A closer look at 6 teams on the NCAA bubble

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A closer look at 6 teams on the NCAA bubble

From Comcast SportsNet
The college basketball season is winding down and it's time for the NCAA tournament selection committee to zoom in on all those RPIs, SOSs and W-Ls. The final decisions, at least for some of the final spots, will likely come from something beyond the numbers: The eyeball test. In other words, do they look like NCAA tournament teams? So, with the regular season starting to wrap up and the conference tournaments starting next week, the teams on the bubble need to make a good impression. A big win at this point in the season could boost them into the 68-team bracket, a bad loss to the NIT or home. There's still a couple dozen teams in position to make a move and we're taking a closer look at six of those. ------ Iowa State: In a conference that includes No. 3 Kansas, No. 7 Missouri and No. 9 Baylor, the Cyclones have quietly made a case for NCAA tournament consideration. With its win over Kansas State on Saturday, Iowa State has beaten the Wildcats twice and beat then-No. 10 Kansas last month. The Cyclones have won 21 games and are 11-5 in the Big 12, tied with Baylor for third in the conference. Iowa State has an RPI of 31 and has three wins over teams in the top 50 of the RPI rankings. The Cyclones probably still have a little work to do and don't have an easy schedule, with a road game against Missouri on Wednesday and Baylor at home on Saturday. Get one of those and have a decent run at next week's Big 12 tournament, Iowa State should have a decent shot. ------ Arizona: Sean Miller-coached teams always seem to get better at the end of the season and this one has been no different. The Wildcats were inconsistent early in the season as they integrated four freshmen -- three after Sidiki Johnson left the team in December -- and the returning players adapted to new roles with Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams gone to the NBA. After sweeping the Southern California schools last week, Arizona has won seven of its past eight games, with its lone loss coming on the road to Pac-12 leader Washington. The Wildcats have won 21 games and are 12-5 in conference, with three of those losses by a combined five points. Arizona could be hurt by a down year in the Pac-12, but with a win over struggling rival Arizona State on Saturday and a decent showing in the conference tournament after that, the Wildcats will likely be headed back to the NCAAs. ------ Alabama: The Crimson Tide should have gone into a downward spiral the past few weeks after coach Anthony Grant suspended four players, including Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, the team's leading scorers and rebounders. Instead, Alabama has won three straight and six of eight, including a big victory over fellow bubbler Mississippi State on Saturday. Mitchell has been suspended for the rest of the season, but Green returned against Mississippi State. The Tide has 19 wins, is fourth in the SEC at 8-6 and has a strong RPI of 25. Alabama has a relatively easy finishing stretch, with games against Auburn and Ole Miss left, so a halfway-decent run in the conference tournament should be enough to punch its ticket. ------ Harvard: The Crimson looked like a lock for the NCAA tournament after going 14-2 in nonconference. After Saturday's 1-point loss to Pennsylvania, their lead in the Ivy League is down to a half game over the Quakers. Harvard missed out on its first NCAA berth since the Truman presidency by losing a one-game playoff to Princeton last season and could face another winner-goes-dancing game if it finishes the regular season tied with Penn. The Crimson do have a decent resume, with wins over Florida State -- on their way to the Battle 4 Atlantis title -- and Saint Joseph's, but a loss to Fordham doesn't look good. Harvard has a good shot at an at-large bid with wins over Columbia and Cornell in the final two games, but another one-game playoff loss could lead to a lot of Rolaids being passed around on selection Sunday. ------ Colorado State: The Rams picked up what appeared to be a huge win over New Mexico last week, but followed it with a loss to No. 21 San Diego State, a game that really could have solidified their resume. It also didn't help Colorado State much that New Mexico got blown out by TCU in its second game last week. The Rams are just 6-6 in the Mountain West and lost to Stanford and Boise State, teams with RPI ratings over 100. The good news for Colorado State is that it's 27th in the RPI and has 17 wins in a schedule ranked fourth-toughest in the nation. The Rams face what could be a huge look-at-us game against No. 17 UNLV on Wednesday before closing out the season against Air Force on Saturday. Without another marquee win or a strong conference tournament, it could get tight for Colorado State. ------ Virginia Commonwealth: The Rams made an unexpected run to the Final Four last season, have 25 wins and finished a game behind Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association. Even so, VCU could be left on the outside looking in. The Rams have a win over fellow bubble team South Florida and beat likely MAC winner Akron, but there aren't many other eye-popping wins on the schedule. Their RPI also is a so-so 60th and strength of schedule is 213th. VCU does enter the conference tournament on a good note; the Rams won their final three games, including a payback win over George Mason in the season finale. Win a few games in the CAA tournament, the Rams could solidify their chances. If not, maybe they'll get lucky and the selection committee will decide last year's run and another chance to see coach Shaka Smart work his magic in the postseason will be enough to give them a nod.

Acciari, Heinen called back up to Bruins

Acciari, Heinen called back up to Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins made a few roster moves after a slogging 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche earlier this week, with an eye toward getting some competition going among the forward group, and perhaps spark a team struggling offensively.

Danton Heinen and Noel Acciari were brought up from Providence to skate with the big club on Saturday morning at Warrior Ice Arena and gritty Anton Blidh was returned to the P-Bruins after a solid stint as a fourth-line energy guy for the Black and Gold. 

Jimmy Hayes and Colin Miller were the late skaters off the ice following morning skate, so those will be the healthy scratches for the Bruins with both Acciari and Heinen in the lineup for the Black and Gold tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.

Heinen has been tearing it up for the P-Bruins lately with four goals and seven points in his past five games with a plus-2 rating, including a couple of two-goal games for a Providence team that’s starting to heat up. 

Otherwise, things looked fairly similar for the Black and Gold, who didn’t make any changes to the struggling top power-play unit that was a disaster on Thursday night in the first period. It was Patrice Bergeron in the bumper role, Ryan Spooner on the half-wall, David Backes at the front of the net and David Krejci and Torey Krug manning the point positions. 

Here are the Bruins projected line combos and D-pairings based on the morning skate: 

 
Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

Heinen-Krejci-Backes

Spooner-Nash-Czarnik

Schaller-Moore-Acciari/Hayes

 
Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-K. Miller

C. Miller

Rask

 

Bruins power play looking for some upgrade answers

Bruins power play looking for some upgrade answers

BOSTON - It would appear things can’t continue the way they are for the Bruins' power play. 

After a disastrous first period helped dig them a hole in a 4-2 loss to the lowly Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, there was some pretty serious soul-searching going with a man-advantage that has been both toothless and mistake-prone on far too many nights. 

In the Colorado loss a couple of early power-play possessions, one that was completely ineffectual with zero meaningful possession or shots on net and then a second that turned into a Nathan MacKinnon shorthanded goal, dropped the B’s into a hole they couldn’t climb out of. The shorthanded sequence was particularly damning with a desperate Torey Krug diving to keep a puck in the offensive zone, and then watching helpless as MacKinnon beat him to the loose puck and then took off down the ice behind the last line of B’s defense. 

Krug placed the blame on himself for the high-risk play at the offensive blue line, but it’s hard to wholly blame somebody that was using hustle to try and make something happen offensively. 

“I thought they were tired, and if I could keep it in then we keep them hemmed in and get them running around. At the end of the day, it’s a 50-50 play, but maybe early in my career, I learn that now and probably won’t do it anymore. Sometimes you’ve got to go through those things to learn,” said Krug. “It’s just one of those plays I thought instinctively I could get there and keep him hemmed in, and you could even tell when he went in on the breakaway that he was tired.

So, if I keep that in and we keep them hemmed in, hopefully we get a couple chances. But we’ve got to be better, some of our better players on our team, and we’ve got to take the onus on ourselves to start capitalizing on opportunities and changing the game for our team.”

Nobody is going to reasonably suggest that a dangerous power-play guy like Krug be removed from the special-teams unit, but clearly something needs to change. The Bruins are tied for 25th in the NHL on the power play with a 14.1 percent success rate, and they can’t blame lack of opportunities because they’re middle of the road when it comes to power-play chances this season. 

Only the Flyers, Stars and Blackhawks have allowed more shorthanded goals than the Bruins (four) in 28 games played as well, so the Black and Gold essentially aren’t playing good defense or offense on the power play this year. Krug saie that it’s a mindset thing and that the Bruins need to get back to the confident, energetic way they attacked penalty kills last season. 

“We want to make plays, we want to help our team. It’s not like we’re out there not trying to make plays or anything, but we just have to be better,” said Krug. “We’ve got to have better focus, crisper passes, making quick plays to the net and making things happen. I feel like right now we might just be standing there, [just kind of] static, just hoping that things are going to happen and we’re not making them happen. 

“So, we’ve got to change our mindset, and like I said, those guys on that unit are the guys that will go to work and make sure we’re better next time for our team.”

But it goes beyond simple approach. The Bruins lost their second-leading PP goal-scorer last season when Loui Eriksson signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Other top unit PP performers like David Krejci,  Krug and Ryan Spooner haven’t been as good this season. Still, perhaps the biggest reason is the all-around offensive disappearance of Patrice Bergeron, who had 12 goals and 13 assists on the PP last season for a team-best 25 power-play points. This season, Bergeron has one goal and two points on the PP in 25 games and has been neutralized by opposing penalty kills from his “bumper” position roving up and down the slot. 

The Bruins are determined to ride things out with Bergeron both five-on-five and on the PP, and rightfully so, given his quality, productive body of work with the Bruins. He’s Boston’s best player and you don’t ever go away from those guys. 

But Bergeron has been ordinary for the Bruins on the PP after being extraordinary last season, and not much is going to change with the B’s man advantage unless No. 37 begins to find the range, confidence and short-term quick burst that’s needed for the B’s power play to flow through him like a well-oiled scoring machine. A greater impact by David Backes on the net-front power play could help and an uptick in PP production from Krug, Krejci and Spooner would obviously be welcome for the Black and Gold. 

But the Bruins power play is designed to play off Bergeron’s many qualities and strengths when he’s at his best, and a big part of the B’s troubles and Bergeron’s troubles are linked together because No. 37 has been less than his best in a season that’s been challenging for him from the very beginning.