The field for the NCAA Tournament is always quite different from year to year. With so many teams and relatively few spots, that's inevitable. There are those teams, though, that we always just assume will be in the bracket. This year there are several of those teams that are seemingly always in that find themselves perched squarely on the bubble right now. Some would be in and some would be out if the tournament would start today, but all have work left to do to lock down a spot. That means that they are highly-motivated teams - and bettors love motivated teams.
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Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana: These three Big Ten teams are NCAA Tournament regulars, but all have had some road bumps along the way this year, and all three have a lot of work left to do if they want to be back. Michigan has helped their case dramatically in the last week by beating Michigan State by 29 at home and then winning at Indiana by a dozen. They are in the field right now, but not by much. At win at home against Wisconsin this week or against Purdue would help tremendously, but at the very least they need to win every other game and hope for some help.
Michigan State is also in the field at this moment, and they are helped by a tough schedule , but they lack a signature win, and that loss to Michigan was humiliating. They also need to beat Wisconsin or Purdue down the stretch to secure their spot and hope that they get help.
Indiana is the team of these three in the worst shape. They sit on the outside looking in right now in most projections, and Purdue and Northwestern are their only remaining shots to reverse opinions. They beat Kansas out of the gate, and that will help but not if they don't turn things around significantly - they have lost five of six - and finish the season off on a very high note. The Big Ten is having an odd and mostly underwhelming year, and these three squads are proof of that. At best we will see two of them in, but in the end I lean to just one.
Syracuse: The Orange made a very odd and unexpected run to the Final Four last year as a No. 10 seed. They are not positioning themselves super well to repeat that feat so far this year. Most projections have them in the field, but mainly at a seed lower than they had last year. They are holding on to one of the very last spots in the field right now, so their margin of error is slim - perhaps even slimmer than the two teams from Michigan we just discussed. They have 11 losses and all sorts of issues, but they are covering them up by winning five of six despite an OT loss to Louisville last night - including home wins against Florida State and Virginia and a buzzer-beating win at Clemson.
Maybe they are finding a way to sneak into the field again just like last year. Maybe everything is just playing out exactly like they want. They have Duke and Louisville again down the stretch, so they could use a bit more of this miracle stretch of play if they want to make things easier on themselves.
Wichita State: The Shockers always seem to rise to the occasion in March. At first glance their 22-4 record would suggest that they are right back on the same path they have been on year after year - a strong season leading to headaches for every team that plays them in March. Their issue, though, is that their schedule has been almost impossibly soft . The conference is awful, and they didn't exactly challenge themselves out of the conference. They had two chances to get a signature win early on and blew both. Now all they can do is win out and hope for the best.
Winning their conference's auto bid would obviously be best, but they would have a decent claim at an at-large if it came to that.
Iowa State: This is a strange team. Two back they won at Kansas - easily one of the most impressive wins of the season by any team. And then they come back and lose at Texas. Texas isn't good. Actually, they are lousy.
The Cyclones have nine losses, so they can't afford a whole lot more. They seem to have the faith of people who make projections, though, because at this point they are more comfortably in the field than any other team we have discussed so far. The schedule is challenging down the stretch, though, and there are plenty of more opportunities to embarrass themselves again like they did against Texas. It would be very easy for this team to play themselves out of the field.
VCU: The Rams have won six straight to help their case immensely, and they currently lead the A-10. They have featured some wild last-second heroics in their wins, though, so they are not exactly dominating. They lack a real signature win, so they will have to keep winning to remove the stress from Selection Sunday.
Their last six games are all very winnable, so ending the regular season with 12 straight wins would be a major boost to their case. I would imagine they will get in, but they certainly can't just rest on what they have done so far.
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