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Weekly Tipoff: Which team is the fastest riser in the last few weeks?

Tim Miles

Tim Miles

It happens every basketball season around this time.

Just when you think you’ve got the NCAA Tournament bubble figured out, a few teams make a run late in the season to be considered.

Some of those teams will prove to be on a hot streak, returning to earth in the coming weeks. Others will go into the conference tournaments ready needing only a game or two to fill the final slots on the bracket.

Our staff wonders who that team could be this season.

Name a team that wasn’t on the bubble two weeks ago that can make the NCAA Tournament.

Mitch Light: West Virginia still has some work to do, but it’s quite remarkable that we are talking about this team possibly earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers have won four of their last six to improve their record to 15–11 overall and 7–6 in the very tough Big 12. They have four wins against top-50 RPI teams, highlighted by a 102–77 beatdown vs. Iowa State on Feb. 10. Nine of WVU’s 11 losses have come against top-50 RPI teams, and the two that did not occurred in November (Virginia Tech) and December (Purdue). Bob Huggins’ team plays three of its final five regular-season games at home, including a huge home game against Kansas on March 8. The opportunity is there for this team to make the NCAAs.  

David Fox: If Nebraska can continue its hot streak in the final month of the season, the Cornhuskers could make a late push for an NCAA Tournament bid. There’s little room for error, though. This team lost to Creighton and UMass early in the season and then endured a six-game losing streak. But Tim Miles’ team is one of the most improved in the country since then, defeating Ohio State and Indiana at home and then shocking Michigan State on the road. Terran Petteway has proven himself to be a 30-point player when called upon. He and the Huskers are capable of stringing together a winning streak against the lower tier of the Big Ten to set up a huge regular-season finale in Lincoln against Wisconsin.

Braden Gall: St. John’s is the easy answer here because other surging teams like Nebraska and Georgia just don’t have enough on their résumé to be in the conversation. The Red Storm have won five straight games and eight of their last nine since a double-overtime loss to Providence in early January capped a five-game losing streak. Steve Lavin’s team lost to Creighton in Omaha but played extremely well and then avenged the loss at home last weekend. Toss in road wins at Butler, Providence and Seton Hall as well as Georgetown and Marquette at home and St. John’s is right in the NCAA Tournament mix after starting the season 9–8 overall and 0–5 in conference play.