A look at the three biggest games on Thursday's schedule:
Arizona at UCLA
One of the more interesting developments bracket-wise last week was the Pac-10 picking up two additional bids. Arizona was the beneficiary of one of those bids, and they got it thanks to a sweep of the Oregon schools, and more importantly, thanks to losses by teams on the ACC and SEC bubble (BC and LSU). The inconsistent Wildcats (and fellow Pac-10 bubble boy Washington) will likely be battling for a bid with those other bubble teams all season. If Arizona wants to get off the bubble, they may want to win a road game (they’re 0-4 on the year) – and they get a couple of great opportunities to do that this week. First up is UCLA, a team that has won nine in a row but has been leap-frogged in our bracket by a Cal team that right now has a more impressive overall profile. If Arizona is going to pull the upset, they’ll need the resurgent Chase Budinger to continue his recent stretch of good games, and they’ll need Nic Wise and Co. to slow down UCLA’s lightning fast backcourt.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Who’s the second best team in the Big Ten? Minnesota? Michigan? Wisconsin? If the first couple of weeks of conference play have shown us anything, it’s that Michigan State is the cream of the Big Ten crop and that the rest of the tourney-worthy teams are almost identical in terms of quality and resume. Some teams have better OOC resumes than others (Ohio State, Minnesota), but those teams have also already lost to their other Big Ten counterparts. If one or more teams are going to separate themselves from the pack, they are going to have to win a big conference road game. The Gophers get their chance at one here, as they visit a Wisconsin team that has dominated its two Big Ten home games. The Badgers are probably very happy to be home after playing poorly at Purdue over the weekend. Minnesota, meanwhile, hasn’t played a tough team away from home yet, and given Wisconsin’s homecourt edge and slow-down style of play, it’s hard to see the Gophers breaking through here.
Washington at Oregon
Washington slipped into our latest Field of 65 after a week in which they beat Stanford and lost to Cal in triple overtime. Are the Huskies good enough to stay in the bracket for an extended period of time? That question will be answered over the next couple of weeks. They can’t slip up over the next three days as they visit the Oregon schools before returning home to take on USC and UCLA. After that, their schedule gets ridiculous – they play four straight road games against Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, and Stanford. Their fate in those games will go a long way in determining their bracket future as well as the future of the Pac-10, which currently owns five bids. If Washington fans are looking for a little encouragement, they don’t have to look any further than the recent play of Jon Brockman, who had 35 points and 36 rebounds combined against the Cardinal and Bears.
Also receiving votes: Connecticut at St. John's, North Carolina at Virginia, Arizona State at USC, Purdue at Northwestern, Xavier at Rhode Island, Middle Tennessee State at Western Kentucky