In a game Providence could have used to bolster its NCAA tournament aspirations, it faced a two-point deficit to Villanova in overtime on Tuesday night. Bryce Cotton received the ball near the baseline and went work, setting up a defender, lifting his head in a paralyzing hesitation dribble, then bolting toward the rim.
It was vanquished, ultimately, in a double-overtime defeat to the Wildcats that underscored a greater urgency: We may not see plays like that from Cotton come NCAA tournament time. He's in a group of top-flight talents that are at risk of missing the Dance.
Nothing, of course, can be certain until the conference tournaments are finished and the salvation of an automatic bid is no longer available. But, at this moment, it may take anything from a significant push to a major miracle to get these talents into the field of 68.
Cotton, Providence. The 6-foot-1 senior has averaged 38.6, 37.8 and now 39.9 minutes in his last three seasons. He ranks in the top 10 nationally with 21.3 points per game but adds 5.9 assists as well. At .500 in the Big East, the Friars need a few quality wins to reinforce their case.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State. The idea of an NCAA tournament without the Sooners and their preseason All-American guard would have been laughable at the beginning of the season. But a seven-game losing streak and a 4-9 record in the Big 12 have the Cowboys teetering on the brink of needing a Big 12 tournament championship to get in. Smart (17.5 points per game) will need to conjure some results when he returns this weekend from his three-game suspension for pushing a Texas Tech fan.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State. The 6-4 guard has toiled in virtual anonymity for four years, averaging 17.8 points last year and 21.5 this season for the Beavers. He’s at 1,594 career points and counting, and he’s improved his shooting percentages to 44 percent overall in the last two seasons. And he likely won’t have an NCAA tournament invite to show for any of it.
T.J. Warren, N.C. State. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is already a 1,000-point career scorer. This season, he's averaging 23 points and 7.2 rebounds a game on 52 percent shooting from the floor. But the Wolpack (16-10, 6-7 ACC) need to do some work in order to showcase one of the most explosive offensive talents in the nation come March.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana. The 6-foot sophomore has had to act above his age for a young Hoosiers team scuffling through the Big Ten (4-8 in league play). He’s averaging 17.9 points and 3.9 assists per game while serving as the team’s only reliable threat from long range at 42.1 percent. Short of a run to the Big Ten tournament title, Ferrell may have to wait until next year for a repeat NCAA appearance.
Antoine Mason, Niagara/Billy Baron, Canisius. A caveat: Any player on any team in any one-bid league is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament from the outset of the season. But Mason and Baron are the nation’s No. 2 and No. 3 scorers, averaging 25.6 and 24.6 points per game respectively. Niagara has struggled, but Canisiust still has a shot of winning the MAAC. But one, if not both, will miss the tourney.
Tyler Haws, BYU. The 6-5 junior averaged 21.7 points per game last year and pours in 24.1 points per night this year, the nation’s leader in field goal makes (204) and attempts (427). He is remarkably efficient for such a high-volume shooter: A career 48.4 percent efficiency from the floor overall and 39.5 percent from long range, including 44.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. The Cougars are in decent shape but remain a bubble team, so a player that could shoot his team to NCAA tournament upsets might not even get a chance. Jabari Brown, Missouri. The 6-5 junior averages 20.5 points per game and is best known for combustibility beyond the three-point arc. His 45.7 percent efficiency from long distance ranks 16th in the nation and, famously, Brown had a six-game stretch in SEC play in which he hit 23-of-42 attempts from three-point range. But the Tigers are just 6-6 in what looks like a two-bid SEC.