From the Jim Hurley Network Staff
Contributing Sportsbook Editor
Selection Sunday is set for March 16th - so there's plenty of time ahead to figure out who the real "bubble teams" are when it comes to this year's NCAA Tournament, right?
Sure there is but why not get the ball really rollin' here with a discussion about the top five "bubble teams" and our early list may surprise you more than just a little bit.
Okay, so mid-way through the month of March and here's what we got in terms of NCAA Tournament "bubble teams":
TENNESSEE (15-9, 6-5 SEC) - Every time we seem to say a "nice" thing about the Tennessee Volunteers, they go ahead and stub their toe! The latest example came in Tuesday's 67-58 home loss against two-point favorite Florida - no doubt the Vols needed a "signature" win and they led at halftime 34-33 while shooting a blistering 62 percent in the opening half but the Gators' grabby defense really did in Cuonzo Martin's club in the second half and so weaknesses such as ball-handling and poor free-throw shooting were exposed (see 9-of-17 from the charity stripe) and so we'll go ahead right now and call this Tennessee squad the numero uno "bubble team" out there while heading into late-week play.
Note this: The Volunteers have seven regular-season games remaining before they get to next month's SEC Tournament in Atlanta and gut feeling is right now Martin's crew must get to 20 wins even before the mini-tourney - there's no "name teams" left on the docket and so that signature win will have to wait.
MINNESOTA (16-8, 5-6 Big 10) - As we stated in yesterday's Jim Sez column while previewing the Minnesota at Wisconsin tilt on this Thursday night, the Big 10 should not assume it's gonna get more than a handful of teams into this year's "Big Dance" no matter what the league may be thinking these days.
Heck, right now there are 10 teams in this 12-team conference with four-or-more league losses and Minnesota's below the break-even line right now with the 5-and-6 mark in Big 10 play and Richard Pitino's crew doesn't own a meaningful road win in conference play nor are the home victories against the likes of Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio State considered extra-special considering those teams' won/loss marks.
Let's say Minny wins four of its final seven regular-season games to go 9-9 in Big 10 play - and keep in mind we're talking about a team with road games at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan - then odds are the Gophers would probably need to win a game or two in next month's Big 10 Tournament to get in.
SAINT MARY'S (18-7, 8-4 WCC) - Is it us or does it only seem as if the Saint Mary's Gaels are bubble-like each and every year? No difference here in this 2013-14 campaign although this West Coast Conference club has won six of its last eight games while heading into the Thursday home tilt against San Diego and that little momentum swing in Saint Mary's favor does help the cause. Still, gotta be entirely truthful here and the Gaels recently lost by 13 points at BYU and by 28 points at San Diego to go along with really bad non-league losses to the likes of George Mason and Hawaii.
If Saint Mary's - which sports four players with double-digit scoring averages but no major star (see Brad Waldow's 16.6 ppg average to rank as the team-high) - can elevate its game and go 13-5 or 12-6 in WCC play then the Gaels might be able to slip in as a #12 or #13 seed in the NCAA Tournament and if the Gaels can beat Gonzaga on March 1st that might seal the deal too.
INDIANA STATE (18-6, 9-3 MVC) - It's safe to say that Larry Bird's alma mater doesn't exactly have a rich history in NCAA Tournament play save for that magical 1978-79 season in which Bird's Sycamores finished runner-up to Magic Johnson's Michigan State bunch.
In fact, Indy State has been to the "Big Dance" just three times since 1979 - the lone tourney win the past 34 years came back in 2001 with a 70-68 first-round upset win against Oklahoma - and so no wonder there's major clamoring in/around campus for this Missouri Valley Conference club to get back into the fray but we say that right here and right now the Sycamores are your prototypical mid-major "bubble team" meaning there's gonna be a 20-plus win season ahead but aside from a win at Notre Dame in mid-November is there really anything else to write home about?
If Indiana State - a two-time loser to mighty Wichita State this season (see a 68-48 road loss followed by a 65-58 home loss to the Shockers) - can weave its to the MVC Final then fourth-year head coach Greg Lansing and Company should have a great shot at an NCAA Tournament bid but two or three more losses between now and then will burst the bubble ... but good.
PROVIDENCE (16-9. 6-6 Big East) - If we told you back on Feb. 1st that the Providence Friars would be in danger of not getting into this year's NCAA Tournament then you likely would have given us a strange look. After all, Ed Cooley's club was 16-6 overall and a tidy 6-3 in Big East Conference following a 77-72 non-cover win at 6 ??-point underdog DePaul and the PC gang was on a major 6-1 SU (straight-up) streak but fast forward to today and the Friars are reeling after back-to-back-to-back losses to St. John's, Xavier and Georgetown.
In Monday's 83-71 loss at the 5-point favored Hoyas, Providence G Bryce Cotton poured in 31 points and it still wasn't enough as more and more evidence mounted that this Friars' club was running out of gas (save for Cotton, of course) late in the year. Now, you wonder if Providence is running out of time as we believe Cooley's team must win a minimum of 20 games in order to get NCAA Tournament consideration and it goes without saying that it would help the Friars' cause should they be able to knock off either/and visiting Villanova (Feb. 18th) and host Creighton (March 8th) in the days and weeks ahead. Remember Providence already has beaten Creighton once while the Friars' best non-league win came against so-so Vanderbilt.