Which NCAA Tournament bubble team had the most damaging loss over the weekend?
Mark Ross: Could defending national champion UConn not make the NCAA Tournament? After Saturday’s 79–64 home loss to Marquette, the Huskies definitely have some work to do to feel more secure about their chances heading into the Big East Tournament. UConn has lost seven of its last nine games and has 10 losses overall and just a 6–8 record in the Big East. With three winnable games and a Feb. 25 home game against No. 2 Syracuse remaining, the Huskies should finish no worse than .500 in the Big East. However, should they slip up again and start the postseason with 12 or more losses, the Huskies may need to win the Big East Tournament to even get a shot at defending its title.
Mitch Light: I’ll go with Illinois, which barely put up a fight in a stunning 80–57 loss at Nebraska. The Illini have two great wins to brag about — vs. Michigan State and Ohio State — but they have now lost eight of their past nine games to drop to 16–11 overall and 5–9 in the Big Ten. With trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin still on the slate, the best-case scenario for this team is a 7–11 Big Ten record heading into the league tournament.
Nathan Rush: Memphislost to UTEP, 60–58, despite leading 28–19 at the half and 51–44 with 6:25 remaining. The collapse further exposed Josh Pastner’s club as a pretender more than a contender. There is a significant gap between the Tigers’ perceived talent level and their ability to produce results. Memphis has three losses in Conference USA — UTEP, at Southern Miss and at UCF. Worse, the Tigers have no wins against NCAA Tournament-caliber competition, with home victories over Xavier and Southern Miss being the best wins on Memphis’ resume. Pastner is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his three seasons since taking over for John Calipari.
Which team had the best win of the past weekend?
Mitch Light: Creighton had played itself onto the bubble after losing three straight games in MVC play. The Bluejays once-solid résumé was in desperate need of a quality win, and Greg McDermott’s club responded by rallying to beat Long Beach State (No. 36 RPI) in Omaha on a jump shot by Antoine Young with 0.3 seconds to play. The Bluejays, with an RPI of 28, would likely have to lose their two remaining regular-season games — vs. Evansville and Indiana State — to be in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament.
Mark Ross: Kansas State came into Saturday’s game at No. 10 Baylor having lost two in a row and four of its last six. Not only did the Wildcats’ 57–56 win over the Bears end their modest losing streak, it may have secured their invite to the Big Dance. With the victory, Kansas State is now 18–8 overall, but more importantly, 7–7 in the Big 12. The win also gives the Wildcats the signature road victory their résumé was missing.
Nathan Rush: Alabamarolled over Tennessee, 62–50, in a victory that showed the character and toughness of Anthony Grant’s team. The Crimson Tide were without their top two scorers and rebounders, senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell, as well as freshman forward Nick Jacobs — who sat out due to a mouth infection. Bama made no excuses, however, snapping a two-game losing streak by locking down the Vols defensively, holding UT to just 15-of-44 from the field (34.1 percent) and 4-of-20 from 3-point range (20 percent).
Will NC State make the NCAA Tournament?
Nathan Rush: Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani won’t even have a chance to be thrown out of an NCAA Tournament game — as they were in Saturday’s 76–62 home loss to Florida State — because NC State won’t make the field of 68 this season. Unless the Wolfpack make an unbelievable run in the ACC Tournament, with wins over North Carolina and/or Duke, Mark Gottfried will fall short in his first season at the helm in Raleigh.
Mitch Light: This question would have been easy to answer had the Pack been able to hold onto a 20-point lead at Duke last week. But they didn’t, which leaves Mark Gottfried’s club squarely on the bubble. State has 7–5 record in the ACC with some winnable games remaining (at Clemson, vs. Miami and at Virginia Tech). This team is lacking in quality wins (at Miami is the only top-50 RPI win) but doesn’t have many bad losses either. My guess is that NC State will win three of its final four regular-season games and do just enough in the ACC Tournament to sneak into the Field of 68.
Mark Ross: I’m going to say yes, but NC State’s margin of error is razor-thin. The Wolfpack let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers on Feb. 16 when they let Duke come back from a 20-point deficit in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 78–73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Not surprisingly, the disappointment carried over to Saturday’s 76–62 home loss to Florida State. I still think NC State has a great shot at making the NCAA Tournament, as long as the Wolfpack take care of their remaining business. They should still finish the season with at least 20 wins and have played a solid overall schedule, with only one bad loss (82-71 at home to Georgia Tech) on their resume. This should be enough to get an invite from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but there’s still some work left to be done.