NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch (2/22/11)

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With two weeks left in the regular season, we are hitting the stretch run of the college basketball season and teams are trying to improve their resume and pick up some key wins to help their NCAA Tournament hopes.  Here are some crucial games this week that have bubble teams matching head-to-head that could ultimately make or break their chances of being selected for the Field of 68Click here for my latest bracketology.

By: David Kay

Michigan State at Minnesota, Tues 8:00, BTN
Michigan at Minnesota, Sat 3:30, BTN

Right now, only three Big Ten teams are for sure in the NCAA Tournament; Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.  Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota are firmly on the bubble while Michigan and Penn State appear to be long shots to get into the dance.  This is a crucial stretch for the Gophers who are 6-8 in conference play.  You figure that if they finish at five-hundred or above, they will get in due to a solid non-conference resume.  However, slip up twice down the stretch and end up with a losing record in Big Ten and Minnesota will be sweating out Selection Sunday.

The same could be said for the Spartans who are 7-7 in conference and still play at home versus Purdue and at Michigan.  The Wolverines pretty much need to win their final three games and wind up 10-8 in Big Ten action to have any hopes of getting an at-large bid.

Baylor at Missouri, Wed 8:00, ESPN2
Kansas State at Nebraska, Wed 8:00, ESPNU
Missouri at Kansas State, Sat 11:00, ESPN

The Big 12 is in a similar situation as the Big Ten.  Kansas, Texas, and Texas A&M are in and Missouri seems like a lock as well.  However, the Tigers still host Baylor and Kansas, and visit K-State and Nebraska which is not exactly an easy final stretch.  If the Tigers lose out, they would end up 7-9 in conference and likely on the wring side of the bubble.  Beat Baylor Wednesday night though, and they are pretty much a lock to get in.

Baylor is in serious trouble.  They have an RPI in the low 80’s with a strength of schedule in the low 70’s.  A tough schedule lies ahead as they visit Mizzou and Oklahoma State, along with home games against Texas A&M and Texas.  The Bears need to win three of those four or else their bubble bursts.

K-State sits at 6-6 in Big 12 play after winning four of their last five.  Due to a high strength of schedule and solid RPI, the Wildcats should be okay even if they slip up a couple times and finish 8-8 in conference.  Jacob Pullen is playing like the All-American candidate we thought he was at the beginning of the season so Frank Martin’s squad should be okay.  Drop three of their final four regular season games though, and the ‘Cats will be sweating it out when the brackets are announced.

Thanks to their upset against Texas on Saturday, the Cornhuskers are starting to get some national recognition and consideration for being a tourney team.  They actually have a stronger RPI than Baylor but their strength of schedule is a bit weaker.  A home loss against Kansas State might eliminate them from consideration, but a win would only add fuel to their suddenly hot fire.

gonzaga basketballGonzaga at St. Mary’s, Thu 10:00, ESPN2
With their loss to Utah State in Bracket Buster Week, the Gaels at-large chances took a bit of a hit.  A victory against the Zags would help that cause but winning the WCC Tournament is the safest bet for both of these teams.  It might be the only hope for Gonzaga who has an underwhelming RPI of 72 and SOS of 90.

Wichita State at Missouri State, Sat 12:00, ESPN2
Both teams lost during Bracket Buster Week which puts a damper on the possibility of the Missouri Valley Conference getting an at-large bid on top of their automatic qualifier.  Still, the winner of this game increases their chances in case a team like Northern Iowa or Indiana State makes a run in the MVC Tourney.

Memphis at UTEP, Sat 2:00, ESPN2

The Tigers really crapped the bed losing at SMU this weekend, putting their at-large chances in jeopardy.  UTEP is one of three or four Conference USA teams still in the hunt to possibly get an invite to the dance but they will need to beat Memphis to stay in consideration.  Regardless, no CUSA team will feel safe on Selection Sunday unless they earn the conference’s automatic bid.

David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and former contributor for The Washington Times Communities.  You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.

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