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Ranking the bubble teams

2/13/2013
Spencer Dinwiddie leads Colorado in both scoring (14.8 points per game) and assists (2.8) this season. Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Take it from a guy who was on the bubble for 48 straight months and saw it pop four years in a row: Being on the bubble isn't any fun.

For those teams that don't have the résumés to earn "lock" status, and don't win their conference tournaments, it usually comes down to the number of spots that are available and how each member of the tournament selection committee interprets the criteria. For coaches and players, that can be a frustrating thing. But the most important advice I can give all my bubble brothers is this: Just worry about controlling what you can control, and try to win as many games as you can.

Once a team gets into the tournament, however, it's a whole different game. Of the teams currently hovering around the bubble cutline in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket, which ones have the best chance of advancing in the tourney?

I've ranked my top eight, purely based on which ones I think are the best teams and have the most potential to fare well in the tournament (and not based on which teams I necessarily think are more deserving of bids). I've also included information for each on where Lunardi currently has them ranked.

1. Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado has the ability to get to the second weekend of the tournament. The backcourt duo of Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie is as good as any you'll find on a bubble team. Booker can create a shot off the bounce and get to the rim, while Dinwiddie shoots it with range, has a good floor game and plays with excellent pace.

Up front, the Buffs have an elite rebounder in Andre Roberson. He is relentless on both the offensive and defensive glass. He is complemented by skilled freshman post Josh Scott, who has good hands and can score both on the block and facing to 17 feet. Colorado is solid defensively and does a good job of contesting shots. This is a team that won't beat itself.

Current Lunardi bubble status: Comfortably in the tournament (No. 39 on S-curve)


2. Illinois Fighting Illini

In the NCAA tournament, the game starts with the guards. Illinois' guards can attack you off the bounce and knock down the 3. Very few teams in the NCAA tournament have three perimeter players as good as Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams. They combine to score more than 40 points per game. Tyler Griffey puts pressure on the defense as a pick-and-pop 4, and Nnanna Egwu has improved as the season has progressed.

Defensively, Illinois has the ability to pressure the ball and take teams out of their half-court sets. Here's one more reason the Illini could make a March run: They'll be tourney-tested after surviving the Big Ten gauntlet.

Current Lunardi bubble status: Comfortably in the tournament (No. 41 on S-curve)


3. Saint Mary's Gaels

Saint Mary's will be a tough out in the NCAA tournament. Matthew Dellavedova is as good off the ball screen as any guard not playing in the NBA. At 6-foot-4, he has the size to see over the defense, as well as the strength to put the defender on his hip and get to the rim. He is complemented by Stephen Holt, one of the most underrated guards in the country. Holt is a lockdown defender who shoots it with range and makes winning plays. Any team with Dellavedova and Holt will be hard to beat.

Post Brad Waldow does a nice job of playing off Dellavedova's penetration. He is an excellent screener and posts hard. Beau Levesque, although not as tough as Rob Jones, has added another dimension to the Gales. He makes enough shots to keep the defense honest and rebounds his position.

Defensively, Randy Bennett's teams are tough to score against. They are physical, keep the ball in front and contest shots.

Current Lunardi bubble status: Among last four at-large teams in (No. 45 on S-curve)