Makeover time for bubble teams

Late in season is no time to incur blemishes on NCAA resume

February 23, 2010|By Shannon Ryan On college basketball

Can someone remind the bubble teams that this is the time to start impressing the NCAA tournament selection committee?

So many on-the-fence teams are wasting opportunities that talk of a tournament expansion makes me cringe. These wart-filled teams need to learn how to apply a little cover-up and blush at the end of the season.

This means you, Rhode Island and Charlotte. Each lost three in a row recently.

Connecticut, meanwhile, looks like it's in the makeover chair with victories at Villanova and Monday against West Virginia.

Here's a look at which side of the bubble some teams are on.

Last four in
Illinois (17-10, RPI 71): Is there a harder team to figure out? The Illini beat Michigan State at home and Wisconsin on the road but followed up those victories with losses to Ohio State at home and Purdue on the road. The losses are semi-acceptable, considering they came against two of the best teams in the nation.

Finishing with wins at Ohio State and at home against Wisconsin can help erase the memory of miserable early losses to Bradley and Utah. A strong overall record helps that ugly RPI.

Rhode Island (20-6, RPI 26): The Rams lost three straight to Richmond, Temple and St. Louis, the latter being the only "bad" loss among those. They snapped out of it with a victory against Fordham.

Rhode Island is 0-3 against RPI top-25 opponents and 4-6 against the top 100. The Rams' best opportunity to impress comes with a March 3 home game against fellow bubble team Charlotte .

San Diego State (20-7, RPI 38): Wins over UNLV and New Mexico will help. The Aztecs have a strong RPI, but losses to Wyoming in January and Pacific in November don't help.

The Aztecs appear to realize the heat is on; they've won four straight and eight of their last 10. A win at BYU on Wednesday will improve their reputation for lacking strong road wins.

UAB (21-5, RPI 31): The game UAB would like to underline in red and hand to the NCAA selection committee is a Dec. 22 home victory against Butler. The Blazers earned solid wins against Cincinnati and Tulsa at home and are 6-4 against teams with top-100 RPI.

UAB's 8-3 road record should help, and the Blazers have a manageable finish of at Central Florida, home against Tulane and Memphis and at UTEP.

First four out
Charlotte (18-8, RPI 55): Like fellow Atlantic 10 bubble-sitter Rhode Island, Charlotte hasn't used the end of the season to make a proper push. After winning seven straight, the 49ers have lost to Dayton, Duquesne and Xavier.

Beating Temple at home, Richmond on the road and Louisville on the road improves their standing. Seven of their eight losses came against RPI top-50 opponents.

Cincinnati (15-11, RPI 56): The Bearcats can point to victories against top-50 RPI teams Vanderbilt and Maryland and sweeping fellow Big East bubble team Connecticut. But lately, they're letting their opportunities slip away.

A loss against DePaul on Wednesday has to mean the Bearcats are out. Wins at West Virginia, against Villanova and at Georgetown would be a fresh coat of paint on Cincinnati. That also would clear up its questionable 2-7 road record.

Connecticut (17-11, RPI 45): Only 2-6 in road games, the Huskies need to register some head-turning wins away from Storrs. They started that with a victory at Villanova. And Monday night's 73-62 takedown of West Virginia means Connecticut deserves to be given a look.

Two more road games remain, against Notre Dame and South Florida. A strong finish and a good Big East tournament run could put the Huskies in.

Saint Mary's (22-5, RPI 46): The Gaels are about as blah as they come, but that's better than looking ugly. Their only solid win is against San Diego State. That can't really be described as impressive, considering San Diego State is on the bubble as well.

Notable changes
•Marquette probably has done enough to be included in the field.

•Siena lost a big chance to impress by losing to Butler in a BracketBuster game and is out as an at-large.

Top seeds
No. 1s: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Purdue.

No. 2s: West Virginia, Kansas State, Villanova, Duke.

sryan@tribune.com

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