Before getting into Saturday's games, a congratulatory paragraph is in order for Lehigh, who became the most recent automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament with their 74-59 win over Lafayette in the Patriot League final. Zahir Carrington was a man possessed inside for the Mountain Hawks, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks while Patriot League Rookie of the Year C.J. McCollum led all scorers with 20 points (seven rebounds and three assists as well). Lafayette shot 3-for-23 from behind the arc and due to the presence of Carrington didn't have much hope inside either.
The final full day before Selection Sunday is finally here and there are still some teams out there with the ability to fight their way into the NCAA Tournament. Two are Minnesota and Rhode Island, both of who have semifinal games against teams safely into the NCAA Tournament (Purdue and Temple) at this point in the season. Jim Baron's Rams go into their Atlantic 10 semifinal hoping that the third time is indeed the charm, facing a Temple squad that swept them in the regular season and embarrassed them 78-54 in their most recent meeting.
The 78-56 defeat in Philadelphia on February 13th was a horror show for Rhody, who shot 30.5% from the field (5-20 3PT) and was outscored an astonishing 50-14 in the paint by a Temple squad that has the edge in regards to height and interior bulk. That places the onus tomorrow upon players such as Delroy James, Orion Outerbridge, Lamonte Ulmer and right on down the line; they must break even with the likes of Lavoy Allen and Michael Eric (combined 17-20 from the field in that contest) if the Rams are to entertain any thoughts of advancing and keeping their fate in their own hands.
And while those two have a chance to be selected as an at large there are other teams still playing who could become "bid thieves" should they win their conference tournaments. The ACC has two possibilities in Miami and NC State, and while the Wolfpack don't have a player this year like CC Harrison back in 1998 (miraculous run to the ACC Final) they've got more than a puncher's chance to take out Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have been plagued by uneven backcourt play this season, surviving a comeback attempt by Maryland to advance on Friday night. As for the Hurricanes, Durand Scott took over late to push the Hurricanes past Virginia Tech but they'll have a tougher time doing so against Duke.
Plenty of "one-bid" leagues will also find their NCAA Tournament representative on Saturday with Houston and the winner of the WAC semifinal between New Mexico State and Nevada having a chance to grab a bid with wins over teams expected to be in the Big Dance one way or the other (UTEP and Utah State). And in the Mountain West, San Diego State has the opportunity to follow up their win over New Mexico with one over UNLV in Las Vegas for the conference title. The MWC should be a four-bid league and barring unforseen circumstances their top four will all be called on Sunday evening. The Saturday before Selection Sunday is traditionally a day that gives up a few surprises; who will it be this time around.
11:30a CBS UTEP vs Houston (Conference USA Final)
Noon ESPN2 Boston Univ. at Vermont (America East Final)
1p ABC Kentucky vs Tennessee (SEC Semifinal)
1p CBS-College Temple vs Rhode Island (Atlantic 10 Semifinal)
1:30p CBS Ohio St vs Illinois (Big Ten Semifinal)
1:30p ESPN Duke vs Miami (ACC Semifinal)
2p ESPN2 Morgan St vs South Carolina St (MEAC Final)
3p ABC Vanderbilt vs Mississippi St (SEC Semifinal)
3:30p CBS-College Xavier vs Richmond (Atlantic 10 Semifinal)
4p CBS Minnesota vs Purdue (Bg Ten Semifinal)
4p ESPN NC State vs Georgia Tech (ACC Semifinal)
4p ESPN2 Stephen F. Austin vs Sam Houston St (Southland Final)
6p CBS California vs Washington (Pac-10 Final)
6p ESPN Kansas vs Kansas St (Big 12 Final)
6p ESPN2 Akron vs Ohio (MAC Final)
7p VS San Diego St vs UNLV (Mountain West Final)
8p ESPN2 UC Santa Barbara vs Long Beach St/Pacific (Big West Final)
8:30p ESPNU Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs Texas Southern (SWAC Final)
9p ESPN Georgetown vs West Virginia (Big East Final)
10p ESPN2 Utah St vs New Mexico St/Nevada (WAC Final)
Minnesota over Purdue: Given how weak the bubble is this season, it would be absurd to think that we can go an entire week without one team (albeit one that was far off the radar a week ago) earning a bid by winning. Enter Minnesota, who knocked off Michigan State in overtime on Friday night. With Robbie Hummel going down in the first half of their meeting in Minneapolis with a torn ACL, the Golden Gophers had a shot to win but missed at the buzzer. That doesn't happen this time, provided their guards play under control and don't turn the ball over. Tubby Smith's team lives to fight another day, winning by three.