Sunday, February 28, 2010

Road to Selection Sunday

With another weekend in the books, it's time for another edition of "Road to Selection Sunday". As stated last week, it is basically a recap of the past couple of days in college basketball, usually the Saturday and Sunday that were just completed. It will go over the teams on the bubble that helped or hurt themselves, teams in the NCAA Tournament whose seed is rising and falling, and much more.

Wow, what a weekend. The most jam-packed two days of the season did not disappoint, as the top three teams in the country lost, with another five top-25 clubs also falling. A lot of teams made their case for an NCAA bid, while others found ways to keep themselves sweating until Selection Sunday. Conference tournaments in the mid-major conferences start up this week, which will help sort some things out. Let's take a look at all the teams that were affected by this weekend's results.

Teams close to locking up bids to the NCAA Tournament:

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys’ huge win over Kansas on Saturday likely solidifies their spot in the Big Dance, but they can’t fall flat this week.

Clemson: The Tigers completed a sweep of Florida State, knocking off the Seminoles on the road. They have won four of their last five games.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are still slightly above the bubble, continuing to avoid bad losses by blowing out Air Force on the road on Saturday.

Teams on the bubble that helped themselves:

Louisville: The Cardinals took a huge step forward on Sunday by beating Connecticut on the road on an Edgar Sosa lay-up in the final seconds.

Georgia Tech: The inconsistent Yellow Jackets continued their trend by beating Boston College. They haven’t won or lost more than two in a row since December.

Marquette: This is a team that loves to live on the edge. The Golden Eagles won their third straight overtime road game by beating Seton Hall.

UAB: Despite not beating anyone of note, the Blazers still continue to stay in the field due to avoiding bad losses. They have won four in a row.

Saint Mary’s: With no marquee games left on their schedule, the Gaels just needed to continue winning. They did, and now have to get to the WCC title game.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs continue to push for an at-large bid, beating South Carolina on the road, their fifth win in the last six games.

Mississippi: The Rebels stayed alive with back-to-back victories over Auburn and Alabama to get back to .500 in the SEC. Still a lot of work to do.

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish had the best week of any bubble team, beating Pittsburgh at home and then handling Georgetown on the road on Saturday.

Minnesota: Many wrote the Golden Gophers off after their home loss to Purdue, but they got back in the mix with a two-point road win at Illinois.

Dayton: The Flyers can’t afford a slip-up the rest of the season, and they stayed slive on Saturday, dominating hapless Massachusetts by 28.

Teams on the bubble that hurt themselves:

Florida: The Gators were rising up the bubble with three straight wins and a victory over Tennessee, but they proceeded to lose by two at Georgia.

Virginia Tech: It’s unbelievable how quickly the Hokies have fallen. After winning five in a row to get to 8-3 in the ACC, they’ve lost three in a row.

Illinois: After beating Michigan State and Wisconsin, the Illini looked solid. However, they have since lost three of four to drop to 10-6.

Rhode Island: At 19-3 and 7-2, the Rams were considered a top-eight seed. Now, they have lost four of five, including Saturday’s loss at St. Bonaventure.

Connecticut: The Huskies could have moved up with a home win vs. Louisville on Sunday; however, they blew a 13-point lead and lost late.

Charlotte: The 49ers are really going to struggle to get a bid after losing at George Washington on Saturday, their fourth loss in five games.

Teams trying to work themselves into the at-large conversation:

Washington: The Huskies are still sitting on the periphery, hoping for an outside chance. They’ve done their best, winning seven of the last nine games.

Memphis: The Tigers fell off the bubble with their 17-point loss at Houston on Wednesday, but they won on Saturday against Southern Miss.

South Florida: The Bulls still hold out hope for an at-large bid, and they kept themselves alive with a high-scoring win over Providence on Saturday.

Wichita State: Might not even be worth discussing, but the Shockers did finish second in the Missouri Valley after their 21-point win over Southern Illinois.

Teams falling from the at-large conversation:

Cincinnati: What has happened to the Bearcats? They have lost nine of their last 14 Big East games, including five of seven in February.

Seton Hall: The Pirates were making a late run towards the bubble, but those hopes were dashed with their overtime loss at home to Marquette Sunday.

Arizona State: Due to their mediocre overall profile, the Sun Devils needed to beat California on the road on Saturday; they instead lost by 16.

Teams whose seed is rising:

Xavier: The Musketeers stayed atop the A-10 standings in impressive fashion on Sunday, knocking off Richmond in two overtimes to improve to 12-2.

Texas A&M: The Aggies are solidly in the NCAA Tournament at this point, especially after blowing out Texas at home on Saturday.

Baylor: The Bears are going to be a dangerous team in the Big Dance. They have won five of their last six, and haven’t lost by double-digits.

New Mexico: The Lobos clinched the Mountain West title by going into Provo and knocking off BYU by two points. Definite top-three seed.

Maryland: It’s impossible for the committee to leave out the Terrapins at this point. A double-overtime at Virginia Tech locked up a bid.

Teams whose seed is falling:

Georgetown: The Hoyas are too up-and-down to trust right now. After their 14-point home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, they’ve lost three of four.

Wake Forest: If the Demon Deacons don’t straighten things out this week, they could be sweating on Selection Sunday. They’ve lost three in a row.

Florida State: The Seminoles are dangerously close to being a bubble team right now, losing at home to Clemson to fall to 8-6 in the ACC.

Purdue: The Boilermakers were headed for a No. 1 seed, but then Robbie Hummel tore his ACL against Minnesota and was lost for the season.

Number one seeds as of this week:

1. Syracuse: The Orange take over the top spot in the bracket after their thumping of Villanova. They have five top-25 wins and are 16-2 vs. top-100.

2. Kansas: After their loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Jayhawks drop back one spot. They still have six wins vs. the top-25, the most in the nation.

3. Kentucky: The Wildcats fell at Tennessee on Saturday, and as a result, fall one position. They simply don’t have the wins of Syracuse and Kansas.

4. Kansas State: The final No. 1 seed came down to the Wildcats and Duke. The deciding factor was KSU’s four top-25 wins, compared to Duke’s one.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekend Preview

With the calendar turning to March on Monday, it’s time to start counting down to Selection Sunday (if you haven’t already). With that in mind, time is running out for bubble teams to make a statement to the committee. Many of the teams on the fence go up against a top team with a chance to pick up a marquee win, while other bubble teams need to just continue winning and avoiding bad losses. On top of that, there are a handful of match-ups between championship contenders. Conference tournaments in many leagues tip-off next week, so the next couple of days will be great hors d'oeuvres for the greatest month of the year.

Top Games

No. 2 Kentucky at No. 19 Tennessee (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Although Kentucky has already essentially locked up the SEC title, there are still road bumps left for the Wildcats. Things won’t be easy in Knoxville. Tennessee has one of the better homecourt advantages in the conference at Thompson Boling Arena, and the Vols have lost only one game there all season. In the first meeting between these two teams, Kentucky pulled away down the stretch for an 11-point win. However, if Tennessee’s pressure defense is creating havoc, the turnover-prone Kentucky guards could encourage momentum for the Volunteers. On the road, that could be a recipe for defeat. Prediction: Kentucky 76, Tennessee 70

No. 21 Texas at No. 22 Texas A&M (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): Battle in the Lonestar State between a couple of teams jockeying for position in the Big 12. Texas A&M has lost two of three, including a late loss at Baylor on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Texas could be righting the ship, having won two in a row after losing six of nine. A&M’s Donald Sloan will be the key cog for the Aggies, while Damion James and Dexter Pittman could have an edge inside for Texas. Prediction: Texas A&M 68, Texas 62

No. 1 Kansas at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS): An intriguing game in the Big 12. Kansas has essentially locked up the Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Jayhawks face a tough finishing stretch, starting against the Cowboys on Saturday. Oklahoma State has hung tough against quality teams this season, and even beat Kansas State on the road. A win here would lock up an NCAA bid for the Cowboys. James Anderson needs to have a huge day. Prediction: Kansas 82, Oklahoma State 72

No. 10 New Mexico at No. 13 BYU (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Versus): On most weekends, a game between two of the top 13 teams in the country would easily be the best game of the weekend. However, this Mountain West battle is flying below the radar a bit. New Mexico currently holds a 0.5 game lead on BYU in the MWC standings, and this game will likely decide the regular season champ. Both teams are headed for top-four seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and it is also an opportunity to see two of the best players in the country, New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Prediction: BYU 86, New Mexico 78

Missouri at No. 6 Kansas State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPNU): Another solid Big 12 contest this weekend. With Hummel’s injury and Villanova facing a difficult final stretch, Kansas State has an outside shot at a No. 1 seed if it can run the table the rest of the season. Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen will have to come up big if the Wildcats are to achieve that, though. On the other side, Missouri will be playing its first game without Justin Safford, who tore his ACL this week and is out indefinitely. The Tigers’ pressure defense has created havoc against many elite backcourts so far this year – it will need to do it again. Prediction: Kansas State 80, Missouri 71

No. 7 Villanova at No. 4 Syracuse (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Huge showdown in the Big East. After Syracuse’s win over Providence on Tuesday, the Orange improved to 13-2 in the conference, while Villanova’s back-to-back losses dropped them to 11-3 in the league before the Wildcats beat South Florida. A win on the road would get them right back in the race, though. Interestingly enough, Syracuse’s only losses this season have come at home – to Pittsburgh and Louisville. This game is going to be outstanding to watch. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is a nightmare to attack because of the Orange’s length and athleticism, but Villanova has the guards to penetrate into the teeth of the zone and hit long-range jumpers. Furthermore, Syracuse is prone to turnovers, and the Wildcats are good at creating steals defensively. The difference in this game, though, will be Syracuse’s edge inside. That is the biggest change from last season to this season for ‘Nova. Last year, they had Dante Cunningham down low to provide balance. However, this season, Antonio Pena has been inconsistent. He will have his hands full with Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku of Syracuse. Prediction: Syracuse 86, Villanova 79

No. 23 Richmond at Xavier (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN2): An Atlantic-10 showdown for first place. Both of these teams are tied at 11-2, sitting atop the standings along with Temple. With each team playing very well lately – Richmond winning eight in a row and Xavier picking up 12 of its last 14 – these teams are both locks for the Big Dance. The Spiders have an excellent backcourt in Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez, who have carried Richmond at times this season. Xavier counters with a balanced attack that is led by Jordan Crawford, who is averaging better than 20 points per game. Prediction: Xavier 75, Richmond 66

No. 14 Michigan State at No. 3 Purdue (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS): All eyes were going to be on this game regardless of what the circumstances were, but things were taken to a new level on Wednesday, when Purdue’s best player, forward Robbie Hummel, tore his ACL. The Boilermakers had the inside track towards a No. 1 seed before the injury; how will they play without him? Purdue won the first battle between the two teams, and have rattled off 10 wins in a row. On the other side, Michigan State has struggled, losing four of its last six games. The Spartans could get back on track against this depleted Purdue squad, though. The key things to watch in this game will be how Purdue’s offense operates without Hummel, and how Michigan State takes advantage of his absence. Prediction: Purdue 65, Michigan State 60

Bubble Battles

Arizona State at California (Saturday, 3:00 PM, FSN): A win here would clinch the Pac-10 regular season title for California, which could go a long way towards an at-large bid if it fails to win the automatic bid. Arizona State needs a win to stay in the at-large hunt. Prediction: California 77, Arizona State 70

Minnesota at Illinois (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Minnesota missed a huge chance against Purdue on Wednesday after Robbie Hummel went down with an injury, but it couldn’t capitalize. Illinois has a gaudy Big Ten record, and just needs to avoid bad losses. Prediction: Illinois 62, Minnesota 49

Maryland at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Both teams would be in the NCAA Tournament right now, but neither can afford to slip up too many times. Maryland is in far better shape than Virginia Tech, but the Terrapins need a win to stay in the ACC title race. Prediction: Virginia Tech 73, Maryland 66

Marquette at Seton Hall (Sunday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Prior to the season, one might not have predicted this would game would matter so late in the season. However, Marquette has won seven of eight, while Seton Hall has rattled off four of five. SHU needs this game more. Prediction: Marquette 78, Seton Hall 75

Louisville at Connecticut (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS): No. 1 seeds a season ago, both of these teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament hopes right now. Louisville fell to Georgetown this week, while UConn has won three in a row to get back in the hunt, including wins over West Virginia and Villanova. Prediction: Connecticut 71, Louisville 63

Clemson at Florida State (Sunday, 5:30 PM, FSN): Another couple of ACC teams that are likely in the NCAA Tournament at this point, but also two squads who can’t drop too many games. Clemson squandered a big first-half lead at Maryland on Wednesday, while Florida State has won three in a row, including two road games. Prediction: Florida State 74, Clemson 64

Conference Clashes

Princeton at Cornell (Friday, 7:00 PM): Cornell holds a 1.5 game lead on Princeton in the Ivy standings, but the Big Red have already knocked off Princeton once. A win here would essentially lock up the regular-season title – and the automatic bid that comes along with it. Prediction: Cornell 71, Princeton 50

Notre Dame at No. 11 Georgetown (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Notre Dame has suddenly risen from the at-large cemetery despite Luke Harangody’s absence. The Fighting Irish handled Pittsburgh earlier in the week. Georgetown is still fighting for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. Prediction: Georgetown 80, Notre Dame 64

Cincinnati at No. 8 West Virginia (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Cincinnati kept its at-large hopes alive on Wednesday by holding off DePaul at home to move to 7-8 in the Big East. However, this game starts a brutal three-game stretch for the Bearcats – at WVU, vs. Villanova and at Georgetown. WVU is in the mix for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: West Virginia 79, Cincinnati 67

VCU at Old Dominion (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): Old Dominion has a one-game lead on Northeastern in the CAA standings, and a win here would clinch the regular-season title. However, both of these teams also harbor at-large hopes (albeit VCU’s are very faint). ODU can garner as high as a 9 or 10 seed in the Big Dance. Prediction: Old Dominion 66, VCU 58

Troy at Arkansas State (Saturday, 8:05 PM): The Sun Belt is a mess at the top of the standings this season, with seven teams within one game of each other for first-place. Troy is tied with Middle Tennessee atop the East Division, while Arkansas State has lost two in a row to fall to 10-6 – one game back of first in the West. Prediction: Arkansas State 71, Troy 64

Must-Wins for Bubble Teams

Boston College at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): Despite its impressive wins, Georgia Tech is still in trouble. The Yellow Jackets’ buzzer loss at Maryland last weekend dropped them to 6-7 in the conference. Prediction: Georgia Tech 76, Boston College 61

Mississippi at Alabama (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2): Ole Miss doesn’t harbor much legitimate at-large hope right now, but the Rebels will get back in the hunt if they keep winning. The Crimson Tide are not an easy out on their home floor though. Prediction: Alabama 74, Mississippi 71

Tulane at UAB (Saturday, 2:00 PM): UAB has done what it had to do in the past couple of weeks, avoiding bad losses and plowing along in the at-large hunt. The Blazers should have no problem disposing of the Green Wave this weekend, either. Prediction: UAB 72, Tulane 51

Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV): Prior to its 26-point thrashing of Fordham last weekend, Rhode Island had dropped three in a row to hurt its at-large hopes. St. Bonaventure has been plucky at times this season, but URI can’t afford a loss here. Prediction: Rhode Island 85, St. Bonaventure 75

UNLV at Air Force (Saturday, 3:30 PM, Regional TV): Air Force caught the nation’s attention last weekend when it nearly beat New Mexico on the road before falling late. UNLV has been inconsistent on the road this season, but the Runnin’ Rebels have won two in a row by 47 total points. Prediction: UNLV 70, Air Force 52

Florida at Georgia (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Florida took a big step towards solidifying its at-large hopes this week, dominating Tennessee in the second half en route to an impressive win. However, the Gators need to keep the trend going and handle a dangerous Georgia team on the road. Prediction: Florida 73, Georgia 69

Charlotte at George Washington (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): Despite losing three in a row prior to this week’s victory over Saint Joseph’s, Charlotte is still very much in the at-large hunt. However, George Washington has won three of its last four and will not roll over for the 49ers. Prediction: Charlotte 76, George Washington 74

Mississippi State at South Carolina (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN): South Carolina has completely fallen off since beating Kentucky in late January, losing four of its last five to drop to 14-13. Mississippi State has won four of five to stay right along the cut line in the bubble picture. A road win here would be huge. Prediction: Mississippi State 66, South Carolina 62

Massachusetts at Dayton (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another important game with NCAA Tournament implications in the Atlantic-10. Dayton was the preseason favorite, but the Flyers have dropped three of four to fall to sixth place in the conference. They might need to win out to have an at-large chance. Prediction: Dayton 80, Massachusetts 60

Providence at South Florida (Saturday, 7:00 PM): South Florida is all but finished in its at-large quest, but the Bulls are still holding out hope. They are currently in 12th place in the Big East, which obviously won’t cut it, but if they win out, Dominique Jones and co. have a chance. Prediction: South Florida 82, Providence 71

Loyola Marymount at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 9:00 PM, Regional TV): With bubble teams from the major conferences losing seemingly everyday, Saint Mary’s is rising up in the at-large board without improving its resume all that much. Of course, the Gaels have little room for error and can’t lose this game. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 83, Loyola Marymount 65

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bubble Watch


Bubble Breakdown and Comparison

Welcome back to the Bubble Watch. As we stated a couple of weeks ago, it will look at every team in the at-large mix hoping to grab one of the last spots for the NCAA Tournament. As the season enters its final two and a half weeks, the at-large picture is becoming slightly more clear – albeit very, very slightly. Teams are actually playing themselves into the Big Dance, while others are doing their best to avoid hearing their name called on Selection Sunday. Still, there are plenty of teams with a shot at getting one of the last few at-large invitations to the field. There is a lot of basketball left to played, though. According to the numbers, there are 12 bids still up for grabs, with 22 teams legitimately vying for them:

Locks: 26

Automatic bids from the other conferences: 20

46 Locks Overall

  • ACC (1): Duke
  • Big East (5): Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgetown
  • Big Ten (4): Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin
  • Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Baylor
  • Pac-10 (1): California
  • SEC (3): Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
  • Atlantic-10 (3): Temple, Richmond, Xavier
  • Colonial (1): Old Dominion
  • Conference-USA (1): UTEP
  • Mountain West (2): BYU, New Mexico
  • West Coast (1): Gonzaga

One-Bid Conferences (20): America East (Stony Brook); Atlantic Sun (Jacksonville); Big Sky (Weber State); Big South (Coastal Carolina); Big West (UC Santa Barbara); Horizon (Butler); Ivy (Cornell); MAC (Kent State); MAAC (Siena); MEAC (Morgan State); Missouri Valley (Northern Iowa); Northeast (Robert Morris); Ohio Valley (Murray State); Patriot (Lehigh); Southern (Charleston); Southland (Sam Houston State); Summit (Oakland); Sun Belt (North Texas); SWAC (Jackson State); WAC (Utah State)

Teams that need to keep winning to avoid the bubble – these bids are not up for grabs yet (7): Wake Forest, Maryland, Florida State, Clemson, Texas A&M, Missouri, UNLV

Teams that have work to do to even gain bubble consideration: Washington, Wichita State, William & Mary, Northwestern, Tulsa, Memphis, VCU, Saint Louis

Note: California, Utah State, UTEP, Siena, Cornell, Northern Iowa and Old Dominion are not included, as they are the current leaders in their respective conferences.

Rankings of the 22 Bubble Teams (Choose 12)

  • 1. Oklahoma State
  • 2. Florida
  • 3. Louisville
  • 4. Georgia Tech
  • 5. Virginia Tech
  • 6. Illinois
  • 7. Marquette
  • 8. Rhode Island
  • 9. UAB
  • 10. Connecticut
  • 11. Charlotte
  • 12. Saint Mary’s
  • 13. San Diego State
  • 14. Mississippi State
  • 15. Cincinnati
  • 16. Dayton
  • 17. Mississippi
  • 18. Notre Dame
  • 19. Seton Hall
  • 20. Minnesota
  • 21. Arizona State
  • 22. South Florida

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Bubble Team's Worst Nightmare

It happens every year. A major conference team comes out of nowhere in their conference tournament to make it to the championship and, in some cases, win the title. It also happens in some mid-major conferences that were expected to get one bid but then send two dancing because of upsets in the league tournaments.

The aforementioned situation is a nightmare for bubble teams hoping to get bids to the NCAA Tournament. When teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament lose in their respective conference tournament and a mediocre team that gets hot at the right team either makes the championship or wins the automatic bid, teams on the fence become some of the most nervous people in the world. You hear the announcers every March:

"Well, [fill in bubble team of choice] has to root for [fill in league favorite] if they want a bid to the NCAA Tournament. If [fill in upstart team] pulls off yet another upset, it means that there is one fewer at-large bid for the bubble teams."

This year is not going to be any different. With all of the parity in many of the leagues across the country this season, there are several teams that could make Cinderella runs in their respective conference tournaments. In some leagues, these teams are in the lower half of the league and win an early game before getting on a run, and all of a sudden they look like the second coming of the UNLV teams from the early '90s. In other conferences, these Cinderella teams are just ones that have a decent chance to upset the heavy favorite and steal the automatic bid.

Who are the main candidates to pull a Mississippi State and make this kind of run in Championship Week 2010? Let's take a look at several conferences from around the country, and find teams that have the ability to win a few games in early March.


Boston College: With the top seven teams in the conference looking good for NCAA Tournament bids, it will be up to a team from the bottom five to potentially make a run. Considering Miami is a disaster away from home, Boston College could be the main sleeper. The Eagles have played Florida State, Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech to single-digit games, and also beat Clemson. They also have one of the best offensive quartets in the conference, with forwards Joe Trapani and Corey Raji and guards Rakim Sanders and Reggie Jackson, an explosive highlight reel waiting to happen. If they are hitting on all cylinders, this is certainly a tough out on a neutral court.

Big East

St. John’s: The conference tournament will be in New York City, on one of the Red Storm’s home courts, Madison Square Garden. More importantly, though, the Johnnies are playing well lately, defeating Notre Dame and South Florida on the road and knocking off Louisville at home in the past two weeks. They are very inconsistent offensively and tend to fall apart in the second halves of games, but they play solid halfcourt defense and have some versatile weapons on the offensive end. If the perimeter players are knocking down outside shots, look out for the Red Storm.

Big Ten

Michigan: Heading into the season, the Wolverines were expected to be one of the main contenders in the Big Ten, and a potential Sweet Sixteen team. While that went downhill pretty quickly, they are still a formidable opponent that has shown some fight throughout the conference campaign. They knocked off Minnesota and Ohio State, and have hung tough with Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State. Moreover, Manny Harris is one of the most talented players in the league and can carry the Wolverines on his back. With DeShawn Sims posing a match-up problem for opponents, Michigan could be a team to keep an eye on during the conference tournament. If Northwestern is completely out of the at-large hunt by the time early March rolls around, the Wildcats will be tough too.

Big 12

Texas Tech: The bottom half of the Big 12 has been terrible lately. Nebraska has lost 11 of 12, Iowa State nine of 10, Colorado and Oklahoma eight of 10 and Texas Tech four in a row. However, it is necessary to pick one of those five since the top seven are looking solid for NCAA bids. I went with the Red Raiders, based on their one-two punch of guard John Robertson and Mike Singletary, who scored 43 points – including 29 straight – in last year’s Big 12 Tournament. Additionally, Texas Tech loves to get up-and-down the floor and could pull an upset or two if its shots are falling. This is a team that has shown the ability to hang with Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri – don’t overlook them.


Arizona: Giving the Pac-10 the benefit of the doubt, I’ve generously considered California, Washington and Arizona State in the NCAA hunt. Therefore, Arizona seems like the best bet to make a deep run out of the rest of the conference. Just three weeks ago, Arizona had defeated California at home to move into a tie for first place with the Golden Bears. Automatic bid dreams danced in the young Wildcats’ heads – and they proceeded to lose four of their last five games. However, they have the pieces to make a run. Nic Wise is a point guard capable of taking over a game, and freshman forward Derrick Williams has been a very productive player this season. Kyle Fogg can shoot, and Jamelle Horne leads a host of versatile players.


Arkansas: I pegged the Razorbacks as an SEC sleeper back in November, and did it again in January when conference play rolled around. While neither of those picks really panned out, Arkansas is playing its best basketball of the season over the past month, and could find itself with the top seed in the SEC West. The Razorbacks have won six of their last eight, including wins over Mississippi, Mississippi State and South Carolina. Courtney Fortson is one of the most productive all-around point guards in the country, and Rotnei Clarke has unbelievable range. Marshawn Powell and Michael Washington provide inside balance. Don’t focus on the 14-13 record; with Fortson in the lineup, this is a completely different team.


Duquesne: I was tempted to go with Saint Louis at this spot, but the Billikens could find themselves in the at-large mix with a strong finish. The Dukes are an excellent choice as well, as they have won six of their last nine games, including back-to-back wins over Charlotte and Dayton. Moreover, they have five double-figure scorers, including one of the best stat sheet stuffers in the country, forward Damian Saunders. For the season, he is averaging 15.0 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.8 steals and 3.3 blocks per game – watch him. 


Hofstra: The CAA Tournament is always one of the more exciting conference tourneys to watch, and this season will be no different. Old Dominion leads a group of six teams within three games of each other at the top of the standings, and then comes Hofstra. The Pride have won eight of their last nine games, including an impressive 11-point victory at Northeastern on Tuesday night. Point guard Charles Jenkins is one of the best players at the mid-major level; he can flat-out score. If he gets hot, he can single-handedly carry Hofstra.


Marshall: The Thundering Herd might be in fourth place in the league, but they don’t have much of a shot at an at-large bid. Therefore, the only way this team is making the Big Dance is by stealing the auto bid – don’t count them out. Marshall has won five in a row, including wins over UAB and Tulsa. The Herd have one of the best frontcourt tandems in the conference in Tyler Wilkerson and Mr. Triple-Double, Hassan Whiteside. Throw in double-figure scorers on the perimeter in Shaquille Johnson and Damier Pitts, and shooter Chris Lutz, and this is a solid group.

Missouri Valley

Illinois State: Northern Iowa hurt itself with a loss to Evansville on Tuesday, and Wichita State is in a load of trouble, so the MVC Tournament could be there for the taking. Illinois State has won five in a row, including road victories over Bradley and Creighton. The Redbirds have one of the most exciting players in the conference in guard Osiris Eldridge, who can shoot the three and also finish with the best of them. Lloyd Phillips is a playmakers, and forward Dinma Odiakosa is a double-double threat. Don’t count out Missouri State, either – the Bears have lost tons of close games this season.

Mountain West

Colorado State: With the top four teams in the league in the NCAA hunt, it could be tough for a second tier team to break through and steal the automatic bid. However, don’t count out the Rams potentially ruining UNLV or San Diego State’s NCAA Tournament hopes and then pulling another upset or two. All of their league losses were to the top four teams in the conference, and their trio of guard Dorian Green and forwards Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin is solid.

West Coast

Portland: Gonzaga is going into the conference tournament as a lock, while Saint Mary’s still harbors at-large hopes. That leaves Portland as a potential party-crasher. The Pilots got off to a great start this season, defeating Oregon, UCLA and Minnesota in November (each of those wins looked better back then). However, they have struggled somewhat since then. Don’t let that fool you, though. If Portland’s gunners – Nik Raivio, T.J. Campbell, Jared Stohl – are hitting their outside shots and Robin Smeulders and Luke Sikma are productive down low, this team is a tough out.

Other Teams to Keep an Eye On: Wright State (Horizon, Butler); Niagara (MAAC, Siena); Louisiana Tech (WAC, Utah State)