Rooting for a team on the NCAA Tournament bubble is a unique experience. Unlike any other sport, teams on the fringes of success pray for a chance to keep playing, with only so much control over the situation. Sure, they could win their conference tournaments, but many face long roads and brutal opponents between themselves and a conference tourney title.
Unlike the first college football team left out of the playoff, most of these teams are supremely flawed. They didn’t win their conference and weren’t ranked near the top of the polls all year. These are teams that just want a chance to prove they aren’t mediocre and make some noise in March. With conference tournaments very much underway, here’s our look at 11 bubble teams hanging on by a thread. Some have a chance to earn their way, but others are already at home, watching and hoping.
1. Notre Dame
The Irish are one of the most interesting bubble teams in years. Notre Dame is only 20-14 on the season, but lost nine of those games without star forward Bonzie Colson. The Irish were also without the services of point guard Matt Farrell in four of the games they lost without Colson. The selection committee has long claimed to take injuries into consideration. Notre Dame will put that theory to the test. Colson and Farrell are both back in the lineup, leading to a win over Virginia Tech early in the conference tournament. The Irish then lost to Duke Thursday, which would have been the kind of win to earn them a bid. Now, like the other teams listed here, they wait.
With a shade over a week remaining until Selection Sunday, teams near the top of the bracket and on the bubble all across the country are looking to make a case to the tournament committee. Conference play is wrapping up and will come to a head during Championship Week. Automatic bids will be handed out to conference champions, while other bids and seeds will be earned in games throughout this week. Every single team playing in a conference tournament has a chance to make their run in March, though these ten have something extra to play for or to prove this week.
The team at the heart of the current drama in the sport is also in a precarious situation in a basketball sense. With head coach Sean Miller embroiled in controversy involving the FBI, wiretapped phone calls, and illegal benefits, the Wildcats have lost three of their last seven games. In addition to questions about Deandre Ayton’s eligibility, scoring guard Allonzo Trier has been suspended for a substance found in a drug test. Trier was cleared to play and scored 18 points Thursday night versus Stanford.
While Arizona has no worries about making the NCAA Tournament, and even their seed won’t be affected too much, their play in the Pac-12 Tournament could speak volumes about their ability to compete for a Final Four. A distracted Arizona team that gets bounced early in the conference tournament would limp into the Big Dance, ready to be picked off in the early rounds.
It was not easy being the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.
The team lost to Villanova in historic fashion 95-51 at the Final Four in Houston. The 44-point margin was the largest in NCAA Tournament semifinal history. Naturally, with the team getting crushed so badly, the joke was on the Sooner very early on in the second half.
We’ve compiled the best jokes, memes and crying Jordan faces Oklahoma was hit with during their loss. Enjoy:
The Final Four is packed with two Hall of Fame coaches, multiple likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, and a controversial venue expected to stymie perimeter shooting. The major storylines surrounding college basketball’s biggest stage have been established, but each team has an X-Factor that will go a long way in determining who cuts down the nets on Monday night.
With Villanova facing Oklahoma and Syracuse playing North Carolina, let’s take a look at exactly who those X-Factors will be in the Final Four.
Khadeem Lattin – Oklahoma – Power Forward
Despite the loss of his beloved grandmother, Lattin will play in the Final Four on Saturday. Lattin’s grandmother passed away on Wednesday night due to complications stemming from her lung cancer. Lattin has stated publicly that he will play in the game. He will take on a vital role of guarding Villanova’s Daniel Ochefu. Shutting down Ochefu is the key to defeating the Wildcats.
In four of Nova’s five losses this season, Ochefu was held to single digits. Oklahoma limited Ochefu to eight points during the Sooners’ 78-55 victory over Villanova back in early December. Lattin and Ryan Spangler will defend Ochefu in the post. The OU frontcourt tandem is fresh off an impressive defensive performance in the Elite Eight; Oregon’s starting forward Dillion Brooks was held to nine points under his season average. Lattin will need to use all of his impressive seven-foot-two wingspan to shut down Ochefu’s array of crafty post moves.
Jay Wright – Villanova – Head Coach
Villanova has been great in tight games this season, which can be attributed to both Jay Wright’s coaching and the Wildcats’ dominance at the charity stripe. The Wildcats have been able to weather full-court pressure in the waning minutes of games because when fouled, the Cats shoot a collective 78.4 percent from the line, which makes them the second-best foul shooting team in the country.
Wright’s inbounding plays were on full display down the stretch against Kansas in the Elite Eight, preventing the Jayhawks from even threatening to steal the ball in the final minute. Nova is 4-1 in games decided by five points or fewer and has only lost one game all season when leading at halftime. If it comes down to the wire against Oklahoma, Villanova will be lucky to have the battle-tested Wright drawing up plays.
Isaiah Hicks – North Carolina – Power Forward
The ACC Sixth Man of the Year can have a major impact in the Final Four if, and this is a big if, he can stay out of foul trouble. Coming off the bench, Hicks is only averaging 16.75 minutes per game in the tournament, but he’s still racking up four personal fouls per contest. If he can avoid early foul trouble, the six-foot-eight junior will get every opportunity to make a major contribution on the offensive end for the Tar Heels.
The so-called “NRG Effect” had led many analysts to predict that UNC will abandon the three-point shot. UNC already enters the Final Four averaging just 17.1 three-point attempts per game, so an added emphasis on feeding their front court at NRG Stadium won’t be outside the Tar Heels’ comfort zone. Hicks has demonstrated he can take on an expanded role, having scored in double digits 19 times this season. When he has been on the floor in the tournament, Hicks has proven he can finish around the rim, evidenced by his elite shooting percentage (68.4%).
DaJuan Coleman – Syracuse – Power Forward
Coleman is the Orange’s tallest player logging significant minutes for Jim Boeheim. He’ll have the unenviable task of bodying up UNC’s Brice Johnson in the paint on Saturday. Johnson is the odds-on favorite to take home Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors, and is averaging 22 points and 10.6 rebounds over his last three games. Johnson’s average against SU was far less impressive this season. He averaged 15 points and nine rebounds against Syracuse in UNC’s two victories over the Orange. If Coleman can stymie Johnson, and force UNC to make perimeter jump shots to defeat Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, then Syracuse has a real chance of continuing their Cinderella run.
This year’s Final Four will be played inside NRG Stadium in Houston, which is the home of the Texans. Though it seems odd to shift from the more compact basketball arenas that typically seat fewer than 20,000 fans to a football stadium that has a capacity of over 70,000 fans, this has become the norm.
Since 1996, every Final Four has been played in a dome or football stadium. The Astrodome became the first dome to host a Final Four way back in 1971. The last true basketball arena to host a Final Four was New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena (now the Izod Center) in ’96.
In recent years, playing inside of a dome has become the rule and not the exception. So the question poses itself: Do the cavernous confines of a dome stadium impact the game negatively?
Let’s travel back to 2011 when Butler met UConn in the national championship game in Houston at the same venue, which was known as Reliant Stadium at the time. The horrific shooting display put on by the Bulldogs and Huskies is the go-to piece of evidence that proves massive multi-sport venues dramatically lower shooting percentages, particularly three-point shooting. Butler and UConn combined to shoot a putrid 31-for-119 (26 percent) from the floor that night, and 10-for-44 (22.7 percent) from deep. The Final Four performances from that same year were also on the lower end, with VCU-Butler and UConn-Kentucky checking in at a combined 88-218 (38.6 FG percentage) from the field. By any measure, on any stage, those shooting percentages were drastically below average. The numbers from that particular Final Four backed up the conventional wisdom that domes equal poor shooting.
However, history has proven otherwise when it comes to the effect of domes on shooting.
In the next four years, the Final Four was played at the Superdome, the Georgia Dome, AT&T Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium. Each year, dating back to the last Final Four played in Houston, shooting percentages have risen inside of domes. In both 2014 and 2015, the shooting percentages in the Final Four actually exceeded the national average. Three-point shooting has been steady across the nation at 34-percent since 2010, while field goal percentages were 43.6 percent. As you can see below, the in-game performances in the most recent Final Fours are all within a few percentage points of that average.
This year’s Sweet 16 is jam-packed with fascinating intersectional match-ups. Coaching legends, prestigious programs and elite players litter the landscape. Here are 16 interesting numbers to keep in mind as you watch the eight regional semifinal contests this week.
The Sweet 16 has been the kiss of death for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. The 2006 College Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has bowed out in this round 11 times, while only advancing on five occasions.
Four players remaining in the field have experience playing in the national championship game for their current school. Duke’s Matt Jones, Grayson Allen, Marshall Plumlee and the injured Amile Jefferson all logged minutes for the Blue Devils against Wisconsin in last season’s championship game. But did you know that Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer played against Kansas in the 2012 final as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats? What’s even more astonishing is that five of Wiltjer’s UK teammates from that game have already logged two or more years in the NBA.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Greg Gard is scheduled to make $275,000 this year as the Badgers’ head coach. According to the Sporting News, Coach K makes 21.98-times that. Regardless of salary, both coaches find themselves as one possession underdogs in the Sweet 16.
Indiana and North Carolina have reached the Sweet 16 a combined 54 times. To give that some perspective, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, who also play in this round, combine for just 14 appearances.
Buddy Hield’s explosive second half against VCU not only saved the Sooners but also put the presumptive National Player of the Year on pace to break Glen Rice’s 27-year-old NCAA Tournament scoring record. Hield is already more than a third of the way to Rice’s total of 184 points scored during Michigan’s title run back in 1989.
Texas trailed Oklahoma by 22 points with only 7:38 remaining in the second half on Wednesday night, and it seemed more than safe to write the Longhorns off. Then, Oklahoma’s Amath M’Baye made a “horns down” symbol at the Longhorns fans. That may have changed the game around.
Texas went on to somehow chip away at the 22-point deficit and force overtime. They finished off the amazing comeback by beating the Sooners, but M’Baye said after the game that he doesn’t regret flashing the “horns down” sign.
“It’s just me,” M’Baye told reporters according to The Oklahoman. “I’m an energy guy. I get hyped. It’s just a sign. It’s a common sign between the two teams. You see it every day on TV. It’s not like I was trying to be disrespectful or anything like that.”
M’Baye’s teammate, senior Romero Osby, seemed to disagree. He clearly felt that it was a sign of disrespect, as he was seen yelling at M’Baye after he flashed the symbol. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger apparently agreed, and he replaced M’Baye with junior Tyler Neal after the gesture.
“We just don’t do that,” Kruger said, adding that he has spoken to M’Baye. “And he knows that. It was just kind of an emotional moment. We don’t do those things in terms of relating to the crowd. We play each position by focusing between the lines. That’s the only thing we addressed is, ‘Don’t interact with the crowd.’”
No lead is safe in college basketball, and M’Baye should have learned that on Wednesday. The old expression “you don’t wake a sleeping dog” holds true in a surprising amount of situations. The last thing you want to do for a team that you have in a 22-point hole is give them a reason to fight their way back.