NCAA Bubble Watch: Precipice Teams

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With the Field of 68 taking shape, there are several NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball teams who must finish the season strong to make it to the tournament. There are 37 teams battling for at-large berths and 31 positions set aside for conference winners, leaving scores of eligible teams fighting for a handful of positions.

Most of the big conferences will snap up a significant portion of the 37 at-large berths. The Big East Conference may place eight teams in the tournament, with other conferences securing perhaps 4, 5 or 6 spots. We’re looking at perhaps seven spots up for grabs come “Selection Sunday,” with the following teams holding destiny in their hands:

Gonzaga — Long the darling of NCAA upstart faithful, Gonzaga’s Cinderella status is no more. Credit higher expectations each year for cracking that crown, which means opponents go into each contest against the Zags expecting a full blown fight. The West Coast conference is not strong enough to win two post season berths, putting the 17-9 Zags in a position where they have to win out their remaining games.

Richmond — The Spiders are 20-6 and just behind Temple and Xavier for the Atlantic 10 lead. The team’s current position suggests that they would make the tournament, but finishing strong can certainly help Richmond’s portfolio. Xavier and Temple will get in, but a third Atlantic 10 team isn’t always a guarantee.

Illinois — The Illini are in fourth place in the Big Ten, which in most years would mean a post season bid for that finisher. However, the teams in the middle of the pack have been beating each other up this year and Illinois is just 7-6 in the conference and 17-9 overall. Losses on the road to Ohio State and Purdue seem likely, leaving three games at home against Michigan State, Iowa and Indiana as must wins.

Baylor — The Big East gets a disproportionate amount of attention, but it is the Big 12 with the two top-rated teams in the nation: Texas and Kansas. Texas A&M and Missouri are also ranked, but there is a significant drop off in tournament readiness with Baylor, Nebraska and Kansas State battling for one more place. Baylor is 17-8 and has four challenging games left. Getting to 20 wins is critical, if not a long shot.

New Mexico — The Mountain West conference boasts a pair of top ten teams: San Diego State and Brigham Young. Colorado State and UNLV are likely to make the post season, putting 17-9 New Mexico in a precarious situation. Lucky for the Lobos the conference’s power ratings are up among the elite which means that if New Mexico finishes strong and does well in the tournament, they may receive an invite.

The bubble watch is subject to change with current hot prospects possibly bursting and new bubbles forming. Forget the game: the behind the scenes anticipation trumps court action. Or not.

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