Despite big wins, non-conference hurts Virginia
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 16.
What’s the surest way for a borderline NCAA tournament team to have its postseason prospects torpedoed? Play a lousy non-conference schedule.
There are few, if any, absolutes in attempting to project the 68-team field, and those who make bold, definitive declarations even a little more than two weeks away from Selection Sunday have a decent chance of looking foolish in the long run. Plenty can still change.
But non-conference schedule strengths are pretty much established at this point, and there are teams with particularly soft non-league slates would be wise to do everything possible to create separation from the cutline for the at-large field. It’s a group that includes these four teams:
Virginia: The Cavaliers collected a vital victory Thursday, knocking off Duke to improve to 7-2 against the top 100. Of course, Virginia’s quirky resume has plenty of issues, including a dreadful non-conference schedule (ranked 297th) that wouldn’t look so bad had the Cavaliers beaten Delaware earlier this season and then faced Kansas State and Pittsburgh in the NIT rather than Lamar and North Texas. But they didn’t, and their non-conference schedule isn’t helping them. But with all those quality victories, Virginia is at least moving further away from the edge at the right time.
Mississippi: The Rebels only have a modest opportunity to improve their perception through the rest of the regular season, sandwiching a home game against Alabama between trips to Mississippi State and Louisiana State. And as a borderline team with the No. 272 non-conference schedule, Ole Miss won’t distinguish itself much until the SEC tournament. That places an onus on winning the next three, and probably a couple more in the league tournament. A highly manageable non-conference schedule isn’t helping the Rebels much now.
Maryland: The Terrapins faced three top-150 teams before their ACC schedule, losing to Kentucky while defeating Stony Brook and Northwestern. Little wonder Maryland owns the No. 298 non-conference schedule. What followed a 12-1 mark outside the league is a two-month bout of inconsistency, a veritable predictable unpredictability about a team that has not won two straight or lost two straight during its … [For more on Bubble Watch: Despite big wins, non-conference slate hurts Virginia, click here.]