A look at the six most notable games on Wednesday's schedule:
Duke at Clemson
The Tigers get another shot at one of the ACC powers with Duke coming in. They didn't fare well in their games against Wake Forest and UNC a few weeks ago but picked up a big win at Virginia Tech last week. They have put together a real nice resume, especially on the road, but they still lack that marquee win that would make them a team to consider for a top seed. A win over Duke would certainly quiet some of their doubters, and more importantly it would keep them in the hunt for the ACC title. They don't get to play Duke or UNC again and have to travel to Wake in their season finale so this is their best shot at that marquee win. This is the start of a brutal conference finish for the Blue Devils. Over their final 10 games they get UNC twice, Wake Forest at home, and have to travel to BC and Virginia Tech.
Wake Forest at Miami (FL)
After being comfortably in the bracket for weeks, the Hurricanes are in a whole heap of trouble right now. They've lost three in a row and four of their last five in conference, a slide which includes losses last week at N.C. State and at fellow ACC bubble boy Maryland. Those results, which knocked them out of this week's bracket, were especially damaging considering the gauntlet that Miami is about to face. The Hurricanes host Wake tonight, play at Cameron Indoor on Saturday, and then next week, they host Carolina and play at Florida State. It's a brutal stretch that certainly gives them opportunities to pick up a quality win, but it also could effectively end their at-large chances. Tonight, the Hurricanes welcome a Wake team that has stumbled a little of late, losing two of three, including Saturday's disaster against Georgia Tech. Even with the loss, Wake stayed at the top of the 2 line, thanks to their head-to-head wins over both Duke and UNC. If Miami goes 1-1 this week, they would might still need a BC or Virginia Tech loss to get in the field next week. The ACC is not going to get eight bids, and given the Hurricanes' remaining schedule, nine wins will be tough to come by.
Notre Dame at Cincinnati
It's officially panic time in South Bend. Notre Dame's losing skid, which has now reached five games, knocked them out of our Field of 65 this week, and unfortunately for Irish fans, there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon. With its Saturday showdown at UCLA looming large, ND heads to Cincinnati tonight for what certainly won't be a gimme. The Bearcats, who are a game up on ND in conference, beat Georgetown at home last week, and back on Jan. 10, they gave UConn all it could handle for 30 minutes before the Huskies pulled away late. The Irish, meanwhile, have lost their last four conference road games, dating all the way back to their loss to St. John's at the Garden on Jan. 3. If they are going to snap that streak and get back in the win column for the first time in three weeks, they are going to need someone other than Luke Harangody to show up. ND's supporting cast has been M.I.A. during their skid, and the biggest culprit of late has been (former) sharpshooter Kyle McAlarney, who is 9-for-38 from the field over his last three games. Even if the Irish win this game, it doesn't guarantee them a spot in the bracket next week (unless of course they win at Pauley Pavilion.). If Cincy wins, they would thrust themselves right into the Big East bubble mix, and would set up a huge showdown Saturday at Georgetown. If the Bearcats won that one, too, they'd be dancing on Monday.
West Virginia at Syracuse and Villanova at Providence
All four of these teams are all currently in a battle for 5th place in the Big East. The Friars climbed onto the bubble with their win over Syracuse last week and have games against Villanova and West Virginia this week to prove that they are the 5th best team in the Big East. They OOC resume is just as weak as Penn State's though, and they have an easy Big East schedule, so 11 wins are probably necessary for them to warrant a bid. Villanova finally proved themselves last week which shot them up to a 6 seed. A win over Providence would give them their first good road win on the year. Syracuse looks to snap a 3 game losing streak as they hit the halfway point in a brutal 10-game stretch of Big East games, while the Mountaineers could use a quality Big East victory (they have none over a team with a winning conference mark) for their resume. They thought they had one with their win at Georgetown a few weeks ago but that has since lost its luster.
Minnesota at Michigan State
The Spartans look to get back on track on their home floor after dropping two straight there for the first time since 1997. If they can't do so against Minnesota they will fall off the 3 line and into a tie for first place in conference. In their first meeting Michigan State handed Minnesota their first loss of the season on New Year's Eve. We have the Gophers at a 4 seed in this week's bracket which is higher than most other bracketologists, but they deserve it. They took care of business out of conferece, which included a win over Louisville, and blew out Illinois last week to prove that they are the 3rd best team in the Big Ten. A win for the Gophers here would put them in first place and you would have to consider them the best team out of the Big Ten.
USC at UCLA
Even at 6-3 in the Pac-10, the Trojans' spot in the bracket is still not all that secure. They beat Stanford and Cal at home last week to move up one spot to the 11 line, but those wins underlined a common theme for the Trojans this season. They have played extremely well at home (they also have home wins over Arizona State and Arizona), but they have struggled away from L.A. USC is 2-4 overall on the road, and the only two conference teams they've beaten on the road are Oregon and Washington State. That doesn't bode well for a team embarking on a three-game roadie that takes them to UCLA tonight and to the Arizona schools next week. Some bracketologists have the Trojans as high as a seven seed right now, but that seems a bit short-sighted considering what they have ahead of them. Tonight they face a UCLA team that pulled off a Cal-Stanford sweep itself last week and has begun to distance itself as the best team in the Pac-10. The Bruins are up to a 4 seed this week, which is where the Pac-10 champ will probably end up. If USC can pull the upset here, it would get them up to 8 or 9 line; a loss and two wins this week by resurgent Arizona would likely get the Wildcats in over USC as the last Pac-10 bid come Monday.
Also receiving votes: Missouri at Texas, Tennessee at Arkansas, Boston College at Virginia, Texas A&M at Oklahoma, LSU at Georgia, Utah at TCU, Dayton at LaSalle