5 At-Large NCAA Basketball Teams That Could Make a Serious Run
NCAA Tournament: Watch Out for These 5 At-Large Teams
Long gone are the days where only conference winners made it in to the NCAA tournament. All the best teams are bound to get in to the Big Dance, whether they are winners of their respective conference tournaments or at-large teams. With the current nature of Division I college basketball, most of the at-large teams are going to come from power conferences, and the ones that don't come from mid-major leagues that have become very recognizable to even casual college basketball fans, such as the Mountain West Conference, Missouri Valley Conference and the West Coast Conference.
While it can be difficult before March to predict the winners of the various conference tournaments, we are deep enough into the season now to have a decent idea of who the favorites are in each conference to grab postseason honors and along with that, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. As such, it can also now be discussed as to which teams are likely to get in with at-large bids, are the most dangerous and could make deep runs to the Elite Eight or even the Final Four.
Some of the teams that fit the profile here might strike fans as a surprise, given their name value and recent success (including national championships). But due to results in their various conferences, their at-large status makes them dangerous teams on this list. Other teams profiled here are farther behind in their conference standings, but have shown glimpses of greatness this season and for various reasons, they can present matchup problems for teams depending on seeding.
Here are profiles of five at-large teams that can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
5. New Mexico Lobos (20-5, 11-2 Mountain West)
It isn't certain that New Mexico is going to be an at-large team. The Lobos sit one game behind leaders San Diego State in the MWC, and the teams still have to play twice, including Saturday night at The Pit in Albuquerque. But let's say the Lobos and Aztecs split those games, and San Diego State wins the Mountain West Conference tournament. New Mexico ranks in the top 60 in the country in scoring, rebounding and assists. Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams combine to score almost 38 points per game.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten)
Iowa is in any game it plays due to its offense. The Hawkeyes have scored 92 points or more in six different games this season, including breaking the century mark twice. Iowa is on a high after a recent win over then-No. 10 Michigan, but both the Wolverines and Michigan State will be considered favorites to win the Big 10 tournament. However, unless Iowa runs into a top defensive team early in the NCAA tournament, the Hawkeyes could very well make a deep run.
3. Villanova Wildcats (23-3, 11-2 Big East)
Villanova an at-large team? Certainly the Wildcats have every chance to win the Big East tournament and could go into the event as the top seed. However, Villanova's inability to not only beat the Creighton Bluejays, but to lose two games to the Bluejays by a combined 49 points, indicates that the Wildcats might take a back seat to Creighton for the automatic bid. But Villanova is a Final Four-caliber team and no matter how they get into the NCAA tournament, head coach Jay Wright's team will be expected to go deep.
2. Kentucky Wildcats (20-6, 10-3 SEC)
Kentucky is another team that on name only, wouldn't be one you would expect to see on this list. But the Wildcats' home loss to Florida last week confirmed that Kentucky is at best the second-best team in the SEC and Florida is the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC tournament. But Kentucky, loaded as always with talented freshmen, has shown the ability before as a young team to win the national championship. That might be too much to ask of this group, but a deep run is as possible for Kentucky as a second-round loss.
1. Connecticut Huskies (20-5, 8-4 AAC)
Any team with Shabazz Napier on it is a threat to go deep in the NCAA tournament. And Connecticut is always a threat to win it all come March and April. That said, the Huskies clearly are not among the favorites in their own conference. Connecticut is four games back of AAC leaders Cincinnati, and has four teams in front of them in the AAC standings. But the Huskies might be the most dangerous at-large bid entering this year's NCAA tournament. Napier is averaging 18 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.