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February 22, 2010
Just as teams can play their way into the NCAA tournament field, teams can play their way out -- and if their performances over the weekend are any indication, Charlotte, Cincinnati and Dayton seem hell-bent on doing just that.
But one team's misery is another team's happiness. In that vein, we will take a look at the 13 most intriguing "bubble" games this week. Why 13? Because we're confident a few of these games are going to end up being unlucky for the bubble teams involved.
(An aside: Starting Tuesday, we will have a daily "Tourney Tracker," complete with key games involving bubble teams and a broad overview of the projected NCAA tournament field.)
West Virginia at Connecticut: UConn has won two in a row, including a huge road win at Villanova, since a stretch in which the Huskies lost five of six. This is a huge week for UConn, which also gets a visit from Louisville. The Huskies have been pitiful away from home and they'll get a chance for two more road wins in early March, against Notre Dame and USF. The problem is that unless UConn splits its home games this week, it won't matter what they do in those final two regular-season games. As for WVU, the Mountaineers are playing for a top-four finish in the Big East -- which will get them a double-bye in the league tourney -- and a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee at Florida: The Gators are coming off an important victory at Ole Miss, which keeps them firmly on the NCAA bubble. But they have just two RPI top-50 wins, making this basically a must-win game for Florida. The Gators also have games remaining against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but this is the easiest game left against a "good" opponent. Florida's chances for a win increase greatly if swingman Chandler Parsons plays well. Parsons is 6 feet 9, but Florida's offense seems to flow better when he plays the point and normal point guard Erving Walker is free to roam.
Georgetown at Louisville: Louisville has won three in a row and five of six to move into fifth place in the Big East, one spot ahead of the Hoyas. But while Georgetown is an NCAA lock, Louisville's lack of notable wins -- just two over teams in the RPI top 50 -- is problematic. And one of those top-50 wins is over UConn, which might not be in the top 50 much longer.
Clemson at Maryland: Maryland is in second place in the ACC, but the Terps are far from an NCAA lock. They need some more top-50 wins. The same can be said for Clemson, which has been bad on the road. Clemson has no road wins over teams in the top 100, and the Tigers will get two chances this week - against Maryland and Florida State. Can Clemson handle Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez again? In the teams' first meeting, a nine-point Clemson win at home on Jan. 31, Vasquez was held to 10 points and committed nine turnovers. Suffice to say the Terps will lose if he plays that poorly again.
Dayton at Temple: Dayton, which was the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10, has truly struggled on the road in league play against teams that have any kind of pulse. The Flyers have split their past 10 games overall and are in desperate need of a "good" win; that this would come on the road would be gravy for the Flyers. The A-10 has been better than expected, but the Flyers are in danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament. Temple is in good shape to at least tie for the regular-season title and to earn a top-four NCAA seed.
San Diego State at BYU: BYU is an NCAA lock, but San Diego State has some work to do to nab a bid. Winning in Provo would be a huge resume booster for the Aztecs, who have won six of their past seven (the only loss in that stretch came by two in overtime at New Mexico). BYU won by two in San Diego last month. SDSU has just two top-50 wins and just one top-100 road win; that win came against UC Santa Barbara, which may not be in the top 100 when the season ends.
Oklahoma State at Texas: Oklahoma State came away with a huge win Saturday at home against Baylor. But the Cowboys have just one "good" road win (over Kansas State), and a shaky Texas team gives them a shot for their second. Oklahoma State's next three games could determine whether the Cowboys make the NCAA field; they follow this game with a home contest against top-ranked Kansas before going on the road to play Texas A&M. A 0-3 mark in those games means the Cowboys would need to make a long run in the Big 12 tourney. This is the second meeting between these teams; Texas won by 12 in Stillwater on Feb. 1.
Maryland at Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech is third in the ACC, but the Hokies' NCAA resume has some holes. First is that they played an embarrassingly weak non-conference schedule; second is that they have no road wins of note. This won't help in that aspect, but the Hokies need wins over teams in the RPI top 50, making this a huge game for them. This also is big for the Terps, who have just one road win over a team in the top 100.
Cincinnati at West Virginia: Cincinnati's home loss in overtime to Marquette on Sunday puts a huge dent in the Bearcats' NCAA hopes. Their final three regular-season games: at WVU, vs. Villanova and at Georgetown. They have to win at least two of those to keep their NCAA hopes alive.
Kansas at Oklahoma State: We've already talked about Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are 13-1 at home, giving them some hope they can upset the Jayhawks, who are in the running for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Missouri at Kansas State: K-State is an NCAA lock and is playing for seeding. Missouri, though, has been -- at best -- mediocre on the road this season. A road win of this type would go a long way toward nailing down an NCAA bid for Mizzou. The Tigers beat K-State in Columbia way back on Jan. 9.
Clemson at Florida State: Clemson won by 10 at home over the Seminoles on Feb. 10, and FSU would love to return the favor. FSU has been solid at home and could use another top-50 win to move a step closer to nailing down a bid. We talked earlier about Clemson's road woes. Plus, the Tigers' final four regular-season games are tough -- at Maryland, at FSU, vs. Georgia Tech and at Wake Forest -- so there's a chance they could end up in the NIT.
Louisville at Connecticut: This is the second big game of the week for UConn, who we discussed earlier. We also discussed Louisville earlier, but didn't mention that the Cardinals have been poor on the road, with just one win over a team in the RPI top 100. This is huge for UConn, while the pressure on Louisville will have been lessened if the Cardinals beat Georgetown on Tuesday.
Arizona's streak of 25 consecutive NCAA appearances -- the longest such current streak and the second longest ever -- appears as if it is going to end. If it does, the Wildcats will have fallen two short of tying the all-time NCAA record of 27 in a row, set by North Carolina (1975-2001). Arizona is one of seven schools that have double-digit appearances in a row, and the Wildcats will be the only team not to continue their streak (see chart).
Kentucky and Kansas seem on their way to being No. 1 seeds in this season's tournament; that would be the 10th time for the Wildcats, tying them with Duke for the second-most. It would be the ninth time as a No. 1 seed for the Jayhawks, which is fourth-best. North Carolina leads with 13. Purdue, Syracuse and Villanova look to be the other teams with a legit shot at No. 1 seeds; Syracuse and Villanova would be No. 1 seeds for the second time, while it would be the fourth time for Purdue.
Kansas (Big 12), Butler (Horizon) and Murray State (Ohio Valley) are the only teams unbeaten in league play. Butler has one league game remaining, at fourth-place Valparaiso. Murray State has two, on the road at second-place Morehead State and on the road at third-place Eastern Kentucky. Kansas has four games left: home contests against Oklahoma and Kansas State and road trips to Oklahoma State and Missouri. Given the animosity in the KU-Mizzou series, if the Jayhawks were to come in to the regular-season finale unbeaten in league play, the "Antlers" -- Mizzou's famed (or infamous) student section -- would be sure to have some creative stuff worked up.
On the flipside, there are three teams winless in league play -- Fordham in the Atlantic 10, Toledo in the Mid-American and LSU in the SEC. LSU was in the Final Four in 2006, so the Tigers have fallen a long, long way in a relatively short time. There are no winless teams overall, though Alcorn State, Bryant and Marist have just one victory apiece.
Speaking of Murray State, since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the record for most wins for a team left out of the tourney is 26; eight teams share that record. Murray State already has 26 wins and could finish the regular season at 28-3. But there's no way the Racers make the NCAA field unless they win the OVC tourney.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.