Maryland and others on bubble hope to burst into at-large field

Teams have two weeks to make their final moves

College Basketball

February 28, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The bubble.

Those two words account for many sleepless nights these days for some college basketball coaches, players and fans whose teams have not quite accomplished enough to be guaranteed inclusion in this year's NCAA men's tournament.

Some teams will play their way off this precipice and onto more solid ground between now and March 14, the day the 34 at-large bids will be announced. Some will merely slip and fall into an abyss, headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

Here's a look at the teams that find themselves hanging on, some by more threads than others:

Maryland: Double-digit losses are never something you want to put in front of the tournament's selection committee, but the 14-10 Terps have a strong RPI (34 according to collegerpi.com) and some quality wins against tournament-bound teams such as Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Alabama: Seemingly headed for the NIT, the Crimson Tide won at Mississippi State and Auburn. A 14-10 record (6-7 in the Southeastern Conference) has come against the country's toughest schedule, which helps account for a high RPI (23), but the Tide must keep on rolling to stay in the hunt.

Auburn: That the Tigers recently went in front of the NCAA infractions committee shouldn't affect their bid, but it might.(Anyone remember what happened to Maryland in 1990?) Only one road win (against Louisiana State) doesn't help, but the Tigers have a surprisingly high strength of schedule (25).

Brigham Young: The Cougars have gotten hot at the right time, winning six straight (including Monday's win over Mountain West-leading Air Force). Monday's game against Utah at home in Provo is pivotal for both teams, as is the conference tournament.

Colorado: The Buffaloes still have to contend with a suspect RPI (54), but beating Oklahoma in overtime at home Wednesday helped them more than it hurt the Sooners. Winning six of the past eight, including games over Texas Tech and Missouri, shows the Buffs are peaking at the right time.

Florida State: Not being able to win on the road could prove to be the downfall for the Atlantic Coast Conference's most improved team. Florida State is 18-10 and 6-8 in the league, but has a daunting stretch to close the regular season with Duke at home tomorrow and Georgia Tech on the road.

Georgia: Given the mess the Bulldogs were in a year ago, even being this close to an NCAA bid is a great accomplishment. Having swept Kentucky and beaten Georgia Tech, Georgia (14-10, 6-7 in the SEC) could ride the league's overall strength and its own strength of schedule (20) into a bid.

Michigan: The Wolverines played their way onto the bubble by beating Wisconsin Sunday, then stumbled on the slippery surface by not holding a second-half lead at home against Michigan State Tuesday. Michigan (15-9, 6-7 in Big Ten ) needs to win at Indiana and Northwestern, and at home against Ohio State.

Missouri: Once the most disappointing team in the country, the 14-10 Tigers (8-5 in the Big 12) have suddenly lived up to their preseason billing. They have won five straight, including a double-overtime victory over Oklahoma State Tuesday, but now must play at Kansas State and Texas Tech.

Nevada: Also beat Kansas (in Reno at the Wolf Pack Classic) and has a pretty respectable RPI (45) and strength of schedule (47). The Pack will be one of those teams the committee is hoping wins its conference tournament so it won't have to make this tough a call.

Notre Dame: Another team with double-digit losses (13-11 overall) and good wins (Connecticut, Syracuse and Seton Hall), but the Fighting Irish can't afford any more regular-season defeats with an RPI of 55. Its last three games are all winnable: at UCLA and St. John's, and at home against Georgetown.

Richmond: Pulled off one of the biggest upsets this season by winning at Kansas, and also won at Colorado and Xavier, but the fact that the Atlantic 10 isn't as deep as it has been the past few years could wind up costing the Spiders. Overall strength of schedule (23) should be a plus.

South Carolina: Winning 20 games used to be an automatic for teams to get a bid. It should be enough for the Gamecocks, but the last three games loom large because the overall strength of schedule (94) could be problematic if South Carolina, which has dropped four of its past five, keeps losing.

Utah: The committee will likely have some sympathy for the Utes, given the fact that longtime coach Rick Majerus was forced to step down with health problems in midseason. A December win at Colorado might be overshadowed by a relatively weak schedule (76).

Xavier: The Musketeers looked all but eliminated until winning their past seven, including victories over Dayton, Richmond and Cincinnati, to raise their record to 17-9. It could come down to Xavier and Richmond as the Atlantic 10's third team.

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