College Basketball: 10 Bubble Teams That Need Help to Make the Big Dance

Jason HeimCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2011

College Basketball: 10 Bubble Teams That Need Help to Make the Big Dance

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    NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 10:  Tony Mitchell #5 of the Alabama Crimson Tide drives in for a dunk against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym on February 10, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt won 81-77. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    On the eve of March, college basketball fans are starting their month-long giddiness over what takes place in their sport.  Conference tournaments begin next week, followed by Selection Sunday, which precedes the best three weeks in sports, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

    We fans are ready, but not all teams are.  While two-thirds of the tournament field is typically a certainty leading up to Selection Sunday, dozens of others are grappling for the few remaining spots on the dance floor.

    The terms "strength of schedule," "road record" and "RPI" are about to descend on the sports landscape as teams polish up their tournament resumes and put their best foot forward for the selection committee in hopes of a coveted bid to March Madness.

    Here are 10 teams that, as of February's end, are on the bubble and have more work to do to secure a bid.   

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 10:  Trevor Releford #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide drives against Festus Ezeli #3 of the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym on February 10, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The Tide rest atop the SEC West with an 11-3 record, which makes their presence on the bubble quite curious.  

    This has been a story of two half seasons for Bama.  They stumbled out of the gate to a pedestrian 8-6, with only one loss to a ranked team, a 19-point steamroll against No. 18 Purdue.

    Since a loss to Oklahoma State on Dec. 18, the Tide has turned.  They've gone 14-3 with all three losses coming in the SEC on the road.  They're headed for a high seed in the SEC Tournament next week, and must do well there to be sure of a spot.

    A huge matchup with No. 14 Florida looms on Tuesday.  If Alabama can win that game, it will greatly increase its chances of making the field.

    Vital signs: Critical

    Ratings Percentage Index (RPI): 66

    Strength of Schedule (SOS): 132 

2. UNLV Runnin' Rebels

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 12:  Chace Stanback #22 and Anthony Marshall #3 of the UNLV Rebels react after Marshall took an offensive charge for a San Diego State Aztecs foul during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center February 12, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevad
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    The Rebs have flown under the radar in the shadows of Mountain West powers BYU and SDSU.  They should be in, but there's still doubt for teams in low-major conferences on the bubble.

    Four of their seven losses are to BYU and SDSU, and none have come by more than 14 points.  A signature win over Wisconsin looks very good, and a tough road loss to Louisville shows that this team was willing to schedule tough games on the road.  

    That should pay off for them on Selection Sunday.

    UNLV should be in at 22-7 and third in their conference, but a bad loss or two down the stretch could burst their bubble.

    Vital signs: Stable

    RPI: 30

    SOS: 42

3. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 12:  Seth Greenberg, head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies walks the sidelines against the University of Miami Hurricanes in their quarterfinal game in the 2010 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 12
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Seth Greenberg's Hokies greatly helped their chances of making the dance with a win over  No. 1 Duke on Saturday, but that doesn't mean they are in.

    Among their proudest accomplishments this year are the Duke win...and not much else.

    Among their black eyes: three losses to ACC doormats Virginia (twice) and Georgia Tech.

    The early season schedule was not fun, with games against Kansas State, UNLV and Purdue, all losses.

    Wins against Boston College and Clemson are a must for this team, and the 21 wins they would have entering the ACC Tournament should be enough to get them in after the Duke win.

    Vital signs: Critical

    RPI: 51

    SOS: 97

4. Marquette Golden Eagles

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 18:  Head coach Buzz Williams of the Marquette Golden Eagles reacts to a play during their game against the Washington Huskies in the first round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at HP Pavilion on March 18, 2010 in San Jos
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Coach Buzz Williams might be replicating this pose on Selection Sunday judging by where his team stands.

    The Eagles are in the bottom half of the impossible Big East with a 9-7 record that would probably be equal to a 13-3 or 12-4 in any other league.

    Signature wins include Syracuse and Notre Dame at home and UConn on the road.  

    Signature losses are too many to count in this conference.  They've lost an astounding seven Big East games to teams that are currently in the Top 25.  This should not be held against them on Selection Sunday, but there just might not be enough room for them in the field.  

    A win or two at Madison Square Garden in next week's Big East tourney should secure Marquette a bid.

    Vital signs: Critical 

    RPI: 54

    SOS: 31 

5. Michigan State Spartans

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    COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 15: Kalin Lucas #1 of the Michigan State Spartans walks off of the court as Michigan State fell to the Ohio State Buckues 71-61 on February 15, 2011 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The decline of the Spartans this year is disturbing. 

    Tom Izzo's squad returned from last year's Final Four run almost completely intact.  Star Kalin Lucas returned from injury, Korey Lucious would back him up after getting valuable experience in the tournament.

    Michigan State started the season at No. 2 behind Duke in the polls and looked poised for a repeat run to the Final Four.  

    Then, the wheels came off the wagon.

    After losing to surprising UConn in the Maui Invitational final, they entered a brutal stretch of schedule that yielded four losses in 11 games.  To be fair, and it is their saving grace, the Spartans' losses were at No. 1 Duke, versus No. 7 Syracuse and versus No. 22 Texas.  Mixed into that stretch were big wins over No. 11 Washington and No. 13 Minnesota.

    The Spartans were tired heading into the better-than-advertised Big Ten, where they lost six of their first 11 games.  They currently stand at 8-8 in their tough conference slate with two games remaining.  

    Wins over Michigan and Iowa would most likely put them at fourth in the conference heading into Conseco Fieldhouse next week.

    One more loss before the conference semis next weekend will most likely bar this team from earning a bid.  Tom Izzo's teams always own the NCAA Tournament, peaking at the perfect time.  

    This year, they better kick it into gear two weeks earlier than they're used to, or else they will miss the dance for the first time in 13 years.

    Vital signs: Life Support

    RPI: 38

    SOS: 10 

6. Baylor Bears

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    HOUSTON - MARCH 28: LaceDarius Dunn #24 of the Baylor Bears encourages the crowd against the Duke Blue Devils during the south regional final of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Reliant Stadium on March 28, 2010 in Houston, Texas. Duke defeate
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Senior LaceDarius Dunn has had a great swan song, throwing up over 20 points per game.

    The points he has yet to score this season are the most meaningful for Baylor, which is firmly on the inside edge of the bubble.  

    Baylor owes its thin hopes to Texas A&M, whom it has beaten twice this year while the Aggies were ranked.  The Aggies are 9-5 in conference and are in third place, which reflects well on Baylor.

    Baylor has a very pedestrian resume, having just those two wins over A&M to claim as Top 25 W's. They've been blown out by the likes of last place Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma, and are just 2-5 on the road in conference.  

    A win over No. 8 Texas in their conference finale could be just what Baylor needs to stay in the field.  A loss, even to such a strong opponent, could knock them out.

    Vital signs: Life Support

    RPI: 68

    SOS: 39

7. UCLA Bruins

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    LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 02:  Lazeric Jones #11 of the UCLA Bruins in action during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on December 2, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Ben Howland has got his team on the right track after a couple really horrific years.  A young group of recruits, not the ones everyone was expecting, has turned the team around on the double.  This team has spread its wings in Pac-10 play and is looking to go higher.

    Howland wasn't afraid to play a tough non-conference slate, with a neutral site loss to Villanova and road heartbreaker at Kansas.  A win over BYU back in December looks better now for UCLA than it did two months ago.

    After two losses early in Pac-10 play against Washington and USC, UCLA looked like the same old punchless Bruins.  

    Since starting 1-2, though, UCLA has found its groove to the tune of an 11-2 run in conference, including an emphatic 22-point win over No. 10 Arizona last weekend.  

    The Bruins are second in the Pac-10 and still have a match with Washington this weekend to bolster their resume.  

    This Bruins team resembles the 2007 Bruins more than it does the 2009 Bruins.  Barring a horrible loss at Staples Center next week, they're almost assuredly in.

    Vital signs: Stable

    RPI: 39

    SOS: 43 

8. Richmond Spiders

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    PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 18:  The bench of the Richmond Spiders reacts in the final moments of a 80-71 loss to the Saint Mary's Gaels during the first round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 18, 2010 in Providenc
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The pensive look of that bench might last all the way through Selection Sunday, barring a big win or loss.

    A strong win or tragic loss will push this team in or out of the dance.  Their position on the bubble is one of the most delicate, as it usually is for mid-major teams with weaker conference schedules.  

    To combat this, mid-majors typically load up on tough teams in non-conference to bolster their resume in March and hope to steal one or two of them.

    Richmond did not choose to do this.  The only ranked team they played in non-conference came in an impressive win against Purdue on a neutral court.

    The Spiders have one of the least impressive 11-3 conference and 22-7 overall records that a team can have.  

    They might need a win over Xavier or Temple to feel better about themselves when the invitations to the dance come out.

    Vital signs: Life Support

    RPI: 67

    SOS:170  

9. Memphis Tigers

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    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07:  Joe Jackson #1 of the Memphis Tigers passes the ball in the lane against the Kansas Jayhawks during their game at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty I
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Memphis has the big name clout that should push them off the bubble into the tourney field.  

    However, a terrible resume could be their undoing.  Traditionally a front-loaded scheduler, Memphis has gone light this year, with just two games against ranked teams all season.  Both were losses that the Tigers didn't really compete in.  

    They've piled up 21 wins against Little Bo Peep and her sheep this year and the best of those wins look like the quartet of games against Conference USA leaders UAB and Sotuhern Miss, both likely tournament teams.

    A really horrific loss to Rice this late in the season could be the final nail in the coffin for Josh Pastner's bunch, but the future looks bright with some solid recruiting this year and next.

    Vital signs: Life Support

    RPI: 37

    SOS: 56

10. Butler Bulldogs

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 9: Shelvin Mack #1 and Matt Howard #54 of the Butler Bulldogs come off the floor during a timeout in the game against the Xavier Musketeers at Cintas Center on December 9, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Xavier defeated Butler 51-49. (
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Last year's national runner-up might be a case of "what have you done for me lately?" to make the dance.  

    Winners of their last seven games heading into the Horizon League tournament, Butler looks optimistic to win the automatic bid or snare one of the final at-larges.  Still, this may come down to the Horizon final in a third matchup with co-champion Cleveland State.

    Butler does have their two wins against CSU this season as a confidence booster, but an indefensible loss at Youngstown State in early February still haunts their dreams and could be used as justification for keeping them out of the tournament.  Of course, they'd have to lose in the Horizon tournament for that scenario to come into play.

    With the cachet of last season's run to the national final, Butler might have the name recognition to make it regardless.  However, their bid is no guarantee if they lose in the Horizon tournament.

    Vital signs: Critical

    RPI: 50

    SOS: 81

Other Hopefuls

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10:  Alec Burks #10 of the Colorado Buffaloes moves the ball against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half during the first round game of the 2010 Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Colorado (RPI: 73 SOS: 74)

    Clemson (RPI: 61 SOS: 87)

    Wichita State (RPI: 34 SOS: 96)

    Gonzaga (RPI:76 SOS:122)