Road losses have the Wildcats and Cavaliers on the outside looking in before huge weekend
Now that the calendar has turned to March, fans of bubble teams may be refreshing web sites of their favorite bracketologists.
As college basketball’s regular season and conference tournament season nears a close, Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the key developments through the week. Each day brings key developments for the NCAA Tournament, so in this space, we’ll update which teams look to be in the field, which might be playing themselves out as well as the key games of the day.
MARCH 8 DAILY MARCH MADNESS TRACKER AND BUBBLE WATCH
Kentucky finished as an at-large
Lose at Arkansas? Not good, but plenty of solid teams have lost in Fayetteville this season. Lose to Florida over the weekend? Not good, either, but that would not be unexpected. That said, if Kentucky had one must-win game in its final stretch, it was Georgia. The Wildcats lost 72-62, dimming their hopes to reach the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. It's worth noting CBS' Jerry Palm has Kentucky has his last team in the field Friday while Joe Lunardi tabbed the Cats as one of the first eight teams out. At 15-15, Georgia still has work to do to even reach the NIT, but the Bulldogs may have cost Tennessee and Kentucky trips to the NCAA Tournament. “I’m so disappointed in the job I’ve done with this team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I’ve never had a team not cohesive this time of year.”
Call it a day for Virginia, too.
Remember when Virginia beat Duke to end February? Seems like ages ago, right? The Cavaliers have been victims of last second shots on the road the last two games, the latter a runner by Florida State’s Michael Snaer in the final seconds for a 53-51 loss. Losing to teams like Boston College and Florida State in March is no way to make the field as an at-large.
UMass misses opportunity
The Minutemen have been a bubble team, including one of Jerry Palm’s first four teams out Thursday morning. UMass could have solidified its case Thursday, but lost to Butler 73-62. The Minutemen will need a deep run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, if not a championship to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado makes statement
The Buffaloes solidified their spot in the field by beating Oregon 76-53, but perhaps what was most important about the win was the personnel. Colorado beat the Pac-12-leading Ducks and held them to 37.5 percent shooting despite the absence of Andre Roberson, who missed the game with a “viral illness.” Roberson averages 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds.
Does anyone want to win the Pac-12? With Oregon’s loss to Colorado, all three of the league’s frontrunners lost early in the week (UCLA to Washington State, Cal to Stanford). Only Oregon or UCLA can win an outright title Saturday as Cal has wrapped up its season.
The WAC may be a one-bid league
If Louisiana Tech loses in the WAC Tournament, it may be tough to sell the 25-4 Bulldogs as an at-large team. Tech lost 78-60 at New Mexico State on Thursday, ending its undefeated run through the conference. The loss was actually the Bulldogs best loss of the season -- New Mexico State is No. 60 in the RPI. Louisiana Tech also lost to a sub-250 team in McNeese State back in December. The Bulldogs have three top-100 wins, none of which against at-large candidate for the Tournament (Southern Miss, New Mexico State and Denver, all at home).
KEY SATURDAY GAMES
All Times Eastern
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIPS
Atlantic Sun: Noon, ESPN2
Ohio Valley: 6 p.m., ESPN2
Florida at Kentucky (noon, CBS)
Kentucky’s hopes of an at-large bid are all but over, but there's still reason to believe the Wildcats could win the SEC Tournament. The last time Kentucky faced such adversity this season, the Wildcats lost by 30 to Tennessee. Will Kentucky have any energy left to face Florida at home?
Syracuse at Georgetown (noon, ESPN2)
Georgetown will try to re-state its case for a Big East regular season title and a No. 1 seed after losing to Villanova on Wednesday. Syracuse is mired in a puzzling funk. The Orange were 18–1 after beating Cincinnati on Jan. 21. Now, Jim Boeheim’s club is 22–7 after Saturday’s home loss to Louisville. It’s tough to imagine this team winning at Georgetown.
Minnesota at Purdue (noon, Big Ten Network)
The Gophers may be an NCAA Tournament team, but they didn’t make Selection Sunday any easier for themselves by losing 53-51 to Nebraska on Wednesday. Minnesota will need to win this game just to finish .500 in the Big Ten. That won’t be easy against Purdue. The Boilermakers have been feisty in recent weeks defeating Wisconsin in Madison and giving Michigan problems at home.
La Salle at Saint Louis (1:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
The Atlantic 10 title is up for grabs in this game and the VCU-Temple on Sunday. Saint Louis (with a win and a VCU loss) and a the Rams (with a win over Temple and a Saint Louis loss) are the only teams that can claim outright titles. La Salle, one of the last teams in the field, is looking for a share of the A-10 title and a signature win to lock up a Tournament bid.
Ole Miss at LSU (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., SEC syndication)
The Rebels are teetering on the bubble, even after a win over Alabama earlier this week. Ole Miss can’t afford to lose to LSU if it hopes to use the SEC Tournament as a springboard to an at-large NCAA bid.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State (1:30 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Surprising Kansas State can secure no worse than a tie for the Big 12 title with a win in Stillwater. That, however, won’t be easy. Oklahoma State has lost only twice at Gallagher-Iba Arena, to Gonzaga in December and to Kansas, in overtime, late last month. The Cowboys are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but they could use a few more quality wins to improve their seed, especially after Tuesday’s loss at Iowa State.
San Diego State at Boise State (3:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
A handful of teams will be more worried than Boise State about getting into the field. The Broncos have won four of the last five, the loss coming in a heartbreaker to UNLV on Tuesday.
Missouri at Tennessee (4 p.m., ESPN)
This is a must win for a Tennessee team that put itself in a precarious position with a loss at Georgia on Saturday. The Volunteers, who had won six straight before the loss in Athens, only have two top-50 RPI wins — none away from home. Missouri is 2–6 on the road in the SEC, but the last four losses have been in overtime at Kentucky, by two at Arkansas, by two at Texas A&M and by three at LSU. The Tigers are capable of winning in Knoxville.
Notre Dame at Louisville (4 p.m., CBS)
It’s a rematch of the longest regular-season game in Big East history — Notre Dame’s four-overtime, 104–101 victory over Louisville on Feb. 9. The Cardinals haven’t lost since, running their winning streak to six straight with a 67–51 win over Cincinnati on Monday night. Notre Dame is a solid 4–4 on the road in the league this season, highlighted by a 51–42 victory at Pittsburgh last Monday night. The Fighting Irish have an opportunity to enhance their NCAA Tournament seed, but Louisville will be tough to tame at the Yum! Center.
Duke at North Carolina (9 p.m., ESPN)
Both teams have been rejuvenated of late — Duke by the return of forward Ryan Kelly and North Carolina by the move to a smaller lineup. Kelly scored 36 points against Miami in his first game back from injury and 18 against Virginia in his second. North Carolina has only lost once since Roy Williams replaced forward Desmond Hubert with guard P.J. Hairston in the starting lineup. The Tar Heels have played their way off the NCAA Tournament bubble and into “lock” status.
KEY SUNDAY GAMES
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIPS
Big South: Noon, ESPN2
Missouri Valley: 1 p.m., CBS
VCU at Temple (noon, CBS)
VCU can win at outright Atlantic 10 title in its first season in the league while Temple is trying to keep a first-round bye in the A-10 Tourney. The Owls have won eight of the last nine games to put them on the right side of the bubble, but their last loss is to Duquesne (1-14 in the A-10). Beating VCU and earning a top-four seed in the conference tournament would be huge for Temple.
Illinois at Ohio State (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State looked shaky earlier in the season despite a good record. But lately the Buckeyes look awfully dangerous. They’re starting to find secondary scorers, and they had tremendous defensive effort in Tuesday’s 67-58 win at Indiana. Ohio State will be looking for revenge after losing at Illinois by 19 points in early January.
Indiana at Michigan (4 p.m., CBS)
Indiana has already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, but plenty is at stake. Indiana is eyeing the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Michigan is still in play for one of the four top seeds. Big Ten Player of the Year honors could be at stake, as well. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke have one more opportunity to state their cases.
Athlon Sports executive editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED AT-LARGE LOCKS (35)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
ONE-BID LEAGUES (18)
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC, WAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley and the Sun Belt likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.
THE BUBBLE: 15 teams
All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage