Finding a Parachute for Four Teams Fading Fast…

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 11th, 2017

In Sports Illustrated‘s recent profile of former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, he asked two philosophical questions about the game of basketball: “Why do we watch basketball games front to back? Why not watch games back to front, or out of order?” Those questions are silly on their face, but they stuck in my head this week while evaluating the NCAA Tournament resumes of a few teams whose seasons have clearly stagnated. Is there something to be said for viewing a team’s record of wins and losses without the associated construct of time, completely freeing its resume from any particular front-to-back narrative? This idea, in many ways, ties into the cutesy “blind resumes” gimmick we see on television so much throughout late February and early March. When we remove the bias that everyone inherently brings to the analysis, how does that change our opinions?

Is Tom Crean Destined for the NIT? (USA Today Images)

In the end, the individuals comprising the selection committee will bring their own biases along with them regardless of how the narratives are constructed. So as we sit here in mid-February, we thought it would be a useful exercise to re-evaluate a handful of teams who have seemingly lost control of their seasons. Indiana, USC, Clemson and Minnesota looked well on their way to the NCAA Tournament as recently as a month ago, but conference play has taken a significant toll on each. The narratives attached to these teams will greatly affect how they are viewed by the selection committee over the last month of the season. Can any of this quartet recover?

  • Indiana: The obvious poster child for this phenomenon, the Hoosiers were among the nation’s top 10 and projected as a #2 seed by ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi as recently as December 12. Since that date, Indiana has suffered injuries to key players (OG Anunoby and James Blackmon) and compiled a 7-8 record as a result. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, their only loss to an opponent outside the RPI top 100 came in a true road game at Fort Wayne, but with four of the Hoosiers’ last five Big Ten games on the road, concerns about a bid remain if Indiana can’t right the ship.

  • USC: On January 1, USC was 14-1, having lost for the first time of the season to Oregon. The Trojans have since added three more losses and have sunk from a projected #5 or #6 seed to something more like a #8 or #9. Though that difference isn’t as serious as the possibility of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether, the opportunity to avoid a #1 or #2 seed until the second weekend of Tournament play is a huge advantage. Luckily for the Trojans, there are a number of opportunities remaining on its schedule. The next three games include Oregon at home, followed by UCLA and Arizona on the road. Winning one of more of those games would help repair some of the damage done to USC’s resume (which was already hurt by a relatively weak non-conference schedule). If the Trojans, however, lose the next three games, they will absolutely need to take care of business against the remainder of their schedule to remain a single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Clemson: There was no way every ACC team could continue to harbor legitimate hopes for an NCAA at-large bid, and it appears that Clemson is going to be this year’s victim of conference cannibalism. Currently 3-8 in league play with a number of agonizingly close defeats dragging the Tigers down, even getting to an 8-10 league record seems an impossible task. Next up for Clemson is a trip to Duke followed by a home date with Wake Forest, road trips to Miami and Virginia Tech, then Florida State at home. Thankfully the Tigers end with winnable games against NC State and Boston College, but by then it might be too little, too late. To remain in the bubble conversation, Clemson needs five total wins in that slate. It’s possible but highly unlikely.
  • Minnesota: On January 10, the Gophers were 15-2 with losses only to Florida State and Michigan State. A projection at the time in the neighborhood of a #5 or #6 seed was totally reasonable. Minnesota then lost five games in a row, falling all the way to bubble territory in the blink of an eye. A couple wins since has helped stay the bleeding, but an upcoming game at Indiana looks like an unexpected and very important bubble battle. With home games late in the season against Penn State and Nebraska, Minnesota should eventually fall on the right side of the bubble, but stealing a win at Wisconsin or Maryland would help boost its seed for their first NCAA Tournament game in four  years.
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.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *