It’s been an interesting year in college basketball. There’s a clear number one in the undefeated human wave attack that is the Kentucky Wildcats. There’s a clear number two in the gritty but not pretty Virginia Cavaliers. There’s a gaggle of viable 1 seeds battling for the last two spots, in Gonzaga, Villanova, Wisconsin, Duke and Arizona. And then there’s a whole lot of parity basically clear through the next two dozen teams. Championship Week has already seen a couple of upsets, and people are beginning to wonder who this year’s Florida Gulf Coast will be. Here are a few bubble teams that have been maddeningly inconsistent but could make a lot of noise if they make it past Selection Sunday.
The Iona Gaels do one thing really well, and that’s score. As of this weekend, they’ve scored triple digits in eleven games this season; they’re 8th in the country in scoring, and they have two guys who average just under 20 points a game. One of those guys is 6’4″ junior guard A.J. English, who’s a true scorer with parking-lot range. But the Gaels aren’t a loopy squad that just likes to hoist it up; they’re 11th in the country in assists per game, and their field goal percentage is almost .470. You have to guard them out to the three point line, and because they share the ball and have multiple shooters, they can find different ways to beat you. They also like to run the floor. The Gaels’ biggest issue is that they aren’t very big as a team. But when their offense is in its flow, look out.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys are hard to figure out. They’re 45th in RPI and 42nd in BPI, and they play in the bloodbath that is this year’s Big 12 Conference. But can conference strength alone account for an 18-12 record and an 8-10 in-conference record? Nothing they do seems to jump off the page, and sometimes it’s hard to tell how they’ll score. They’ve also lost five of their last six, albeit close ones to good teams, and might be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. But they’re scrappy, they hustle on both ends, and they can be stifling on defense. They can hang with most teams, when they play with confidence and energy, and junior guard Phil Forte III can hit threes in flurries. If he or senior Le’Bryan Nash heat up from the floor, they might hang around against a tough opponent and pull off a tournament upset.
The Iowa Hawkeyes sometimes look like they can beat anyone in the country. And then they look like they could lose by ten points to a hastily assembled rec league team. They have a balanced attack with multiple shooters, and when their offense is clicking they spread the floor and move the ball. 6’8″ junior transfer Jarrod Uthoff is a rangy athlete who can defend and shoot the three. 6’9″ senior Aaron White is another big, versatile player who gets to the line frequently and can score in bunches. As a team, the Hawkeyes shoot their free throws well and they also crash the boards well. Sounds like a top 15 team, right? Wrong. They’ve been doomed by slow second-half starts and at times puzzling team defense, and for much of the season they seemed to lack mental toughness. But they’ve won six in a row and seem to be putting it together at the right time…if they sneak in as a double-digit seed, they could go a few rounds. They’re 32nd in BPI, and despite their head-scratching moments they’re also still 21-10.
‘The North Carolina State Wolfpack would be one of the best teams in the country if…’ Haven’t we been hearing that for like three years in a row? Well, it’s true. 43rd in RPI, 37th in BPI, loaded with talent, and not even in the Top 25. They’ve beaten Duke and North Carolina this season, but have twelve losses, including eight in the ACC. They’re athletic and loaded with talent, and when they play with focus, their defense and shot blocking can give any offense headaches. At their worst, they’re sloppy, unfocused and don’t seem to have ever played together. At their best, they’re tenacious, balanced and sporting a huge chip on their shoulder. They’ll need a good showing in the ACC tournament, but if they get hot and land in the big dance, nobody will want to draw them.