NCAA Tournament Bubble: 15 Teams Outside the Top 25 That Could Make a Run

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIFebruary 23, 2011

NCAA Tournament Bubble: 15 Teams Outside the Top 25 That Could Make a Run

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    The term "Bubble" is probably the most over-used term in the basketball vernacular, but it is what it is and it tells us exactly who has more work to do before they can go dancing.

    This year, as much as any, the "bubble" has been as soft as it could be. Teams keep rising and falling, moving from in the tourney to out, almost on a daily basis.

    This speaks to the parity of the college game this season, but also to the fact that there are a lot of mediocre teams. Teams that had high expectations at the start of the year find themselves in competition with some lesser known programs for the precious few final spots in the Big Dance.

    Of interest to the selection committee is not merely how a team finishes but how they have performed throughout the entire season, who they have played and ultimately how they have fared. "Bad" losses hurt teams. In other words, losses to teams from low or mid-major leagues will scar a team's profile. However, close losses to good teams rarely figures in.

    The following fifteen teams are currently outside of the top twenty-five in the rankings. They have a shot to reach the March Madness promised land, but are guaranteed nothing at present. Do any of them have a legitimate shot to make a run when it counts?

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Assuming they make the tournament (and they likely will), Tennessee has their work cut out for them. 

    Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris have been solid this season, but after that, inconsistency looms. Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum have had their moments but not enough of them.

    If the Vols are going to have an impact on the NCAA tournament, this is my advice to Bruce Pearl: Shorten your bench. Pearl simply uses too many players that really can't do a whole lot. His pressure system works when he has the tools to employ it and this season, the toolbox is a little light.

    Do they make a run? Not this season.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    WVU has proven they can play with some of the big boys with wins over Purdue, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt.

    They do have a habit of playing some maddening close games that can only be attributed to poor shooting, or at the very least, poor shot selection.

    I love Joe Mazzulla. He is one of the best leaders on the floor in the Big East. But he's not a great shooter. Casey Mitchell, and especially Kevin Jones, need to show some type of game-to-game consistency for the Mountaineers to be successful.

    Long scoring droughts have hurt Bob Huggins' team. None more so than the 13-minute carnage against Louisville that ultimately ended in a one-point loss.

    They have enough offensive weapons with Mitchell, Jones, the much-improved John Flowers and Truck Bryant. They have to find a way to put it together every night.

    Can they make a run? Their defence keeps them in most games. They could be dangerous in March.

George Mason Patriots

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    A question that has been asked frequently of late is "Who will be this year's George Mason?"

    Well, it could be George Mason.

    Led by senior Cam Long, the Patriots currently own the nation's longest winning streak (13 games) and unless they completely unravel will be headed back to the NCAA tournament.

    Once there, the Patriots will be a handful for any team. They have great balance, as four players, including leading scorer Long, average in double figures. They have a decent post threat in Ryan Pearson, who despite being undersized at 6'6", can still carve out space down low. At 40.2 percent, GMU ranks 13th in the country in three-point field goal percentage.

    Can they make a run in March? Absolutely.

St. Mary's Gaels

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    A couple of weeks ago the Gaels were flying high. What a difference that fortnight can make.

    After consecutive losses, including a key Bracket Buster game, the Gaels will face Gonzaga on Thursday to determine if they will share the WCC conference title or win it outright.

    This didn't seem likely after a road win at Gonzaga, but the Gaels lost to SAN DIEGO. Former Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier, now the coach at San Diego, is owed big-time by Mark Few.

    If St. Mary's is to be successful, they need some sort of inside presence, which hasn't been evident in most games. Yes, it's fun to watch Mickey McConnell shoot from 43 feet, (and make them) but that isn't going to carry a team too far.

    Can they make a run in March? If they make the tournament, and this is a tenuous if at present, they won't repeat last year's magic.

Washington Huskies

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    After starting the year as prohibitive favorites to win the PAC-10, the Huskies currently find themselves in the third spot behind Arizona and UCLA.

    Washington lost guard Abdul Gaddy earlier this season and that hurt. But they returned, and brought in enough talent to still be at the top of the league.

    This team can score. They are second in the country in scoring, averaging nearly 86 points per game. They scored exactly that many Saturday against Arizona. Problem was, Arizona scored 87.

    As good as they are with the ball, they are as woeful without it, ranking 245th in the nation in scoring defense.

    Talent-wise, the Huskies appear to be as good as most teams. In terms of toughness, maybe not so much.

    Can they make a run in March? Simply - no.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    This is an intriguing team.

    The start of the season looked like the start of a very long season for the Tide, but since SEC play started, Anthony Grant's crew has played very well.

    In the case of Alabama, the defense doesn't rest. They are fifth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 58.2 points per game. Conversely, their offense is improving as Tony Mitchell, JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford all average double figures in scoring.

    The Tide have won eight of their last nine, with their only loss being an 81-77 decision to Vanderbilt on the road. Wins over Kentucky and Tennessee during that span have shown their ability to win against good teams.

    Can they make a run in March? Assuming they get in, and that is debatable right now, they could surprise more than a few teams.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    The non-conference schedule that the Zags played was certainly one of the toughest in the nation. 

    With that said, they may have needed one or two more quality wins to feel anywhere close to being comfortable about Selection Sunday.

    The talent is there to compete with most teams on most nights. Robert Sacre continues to improve and is a legitimate low post threat, as well as an excellent free throw shooter. After that, it has mostly been an up and down, mixed bag of what coach Mark Few gets.

    Elias Harris has battled injuries and has been largely inconsistent. Steven Gray, who should have been the catalyst on this team, started off well but too often looks lost out on the floor. Their point guard play has been spotty.

    Still, the Zags are breathing in an attempt to win an eleventh consecutive WCC title and earn an NCAA berth.

    Can they make a run in March? My heart says yes, but my head says no.

UCLA Bruins

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    After an uncustomary absence from the tournament last season, Ben Howland and the Bruins are looking to return this year.

    Sitting in second place in the PAC-10, UCLA also boasts a home win over twice-beaten, seventh ranked BYU.

    That's it for quality wins for this team. There's also an ugly loss to Montana at home, without which, the Bruins resume would look better.

    There is some talent on the floor with Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee. The Bruins boast five scorers that average over ten points per game. Wins over Arizona and/or Washington to finish the season would be huge.

    Can UCLA make a run in March? No. Getting back to the tourney will have to be good enough this year.

Belmont Bruins

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    The second consecutive Bruin edition gets much less ink than the former.

    Winners of 15 of their last 16, these Bruins don't play in a power conference or even a mid-major. But they win, and have played some Big Six teams (Tennessee twice and Vanderbilt) tough.

    They have a team similar to the one Murray State brought to the dance last season. Their top scorer, Ian Clark, averages just under 13 points per game and plays around 25 minutes each night, which is tops on the team. Routinely, coach Rick Byrd uses eleven players in any given game. They have learned how to win - maybe not against the top teams but as a unit, they know how to get it done.

    Can they make a run in March? It would be a great story, but it won't happen.

Old Dominion Monarchs

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    The Monarchs were first-round winners last season against Notre Dame and are a solid bet to make the field again this season.

    Though top scorer Gerald Lee is gone, Frank Hassell, Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney have all stepped up to give ODU solid play in the frontcourt and backcourt. Hassell averages a double-double while Bazemore does a little bit of everything and is their best defender, ranking 12th nationally in steals.

    Some good non-conference wins, as well as some in-conference, have the Monarchs in a good spot. The "bad" loss to Delaware was long ago but still remains relevant in their overall profile. Nevertheless, they should be able to earn a nine or ten seed at the Big Dance.

    Can they make a run in March? A veteran team who has played some good teams and plays solid defense can always make a run.

Memphis Tigers

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    The best word to describe this year's version of the Tigers is frustrating.

    Their young talent have had great games, and seem like they are beginning to gel, but these performances are followed by games where one wonders if it is still November.

    After an awful 15-point loss to Rice, the Tigers find themselves firmly on an ever-changing bubble. Memphis needs a strong finish in C-USA to have a chance of getting in to the NCAA tourney.

    The freshmen class that includes Will Barton, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black has certainly had its ups and downs during the season. They are fighting tooth and nail with several teams to win the conference crown.

    Their talent makes them dangerous on any given night but their inexperience hampers them in big games. It doesn't help when your worst three-point shooters (Barton and Chris Crawford) are they guys taking the most threes.

    Can they make a run in March? Yes. March 2012.

Butler Bulldogs

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    Who says they will even make the tournament?

    I do, for one. So many of the so-called bubble teams have stumbled so badly, that the Bulldogs are back in the picture for at-large consideration should they not win the Horizon League tournament.

    The 'Dawgs still have skill and determination, just not as much as last year. Matt Howard has been terrific, but Shelvin Mack has struggled. Andrew Smith and freshman Khyle Marshall have been bright spots and have shown that even when Howard departs afters this season, the cupboard will not be bare.

    Butler will finish 13-5 in the Horizon, not great considering their unbeaten season a year ago, but enters the Horizon League tournament knowing that it beat likely regular season champ Cleveland State twice.

    Can they make a run in March? After last season, I would never say they can't.

Kansas State Wildcats

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    It is a war of attrition in Manhattan.

    Reminds me of that movie,"Last Man Standing". You know that it will likely be Frank Martin, but who will be standing with him?

    I had written them off as little as three weeks ago, and while they are not out of the woods yet, Jacob Pullen seems to have come out of his season-long coma.

    Pullen has put together some All-American-type efforts lately and the Wildcats are very close to ensuring themselves of a bid to the tourney. Suspensions and defections have marred this season, but there is still time to salvage something.

    Can they make a run in March? They will likely make it to the tourney, but won't repeat last year's success.

Michigan State Spartans

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    A tournament without a perennial Final Four contender just wouldn't be the same.

    But that's not something we need to think about anymore as the Spartans have started to come around and are playing solid basketball at the right time (familiar?).

    MSU will play in the tournament, without a doubt. But do they have the depth or experience to stick around as long as Tom Izzo has been accustomed to?

    Kalin Lucas finally seems to be in form, while Delvon Roe is once again suffering from what has been a debilitating series of knee injuries. Draymond Green has played well, but after that, no one has been remotely consistent to this point.

    Durrell Summers has been awful, and MSU has struggled all season to replace first Chris Allen, and then Korie Lucious.

    Can they make a run in March? Not this season. Izzo could prove me wrong but I can't see it.

Baylor Bears

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    Right now my face has the same expression it does when I eat lemon wedges.

    What happened to this team? Point guard issues aside, they have not lived up to expectations in any way, shape or form.

    Perry Jones might be a first-round NBA draft pick but he, LaceDarius Dunn, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones have not delivered anything close to what most expected they would. They are fighting for their tournament lives.

    A road win against Texas A&M is the only thing remotely close to a quality win for the Bears, who finish with games at Missouri, a home rematch with A&M and a game at Texas. Two wins here would be great but let's be serious - it ain't gonna happen.

    Can they make a run in March? Maybe in the NIT.