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January 13, 2009

SCS.comIt is only January and teams are still trying to find themselves, so needless to say all the games up to this point may not be quite as meaningful as the ones from this moment forward. However, for fans, especially fans of teams who find themselves on the bubble annually need each and every win. Even the November wins in Hawaii and Puerto Rico can be the ones that push our teams over the edge in March. Here are four teams that could be extremely dangerous heading into conference play and what they need to continue to do in order to receive that postseason bid.

Utah State

The Aggies have managed to find their way to 23 or more victories in each of the past nine seasons and are well on their way to a tenth. Coach Stew Morrill has truly built one of college basketball’s hidden gems. On the season, Utah State has only one loss, to a solid Brigham Young team and has to be considered the favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference. Utah State has more than enough size to play with the big boys thanks to 6’9 Gary Wilkinson and 6’7 Tai Wesley. Combine these two with swing man Tyler Newbold, who can take smaller players in the post and beat bigger defenders off of the dribble, and the Aggies can create some tough match-ups. The addition of Jared Quayle out of the Junior College ranks has also been instrumental this season.

Looking ahead, Utah State does not have any noticeable games coming up, unless they get placed in against a Davidson or Saint Mary’s in the bracket buster weekend. Their most prevalent remaining games will be the pair against Boise State. Should they go through the WAC with only a loss or two, it will be tough to ignore them on selection day should they stumble in the conference tournament. The forecast for the Aggies looks to have them around 27 wins and the favorite to come out of the WAC, one way or another, they will be dancing.


They are 15-1 and in the top 20, yet somehow seem to be sneaking under the radar. Tubby Smith’s squad has played a formidable schedule and has improved tremendously since the legendary coach has arrived. The Golden Gophers play phenomenal defense and have an extremely balanced attack. Eleven different players average four points per game or more, while 9 of them manage to contribute two or more boards each contest. Lawrence Westbrook is obviously the focal point for Tubby’s team, but heralded freshmen such as Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson will only get better as the season advances and also provide the Gophers with great size in the paint.

Minnesota needless to say still has plenty of tough games remaining on their schedule, thanks to playing in the nation’s top conference according to the RPI. The schedule is littered with challenging contests from Michigan State, Wisconsin, and other Big Ten bullies. If Minnesota even plays .500 basketball from this point forward, they more than likely will receive a bid. The forecast for Tubby’s squad is a tournament berth and with the proper maturation from its freshmen, certainly has sweet sixteen potential.

Florida State

When March rolls around, having a senior leader who has the ball in his hand more than any other player has always been important. Perhaps there is no better senior floor general in the country than Toney Douglas, who is entering what seems like his seventh year of college basketball. Douglas is gritty and has been asked to burden a bit more of the offensive load. Much like Minnesota, the Seminoles also will look forward to freshman development with Chris Singleton. Singleton has been very good early, but needs to continue his development. Florida State is not completely perimeter oriented though, they do use five players that are 6’8 or taller in their regular rotation.

Much like Minnesota, the Seminoles will have plenty of chances to bolster their tournament hopes. Two of their three losses are to the current top two teams in the country. Florida State does not have the current 3-1 conference head start as they lost their opener to Duke. The forecast seems to be very familiar for Seminole fans, firmly on the bubble and one of the last three teams in the tournament or one of the last three teams out. Florida State can do their fans a huge favor and win three out of their next four before the preseason favorite Tar Heels come to Tallahassee.

Illinois State

Perhaps no team in the country has a more underrated backcourt that Illinois State. The trio of Champ Oguchi, Osiris Eldridge, and Lloyd Phillips has the ability to carry the Redbirds into March Madness and perhaps even knock a team or two out of tournament play. As always the Missouri Valley will be tough as parody once again looks to be the story in the country’s heartland. Despite two early season conference setbacks, Illinois State has knocked off Creighton which could be a win that looks fairly impressive come Selection Sunday. With the trio of guards who take the court each game, Illinois State has the ability to control the tempo of any game and handle pressure when the time arises.

As is the case with the Missouri Valley’s upper echelon the past several seasons, the bubble will once again be littered by its conference members. Illinois State appears to be one of the top five teams and could do itself a giant favor by winning eight or nine more conference games and its bracket buster contest. The forecast for the Redbirds is extremely cloudy, but what else would you expect from the Missouri Valley. Expect Illinois State to be on the bubble, more than likely the wrong side. But if they do play their way in, there will be a team very unhappy to see them.

San Diego State

The Aztecs have only fallen three times this season, and all three were to good basketball teams. More than likely, San Diego State can only afford a very limited number of losses thanks to a lack of noteworthy out of conference wins. On the bright side, along with Brigham Young, they seem to be the favorite to capture the Mountain West Conference. Senior swingmen Lorreno Wade and Kyle Spain have been through the trenches and are extremely athletic. The Aztecs certainly are not blessed with size, but if they can get out and run, thus forcing the ball in Wade and Spain’s hands, they will be able to stay in every game. Defenses will also have to keep an eye on D.J. Gay, a sniper who can get extremely hot.

As previously mentioned, the games with BYU will more than likely be the two most important games San Diego State will play in the regular season, although the UNLV contests are nearly as vital. If San Diego State can win eleven or twelve of their remaining regular season games they give themselves a realistic chance at an at-large bid. The forecast calls for 26-27 wins as long as none of the losses are terrible ones. San Diego State would more than likely find itself on the wrong side of the bubble, however they seem custom built to get hot towards the end of the year an make some noise.

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