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College Hoops Barometer: Bubbles Ready to Burst

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

This week's article will take on a bit of a different format. Instead of looking at individual players, we'll analyze the bubble teams that have helped or hurt their respective causes of late. Due to the pre-March madness that has ensued this season, it's not possible to include all the teams whose seasons are hanging in the balance this week. Likewise, circumstances can change with games remaining, including conference tournaments. Nevertheless, let's dive into the Bubble Edition of the College Hoops Barometer.

UPGRADE

Minnesota -
The toughest schedule in the country belongs to the Golden Gophers. The squad has responded with a 20-9 record, including 8-8 in the most competitive conference in college basketball. Minnesota has beaten Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Memphis, with only two bad losses (Iowa and Northwestern, albeit on the road). The strength of schedule, combined with the big victories, likely give the Golden Gophers the nod.

Virginia -
The Cavs take some flak for some bad losses at the beginning of the season to Delaware, Old Dominion and George Mason. While they've been inconsistent to say the least, Virginia is 10-6 in the ACC with wins over Duke, NC State and UNC. The Cavs took Miami down to the wire at the Canes' gym as well. Joe Harris is a dark horse candidate for ACC Player of the Year. Virginia has certainly been less-than-stellar on the road this season, but have enough quality wins to get it in the tournament.

Saint Mary's -
The Gaels were recently hit with sanctions by the NCAA, but will still be allowed to participate in the NCAA Tournament. Saint Mary's should be tournament bound with a 26-5 record, including 14-2 in the conference. Those two West Coast Conference losses? To top-ranked Gonzaga. The problem with the Gaels' resume is that they have some bad losses to Pacific, Northern Iowa and a mediocre Georgia Tech squad. A Feb. 23 win over Creighton will help their cause, though, and should allow the Gaels to overcome a Strength of Schedule of 128.

Illinois -
Illinois beat No. 1 Gonzaga on the road this season, and No. 2 Indiana at home. The Illini also dispatched of Butler, Ohio State and split with the above-referenced Golden Gophers. Although Illinois is just 8-8 in the Big Ten, its RPI is 32 and Strength of Schedule is 5. Winners of six of their last seven games, the committee will have a difficult time keeping Illinois out of the tournament.

CHECK STATUS

Virginia Commonwealth -
Can Shaka Smart work his magic again? The Rams will have a tough time gaining an automatic berth in an A-10 conference with Butler, Temple and Saint Louis. Should VCU not win the conference crown, it will have to rely on wins against Memphis, Alabama, Butler and Xavier. Not exactly a who's-who of college hoops this season. However, the Rams do not have any bad losses either. If the Rams get a deep run in the conference tourney, they should make the big dance. However, an early exit could spell doom for Smart's crew.

Cincinnati -
The Bearcats seemed like a shoe-in at the beginning of the season, with 12 consecutive wins to start the year. However, their tourney hopes have been slip-sliding away of late. Losers of six of their last eight games, Cincy sits at 8-9 in the Big East despite a 20-10 record overall. They should get back to 9-9 in the conference against USF in their regular-season finale, but nothing is a given at this point. In fact, a loss could derail their season. They do have wins over Pitt and Marquette, though, as well as victories over a slew of bubble teams including Alabama, Oregon, Villanova, Xavier and Alabama. The head-to-head record against fellow teams on the fence could push the Bearcats into the tourney, but they may still need some help.

Iowa State -
The Cyclones have lost two heartbreakers to Kansas which would have firmly entrenched them in March Madness. A win in even one of those contests would have likely gained them a berth. Instead, the biggest win for ISU came Jan. 26 against Kansas State. Losses to Texas Tech and Iowa loom large, as does consecutive losses to drop the Cyclones to 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the conference. A home win against OK State could seal a spot, but they must remain above .500 in the conference to have any chance.

Villanova -
If the Wildcats get into the tourney, it will be because of their big wins. Villanova has beaten Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette over the last month or so. Losses to Columbia and a severely depleted Seton Hall squad hurt, though, and the Wildcats have lost their last two games during a crucial stretch. A win in the finale over Big East juggernaut Georgetown would likely seal a spot for the Wildcats, giving them three wins over top-5 squads. A loss, however, makes them 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the Big East. That resume doesn't exactly scream tournament approved.

DOWNGRADE

Kentucky -
After the Wildcats lost Nerlens Noel to a season-ending ACL injury, Kentucky lost by 30 points to an average Tennessee squad. Most pundits counted them out. UK responded with three straight wins, including an OT thriller against 21-8 Mizzou. However, a March 2 loss at Arkansas dampens their chances. The Wildcats have a huge game Saturday at home against Florida, which could make or break their season.

Maryland -
One step forward, two steps back characterizes the Terrapins' season. Maryland jumped out to a 13-1 start, but the Terps are just 7-8 since that time. Maryland feasted on weaker opponents during its non-conference schedule, with its biggest win over that span coming at Northwestern. Maryland is 8-8 in conference play, with two losses to Florida State and a clunker at Georgia Tech on Feb. 27. They followed up a huge 83-81 win at Duke with a blowout loss at 13-16 BC. Maryland doesn't appear to have enough big wins to gain tournament acceptance.

St. John's -
The Johnnies are 10th in the Big East, not counting the postseason ineligible UConn Huskies. Consecutive losses dim their tournament hopes, sitting at 16-12 with two games left, albeit against ranked opponents. Losses to UNC Asheville and San Francisco really hurt, and the only big win on the slate is a home triumph against Notre Dame. In-conference defeats at the hands of Rutgers and Providence could spell doom for the Red Storm. The Johnnies will need a big-time finish to make a trip to the big dance.

Baylor -
Baylor beat St. John's and Kentucky at the beginning of the year, but the Bears have only been able to pull out one big win otherwise, against Oklahoma State on Jan. 21. Meanwhile, they are trending downward with seven losses in their last 10 games. Baylor's resume does not possess the ups and downs of some other schools on this list; the Bears have simply been a mediocre squad this season at 17-12 and 8-8 in the conference.

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