A closer look at 6 teams on the NCAA bubble


A closer look at 6 teams on the NCAA bubble

From Comcast SportsNet
The college basketball season is winding down and it's time for the NCAA tournament selection committee to zoom in on all those RPIs, SOSs and W-Ls. The final decisions, at least for some of the final spots, will likely come from something beyond the numbers: The eyeball test. In other words, do they look like NCAA tournament teams? So, with the regular season starting to wrap up and the conference tournaments starting next week, the teams on the bubble need to make a good impression. A big win at this point in the season could boost them into the 68-team bracket, a bad loss to the NIT or home. There's still a couple dozen teams in position to make a move and we're taking a closer look at six of those. ------ Iowa State: In a conference that includes No. 3 Kansas, No. 7 Missouri and No. 9 Baylor, the Cyclones have quietly made a case for NCAA tournament consideration. With its win over Kansas State on Saturday, Iowa State has beaten the Wildcats twice and beat then-No. 10 Kansas last month. The Cyclones have won 21 games and are 11-5 in the Big 12, tied with Baylor for third in the conference. Iowa State has an RPI of 31 and has three wins over teams in the top 50 of the RPI rankings. The Cyclones probably still have a little work to do and don't have an easy schedule, with a road game against Missouri on Wednesday and Baylor at home on Saturday. Get one of those and have a decent run at next week's Big 12 tournament, Iowa State should have a decent shot. ------ Arizona: Sean Miller-coached teams always seem to get better at the end of the season and this one has been no different. The Wildcats were inconsistent early in the season as they integrated four freshmen -- three after Sidiki Johnson left the team in December -- and the returning players adapted to new roles with Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams gone to the NBA. After sweeping the Southern California schools last week, Arizona has won seven of its past eight games, with its lone loss coming on the road to Pac-12 leader Washington. The Wildcats have won 21 games and are 12-5 in conference, with three of those losses by a combined five points. Arizona could be hurt by a down year in the Pac-12, but with a win over struggling rival Arizona State on Saturday and a decent showing in the conference tournament after that, the Wildcats will likely be headed back to the NCAAs. ------ Alabama: The Crimson Tide should have gone into a downward spiral the past few weeks after coach Anthony Grant suspended four players, including Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, the team's leading scorers and rebounders. Instead, Alabama has won three straight and six of eight, including a big victory over fellow bubbler Mississippi State on Saturday. Mitchell has been suspended for the rest of the season, but Green returned against Mississippi State. The Tide has 19 wins, is fourth in the SEC at 8-6 and has a strong RPI of 25. Alabama has a relatively easy finishing stretch, with games against Auburn and Ole Miss left, so a halfway-decent run in the conference tournament should be enough to punch its ticket. ------ Harvard: The Crimson looked like a lock for the NCAA tournament after going 14-2 in nonconference. After Saturday's 1-point loss to Pennsylvania, their lead in the Ivy League is down to a half game over the Quakers. Harvard missed out on its first NCAA berth since the Truman presidency by losing a one-game playoff to Princeton last season and could face another winner-goes-dancing game if it finishes the regular season tied with Penn. The Crimson do have a decent resume, with wins over Florida State -- on their way to the Battle 4 Atlantis title -- and Saint Joseph's, but a loss to Fordham doesn't look good. Harvard has a good shot at an at-large bid with wins over Columbia and Cornell in the final two games, but another one-game playoff loss could lead to a lot of Rolaids being passed around on selection Sunday. ------ Colorado State: The Rams picked up what appeared to be a huge win over New Mexico last week, but followed it with a loss to No. 21 San Diego State, a game that really could have solidified their resume. It also didn't help Colorado State much that New Mexico got blown out by TCU in its second game last week. The Rams are just 6-6 in the Mountain West and lost to Stanford and Boise State, teams with RPI ratings over 100. The good news for Colorado State is that it's 27th in the RPI and has 17 wins in a schedule ranked fourth-toughest in the nation. The Rams face what could be a huge look-at-us game against No. 17 UNLV on Wednesday before closing out the season against Air Force on Saturday. Without another marquee win or a strong conference tournament, it could get tight for Colorado State. ------ Virginia Commonwealth: The Rams made an unexpected run to the Final Four last season, have 25 wins and finished a game behind Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association. Even so, VCU could be left on the outside looking in. The Rams have a win over fellow bubble team South Florida and beat likely MAC winner Akron, but there aren't many other eye-popping wins on the schedule. Their RPI also is a so-so 60th and strength of schedule is 213th. VCU does enter the conference tournament on a good note; the Rams won their final three games, including a payback win over George Mason in the season finale. Win a few games in the CAA tournament, the Rams could solidify their chances. If not, maybe they'll get lucky and the selection committee will decide last year's run and another chance to see coach Shaka Smart work his magic in the postseason will be enough to give them a nod.

Warriors go from the hot to the hotter with Pelicans' Davis

Warriors go from the hot to the hotter with Pelicans' Davis

NEW ORLEANS – There may come a time when the Warriors appreciate this, when they look back at the flames through which they have passed and survived, having sustained only moderate burns.

Until then, though, they’ll have to dance with fire. Torched by Spurs All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge on Tuesday, the Warriors now confront Pelicans All-Star power forward Anthony Davis.

That would be the Anthony Davis, the 6-foot-10 talent who in the season opener Wednesday night gave New Orleans 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks.

“We watched the tape today,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday evening, after the team practiced upon arrival in the Bayou. “Scary. Scary.”

Davis has become the great player who gets overlooked, mostly because injuries have nagged him in each of his first four NBA seasons; he has missed at least 14 games every year. Once widely considered the league’s brightest under-25 star, he’s still only 23 but has to remind observers of his considerable talents.

A 50-16-7-5-4 line served as a potent reminder, even if Davis posted it in a 107-102 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

“I was telling one our coaches,” Kerr said, “he looks to me like . . . ‘You ever see a pickup game where there’s a high-school kid playing but everybody else is 12? And the 12-year-olds are good, but the high-school kid is physically posting up, knocking people around, shooting jumpers, doing whatever he wants. That’s Anthony.

“He’s so big and so skilled, you can’t believe that the skill can come in that body. There are guys who are Anthony’s size around the league, but most of them are screen-setters and defenders. This guy plays like a point guard.”

Davis is more skilled than Aldridge, but is an inch shorter and doesn’t have the brawny physique. Aldridge had his way with any defender he saw, totaling 26 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in a 129-100 pasting of the Warriors. Draymond Green’s past success against Aldridge was of no benefit.

So this represents a chance for Green – one of the league’s best defenders – to acquit himself. He will draw Davis at the start, but Kerr was quick to say Kevin Durant – at 6-10 (or so) a fairer physical matchup – also will get chances.

“We’ll see how the game goes,” Kerr said. “And we’ll try to find something that works.

“Obviously, we want to slow him down. But I’m just thrilled for him, that he’s healthy and playing. I know he got hurt during preseason, so it’s good to see him back this quickly. We’ll have our hands full. But that’s a challenge that we look forward to.”

Durant finds motivation in those doubting his hunger

Durant finds motivation in those doubting his hunger

NEW ORLEANS – It’s early Thursday night and practice is over and the Warriors, one by one, have filed out of Smoothie King Center and onto one of two team buses.

Only one player remains: Kevin Durant, the 6-foot-9 forward, a nine-year NBA veteran with four NBA scoring titles and an MVP trophy among his possessions.

Durant at one end of the court continues to go through his vast arsenal of offensive moves. The drop-step. The step-back. The swipe. The spin-and-dunk. Sweat drips from his chin, his arms and his gray Warriors T-shirt. He’s talking to himself. He’s destroying Chris DeMarco, a 6-8 former small college power forward who has evolved into a valuable but oft-abused assistant coach.

“They say I’m not hungry,” Durant barks out at one point, before sprinting into a corner and launching a 3-pointer and then sprinting to the top of the key for another trey.

By now DeMarco, also soaked his perspiration, is watching from a seat on the bench. No matter. He rises yet again to go back at Durant in a matchup that feels very much like championship fighter and sparring partner.

Durant finally ends the functional torture of DeMarco and flops into a seat.

“How much fun do you have beating up on DeMarco,” he is asked.

Durant breaks into a grin.

“Those are people that you don’t really get to know, get to see, that contribute to success,” Durant says. “DeMarco, ever since I got here he’s been helping get better. He lets me beat up on him and work on my game. It’s easy to just go out there by yourself. But just having another voice and having token defense out there definitely helps. I’m just trying to get better, man.

“That’s what I’m all about.”

When asked about his “hungry” remark, Durant reveals a bit of himself. Like many sports superstars, he hears the chatter and absorbs the slights. Though the comment was made in earshot of a few reporters, it shines a light into the psychological games he plays with himself.

“That’s what I say to myself when I’m working,” he says. “I hear it all the time. You hear the noise. You hear what they say about you. Everybody hears it.

“So it’s a little extra motivation when I’m out there. Nobody in this arena right now, and that’s when you get better. Nobody sees you when you’re doing this stuff right here. But luckily, y’all were in here watching.”

Durant is on a roll now. He’s loose, he’s feeling good and he’s pulling off the mask.

“You hear that stuff and you just use it fuel,” he says. “You don’t let it affect you, obviously, but when you’re out on the court you just try to use it as fuel. And keep getting better. That’s how I am.”

Asked if he reads the criticism, Durant takes only a fraction of a step backward.

“It’s not that I read it,” he says. “It’s just in the air. It’s in the atmosphere, and people tell you and you hear about it and (reporters) ask me questions about it all the time. So, obviously, I know.

“But I’m not losing sleep on it. It’s just wood on that fire. You just keep always wanting to get better.”

Which opens the door to the subject of opening night, when the Warriors were manhandled in a 129-100 loss to San Antonio, prompting spirited debate among street-corner coaches and general managers.

“Obviously, you’re going to hear everything,” he says, grinning. “ ‘The season is over.’ ‘The team is the worst team in the league.’

“You thought it was going to be easy? It’s one game,” he adds. I remember losing in the playoffs by 30 or beating someone by 30 in Game 1 of the playoffs, and you say it’s only one game. And it’s one game in 82, and you (expletive) guys are making it feel like the world is ending.”

Durant is out of his chair. Still sweating, walks toward the exit to get on the bus.

He did what he felt he needed to do to get better. He said what he felt he needed to say, responding to critics. And he did it all with no less than a trace of a smile.