Colorado State and San Diego State on the road within the next week. Winning the former of those two is crucial, while stealing a win in San Diego would make the Lobos an instant at-large player.
The Lobos will host UNLV later this month, which figures to be another must-win game for Steve Alford’s team—assuming they don’t win their return game with BYU in Provo.
13-10 Overall; 6-5 Pac-10 (fifth place)
RPI: 66, SOS: 13
Quality wins: vs. Temple, New Mexico, Washington State
Bad losses: None
The Pac-10 figures to get no more than three teams into this year’s NCAA Tournament. Arizona has a virtual lock on one of them. UCLA seems to be getting a good hold on a second bid. Washington has suddenly slipped into questionable territory after two road losses in Oregon last weekend.
The bubble discussion has begun to focus on Washington and Washington State, which is currently in fourth and recently beat UW. Cal, however, should not be forgotten in this discussion.
While a 6-5 mark in the Pac 10 these days is nothing to marvel at, four of Cal’s losses are to the league’s top three teams. Overall, nine of the Bears’ 10 losses are to teams inside the RPI top 50, including three to teams in the top 10 (Kansas, San Diego St., Notre Dame). The other is to Stanford—at Maples Pavilion.
Cal has to begin shaping its profile with quality wins instead of just “good” losses. The Bears will head up to Washington this weekend to face UW and WSU. At least a split of those two is necessary. The following weekend, they will host UCLA—a solid chance to boost the Bears’ RPI and tournament résumé.
Reaching 11 wins in the Pac 10 is a must for Cal if it wants to be under serious at-large consideration. Given its remaining schedule, that number isn’t entirely unrealistic.