By Marc Lawrence
Get your dancing shoes out. With just two weeks remaining to the start of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, teams sitting on the outside looking in are now - more than ever - sweating their bubbles off.
For the legitimate teams who find themselves sitting ‘on the tournament bubble', it's now crunch time. And with it the pressure peaks. As Elvis said, "It's now or never."
With post-season conference tournaments now underway it's truly last-gasp time for these teams to make one final impression on the NCAA tournament committee.
However, the truth of the matter is most teams' fates are virtually sealed well before these conference tourneys tip off. Let me explain.
Outside of winning a conference tournament, the fact is unless teams own both a winning overall and winning conference record for the season the chance of being invited to the ‘dance' is slim and remote. Teams who post 20 wins for the season often times find that unless they were a ‘double-winner', the NCAA is likely to kick them to the curb. And for a lot of the right reasons, we might add.
The brain trust recognizes the fact that 20-win teams who ended the season non-winners in conference play likely picked up the bulk of the victories against inferior, non-conference competition and it just doesn't cut the mustard in the panels' eyes.
Witness the Miami Hurricanes last season. A 20-win team at season's end last year (thanks to a pair of conference tourney victories) didn't matter as they were left at the altar when the committee decided a 4-12 mark in ACC play was not a part of the Big Dance formula.
With this thought in mind, I present of group of twenty-four teams from lined major conferences that all have a mathematical shot at 20 wins this season, all of whom are all currently .500 or worse in conference play in games through March 6. They include:
ACC - Maryland, Miami Fla, Virginia
Atlantic 10: Dayton, St. Bonaventure
Big East: Marquette
BIG 10 - Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern
Big 12: , Baylor, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma State
CUSA: Central Florida, East Carolina, SMU
PAC 10: Washington State
SEC - Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee
Notice that any of the two-dozen teams outlined above could catch fire and win their conference tourney, thus automatically gaining a ticket to the Big Dance.
Their performance to date, however, says otherwise. Collectively, this unit has posted a sterling 248-78 SU and 116-96 ATS mark outside the conference this season. In conference play, though, they are just a combined 181-215 SU and 180-204-12 ATS.
Worse, as a favorite in conference games these wannabes are just 80-110-5 ATS this season, including 30-56-2 ATS when favored off a win. Put this same group of guys up as a favorite off a win against a foe seeking revenge that and they nearly drop off the radar screen, going 15-34 ATS this season, including 7-25 ATS if they covered the number by more than three points in its last game.
Thus, unless they suddenly change their ways - and I can't recall the last time a leopard changed its spots - its likely this group of fourteen will likely perform not-so-great under the pressure of laying points and having to win over the next two weeks.
The heat is on. Let's watch and see...