Wednesday Night: Bubble's Burst, While Others Hang On
For several teams, all remaining games are "must-wins". They've picked up some signature wins throughout the year, and squandered other opportunities. This is March. This is the time to win. But a few teams who have been hot as of late and needing a few more wins, just couldn't pull through Wednesday night, while others were able to hang on or hang close, keeping their Tournament hopes alive.
Down and Out
Cincinnati is seemingly out of the Tournament even with their 4-point loss to Villanova Wednesday evening. Without some sort of miracle run through the Big East Tournament, circa 2006 when Syracuse won four straight games to lock down an NCAA berth, the Bearcats will be watching the NCAA Tournament, wondering why they couldn't finish down the stretch. They have lost four of their last five, and seven of ten, dropping them to 7-10 in the Big East and just 16-13 overall. Their signature wins include a season-sweep of the streaky UConn and early season victories over Vanderbilt and Maryland in Maui. Since then, they've dropped six of seven road games and have a record of 6-12 against RPI Top 100 teams. At this point, I can't see Cincinnati sneaking in, even with an unprecedented run through the Big East Tournament.
Texas Tech was another one of those teams that started off blazing in their non-conference schedule, beating the likes of Washington and UTEP early and have failed to log a real signature win since then. The Red Raiders entered the national rankings early, but Big 12 losing streaks showed their true colors. With their 18-point loss to Baylor this week, Texas Tech has now lost six in a row, dropping them to 4-11 in conference play. They are 2-11 against RPI Top-50 opponents and 3-8 away from home this season, not exactly the resume you want the selection committee to review. Short of winning the Big 12 Tournament, the Red Raiders are out with their latest loss.
In the New Year, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have knocked off Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois, while nearly stealing a game off of Purdue. They emerged as a potential sixth Big Ten team in the Tournament talks, but Wednesday's loss to Michigan by 28 was a big one. It dropped Minnesota below .500 in conference play but more so demonstrates the Golden Gophers' inability to win on the road. In games away from home this season, Minnesota is just 4-9. They missed an opportunity to grab one from a 13-15 Michigan team before ending the regular-season with Iowa at home.
Down, But Still In?
Georgia Tech was a lock just a few weeks ago in early February, but a recent skid has highlighted question marks on the Yellow Jackets' Tournament resume. With Wednesday's loss to Clemson, GT has now lost six straight road games and five of their last eight overall. Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert are struggling with poor shooting and turnovers, while Derrick Favors and Glen Rice Jr. have been the team's best players during the slide. Will the committee overlook wins over Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest in favor of recent losses, or can the Yellow Jackets get to .500 in ACC play and avoid an upset-loss in the conference tournament? They have an RPI in the 30s and strength of schedule ranking 22, which do help Paul Hewitt's team.
The Florida Gators were excellent in the early season, knocking off Florida State and Michigan State and looked determined to return to the NCAA Tournament this season. A losing streak with defeats at the hands of Syracuse and Richmond don't look so bad now, but the third loss to South Alabama stands out on their resume. Chandler Parsons' two buzzer-beaters this season- a 75-foot heave against NC State and a 3-pointer against South Carolina have single-handedly kept Florida on the NCAA Tournament bubble; without those two wins, Florida is looking at two more losses to non-NCAA bound teams. Recent wins against Ole Miss on the road and topping Tennessee at home look good, but the Gators really needed to beat Georgia on the road or defeat Vanderbilt or Kentucky this week. The Gators did neither, losing to the Bulldogs and then dropping a home game to Vanderbilt Wednesday evening. Knocking off Kentucky on the road this weekend will be difficult, especially with the SEC regular-season title on the line for the Wildcats. Winning a few games in the conference tournament should push the Gators into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2 years.
Illinois seems to be a team of certain streaks this season. They dropped games to Utah and Bradley in early-season games in Las Vegas, but bounced back taking games from Clemson and Vanderbilt. A three-game Big Ten losing streak was followed up with a five-game win streak, which including wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin on the road. Since then, the Fighting Illini have won just one of their last five. Demetri McCamey will need some help from the Illini's big men- Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis to seal their tournament fate with a victory in their regular-season finale against Wisconsin. Without a win at home, Illinois will need a few wins in the Big Ten Tournament and finish in the semi-finals or so to advance to the NCAA Tournament. For now, the Illini are in, but another losing streak could push them outside the bubble.
Louisville went through an early-season slide that had analysts counting out last year's #1 overall team with a 22-point loss to Charlotte and 8-point fall against Western Carolina. A late-season shocker against the Big East's top team, Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, had propelled the Cardinals onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. Aside from that win, Louisville's biggest wins come against UConn, but have failed to lock down another quality win this season. It's the Cardinals' profile that could have them sneak into the NCAA Tournament- 6th most difficult schedule in the nation and an RPI in the 30s. A few wins in the Big East Tournament will have Louisville in.