Recent losses may not deter at-large bid
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 2
The big picture:
The recency effect really is a wonderful thing, and there are few better times than in the few days leading into Selection Sunday to see its impact on how college basketball teams are perceived.
What if I told you there was a team with an overall strength of schedule ranked second in the country, possessed five top-50 victories and was 11-9 against the top 100 in the RPI? Chances are, that would sound pretty good, and look even better in comparison to what else is floating around the at-large pool.
Now, let’s add another element: This team was once 15-1, but since Jan. 29 has gone 5-11.
The verdict might not be quite so pleasant, but there’s something important to remember: Those games in November and January count just the same as contests in February and March.
That’s why it would be shocking if Minnesota — the team described above — didn’t find its way into the NCAA tournament, and in a reasonably comfortable manner.
Now, that’s not meant to be an endorsement of the Golden Gophers’ chances of accomplishing much once they reason the field of 68. Thursday’s 51-49 loss to Illinois was just the latest feeble offensive performance for Tubby Smith’s team, and Minnesota isn’t likely to improve dramatically in the next week.
But based on the selection criteria, which incorporates things like strength of schedule and quality wins but does not include recent performance, the Golden Gophers shouldn’t be sweating entering Selection Sunday.
On the hot seat: Kentucky
The Wildcats are in an unenviable position as they begin play in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Never mind Nerlens Noel’s season-ending injury last month. Never mind that Kentucky remains in a precarious situation. Never mind it owns only two top-50 victories, and both came at home.
Kentucky has three games to make an impression. And the first one, a quarterfinal against Vanderbilt (15-16) can do the Wildcats little good beyond getting another game and could inflict a knockout blow to their NCAA profile.
It’s not as if playing Arkansas would have helped that much, but a top-100 opponent would have been slightly more … [For more on Bubble Watch: Why recent losses won't always deter an at-large bid, click here.]