Selection Sunday is only two weeks away. The hysteria of March Madness will be amplified as the tournament kicks off on St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17th. Between then and now there is plenty of time for teams to fight their way into the bracket; there is also plenty of time for teams to ruin their résumé and fall out of the tourney.
One key factor in determining who will make it into the NCAA Tournament is examining how teams play during the final stretch of the season. Bad losses early in the year can be erased from memory with some solid victories in February and early March. No better opportunity exists for stringing together a handful of impressive wins than the conference tournaments. Here’s a look at the teams that need to show up in their conference tournaments in order to book their ticket to the big dance.
All rankings included below are from the 2016 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings
10 Teams Under Pressure in Conference Tournaments
Wisconsin Badgers (19-10, KenPom 27, SOS 26)
The Badgers had an up-and-down year riddled with puzzling losses to teams like No. 233 Western Illinois and No. 116 Milwaukee. After a 1-4 start in conference play brought them to 9-9 on the year Wisconsin seemed doomed. New head coach Greg Gard has shown his mettle since then, leading the Badgers to a 10-1 record with the sole loss coming at No. 2 ranked Michigan State. With one more tough game coming at No. 14 Purdue before the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin needs to surpass the 20-win plateau and make it to at least the quarterfinals in order to cement their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-10, KenPom 35, SOS 5)
The Red Raiders burst onto the tournament scene after defeating No. 18 Iowa State, No. 26 Baylor and No. 6 Oklahoma consecutively. That is the beautiful thing about being in the most complete conference in college basketball; you have a chance to prove yourself against quality opposition every time out on the court. The blazing hot Red Raiders finally cooled off with a single-digit loss at No. 1 Kansas, but they have no time to sulk as they travel to No. 10 West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers this week. One more win and Texas Tech should be dancing, but if they fail to beat No. 49 Kansas State at home this Saturday they may not have another chance for a victory and could drop out of the bracket altogether.
California Golden Bears (21-8, KenPom 21, SOS 51)
In a down year for the Pac-12 Cal has emerged as a bona fide tournament team. The Golden Bears are a lock to make their first trip to the tournament in three years following blowout wins against in-state rivals No. 58 UCLA and No. 52 USC. A big matchup looms on March 3rd as California travels to Tucson to take on No. 15 Arizona. Barring a colossal collapse from Cal and huge runs from other bubble teams, expect to see Cal in the round of 64.
Vanderbilt Commodores (19-11, KenPom 24, SOS 32)
Every college basketball analyst wants this Vanderbilt team to be more than they are. When the Commodores are on their game they can beat anyone in the country. They proved this point on Saturday by taking down No. 9 Kentucky by a dozen in Nashville. There is certainly still work to be done to guarantee Vandy a spot in March Madness. A road win at No. 22 Texas A&M may be enough to lock it up. One thing is for sure: Vandy is the type of team that could get hot and go on a deep run in March. The combination of projected first-round picks Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin along with a corps of guys that are all lethal from beyond the arc make for a scary 7-11 seed. Vanderbilt must make sure to take care of business down the stretch before thinking ahead to March; this includes at least a semifinal appearance in the SEC Tournament.
Wichita State Shockers (23-7, KenPom 7, SOS 116)
The Shockers of Wichita State are going to be the dreaded No. 8 seed in this year’s tournament. Wichita’s record is not as impressive as it has been in recent years, but no one in the country has been impeccable in 2015-2016. With senior point guard Fred Van Vleet on the floor the Shockers would not have several of the losses on their résumé. That being said, the Shockers should win the Mountain Valley Conference handily and build up some momentum going into the tournament. Another matchup with in-state rival Kansas is exactly what the Shockers are hoping for in March.
Seton Hall Pirates (21-7, KenPom 30, SOS 66)
Any bubble the Pirates were on has burst following their 90-81 victory over No. 12 Xavier on Sunday. Furthermore, in their last eight contests Seton Hall has seven wins against top-100 teams, with their only loss coming to No. 38 Butler. Seton Hall travels to take on the Butler Bulldogs on Wednesday looking to avenge their loss from three weeks ago. The Pirates should be around come March, making their first tournament appearance in a decade and head coach Kevin Willard’s first with the program.
Temple (93)/Cincinnati (29)/Tulsa (42)/UConn (28)
There are very intriguing arguments for each of the teams in this AAC quartet. No basketball conference has more teams fighting to get in the big dance than the AAC. This race is particularly interesting given the current leader of the conference, No. 20 SMU, has a postseason ban for 2015. UConn and Cincinnati each have a matchup with SMU left on the schedule, and both teams are looking to jump up the rankings heading into what’s sure to be a wild AAC tournament.