Vautour: Some big-name teams in danger of missing NCAA Tournament

  • Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim yells in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Georgetown won 78-71. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi) Nick Lisi

  • Michigan State's Nick Ward goes to the basket against Tennessee Tech during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 71-63. (AP Photo/Al Goldis) Al Goldis

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 12/19/2016 7:50:52 PM

So far, the 2016-17 season has been rightfully hailed as the year of the blue blood in college basketball. The sports traditional powers like UCLA, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana have all played like championship contenders. Those six schools have a combined 36 championships between them and there’s a pretty good chance a 37th is coming.

But not all of the brand names are thriving. Four teams that were ranked in the preseason are at legitimate risk of not making it to the NCAA Tournament. If Selection Sunday was this week, the following schools would likely miss the field (in order of preseason ranking):

Michigan State (7-5, Preseason No. 12, RPI 114, KenPom.com 56) — The Spartans may have overscheduled even if they had a healthy roster with early games against Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke. But Michigan State is thin and inexperienced. Sunday’s loss to Northeastern only digs the hole further for them to climb out of.

There are lots opportunities to grab some big wins in the Big Ten, but is MSU good enough to get them?

UConn (5-5, Preseason No. 18, RPI 162, KenPom 76) — Things never got going for the Huskies, who lost to Wagner and Northeastern to open the year. At 5-5, one of their wins is against Division II Chaminade and their best win is over Syracuse, which joins them on this list.

The Huskies will need a great record in the American Conference to have a shot at an at large and have done nothing to show themselves capable of it.

Syracuse (6-4, Preseason No. 19, RPI 173, KenPom 33) — The Orange, who were a bubble team and controversial inclusion to last year’s NCAA Tournament before making a Final Four run, were helped by the selection committee’s increased usage of the KenPom rankings.

They’ll be hoping that continues this year as Syracuse is considerably higher there. Like Michigan State, it will have opportunities to get big wins against the ACC’s considerable gauntlet. They’ll just have to be good enough to get them.

Texas (5-5, Preseason No. 21, RPI 149, KenPom 78) — Most people thought that year two of Shaka Smart’s tenure in Austin would be a big step forward.

Instead, the Longhorns have yet to get any traction. They’ve gone 2-5 in their last seven and have no wins to hang their oversized hats on.

PIPKINS HONORED — After making eight 3-pointers in Saturday’s win over Kennesaw State, UMass freshman Luwane Pipkins was an easy call for Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors. He averaged 19.0 points in last week’s two games.

Pipkins is the second UMass freshman to win the award, which DeJon Jarreau claimed on Nov. 21. Through six weeks, a Minuteman has claimed it twice, while Duquesne players — Mike Lewis (three times) and Isiaha Mike (once) — have earned the other four.

MY TOP 10 — 1. UCLA, 2. Villanova, 3. Baylor, 4. Kansas, 5. Duke, 6. Kentucky, 7. Creighton, 8. North Carolina, 9. Gonzaga. 10 West Virginia.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Kentucky at Louisville, Wednesday, 7 p.m. ESPN — In any week this game would stand out, but in a week where teams schedule lightly amid finals before scattering for Christmas, this game shines bright enough to attract wise men from great distances.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK George Washington at Miami, Thursday, 7 p.m. — At 8-4, the Colonials have flown largely under the radar. It was hard to know what to expect from GW under Maurice Joseph, who took the team over shortly before the season started when coach Mike Lonergan was fired amid reports of player mistreatment. They’ve won three straight, including solid wins over Temple and Central Florida. A win over the surging Hurricanes could give the Colonials momentum heading into a wide-open Atlantic 10.

UNDEFEATED — 12-0: UCLA; 11-0: Baylor, Creighton, Villanova, Gonzaga; 10-0: USC (plays Cornell Monday night).

WINLESS — 0-11: Mississippi Valley State; 0-9: Alabama A&M.

BUZZER BEATER — It won’t have nearly the cultural impact or get the same attention as the Cubs finally winning the World Series, but another Chicago team could be quietly about to end a long drought of its own.

The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, but Northwestern hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since ever. For most people alive, before October neither of those things has happened in their lifetime.

The Wildcats head into Big Ten play with a legitimate shot. At 9-2, their RPI is 39 and they’re 46 in the KenPom rankings. Both likely put them on the right side of the bubble if selections were today. They’ll need to win a game or two against the Big Ten’s top-tier teams, but their computer rankings figure to keep rising as the league strength will help it.

Since the NCAA split into major college and small school designations in 1948, Northwestern is one of five schools in the major category to have never earned a bid along with Army, the Citadel, St. Francis of Brooklyn and William & Mary.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage




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