Caution employers: Work productivity may be down Thursday and Friday this week and next.
The wild ride continues as college basketball conference tournaments enter their most dramatic phase. Four games in one day in major conferences, championships in the one-bid leagues.
Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the major news for the NCAA Tournament from the day’s games and what to watch in the day ahead.
Conference tournament previews:
ACC | Atlantic 10 | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
MARCH 14 DAILY MARCH MADNESS TRACKER
Villanova keeps climbing
The Wildcats were pretty safe after defeating Georgetown in the final week of the regular season, but Villanova now has a chance to move up the bracket after advancing in the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats pulled away from an undermanned St. John’s team 66-53 and will face Louisville today. Nova’s frontcourt of Mouphtaou Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston pounded St. John’s for a combined 30 points and 16 rebounds. The Wildcats were characteristically effective from the line, shooting 19 of 23. File that number away.
Cincinnati pulls out of funk
After having to sweat in an overtime win over USF at home, Cincinnati defeated Providence 61-44 in a game that could have been problematic for the Bearcats. Cincinnati won’t have to beat Georgetown to get into the field. The Bearcats will just try to show any signs they can advance.
Syracuse stalls, then roars back
The Orange started its game against Seton Hall on Saturday looking as sluggish as it had for most of the last few months. Syracuse trailed by nine midway through the first half but finished with a 75-63 win. Most encouraging was the play of James Southerland and Brandon Triche. Southerland bounced back from an 0-for-8 performance against Georgetown to score 20. Triche broke out of his slump from the last few weeks to score 17.
Should UCLA fear Arizona State?
Arizona State lost an eight-point lead in the final 1:04 of regulation against a Stanford team that made attempted (and made) one field goal all game. The Sun Devils eventually won 89-88 in overtime to keep their slim NCAA hopes alive. Why should a team that nearly coughed up a win over the ninth-seeded team be a threat to the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12? Well, freshman Jahii Carson was unstoppable with 34 points. And UCLA hasn’t shown it can be trusted tto avoid a let down.
UNLV makes most of its break
Disappointing UNLV ended the season with a loss to Fresno State at home. The Rebels will advance on their homecourt by defeating Air Force 72-56, but UNLV caught a break. Air Force’s leading scorer Michael Lyons left with a knee injury. Still, the Rebels should be pleased with the win, especially with the play of Anthony Bennett. In February, he was one of the top freshmen in the country, but he scored in double figures only once since Feb. 16. Against Air Force, he was 10 of 14 from the field for 23 points with seven rebounds.
In the one-bid conference tourneys...
Bucknell clinched the Patriot League’s bid by defeating Lafayette in the title game. The Bison have a legit forward in Mike Muscala and gave Missouri fits earlier this season. No top four seed will want to meet Bucknell in the round of 64. ... Both of the top two seeds in the MEAC lost their first games in the conference tournament -- Norfolk State to eighth-seeded Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central to seventh-seeded North Carolina A&T. You’ll recognize Norfolk State: The Spartans upset No. 2 seed Missouri in the NCAA Tournament last season. The MEAC frontrunners went a combined 31-1 in league this season.
Related: Top Buzzer Beaters for 2012-13 (so far)
KEY THURSDAY GAMES
All times Eastern
Note: The first rounds of the Atlantic 10, ACC and Big Ten begin Thursday while the SEC moves into the second round.
Big 12 quarterfinals
Oklahoma vs. Iowa State (12:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Oklahoma State vs. Baylor (9:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Iowa State is lingering on the bubble, but the Cyclones might feel pretty good if they can defeat Oklahoma for their second win over a top-50 team in eight days. The Sooners would have good reason to worry about their seed with a loss Thursday. They’ve already lost to Texas and TCU since the end of February ... Baylor will need to make a deep run to reach the NCAA Tournament, but back-to-back wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State will allow us to dream.
Big East quarterfinals
Cincinnati vs. Georgetown (noon, ESPN)
Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh (2 p.m., ESPN)
Villanova vs. Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN)
Notre Dame vs. Marquette (9 p.m., ESPN)
As indicated above, the bubble work may be done for Cincinnati and Villanova. This is simply going to be great basketball in the final Big East Tournament as we know it. Three future conferences will be represented Thursday with the future Big East in name only (Georgetown, Marquette), the conference-to-be named (Cincinnati) and the ACC (Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, Notre Dame).
Big Ten first round
Illinois vs. Minnesota (noon, Big Ten Network)
Unless Michigan loses to Penn State for the second time in two weeks, the first day of the Big Ten Tournament will be most notable for the 8-9 game. Both Illinois and Minnesota this season defeated Indiana, whom the winner will draw in the next round. Minnesota was in a funk in the last week of the season. The Gophers need Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins to heat up to have a chance to win the postseason. Illinois lost its final two regular season games, too, but if Brandon Paul catches fire, no one will want to face the Illini.
Mountain West semifinals
UNLV vs. Colorado State (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Colorado State took care of business against Fresno State even without starting point guard Dorian Green. UNLV may be the luckiest team in the postseason -- the Rebels are playing on their home court and faced Air Force without their best player and are likely to face Colorado State without its point guard.
Arizona State vs. UCLA (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Arizona vs. Colorado (5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
UCLA isn’t far removed from losing to Washington State on the road, and the Bruins must face a team that gave them fits in the regular season. The Sun Devils dominated inside in an 18-point win back in January, and UCLA needed it star freshmen to combine for 64 points to defeat Arizona State in overtime at home.
BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED LOCKS (50)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (4): Butler, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Atlantic Sun (1): Florida Gulf Coast*
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (8): Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova
Big South (1): Liberty*
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Colonial (1): James Madison*
Horizon (1): Valparaiso*
Ivy (1): Harvard*
Missouri Valley (1): Creighton*
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Northeast (1): LIU Brooklyn*
Ohio Valley (1): Belmont*
Patriot (1): Bucknell*
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
Southern (1): Davidson*
Summit (1): South Dakota State*
Sun Belt (1): Western Kentucky*
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
*clinched NCAA Tournament bid
ONE-BID LEAGUES (9)
America East, Big Sky, Big West, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Southland, SWAC, WAC
Note: Conference USA likely will be a one-bid league if Memphis wins its conference tournament.
THE BUBBLE: 17 teams for nine spots