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NCAA tourney bubble talk

By Mike McCurry
On February 14, 2011

As I begin to write this article, we are only 27 days, 9 hours, 31 minutes and 33 seconds from college basketball's Selection Sunday. Selection Sunday, which takes place March 13 this year, is when the NCAA Tournament committee lets us know what teams will be taking part in the Big Dance.

"Locks" for the tournament are only concerned about where their next flight will take them and who they will be playing. For those who are on the so-called "bubble," it is a very nerve-wracking and excruciating time. These squads could care less about their opponents or in what state their game will be in; all they want is for their name to be called by Greg Gumbel, because a bid to the NCAA Tournament expands the school's season and keeps the dream of cutting down the nets alive. We are in the middle of February, and unless teams start coming together and piling up some wins, a lot of talented schools will be playing postseason ball in the NIT. And no one wants to do that. There are four burning questions that need to be answered in the world of college basketball, so let's get cracking. Because in life, bubbles burst.


Can somebody please sort out the mess that is the ACC?

Duke and North Carolina are locks for the NCAA's, but no other team in the Atlantic Coast Conference is safe. Florida State is in third place and has that big win over then No. 1 Duke to its credit, but since then the team has lost to Clemson and UNC by a combined 38 points. Virginia Tech, Clemson, Boston College and Maryland are all bubble teams, some having better résumés than others. The Terps' best victory is Penn State (probably not a tourney team), and they have lost to BC and Duke twice each. Boston College is only 16-9, but it is 42 in the RPI (ratings percentage index; a major factor to the committee) and have played a very tough schedule. With the field expanding to 68 teams this year, the Eagles may have just enough to get over the hump. Answer: At this point, I see about four teams from the weaker-than-usual ACC making it into the tourney.


Who will step up in the SEC?

The Southeastern Conference is split into an East and West division, with the East being significantly more competitive. Alabama leads the West at 8-2, however, it has head-shaking losses to Seton Hall, St. Peter's and Iowa. I think JaMychal Green (16 ppg) and the Tide have to win the SEC tournament to get into the Big Dance. Same goes for the other five schools in the West. But in the East there are many at-large hopefuls. Florida is ranked No. 17 in the nation, had a last-second win thanks to Erving Walker this past Saturday against Tennessee and is a potential Top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Behind Florida, nothing is for sure. Vanderbilt's John Jenkins (19.8 ppg; 41 percent from 3) is the most underrated player in the country and has his team in a prime position. Kentucky and Tennessee, on the other hand, are 5-5 in conference and are in danger of folding after great starts. Kentucky, led by the phenomenal freshman trio of Doron Lamb, Brandon Knight and Terrance Jones, is 1-5 on the road in the SEC. Kentucky's March 6 game against Bruce Pearl and the Vols may have enormous implications for both teams. Answer: I say, were the NCAA Tournament to start today, five SEC schools would get their tickets punched.Can Kansas and Texas both be No.1 seeds?

Kansas is the best team in the country right now, having blown out Big 12 opponents as of late. The Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus) average a combined 30 points and 15 rebounds per contest. They also have great team chemistry, and tragedy has brought the Jayhawks even closer. Thomas Robinson, a future NBA forward who averages nine points and six rebounds per game, lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother in a span of three weeks. The morning of the Texas game, teammates and coaches consoled Robinson until about 5 a.m. Now I am not one to make excuses, but KU players went into the showdown with about three hours of sleep and a more important matter on their minds. They squandered a big lead in what turns out to be their only blemish on the schedule to this point. I am not taking anything away from Texas (22-3, 10-0 Big 12), however. Jordan Hamilton (19 ppg) is the leader of the best defensive team in college basketball this year. When the polls come out on Monday, Kansas and Texas should be 1 and 2, respectively. A possible rematch between the two could take place March 13 in the Big 12 Championship game. Answer: Yes, both TX and KU can and should be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA. They will definitely be two of the favorites to win a national title come April.


Who needs the most help: Michigan State, Kansas State, Gonzaga or Memphis?

Michigan State and K-State were No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the preseason AP poll. Together they have 19 losses between them. Gonzaga, No. 12 preseason, has lost to Santa Clara and San Francisco. Luckily, the Zags have won four out of their last five and always seem to run the table in the West Coast Conference Tournament. Memphis has also struggled mightily, but its win over Gonzaga on Feb. 5 might just bail them out. In Jerry Palm's latest mock bracket, K-State is a 10-seed and Memphis an 11. The Spartans and Zags are out right now. Answer: All of them do, but Michigan State and Kansas State need the most. Sparty still has to play Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State. Fiery coach Frank Martin and the Wildcats still have dates with Kansas and Texas. 

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