We have now hit the final week of the college basketball regular season and while so much of the focus is on the schools battling for one seeds, the most intrigue might be at the bottom. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 schools believe they’re on the bubble and can still play their way into (or out of) the NCAA Tournament with a strong close to the regular season and their conference tournament.
Here are 11 that need to close out strong to feel good about making the NCAA Tournament:
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Resume: 16-12 (7-9 in ACC play)
Remaining games: vs. Louisville (Wednesday), at Virginia Tech (Saturday)
Watch the Demon Deacons for a few minutes and it’s hard to argue that they don't look like one of the 68 best teams in college basketball (especially with potential first round pick John Collins in their starting lineup). The problem is, they don’t have the resume to back it up. Danny Manning’s club is 0-7 against ranked teams this season with one good win (vs. Miami) on their resume.
Thanks to the overall depth of the ACC they are in the thick of the bubble discussion. If they can finally get that signature win – at home against Louisville Wednesday – it feels like the Demon Deacons would essentially lock up a tourney bid.
Resume: 17-13 (9-8 in ACC play) Remaining games: vs. Georgia Tech (Saturday)
The Orange had a golden opportunity to punch their ticket Sunday with a win at Louisville but instead got flattened in an 88-68 loss to the Cards. Syracuse has now lost four of their last five, and have some miserable losses in out of conference play (St. John’s at home, UConn) weighing down their resume.
Jim Boeheim's club also has some signature wins (Duke, Florida State, Virginia) and will probably be in with a victory in their season finale against Georgia Tech. They could also use a win or two in the ACC Tournament just to feel safe.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Resume: 16-13 (7-9 in ACC play) Remaining games: vs. Pitt (Tuesday), at Syracuse (Saturday)
The Yellow Jackets were in great position to clinch a bid a week ago but back-to-back losses to NC State (by two points) and at Notre Dame (by four) have put them precariously close to falling off the bubble altogether.
Resume: 18-11 (8-8 in Big East play) Remaining games: vs. DePaul (Tuesday), at St. John’s (Saturday)
The Friars were left for dead in early February but have played their way back into the bubble conversation with four straight wins. The quality of those victories may be even more impressive, with all four (Butler, Xavier, at Creighton, Marquette) coming against teams in the tournament picture.
Providence should wrap up their fourth straight NCAA Tourney bid by sweeping two winnable games this week against DePaul and at St. John’s.
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Marquette Golden Eagles
Resume: 17-11 (8-8 in Big East play) Remaining games: at Xavier (Wednesday), vs. Creighton (Saturday)
Marquette is basically the bizzaro world Providence, a team which seemingly wrapped up a tourney bid with a win over Villanova on January 24th only to lose five of eight since.
Had they just beaten the teams they were supposed to (Georgetown, St. John’s), the Golden Eagles wouldn’t be playing for their tournament lives right now. Instead, they need to win at least one of their final two games to feel good about making the Big Dance. Winning both obviously wouldn't hurt.
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Seton Hall Pirates
Resume: 18-10 (8-8 in Big East play) Remaining games: vs. Georgetown (Tuesday), at Butler (Saturday)
The defending Big East Tournament champions have been inconsistent all season long, but seem to have finally hit their groove with three wins in their last four games.
Splitting their final two games would put the Pirates in decent position to make the tournament (beating Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse seems unlikely). Winning a game or two at the Big East Tournament certainly wouldn’t hurt their cause either.
Remaining games: at Utah (Thursday), at Colorado (Saturday)
The Golden Bears seemingly had a tourney bid locked up a few weeks ago, but have done themselves no favors since. There was a loss at home to Stanford two weeks ago, and then a blown chance to pick up a signature win against Oregon this past Wednesday, when Dillon Brooks hit the game-winner with just 0.2 seconds left on the clock.
It leaves Cal in a very precarious situation now, and it won’t get any easier with the vaunted “Rocky Mountain road trip” to Utah and Colorado this weekend. The games - played in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains – are considered to be the most challenging road trip in the entire Pac-12.
Illinois State Redbirds
Resume: 25-5 (17-1 in Missouri Valley play) Remaining games: Missouri Valley Conference tournament
With so many power conference teams faltering down the stretch, Illinois State should feel pretty good about where they stand heading into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Their only loss since Christmas came at Wichita State, a fellow bubble team.
Illinois State can quell any bubble talk simply by winning the MVC Tourney, but even if they don’t, they should be OK if they can win a few games and get to the final. Even if they lose there, would the committee really leave out a team that is 27-6 with just two losses since Christmas? Especially with so many weak teams on the bubble?
TCU Horned Frogs
Resume: 17-12 (6-10 in Big 12 play)
Remaining games: Kansas State (Wednesday), at Oklahoma (Saturday)
Year one of the Jamie Dixon era has been a rip-roaring success for TCU and the Horned Frogs had a chance to essentially punch their ticket into the field of 68 with a win over West Virginia Saturday. Instead, they lost by one point and now enter the final week of the season with a resume which is OK, but short on impressive wins (a victory over Iowa State at home is their best victory to date).
TCU will still have an opportunity this week to prove to the committee that they belong in the tourney. The Horned Frogs have winnable games against fellow bubble team Kansas State and Big 12 bottom-dweller Oklahoma to close out the year.
Kansas State Wildcats
Resume: 17-12 (6-10 in Big 12 play) Remaining games: at TCU (Wednesday), Texas Tech (Saturday)
It’s hard to feel too sorry for Bruce Weber’s club, which was comfortably in the tournament picture a few weeks ago before going 1-5 in their last six games. That includes an inexcusable loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
The Wildcats have a chance to pad their resume with wins against fellow bubble teams TCU and Texas Tech this week. But with the way they’re playing, it’s hard to believe they’ll actually do it.
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Rhode Island Rams
Resume: 19-9, (11-5 in Atlantic 10 play)
Remaining games: at St. Joe’s (Wednesday), Davidson (Saturday)
Rhode Island hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since the Lamar Odom era back in 1999 and as recently as Saturday it looked like that trend would continue for another March. Then the Rams beat VCU at home and opened themselves up to a world of possibilities.
Rhody still has their work cut out for them, but could take a major step towards the NCAA Tournament by taking care of business in two winnable games at St. Joe’s (10-18) and Davidson (14-13) this week. Do that – and maybe add a win in the A-10 tourney for good measure – and the Rams should make their first NCAA Tournament this century.