Inside the Bracket: Stretch run key for several teams
It’s not a surprise to say the current NCAA Tournament bubble is soft. While we most often focus on the cutline (last teams in, first teams out), a few notable programs may not be as secure as it seems. With Selection Sunday only three weeks away, the stretch run could make a huge difference. Here are a four teams (of several) that could be on that list …
Memphis – The Tigers needed overtime at home to survive Temple on Saturday night which kept a truly bad loss off of their resume. Here’s the concerning part: a 4-6 record against Top 100 RPI teams – which actually extends to the Top 150. This could be one of those years when a team with a losing record against the top half of Division I earns an at-large bid, but it certainly leaves some doubt about the Tigers’ overall standing. Part of that is due to a weak bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Part of it is losses against league leaders – save victory at Louisville in early January. Memphis is 1-4 against American contenders (Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, SMU). Three of their remaining games are against those same squads. If the Tigers were to finish 1-7 (or 2-6) against that target, it could bring some stressful moments come league tournament time.
Kansas State – While it’s hard to envision a team with eight Top 100 wins missing the NCAA Tournament right now, it’s worth nothing that the Wildcats are 1-6 in true road games (their only win was at TCU). K-State has remaining road trips to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, neither of which will be easy. If they were to lose both and drop a home game to either Baylor or Iowa State down the stretch, an early exit from the Big 12 tourney could create some few tense moments in Manhattan.
Gonzaga – The Bulldogs didn’t help themselves – or BYU – by losing at San Diego. While the Zags’ win totals and power numbers help, they have exactly one victory (BYU at home) against a team that projected IN our most recent bracket (Friday, Feb. 21). And the Cougars need a good finish, too. Outside the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga has wins over Arkansas and West Virginia and losses to Kansas State, Memphis, and Dayton. An interesting schedule set-up has the Zags closing the regular season with four straight road games. They have lost the first two. With tricky trips to Pacific and Saint Mary’s still on tap, an extend slide could put the Bulldogs in a tight spot.
Xavier – After Saturday’s loss at Georgetown, the Musketeers have lost 5 of 8 games – with a home victory over Providence as their calling card during that stretch. And XU’s closing stretch is challenging to say the least. It includes road games at St. John’s and Seton Hall, and home dates against Big East leaders Creighton and Villanova. The Musketeers’ best win this season came against Cincinnati in December. The rest are home victories against a bunch of current bubble teams such as Tennessee, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette. So yes, this closing stretch could make or break the Musketeers’ NCAA chances.
More to come in when Bubble Banter updates next week.