Sprinting to the finish
Evaluating the résumés of bubble teams, what lies ahead
The time is vastly approaching. Judgment Day, or Selection Sunday as it’s more commonly known as, is just 24 days away. It’s time to crunch the numbers, compare good wins and bad losses and sift through résumés in a manner that any hiring committee can empathize with.
With less than a month to go until teams host their respective watch parties, there are plenty of teams with postseason fates resting on their production to close the regular season and in their conference tournaments, the venue where most bubble teams either get asked to the Big Dance, or are forced to watch from the bleachers.
So, without further ado, here are some teams with plenty to play for as March comes closer and closer.
Sure, NC State’s 15-11 record doesn’t jump off the screen. But look closer and you’ll find impressive, résumé-boosting wins at home vs. Duke on Jan. 11 and a road win at Louisville last time out on Saturday.
The Wolfpack benefit from a largely easy schedule (to ACC standards, the indisputable best conference in college basketball) to close out with home games against Virginia Tech and Syracuse, and road tests at North Carolina, Boston College and Clemson.
Going 5-0 to close out the year would certainly strengthen NC State’s case. Even falling to UNC but taking care of business otherwise might be enough if the Wolfpack can make some noise in the ACC tournament. Ranked 49 in RPI as of Wednesday, the committee will likely show some love to ACC teams this year, and NC State would certainly benefit from that.
A lot of heads turned last year when the Atlantic 10 was awarded six bids to the tournament. This year, it doesn’t figure to be the same story, but Davidson is an intriguing case.
Currently sitting in fourth in the A-10, the Wildcats (18-6, 9-4 A-10) have a trip to Rhode Island on Wednesday and a March 5 home tip with VCU, a team that almost certainly will be in the field of 68. Wins against both URI and the Rams – the two top teams in the A-10 standings would be huge for Davidson.
And while every team would obviously benefit from winning its conference tournament, the Wildcats might have the best shot to earn that automatic bid. The A-10 tournament is always chaotic and has as much of parity in the middle as any conference in the country.
For now, Davidson (63rd in RPI) has work to do. But it’s within striking distance.
The Bruins are a bubble team that has garnered a lot of love from bracketology experts, and it doesn’t take long to realize why.
UCLA (16-11, 8-6 Pac-12) has benefited greatly from one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the country after tipping off with No. 1 Kentucky, No. 3 Gonzaga, No. 15 North Carolina and No. 17 Oklahoma, even if the Bruins went 0-4 in those contests. That’s not to say those losses weren’t helpful, as UCLA is 37th in RPI as of Wednesday.
Splitting its meetings with No. 9 Utah helps, and certainly a win at Arizona on Saturday would do wonders for the Bruins’ final draft of the résumé they'll turn into the committee. But a 3-1 finish to close out the year and a semifinal appearance in the Pac-12 tournament could be enough to have UCLA hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
Others to keep an eye on: Miami (Fla.), Oregon, Purdue, Tulsa.