When investigating the merits of a potential NCAA Tournament team, the typical first question is "who did you beat?" With the regular season winding down, many bubble teams have a couple signature wins, but need another to solidify a spot in the field of 68. Fortunately, conference play often affords them opportunities to pad their resumes, even before conference tournament time.
Georgetown Hoyas: vs. Creighton (March 4); at Villanova (March 8)
The Hoyas have some ugly losses on their record -- a seven-point defeat to Northeastern and a sweep at the hands of Seton Hall to name a few. But those could be quickly forgotten about if they can come up with a pair of upsets in early March. Georgetown already lost to both Creighton and Villanova on the back end of a five-game losing streak, but both of those games were close. Now, with the Hoyas winning five of their last seven, it's fairly realistic to expect Georgetown to come away with one of these games.
Their best shot might be against Creighton at home. The Bluejays have already lost games at Providence and St. John's, so they're far from invincible away from Omaha. Also, Georgetown defends the three well, holding opponents to just 31.7 percent from downtown. Creighton is the best three-point shooting team in the country at 42.8 percent, but in their four losses, the Bluejays have shot just 31.8 percent.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: vs. Kansas (March 1); at Iowa State (March 8)
Few teams in the nation have underachieved like the Cowboys have. After a 15-2 start, Oklahoma State is just 3-8, including a seven-game losing streak. Its worst loss was at Texas Tech (the infamous Marcus Smart fan-shoving game) and the Cowboys don't have any quality wins since beating Texas on Jan. 8.
But they do have two shots in early March to show why they deserve a tournament bid. They lost by two at Kansas and in triple overtime at home against Iowa State, so their rematches against those squads figure to be good ones. In his two games back from his suspension, Smart has put up 33 points and 17 assists, seemingly not missing a beat, though the Cowboys dropped all three games that he missed.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: vs. Wisconsin (March 9)
At the beginning of the season, who could have imagined that we'd be looking at Nebraska as a potential tournament team? But after beating Ohio State and Michigan State, the Cornhuskers have an outside shot of dancing. In order to do it, though, they might need to beat Wisconsin on Senior Day, then maybe win a couple games in the Big Ten tournament.
Road to the Title
Road to the Title
Before its loss Wednesday night to Illinois in Champaign, Nebraska had won five Big Ten games in a row to climb up to fifth place in the league. Meanwhile Wisconsin is a streaky team; the Badgers have won six in a row, but that's coming after a 1-5 stretch between Jan. 14 and Feb. 1.
Terran Petteway has emerged over the last few weeks as one of the best sophomores in the conference. Though he struggled on Wednesday, he came into that game off three straight with 23 or more points.
Oregon Ducks: at UCLA (Feb. 27); vs. Arizona (March 8)
The good part about playing in the Pac-12 is that pretty much every game presents an opportunity for a quality win. Oregon gets its next shot on Thursday with a trip to Pauley Pavilion, but it's not going to be easy. The Bruins beat UCLA by two earlier in the season and have only lost once at home all year, and that was to then-undefeated Arizona.
The game Thursday will pit two of the nation's better offenses against each other. The Ducks average 82.8 points per game this season and have scored 90 or more nine times. UCLA averages nearly the same number of points and also ranks in the top 10 nationally in field goal percentage.
Dayton Flyers: at Saint Louis (March 5)
Atlantic 10 teams have had a tough time bolstering their resumes over the last few weeks. Dayton, which is fresh off a 26-point blowout loss at St. Joseph's, will have a chance at redemption on March 5 against a Billikens team that is undefeated in conference play. Dayton has already beaten Gonzaga, Cal and George Washington, but Saint Louis got the better of the Flyers in Ohio on Jan. 11.
But while Dayton has the talent to keep the game close, Saint Louis has had a knack for winning tight games. The Billikens have played 10 games decided by six points or less and have won eight of them. The Flyers are just 5-4 in games decided by the same margin.