He wasn’t disappointed in his team’s effort. Brey was bummed that another opportunity had slipped away. In the final seconds of the game he had called timeout and told his players it was time to think ahead to Monday’s home game against Villanova.
“Gotta get one,” Brey said. “That’s what I talked about. Certainly, this one would have been huge, but Monday is another chance for a great one.”
Welcome to life on the NCAA bubble, where the days blur into each other and those missed opportunities have the potential to eat away at you until the summer evaluation period. It’s not much fun, but Brey has plenty of company — especially now that it is March.
When you’ve been as high as the No. 7 ranked team in the country, only to bottom out with a seven-game losing streak that spanned January and February, you can understand why Brey has examined and memorized all of his team’s routes to the NCAA tournament.
“After we lost to West Virginia [on Feb. 18], I told our guys if we can get in the 9-9 range, we’ll be in the discussion,” Brey said of Notre Dame’s Big East record. “That’s all we can ask for right now. Then we’ll go to New York [for the Big East tournament] and try to figure it out.”
Consider the discussion closed. After losing at home to Villanova 77-60 Monday night, Notre Dame cannot get to 9-9 in conference play. The Irish are 16-13 overall and 7-10 in the Big East with a home game against St. John’s remaining. Unless Notre Dame wins the Big East tournament, the Irish will miss the NCAA Tournament again.
Teams in the major conferences are down to one or two regular-season games before the league tournaments. The value of those games increase. The same is true for games played by other bubble teams. And when the conference tournaments begin later this week, bubble teams will be rooting for mid-majors — such as Butler, Davidson, Siena and Creighton — to take care of business and avoid upsets that can impact the number of at-large bids available.
As we head down the stretch, here’s a quick look at eight key bubble teams and the work they have ahead of them.
Florida (21-8, 8-6, RPI: 49)
The Gators missed a big opportunity of their own on Sunday when they lost to Tennessee in Gainesville. A lot of factors seem to be working against Florida. The Gators have only two wins over top-50 teams (Washington and South Carolina) and are 2-6 on the road. Florida, 2-4 in its last six games, plays at Mississippi State on Wednesday and then has a home game against Kentucky on Saturday.
For those who argue the NCAA tournament should be opened to all teams, the Florida-Kentucky contest proves that condition already exists. Essentially, this is a play-in game to keep NCAA hopes alive.
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Kentucky (19-10, 8-6, RPI: 66)
There’s not much love in the Bluegrass State these days.
After losing at South Carolina, the Wildcats were defeated at home by LSU on Saturday. That has led to some serious grumbling from Kentucky fans, who suddenly are acting as if Tubby Smith never left. Georgia visits Lexington Wednesday and then there is that game at Florida. The Wildcats, whose overall body of work isn’t that impressive, may need a 10-6 record in the SEC. That means two more wins.
Providence (18-11, 10-7, RPI: 68)
The Friars are the subject of great debate. Some think the big victory over No. 1 Pittsburgh was the greatest win in school history and will lift Providence into an at-large bid. Others think PC must do more.
The only other notable win came at the expense of Syracuse. Providence is 5-11 against the RPI top-100 and there’s that loss to Northeastern. The Friars could silence their critics with a road victory against Villanova on Thursday. That would relieve a lot of pressure at the Big East tournament.
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