With only one week before conference tournaments start, the NCAA tournament bubble is ready to pop. Teams looking to make late season surges only have a few more games to make their claim. Some teams are on the inside, some are on the outside, and some are just on the bubble. Here, I’ll tell you what I think about a team’s current position, and if I feel they will ultimately make the tournament. I have excluded the smaller conferences, unless they have teams with a shot of getting an at-large bid without winning their conference tournament.
Florida St. 19-8 (9-4) The Seminoles tournament hopes took a big hit when they lost their star player Chris Singleton to injury. It’s a shame for them, who looked like the best ACC team not named Duke or North Carolina. They were able to beat Wake Forest without him, but got roughed up by Maryland on the road. The RPI and strength of schedule numbers really don’t help them that much, although they do have that big win against Duke. They have a dangerous game against Miami on Saturday which may be a must win. A win on Wednesday over North Carolina will help big time, but I don’t see that happening. Expect Florida St. to beat the Hurricanes, win their season finale at N. C. State, and win a game in the ACC tournament. All of this should lead a tournament berth, and most likely a #9 seed, the same position they were in last year.
Virginia Tech 18-8 (8-5) The Hokies have underachieved in a mediocre ACC this year, getting swept by in-state rival Virginia. But tournament teams before, this is not a team you want to play in March. Virginia Tech has the potential to be dangerous with Malcolm Delaney leading the way. Virginia Tech has a very tough schedule to end the season, but that could help a lot. A win over Duke on Saturday would all but lock up an NCAA bid. They are in a very similar position as Florida St., and I expect the results to be similar-win two of your last three, win an ACC tournament game, and get a middle seed, maybe a #8 seed.
Clemson 18-9 (7-6) Clemson is a team on the outside looking in with not very good computer numbers. They have some rough losses to South Carolina, Virginia, and N. C. State this year, and really only two quality wins over Florida St. and Boston College. The reality for the Tigers is that they need to win now. Their Saturday game against Wake Forest is a must win. Also, I really don’t see them even being considered if they can’t beat either Duke or Virginia Tech. In the end, I think the Tigers will come up short and spend their postseason in the NIT.
Maryland 18-10 (7-6) The Terrapins are still looking for that signature win and they have a shot for it at Chapel Hill on Saturday against the Tar Heels. Though they don’t really have any bad losses, Maryland sits well below 50 in both RPI and strength of schedule. They need this win against North Carolina badly, but I don’t think they’ll get it. If they lose, the only thing that can vault them into the tournament is a deep run in the conference tournament. I also don’t think they’ll get that either. Look for them to win their last two games of the season, and be one of the first four out.
Boston College 16-11 (6-7) If there’s a team that has dug itself into a whole, it’s Boston College, who has lost seven of their last ten after starting the season off 10-2. The Eagles find themselves struggling in conference play, which includes being swept by Miami. They also have loses to Yale, Harvard, and Rhode Island. Although their strength of schedule is 16, it may not be enough to save them. Beating North Carolina last weekend would have put them right back in the picture, but they were unable to, mainly because they failed to score in the first seven minutes. The Eagles have a relatively easy road to end the season that includes a road game against Virginia and a home game against Wake Forest. They also have a date with Virginia Tech in between. Plain and simple, Boston College has struggled too much in conference play, and won’t make it to the tournament, barring a miracle.
Miami (FL) 17-11 (5-8) The hopes of the Hurricanes are hanging by a thread. Their average computer numbers won’t mask bad losses to Rutgers, UCF, and N. C. State. If they can win out and win a few games in the ACC tournament, there may be a spot for them in March. But Reggie Johnson can only do so much, and this team really is not good enough and does not have enough quality wins. I believe they have a better chance than Boston College, but that isn’t saying much.
Richmond 21-7 (10-3) The Spiders have looked good in conference play, only losing three times to three good teams. However, loses against Georgia Tech, Iona, and Bucknell hurt them. So why do the Spiders belong in the NCAA tournament? They have a win over Purdue, which is looking better as the season goes on. A win against VCU helps too, and by winning out their remaining three games, they should make it to the big dance. The finale against Duquesne won’t be an easy one, but look for the Spiders to pull it out, and if they’re lucky, possibly get a #11 seed.
Duquesne 17-9 (9-4) After starting off the season scorching hot, they have lost four of their last five, three of those games by a combination of four points. The Dukes are in trouble now, as they probably won’t make March Madness unless they win the A-10 tournament. Sure, maybe winning their last three games and a few conference tournament wins could add to a resume that already has a win over Temple, but Duquesne has had too many bad losses and too little quality wins. Robert Morris and St. Bonaventure are teams you need to beat. The Dukes are a dark horse to win the A-10 tournament and while it certainly is possible, it’s not really probable.
Rhode Island 17-10 (8-5) Could the Rams really make it to the big dance? Only if they win the A-10 tournament. The reason why I’m including Rhode Island in this article is because they have a solid record and a very good shot at winning 20 regular season games. Still, they are a long shot to win their conference tournament. Their highlight wins include Boston College, Richmond, and Duquesne, all bubble teams who have a better shot than the Rams. Don’t expect to see Rhode Island come March, but if you do, don’t fall off your chair either.
Cincinnati 22-6 (9-6) I was very skeptical about the Bearcats earlier in the season when they went undefeated out of conference, beating up on weaker competition. I was still unimpressed when they beat Louisville. But after thumping Georgetown, a national title contender, on the road, Cincinnati is tournament bound. They also have a win over Xavier and beat St. John’s at the garden, which is looking more and more impressive each day. While I’m still unsure how far the Bearcats will go in the tournament, they are nearly an automatic for an at large bid. A win in one of their final three games should lock that up, and maybe another win (beating UConn or the Hoyas again) or a run in the Big East tournament, and maybe Cincinnati improves its seeding much more. I expect them to upset UConn on Sunday, but fall to Marquette and Georgetown to end the season. They’ll probably win a conference tournament game, putting themselves at 24-9, and probably a #7 seed.
Marquette 17-11 (8-7) It seemed like time was running out for Marquette, but they picked up a huge win on the road against UConn. Now, Marquette looks like it will be dancing. This adds to their resume that includes wins over West Virginia, Notre Dame, and Syracuse and no bad losses. Every team the Golden Eagles have lost to is currently ranked except for red hot Gonzaga. I expect Marquette to win their last two home games, but drop a road contest to Seton Hall. They will then conclude their season with one or two wins in the Big East tournament, and a #8 seed in the NCAA tournament. This is not a team any #1 seed wants to draw in their region.
Michigan St. 16-11 (8-7) After a miserable start to the season, the Spartans look to be back on track. Despite having only 16 wins currently, they have a fifth ranked in terms of Strength of Schedule, and an RPI of 37. Winners of three of their last four, Michigan St. holds victories over Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota (twice). They have a huge home game against Purdue on Sunday, a game I think they will win. I’m predicting them to win in their last three games and a few in the Big Ten tournament. This will lead to a possible #7 seed in the big dance, and a team that absolutely no one wants to see in March. This is Sparta.
Penn St. 15-12 (8-8) The only thing keeping the Nittany Lions’ tournament hopes alive is their sixth ranked strength of schedule. To go dancing, they would need to win their final two games against Ohio St. and Minnesota. Even if they pull off that feat, they still would need a few wins in the Big Ten tournament. I don’t see it happening for Penn St., whose only quality wins have come against Duquesne and Minnesota. Talor Battle has had a stellar college career, but he’ll be lucky if he finishes it in the NIT.
Illinois 17-11 (7-8) If the Illini weren’t shooting so well from behind the arc in the beginning of their battle with Ohio St., the end result would have been a lot worse than it was. With bad losses to Illinois-Chicago and Indiana, Illinois is struggling to improve their resume. Their computer numbers are good, but they’ve dropped back-to-back games, and need to beat Iowa on Saturday. A win over Purdue would be huge for a team who already has four Top 50 wins. The Illini have potential, as well as a nice track record, but need to improve if they want a higher seed. A #9 seed is likely.
Michigan 17-12 (7-9) The Wolverines lost a heartbreak against Wisconsin that would have likely sent them back into the conversation for the big dance. Michigan benefits from being ranked 21st in terms of strength of schedule, but losses over Indiana and UTEP hurt. Still, this team beat Penn St. twice and Michigan St. on the road. They’ll have to win their remaining two games over the Spartans and Minnesota, as well as win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament. I don’t see that happening. The Wolverines overachieved this year, but will most likely miss out on post season play.
Minnesota 17-10 (6-9) The Golden Gophers are in a tailspin, losing six of their last seven. They have decent computer numbers, and wins over North Carolina and Purdue, but because of this losing streak, and losses to Virginia and Indiana, Minnesota will need to win out to secure a postseason berth. With games against Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn St., that is entirely possible. I’m confident they will do this, and wind up with a #12 seed. Still, the Golden Gophers should be a little disappointed in themselves.
Kansas St. 19-9 (7-6) A late season surge has the Wildcats feeling god about their tournament hopes. Jacob Pullen has been red hot on their three game win streak that includes wins over Kansas and Nebraska. A preseason favorite, Kansas St. looks to be the team everyone thought they were. In their final three games, I expect them to lose only to Texas, beating Missouri along the way. That, good computer numbers, and a few wins in Big 12 tournament could lead to a #6 for the hungry Wildcats. Tournaments teams have been put on notice.
Nebraska 18-9 (6-7) A huge win over Texas has got people talking about the Huskers. They then missed out on really helping their resume more against Kansas St. Nebraska has RPI and strength of schedule numbers of 74 and 75 respectively, so there is still work to be done. This team has shown it has the firepower with wins over Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. With three games remaining, Nebraska will beat Iowa St. and Colorado, but fall short of upsetting Missouri. That will leave their NCAA tournament hopes up to how well they play in the Big 12 tournament. They should win their first game, and I’m expecting a big upset for them to win a second game, leading to them just squeaking into the big dance. They may be one of the four teams in the play-in games as a #12 seed.
Baylor 17-10 (6-7) The Bears are loaded with talent in the form of Perry Jones and LaceDarius Dunn. So why do the Bears intend on playing themselves out of postseason play? After coming up short against Texas, they lost to Texas Tech and didn’t show up against Missouri. Baylor better turn themselves around quickly. They do have wins over Oklahoma St., Texas A&M, and Nebraska, but they also have losses to Iowa St., Oklahoma, and the Red Raiders. Their tournament hopes all depend on which team shows up. I feel that they had the ability to win every game left on their schedule (Texas A&M, at Oklahoma St., Texas), but they don’t have enough discipline to win them all. They’ll probably lose in the first or second round of the Big 12 tournament, and finish just outside the bubble, missing the big dance.
Colorado 17-11 (6-7) Despite a mini slump for star Alec Burks, the Buffaloes have won two of three, their only loss coming to the second ranked Jayhawks. However, aside from sweeping Kansas St. and beating Missouri, Colorado has not done enough to deserve a bid. Early season losses to San Francisco and Harvard will hurt the Buffaloes, as their computer numbers are not very good. I see them struggling to even win a game the rest of the year, and missing the big dance.
Oklahoma St. 16-11 (4-9) Oh, how they miss James Anderson. The former Big 12 player of the year could have really helped Oklahoma St. to some more wins. Instead, they are riding a four game losing streak, and have lost seven of their last nine. They have wins over Kansas St. and Missouri, but unless they win out and make some noise in the Big 12 tournament, they aren’t going anywhere. Sorry Cowboys, I don’t see that happening.
Old Dominion 23-6 (13-4) Since George Mason has the CAA regular season title pretty much wrapped up, along with an at-large bid, the Monarchs are sitting comfortably in second. They have an RPI of 26, and hold victories over every top team in their division, including the Patriots. They seem to be a lock for the big dance even if they can’t win their conference tournament. If they could make it to the finals of that, or even win it, they make be looking at a #7 seed, which is what I see them getting.
Hofstra 19-10 (13-4) Charles Jenkins has led the Pride to a lot of wins this season. But due to weak computer numbers, and losses to Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Iona, and Drexel (twice), they won’t make it to March without a win in the CAA tournament. Jenkins certainly has the ability to do it, but they seem to be a long shot in grabbing an automatic berth.
VCU 21-9 (12-5) The Rams have shown why they’re clearly not in the top tier of the CAA, get handled by George Mason and Old Dominion, and then losing to Drexel. VCU has had too many hiccups in the road, and the only way I see them making it to March without winning the CAA tournament is if they can make it to the finals, beating George Mason along the way. The Rams certainly have a chance, but are a dark horse to beat the league’s top two teams. Consider them NIT bound.
Southern Miss 21-6 (9-4) A strength of schedule at 40 helps, but the Golden Eagles would greatly benefit from winning out and having a strong showing in the C-USA tournament. They’ve been pretty solid all year, and should be able to secure an at large bid if they do just that. In fact, I’ll take it one step further, and say that Southern Miss will win the conference tournament and be awarded an #11 seed.
Memphis 21-7 (9-4) The Tigers have good computer numbers, a couple good wins (Gonzaga, Southern Miss), and a good shot at winning out. However, Memphis has struggled with losses to Marshall, Tulsa, and Rice. I predict a run to the C-USA tournament finals, only to lose to Southern Miss. This will give them the same result as the Golden Eagles: being seeded at #11.
UAB 19-7 (9-4) The Blazers usually manage to steal a win in the big dance. But can they get there? They have pretty good computer numbers. Their only bad losses have been to Arizona St. and Tulsa. They just need one more big win. Do I think they’ll get it? Probably not, but I can seem them getting four or five more wins to close out the season. All of these factors combined, I expect UAB to be in a play-in game as a #12 seed.
UTEP 20-8 (8-5) The Miners have some rough losses, including back to back defeats by UCF and East Carolina. Their rest of the season schedule isn’t a cake walk either, with games against Memphis, Marshall, and SMU. They should be able to get a few more wins, but losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech have UTEP looking elsewhere for a place to go in March.
SMU 17-10 (8-5) Southern Methodist has really been hurt by early season losses, despite the fact they are currently hot, winning seven of their past nine. With that being said, the Mustangs will only be dancing if they win their conference tournament. That’s a long shot at best.
Cleveland St. 23-7 (12-5) After losing four of their last six, including a bad loss to Detroit, the Vikings are in trouble. They really don’t have any other bad losses, but they also don’t have any quality wins. The only way that Cleveland St. makes the tournament is with a very strong showing in the Horizon League tournament, at least making it to the finals. And with Norris Cole on board, expect him to carry them to that. A #12 seed is likely.
Butler 20-9 (12-5) Nobody is hotter than Butler right now, winners of six straight. With average computer numbers, the Bulldogs still need a strong showing in their conference tournament. But with Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, last year’s darlings should take it one step further and win it. That should lead to Butler locking up a #10 seed, and being scorching hot come tournament time.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee 17-12 (12-5) The Panthers were a mess earlier on in the season, but by winning eight of their last nine, including wins over Butler, Valparaiso, and Cleveland St., they’re relevant again. However, don’t expect them to go dancing unless they win the Horizon League tournament. Don’t expect that to happen either.
Valparaiso 20-10 (11-6) Ever since I started taking Valparaiso seriously, they have been struggling. Losing three of their past four, they have been unimpressive. While wins over Cleveland St., Oakland, and Butler are nice, it hardly makes up for bad losses and computer numbers. They have to win the conference tournament to advance.
Wright St. 18-12 (10-7) After losing three straight to the big boys of the Horizon League, they got a much needed win when they crushed Hofstra. Still, like the two previous teams, a Horizon League Tournament Championship is their only ticket to the big dance.
Wichita St. 23-6 (14-3) What looked like a conference that could produce an at-large berth has not become rather undecided. Wichita St. and Missouri St. will battle it out on Sunday for the regular season title. There’s still a chance that both of them can make it, but it depends on this game and how the MVC tournament goes. The Bears won their first meeting by three, but aside from a hiccup against Southern Illinois, Wichita St. has had an excellent season. I see them picking up a tough road win against Missouri St., and then winning the MVC conference tournament. That will lead to a #13 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Missouri St. 22-7 (14-3) Missouri St. is basically in the same position as the Wichita St. Due to slightly weaker computer numbers, as well as losses to Tulsa and Evansville, Missouri St. has less breathing room. Even a win in the regular season finale doesn’t lock up a berth. They will have to win the conference tournament. Like stated earlier, I don’t think that will happen.
UNLV 21-7 (9-5) With conference super powers BYU and San Diego St. flying high, the Runnin’ Rebels probably don’t have much of a chance to win the conference tournament. But with RPI and strength of schedule at 25 and 28, that’s just fine with them. Winning their last two games against Wyoming and Utah, as well as making it to the MWC semifinals, will solidify them a #8 seed, which is what I think they’ll wind up getting. Even if they don’t do all of those things, they should still have no trouble getting a bid. Wins over Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and Kansas St. are very impressive, especially since the second two came on the road.
Colorado St. 18-9 (8-5) The Rams have pretty good computer numbers, but only one real quality win over UNLV. They have a chance for another in their season finale at San Diego St. Even if they don’t win, a trip to the conference finals could still send them dancing. Unfortunately for the Rams, I don’t see either of those happening. They should finish just outside of the bubble because of their inability to win big games. Welcome to the NIT, Colorado St.
Murray St. 22-7 (13-4) The Ohio Valley Conference has a similar situation as the Missouri Valley Conference-two teams who would likely need to win their conference tournament to go dancing. Murray St. has been hot, winning nine of ten and holding an early season victory over Morehead State on the road, as well as just recently beating them at home. So you think they would a lock for the NCAA tournament. I disagree, as I believe they will lose to Morehead St. in the OVC tournament. I’ll explain why in the next section, but don’t be surprised if the Racers aren’t dancing.
Morehead St. 21-9 (12-5) The Eagles had a nine game win streak snapped by Murray St. on Thursday night, but don’t be too alarmed. Morehead St. has something that the Racers don’t- Kenneth Faried. The NCAA’s all-time rebound leader will be playing motivated at the end of his senior season, and will help the Eagles win their conference tournament. A higher seed is not going to want to face Morehead St., who will likely be a #15 seed.
UCLA 20-8 (11-4) UCLA has a killer schedule to end their season, hosting Arizona, and then going on the road to face Washington and Washington St. Losses to USC, California, and Montana hurt, but the Bruins, led by Tyler Honeycutt, look to finish strong. I see them upsetting Arizona and beating Washington St., while falling to Washington. A solid showing in the Pac-10 tourney should then lock up a #7 seed for the Bruins. They hold big wins over BYU and St. John’s.
Washington 19-8 (10-5) The Huskies, in my opinion, are the best team in the Pac-10. While they don’t have a player like Derrick Williams, they have an even better one in Isiah Thomas. The point guard has made some ridiculous passes this season, and makes his team better. They were barely nipped on the road against Arizona. However, when they played the Wildcats at home, they won by 17. With an RPI of 36, the Huskies are set to do what they did last year-win NCAA tournament games. Despite losses to Oregon, Oregon St., and Stanford, I see Washington winning out and then winning the Pac-10 tournament. That should lead to a #6, and a very dangerous team.
Georgia 18-9 (7-6) A lot of people like Georgia to make the tournament. Not me. While the Bulldogs have good computer numbers, I don’t like what I see from this team. Aside from wins over Tennessee and Kentucky, they don’t have any good wins, but they don’t have any bad losses. That is, until now. I predict Georgia to get upset at home against South Carolina and then loss their season finale at Alabama. A first round exit will then send Georgia packing as they should be one of the first four out. The game against Vanderbilt really made me dislike them, as they really just fell apart down the stretch.
Tennessee 17-11 (7-6) The Vols have a realistic shot to reach 20 wins and they have the highest strength of schedule rank in the nation. That’s even more impressive considering that Bruce Pearl was suspended for eight games. Tennessee is not an elite team, but they’ve done enough to go dancing. I can see them winning their next two games before losing to Kentucky, and then winning at least one game in the SEC tournament. Those are all the ingredients of a #10 seed which has upset strongly on their minds.
Alabama 19-8 (11-2) The Tide has been strong in the SEC this year, but have not played Florida yet. The problem with Alabama is that their early season losses not only hurt them, but signal an exit from the SEC tournament without a win. They have lost to Seton Hall, Iowa, St. Peter’s, Providence, and Arkansas. Coach Anthony Grant has this program headed in the right direction, but I just don’t think this is the year they make it back to the tourney.
St. Mary’s 22-7 (10-3) The Gaels are in trouble, losing three straight. Although two were to Gonzaga and Utah St., the loss to San Diego is unacceptable. St. Mary’s has a very low strength of schedule, and really needs some more wins to improve their seeding. While they do hold wins over St. John’s and the Zags, they haven’t won any other big games. They finish the season against a Portland team that previously beat them by 15. I don’t like what I’m seeing, and what I’m seeing for the future. An earlier than expected exit in the WCC tournament should give the Gaels a #12 seed and very little momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga 20-9 (10-3) Gonzaga is hot, winners of five straight, including an overtime win at St. Mary’s on Thursday. The Bulldogs struggled in the beginning of the season, but still tout wins over Marquette, Baylor, Xavier, and Oklahoma St. I see them winning the WCC tournament and receiving a #10 seed, continuing their WCC dominance.
Utah St. 25-3 (12-1) The Aggies have been the team to beat in the WAC, and finally picked up a quality win over St. Mary’s. While they aren’t a lock yet, an early exit in the conference tournament could spell doom for them, they are in good shape. They should be able to avoid any other upsets and cruise to a WAC tournament title. It still remains to be seen what Utah St. can do against tougher competition, but they could wind up with a #9 seed, which is where I have them at.