Bracketology: Top 10 Games to Watch This Week

February 26th, 2012

We're getting down to the nitty gritty. Some leagues have already wrapped up their schedules, while others have a couple of games left. Here's a breakdown of this week's Top 10 games as it relates to NCAA Tournament Bracketology and the Bubble:  

1) Wednesday: Northwestern (17-11, 7-9) vs Ohio St (23-5, 11-4)

Even average sports fans know that Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats could somehow knock off the top 10 Buckeyes, their tourney dreams could finally come true. But that's a big if. When Northwestern went to Columbus back in December, the Buckeyes won by 33 points. But Northwestern has been solid at home, and its fun to keep dreams alive.


2) Wednesday: NC State (18-11, 7-7) vs Miami (16-10, 7-6)

NC state has lost 4 straight at the worst possible time. But if they were to beat Miami and then finish 9-7 in the ACC, they'd certainly have a shot at the bubble. Miami is in a very similar situation, stringing along near .500 in conference, trying to take advantage of the ACC's weakness. Miami has the better RPI and the better marquee win (at Duke), but no non-conference wins of note. The loser should be relegated to the NIT.


3) Tuesday: UCONN (17-11, 7-9) at Providence (14-15, 3-13)

UCONN came oh so close to topping Syracuse on Saturday, and perhaps booking their ticket to the Dance. Instead, they have a road game at Providence and a home tilt with Pittsburgh to prove they deserve a bid. Despite PC's weak overall record, they've been competitive at home and should give UCONN a stiff test. If UCONN can't win this game they don't deserve to go anywhere near the NCAA Tournament.


4) Saturday: South Florida (17-11, 10-5) vs West Virginia (17-12, 7-9)

A month ago, West Virginia seemed like a tourney lock, and South Florida didn't even seem like an NIT team. But in college basketball, a few weeks can change everything. WVU has lost 7 of 9 games, including 4 in a row at home. After hosting DePaul on Tuesday (they can't conceivably lose that game, can they?), West Virginia heads to Tampa to face a Bulls team with an outside shot at a bid as well. This could very well be an elimination game, the loser's dreams busted.


5) Tuesday: Saint Louis (22-6, 10-4) vs Xavier (18-10, 9-5)

Xavier is a perfect example of a bubble team. A team that top teams would be afraid to face, yet a team that can't seem to put it all together.  They've been playing .500 ball for a month, and haven't beaten a top 100 team on the road since late November (Vanderbilt.) SLU blew a golden chance to lock up a tourney bid by losing to URI on Saturday. It was their first bad loss of the season, and came at the worst possible time. If they were to bounce back and beat Xavier, they'd 100% be assured of a spot in the field of 68. If SLU were to lose.. well, Bills fans don't want to even consider that possibility.


6) Wednesday: Tennessee (16-13, 8-6) at LSU (17-11, 7-7)

LSU simply didn't show up at Ole Miss on Saturday, losing by 24. That game probably ruined their at-large hopes, but they can still play spoiler against a Tennessee team riding the bubble. Tennessee has two wins over Florida and a win over UCONN, not to mention an over .500 SEC record. Their biggest problem has been winning on the road. If they were to top LSU, adding both a road win and another Top 100 RPI win to their resume, the Vols might be Dancing. Who would have guessed that after a 2-6 start?


7) Tuesday: UCF (20-8, 9-5) at Memphis (21-8, 11-3)

After a shock loss to UTEP last week, Memphis bounced back with 2 straight wins, including a 20 point blowout over Marshall. This probably assures them of a tourney bid. UCF still has slim bubble chances, but a win over Memphis is a must. The Knights already topped Memphis at home, and also have a win against UCONN under their belt. A second win over Memphis and a strong 11-5 CUSA record would certainly look good to the committee. But their dreams are 100% dashed if they don't win.


8) Saturday: Southern Miss (23-16, 10-4) at Marshall (17-11, 8-6)

Despite a top 20 RPI, Southern Miss has not locked up a bid. Two straight road losses to Houston and UTEP last week came at the worst possible time. Marshall is a solid team, but their blowout loss to Memphis on Saturday shows how vulnerable they are. Southern Miss not only need a win, but they need an equally emphatic win to show they're for real. If Southern Miss beats SMU on Wednesday and then rolls against Marshall, I don't see how the committee couldn't give them a bid.


9) Wednesday: Saint Joseph's (19-11, 9-6) vs Saint Bonaventure (16-10, 9-5)

The Hawks don't get much attention nationally, but I think they have the committee's attention. After all, they're ranked 51st in the RPI, and hold wins over Creighton and Temple, not to mention 6 other top 100 w's. If not for a 3-point hiccup loss to Richmond last week, they might very well be featured in every Bracketology projection. As it is, they're on the outside looking in, needing a strong finish to their season. This is by no means an easy game, but the Hawks can't afford to lose.


10) Saturday: Washington (20-8, 13-3) at UCLA (16-13, 9-7)

The way things have played out, it does look like the Pac-12 will get a 2nd bid. Whether the league actually deserves a 2nd bid is an open question. Washington finishes their schedule with road games in Los Angeles, at USC and then at UCLA. Assuming they beat lowly USC, this sets up an intriguing nationally televised CBS game in which UCLA can play the roll of spoiler. I wouldn't say UW 100% needs this win, but a loss would not help the cause..