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Daily March Madness Tracker: Reasons for optimism after Michigan-Michigan State


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.

Related: Key stats of the week


Virginia’s bizarre bubble case continues.
The NCAA Tournament resumes for bubble teams are -- by definition -- difficult. But Virginia is pushing the envelope in this department. In one week, the Cavaliers defeated Duke 73-68 in a game that seemed to put the Hoos into the field. Then Virginia turned around to lose to Boston College 53-52 on a three-pointer in the final 8.2 seconds Sunday. Seven games separate Duke and BC in the ACC standings, and 135 spots separated the Cavs’ two opponents in the official RPI to start last week. And that’s just one week. Elsewhere on its resume, Virginia has a win at Wisconsin and a loss on a neutral site to Old Dominion (5-25, 3-15 Colonial).

Michigan bounces back.
A great game with a dubious finish on both sides of the court. First, John Beilein left a 44 percent free throw shooter on the court late in a close game, and later Michigan State failed to execute a final play when it had the ball in the final seconds. Still, Michigan had reason to brag. Trey Burke continued to state a case for National Player of the Year with a steal and a dunk to give the Wolverines the lead in its 58-57 win and then the steal on the game’s final play. And that 44 percent free throw shooter, Mitch McGary, is starting to look like a secret weapon for Michigan. He scored 11 points, giving him another double-figure game late in Big Ten play. He averaged 12 points per game during a three-game stretch against Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Michigan gave Penn State its only Big Ten win of the season, but rebounded in short order. With a regular season finale against Indiana and the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan is still in the running for a No. 1 seed.

Related: Where does Trey Burke rank among this year’s point guards?

Michigan State’s losing streak.
Without a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State may have lost a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there may not be much reason to worry about the Spartans. First, a three-game losing streak to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan -- the latter two on the road -- should give Michigan State no reason to hide in shame. Another reason not to count out Sparty: Adreian Payne is playing lights out. The  matchup nightmare is averaging 15.3 points and 12 rebounds in the last four games.

Ryan Kelly’s impact on the bracket.
Around this time of year, we talk about how key injuries can hurt a team’s seeding this late in the season. After Saturday, we’re going to see a return from injury boost a team in the bracket. If defeating Miami wasn’t enough, Duke proved what a force it is with Kelly in the lineup. Remember, when Kelly first went down with an ankle injury, Duke was 15-0 and an unquestioned No. 1.

North Carolina back?
The Tar Heels probably sealed an NCAA Tournament bid by defeating NC State on Feb. 23, but does Carolina have a good chance to advance? Roy Williams’ team may be putting things together. Marcus Paige was masterful against NC State and added nine assists in a 21-point rout of Florida State on Sunday. Reggie Bullock is averaging 18 points and 10.7 rebounds in he last three games, and the Heels seem to have found a lineup they like with P.J. Hairston starting.

SEC slipping.
Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament case has been lacking for some time now, but the Rebels may have played themselves out of the field by losing to Mississippi State 73-67 on Saturday. The Bulldogs’ hadn’t won since Jan. 12, starting a 13-game losing streak that included a pair of 40-point losses in SEC play. With Ole Miss’ loss to South Carolina on Feb. 20, the Rebels have two losses to sub-200 RPI teams in the last two weeks. Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament case is looking better, but the Vols didn’t help themselves by losing 68-62 to Georgia. Tennessee has been swept by Georgia and Ole Miss in the SEC this season. Meanwhile, Kentucky could have done itself a great service by winning at Arkansas on Saturday, but the Wildcats may still have a stronger case than the Rebels and Volunteers, despite a 30-point loss to the latter.

Cantu Can Do.
Will anyone in the Pac-12 want to face USC in the conference Tournament? After sweeping the Arizona schools last week, the Trojans are 7-4 under interim coach Bob Cantu. USC was 7-10 when it fired Kevin O’Neill on Jan. 14. With USC rounding out the regular season against the Washington schools, USC could finish 11-7 in the league.

All times Eastern.

Cincinnati at Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Bearcats’ dodged a bubble-bursting loss by pulling out a 61-56 win at home over a Connecticut team playing without leading scorer Shabazz Napier. Winning in Louisville will be tough.

Baylor at Texas (9 p.m., ESPN)
Baylor’s still sitting on the bubble. The Bears can’t spend too much time dwelling on the collapse in the final seconds against Kansas State in Saturday. A loss to Texas (5-11 in the Big 12) would be a compelling reason to keep Baylor out of the field.

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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 (3): Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt and the WAC likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 17 teams