As we close in on March, I can’t help to examine several teams that have had great seasons thus far and could possibly earn automatic bids into the big dance. It’s going to be a wide open tournament too, so this year will be imperative for teams to get in, as honestly anything can happen!
A = Away, H = Home, N = Neutral
Team: Valparaiso Crusaders
Best Win(s): Rhode Island Rams (A), Oregon St. Beavers (A), Oakland Grizzlies (A)
Bad Loss(es): Ball St. Cardinals (A), Wright St. Raiders (A)
Note: The Crusaders have had a good year, but lack the quality wins that make the resume come March look good. Their upcoming schedule isn’t the strongest, but a few games should help their cause including a revenge game against the Wright St. Raiders, a pivotal matchup with the Oakland Grizzlies and two road games to end the season against upper echelon teams in the Horizon League. The Crusaders are one of those teams I can see the slipper fitting come March Madness, so I hope they can finish what they started.
Team: VCU Rams
Best Win(s): St. Joseph’s Hawks (A), St. Bonaventure Bonnies (H), Richmond Spiders (H)
Note: The Rams are one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, riding a 12 game win streak. They had a rough time in their non-conference schedule, failing to beat any of the marquee opponents they had. However, they beat the teams they couldn’t afford losing against and are a perfect 9-0 in a tough Atlantic 10 conference. Their upcoming schedule has plenty of games that would look nice on their resume, especially two games against the George Washington Colonials and a potential early preview of the Atlantic 10 Championship Finals against the Dayton Flyers to cap off the regular season.
Team: Stony Brook Seawolves
Best Win(s): Princeton Tigers (H), Hofstra Pride (H), Albany Great Dane (H)
Bad Loss(es): Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (A), Northeastern Huskies (A)
Note: The Seawolves are enjoying a nation-best 14 game win streak, including a perfect 9-0 in conference play. However, I think it’s imperative that they go perfect in conference play, as only the Albany Great Dane poses a threat in a terrible America East Conference. It would make 21 consecutive wins and with already one AP vote, it could possibly catapult them into the Top 25. It would be an amazing accomplishment for a team that looks destined to punching their first ticket ever into the NCAA tournament.
Team: Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
Best Win(s): San Diego St. Aztecs (A), Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (A), Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (H), UT-Arlington Mavericks (A)
Bad Loss(es): Arkansas St. Red Wolves (A)
Note: The Trojans are one of the most experienced teams and it’s paying off dividends as they are having a magical season. I mean, they have legit marquee wins, especially beating Steve Fisher’s San Diego St. Aztecs on their court is super tough. The Trojans defense is on another level too, as they rank among the nation-best and allow the least amount of points per game (58.4). Upcoming, they have four consecutive road games, which could be a make or break stretch. The Trojans are fun team though as they play defense, they shoot well at the line and they don’t turnover over the ball. All those ingredients mixed in with the amount of experience on the team make for a Cinderella team that could make a deep run in a wide open NCAA tournament.