A look at the 12 biggest games on this weekend's loaded schedule:
Florida State at Clemson
How shocking - and dominating - a performance did Clemson turn in against Duke the other night? Let us count the ways: it was the Blue Devils' worst loss in 19 years, their first regular season loss to Clemson in 13 years, their worst offensive output (47 points) in 14 years, and by the final few minutes, according to Lorenzo Booker, the Tigers were on such a roll that the Duke players "quit at the end." Ouch. Next up for Clemson is a home game against Florida State, which just eeked by Georgia Tech on Thursday to improve to 4-3 in conference. The 'Noles have now alternated wins and losses over their past four games, and they have a very good chance to continue that streak today and next week with Virginia coming in on Tuesday and a road game at Wake on tap next Saturday. If Clemson wins this game, which it should, it will move up to the 2 line on Monday, ahead of both Duke and struggling Wake Forest. If FSU prevails, it will likely move up to the top of the 6 line or bottom of the 5 line.
Miami (FL) at Duke
Clemson may have picked up the biggest win of the week so far, but Miami's upset of Wake Forest was a close second. Most people assumed the Hurricanes were fading away for good after losses to N.C. State and at Maryland last week, but Jack McClinton almost singlehandedly delivered Miami the big win it needed to get itself back into the bubble discussion in the ACC. In terms of overall resume, the Hurricanes are still behind Virginia Tech and BC, but a win in Cameron Indoor would certainly change that in a hurry. If you're a Miami fan, you're hoping the Blue Devils brought some of their ice cold shooting with them back to Durham. If they didn't - and they return to pre-Clemson form - the Hurricanes could be in for a long afternoon against a Duke team that will be out to prove that Wednesday was a fluke. If the Blue Devils win, Miami won't get back in the bracket unless the Hokies lose at home to N.C. State, and even then, it might be hard to put the Hurricanes in over Virginia Tech considering the Hokies already won at Miami. Miami's schedule is a lot tougher than BC's or VT's down the stretch too, and a loss here would mean they'd have to go 5-1 the rest of the way to finish 9-7 in conference.
Memphis at Gonzaga
These two teams find themselves in almost identical situations. They've taken up residence on the 5 line, they play in conferences that allow for few (or in Memphis' case, no) chances at a quality win, and with no Bracketbuster games, they are both left to root for teams above them to lose if they want to move up in our Field of 65. Gonzaga figured this would be the first in a tough and potentially resume-building two-game stretch, but Patty Mills' broken hand has taken a lot of luster off of their game this coming week at St. Mary's. Memphis, meanwhile, has to be fired up just at the sight of a quality opponent - they've only played one tourney-caliber team (Tennessee) since Christmas, and in the meantime, they've run their Conference USA win streak to a ridiculous 50 straight games. The winner of this game (for the record, we'll take the Zags at home) will earn a spot on the 4 line next week (and maybe the last 3), while the loser will likely fall to a 6.
Notre Dame at UCLA
Somewhere, Digger Phelps is weeping. His beloved Irish have now incredibly lost six straight after Wednesday's pounding at Cincinnati, and at 3-7 in the Big East, they've dropped out of the at-large discussion altogether. (Has a Top 5 team ever fallen apart this fast? Wow...) Now ND has to make a trip into Pauley Pavilion to face a scorching-hot UCLA squad that is 3-0 on its current homestand, winning those games by an average of 24 points. After struggling offensively for much of the year, the Bruins have found their shooting stroke over the last week and a half, averaging 84 points per game during that stretch. That, ironically, the same amount of points the Irish have allowed per game during their six-game skid (they've let up 93 three different times). All signs point to a UCLA win in this one, and if it happens, the Bruins could replace Purdue on the 3 line in next week's bracket. If ND pulls the upset, they still won't be back in the bracket, but they'll have some much-needed momentum as they prep for Louisville's visit to South Bend on Thursday.
Cincinnati at Georgetown and Providence at West Virginia
With Notre Dame out of the picture, these four teams officially represent the Big East bubble. West Virginia and Georgetown are the safest of the four right now, but they probably won't be better than 8 seeds next week even with home wins here. Providence came into the week with a nice conference record and a chance to sneak in the field had they beaten Villanova at home, but their loss to the Wildcats on Wednesday means that they'll probably have to wait another week before they get off the Last Four Out list. The wild card in this whole mix is Cincinnati, which has now won five of its last seven, including Wednesday's home "upset" of the Irish. If the Bearcats can win at Georgetown today (completing a season sweep of the Hoyas), it would be very tough to keep them out of the bracket come Monday. Remember, Cincinnati has a win at UNLV and home wins against Mississippi State and UAB on its OOC resume, and looking ahead, its remaining schedule is fairly easy. The Bearcats should easily be able to get to 9-9 in conference, and 10-8 is a decent possibility as well. Either of those marks, and a win or two in the conference tournament, and they'd have a great chance to be the ninth team (or better) out of the Big East.
Kansas State at Texas A&M and Baylor at Texas Tech
It's not just a big bubble weekend in the Big East. The Big XII bubble will continue to get sorted out this weekend, with two bubble boys - Kansas State and Texas A&M - facing off in College Station and Baylor, the Big XII bubble team in the most trouble right now, going on the road to face Texas Tech. A&M and Baylor already lost games this week, and in Baylor's case, even a win here might not be able to save them from falling out of the bracket. The Bears have lost four in a row, and while all four losses were to the top four Big XII teams, it doesn't make up for the fact that with just eight games left to play, they have yet to beat a Big XII team that has a winning record in conference. A&M, meanwhile, has a pretty good OOC resume to fall back on, but they've lost four of their last six and they've yet to win a conference road game. Fortunately for the Aggies, one of their three conference wins came against Baylor. Today, A&M welcomes Kansas State to town, for perhaps the biggest bubble game of the whole weekend. The Wildcats, out of nowhere, have won four in a row, and a win here would probably get them a bid next week as one our Last Four In. What Kansas State has in its favor, should they win this game, is a not-too-difficult remaining schedule (their toughest games left are vs. Kansas and at Missouri), plus they already have a quality road win. What they don't have is a quality OOC win (their best one is at Cleveland State), which means 10 Big XII wins is going to be a must.
Utah at Wyoming and UNLV at New Mexico
Just when we thought UNLV had gotten back on track they drop a home game to banged up SDSU. Now they have to travel to the Pit and face a New Mexico team that has won all of its conference home games by at least 18 points. If the Rebels drop another game they would fall into fifth place in conference and we would have to take a long look at their remaining schedule to determine whether or not they remain in our next bracket. If the Utes can pick up a win at Wyoming then they'd probably have to be viewed as the top MWC team right now, especially with their inflated 12 RPI. They've lost to both UNLV and SDSU but those were both road games and they'll get SDSU making the return trip on Wednesday in what will likely be a ginormous game for first place. The MWC may look like a 3-bid league this Sunday (or a 4-bid league if you're Lunardi), but will they be a 3-bid league come Selection Sunday? That's a tough question to answer at this point, but we will have to take a long look at it in our bracket tomorrow night.
St. Mary's at Santa Clara
Quite a few bracketologists jumped ship on St. Mary's last week after Patty Mills went down and the Gaels lost games to Gonzaga and Portland. They recovered this week with a win against San Francisco and now have to travel to Santa Clara. The Broncos are a middle-of-the-pack WCC team who have a nice little 5-game winning streak, so it's no guarantee win for the Gaels. We still think it's a bit early to bail on the Gaels, who do have some solid OOC wins against SDSU and Providence on neutral courts. The committee will surely consider the injury come March, and so long as they are able to win all their conference games (except Gonzaga) they should still be safe. They should get Mills back by the conference tourney and that will help their at-large chances. There are still plenty of games left to play out, but St. Mary's is shaping up to be a very interesting bubble team for next month.
Arizona at Oregon
The Wildcats have climbed back into the bubble picture with 4 straight wins and they look to continue their run against the winless Ducks. Oregon has been absolutely dreadful in conference play and has pretty much been blown out in every game. Arizona just needs to take care of business in this gimme road game and they will receive some serious consideration for a bid on Sunday. Their OOC resume is probably the best of any team in the Pac-10 so if they can continue to turn things around in conference play they should be able to continue their consecutive bid streak. A win here for the Wildcats would set up a huge match up for Thursday against USC. The Pac-10 is having a down year and we think 6 bids is an unrealistic goal for the conference. Right now it looks like the Wildcats will be battling the Trojans for that fifth bid so every game is huge.
Also receiving votes: Syracuse at Villanova, Michigan at Connecticut, Minnesota at Ohio State, Texas at Nebraska, Missouri at Iowa State, Oklahoma State at Kansas, Tennessee at Auburn, Arkansas at Mississippi State, Georgia at South Carolina, Arizona State at Oregon State, Washington State at California, Air Force at San Diego State, Xavier at Duquesne, Charleston at Davidson, Butler at Wright State
Purdue at Illinois
The Boilermakers look to rebound from their OT loss at Ohio State this week as they face the Illini. They will need a win to have any chance of maintaining their current 3 seed and to hold onto second place in the Big Ten. There is added importance to the game for Purdue since Illinois won last month when the two faced off in the conference opener. If the game is close, Purdue should do all it can to win it in regulation, since they have lost all 3 of their OT games this season. The Illini are sure happy to be back on their home court once again. They have only lost once all year at home, while they have dropped their last 4 road games. Their only conference road win was their win at Purdue and another win here would clearly place them ahead of the Boilermakers in the Big Ten pecking order.
Wisconsin at Penn State
When doing the bracket last week we thought that this would be a big game. Then Penn State went out and got blown out at Michigan, while the Badgers snapped their 6 game losing skid with a win over Illinois and climbed back onto the bubble. After those results, this game became the bubble matchup of the weekend. The Badgers won the first matchup between these two, but that was in early January when there was no thought of Penn State being a potential tourney team. It's basically a must win for each team. The Badgers remaining schedule isn't too daunting with 2 games against Indiana and Iowa at home left, so a win here would give their fans a lot of hope going forward that they would be able to get to at least 9 wins in conference. Penn State, on the other hand, is in the midst of a brutal stretch, and if they can't pick this one up, then there would be serious concern that they could lose 6 in a row and fall off the bubble completely.
Boston College at Wake Forest
You may not have noticed, but BC has won 5 in a row and is actually a game ahead of Wake Forest in the ACC standings. Those wins have come during a relatively soft portion of their conference schedule, but they should give them some confidence as they start a brutal five game stretch (@Wake, Clemson, Duke, @Miami, FSU). If they can win 2 of their next 5, they would put themselves in great position for an at-large. Today they get to face a Wake Forest team which has lost 3 of 4, which is a far cry from last month when the Demon Deacons traveled to Chestnut Hill at 14-0. Wake got absolutely destroyed this week at Miami and needs to stop the bleeding if they want any chance to stay on the 2 line. In just a week's time they have gone from ACC favorite to tied for fifth place in the ACC.
Also receiving votes: Washington at Stanford, North Carolina State at Virginia Tech, Maryland at Georgia Tech, Alabama at LSU, Dayton at Charlotte