NCAA Tournament Watch

As March Madness approaches, Brad Shulkin goes in depth to explore which schools will be in or out come selection Sunday

by Brad Shulkin (ChicagoSportsWeekly)

Northwestern Wildcats- The John Shurna led Wildcats look to be in pretty good shape come selection Sunday. They have one win against a ranked opponent and have racked up 16 wins this season, despite having the ninth hardest schedule in Division One men’s basketball. But, with two of their final four games against ranked opponents, Northwestern still has some work to do to be a sure lock in the tournament. Prediction: At the end of the day, I think Northwestern will get into the tournament, but only if they play well to close out the season.

West Virginia Mountaineers-
Their strength of schedule is a seven, and the Mountaineers have lost three games to ranked opponents by three points or less. The emergence of double-double machine Kevin Jones has been a huge plus, as he is averaging 20.4 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game. The Mountaineers sit in the middle of a very good Big East division with a 7-7 conference record. Prediction: West Virginia should make the tournament come March, but must play well against Notre Dame and Marquette to solidify their chances.

Indiana Hoosiers-
I can’t believe I am saying this, but the Indiana Hoosiers will make the NCAA tournament. Cody Zeller has revamped an Indiana program that has been awful in the Tom Crean era. They have 21 wins this season and have a very doable remainder to the schedule, facing teams like North Carolina Central and Minnesota. Indiana has three wins against ranked opponents, which includes Kentucky and Ohio State who were ranked numbers one and two when they fell to Indiana. Prediction: Although their defense is poor, their offense is not. They rank ninth in the country in field goal percentage and 21st in points per game. The Hoosiers will absolutely make the tournament, and it should be very interesting, considering the amount of upsets they pulled off throughout the season. 

Kansas State Wildcats- On paper, the Wildcats don’t look very good. Their leading scorer is averaging a measly 15.5 points per game, and Jamar Samuels leads the team in rebounding with 6.3 rebounds per game. But, when you put everything together, you get a well-balanced team that could potentially make it far in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have three wins against ranked opponents this season, with their most recent victory coming against the third-ranked Missouri Tigers. Prediction: I really like what Kansas State has going for them. They should be a lock for a NCAA tournament bid, especially with the schedule they have remaining.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish-
If you had asked me earlier in the season if I thought Notre Dame was going to make the tournament, I probably would’ve said not a chance. After going 11-8 to start out the season, the Fighting Irish have won eight straight, beating Connecticut, Syracuse and Marquette in that span. Notre Dame has pulled a total 360, something I didn’t see coming. Prediction: Look for the Irish to make it pretty far in the tournament, especially since they will get either a four or five seed.

Illinois Fighting Illini-
The Illini went 15-3 to start out the season; they are now 16-11. They have lost eight of their last nine games and there is already talk about when head coach Bruce Weber will be fired. Although most would consider this season a failure, I think the emergence of big man Meyers Leonard was a huge plus. If he can stay around for another year and team up with Brandon Paul next season, I think the Illini  will absolutely be on their way back to securing an NCAA bid. Prediction: With three of their last four games coming against ranked opponents, it seems virtually impossible for Illinois to make the tournament.
Connecticut Huskies- The Huskies have the hardest strength of schedule in Division One men’s basketball. They are 17-10 and have really struggled as of late. After beating Florida State and Harvard early in the season, they are 0-4 against ranked opponents since. Prediction: I think it will be a stretch for the Huskies to make the tournament, especially with their recent loss against second ranked Syracuse.

South Florida Bulls-
The Bulls have been very streaky from start to finish.  Their longest winning streak has been four games and they have failed to beat a ranked opponent all season long. They have an 18-11 record and sit atop the Big East Division with an 11-5 conference record. Prediction: With their strength of schedule being so easy, the Bulls should’ve ended with a better overall record. They go up against two very difficult opponents in Louisville and West Virginia in their final two games, and unless they come out with a victory, they have no chance to make the tournament.
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