It’s that time of year again when we start to peer ahead to the second Sunday of March for the all-so-important announcement of the NCAA Men’s Division I College Basketball Bracket. The sports fans in the nation fill out their respective bracket, hoping that they picked more games than their best friends. But alas, we have not reached that pivotal Sunday, as most teams are at the halfway point in conference play. Teams still have time to make a run to squeak into the Big Dance, and some teams might have too much time on their hands as they’ll bubble will burst. They are plenty of other teams that have a chance to make some noise in March, but these teams might fly under the radar when the dust settles. Here are some teams you should be watching out for as the season draws to a close:
The “Streakers” – Although they don’t have a #1 seed, no one wants to play these teams in the tournament.
- Florida State (#15 AP/#17 Coaches Poll) (16-7, 7-2 ACC)
- The Seminoles are the classic boom-or-bust team. They project right now as a 4-5 seed, which means they will play a #1 seed in the Sweet Sixteen if FSU gets that far. They have shown they can beat (and rout) the best in the country, with a 33-point victory at UNC and a win on the road at Duke. However, there is no guarantee that they will make it out of the first round as they can implode (losses to Princeton and 16-loss Boston College). They have the potential to rip through and destroy a bracket, but they can also be catching the first plane flight back to Tallahassee.
- Long Beach State (17-6, 10-0 Big West)
- The 49ers are a very dangerous team when they are hot. Although they hail from a mid-major conference at best, they played an extremely hard non-conference schedule and weathered the storm, playing five ranked teams (six if you count San Diego State) and came out with two wins and three losses by less than 10 points. The key for the 49ers is the three-point ball; they shout 36% from downtown as it is, and if their shooters catch fire (especially Larry Anderson-45% and James Ennis-38%), they have the potential to be the next Northern Iowa (just ask Kansas how many threes were made in that game) and grab their first tournament win since 1973.
The “Shake-and-Bakers” – These are the teams that not only take one of the remaining at-large bids, but they have a change to make some noise in the tournament.
- Wichita State (21-4, 12-2 Missouri Valley)
- If I asked you which team has the Missouri Valley conference lead, you would be wrong if you answered Creighton. Yes, Wichita State not only has the conference lead, but they also have the same record as the Blue Jays. Two of their four losses were in overtime (one loss was to Temple was a #7 seed last year), and their two losses were to ranked teams. They can hang with the best of them (they beat UNLV by 19) and have the rebounding (38 RPG), blocks (4 BPG), and three point percentage (35%) to frustrate teams in high-pressure situations. Look for them to shock a team or two in March.
- Stanford (16-7, 6-5 PAC-12)
- The Cardinal has hit several road bumps, losing four of their last five, including at 10-point loss to rival Cal. But this team started the year off 10-1, with quality wins over Oklahoma State, North Carolina State, and only a six point loss to Syracuse away from Palo Alto. They have time to turn their season around and still make the Big Dance if they feed the ball more to Josh Owens (60% FGP) and Chasson Randle (37% from downtown). They gave a lot of teams fits early on in the year with transition buckets, and if they can find their rhythm before the PAC-12 conference tournament, they could be a very scary draw.
The “Pushers” – These teams have the potential to make some noise in the tournament, but they need to make a move now in order to get in.
- Xavier (16-8, 7-3 Atlantic 10)
- The Musketeers started off the year 7-0, including victories over Purdue at #9 Vanderbilt. But the brawl against Cincinnati changed the dynamic of the team, and they haven’t been the same since, with losses to La Salle and Dayton by a combined 25 points while at full strength. The rest of their schedule isn’t easy, as they play Temple, Dayton (again), Richmond, and Saint Louis. But if they can re-find their stride by winning most of those games (if not all), then Tu Holloway (16.3 PPG and reigning A-10 Player of The Year) and company can regain their early season form and sneak into the Bracket come March.
- Brigham Young Cougars (20-6, 8-3 WCC)
- The Cougars are in Year 1 without Jimmer Fredette, but their RPI ranking of 43 says they are managing just fine without him. But they are 0-3 versus ranked teams and don’t project to play another ranked team for the rest of the regular season. If they want to make it into the tournament, they probably need to win out plus make it to the WCC championship game if they don’t win the tournament. Veterans Noah Hartsock (57% FGP) and Brandon Davies (8.0 RPG) need to lead a young squad that shoots just over 19 three-pointers a game to a level of consistency if they want to have any chance of making it that far.