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One last gasp. One final chance.
Although conference tournaments for several leagues are underway, most bubble-dwelling teams will reach them after the upcoming weekend. If a team’s regular season hasn’t finished already, it will end no later than Sunday.
And most significantly as March Madness is nearly here, several at-large hopefuls have a terrific chance to bolster their resumes.
Yes, it’s true every remaining game is key for bubble teams. Every loss is damaging to some degree. However, the impact of Texas Tech falling to Kansas is far less dramatic than, say, North Carolina State losing at home to Wake Forest.
Our focus, rather, is exploring the significance of Texas Tech toppling Kansas or Tennessee defeating Auburn, for example.
The other schools in NC State’s category—a win is good, a loss is dreadful—are Richmond (at Duquesne), South Carolina (at Vanderbilt), Mississippi State (vs. Ole Miss), Arkansas (at Texas A&M), Rhode Island (at UMass), Cincinnati (vs. Temple) and Wichita State (vs. Tulsa).
That group is looking at a “survive and advance” type of weekend. Assuming a win, their respective performances in conference tournaments will be more meaningful.
Otherwise, bubble teams have varying degrees of upside.
In the noon ET window Saturday, Tennessee hosts No. 17 Auburn and Indiana welcomes No. 24 Wisconsin, Florida entertains sixth-ranked Kentucky an hour later. Tennessee is facing a realistic yet challenging climb back to the bubble but has a chance to follow an upset of Kentucky with another Quadrant 1 triumph.
Indiana could just about secure an at-large with a victory, while Florida would do exactly that.
Florida is slightly more comfortable than Texas Tech, which is coming into Saturday’s clash with No. 1 Kansas on a three-game skid. While the Red Raiders may be headed to the Big Dance anyway, a victory should make them feel very comfortable.
Nevertheless, a loss will leave Tech desperate for at least one Big 12 tourney win, lest the Red Raiders feel awfully bubbly.
Elsewhere in the conference, Oklahoma has a relatively favorable outlook even after a deflating loss to Texas on Tuesday.
Saturday’s trip to TCU isn’t a “make-or-break” contest for the Sooners. Although a victory wouldn’t be strong enough to solidify the resume, a Quadrant 2 road loss wouldn’t be reason for panic. Still, a win should maintain the gap between Oklahoma and an uncertain outlook on Selection Sunday.
Texas is somewhere between the NC State-level group and Oklahoma, as far as the perception of its next result.
The Longhorns are suddenly an at-large factor again thanks to a five-game winning streak featuring three Quadrant 1 victories. If they fall at home to Oklahoma State, it hurts. Not ruinous, but a loss would be more problematic than a win would be positive.
Stanford’s letdown at Oregon State means the Cardinal are seeking a valuable fifth Quadrant 1 win at No. 14 Oregon. What could’ve been a timely resume boost is now practically a must-win.
And in the Big Ten, Purdue will host Rutgers. This matchup has a variety of potential impacts, depending on who you ask.
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Some will say Rutgers would be an at-large lock with a victory in West Lafayette, Indiana. That topic is evenly matched enough to suggest the Scarlet Knights may not feel secure unless they manage some combination of two wins over Purdue and in the Big Ten tourney.
Purdue, meanwhile, has a bunch of quality wins alongside a single bad loss. Still, the Boilermakers have 14 total losses—and at some point, that volume is a problem. Lose to Rutgers, and the uphill climb gets a little steeper. Pull out the win, and their resume will be a controversial one as they enter the conference tournament.
The long story short? Win. Because the aftermath of the alternative won’t be comfortable either way.
USC and UCLA fit a similar mold. USC is on the precipice of sealing its at-large future, and UCLA must continue stacking wins as it recovers from a 10-10 start. The loser of Saturday’s contest will have work to do heading into the Pac-12 tourney.
We saved the most critical for last: Utah State.
After a victory Thursday over New Mexico, the Aggies are in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament. However, a recent loss to that same Lobos squad has most likely put Utah State in a situation where it must win the Mountain West.
Friday, they’ll play in the semifinals. Should they advance, Saturday’s championship will probably be opposite San Diego State—which swept the regular-season series and is a potential NCAA No. 1 seed.
If Utah State loses at any point, it’s likely fair to remove the Aggies from the bubble conversation. But if they’re cutting down the nets in Las Vegas, the bubble will have shrunk by one.