Three Schools Looking to End Tourney Droughts

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 30th, 2017

So much of this season’s focus has zeroed in on college basketball’s blue-blooded programs, both those holding true to their stature and those that are floundering. But although their names are not as sexy, this season’s early group of bubble teams features a handful of programs that have little to no recent experience in the NCAA Tournament. For coaches at these schools, climbing the mountain to March Madness can be a veritable game-changer. As we slowly turn the corner into February and the last six weeks before Selection Sunday, fans, coaches, alumni and general observers should all keep a close eye on Northwestern, Virginia Tech and TCU to see if they can end their long droughts by closing the deal.

Is Another Chicago Curse About to End? (USA Today Images)

  • Northwestern. With a 7-2 Big Ten record and its first AP Top 25 ranking in seven years, Northwestern is finally in position to end the other less-publicized Chicago area losing streak. Though there have been a few close calls over the course of the last decade, head coach Chris Collins seems to have the group of Wildcats that will break through. His team currently ranks 29th in the RPI, having gone 18-4 against a schedule that KenPom rates as the 67th toughest in college basketball. The selection committee values road wins and Northwestern has answered this season by winning four of its first five Big Ten away games. Hopes are high in Evanston, and with nine games left in the Big Ten season, it would take a fairly monumental collapse for Collins’ team to play its way out of the Big Dance.

  • Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech has made the NCAA Tournament just once since 2000 (with Seth Greenberg in 2007), but the Hokies have made several waves this season with wins over Duke, Michigan, Syracuse and Clemson. Those quality wins could be cancelled out by their weak non-conference schedule — 338th nationally, per KenPom — but wins over improving Michigan and Ole Miss teams should help. The good news is that, even at 16-5 overall and 5-4 in ACC play, Virginia Tech will have plenty of additional opportunities to push toward 10 ACC wins over the next month. However, the Hokies’ weak schedule doesn’t leave much margin for error.
  • TCU. Jamie Dixon’s return to his alma mater has already resulted in the Horned Frogs well-positioned to make a play at the NCAA Tournament in his first season. Last seen dancing in 1998 as a member of the WAC, TCU has faced the 30th toughest schedule in the nation. The Frogs answered the bell in starting the season 11-1, but always-brutal Big 12 play has led to a 3-5 conference start with 10 games remaining. Despite their strong scheduling numbers, quality wins outside of league action are scarce. It seems as if TCU will need to finish somewhere near 9-9 in Big 12 play to make a compelling at-large case. In a season without a glut of mid-majors ready to pounce on bids, however, we could see a few teams with sub-.500 conference records selected as well. TCU would do well to not tempt fate and win six of its remaining conference games, five of which will come at home.
Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at and has contributed to and Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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