Arkansas guard Michael Qualls (24) leaps around Georgia guard J.J. Frazier (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas defeated 87-75. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
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Gareth Patterson

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls (24) leaps around Georgia guard J.J. Frazier (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas defeated 87-75. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

Teams set to make final NCAA Tournament push

By John Marshall

Associated Press

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Providence has put itself in position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade with a strong late-season run.

The Friars know there’s still some work to do if they’re going to make it.

“We know anything we get, we have to work for,” Providence senior guard Bryce Cotton said. “This is no different. We are right there, right at the cusp.

“We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to keep climbing to get there.”

Providence opened the season with 10 wins in its first 12 games, then started 5-2 in the Big East. Four losses in five games threatened to derail the Friars’ NCAA chances, but they have bounced back with three wins in four games.

Providence has a so-so RPI of 56 but does have wins against Xavier, Creighton and St. John’s in Big East play.

The Friars also helped their cause with a must-win victory against Seton Hall on Friday to avenge an earlier loss.

Providence isn’t the only team hanging by the bubble this late in the season.

The 68-team bracket has 36 at-large bids, but there are likely only a dozen or so that are not all but spoken for at this point. In other words, there still are quite a few teams sweating it out.

Here’s some that have helped their cause recently and a few that stumbled:

MOVING UP

Arkansas. The Razorbacks have played their way back into the bubble during the past three weeks. Arkansas has won five straight and six of seven, including a will-look-good-to-the-committee overtime victory against then-No. 17 Kentucky in Lexington to complete a season sweep over the Wildcats. The Razorbacks (20-9, 9-7 SEC) have four victories against teams in the RPI’s top 50.

Florida State. The Seminoles’ road win against Pittsburgh was huge for their NCAA hopes. Florida State was shaky before that, losing six of eight games after an 8-2 stretch. The Seminoles have an early season win against VCU on their resume, but nothing else that really pops out and an average RPI of 57, so they’ll need to close strong. A loss to Boston College on Tuesday night could put a big dent in their chances. Missouri closes out the regular season against Texas A&M and Tennessee.

Oregon. The Ducks appeared to be doomed after a five-game losing streak in January spoiled a 13-0 start and a top-10 ranking. Oregon (20-8) has bounced back with five straight wins, including a double-overtime road victory against UCLA on Thursday that will look pretty good on the resume. The Ducks face a big week to close out the regular season, playing No. 3 Arizona on Saturday at home.

Oklahoma State. The return of Marcus Smart has done the Cowboys a world of good. Oklahoma State (19-10, 7-9 Big 12) has won three straight since the star guard returned from his fan-shoving suspension, including a had-to-have-it victory against fifth-ranked Kansas on Saturday. A win against Iowa State in the season finale could all but seal it.

FALLING BACK

Missouri. The Tigers may need to finish the season strong after dropping two of their past three games and going 4-6 over their past 10. Missouri is 20-9, but is a so-so 8-8 in the SEC, which isn’t exactly the strongest conference in the nation this season.

Stanford. The Cardinal as among the teams moving up last week, and now, they’re here. That’s how quickly things can change on the surface of this bubble. How did they get here? A sweep by the Arizona schools. Losing to No. 3 Arizona on the road isn’t too bad, but Stanford could have used a win over Arizona State, another team clawing for an at-large bid.

LSU. The Tigers’ bubble may have popped. They had a big opportunity to get a statement win against top-ranked Florida on Saturday but were never really in the game and lost for the fifth time in eight games. Winning those and a deep run in the SEC Tournament could be the Tigers’ only shot.

Richmond. The Spiders are losing sight of the bubble after three losses in four games, including a 23-point setback against Rhode Island on Saturday that’s not going to look too good. Richmond (18-11, 8-6 Atlantic-10) is 4-3 since leading scorer Cedrick Lindsay injured both of his knees. The Spiders have tough games against VCU and Dayton left on the regular-season schedule and will need to make some noise in the Atlantic-10 Tournament.

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