Bubble teams need to close regular season strong
Which team is under the most pressure in this final week of the regular season?
Patrick Snow: I think the West Virginia Mountaineers are under a ton of pressure if they want to make a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Bob Huggins’ club is currently tied for ninth in the rough Big East, and WVU has not been playing quality ball down the stretch. After starting the season at 15–5 overall and 5–2 in league play, the Mountaineers have lost seven of their last nine games. Those seven defeats include four home games, and WVU suffered a very tough loss last Friday after blowing an 11-point halftime lead against Marquette. Seniors Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones have led the team all season but have been inconsistent lately. WVU travels to South Florida on Saturday to face a Bulls club that has been very tough this season. A quality road win in the last regular-season game could be the difference-maker in getting the Mountaineers off the bubble, instead of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Huggins’ return to Morgantown.
Mitch Light: There’s a bunch of options here, but I will go with Northwestern, which is scratching and clawing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The Wildcats are currently 17–11 overall and 7–9 in the Big Ten with an RPI of 43. They close the regular season with a home date with Ohio State on Wednesday and a tricky road game at Iowa on Saturday. If they beat Ohio State, they will be a virtual lock for the Tournament. If not, however, Bill Carmody’s club will head to Iowa City in must-win mode against an Iowa team that beat Indiana and Wisconsin in its last two home games. There’s no denying that this will be a stressful week for everyone associated with Northwestern basketball.
What conference tournament are you most looking forward to?
Patrick Snow: I am very excited for the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament this weekend. We all know the success that the CAA has had in recent NCAA Tournaments, producing two Final Four teams over the last six years — George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. Even though three league squads (Drexel, VCU and George Mason) have 23 wins or more, I’m not sure that multiple teams will be invited to this season’s March Madness. That fact will make for a very exciting and pressure-packed league tourney. Three other CAA teams — Old Dominion, Delaware and Georgia State — have double-digit win totals in league play, so it should be wide open in Richmond. Drexel is the top seed on the strength of 17 consecutive victories, while fifth-place Delaware has won eight straight CAA games. VCU and George Mason will also be tough outs, as the CAA tourney figures to produce an electric atmosphere with multiple teams trying to reach their NCAA Tournament goal.
Mitch Light: I think the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis — or Arch Madness, as it’s called — will be fun to watch. The league has two very good teams at the top in Wichita State (16–2) and Creighton (14–4) and then incredible balance with five teams finishing in a tie for third place at 9–9 in the league. Wichita State is the obvious favorite, but Creighton boasts the Valley’s best player in sophomore forward Doug McDermott, the son of head coach Greg McDermott. Looking for a sleeper? Indiana State was a bit of a disappointment this season with an 8–10 league record, but Greg Lansing’s club returns most of the key players from last year’s team that won the MVC Tournament title.
Nathan Rush: The SEC Tournament is must-see TV. Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship. But can the Wildcats cruise to the SEC crown, as they have in each of John Calipari's first two seasons at UK? If they are tested in a do-or-die tournament setting, how will Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the young Cats react? Also, the SEC has two of the more intriguing NCAA Tournament wild cards. Both Florida and Vanderbilt have the firepower to make a run in March. But if the Gators and Commodores don't get hot at the right time, either (or both) could easily stagger early in the Dance. UF and VU are hit or miss. But which is it? Then there's Alabama, a well-coached club that can stifle just about any offense on the right night. There is plenty of NCAA Tournament insight to be gleaned from the SEC Tournament — which, coincidentally, is in New Orleans, the site of this year's Final Four.