We come to you with a special postseason edition of the weekly College Basketball Insider. Already there’s a good chance the NCAA tournament could commence without: The nation’s winningest program; the school that won consecutive titles not so long ago; the school that has graced every edition of March Madness since 1985 and the little team that came within a missed three-pointer of the 2008 Final Four. How’s that for a rejection list?
Arizona enters the Pac-10 tournament having lost four of five and is ranked 52nd in the RPI, leaving its streak of 24 consecutive NCAA appearances in peril. Then again, what would you expect? Lute Olson missed last season due to health concerns, pronounced himself fit to return this fall and then quit in October, leaving the team in the hands of interim coach Russ Pennell.
It could happen. Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Louisville are ranked among the nation’s top five in both polls. At least two of those will lose this week in the Big East tournament, but each has compiled a mighty body of work: UConn was ranked No. 1 last week; Pitt swept UConn and has been ranked No. 1 itself, and Louisville won the league’s regular-season title.
Last March’s darling it figures to be playing in the NIT next week. Davidson lost to College of Charleston, coached by Bobby Cremins, in the Southern Conference semifinals and must hope the NCAA committee can find a way to invite a team ranked 69th in the RPI. (Anything above 40 is considered iffy for an at-large hopeful.) The Madness will be less mad without Stephen Curry.
The conference that produced the NCAA champion in 2006 and 2007 could wind up with only three tournament bids. Auburn (64th in the RPI) probably needs to win the SEC tournament. Florida (48th) could go from consecutive national titles to consecutive NITs, and even South Carolina, which tied for first in the SEC East, isn’t a lock. (It’s 50th.) And then there’s …
Kentucky hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since 1991 but, with an RPI of 80, needs a big showing in St. Pete just to make it back atop the bubble. Two years after replacing Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie is already fielding questions about his job security, and both Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson, Kentucky’s best players, could leave early for the NBA.
When last Maryland played in the Georgia Dome, it won the 2002 NCAA title. The Terrapins arrive for the ACC tournament having followed their massive upset of North Carolina by losing three of four, including a flop against 11th-place Virginia. With an RPI of 67, Maryland needs to reach the ACC final to have an NCAA shot, and it could have to beat both Wake Forest and Duke to get there.
It could be the team that plays Georgia on Thursday. Mississippi State lost five of its final six games in February but finished the regular season with two victories. The winner of Bulldogs-versus-Bulldogs would then play South Carolina. And let’s be honest: Winning four games in four days wouldn’t be all that tough in this season’s SEC.
Creighton lost to Illinois State by 24 points in the Missouri Valley semifinals and must hope its RPI of 39 is good enough. Saint Mary’s lost the West Coast final to Gonzaga and, with an RPI of 45, could be out. And bubble teams from major conferences are praying Utah State doesn’t get upset in the WAC tournament and that either Xavier or Dayton wins the Atlantic 10.
ACC: Boston College, Maryland, Miami, Virginia Tech.
Big East: Providence.
Big Ten: Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin.
Big 12: Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M.
Mountain West: New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV.
Pac-10: Arizona, Southern Cal.
SEC: Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina.
1. North Carolina
4. Florida State
2. Michigan State
3. Wake Forest
I, Mark Bradley, being of less-than-sound mind and a deteriorating body, will blog live from Georgia Tech’s first (and perhaps last) game of the ACC tournament Thursday afternoon. We’ll get started around noon and keep going until the Tech game, which begins around 2:30, is done. A good time will be had by some, I assure you.