A look at the four most notable games on Thursday's schedule:
Minnesota at Illinois
Minnesota hasn't fallen all the way to bubble status just yet, but they're getting pretty darn close. The Gophers are just 4-6 in their last 10 games (two of those win have come against Indiana) and they've have slipped to 8-7 in the Big Ten and down to the 9 line in our latest bracket. The biggest reason behind their slide has been their awful play on the road. They've lost their last four conference road games (at Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan) and for the season they have just one road win against a Big Ten team that is currently in the field (Wisconsin). That's not a very encouraging trend for Gopher fans, whose team will face another tough road test tonight in Champaign. Before last week's hideous showing against Penn State, the Illini had won six straight conference home games - over the likes of Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. They enter this game fresh off a nice road win over the Buckeyes on Sunday, and a victory here would keep their slim chance at winning a Big Ten title alive. Illinois sits a game and half back of Michigan State with three games to play. They host the Spartans this weekend before finishing up at Penn State next Thursday. Minnesota would drop to at least a 10 seed with a loss here and will slip closer to the bubble, but we are not of the opinion that they will fall apart and miss the tourney altogether. They have played well at home and they finish with home games against Wisconsin and Michigan; a 1-1 split and one Big Ten tourney win should be enough to get the Gophers a bid.
Purdue at Michigan
We still have no clue why John Beilein benched Manny Harris in overtime against Iowa on Sunday, but we do know this: Michigan's loss to the Hawkeyes may prove crippling to their already slim at-large hopes. The Wolverines are probably going to have to win out to get a bid, and that will be next to impossible given their remaining schedule and their season-long road woes. They host red-hot Purdue, winners of four in a row and 10 of their last 12, tonight and then hit the road for games at Wisconsin and at Minnesota to finish up. The Wolverines have just two true road wins this season, and those wins came at Northwestern and at Indiana. We know it's probably foolish to count Michigan out considering how up-and-down they have been all year, but we find it hard to believe that they are going to play well enough down the stretch to snag one of the final at-large spots. This game is also extremely important to the Boilermakers, who are in a three-way battle for the Big Ten regular season crown. A win would keep them a game behind Michigan State, who they already beat once, with three to play. The two teams face off in East Lansing next Sunday in the regular season finale for both.
West Virginia at Cincinnati
The Bearcats haven't played a game yet this week, but their at-large hopes have already taken a serious hit. Providence's upset of top-ranked Pitt vaulted the the Friars past Cincinnati in the Big East pecking order, and made it imperative that the Bearcats counter with a win here tonight against West Virginia. Cincinnati should be able to win its last two games (at South Florida, home vs. Seton Hall), and will need to win either this game or Sunday's game at Syracuse to finish 10-8 in conference. From there, two Big East will be need for the Bearcats to be in the discussion on Selection Sunday. Cincinnati will have to shoot the ball a lot better - and do a better job on the offensive glass - than they did against Louisville over the weekend if they are going to upset a West Virginia team that has been on fire defensively. The Mountaineers have won three straight games, holding high-scoring Villanova to 72 points, Notre Dame to just 68, and Rutgers to 56. Offensively, they've been riding the hot shooting of Da'Sean Butler, who has averaged over 24 points per game over his last three. A win tonight would give West Virginia a great chance of finishing 11-7 in conference, which would likely be good for a 6 seed in our bracket heading into the Big East tourney.
Arizona State at Washington
This one is a battle for the Pac-10 title. Both teams have a good chance to win out after this game, especially Washington, which makes the result here that much more important. The Sun Devils were able to hold on against Arizona over the weekend to set up this showdown. (By the way, how stupid are ASU students? First they rush the court after beating UCLA, which was a little questionable, then they rush against unranked Arizona?) The last time the Sun Devils lost was when the Huskies visited Tempe. Their five game winning streak has helped them climb to a 4 seed. They don't have much of an OOC resume, but if they are able to win out until Selection Sunday, they will climb to a 3 seed. A win for the Huskies would clearly make them the top team in the Pac-10. Like most Pac-10 teams, their OOC resume features no wins over current tourney teams, so getting above the 4 line may be difficult.
Also receiving votes: Miami at Virginia, North Carolina State at Wake Forest, UCLA at Stanford, Arizona at Washington State, USC at California, Xavier at St. Joseph's, LaSalle at Temple, Memphis at UAB, Hawaii at Utah State, St. Mary's at Pepperdine, Gonzaga at Santa Clara