Bracket Banter is our daily open thread to discuss all things bracket. Readers can post comments and questions during the night's games, and we will answer those questions as the night goes on.
Debates about 1 seeds are fun and all, but the first week in March is all about the bubble. Tonight, a half dozen bubble teams get to stake their claim to a spot in the bracket.
The biggest and most anticipated game of the night is Ohio State at Penn State. The Nittany Lions have been one of the most talked about teams on this site over the past couple weeks, and much of that discussion has centered around their ability to win this game. If they do win, and follow up that win with a victory at Minnesota this weekend, they'll be dancing. If they lose tonight, they'll need a win over the Gophers and a trip to the Big Ten semis to be in the at-large mix. If they win tonight and then lose at Minnesota, one Big Ten tourney win would probably be enough, and two would almost certainly get them a bid. Got all that?
The other hotly debated bubble team in action tonight is Alabama, which travels to Gainesville to take on Florida. There is probably no better poster child right now for why the 68-team field is a bad idea than the Crimson Tide. Despite an 89 RPI (89!) and a resume that features more bad losses than good wins, the Tide are very much alive for an at-large bid. If they win this game against the Gators, it's hard to see them getting left out. If they lose, the debate continues. Would a win over Georgia this weekend, and a 12-4 finish, be enough? How many SEC tourney wins would they need at that point to be safe? One? Two?
In Big XII bubble action, Baylor plays at Oklahoma State and Nebraska hosts Missouri. The Huskers are barely clinging to a spot on the bubble right now after their brutal loss at Iowa State over the weekend. A win here won't get them back in the bracket, but it will at least keep them relevant heading into the weekend. They'd have to win at Colorado on Saturday and then make a very deep Big XII tourney run to get in. Baylor, meanwhile, enters the final week of the regular season on the right side of the bubble, but not by much. They're probably going to need a sweep of the Cowboys and Longhorns this week to have a chance at an at-large. Two wins would get them to 9-7 in conference, which should make up for their lack of an OOC resume. A 1-1 week would leave them needing two Big XII tourney wins to stay alive.
The final bubble game of night takes place in the ACC, where Boston College plays at Virginia Tech in what is essentially a "play-out" game for the Eagles. If they lose to the Hokies, we can't see any way that BC gets an at-large. If they're able to pull the upset, and then take care of Wake Forest at home on Sunday, they'll probably be in the bracket heading into the ACC tourney. A loss would definitely put a crack in Virginia Tech's resume, but it wouldn't necessarily knock them out next week. They'd have to win at Clemson this weekend and win a game (maybe two) in the ACC tourney to like their chances.
Finally, in non-bubble action, Vanderbilt plays at Kentucky and Illinois plays at Purdue. The Vandy-Kentucky game is important for both in terms of seeding, but it's more important for the Wildcats considering they already lost to the Commodores once and trail them by a game in conference. There aren't many teams in the country playing better than Purdue over the last three weeks, and they take a six-game win streak into their game against the Illini. A 2-0 finish to their regular season would put them in great shape for a 2 seed heading into the Big Ten tournament. Illinois probably just needs to win at home against Indiana this weekend and then win one Big Ten tourney game to lock down a bid.
The Horizon and the Big South both begin conference tournament action tonight. In the first round of the Horizon, Cleveland State plays Illinois-Chicago, Valparaiso plays Youngstown State, Loyola (IL) takes on Detroit, and Green Bay takes on Wright State. Top-seeded Milwaukee and second-seeded Butler have byes to the semifinals. In the Big South, top-seeded Coastal Carolina opens with Gardner-Webb.
Also keep an eye on: San Diego State at Wyoming