A look at the three most notable games on Thursday's schedule:
West Virginia at Georgetown
The Mountaineers have been milking their blowout win over Ohio State for a while now, but the rest of their resume is starting to look very pedestrian compared to their Big East conterparts. A two-loss week here - which is very likely given this game and a home game against Pitt on Sunday - would knock WVU to 2-4 in conference and probably land them on the Last Four Out list on Monday. If the Mountaineers want to avoid that, they'll have to play their traditional stingy defense and take a page out of the Duke playbook and take the ball at Greg Monroe early. The Hoyas were a totally different team without Monroe on the floor against the Blue Devils this past weekend, and only kept the game close because of a superb effort from Dajuan Summers. If Georgetown prevails in this one, they have a nice path to a 9-2 conference mark, with the only potential pitfall coming at Marquette on Jan. 31.
USC at Washington
These two Pac-10 bubble boys battle it out tonight to kick off what is a huge weekend for the bracket futures of both teams. The Trojans snuck into the field as our last at-large bid this week, on the heels of its sweep of Arizona State and Arizona. We would have been a little more confident putting them in the field had it not been for the prospect of this game and the fact that USC is 1-3 on the road this season. A closer look at those losses, though, gives Trojan fans hope for a victory here. USC is a much better team than they were when they lost at Seton Hall in November, and their other road defeats were at Oklahoma (by a point) and at Oregon State (which seems awful, but ignores the fact that leading scorer Dwight Lewis had his worst night of the season). The Huskies, meanwhile, are coming off a sweep of the Oregon schools and have a chance this week to cement their place in the bracket for a long, long time. Wins over USC and UCLA (on Saturday) would move them to 6-1 in conference and in the 6-7 range in next week's field.
St. Mary's at San Diego
St. Mary's continues to play second fiddle to Gonzaga in terms of national notoriety, but the Gaels do have a couple things their WCC rivals don't - a national ranking and a 14-game winning streak. The streak, albeit against some inferior competition, has St. Mary's at a nine seed in our latest bracket. Whether the Gaels stay that high or not will be determined over the course of the next week. They face fellow WCC unbeaten San Diego, a team that has a win at Mississippi State on its resume, tonight and then travel to Gonzaga next Thursday. Wins in those two games could launch St. Mary's up to the six line next week, and given the Gaels' soft schedule and solid play on the road (they're 6-0 so far), it's not inconceivable that they would still be there on Selection Sunday.
Also receiving votes: Purdue at Minnesota, UCLA at Washington State, Dayton at George Washington