A look at the 12 biggest games on this loaded Bracketbuster weekend:
Butler at Davidson
This is still the biggest Bracketbuster game on this weekend's schedule, but it has certainly lost some luster over the past few days. Davidson played awful against The Citadel at home on Wednesday, scoring just 46 points without an injured Stephen Curry in an 18-point loss. Butler, meanwhile, lost at Milwaukee and now enters this game riding a two-game losing streak. If Curry is unable to play, this game loses much of its appeal. If he does play, it should be a competitive game, but not a game that will do too much damage to the at-large hopes of the loser. Even if Davidson were to lose in the Southern conference tournament, they will almost certainly get a bid. There is no way the selection committee is going to leave the nation's leading scorer out of the tournament if that player's team is right on the bubble, especially if that player has the national appeal that Curry has. The committee will never admit this, but it will definitely impact their decision to include Davidson. Butler may not have a player of Curry's stature, but they do have a resume that is worthy of an at-large if they need it. The Bulldogs have a marquee win (at Xavier), a solid RPI (27) and they would be the regular season champion in the 10th-rated conference in the country. Between the two, Davidson will be sweating it out a little more on Selection Sunday if they need an at-large. In the end, though, we are very confident that the Wildcats - and the Bulldogs - will get a bid.
Utah State at St. Mary's
The second biggest Bracketbuster game of the day takes place in Moraga, where the WAC-leading Aggies visit the desperate Gaels. It's a must-win for St. Mary's, who needs to prove to the committee that they can beat a quality opponent without Patty Mills. It's also a ginormous game for Utah State, especially if the Aggies are unable to win the WAC tournament. If a scenario unfolds where Utah State wins this game, wins out, but loses in the WAC tourney, they would be a fascinating case come Selection Sunday. They would be an eerily similar spot to where they were after the '03-'04 season. That Utah State team, which lost in the first round of the Big West tournament, finished 24-3 overall, 17-1 in the 18th-rated Big West. They had a 43 RPI and a win over a BYU team that made the NCAA tourney on their resume - and they didn't get a bid. This year's team, if the Aggies were to win out, would finish 24-3 overall and 15-1 in the 12th-rated WAC. They'd have a mid-30s RPI (their RPI is 34 right now), and a resume that includes a win over tourney-bound Utah. Would their fate be any different than the '03-'04 squad? Is an appearance in the WAC final all they need to feel safe? In our opinion, that's all they need to do to get a bid...but then again we also thought the '03-'04 Aggies would be dancing, too.
Northern Iowa at Siena
Of all the bubble teams playing Bracketbuster games today, the team with the most to lose might be Siena. The Saints, as everyone knows, played a challenging OOC schedule, but weren't able to add a single big win to their resume. They did beat Buffalo, Boise State, Cornell, and St. Joseph's out of conference, but none of those wins are real resume-builders. Since conference play started, they've dominated the MAAC, losing just one game (at Rider) and winning most of their games by double digits. They will enter the MAAC tournament as the clear favorite, but if they don't win it, they are going to be an extremely tough call on Selection Sunday. If they can't beat UNI today, especially at home, their chances at an at-large are slim. If they do win this game, though, and then win out but lose in the finals of the MAAC tourney, strong cases could be made for and against them getting a bid. Would the NCAA reward them for a tough schedule and top-35 RPI, or would they punish them for not winning any of those games? It's a real tough call, but if you're a Siena fan and your team doesn't get the automatic bid, one thing's for sure - you better hope a lot of big conference bubble teams lose early in their conference tournaments if you want to be smiling on Selection Sunday.
Big East bubble battles (Notre Dame at Providence, Louisville at Cincinnati, Marquette at Georgetown)
Between the Big East and ACC, there are eight bubble teams who have huge games today. The bubble battle of the day may be the one between Notre Dame and Providence. We hate to use the term "must win" but that is exactly the kind of game the Irish have today. Their slim at-large hopes would be virtually destroyed with a loss, since it would give them nine conference losses with a trip to UConn coming up next weekend. The Friars have Pitt coming in on Tuesday and if they can manage to win these next two they would be sitting pretty with 10 conference wins. The Bearcats and Hoyas are in a similar position to Providence. The Bearcats play West Virginia later this week, while the Hoyas have Louisville on Big Monday. Cincinnati is 0-6 vs. Big East teams in our current bracket, while Georgetown has not beaten a top 100 RPI team in well over a month. Both teams will need to win two of their next three (Cincinnati plays at Syracuse and Georgetown plays at 'Nova next weekend) to have any chance at a bid.
ACC bubble battles (Florida State at Virginia Tech, Boston College at Miami, North Carolina at Maryland)
It is make or break today for all of these ACC home bubble teams. It's the last game in Miami's brutal six-game stretch in which they have gone 1-4. The Hurricanes need to win out to get to 8-8 in ACC play and have a chance at an at-large. A win over the Eagles would give them the season sweep and get them going back in the right direction, but we still don't like their chances down the stretch. A win for the Eagles would put them in great shape with the easy conference schedule that they have left, and their fans could start thinking more about how high a seed the team can earn. This is the first of two late season matchups between FSU and Virginia Tech. The Hokies may need to win both of the matchups with the brutal finishing stretch they have (at Clemson, Duke, UNC). The Seminoles' regular season finish isn't much easier, but a win in Blacksburg would really take a lot of the pressure off and may get them back up to the 5 line they were on last week. No one may have more to gain with a win today than Maryland, and looking ahead, no one else in the nation has more of an opportunity than the Terps do to get big wins down the stretch. They have Duke coming in on Wednesday and Wake Forest coming in the week after, and the two road games they have left are relatively easy (at N.C. State and at Virginia). If the Terps can finish up by winning four of their last five, our friends at Terpcenter Radio will get their wish. Their team will be dancing.
MWC bubble battles (San Diego State at New Mexico, BYU at UNLV)
The Aztecs made their first bracket appearance two weeks ago after upsetting UNLV in Vegas. At the time, they were tied for first with a favorable schedule remaining to at least split a regular season MWC title. The game at New Mexico is probably their toughest game left and the Aztecs need to win it to keep their MWC and at-large hopes alive. We are basically the only ones left with BYU not in our bracket. That's because we still don't think the MWC has any chances for four bids in the end and because the Cougars have such a difficult schedule remaining. Their trip to Vegas today and their trip to San Diego later this week will determine their fate. If they can manage to win either one of those games, then we would have to insert them into the bracket over whichever team they beat. The Rebels suffered a devastating road loss this week at Wyoming and continue to slide down the MWC standings. Their good OOC wins (Arizona and at Louisville) will only take them so far. With the schedule they have remaining, they are in big risk of not even getting to double-digit wins in conference. This game against the Cougars is a must win for them since it would give them the season sweep and place them clearly ahead of BYU in the MWC pecking order.
Oklahoma at Texas
After picking up early season wins over UCLA, Villanova, and Wisconsin, Texas looked like it was good enough to challenge Oklahoma for the Big XII title. Things have changed a little bit since then. The (top-ranked) Sooners have lost a grand total of once all season and are considered by many people to be the best team in the country. The Longhorns, meanwhile, have been plagued by some spotty point guard play and are now fighting just to stay off the bubble. They've lost four of their last six games, and their blowout loss at A&M on Monday dropped them to an unimpressive 6-5 in conference. They have yet to beat a Big XII team that is currently in our bracket, which is not a good sign considering the not-so-easy schedule they have left. Their toughest test comes tonight when Oklahoma pays a visit to Austin. The Sooners won by 15 the first time these two teams played, snapping a six-game losing streak to the Longhorns in the process. If Texas can't beat their Red River rivals again tonight, there's a good chance they'll be a double-digit seed come Monday. A win by Oklahoma will make them the top overall seed in our next Field Of 65.
Tennessee at Kentucky
Do either of these teams want to make the tournament? They certainly aren't playing like it. The Wildcats have now dropped four of six after their 13-point loss at Vandy on Tuesday night, and the Volunteers, who some RPI-loving bracketologists still have at a 6 seed, are just 4-4 over their last eight games following their blowout loss Wednesday night at lowly Mississippi. Kentucky's RPI is down to 65 after the Vandy loss, and they are in serious trouble bracket-wise if they don't beat the Vols at home. A loss here and they'll be no better than Last Four In next week, and there's a pretty good chance they won't be in the bracket at all. If Tennessee loses, their decent OOC resume, 2nd-ranked SOS, and 22 RPI will keep them in the field, but they'll be no better than an 11 seed. If they plan on getting a single-digit seed on Selection Sunday, they better start winning some SEC road games. They have no quality road wins in conference yet, and they still have to play at Florida and at South Carolina.
Washington at USC
If Kentucky loses to Tennessee today, the biggest beneficiary might be USC. The Trojans slipped out of the bracket last week after getting swept in Arizona, but they took care of business Thursday night against Washington State and now get a chance at a resume-building win over the Pac-10-leading Huskies. If USC wins, there's a very good chance they finish 11-7 in conference, which should get them a bid. They hit the road next week for a huge set of games at Cal and Stanford and then return home for the Oregon schools to finish up. If they can win one of those two road games, which won't be easy given their 2-6 road record, all they'll need to do is win a game in the Pac-10 tournament to feel safe. If they can't win one of those road games, they are going to have to do some damage in the conference tourney to get a bid. A 10-8 conference record and one Pac-10 tourney win won't be good enough for the Trojans, whose best OOC win came against North Dakota State.
Also receiving votes: Arkansas at South Carolina, Auburn at LSU, Vanderbilt at Florida, Nebraska at Kansas, Kansas State at Iowa State, Texas A&M at Texas Tech, Memphis at UTEP, Dayton at Saint Louis
Also receiving votes (Bracketbuster edition): George Mason at Creighton, Miami (OH) at Evansville, Hofstra at Fairfield, Wisconsin-Green Bay at Long Beach State, Liberty at Old Dominion, Boise State at Portland State, Buffalo at Vermont, Northeastern at Wright State
Wake Forest at Duke
These two teams have struggled of late with each dropping three of their last six, but with strong finishes, both teams have a chance to climb back onto the one line. We're sure everyone remembers the last time these two met, when Wake hit a last second layup to bring Duke's short reign as #1 to an end. That game was less than a month ago, but it seems like a lot longer with the way each team has played since then. Wake has been awful on the road lately having dropped three in a row to Georgia Tech, Miami, and N.C. State. For that reason alone you have to like Duke in this one. The Blue Devils need this win to stay in the hunt for second place in the ACC, especially with the difficult schedule they have remaining. The loser of this one will put itself out of the discussion for a #1 seed and will also have to worry about playing on Day 1 of the conference tourney.
Wisconsin at Michigan State
The Big Ten is the only conference where all the bubble teams have had promising results in the past week. This has led some bracketologists to give the conference a ridiculous and almost impossible eight bids in their late week brackets. The Big Ten may be strong this year, but should nearly 75% of their teams make the tourney? The Badgers are in the midst of a five-game winning streak that moved them from extended bubble to solidly in. A win in East Lansing would put them not only in 4th place in the conference standings, but also 4th in the Big Ten pecking order. The Spartans are coming off a road loss against Purdue and need the win to stay a game up on the Boilermakers in the standings. Michigan State was the top 2 seed going into the week and they will probably need to win out, with the schedule they have left, to really get any consideration for a 1 seed.
Arizona at Arizona State
The Wildcats are another team who has recently climbed off the extended bubble and into the field. Their seven-game winning streak is by far their longest of the season. The most noticeable aspect of that winning streak was the fact that five of the seven games came at home and the lone road trip was to the lowly Oregon schools. If you look at it with the glass half full, you could say that Arizona is on a seven-game win streak in which they picked up their first two road wins of the season. Now they face their longest road trip of the season, with games at the Washington schools later looking this coming week. Even if the Wildcats only come up with one victory in the three game roadie they will likely still be fine, so long as they close out the year with two wins at home against the Bay Area schools (that would give them 11 conference wins.) The Sun Devils need to keep their focus on this matchup instead of on the upcoming battle they have with first place Washington on Thursday. Their star sophomore and Pac-10 leading scorer, James Harden, will likely need to take a more active role then he has in the past few games. He has only averaged 12 points over his last three games, which is will below his 20+ point scoring average for the season. If the Sun Devils can pull off the victory, it would give them two straight season sweeps over the Wildcats, which has never happened.
Also receiving votes: Villanova at Syracuse, Illinois at Ohio State, Michigan at Iowa, Northwestern at Minnesota