The pressure is now officially on in Bubble Nation, as we are less than 82 hours from finding out which teams will make the NCAA field and which can start making plans for the NIT. With bubblers across the country taking the court in their conference tournaments, today could be the most important day of the season for many teams. For Texas, a must-win battle with Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals later tonight. A win there might be enough for the Longhorns to make the field, but losses by other bubble contenders can certainly help their case.
Last night, Seton Hall took one of those losses, falling to Louisville in the second round of the Big East tourney. As a result, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi slid the Pirates out of the bracket and moved the Horns into the final at-large slot in his late-night update. Seton Hall now must wait until Selection Sunday to find out their fate, but with a 4-8 record against the RPI Top 50 and an additional three wins against those slotted 51st through 100th, the Pirates seem to have a solid résumé, especially compared to other bubblers.
Even though the Pirates are done with Championship Week, there will still be many Longhorn fans with their eyes glued to the scoreboard. Here’s a quick rundown of the games most important to Texas fans:
Illinois vs. Iowa (10:30 A.M. CT, BTN)
The Illini finished the season with 11 losses in their last 13 games and are essentially in a bubble coma at this point. Iowa’s profile is certainly not worth of an at-large look, either. But, both of these teams have pulled off some victories against the top teams in the Big 10, and either one could make a run in Indianapolis this weekend. While neither Illinois or Iowa should be in the at-large picture at this point, they both have the pieces to possibly put together a troubling bid-thief campaign.
N.C. State vs. Boston College (1 P.M. CT, ESPNU)
The Wolfpack is still on the wrong side of the bubble at this point, with an ugly 0-8 record against the RPI Top 50 counting heavily against them. A win against Boston College does nothing to help their résumé, but does move the Pack into a quarterfinal match-up with Virginia. N.C. State might need three wins in Atlanta to be able to make the field, so Mark Gottfried and Co. need to take care of business against the ACC’s worst team this afternoon.
Washington vs. Oregon State (2 P.M. CT, FSN)
At this point, the Pac-12′s bubble picture is best described as a hot mess. As has been pointed out numerous times, most often by SI’s Andy Glockner, the league has a profile that is much more befitting a mid-major conference. The Pac-12 had just two victories in non-conference games against the RPI Top 50, with the best win coming against a Colorado State team that is on the bubble itself. (The other was Oregon State over Texas, and the Longhorns are right on the Top 50 cutline at the moment.) Ken Pomeroy ranks the Pac-12 as the ninth-best conference, behind the likes of the MWC, A-10, and MVC. With those kind of numbers, is the league really worth three bids, or even two? The Huskies have one extra chip in their stack thanks to the regular-season title, but at this point, all that guarantees them is a bid to the NIT. A loss to Oregon State this afternoon would be absolutely crippling for UW.
Arizona vs. UCLA (4:30 P.M. CT, FSN)
Like Washington, Arizona has a résumé that is incredibly thin. Unfortunately, the Pac-12 provides little in the way of quality win opportunities, instead posing as a minefield that can blow up at-large chances for the league’s top teams. That is especially true for the Wildcats, who will be without the services of point guard Josiah Turner after he was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday. UCLA could easily knock off Arizona in this one, which would essentially put the kibosh on any NCAA hopes in Tucson.
Northwestern vs. Minnesota (4:30 P.M. CT, ESPN2)
If Texas fans thought that they Longhorns had a heartbreaking season, they would hate to be fans of the Wildcats. Northwestern, which has famously never made the NCAA tournament, posted a brutal 1-10 record against the RPI Top 50 during the regular season. Two of those losses came in overtime to Michigan, while another three of their Top 50 losses were by a combined nine points. Like many of the teams in action today, Northwestern won’t be punching a ticket with a win over Minnesota, but simply cannot afford a loss. If the Wildcats can get past the Golden Gophers, a third crack at Michigan would come in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.
Mississippi State vs. Georgia (9 P.M. CT, ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)
Mississippi State went on a late season slide, losing five straight in late February before closing out the year with a pair of wins to finish at .500 in SEC play. The Bulldogs have an 8-4 record against the RPI Top 100, but more than half of those wins have come against teams that fall in the 51-100 range. A loss to Georgia might not knock Mississippi State out of the NCAAs, but it would certainly make for a very nervous Selection Sunday in Starkville.
Colorado State vs. TCU (4:30 P.M. CT, The Mtn)
Fort Collins proved to be the toughest place to play in the Mountain West this year, as the Rams defended their home court against the league’s big three: UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego State. Unfortunately, the MWC tournament doesn’t take place down the road from the New Belgium Brewing Co., so the Rams could be vulnerable to an ugly upset against TCU in Las Vegas. It would appear that Colorado State is safely in the field at this point, but a loss to the Horned Frogs could shove the Rams right back into the bubble discussion.
Oregon vs. Colorado (10:30 P.M. CT, FSN)
Like Arizona and Washington, Oregon is desperately seeking a second or third NCAA bid for the Pac-12. Unlike the Wildcats and Huskies, however, the Ducks are currently on the wrong side of the bubble in most tournament projections. Oregon has to take care of business against the Buffaloes, who they split the season series with. A loss would almost certainly guarantee a trip to the NIT.
Miami vs. Georgia Tech (8 P.M. CT, ESPNU)
You may be noticing a pattern at this point, so perhaps you’ll be able to guess the next sentence before you read it. Miami can’t seal a bid with a win over Georgia Tech tonight, but they can certainly cripple their NCAA hopes with a loss. The Yellow Jackets are currently 188th in the RPI and would provide absolutely no boost to the Hurricane résumé, but would tarnish it with an ACC tourney upset. Miami is currently 2-7 against the RPI Top 50, with wins coming at Duke and at home against Florida State. A victory over Georgia Tech would give the ‘Canes a chance for a second win over the Seminoles in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.
South Florida vs. Notre Dame (8 P.M. CT, ESPN)
The Bulls got past Villanova in a must-win game last night, and now can solidify their NCAA profile with a win over Notre Dame tonight. South Florida is only 1-9 against the RPI Top 50, but is 6-9 against the Top 100. In a weak bubble year, perhaps getting fat on wins against the lower half of the Top 100 will be enough for the Bulls to get into the NCAAs. If they don’t want to test that theory, they will have to knock off Notre Dame tonight.
Central Florida vs. UAB (9:00 P.M. CT, CBS College Sports)
The Golden Knights are on the periphery of the bubble discussion, but could push their way back into consideration with a good run in the C-USA tournament. With only three RPI Top 100 wins under their belt, UCF needs to take care of the Blazers tonight and hope for a big win over Memphis in the semis.
Wyoming vs. UNLV (10:30 P.M. CT, The Mtn)
While it’s not likely that the Mountain West earns five bids to the NCAAs this year, the Cowboys could still make a case with some quality wins in the MWC tourney. The 18-10 record against D-I opponents isn’t stellar, but it does include two wins against the RPI Top 25, with UNLV providing an opportunity for a third tonight. Unfortunately, the MWC tournament is played on UNLV’s home court, where the Cowboys just lost to the Rebels on Saturday.