Column: Bubble teams that will and will not do enough to make this year’s NCAA Tournament

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Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell (22) shoots a 3-pointer as Purdue guard Isaiah Thompson (11) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday in Piscataway, N.J.  Photo courtesy of Kathy Willens/AP Photo

Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell (22) shoots a 3-pointer as Purdue guard Isaiah Thompson (11) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday in Piscataway, N.J. Photo courtesy of Kathy Willens/AP Photo

With the conference slate just about halfway done, we’re beginning to start thinking and hearing about teams in the infamous “bubble.” For those who aren’t aware, this is referring to college basketball programs on the verge of making the 68 team NCAA tournament field. Due to this season’s parity, the bubble is going to be larger than usual, along with some surprise omissions come selection Sunday. Teams in power five conferences have every opportunity to build their resume as they are likely playing one or two good teams every week, while lower conferences only have a few games a year to impress the committee. However, this talk is all a bit premature, as some of these schools may well have their bubble burst well before the conference tournament (Sorry UConn).  

IN: Rutgers Scarlet Knights 

I had a whole piece prepared for Illinois, but then I realized they are not on the bubble at all and are, in fact a near lock to make the tournament (barring disaster of course). Rutgers has been one of the bigger surprises of the season given that Rutgers basketball, or any of their athletic programs has not received a lot of (positive) national attention in recent years. They are currently nationally ranked as they boast a 15-5 record after navigating themselves very well through an early tough Big Ten slate. Rutgers has transformed the “RAC” into a fortress, boasting impressive home wins over Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Penn State. The Scarlet Knights have a balanced scoring attack with seven players averaging over seven points per game, including 12 points per game from sophomore standout Ron Harper Jr. What is going to get Rutgers into their first NCAA tournament since 1991 is their defense, which ranks 9th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. They have held opponents to under 60 points in half of their games. If Rutgers picks up a couple road conference wins, which I believe they are fully capable of, they will be dancing come March.  

OUT: Michigan Wolverines 


Nebraska's Dachon Burke Jr. (11) reaches for the ball held by Michigan's David DeJulius (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday.  Photo courtesy of Nati Harnik/AP Photo

Nebraska’s Dachon Burke Jr. (11) reaches for the ball held by Michigan’s David DeJulius (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Nati Harnik/AP Photo

The fact that Michigan would be anywhere near the bubble did not seem feasible after beating Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga en route to a Battle For Atlantis championship. Since then, Michigan has a 4-8 record with two of those wins coming against UMass Lowell and Presbyterian. A groin injury to Michigan’s most versatile player, Isaiah Livers, is responsible for much of this downfall. Just look at their last game against Illinois in which Livers re-injured his groin. Before he exited the game the Wolverines had the game completely in control, but after coming out of the game following an elaborate dunk attempt, Michigan looked a shell of themselves before eventually falling to a last second jumper from Ayo Dosunmu. The extent of Livers’ injury is unknown. To quite literally add insult to injury, it was announced Monday that senior point guard Zavier Simpson was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Without either of their best players, I don’t see how Michigan makes the tournament, despite a few impressive early wins.  

IN: Rhode Island Rams 

Current UConn coach Dan Hurley’s former employer is looking poised to make a surprise return to the NCAA tournament. The Rams have the best backcourt in the A-10 in Fatts Russell and Jeff Dowtin, who combine to average 33.5 points a contest. Russell is talented enough to take over any game, as was shown by a 32 point performance on the road against West Virginia, while also being second in the country in steals. That being said, Rhody has much more than just their dynamic point guard. Double-double machine Cyril Langevine and Georgetown transfer Antwan Walker (#twansback) anchor a frontcourt that has the capability to dominate the glass against anybody in the country (even you Obi Toppin). Rhode Island has already passed two of the tougher tests the A-10 has to offer, beating St. Bonaventure and VCU on the road during this six game win streak they find themselves on. If their stars continue to play up to their abilities, combined with improved shooting from Jacob Toppin and Tyrese Martin, the Rams will almost certainly earn an invitation to the dance.   

OUT: Virginia Cavaliers 

The defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers will have a three season postseason stretch unlike any other. From losing in the first round as a one seed, to winning it all, to my projection: Not making it all this year. The talent was a question from day one, as the Hoos lost their big three of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Deandre Hunter to the NBA. Virginia appeared to not miss a beat by winning their first seven games in typical Virginia low scoring fashion. Since that point they are 6-6 including a 29 point drubbing at the hands of underperforming Purdue. We know Virginia is good enough on the defensive end to win the tournament as long they have at least an adequate offense. The problem is they have nowhere close to that. Kenpom ranks them as the 257th ranked offense in terms of efficiency. That is absolutely horrid. A tough remaining ACC schedule which includes Louisville twice and a visit from Duke will make it tough for Virginia to have enough wins to make the tournament.


Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tamir.march@uconn.edu.

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