It’s getting to the nitty and the gritty of the college hoops season, which culminates this year in Houston at the Final Four. So called mid-major conference tournaments will be getting underway next week, which puts the spotlight on teams, like George Mason and Utah State, which will likely have a berth in the field of 68 no matter what happens.
If teams like that lose, some of the big boys on the bubble will be getting mighty desperate when their own conference tourneys get rolling the following week.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: ST. JOHN’S
Count me as among the skeptical when the Johnnie’s hired Steve Lavin out of the broadcast booth to resurrect both his coaching career and this storied program. And things got off to a rocky start with some ugly early losses.
But this senior-laden squad has been the talk of the Big East lately with five wins against teams in the Top 13 in the nation since January. The latest big victim was Pitt as Dwight Hardy, who is making a legitimate case to be named conference player of the year, made a twisting layup in the closing seconds for the win. It’s hard to believe, but the Red Storm has maneuvered into a tie for third in the best conference in the land.
ALABAMA: The Tide will present an interesting case for the NCAA Tournament selection committee. On the one hand, they are 11-2 in the SEC, having already clinched the West Division title behind the solid play of forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. On the other, their RPI is 80 due to their non-conference struggles.
Coach Anthony Grant’s squad has been beating everybody in front of it lately with four straight wins, and Alabama will get a chance to pump up its resume with closing games against Florida and Georgia.
MISSOURI: The Tigers have straightened themselves out of a rough patch with four straight wins. They even managed to pull out a rare conference road win, even if it was against lowly Iowa State.
We’ll get a better read on Mike Anderson’s team in the next two games, as it travels to tough opponents Kansas State and Nebraska. Mizzou will need continued good play from Kim English, who appears to be snapping out of his season-long funk after scoring 16 points in two of the last three games.
BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles started ACC play 4-1 behind the excellent play of guard Reggie Jackson. But things have been caving in lately as they've lost six of eight since. This week has been especially damaging: After falling admirably at the buzzer at North Carolina, BC came home and coughed up a game it desperately needed to Miami.
The Eagles' RPI has dipped to 48, a dangerous number, and they have just one win against a Top 50 opponent this season.
MINNESOTA: It’s hard to fathom that the Gophers could be on the bubble considering how they started the season. A stunning stretch of six losses in the seven games gives Minnesota an ugly Big 10 record of 6-9.
Personnel losses have left the Gophers perilously low on depth and have forced sharpshooting Blake Hoffarber to play out of position at point guard. Tubby Smith and Company can right the ship by sweeping their last three winnable games, but they can’t take anything for granted with how they’ve been playing.
UNDER THE RADAR: BELMONT
When most of us last saw the Bruins, it was 2008 and they were taking Duke to the wire in a first-round NCAA tourney game. Three years later, they are once again the pride of the Atlantic Sun, having clinched the conference regular season title.
They have just one loss in conference play thanks to a balanced attack in which 11 players get regular minutes. With solid efforts in losses to Vanderbilt and Tennessee this season, Belmont once again looks like a first-round headache for a major power.
GAME OF THE WEEK: BRIGHAM YOUNG at SAN DIEGO STATE (1 p.m. Saturday on CBS)
Jimmer Fredette’s magnificent performance in BYU’s win the first time these teams met was one of the highlights of the season so far. Now the Aztecs, who’ll be looking to avenge their only loss of the season, get the Cougars in San Diego.
The game gets a national showcase on CBS this time around, even if it means it will be starting 11 a.m. California time. With the winner perhaps staking a claim to a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed, neither team should have any problem waking up for this one.