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! So far, in Part II, only the Monmouth Hawks have not failed me yet.
A = Away, H = Home, N = Neutral
Team: Seton Hall Pirates
Best Win(s): Mississippi Rebels (N), Georgia Bulldogs (H), Wichita St. Shockers (H), Marquette Golden Eagles (A), Providence Friars (A), Creighton Bluejays (A), Georgetown Hoyas (H,A)
Bad Loss(es): Long Beach St. 49ers (N)
Note: The Pirates are one of the more balanced teams on both sides of the ball, which obviously has helped them to a tremendous season thus far. They didn’t necessarily stack the deck on their non-conference schedule, but they did enough to give them some quality wins. I think the victory over the Wichita St. Shockers stands out the most, as that’s probably their signature win out of them all. However, being in the Big East is huge plus. Literally, a win over any team other than the St. John’s Red Storm and Depaul Blue Demons is quality. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately for record’s sake, they have to play them both upcoming. Other than that, they have some solid resume boosters. I think their most important stretch is back to back home games, starting with the Providence Friars and then the Xavier Musketeers. If the Pirates can protect their court, I think anything but an automatic bid is criminal.
Team: Yale Bulldogs
Best Win(s): Princeton Tigers (H), Columbia Lions (H)
Bad Loss(es): Albany Great Dane (A), Illinois Fighting Illini (A)
Note: The Bulldogs are one of the premier defensive teams in the nation, hence only the five blemishes. I commend them for testing themselves in their non-conference schedule against the likes of the Duke Blue Devils, SMU Mustangs and USC Trojans. They lost all three games, but almost had a signature road win against the SMU Mustangs. That would of looked great, especially considering the Mustangs reeled off 18 consecutive wins and were undefeated for a little over two months. However, the Bulldogs have managed to rattle off 12 straight wins and as of right now, are number one team in the Ivy league. To refresh, the Ivy League’s automatic bid is dependent on conference record, as they are the only conference that do not feature a tournament in which the winner is given an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. It’s unusual, but I kind of like the uniqueness of it. Anyways, this is a solid team that lacks the quality wins, much like the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. AND like the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, they aren’t in a strong enough conference to really help that out. Upcoming though, they have a huge game against the Princeton Tigers, who they already defeated this season. The Tigers are a clear contender to challenge them for the automatic bid, so a win here would put the Bulldogs in tremendous shape.
Team: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Best Win(s): Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (H), South Dakota St. Jackrabbits (H), Arkansas Little Rock Trojans (H), Texas Longhorns (H), Iowa St. Cyclones (H), Baylor Bears (A), Oklahoma Sooners (H)
Bad Loss(es): Arkansas Razorbacks (A)
Note: The Red Raiders have revived their season with three solid wins in a row, taking out the Iowa St. Cyclones, Baylor Bears and Oklahoma Sooners. Before that, they were a mere 2-8 in their last ten games. Understandably though, as the Big 12 Conference is by far the best conference in college basketball. As for their non-conference schedule, they did a really good job. I’m not sure if they knew, but they played some of the better mid-major teams and won. They also avoided any bad losses, only losing to the Utah Utes at a neutral site. Also, with the 3rd ranked strength of schedule in the nation, it’s easy to see why they have a record of 16-9. The only issue I have with the Red Raiders is the string of four losses in a row and then another losing streak of 3. Again, I know the Big 12 conference is no joke, but you need to avoid those types of streaks. Upcoming, they have back to back games against the bottom dwellers of the division in the Oklahoma St. Cowboys and TCU Horned Frogs. After that, they have the Kansas Jayhawks, West Virginia Mountaineers and Kansas St. Wildcats. If they can get the job done against the bottom dwellers of the division and find a way to win two of three remaining games, the Red Raiders are a lock to be an “At-large”.