This is prime “bubble” week for the NCAA Tournament. The major conferences have two weeks to go and teams have a chance to get top level wins. Most of the mid-majors are in their final week, and several have games they must win to be considered for an at-large spot.
Tonight is absolutely loaded for matchups that will shape the tournament field. Then it slows down a bit for the rest of the week, until Saturday hits. Then, a myriad of key matchups will decide who gets to play into mid-March. Here are the key games for Bubble Watch, in chronological order for teams. (Teams I consider to either be on the Bubble or able to get there with wins or losses this week are in ALL CAPS).
KANSAS STATE at Missouri, tonight, and vs Iowa State, Saturday: Kansas State should probably be in with wins over Missouri and at Baylor, but their RPI is at #48, right on the edge. This is a huge week for Kansas State, and they probably need one win this week. Lose both, and they fall to 7-9 in conference and give the committee a reason to keep them out.
SETON HALL versus Georgetown, tonight: The Pirates would be in right now, but a home win over Georgetown would be the best win of the year and pretty much solidify their place.
NORTHWESTERN versus Michigan, tonight and at Penn State, Saturday: This is a big week if Northwestern wants to make their first NCAA Tournament. Upset Michigan at home and beat Penn State on the road, following a key win over Minnesota, and I think the Wildcats are dancing.
NC STATE versus North Carolina, tonight: NC State squandered two opportunities against Duke with a big lead at the half, and at home against Florida State. This is the last real chance to get on the other side of the bubble, at home against the rival Tar Heels. Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta will no doubt be cheering their team on.
XAVIER at UMASS, tonight: Xavier is in, UMass is out right now, but the result of this game will determine whether both are closer to the bubble, or whether Xavier gets closer to reserving a spot.
COLORADO STATE versus New Mexico, tonight, and at San Diego State, Saturday: The Rams have a decent RPI ranking, though other systems think less highly of them. They sit at .500 in conference after a win over Wyoming, but now face the gauntlet of New Mexico and San Diego State this week, immediately followed by UNLV. They need signature wins and this is the week that will decide their fate.
SOUTH FLORIDA at Syracuse, Wednesday, CINCINNATI vs Louisville, Thursday and CINCINNATI at SOUTH FLORIDA, Saturday: South Florida has a gaudy 10-4 record in the Big East, but a closer look shows their only win over a possible tournament team to be Seton Hall. The schedule is backloaded, and they get a chance to win their way in. Cincinnati, meanwhile, sits at 9-5 and has 4 toss up games remaining, starting with a home game against rival Lousville. The South Florida/Cincinnati game could have a big impact on who gets in.
BYU at Gonzaga, Thursday: This game is not going to hurt BYU’s chances, but I think a win guarantees they are the third West Coast Conference team in the tournament.
ALABAMA vs. MISSISSIPPI STATE, Saturday: Could be a de facto elimination game. Mississippi State has lost three in row, and the losses at home to Georgia and at Auburn would have to qualify as bad losses. They get the gargantuan task of trying to beat Kentucky at home tonight, and could be 6-7 in the SEC with a loss heading to the Alabama game. The Crimson Tide have battled suspensions and will desperately need the win as well.
PURDUE at Michigan, Saturday: Purdue should be in, but a win at Michigan would absolutely guarantee it.
MIAMI-FL versus Florida State, Saturday: Miami is right ahead of the bubble right now, and a win over Florida State combined with the win over Duke should be enough to likely get them in.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH versus GEORGE MASON, Saturday. The winner of this game will likely be at 25 wins and at least into the discussion for an at-large with a soft bubble entering championship week.
DREXEL at Old Dominion, Saturday: Drexel has won 15 straight games and just destroyed Cleveland State on the road. They are in the bubble discussion if they beat Old Dominion on the road. The Colonial Athletic looked like a one-bid league, but if two of Drexel, VCU and George Mason reach the final, it’s very possible the loser gets in.
CONNECTICUT at Syracuse, Saturday: Connecticut would appear to be in right now despite their struggles. They could really use a monumental win over Syracuse, though. A loss there, and Connecticut will have lost 8 of last 11 games, and will be likely to finish with a losing conference record.
[photo via US Presswire]