Bubble watch: Tar Heels solidify NCAA spot, Hoosiers slide
Published 12:00 am Monday, March 7, 2022
By Dave Skretta
AP Basketball Writer
Two games involving two of college basketball’s bluest bluebloods left North Carolina and Indiana heading into conference tournament week on opposite ends of the NCAA Tournament bubble spectrum.
The Tar Heels rolled into Cameron Indoor Stadium and handed fourth-ranked Duke a 94-81 loss Saturday night in the final home game for Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. The win itself should be plenty to end any lingering doubt about where UNC sits heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney.
“All week, we just talked about our competitive fight,” said first-year North Carolina coach Hubert Davis, whose team improved to 23-8 overall and 15-5 in the ACC. “We had to do three things: We had to plant our feet, we had to stand our ground and we had to fight. … I just felt like, as the game went on, we started to just gain more and more confidence.”
That should bode well for the Tar Heels not only this week but heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Then there’s Indiana, which had eighth-ranked Purdue on the ropes before suffering a heartbreaking 69-67 loss on Saturday night. That left the Hoosiers at 18-12 overall and 9-11 in the Big Ten as they prepare for their conference tournament. The loss in West Lafayette dropped Indiana to 4-8 away from home this season.
“I’m pleased, guys, with the way we competed,” Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said. “I mean, we gave ourselves an opportunity to win a game in a hostile situation. This is a tough building to win in. I thought we were very competitive.”
Simply being competitive might not be enough for the Hoosiers. They dropped a double-overtime game to Syracuse early in the season, and close losses to Penn State (61-58), Wisconsin (74-69) and Rutgers (66-63) that could have gone the other way have left Woodson’s crew heading to the Big Ten Tournament needing a couple wins.
They aren’t the only one: Michigan is also teetering on the bubble at 17-13 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten, but the Wolverines — still without coach Juwan Howard — did pick up a big win over No. 23 Ohio State over the weekend.
“I’m just in awe of the players’ character,” fill-in coach Phil Martelli said. “I’m in awe of the support staff’s knowledge.”
Memphis: Remember that time Penny Hardaway got into a kerfuffle at a news conference over the performance of his talent-laden team? The Tigers have lost just once since Jan. 20, when a loss to SMU dropped them to 9-8 overall and 3-4 in the American Athletic Conference. The coup de grace heading into the league tournament was 75-61 drubbing of No. 14 Houston on Sunday that showed just how potent Memphis can be in March.
Rutgers: After three straight losses began to tip the Scarlet Knights to the wrong side of the bubble, back-to-back wins over Indiana and Penn State have their NCAA Tournament picture trending up. But at 18-12 overall, they probably need at least one win during the Big Ten Tournament to feel good about Selection Sunday.
Florida: Yes, the Gators dropped a competitive regular-season finale to No. 7 Kentucky, but they also beat then-No. 2 Auburn a couple weeks ago. Throw in must-have wins at Georgia and Vanderbilt and the Gators were 19-12 and 9-9 in Southeastern Conference play, giving them a good shot at making the 68-team field.
Loyola Chicago: So much for waiting for Selection Sunday. The Ramblers, who always seem to turn heads come March, did it again with a spirited run to the Missouri Valley tournament title. And while they are no longer a bubble team by virtue of the automatic bid, their play over the last month has them on the rise.
VCU: Any chance that the Rams had of earning an at-large bid probably evaporated last week with a 69-65 loss to Saint Louis. Now, they may have to play their way into the NCAA field through the Atlantic 10 tourney.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were trending up until Saturday, when a trip to Clemson ended with a stumbling 63-59 loss. It doesn’t help Virginia Tech’s hopes that the Atlantic Coast Conference has been down all season, either.
Xavier: The Musketeers will head into the Big East tourney off a win over lowly Georgetown. But before that? Five straight losses and seven in a span of eight games. That month-long stretch turned Xavier from a lock into a bubble dweller.
TCU: The same team that beat sixth-ranked Kansas last week also lost to the Jayhawks, then at West Virginia, putting its NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy. The Horned Frogs have lost six of their last nine games.