The month of March is just about here, which means we are going to have an NCAA Tournament bracket sooner rather than later. Part of what makes this time of year so special in College Basketball, is the fact that there are teams playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, and just one win or one loss can change everything. For example, New Mexico is a team that many people were really looking forward to seeing in the big dance, as recently as late January, but they have fallen on some hard times. The Lobos have lost seven out of their last 10 games, and their tournament hopes might have ended thanks to a Lamonte Butler Buzzer-Beater to give the Aztecs the victory over the Lobos. There were at-least four buzzer-beaters that took place this weekend that definitely affected NCAA Tournament seeding, which really shows just how small the margin for error is. Here are some teams that will be playing to keep their season alive, before conference tournaments start at this time next week.  

Big East- Villanova  

The Big East is one of the rare exceptions where there is a clear difference between the top and the bottom, and it is already well established that only the top 5 teams will receive at-large berths to the big dance. The one candidate that stands out as a team that can possibly go on a run is the all of a sudden red-hot Villanova Wildcats. While there was a ton of uncertainty heading into the Kyle Neptune era and the first season without Jay Wright, expectations were still high at Villanova. The Wildcats were projected to finish in second place in the Big East Preseason Media Poll, and were even ranked #16 in the AP Top 25 to start the season.  

While it is easy to say those expectations got a little bit out of hand, we’re starting to see why so many were high on this Villanova team, now that they are at 100% full strength. Since the return of Star Guard Justin Moore after tearing his Achilles in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Villanova is only 5-4, but they’ve won five out of their last six games and are really playing their best basketball of the season. That included Kyle Neptune’s first signature victory as Villanova Head Coach, when they defeated #19 Creighton to hand them their second loss in a row, after previously winning their prior 8 games consecutively. This Villanova team did also return four starters from last season’s squad that not only won the Big East Tournament, but also made it to the Final 4.  

Considering the injuries that Villanova dealt with earlier in the season without Moore and five-star Freshman Cam Whitmore, the Wildcats are currently much different than the team we saw in November. If anyone in the conference has a realistic chance of saving their season and stealing a bid at MSG, it’s the program that has won five out of the last eight Big East Tournaments in Villanova.  

EDITORS NOTE: Villanova beat Seton Hall Tuesday night.

Pac 12- Arizona State 

Not many teams on the bubble helped themselves out more this weekend than Arizona State, who beat their arch-rival Arizona on a buzzer beater to secure the victory. This wasn’t even your normal buzzer beater a couple feet behind the three-point line, as Desmond Cambridge pulled up from way beyond half-court. It has been a rollercoaster season for Bobby Hurley’s crew, who started the season with one of the more puzzling losses we’ve seen, going down to Texas Southern. The Sun Devils responded really nicely to that tough loss, winning their next 9 games, including a blowout victory over Michigan and a neutral court victory over Creighton.  

Arizona State even started off Pac-12 play with a 4-1 record and their chances to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019, was all of a sudden looking very realistic. That changed quickly, when the Sun Devils suffered a 4-game losing streak in late January, followed by home losses to Oregon and Colorado. At this point they needed to collect as many quality wins as possible in order to get into the field. That is exactly what happened on Saturday, and even though the Pac-12 didn’t give their teams a ton of opportunities for quality wins as you would like, ASU will have some real chances heading to Southern California this week.  

With games at UCLA on Thursday and at USC on Saturday, Arizona State will really control their own tournament destiny, to end the regular season and heading into the Pac 12 Tournament. While these games will not be easy, just one win and the Sun Devils should hear their name called on Selection Sunday, which would be an incredible feat. Especially after we didn’t necessarily know the impact of not having Marcus Bagley, after he was suspended earlier in the season. Bobby Hurley’s teams have been super inconsistent during his time in Tempe including this season, however this Sun Devil team is significantly better than the other teams in recent memory and they would be a lot fun to watch in March.  

EDITORS NOTE: UCLA destroyed ASU 79-61 Thursday night.

Big 12- Texas Tech 

At one point earlier this season, it looked like the Big 12 Conference was on the precipice of doing something unprecedented and receive nine bids to the NCAA Tournament. While that might not necessarily be the case following Oklahoma State’s loss to Baylor on Monday Night, the Red Raiders have a massive opportunity and will hear their names called on Selection Sunday if they win their remaining two games of the season. The primary reason for this being, they will head to Phog Allen Fieldhouse tonight to take on Kansas, and a win would result in their most significant victory of the season.  

After a brutal start to Big 12 play, Texas Tech has been playing significantly better lately and a lot of it can be attributed to getting healthy. Utah Valley Transfer Fadaws Aimaq, was one of the biggest gets in the Transfer Portal this past offseason, fresh off averaging 18.9 Points Per Game and winning WAC Conference Player of the Year last season. The big man has only played in eight games this season; however, Texas Tech is currently the healthiest they’ve been in a while with both Aimaq and Freshman Pop Isaacs in the lineup. The Red Raiders non-conference schedule wasn’t ideal earlier this season, with their only two victories over power conference teams coming against conference bottom-dwellers Louisville and Georgetown. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders had a golden opportunity to pick up a quality win over TCU on Saturday, having the lead in the final minute, but unfortunately, they couldn’t get the job done. Texas Tech will likely need to win at Kansas, or make a deep run in the Big 12 Tournament in order to hear their names called on Selection Sunday.  

After taking Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 in only his first season on the job, the grace period has seemed to run out for Mark Adams in Lubbock. I don’t believe this should be the case considering the injuries and really good players lost from last season. However, Texas Tech is in real jeopardy for missing their first big dance since 2017. There aren’t many other teams currently on the bubble right now, where one game really determines everything. The 40 minutes Texas Tech has to prove themselves at the Phog, will be their most important 40 minutes of the season.  

EDITORS NOTE: Texas Tech lost 67-63 at Kansas Tuesday night.

ACC- North Carolina 

Following the Tar Heels loss to NC State on February 19th, it felt like North Carolina had hit rock bottom for at least the 4th or 5th time and all hope really did seem lost. North Carolina was staring College Basketball history in the face, about to become the first team in the history of the sport to start the season as the #1 ranked team in the country and miss the NCAA Tournament.  With the game tied at 46 with 12 minutes remaining in the second half, NC State ended the game on a 31-23 run to secure the victory over their rivals and North Carolina’s effort continued to be a major question.  

Since that game, the Tar Heels have responded winning three consecutive games, for their longest winning streak since late January. While the only victory of note came over Virginia, the fact that North Carolina was able to beat Notre Dame and Florida State on the road, is the first step to getting back on the right side of the bubble. If North Carolina loses either of those two games, that loss is so bad that it would have likely knocked them out of the tournament picture. Being able to avoid the bad losses is key, and now the Tar Heels can put themselves in a very good position to make the big dance with a victory on Saturday at home over Duke.  

Although North Carolina only has one Quadrant One Victory on the season, this is the same Tar Heel team that didn’t pick up their first Q1 win until late February last season and made it all the way to the National Title Game. A key development for the Tar Heels is that Northwestern Transfer Pete Nance has finally started to shoot the basketball significantly better and that has unlocked a new gear for this North Carolina offense. It has definitely been a frustrating season in Chapel Hill, but not all hope is lost for this North Carolina team trying for some Deja Vu from last season.  

Big Ten- Michigan 

Since the very early part of the season, it has felt like Michigan has been fighting and clawing for a chance to play in the big dance. The Wolverines suffered a costly Quadrant 4 loss to Central Michigan on December 29th and it’s felt like they’ve been battling for their tournament lives ever since. However, the Wolverines have recently played their best stretch of basketball that we’ve seen from them all season and are all of a sudden seriously on the bubble. That is in large part, thanks to a miraculous Hunter Dickinson at the buzzer to send Sunday’s game against Wisconsin into Overtime. The Wolverines needed this game in the worst way, considering Wisconsin entered the game on the bubble as well, slightly ahead of the Wolverines in the majority of the projections.  

In addition, Wisconsin was able to defeat Michigan about two weeks ago in Madison and another victory in Ann Arbor would do significant damage to Michigan’s tournament aspirations. Following the miraculous Dickinson shot to tie the game, Michigan ended up getting the victory in Overtime. This was their third consecutive victory, all coming over likely NCAA Tournament teams in Michigan State, Rutgers and Wisconsin.  

This matches Michigan’s longest winning streak of the season and they will have a chance to play themselves into the big dance. Michigan will end their season with two road games at Illinois and at Indiana, and even picking up just one win during this stretch will move the needle. With both games qualifying as Quadrant 1 opportunities, this is a major chance for Michigan to really put themselves in a good position heading into next week’s Big Ten Tournament. Michigan has also been without Star Freshman Jett Howard recently, missing each of the last two games with an ankle injury. Guards Kobe Bufkin and Dug McDaniel stepped up in a big way against Wisconsin, combining for 48 points to help the Wolverines get the victory.  

EDITORS NOTE: Michigan lost at Illinois in Double OT Thursday Night.

SEC- Auburn 

While teams like Michigan and Texas Tech feel much closer to the right-side bubble now than they have ever before, the opposite can be said for Auburn. Bruce Pearl’s team has lost seven out of their last 10 games and the longer this season goes by, the worse their resume looks. Auburn’s best win is currently over a Northwestern team that would currently be a #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they have yet to pick up a marquee signature win during SEC Conference play.  

Auburn got run off the floor by Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday, falling 86-54 in a game that wasn’t even that close. Auburn started SEC Conference play at 6-1, and one of the only things currently keeping the Tigers in the tournament picture, is the fact that they are 17-2 outside Quadrant 1 games. The majority of the Tigers’ losses have come against really good teams, but there comes a point where you have to start winning games despite who is on your schedule. The rest of Auburn’s season will not get any easier, considering the Tigers will go on the road to Alabama and host Tennessee before the start of the SEC Tournament.  

While it is understandable that Auburn would take somewhat of a step back this season, following the loss of two NBA first round draft picks in Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, this thing has seemed to fall apart quickly. If anyone can turn it around it is Bruce Pearl, and as long as Auburn can just one their opening game of the SEC Tournament, they should hear their names called on Selection Sunday. However, Auburn is not playing very good basketball at all right now and will have to figure things out quickly in order to get back on track.  

EDITORS NOTE: Auburn lost in OT at Alabama Wednesday Night.

Zachary Krull
Zachary Krull

Zac Krull has covered College Basketball for the last 2 years while working with Aaron Torres of Aaron Torres Media and recording his own Zac Krull Sports Podcast. Currently, Zac is writing as a contributor for Aaron Torres online with weekly articles and working as a producer for the BETQL Network. Zac graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2021 with a degree in Sports Studies.