Bubble or Trouble

BUBBLE OR TROUBLE FOR THESE COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAMS

By WAYNE ALLYN ROOT

With 68 teams going to the Big Dance, it seems that almost anyone with a pair of clean Nikes and a two-step could make it to the biggest dance in the nation. But with Conference Tournament upsets sending more and more teams to this years hidy-ho, it's up to certain teams not to wait until the NCAA sends out "Dear John" notices, and the also-ran NIT comes courting and asking for a date to their own square dance. Getting invited to the Big Dance is all within control of these teams (below). BUT...they cannot fake a home loss, or a bottom-feeder road kill loss and then cry that they were left out. Winning is much better than whining, so it's off to the court for these teams.

ARIZONA---Arizona started the season ranked in the top 20. With six losses, they have dropped from the rankings and have yet to win a game on the road against a noteworthy opponent. And playing against weak PAC-12 teams and losing does not help their cause. If you can't beat a PAC 12 team this year, you may be the problem!!

BYU---BYU once again has a solid squad, and a great 5-1 start to conference play has them in good shape to be playing in March. However, a recent loss to Loyola Marymount at home is disappointing to say the least. They better hope a resurgence against Gonzaga gets noticed.

CALIFORNIA---California was ranked at the start of the year, but quick losses to UNLV, Missouri, and then another to San Diego State knocked them out of the top 25. Currently, this team has only one "bad loss"-to Oregon State, albeit on the road. Cal is currently on top of the Pac-12 and looks to be in good shape to make the NCAA tournament. However, they finish the season with three road games. And they play in a very weak Pac 12...but someone has to represent that Conference.

FLORIDA---On Christmas day, Florida was seemingly in good shape. They had only two losses, to two great teams, both on the road. They had beaten Arizona, Texas A&M and Florida State, and looked poised to finish their non-conference schedule with a hefty win streak. And then Rutgers and Tennessee popped up and Florida took a hit. They need to realize that this is not football, but basketball and the SEC is already taking a big hit from mediocre play.

FLORIDA ST---Four of their six losses have come to teams that are, or were, ranked in the top 25, so their 12-6 record is deceiving. The Seminoles need another big win to cement their status in the NCAA tournament, and they need to avoid being upset by teams like Georgia Tech or Miami at home. The blowout they put on North Carolina was the cement they were looking for. Now they just need to avoid no dumb losses. Easier said than done.

MARSHALL---Marshall is a surprising team with few "bad losses" and a great win on the road at Cincinnati. They kept their game with Syracuse close, and are currently at the top of Conference USA. Two meetings with Memphis still lie ahead for Marshall.

MINNESOTA---Minnesota dropped their first four games in Big Ten play and found themselves in the conference cellar. At a new season low, Minnesota proceeded to win two games on the road, one against upstart Indiana. The Golden Gophers are now squarely "on the bubble." It will be interesting to see how many Big 10 teams get invited to the dance.

MISSISSIPPI ST---Losses to Arkansas and Mississippi have the Bulldogs sitting at a mediocre 2-2 in conference play, with games against Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky and Alabama yet to come. They have the talent to make the tournament, but consistently play down to their opponent's skill level. Maybe they will need to put on their tap shoes and win their own SEC tournament just to be sure.

NC STATE---North Carolina State doesn't wow you with any of their wins or losses, but have put up a solid 14-5 record and are sitting at 3-1 in ACC play. Seven of their last 12 games are on the road, so they will need to be on their game if they expect an NCAA berth. The committee is not out to crush the memory of Coach Valvano, so they only need to play it smart down the road.

NORTHERN IOWA---Northern Iowa has very impressive wins for a 13-7 squad that is near the bottom of their mid-major conference standings.They have work to do, but their non-conference schedule strength should not be overlooked. If they can put together a win streak at the end of the year, they may have a chance to make the Dance. Luckily, the Committee loves to take small mid-western schools to create more excitement and media exposure thru potential upsets...(remember Butler)?

NORTHWESTERN---No key losses.That is very important for a bubble team. Northwestern has lost to Baylor, at Creighton, at Ohio State, vs. Illinois, at Michigan and at Wisconsin. Their key wins are impressive, and should keep them on the bubble through the rest of the year, barring a major collapse. Nice to be successful and SMART!!

PITTSBURGH---This team needs to win. With the way Pittsburgh is playing, they have no shot of making the NCAA tournament. A stunning 0-6 mark in conference play says it all. Fortunately, Jamie Dixon is a great coach, and Pittsburgh has the talent to turn it around. They better put a championship conference tournament run in their own finals together to have a shot...and then there will be an uproar!

TEXAS---Texas has been a tough team to figure out this year. Their wins aren't overly impressive, but their losses aren't "bubble-popping." The Big 12 is loaded with ranked teams, and Texas still has plenty of chances to prove they can hang with the big boys like Kansas, Baylor and Missouri. The operative word is "prove."

XAVIER---An 8-0 record to start the year was exactly how coach Chris Mack envisioned this year beginning. The eighth win, however, proved to be costly. The night forever remembered as "The Brawl." That brawl kicked their butt. It changed their destiny. The next six games, Xavier dropped five. They dropped out of the top 25 and are now focused on winning a very tough Atlantic 10 conference to make it back to The Dance.

WISCONSIN---Nothing about Wisconsin is exciting or impressive, but under Bo Ryan, they consistently get the job done. At 15-5, this year is no different. They may not be the elite team that we thought they were at the start of the year, but they are still a threat to Big Ten powerhouses like Michigan State and Ohio State. And they play incredibly well at home, so they need to rack up some home-cooking blowouts.
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