This Weekend in College Ball
Where a few teams played their way off the bubble.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
The theme of this weekend’s recap is “Back From the Dead Bubble Teams” … it’s never safe or smart to count a fringe NCAA Tourney team officially out of the mix after a bad loss or two, because in a season as twisted as this one, it seems there is always room for at least one more on the bubble. This list is reserved for bubble teams who were written off by many (notice many of the weekend’s marquee games are absent), but responded with gigantic, nay, mountainous victories.
Virginia Tech 64 – Duke 60: Whether you buy Duke as this week’s No. 1 team or not (that’s obviously irrelevant now), it doesn’t get any bigger than beating the nation’s top team in a must-win, season-resurrecting game. If Seth Greenberg loses this one, he is likely facing the cameras again trying to explain why/how his team was one of the Tournament’s last four teams out. But a raucous home crowd in Blacksburg gave the desperate Hokies an edge over a Duke team that expectedly played like a team that has a one or two seed wrapped up. The Hokies aren’t out of the woods yet … a loss to conference foe/bubble buddy Boston College this week will be just as devastating as this win was sweet.
Colorado 91 – Texas 89: The Buffs have been “dead” for a while now. But something about the Longhorns coming to town turns dormant Big 12 teams into bubble hopefuls (remember Nebraska last weekend?). At this point, I think Colorado has too many bad losses both in conference and out to be on the right side of the bubble. But this huge comeback win (down 15 at halftime, 22 at one point to the Longhorns seems pretty disheartening) puts Alec Burks and company in position (barring any more collapses in the final week or so) to make a legitimate at-large argument with wins in its last couple of regular season games and a deep run in the Big 12 tourney.
Baylor 58 – Texas A&M 51: If only Baylor could face the Aggies every game. Facing an absolute must-win situation after a gross home loss to Texas Tech and a blowout defeat at Missouri, this latest win was the Bears’ second over Texas A&M on the season. Will that be enough a couple Sundays from now? Possibly. A win this week at Oklahoma State is a must, because a season finale at home vs. Texas follows that. It’s not wise to count on the Bears to win at Oklahoma State. Gallagher-Iba Arena is nasty enough for visitors, but Baylor has only put together one two-game winning streak in Big 12 play. If they pull it off, though, Baylor’s resume (with at least one win in the Big 12 tourney) shockingly might be end up being good enough to earn one of the final bids on Selection Sunday.
Kansas State 80 – Missouri 70: Kansas State entered this contest on a three game winning streak (including the big one vs. Kansas), so the Wildcats were not nearly as anxious as some other bubble teams. Kansas State is still a far cry from the team everyone penciled into the Final Four in November, but Jacob Pullen’s emergence from his slump has K-State streaking and the people of Manhattan smiling for the first time all season. After their troubling start to Big 12 play, nothing is guaranteed for Frank Martin’s squad. A win on the road against some angry Texas Longhorns on Monday night is probably not in the cards, but defeating Iowa State in the regular season finale (hopefully a bit more realistic) should put an end Kansas State’s love-hate relationship with the bubble.
Michigan 70 – Minnesota 63: Here’s a quick look at Michigan’s 12 losses this season: at Syracuse, UTEP, Kansas, Wisconsin twice, Ohio State twice, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, at Indiana, and at Northwestern. Aside from those last two, not a shabby bunch. You can see why there is an argument to be had for the Wolverines miraculously earning an NCAA tournament bid with a sub-.500 conference record (8-9). Their heartbreaking loss against Wisconsin on a buzzer beating, desperation, banked three-point heave did put Michigan in a bind. Winning against the Gophers on Saturday (led by Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 22 points) was a good start, but a season-ending bubble battle in Ann Arbor with in-state rival Michigan State is just as important. Michigan is probably in a similar spot as Colorado: a conference tournament run with at least two quality wins is a necessity. As always, not losing any at-large spots to surprise conference tournament champions will be a huge help as well.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.