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Something to play for

Every men’s college basketball team’s regular season schedule will end after next weekend’s set of games however, most will continue on to a conference tournament and a chance to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.

That’s not the case for everyone, some due to conference defections (Old Dominion), some due to NCAA violations (University of Central Florida) and some are due to APR infractions. There’s a total of 10 schools that were sent to the sidelines by the NCAA for their Academic Progress Rate dipping under the mandatory two year mark of 930 or four year mark of 900.

The inability to play in the NCAA Tournament is the hammer that the NCAA holds. It is intended to hurt teams not just by the postseason ban but in many cases it causes a program overhaul. This can be a literal spring cleaning and a good thing for these teams since they are, after all, in schools.

Three programs defied the odds and made this season into a success.

UCONN- The most celebrated of the “sideliners”, the APR hit directly influenced the transfers of Roscoe Smith and Alex Oriakhi, hurt recruiting and may have played a role in the retirement of hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun on Sept. 12. That’s why Kevin Ollie should be commended for the job he has done with just one returning starter from last year’s team. He is on the verge of topping last season’s win total for the Huskies, a team that sent two players to the NBA lottery and two other key contributors to other high major programs. Justice was finally served in the form of a long-term contract for Ollie.

TOWSON- Head coach Pat Skerry inherited the APR woes of the past regime and has taken a team that had ONE victory last season to a winning record with 16 victories and counting. Perhaps the biggest turnaround in modern Division 1 history has been led by arguably the Colonial Conference Player of the Year in Jerrelle Benimon and likely top freshmen candidate Jerome Hairston.

JACKSONVILLE STATE- Head coach James Green and his team compete in perhaps the toughest Ohio Valley Conference in decades and he’s taken the Gamecocks to the most wins in his five years there. Look for Green’s young men to add to their 17 wins as the season winds down.

Bubble Tracker

Bubbling Up- One team that is on the rise that is proving to be Big Dance-worthy


North Carolina (19-8)- This hasn’t been the typical year in Chapel Hill. Three straight victories including games against tournament-worthy opponents Virginia and N.C. State have vaulted the Tar Heels into the field. UNC must win two of next three to avoid sliding back to the bubble especially with the RPI ramifications that losing to Clemson, Florida State or Maryland would hold.

Bubblicious- One team that was a lock for the Tourney but now has slipped

Alabama (19-9)- The Tide was on a roll putting itself in great position for an at-large bid then they hit Baton Rouge and lost in three overtimes. Alabama avenged an earlier loss to rival Auburn with a 61-43 win Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. Trouble lays after with Florida and a potential winner-take all situation with Ole Miss. Only quality non-conference win is against Villanova who sits on the very same bubble. How many bids can the seventh-rated SEC conference garner?

Pop City- A team that is at its most critical juncture

Cincinnati (19-8)- Ranked for much of the season, the Bearcats have slipped losing five of its last six outings. Outside the conference it has beaten Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State and Xavier - all good teams but no one in the top 10. Their significant Big East victories are over Pitt, Marquette and Villanova who also are good teams but still not a top-ranked team. Upcoming dates with UConn and South Florida are must wins. Finding victory in Louisville would seal the deal as well but it is easier said than done. It’s critical for head coach Mick Cronin’s club to at minimum get to .500 in the Big East before heading into the conference tournament. Anything less and an early exit from the conference tournament and Cincinnati can very well be left out of the Madness.

Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports.com’s coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein

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