2012 NCAA Tournament Bubble: Who Should Texas Root For During Championship Week?

Feb 29 2012; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns head coach Rick Barnes (left) talks with guard J'Covan Brown (right) against the Oklahoma Sooners during the second half at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center. Texas beat Oklahoma 72-64. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

With several bubble teams likely to improve their resumes as well as a host of mid-major teams who could be upset during Championship Week, the Longhorns will probably need two wins in the Big 12 Tournament to feel safe headed into Selection Sunday.

During Rick Barnes' streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in Austin, Texas has mostly been able to avoid the bubble.

However, 2012 is different, and for the first time in nearly a decade, the Longhorns will have to scoreboard watch during Championship Week as they sit precariously on the wrong side of the bubble.

With every spot in the field of 68 precious, Texas fans will need to keep an eye on two different story-lines: whether teams from one-bid leagues who have already locked up a spot in the Big Dance can win their conference tournaments and whether the other BCS teams sitting on the bubble can make noise in theirs.

The mid-major conferences:

CAA: Drexel, VCU

Both teams are sitting firmly on the bubble, with Drexel a 13 seed in SB Nation's latest Bracketology update while VCU is one of the first four teams out. As a result, the conference championship game Monday night is essentially an elimination match, with the winner punching their ticket and the loser picking up a loss they absolutely can't afford right now.

Drexel (41) and VCU (46) have KenPom adjusted rankings significantly lower than Texas (29) and the only non-conference win between the two over a team even on the bubble is VCU's home win over South Florida. If the Longhorns can defeat Iowa State, they should be safely above the CAA runner-up on Selection Sunday.

Big West: Long Beach State

Long Beach State, with a fringe NBA prospect in 5'10 senior PG Casper Ware, challenged themselves in non-conference play, racking up wins over Pittsburgh, Xavier and Auburn and competitive losses to Kansas, UNC, San Diego State, Kansas State and Louisville.

They've dominated the Big West conference, rolling to 15-1 regular season record. They're currently projected as a No. 11 seed, so the worst-case scenario for Texas would be a Long Beach State loss in Saturday's conference championship game. That could be just respectable enough to keep the 49ers in the field of 68 while putting a second Big West team in.

Conference-USA: Memphis, Southern Miss

Regardless of what happens in the C-USA Tournament, Memphis, at 23-8 and a projected No. 8 seed, and Southern Miss, at 24-7 and a projected No. 11 seed, are probably locks to make the field of 68. That means a C-USA tournament championship for a different team would remove a possible spot for the Longhorns.

The team most likely to upset the apple cart in Memphis is No. 3 seed Central Florida. The Knights, who finished the regular season with a 21-9 record, went 1-3 against the two teams atop the C-USA and they're a 78-74 loss at Southern Miss from splitting the season series with both.

UCF's second leading scorer and assist man is Marcus Jordan, a 6'3 205 junior guard from Chicago, Illinois. You might be able to guess why I'm mentioning him.

Here's some highlights from a 19-point game he had in 2009. He's a good shooter, but it doesn't seem like he has his father's athleticism:

Mountain West: UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico, Colorado State

With three locks in UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico, the Mountain West Tournament contains a veritable mine-field of potential resume-boosting wins for Texas' competitors on the bubble.

The first big game to watch is the 4/5 match-up on Thursday between Colorado State and TCU. Colorado State is currently projected as a 12 seed: a win against TCU would put them firmly in the Tournament while a loss would put them right back on the bubble.

The Rams are currently at 79 in KenPom's adjusted rankings, so a loss to TCU coupled with a Texas win over Iowa State should drop them right below the Longhorns.

The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, are one of the hottest teams in the country, with wins over UNLV and New Mexico and a 2OT loss to San Diego State in the last two weeks. However, they're still only 17-13 on the season, so they would probably need to win their conference tournament to get in.

The ideal scenario for Texas would be a TCU victory over Colorado State followed by a loss to San Diego State in the semifinals.

Atlantic Ten: Temple, St. Louis, Xavier

Temple, who doubles as the Longhorns' best win this season, is safely in with a 24-6 record and a projected No. 4 seed. St. Louis, with former Utah coach Rick Majerus at the helm, is right outside of the bubble with a 24-6 record and a projected No. 8 seed.

Xavier, however, is one of the last four in, and with a 19-11 record that features some quality wins (Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and Purdue) as well as six losses in the Atlantic Ten, they have a resume nearly identical to Texas.

They'll have a tough second-round game against 19-11 Dayton on Friday and are in a similar situation as the Longhorns: lose their first game and they're out, win one and they're still on the bubble, win two and they're in.

The A-10 is one of the deepest mid-major conferences in the country, and teams 4-8 all have at least 17 wins and are capable of winning the conference tournament, which starts on Tuesday.

The one most likely to make noise is No. 4 seed St. Bonaventure, who have a second-round NBA prospect in 6'9 senior PF Andrew Nicholson.

The power conference bubble teams:

Big Ten: Northwestern

At 18-12 with a 8-10 conference record, Northwestern is right behind Texas on the bubble. They'll have to beat a talented but inconsistent Minnesota team on Thursday as well as Michigan, currently a 3 seed, on Friday, to get into the field.

It's certainly doable: they beat the Gophers 64-53 and lost 67-55 in OT to the Wolverines in the regular season.

The Wildcats best player is 6'9 220 senior SF John Shurna, who shoots 42.1% from beyond the arc and is a second-round NBA prospect.

ACC: Miami, NC State

Both these teams, currently among the last four out, have a good chance of jumping Texas due to weak draws in the ACC Tournament. They have what should be easy first-round games while Miami has a second-round game against Florida State (whom they've already beaten) and NC State faces UVA (whom they lost to 61-60 in the regular season).

The Hurricanes just got back 6'10 300 senior Reggie Johnson, a Dexter Pittman clone whose been serving an NCAA suspension for eligibility issues.

The Wolfpack are one of the most talented teams on the bubble, with two legitimate first-round picks in 6'9 sophomore forward C.J. Leslie and 6'5 sophomore PG Lorenzo Brown.

SEC: Tennessee, Ole Miss

Tennessee, currently one of the next four out, is a serious threat to jump Texas this week. The addition of Jarnell Stokes, a top recruit in the class of 2012 who re-classified as a college freshman in January, has completely changed the Volunteers' first season under coach Cuonzo Martin.

Stokes, an athletic 6'8 250 power forward with an advanced low-post game, is basically what everyone thinks Jared Sullinger is. In the first game of his college career, he went toe-to-toe with Kentucky's front-line, scoring 9 points on 4-5 shooting in 17 minutes.

With a skilled and athletic front-line of Stokes and 6'7 245 Jeronne Maymon, the Volunteers put up a 10-6 mark in SEC play after starting the year with an underwhelming 7-7 non-conference record. They could easily make a run all the way to the SEC Championship against Kentucky, locking up a bid in the process.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, is an extremely dangerous team on the very edge of the bubble. They're one of the country's most athletic teams: 6'8 senior SG Terrance Henry could sneak into the first-round, while 6'9 junior PF Reginald Buckner and 6'7 sophomore SF Jelan Kendrick, a McDonald's All-American who transferred from Memphis, could be big-time prospects next season.

If they can beat Auburn on Thursday, they'll face Tennessee on Friday with the loser being knocked off the bubble. Texas fans should root for the winner of that game to lose to whoever comes out of the Vanderbilt/Mississippi State side of the bracket in Saturday's semifinals.

Pac-12: Oregon, Arizona

The Pac-12 is unlikely to get more than two bids, and right now, Washington and California are ahead of Oregon and Arizona, both of whom are right behind Texas on the bubble. But because the Pac-12 is unbelievably weak this season, if either the Ducks or the Wildcats get into the field of 68, it will likely be at the expense of their fellow conference members.

Big East: USF

As usual, the media along on the Northeast corridor have been steadily pumping up the Big East, a conference high on big-name recognition and low on NBA talent. Right now, the conference has 9 teams safely in and only one -- South Florida -- on the bubble.

The Bulls will have to defeat No. 15 seed Providence on Tuesday as well as No. 7 seed Louisville on Wednesday to secure a spot in the field. Unfortunately for Texas, they just pulled out a road win against Rick Pitino's team 59-51 last week.

Big Picture:

Tennessee, Miami, NC State and USF are likely to significantly boost their resume this week, which means Texas will have to defeat both Iowa State and Missouri to get into the Tournament, and that's before any upsets in the mid-majors that unexpectedly remove a possible slot.

Just this weekend, Creighton and Murray State escaped their conference tournaments while winning in the final moments, saving two at-large spots in the process.

Either way, the three greatest weeks of the sporting calendar are about to begin. Enjoy.

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