A look at the six most notable games on Wednesday's schedule:
Notre Dame at West Virginia
We didn't expect the Irish to quietly fade into oblivion, but we certainly didn't expect this. Their blowout win over Louisville on Thursday was convincing enough to get them back on our Next Four Out list, and it has them back in the discussion for the final Big East at-large. Whether or not they complete a miracle comeback and sneak into the field may be decided over the next few days. ND kicks off its week tonight at West Virginia, and then they play at Providence on Saturday. Their schedule after the Providence game isn't that hard (Rutgers, at UConn, Villanova, St. John's), and if they could ever go 2-0 this week, it would likely ensure them of no worse than a 9-9 finish in conference. The Irish would probably still need to win at least two games in the Big East tournament to lock down a bid, but with their talent level and their (at times) high-powered offense, that scenario is not out of the realm of possibility. First things first, though, they'll need to find a way to upset a Mountaineers team that has played extremely well at home this season. Led by Da'Sean Butler's 43 points, West Virginia destroyed Villanova in Morgantown on Friday night, holding the high-octane 'Nova offense to just 72 points. That's 30 points fewer than the Wildcats averaged against Syracuse and Marquette in the two games prior.
Providence at Louisville
Providence is holding on to the eighth and final Big East bid for the moment, but as we've discussed at length already this week, there are several teams right on their tail. One of those teams is Cincinnati, who the Friars just replaced in our Field of 65. At 8-5 in conference, Providence has a slight edge resume-wise right now over the Bearcats, who they've beaten twice head-to-head. Unfortunately for the Friars, the schedule makers didn't make things too easy for them down the stretch. They have the toughest schedule left of any of the Big East bubble teams, and tonight they face an angry Louisville team that returns home after being embarrassed in South Bend. After this game, Providence hosts Notre Dame on Saturday in what is going to be a huge bubble battle. Then they host Pittsburgh and finish up with games at Rutgers and at Villanova. It's a daunting set of games for a team that has admittedly overachieved this year. Making things even harder tonight is the fact that, after UConn's loss to Pitt, Louisville knows it is still much alive in the race for the Big East title. We're sure Rick Pitino let his guys know this, and there are a bunch of bubble teams out there hoping his message was heard loud and clear.
Miami (FL) at Florida State
Maybe we're missing something, but we have absolutely no idea why so many bracketologists still have Miami in their brackets. There is no way, especially if the bracket is supposed to be based on the "season ending today" that a Miami team that is 4-7 in conference and that has lost five of its last six games still deserves a bid. The Hurricanes may have some good ACC wins (Wake, FSU, BC, Maryland), but three out of those four came at home, and in between those wins, Miami has lost at N.C. State and to Virginia Tech at home. Miami hasn't done much out of conference either, and their only OOC win of note - a victory at Kentucky back in December - doesn't look all that great anymore. To get a bid, Miami might have to win out, and that challenge starts tonight at Florida State. The 'Noles are coming off a 23-point beatdown at the hands of Wake over the weekend that dropped them to 6-4 in conference and from a 5 seed to a 7 seed in our latest bracket. Their remaining schedule (this game, then at VT, at BC, Clemson, at Duke, and VT) is pretty rough, which makes holding serve at home against a Miami team that has already beaten them once that much more important.
Virginia Tech at Virginia
We don't know why so many bracketologists have Virginia Tech safely in either (Lunardi has them a 9 seed ahead of BC). The Hokies were able to sneak into the bracket a few weeks ago after their road wins over Wake Forest and Miami. Since then, they have lost threeof five, including a loss at fellow bubble boy Maryland this past weekend. Their best OOC win was against Fairfield and they have a borderline 51 RPI. Getting nine wins in conference is a must for the Hokies, which makes this one a must-win with their remaining schedule (FSU twice, Clemson, Duke, and UNC). A 3-3 finish for the Hokies will have them dancing, but they better not take the Cavaliers lightly. Clemson did that this weekend and suffered an OT loss that broke Virginia's eight-game losing streak.
Penn State at Illinois
Just when we were ready to write the Nittany Lions off, they went out and snapped their three-game skid with a win over Minnesota. The win got them back over .500 in conference, but still leaves them with plenty of work to do. Penn State has already beaten the best conference team on the road and now looks to knock off the second best. It certainly won't be an easy task since the Illini have yet to drop a conference home game. Nittany Lion fans hope that Talor Battle's 21 point performance over the weekend broke him out of his slump in which he scored only 19 total points in three straight losses. He will certainly need to have a big game for Penn State to have any chance. The Illini moved up to a 4 seed this week after going 2-0 last week and are now only one game out of first after Michigan State lost to Purdue. They would probably have to win out to have a chance at first, which would likely mean at least a 3 seed on Selection Sunday.
South Carolina at Mississippi State
The Gamecocks have quietly won six of seven and have solidified their spot in the bracket. They have a gaudy 18-5 record but have been unable to climb higher than the 11 line since they have no OOC resume and 10 of their wins have come against teams with RPIs greater than 150. They were able to pull off another last-second thriller at Alabama on Saturday when they came back from a 10-point halftime deficit. You also may not have noticed that the Gamecocks are tied for first in the SEC East with Tennessee and have a relatively easy schedule remaining. This game against the Bulldogs is their most difficult road game remaining, and they have the luxury of playing Kentucky and Tennessee at home. If they can win this game tonight then they would have to be viewed as the favorite to win the SEC East and they would see a dramatic rise in their current seed next week.
Also receiving votes: North Carolina State at North Carolina, Georgetown at South Florida, Alabama at Florida, Tennessee at Mississippi, Ohio State at Northwestern, Colorado at Nebraska, Butler at Milwaukee, UNLV at Wyoming, Utah at Colorado State