The last dash
Teams try to stamp their tickets to the NCAA Tournament
As we take our final look at the race for the field of 68, it’s time to mentally prepare yourself for the some of the best action in the sports year. The end of the regular season features teams on their last gasp, desperately needing big-time wins. And then there are the conference tournaments that play a huge factor in who gets in and where.
There are some teams that did wonders for their résumés with huge wins. Others still have more work to do. But there’s still 17 more days until Selection Sunday, with plenty of opportunities for bubble teams to cement their status, squash their tournament aspirations or for a team to catch fire out of nowhere and wipe a bubble spot off the board.
For the last time this year, here are the teams that will be in the spotlight for the final push.
What were we saying about big wins? The Ducks (21-8) earned a huge win at home against No. 9 Utah on Sunday to catapult them from the outside into a situation where they control their own destiny. That’s the magic of a big win: The committee goes nuts over them. Just look at NC State’s résumé for reference.
The good news for Oregon: no more meetings with Arizona and Utah. The bad news: two more road affairs to close out the year at Stanford and Oregon State. That’s not exactly a dream scenario, but the Ducks will take it. They proved their mettle with a 80-69 win at California and the ball reamins in their court, if only metaphorically.
The March 1 meeting with the Cardinal will be one worth monitoring. Stanford (see below) still has a lot to play for. As of Thursday, the Ducks are 39th in RPI, with the Cardinal at 55. There could easily be a situation where one gets in and the other doesn’t.
The Cardinal could learn a thing or two from Oregon. As it stands now, Stanford (17-9) has work to do, and at the top of its laundry list is a season-finale win at Arizona.
Now, beating Arizona on the road isn’t nearly on par as beating Utah at home, adding to the steep climb. But if the Cardinal can manage to get past Oregon on March 1 while handling Oregon State and Arizona State, then things start to get interesting. Stanford would likely jump ahead of Oregon in the bubble conversation and winning at Arizona becomes icing on the cake.
Either way, the Pac-12 tournament will be huge for both squads. Of the 36 at-large bids available, the Pac-12 getting four bids doesn’t seem likely with the ACC possibly getting eight bids and the Big Ten and Big 12 combining to get anywhere from 12 to 14 bids.
Speaking of the Big Ten, Illinois has a semi-reasonable finish to the regular season. But while that’s beneficial, the Fighting Illini have no room for error.
Home games against Northwestern and Nebraska should be easy wins, with a loss to either putting a significant dent in their tourney hopes. Meanwhile, closing out the season with a win at Purude -- while meaningful -- can only help Illinois’ cause.
The conference tournaments could be a road block for the Illini, as well as Oregon and Stanford. If a lower team in either tournament, that takes one at-large bid off the board. Teams like Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State and others are getting in no matter what in the Big Ten, same with Arizona and Utah in the Pac-12. So while it appears two of these three will get bids, an unforeseen conference tournament champion could be as detrimental (or worse) for their cases as a loss of their own.
Other teams to keep an eye on: Texas, Davidson, UCLA, Temple.