By Casey Gagnon @CaseySportsAZ on March 13, 2014
Championship week affords a few last gasps of air to teams on the NCAA tournament bubble. Most of these teams have had a "good" season, but as Division I play becomes more competitive each successive season, and as smaller schools hailing from not-so-formidable conferences lock up automatic bids, the conference tournament is the final chance for bubble teams to make their case for an invite to the big dance. Here are 10 such teams.
The tournament selection committee likely wasn't impressed with the Arkansas Razorbacks' back-to-back blowout losses to the Alabama Crimson Tide and Ole Miss Rebels to conclude the regular season. It also doesn't help that the Razorbacks played a flimsy non-conference schedule, which included battles with such excruciating opponents as SIU Edwardsville, Southeastern Louisiana, Savannah State and Tennessee-Martin.
The California Golden Bears can lay claim as the first team to knock off the Arizona Wildcats this season, and they also notched crucial conference wins over the Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal. However, a loss to the hapless USC Trojans, as well as getting tripped by UC-Santa Barbara in non conference play, suggest that as the Pac 12 overall has morphed into a powerhouse conference, the Bears' growth has remained stagnant.
The Dayton Flyers could possibly make some noise at the big dance, but they have to win an invite first. The Flyers won their final three regular season games, including an impressive upset over the St. Louis Billikens. Their non-conference win over Gonzaga ought to turn a few heads as well, as might their 40th overall ranking in the RPI. Nonetheless, obtaining an at-large bid from a mid-major conference is not easy.
The Florida State Seminoles can already punch their ticket to the NIT unless they make a deep run (think semifinals) in the ACC tournament. The level of competition in Greensboro might be too much for the Seminoles to handle, but then again, anything can happen and that's why it's called March Madness.
Again, no team from one of the mid-majors should hold its breath waiting for an at-large invite to the big dance regardless of its regular season record, and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs don't have much to showcase except for a non-conference win at Oklahoma State. Winning it all in El Paso is likely their only shot at cracking the field of 68, although coach Danny Manning's talented University of Tulsa squad will likely stand in their way.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers venture to Indianapolis this week still riding the momentum from their thrilling upset over the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend. Another upset win at Michigan State earlier this season ought to bode well for the Huskers as well. They also elected not to go soft with their non-conference schedule, facing off against UMass, Creighton and Cincinnati.
An impressive regular season record in a powerhouse conference like the ACC would normally make a team like the Pitt Panthers an NCAA tournament lock, but not so fast. While other top teams in the conference beefed up their schedule with showdowns against top non-conference foes, the Panthers earned themselves a non-conference strength of schedule (SOS) ranking of 238, going to battle instead with Howard, Youngstown State, Albany and the like.
The Providence Friars must absolutely come up with something to impress the selection committee in the Big Apple this week. Multiple double-digit losses in conference play don't sit well, and the Friars didn't exactly play a challenging non-conference schedule either. Recent blowout losses to Villanova and Creighton call into question this team's competitiveness against elite foes.
The Tennessee Volunteers played a strong schedule, but a lack of quality wins against highly ranked opponents means that a deep run in Atlanta this week offers them one final chance to impress. Otherwise, the volunteers are NIT-bound.
The Xavier Musketeers gained a jolt of momentum by upsetting Creighton, only to see that momentum quickly erased after losing at Seton Hall the very next game. Nonetheless, the Big East is still expected to earn more than just a couple of at large bids, and the Musketeers will likely snag one if they can regroup and dazzle the selection committee this week.
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