A look at the four most notable games on Thursday's schedule:
Penn State at Michigan
This one is an absolute must-win for the slumping Wolverines. They've lost five of six, which includes a 15-point loss at Penn State. Their RPI has dropped all the way to 54 and they are 4-6 in conference play. Another loss to Penn State would not only make them the 7th best Big Ten team (at best), but would also make it virtually impossible for them to finish above .500 in league play. The Nittany Lions have won four in a row and made their bracket debut at a 9 seed this week. They have been one of the most surprising teams of the season and this will likely be their most successful season ever in Big Ten play. They are currently in the toughest stretch of their schedule with four of the next six on the road, but they have already proven that they can win a big road game. If they can pull out another win in the state of Michigan, talk will turn towards their potential seed and a possible conference title instead of whether or not they are bracket- worthy.
Illinois at Wisconsin
It's been almost a month since Wisconsin won a game, a skid that has taken them from a 5 seed to off our bubble radar altogether. Things don't get any easier for the Badgers this week, either. Illinois comes to town tonight, and then Wisconsin plays at Penn State on Sunday. A two-loss week and they're officially done. Illinois, on the other hand, has itself moving in the opposite direction. The Illini bounced back from a hideous offensive performance against Minnesota last week (they scored 36 points, their fewest in 24 years) with a home win over Iowa over the weekend to improve to 6-3 in conference. They are on the 5 line in this week's bracket, but they have a real good chance to move back up to a 4 come Monday. Purdue's loss at Ohio State on Tuesday and Minnesota's loss at Michigan State last night have left the door open for Illinois to grab the second bid out of the Big Ten, which warrants at least a 4 seed. The Illini host Purdue on Sunday, and if they are able to complete a season sweep of the Boilermakers and finish the week 2-0, they very well might find themselves on the 3 line in our next bracket.
Washington at California
The Bears have fallen on hard times having lost four of five, which has dropped from a 3 seed a few weeks ago to a generous 7 seed in this week's bracket. The losing streak started just after their 3OT win at Washington that had extended their win streak to 9 games. At the time, they looked like the best team in the Pac-10, but now need a win to even really stay in the conference race. Their next three are winnable home games against the Washington schools and Stanford. If they drop one or two of these games then they will start to be considered a bubble team and be compared with fellow Pac-10 bubble boys USC and Arizona. The Huskies are finishing up a four-game roadie in the Bay Area this weekend. They went 1-1 against the Arizona schools last week and would probably be satisfied with the same result this week. They have five of their last seven at home and are in a great position to challenge UCLA for the conference title so long as they don't go 0-2 this weekend.
Arizona at Oregon State
Look who's back in the bubble discussion. After losing five of its first seven Pac-10 games, Arizona fell off the map completely, but three straight wins - including two conference wins over Washington and Washington State at home last week - have the Wildcats knocking on the door to the bracket once again. Another two-win week and they might be back in the field, but for that to happen, Arizona will have to do something they haven't done all year - win a true road game. The Wildcats are 0-6 (yikes) away from home this season, and they open a weekend trip to the Oregon schools against Oregon State tonight. The Beavers have parlayed their suddenly hot shooting into four straight wins, and at 4-5, they are right in thick of things in the crowded Pac-10 standings. If Arizona goes 2-0 this week (to move to 6-5 in conference, the Wildcats will likely get the fifth and final Pac-10 bid over USC, who got pounded at UCLA last night. Arizona's OOC resume is light years better than the Trojans' (their SDSU win is looking real good right now), and they host USC next Thursday in a game you would expect the Wildcats to win.
Also receiving votes: Arizona State at Oregon, Washington State at Stanford, Temple at Xavier, Gonzaga at Portland, San Francisco at St. Mary's