A look at the four most notable games on Thursday's schedule:
UCLA at Arizona State
UCLA finished up a 4-0 homestand with double-digit wins over USC and Notre Dame last week. The Bruins moved up to a 3 seed in this week's bracket as a result, which is the highest they've been since the beginning of January. One of the teams responsible for knocking them off the 3 line back then was Arizona State, who won at Pauley Pavilion in OT on Jan. 17. It's been a weird up-and-down stretch for the Sun Devils ever since then; they've won all three of their road games but lost both of their home games, and they check in at a 7 seed in this week's bracket. They return home tonight, after a successful trip to the Oregon schools, to face the Bruins again. It's the start of a huge three-game homestand for ASU, which welcomes USC on Sunday and then Arizona next weekend. A sweep would rocket them up to the 4 line, and even two wins might give them a little separation from some of the other Pac-10 teams in the field (Cal, ASU, and Washington are all within five spots on the S-curve of each other this week). With a win, UCLA would move up to the top of the 3 line, and if they can get a win at Arizona on Saturday and get some help from Notre Dame tonight, the Bruins may end up a 2 on Sunday night.
USC at Arizona
After USC lost at UCLA last week, and Arizona swept the Oregon schools, it looked for a day and a half or so that the Wildcats would jump back into the bracket - and do so at the Trojans' expense. But losses by a handful of bubble teams late Saturday and early Sunday paved the way for both teams to make the field this week, which gave the Pac-10 six bids for the first time this season. Due to some seeding restrictions, both teams were placed on the 12 line (they are both worthy of 11 seeds, and in Arizona's case, maybe a 10). Now they face off against each other in a game that has plenty short-term and long-term ramifications for both. The winner of this game pretty much guarantees themselves a spot in the field next week, while the loser will likely have to pick up a win over the weekend to stay in. It's an especially big game for Arizona, considering they already lost to USC back on Jan. 17, and another loss here would put them a game and half back of the Trojans in the Pac-10 standings. Given USC's road woes this season (they're 2-5), the Wildcats have to like their chances.
Louisville at Notre Dame
Continuing to talk about ND's losing streak is getting tiring, but we just can't help ourselves. They need to start getting some wins to stay above .500 and at least qualify for the NIT. An interesting statistic from their seven-game losing streak is that their RPI has only fallen to from 61 to 79 because of how difficult their schedule has been. Thursday night will celebrate the one-month anniversary of the streak, which started against Lousiville. The Irish were still showing some effort back then and took the Cardinals to overtime. The lone bright spot during the losing streak has been Luke Harangody's continued solid play, but he even laid an egg in their last loss to UCLA when he went 2-for-12 and scored a season low five points. The Cardinals were able to stay on the 2 line this week despite their blowout home loss to Connecticut last week. They still have a great chance to win the Big East with the schedule they have left. Five of their last eight games are against teams not currently in our bracket, they don't have to play Pitt or UConn again, and they get Marquette at home.
Gonzaga at St. Mary's
We were forced to drop St. Mary's from our bracket this week as they continue to falter without Patty Mills. This one is probably a must-win for them if they want to have any chance at an at-large bid. They have already dropped 3three of four and two of those losses were by double digits to Portland and Santa Clara. The committee will definitely take the Mills injury into account, but the Gaels still need to look like a halfway decent team without him. They still have time to turn things around and prove themselves by winning against Gonzaga and also in the BracketBuster game against Utah State. If they can't win either of these games then their only chance for a bid would be to win the WCC tournament in Vegas. Gonzaga also got blown out over the weekend when Memphis came into Spokane for an ESPN primetime matchup. The Bulldogs saw their seed drop to a 6, and need to win out in conference to prevent their seed from really taking a nose dive. Their OOC resume has really lost a lot of its luster in the past month since the teams they beat (Tennessee, Maryland, and Oklahoma State) have all faltered in conference play.
Also receiving votes: Illinois at Northwestern, Oregon State at Washington, Utah State at Idaho