2006 Bubble Team Capsules
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by Bracketography.com's editor and writers
All data as of Friday, March 3, 2006.
The Air Force Falcons entered t Mountain West Conference play in good position to secure the regular-season title and what could be the league’s only at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. An early season win over erratic Miami (FL) in mid-November is the cornerstone of the Falcons' nonconference resume. Air Force also downed another ACC foe, Georgia Tech.
Sadly for the Falcons, they blew what would’ve been their biggest nonconference win when they faltered in the second half of the Black Coaches Association Classic championship game. Air Force held a six point lead on Pac-10 favorite Washington at the end of the first half before the Huskies took control in half number two en route to an 11-point victory.
Despite a strong nonconference showing from Colorado State, Air Force quickly asserted itself as the best team in the Mountain West, but have since been passed by San Diego State. A decisive victory over Brigham Young to start the season was followed with a close victory over the pre-season favorite Aztecs. Bad losses at Wyoming and New Mexico may come back to haunt AFA in a week.
The Falcons are led by senior guard Antoine Hood and junior guard Dan Nwaelele. Hood is coming off an impressive season that saw him start every game, and he was rewarded with a selection to the MWC's second team all-conference. In 2005-2006, Hood has solidified his leadership role in his final season with the Falcons. Nwaelele is trying to improve on a sophomore campaign which saw him miss 11 games due a suspension and injury. So far so good, as he has nearly doubled his scoring output of a year ago.
Head coach Jeff Bzeldik is trying to return his team to the NCAA tournament (the Falcons' last appearance was in the 2004). That season, Air Force finished the season as the MWC regular season champion, before being ousted by eighth-seeded Colorado State in the conference tournament. That loss was immediately followed by another, this time to to North Carolina, in the first-round of the NCAA tournament.
Air Force cannot afford an early exit from the MWC Tournament, but a trip to the Final would probably secure an at-large bid. --D.M.
Arizona has been a little like the Pac-10 this year...unimpressive. However, the RPI carries big weight with the Committee, and even though the Wildcats do not have a single vote in either poll, they come into March on a high note, winning 5 of their last 6 games and ranked #19 in the latest RPI. Their win over Washington State on Thursday locked the 'Cats up a bid.
Much-publicized senior sixth-man Chris Rodgers has been back for the last 4 of those games, and needs to make big plays along with Mustafa Shakur in the Arizona backcourt to give big men Hassan Adams and Marcus Williams room to work inside. Although the team has had its share of struggles, Lute Olson’s team will make the Tournament, and maybe a dark horse Sweet Sixteen contender. Look for them to finish with a #8 seed and lose in the second round to a #1 seed in an overtime thriller. --J.S.
Looking over Bradley's Road/Neutral and overall record they appear to be on the outside looking in, but a 6-5 record against the RPI Top 50 is better than any team currently on the Bubble.
Aside from the winning the MVC tournament, which obviously affords them an automatic bid, their chances look bleak. A strong finish certainly bolsters their portfolio. If the Braves win two games in the Valley Tournament the Last 10 statistic would be a strong 7-3. Two marquee wins at Arch Madness to close a 10-loss season is imperative.
Let’s assume Bucknell somehow doesn’t win the Patriot League Tournament (a big assumption). Bucknell will still be in the Field of 65. The Bison do have just one quality win--but when did a win at the Carrier Dome become one to be overlooked? They went undefeated in league play, and only suffered one bad loss: on the road to Santa Clara.
Strategy-wise it’s really not complicated for the Bison. When center Chris McNaughton gets the ball and they play suffocating defense for 40 minutes, they win. Bucknell’s senior-led backcourt (Bettencourt and Lee) don’t turn the ball over and they can make shots. The Bracket Buster game against Northern Iowa is the only crack in their armor. We can only hope the Committee didn't consider that an elimination game. If Bucknell loses in the conference tournament and does not get a bid, the Committee would set a highly questionable precedent. --A.F.
Colorado is a team that would entertain NCAA Tournament fans with its up-tempo style of play. The Buffs can score and in a hurry. However, it seems the Committee has more reasons to pencil Colorado OUT than IN.
Colorado has a cupcake schedule by the numbers, but it is one that includes two wins over marquee mid-major teams. The Buffs have a 19-point home win over UNC-Wilmington and an 18-point road win over Ivy League champ Penn. Colorado's only true marquee conference win is at home over Oklahoma.
Here’s why Colorado’s bubble will pop on Selection Sunday: they are 1-6 versus the Top 100 on the road and they play in a Big 12 that isn’t strong enough to field five teams. So, the three-point loss to Texas A&M on Feb. 8 might be the dark cloud that looms over Boulder.
Colorado must win two games in the Big XII Tournament. If they can beat Texas A&M on a neutral court or go further into the Big XII Tournament, the Buffs could very well be the Big XII's fourth team. --M.S.
The ‘Noles have had an up-and-down season. Unable to put together any sort of prolonged win streak in league play, Florida State has ridden the bus of mediocrity throughout the season. Mind-boggling losses at Clemson, at Virginia Tech, and at home to Miami have frustrated the Seminole faithful. These losses are made even more frustrating after a strong showing at Duke and a near upset of North Carolina. Then, Florida State pulled out a huge victory at home, avenging the earlier defeat at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils. Following that big win, the ‘Noles are squarely on the bubble.
Strengths: Florida State has two legitimate NBA prospects on its team. Juniors forwards Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson lead the team in scoring and rebounding. Thornton has scored 37 points and 26 points in the two games versus Duke. However, two games prior to his outburst in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Thornton put up a big “0” in both points and rebounds in the home loss to Miami. Alexander Johnson had 22 in the victory over Duke, but lacks aggressiveness at times. Therefore, it is easy to see why Florida State has been so inconsistent over the course of the season.
All that aside, Thornton is the best player for the Seminoles. He can break anyone down off the dribble and, when aggressive, attacks the rim with tenacity. Johnson is more of a back-to-the-basket player. He has lost a great deal of weight since last season and has used his sleeker physique to run the floor on the break. Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann, and sixth-year player Andrew Wilson are all capable shooters while point guard Todd Galloway is a gritty defender. When hot, this team can fill the basket in a hurry and are typically more athletic than their opponents.
Weaknesses: As a team, the Seminoles are not great defensively. They take too many plays off and do not always get the stops they need late in games. Focusing is half the battle for FSU. If Florida State comes to play, you are in for a battle; however, they come to play about one out of every three games. Leonard Hamilton has done a fantastic job recruiting highly thought-of players; he has not developed them to be great players night in and night out. Late game offensive sets often fall apart and a wild shot is the end result.
Overall Outlook: A horrible non-conference schedule did exactly what was expected by prognosticators: FSU entered ACC play with a lot of victories, then fell apart when the competition became fierce. This has become a habit for FSU in recent years. It may be time for Hamilton to rethink the scheduling strategy.
However, the talent is there. A run in the ACC Tournament is not out of the question, as this team may come to fight with its back against the wall. An RPI in the mid-60s will improve following the Duke victory. However, all is for naught if the Seminoles cannot defeat Miami this weekend on the road. 9-7 in the ACC looks a lot better than 8-8. In the end, it would not be surprising to see the Selection Committee blinded by the Duke victory enough to overlook a weak schedule and inconsistent play. --K.W
When Indiana is on, it is a tough team to beat. There also are few teams in the country that have the inside-outside presence that the Hoosiers possess. Robert Vaden, Marshall Strickland and Roderick
Indiana was a "lock" to make the NCAA Tournament in through mid-January. But then the Hoosiers were stuck in a massive slide. Indiana lost seven of eight games – five road contests and saw an impressive 12-3 record fall to 13-10. Now the Hoosiers carry a three-game winning streak and have a solid tournament resume. Forget the decent RPI or schedule strength. Indiana won at Kentucky and has
Winning against Michigan State this past Sunday probably put the Hoosiers in the Field of 65 but winning at Michigan would lock that theory up. If the committee looks more at the entire season's body of
Maryland is a team that lacks cohesiveness. Many people thought that once headcase point guard John Gilchrist declared for the NBA Draft (and landed in Israel) that the Terps would find unity and flow this season. That has not been the case. Though this team seems to get along much better, their play on the court is discombobulating. Since senior guard Chris McCray was lost for the season due to academic issues, Maryland has gone 4-7. Those four victories include two over Georgia Tech and two home wins over Virginia and Virginia Tech. In that time frame, the offense has struggled to find a rhythm and has experienced little success beyond the three-point arc. This tradition-rich program is now in danger of missing the Big Dance for the second consecutive year.
Strengths: Talented. Potential. Deep. All of these words are used to describe Maryland. On paper, you have a solid senior scorer in forward Nik Caner-Medley. DJ Strawberry adds versatility on offense and plays terrific on-the-ball defense. James Gist and Ekene Ubekwe make up a long frontline. Somehow, it just has not translated on the court. Since McCray’s departure, Mike Jones (who?!?) has stepped up nicely, averaging nearly 14 points per game in the last month and a half. This guy has a textbook jump shot and can stroke it from downtown. When Jones and Caner-Medley are both hot, this team can be very difficult to stop offensively; unfortunately, this has yet to happen. Rebounding and shot blocking are also strengths at times for Maryland, with five frontline players 6-8 or taller.
Weaknesses: Everything with Maryland begins with the clause “at times…” At times they rebounded well. At times the offense is explosive. At times they look like an NCAA Tournament team. There just have not been enough times this season that all those things are true. This team typically plays hard, but seems to get frustrated rather easily. This leads to forcing plays and impatience. The lack of a true point guard has been the Achilles’ heel for the Terps. DJ Strawberry is better suited to play off the ball, while senior Sterling Ledbetter and junior Parrish Brown have not played consistently well. Turnovers are therefore a problem, as is finding quality shots in the flow of the offense. Once again, inconsistency is a major factor. You just never know what to expect out of Caner-Medley, Jones, Strawberry, et al.
Overall Outlook: It is hard to watch Maryland and not sympathize with this team. Coach Gary Williams seems to know they have talent, but just hasn’t found the right combination for success. Solid non-conference wins over Arkansas and Minnesota are overshadowed by losses to Gonzaga and George Washington. The RPI numbers for Maryland are surprisingly good, the best of the ACC's bubble teams. However, the Terps must put together a mini win streak to close out the season. Right now, they are probably behind Florida State for teams coming out of the ACC, which is not a good thing when FSU is also on the bubble. The formula would include winning at Virginia to close out league play, along with winning at least two games in the ACC Tournament. Who knows, maybe a magical run to the ACC Tournament Title, a la 2004, is in the works. --K.W.
The Wolverines are one of those teams that have all the potential in the world and look like one of the top 65 teams in the country. But if you throw in their injury problems – Lester Abram has played one game
Like Indiana, Michigan has proven it can hang with the Big Ten's best. Home wins against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois are big time victories but the road loss at Purdue – a 14-point defeat that was much worse than the score indicates – is puzzling and damaging to a resume. But the high RPI and three Top 25 RPI wins should be enough to get them into the Field of 65.
The one thing holding the Wolverines back is their weak nonconference schedule. Had Michigan scheduled some middle-of-the-pack teams in December, it probably wouldn't have 18 wins. But a weak December slate hasn't hurt Connecticut and it doesn't look like it will haunt Michigan either. --C.M.
The Miami Hurricanes are probably the fifth-best team in the ACC. However, they do not always play like it. A high-scoring backcourt lacks the support necessary to find offensive balance thanks to a shaky post game. Frank Haith’s 'Canes are very athletic and quick, but often find themselves going one-on-one instead of working for open shots. A high loss total for the year makes their record look worse than it should be, but Miami must still turn the talent and athletic advantage into wins on the court.
Strengths: Did I mention that Miami is athletic? Robert Hite, Guillermo Diaz, and Anthony Harris make up a three guard lineup that combines to average 45 points per game. Diaz is a legitimate candidate for All-ACC First Team, as his shooting range and ability to get to the rim and finish are unmatched in the conference. Watching him play is a treat, so much so that the NBA scouts might watch him in their league next year. Post player Anthony King leads the team in rebounding while freshman Jimmy Graham provides an energy lift off the bench. The Hurricanes score in bunches and have two players in Diaz and Hite that can beat almost anyone off the dribble. Clutch shooting and solid numbers at the line help this team down the stretch of close games.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, close games also involve playing defense. For all the problems the three guard lineup gives teams, it has also proved to be a limitation on the defensive end. The Canes are not as adept as Villinova at using their quickness advantage to put pressure on the ball. A lack of size for all frontline players furthers the shortcomings of the Miami defense. On the flip side, as alluded to earlier, Miami has a habit of hunting shots and forcing plays that simply are not there. Isolation can only take you so far in the college game. Finally, Miami simply does not know how to win. Though talented, the Canes just do not make the little plays down the stretch necessary to ensure victory. Poor decisions coupled with passive defense add up to equal close losses.
Overall Outlook: Miami’s RPI is currently the lowest of the ACC bubble teams. A crushing loss at Maryland by one point, combined with losing five of its last six games paints an NIT picture for the 'Canes. Non-conference games against Air Force, Temple, Michigan, Florida, and Louisville look good on paper; however, that paper also reads “L” next to each of those contests. Though a couple of wins in the ACC Tournament would not be shocking, a team below .500 in a down year for the ACC with no solid non-conference victories will play in the NIT. --K.W.
The artist formerly known as Southwest Missouri State has spent the second half of the Missouri Valley conference season on fire. The Bears have won eight of their past nine games, the lone loss coming at Southern Illinois. If not for the logjam of teams at the top of the MVC, the Bears could be exempt from the NCAA tournament bubble. However, that is not the case.
Strengths: Missouri State is led by junior guard Blake Ahearn, who leads the team and the conference with 17.3 points per game. Ahearn is clearly the go-to-guy down the stretch and is capable of hitting a shot from nearly anywhere on the floor. He is also the NCAA leader in free throw percentage. If the Bears have a lead, it might be wise to foul someone else. As a team, the Bears play solid defense and rebound well. The team has nine players who average more than fifteen minutes per game, demonstrating the depth of the squad.
Weaknesses: Blake Ahearn means everything to this team. He is that good. However, he could face better defense in the league and NCAA tournaments. This squad is not very athletic as a whole and lacks the quickness to stay with more athletic perimeter players. Size is also an issue along the frontline, as the main contributors are each an inch or two undersized at their respective positions.
Overall Outlook: Earning the 3-seed for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament is usually a good thing. However, the Bears face Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals, another team looking to solidify its status in the Big Dance. Hopefully the NCAA Selection Committee will not look at this game as an elimination game, where the loser goes to the NIT. That would be short-sighted and unfair. Mo State has played very well down the stretch, won its BracketBuster game at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and has a solid RPI. However, the out-of-conference schedule was not the strongest for the Bears, as they lack a victory to really hang their hats on. In the end, the name “Missouri State” should still pop up during the Selection Show. Their #18 RPI should assure them of a bid. --K.W.
To ask anybody to figure this team out is kinda like trying to handicap Sunday’s Oscar vote. You know exactly why they should be there but in the back of your mind, you have this sickening feeling they aren’t going to win. Northern Iowa has wins at LSU, vs. Iowa, vs. Bucknell, a sweep of Witchita State and two wins (one coming in the first round of the conference tournament) against Missouri State. Unfortunately, this team also has a one-point home loss to Indiana State (without David Moss), two losses to Bradley and two losses to Creighton.
The fact remains that this team plays in a conference better than the Pac 10 and the Big 12 and won seven games against the Top 50. It’s very simple for the Committee to figure this out: with Northern Iowa’s resume and someone else's name (Indiana, Kentucky, Arizona, for example), there's no question they'd be in.
Since the Bucknell game, head coach Greg McDermott has sold this team on its halfcourt defense. Take a look at these points allowed numbers, 61 vs. Bucknell, 46 at Southern Illinois and 42 in the MVC Tournament vs. Missouri State. If the Panthers do indeed make the Tournament, they may be The Valley's best chance for a long-term Cinderella because of their lethal combination of outside shooting and halfcourt defense. --M.S.
San Diego State
The Aztecs are a team in the midst of a great turnaround. They just won the outright MWC crown for the first time in 29 years. It gets better, as their best players all have a year left of eligibility. Junior Brandon Heath shoots a ton of trey’s and shoots 43% in doing it.
Juniors Marcus Slaughter and Mohamed Akubar are also scoring at will lately, but that my friends can change in March against better competition. Lose in the conference tournament, and the Aztecs will really be sweating it out on Selection Sunday. They really could have used a stronger non-conference schedule and performance. There just isn't enough meat on their resume.
You’ll hear the announcers talk about “…young teams playing with no conscience…” but this team will need to have all their wits abouit them in the first round of the NCAA's against a 3-4-5 seed. --J.S.
The same thing that hurts UAB is the same thing that helps it – playing in Conference USA. With five teams leaving for the Big East after last season, many suspected the competition in a typically respectable conference would take a dive. But no one thought it would be this bad. Case in point: The Blazers' overall schedule strength is actually worse than their nonconference schedule strength.
Overall, UAB does boast an impressive 20-5 record and has suffered just two conference defeats. The Blazers also have beaten another C-USA bubble team – Houston – in the only meeting this season and
The knock against UAB is completely valid, however. The Blazers have played two Top 50 RPI opponents this season (Memphis and Western Kentucky) have gone 1-2. The marquee victory over Memphis late in the season should be enough to squeak the Blazers into the Field of 65. But for insurance against other teams playing their way in, the Blazers also should reach the finals of the conference tournament.
As of now, and rightfully so, the Blazers should be one of the first teams on the bubble's short list if teams such as Gonzaga and Nevada don't win their respective conference tournaments. The body of work just isn't strong enough for lock status – mostly because of a season in the terrible Conference USA. --C.M.
The Seahawks are probably in, but it’s close. The Colonial Athletic Conference has never received multiple bids, and even with the kind of season the league has had, it’s hard to imagine it happening in 2006. However, if the CAA final is Wilmington versus regular season champion George Mason, the Committee would have almost no choice but to tell both teams to buy their dancing shoes.
The quandary for the Selection Committee is: should they punish this mid-major for playing and losing to Wisconsin and Colorado? If Kammron Taylor doesn’t hit a buzzer beater at the Kohl Center, the win would have pushed Wilmington off the bubble and into guaranteed at-large position. A BracketBuster win might have got them in the field but for some unknown reason the boys in Bristol didn’t give them that opportunity. It will be very interesting if Dickie V or Digger Phelps tries to plead the Seahawks' case on Selection Sunday for school that didn’t participate in ESPN’s version of mid-major Christmas.
UNC-Wilmington is most notably remembered for that first round epic they played against Maryland where it took a Drew Nicholas three to save the Terps' season. Well, don’t re-adjust your television because head coach Brad Brownell has developed a similar team that depends on the long-range ability of its backcourt duo T.J. Carter and John Goldsberry. If this team is shooting well, it can/will win a game in the NCAA Tournament. If they are cold from the outside, they don’t match up size-wise with any major-conference team. --M.S.
Texas-El Paso is currently on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tourney. Their biggest loss of the season has to be senior leader John Tofi. But as far as Tourney hope goes…their biggest loss may have actually been three: the string to Georgetown, Texas Tech, and Syracuse right around the New Year. Had they been able to win at least one of those games, they'd be in a lot better shape.
As things currently stand, with no Tofi, they’ve been playing on heart their last few games. Senior back–up guard Miguel Ayala has stepped up, but he needs to rally his team and make a showing at the CUSA Tourney. That means Memphis. UTEP needs to either win the C-USA tourney, or at least get to the finals, lose a tough game, and then pray to the gods of March to punch their ticket. UAB's win over Memphis certainly hurt the Miners, as it would be unheard of for the #15 conference to grab two at-large bids to the Dance. --J.S.
If only Jay Cutler played basketball. Then, and only then, would there be something special about the Commodores. Vanderbilt plays in an up-and-down SEC, and boasts a bubble-defining 16-10 record. The only reason the Commodores are talked about as a bubble team is because of a season sweep of another bubble team – Kentucky. Offensively, four players score in double figures for Vanderbilt with Shan Foster leading the way with 16.3 points per game. Forward DeMarre Carroll and Julian Terrell are the glass cleaners, combining for nearly 14 boards per game.
Many would argue that if Kentucky gets invited to the tournament than Vanderbilt certainly should as well because of the season sweep. Vanderbilt also defeated Georgetown in late November, but that was