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Previewing the college basketball landscape in the final weekend of the regular season
By the end of the weekend, at least three automatic bids will be sealed with championship games in the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun.
Elsewhere, at-large teams are trying to make their final statements before their own conference tournaments. This includes a key bubble game in the SEC, a Kentucky team looking for respect, teams like Oklahoma State and Nebraska putting the final touches on their regular season resumes and teams like Stanford and Pittsburgh trying to hang on.
The week will feature a number of key matchups, but these are the teams that are under the most pressure Saturday and Sunday.
Teams on the Spot this Weekend
The Wildcats stumbled through a 55-48 home win over Alabama on Tuesday. At this rate, that has to count for something. Kentucky will try to salvage what’s already one of the most disappointing seasons for a preseason No. 1 team in decades. Did anyone expect John Calipari to be staring down his 12th SEC loss in two seasons?
Related: Kentucky at Florida Preview
The Red Storm are hanging by a thread to an at-large bid and will need to beat Marquette on the road to set up a chance to make an impression in the Big East Tournament. Marquette may have missed its own opportunity when Davante Gardner’s desperation heave at the end of regulation against Providence was a fraction of second too late. Marquette lost 81-80 in double overtime.
A win over Kansas last week did wonders for Oklahoma State’s NCAA Tournament hopes. A win on the road over Iowa State, even one that lost back-to-back games to Kansas State and Baylor, could signal the Cowboys could be a dangerous team in the Tournament.
A three-game losing streak has dropped the Cardinal to 9-8 in the Pac-12 and fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. A feisty Utah team is probably the last opponent Stanford wants to see in a must-win situation. The Utes took Arizona to overtime and then reeled off three wins over potential NCAA teams Arizona State, Colorado and Cal. Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins may be coaching for his job.
Missouri and Tennessee
If there’s a fourth SEC team heading to the NCAA Tournament, it may be the winner of this game. The home team in this case has all the momentum. Tennessee played like a team with little room for error in blowouts of Vanderbilt (by 38 points) and Auburn (by 28).
Related: Tennessee’s Bubble Profile
The Panthers don’t want to invite the NCAA selection committee to look at their resume. As it is, Pittsburgh may be on the bubble after allowing 41 points to T.J. Warren in a 74-67 loss to NC State on Monday. The Panthers don’t have a win against a team assured of a spot in the NCAA field.
Providence was the beneficiary of some — sorry for this — providence in the win over Marquette. The Friars have played six overtime games this season, half of them settled in double OT. A season sweep of Creighton after Providence won the first meeting 81-68 at home may seal a bid for the Friars.
The Hawkeyes are fading fast, primarily because they can’t find a defense to match the offense. Iowa lost 86-76 to Michigan State on Thursday for its fourth loss in five games and third game in the last four giving up more than 80. A home date against Illinois is a chance to regroup ... or sound further alarms.
San Diego State has been the more highly regarded team all year, but New Mexico could win the regular season title in the Mountain West with a win on the road. New Mexico won the first meeting at The Pit 58-44.
The Billikens’ 25-2 start has been spoiled with three consecutive losses. Saint Louis was one of the best defensive teams in the country until Feb. 27, allowing at least a point per possession in each game and an average of 70 points per game to Duquesne, VCU and Dayton.
The Buckeyes need home cooking in the worst way after road losses to Penn State and Indiana. Ohio State has hit 70 points just once (at home against Northwestern) since Feb. 4.
In a season with three top 50 wins, none would be better than Wisconsin. The Badgers are chasing a No. 1 seed, but Nebraska is looking to seal its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: None
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None
Atlantic 10 (6)
Feeling good: Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: Dayton, George Washington, St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond
Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia
Big East (3)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's
Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Nebraska
Bubble out: Indiana, Minnesota
Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Bubble out: Stanford
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas, Tennessee
Bubble out: LSU, Missouri
West Coast (2)
Feeling good: None
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None
Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East: Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Irvine
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
*Wichita State would be an at-large if the Shockers lose in the MVC tournament