Here’s a look at 10 programs that have sputtered after strong starts and still have some work to do to secure a place in the tournament field, with rankings entering Friday’s games:
Rutgers (17-8, NET ranking 32, Ken Pomeroy ranking 33)
The Scarlet Knights have dropped three of their past four, and they’re out of games against Nebraska and Northwestern. On the season, they’ve won big at home (16-0) and lost everywhere else (1-8). That isn’t particularly helpful.
But Rutgers has toppled Penn State, Purdue, Seton Hall and Wisconsin, proving the RAC is a tough place to play. If the Scarlet Knights handle their remaining business at home (Illinois, Michigan and Maryland), they won’t have much to sweat on Selection Sunday.
Indiana (16-8, 58 NET, 39 KenPom)
The Hoosiers did themselves a world of good by upending Iowa, 89-77, on Thursday to halt a four-game slide. Yet they have plenty more to accomplish, even with defeats of Florida State, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Indiana is 1-5 on the road (with a defeat of Nebraska), and the Hoosiers probably will need to do some damage away from Assembly Hall to end a three-year tournament drought. The Hoosiers play four of their next five on the road, starting with Sunday’s trip to Michigan. Their fate could well be determined in the next 2½ weeks.
Wichita State (18-6, 47 NET, 40 KenPom)
The Shockers are a metrics darling, standing in the top 50 of all six formulas listed on the NCAA team sheets. (In addition to the NET and KenPom, committee members see KPI, strength of record, BPI and Sagarin rankings.) And they snapped a three-game slide Thursday by dusting Central Florida, 75-58.
Wichita State is 4-3 on the road and has no dreadful losses dragging it down; its worst setback in the NET was a Jan. 15 defeat at Temple. But its only Quadrant 1 victories are at Oklahoma State and Connecticut, neither of which is a sure bet to count as a high-end victory at this time next month. The Shockers can’t fritter away home games against AAC non-contenders, but it would help to upend Cincinnati on Feb. 23 in their most prominent remaining game.
Arkansas (16-8, 43 NET, 43 KenPom)
Things looked swell for the Razorbacks when they were 14-2, but they’ve managed little of value during SEC play. Their numbers remain fairly strong, with four of the six metrics use by the NCAA placing them in the top 50.
Still, it’s time to go get some victories. Arkansas’ most valuable victories have come on the road against another team on this list (Indiana) and against a conference rival with a worse résumé (Alabama). The Hogs could improve their position by picking off Mississippi State at home Saturday and/or Florida on the road Tuesday.
Stanford (16-8, 33 NET, 42 KenPom)
The Cardinal has lost six of seven, with its lone victory in that span bizarrely coming against Oregon. Stanford sank under .500 in the Pac-12 for the first time this season with Thursday’s home loss to Arizona State, and Arizona comes to Palo Alto on Saturday.
Stanford is blessed with opportunities, including visits from Arizona and Colorado (March 1) and a trip to Oregon (March 7) late in conference play. But things aren’t trending right for a team with just two victories over likely NCAA tournament teams (Oklahoma and Oregon).
VCU (17-7, 42 NET, 47 KenPom)
The Rams suffered probably the most damaging loss of the week when their offense disappeared for extended stretches Wednesday in a 72-67 home loss to George Mason. VCU doesn’t have much to tout in its profile, with a home defeat of LSU accounting for its only Quadrant 1 victory, and now it has a dubious loss to answer for as well.
Tuesday’s meeting with Dayton will be pivotal. The Rams are 0-3 against the Atlantic 10’s top two teams (Dayton and Rhode Island), and after Tuesday they’re unlikely to get another crack at a likely NCAA tournament team any earlier than in the conference tournament semifinals.
Georgetown (14-10, 54 NET, 53 KenPom)
The Hoyas have pluckily remained within shouting distance of the field even with a mostly seven-man rotation, which was reduced to mainly six with Mac McClung out for the past three games.
Georgetown owns just one victory against a likely tournament team (Creighton) but has plenty more opportunities. But does a shorthanded team that hasn’t won back-to-back games since December have the ability to stitch together an extended charge in what might be the best league, from top to bottom, in the country?
Southern Cal (18-7, 50 NET, 60 KenPom)
The Trojans broke a three-game slide with Thursday’s 62-56 defeat of Washington, they have largely avoided missteps besides a Quadrant 3 stumble against Temple at home in November, and they do better in evaluative metrics than predictive ones.
The remaining regular season schedule for Andy Enfield’s team can be broken into three two-game categories: can’t-lose contests (at home against UCLA and Washington State), tossups (at Utah and at home against Arizona State) and valuable opportunities (at Colorado and at home against Arizona). The Trojans would feel a lot better entering the Pac-12 tournament with at least one victory from the latter group.
Syracuse (14-10, 69 NET, 61 KenPom)
The Orange seemed to be peaking when it rattled off a five-game winning streak in January. Turns out it was merely taking advantage of the muddled bottom half of the ACC (plus toppling Virginia). Syracuse has dropped three of its past four, and its metrics tell an increasingly grim tale.
Then there’s top scorer Elijah Hughes’s strained groin, which kept him out of much of Tuesday’s loss to N.C. State. With trips to Florida State and Louisville up next and no more games against likely NCAA tournament teams remaining in the regular season, Syracuse might have to bolster its profile without its best player. That’s easier said than done.
Memphis (17-7, 59 NET, 64 KenPom)
It’s looking like a season of so much promise is going to wind up with an NIT berth. The Tigers are 5-6 since New Year’s Day and on Thursday dropped a 92-86 overtime decision at Cincinnati, which was one of their best remaining opportunities to make a positive impression.
From a pragmatic perspective, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Tigers are without what they assumed would be two of their top three or four scoring options. Hyped 7-footer James Wiseman logged three games before eligibility issues ultimately led him to punt on his one-year college stopover, and D.J. Jeffries is hurt and out until at least later this month. It’s going to be a slog, even if Memphis can knock off Houston or Wichita State down the stretch.
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