Posted by MATT JONES
It is now crunch time for teams hoping to solidify their NCAA Tournament resumes for the selection committee. As much as in any year I can remember, March Madness is set to have a decidedly mediocre makeup, as teams with weak resumes have to be included in all the projected fields. Part of the reasons more weak teams will be dancing is due to the NCAA Tournament's expansion by three teams, but part is also due to the college basketball landscape as a whole. With few great teams, there continues to be a muddled mass of interchangeable squads all beating each other, while fighting for the same piece of postseason real estate.
With that in mind, four of these mediocre teams face a huge upcoming week. None of the four squads below can play their way into the Tournament this week, but each can play their way out with a poor seven days:
For most of the conference season, Georgia has been the feel-good story of the SEC. Mark Fox’s team has beaten Kentucky once, while holding serve against all of the second-tier conference squads to currently project into the Tournament field. But even though the Bulldogs sit 6-4 in the SEC East and 17-7 overall, their overall resume is still shaky. Georgia has no quality non-conference wins to speak of and their best chance to attain one last week against Xavier ended in an embarrassing home defeat. This week, Georgia has Vanderbilt at home and a road game at Tennessee, two rematches of games the Bulldogs lost earlier this year. If Georgia is unable to win at least one of the two games, their NCAA resume will essentially consist of one win over Kentucky and losses to every other quality opponent on the schedule. That would put the Bulldogs in a precarious position, likely requiring a run in the SEC Tournament to make the NCAA field.
This is the biggest week of the year for Cincinnati basketball. The Bearcats sit 19-6 overall and 6-6 in the Big East, which right now would be good enough to make the Tournament. However the final two weeks of the season are brutal, with two games versus Georgetown, a home contest against UCONN and a trip on the road to Marquette. Mick Cronin’s group simply must give itself some room to breathe during that difficult final stretch, which probably requires two wins this week. The Bearcats host Louisville at home and then go on the road to Providence, both very winnable games and victories that a team headed for the NCAA Tournament should be able to get. With only two victories on its resume over teams that are likely headed to the Big Dance (Xavier and St. Johns), Cincinnati must go 2-0 this week or face the prospect of being left behind once again.
It is a sign of the overall weakness of the bubble that Memphis is even in this conversation. After losing in conference to SMU, Marshall and at home to Tulsa, any field with the Tigers in it would seem to look especially weak. But Conference USA does provide the opportunity for Memphis to finish with a strong overall record. A road game at UTEP looms, but Memphis must first sweep the two games this week to truly be in contention for an at-large bid. They begin at home against UAB in what may be a bubble bursting game for both teams. The Tigers follow that up by going on the road to Rice, a place that has never given the Tigers difficulty, but neither in the past had Marshall or SMU. Josh Pastner’s group has the talent to be in the NCAA Tournament and the win on the road at Gonzaga has put them back in the Tournament conversation. But anything less than a 2-0 week and Memphis will likely need to win the Conference USA Tournament to get a bid.
Three weeks ago, most of us left UCLA for dead and for good reason. The Bruins were 12-7 and seemed to be going nowhere fast in an unremarkable Pac 10. But five straight victories have put UCLA back in the NCAA Tournament conversation heading into their biggest week of the year. Ben Howland’s team goes on the road against Stanford and California, two mid-level Pac 10 teams that UCLA must beat if it is Tournament worthy. Both are rivals heading nowhere and both would like nothing better than to crush the hopes and dreams of the Bruin nation. With two difficult battles with Arizona and Washington looming, UCLA certainly needs to win one, and likely both, to ensure an NCAA berth.