So, what are you doing tonight? If you are a hoops junkie, then tune into the college game this evening. We’re less than three weeks away until Selection Sunday. And instead of the usual, somewhat sleepy Tuesday night schedule, we have a jam packed slate drooling with NCAA Bubble implications all over the place. There are a total of eight games tonight involving a team thats either a double digit at-large seed in the Bracket Matrix or one of the final teams cut from their consensus. There are big chances everywhere tonight for Bubble teams. Who knows how the final bubble will look? But we do that after tonight, there could be a brand spanking new pecking order. Here’s a sneak peak at all the relevant action this evening.
MICHIGAN AT NORTHWESTERN, 8PM, BIG TEN NETWORK
We’re highlighting the biggest game of the night at the top of the post: Michigan at Northwestern. Yes, you had that the right. Not only is this the biggest game of the night, but its one of the biggest games remaining on the regular season schedule anywhere in the land. In one corner, you have the Wolverines, surprise Big 10 contenders, running virtually neck and neck with Ohio State and Michigan State for the Big 10 Title. Its a three way sprint over the final four games and this might be Michigan’s toughest test of the upcoming stretch drive. Michigan? Basketball? Conference Championship? None of those words seem to compute. What in the name of Antoine Joubert’s fur coats is going on around here?!?! Wait, dont answer that. We’re not sure the statute of limitations is up. And we dont want any distractions while the Wolverines try to steal their first league title since The Judge was a pudgy underclassmen. Meanwhile, in the other corner, are the Northwestern Wildcats. Their stretch run isnt for a league title, but its for arguably something more historic: the school’s first ever NCAA bid. In Northwestern’s first Bubble Drive in program history, can the Cats go 3-1 against a closing slate of Michigan, at PSU, OSU, at Iowa? If so, they’ll reach .500 in Big 10 play, which is a mark that usually stamps your ticket to the Dance. The whole thing reminds me of 1994, the last time Michigan had a chance at a league title this late in the year. Back then, a road win in Evanston in the finale is all that stood between the Fab Four (Weber had already turned pro), and a share of the title. Except Northwestern won, giving Purdue sole possession of the crown. It proved historic for Northwestern, and the win clinched an NIT bid which, at the time, was the first ever postseason berth of any kind for the Cats. These teams need overtime when they played last month at Crisler, a tight Michigan win. However the last two trips to Evanston has not been kind to the Wolverines with Northwestern easily hanlding them in 14- and 15-point wins in each of the last two seasons. Northwestern is actually 2.5-point chalk tonight in their quest for a huge resume win. Michigan is 21-6 ATS in their last 27 Big 10 games. Hmmmmm. Buckle in, this will be a fun one.
GEORGETOWN AT SETON HALL, 7PM, ESPN 3/ESPN FULL COURT
After being slapped around by Cincinnati in a bubble head-to-head game over the weekend, Seton Hall desperately needs to rope in a resume win in their match with Georgetown tonight. The Pirates are trying to get an NCAA bid without much of a resume, but with the soft bubble they actually stand on the correct side of the dividing line for now. Seton Hall currently sits on the consensus Bracket Matrix 11-seed line and are placed on 66 of 69 mock brackets tracked by the site. Their five best wins are home victories over West Virginia, UConn, Pitt, Dayton and a nuetral court win over VCU a week before Thanksgiving. That’s not a list to be ashamed of, but I get the feeling a lot of bubble teams could offer a better pack of top-5 wins. A win over the 8th ranked Hoyas would shoot to the top of their credentials and be just the type of big, late season win that cements an at-large bid. This is the Hall’s last shot at a bigtime resume win. It wont be easy. Despite finally getting into the top-10, I feel the Hoyas remain on the most underrated teams in the nation. They play typical Georgetown defense, have a couple scorers in Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark who can trade hoops with anybody, shoot the ball well as a team, have a lot of size and go 9-deep with an active, talented bench. They’re still trying to lock down a double bye in the Big East Tournament, and if they win out through Selection Sunday could even steal a #1 seed.
NORTH CAROLINA AT NORTH CAROLINA ST, 8PM, ESPN 3/ESPN FULL COURT
North Carolina State is one team that cant rattle off a top-5 win list that’s better than Seton Halls. Lets try, however. Perusing their schedule, I’d say their top-5 goes Texas, at Miami, Maryland, UNC Asheville (hey, they’re in first place in the Big South) and a 5-point loss at Duke. Its never good when you have to resort to the Weissian trick of using a close lose as a win. The Pack have had a chance to rope in some real eye opening wins, but they’ve lost to Duke and Florida State in their most recent outings. A home loss tonight to UNC wouldnt be embarassing, but it would give them three defeats in a row at the wrong time of year to be on a losing streak. If they’re going to spring the home upset tonight against the Heels, they need to become the Brute Squad and do a much better job on the boards than in their first game in Chapel Hill last month. NC State currently is the last team given an at-large bid in the Bracket Matrix. They are a 12 seed, but on just 38 of 69 mock ballots. Should they lose tonight and then fail to pick up two wins against their final three of at Clemson, Miami, at Virginia Tech, then I feel a lot of teams will pass them, and the Pack will be on the wrong side of the bubble come conference tournament time.
KENTUCKY AT MISSISSIPPI ST, 9PM, ESPN
Remember when Mississippi State was sitting pretty at 17-4? That was about a month ago, and the Bulldogs have been skidding ever since. They’ve lost three in row to LSU, Georgia and Auburn. Losing streaks against teams that will be lucky to make the NIT is no way to impress people in February. Is MSU Head Coach Rick Stansbury an Underachiever? Now, the top-rated UK Wildcats come into Starkville. Let’s assume the Cats take care of business and extend MSU’s losing streak to 4 games. The Bulldogs would be below .500 in league play. They close with at Alabama, at South Carolina and Arkansas. Bama and the Hogs are better than the teams they’ve been losing to lately. They’d need to grab two of those three just to make it back to SEC level par. And that might not be enough to keep a bid. Right now, they are holding steady as a Bracket Matrix 10-seed on 67 of 69 ballots. But if lose both their games this week to the Cats and Tide, I’d expect most of the support to hemorrage in favor of teams streaking the right way.
ILLINOIS AT OHIO STATE, 7 PM, ESPN
This game will get ugly, dont you think? The Buckeyes are smarting after the weekend’s bitter loss to rival Michigan. They want revenge after Brandon Paul dropped 43 on them in an Illini upset in early January. The Bucks play killer D and have blowing people out of the water in Columbus. Fans might be in a panic as a dream season gives way to a possible third place Big 10 finish, but the right foe is coming into town to cure what ails the Bucks. Illinois comes in playing the worst basketball of anyone in the Big 10 right now. They are imploding. At one point, the Illini were 15-3. Today they are 16-11. They havent won a game since January. They’ve only won 2 of their last 10 games, bizarrely those wins came against OSU and MSU. With games against OSU, Michigan and Wisconsin yet to go, the Illini could win three of their final four, nab a few resume wins in the process and, despite an 8-10 final Big 10 mark, might have enough to save their season with an at-large bid. But I wouldnt count on them completing the first leg of that successfully this evening. Bruce Weber seems like a lame duck coach. He should just do what Mike Davis did six years ago when a Hoosier tailspin was about the cost him his job. He called in sick so he wouldnt have to face possible successor Steve Alford. Really Weber should just do the same. Call in sick, take the night off, polish your TV announcing skills. Besides, what could it hurt? His players havent listened to him in at least four seasons.
XAVIER AT UMASS, 7 PM, LOCAL TV ONLY
Xavier is coming of a big overtime win over in-state rival Dayton. Frankly, its their best win in over two months. Xavier has tried to spiral its season out of control enough to lose a bid, but they havent been able to fall out of the field. Today, they sit as a 12-seed in the Bracket Matrix on 62 of 67 mock brackets. They need to close strong or teams could finally pass them on this pecking order. I’d worry about Xavier’s chances if they only manage a split in their final 4 games at UMASS, Richmond, at St Louis, Charlotte. If that’s all they can manage, they might need a win or two in the A10 Tournament to be safe. However a 3-1 close with at least one road win might be enough to lock up a bid. My gut tells me Xavier is safe and will take care of enough business. But if they drop these road games against UMass and St. Louis, Xavier could become one of the most debated topics during conference tournament week.
MIAMI FLA AT MARYLAND, 8 PM, ESPN 3/ESPN FULL COURT
Miami has won six of their last 8 games. They won at Duke during this stretch. Holy moly, a bubble team actually, uh, winning? Well done, Canes. Well done. Miami sits on the Bracket Matrix 12-seed line with 60 of 69 votes. They have a tricky slate down the stretch, however. They could really use this winnable road game in advance of showdowns against Florida State and at NC State in the closing weeks. A win tonight gives them some breathing room. A loss could be the first pulling of the string that unravels their at large bid yarn. Like a lot of these bubble teams, I dont know if the Canes can afford more than two more regular season losses.
KANSAS STATE AT MISSOURI, 7 PM, ESPN 2
Of all these bubble teams tonight, Kansas State probably feels best about their chances than any of them. That’s what a late February road win against a ranked team does for you. We were worried that KSU’s rough stretch might bury them so far below .500 in Big 12 play that they might lose a bid. But one road win at Baylor later, and we’re feeling a lot more at ease over the Wildcats’ chances. All these other bubble teams tonight need to win, but KSU is playing with house money when they travel to Missou. Should they lose this evening, they could go 2-1 against the closing stretch of Iowa State, at Texas A/M, Oklahoma State and still come into the regular season barn with a .500 mark in league play. Avoid a one-and-done flame out in the Big 12 Tourney, and they will be dancing. A win tonight, however, could lock their status barring an implosion down the stretch.
UNLV at COLORADO STATE, 10 PM, THE MOUNTAIN
I’ve been using my Direct TV in overdrive most of the winter watching the Mountain West Conference. Everyone knows about San Diego St and UNLV. Everyone has been made aware of Steve Alford and the New Mexico Lobos’ run to first place. Can the MWC go deeper than those three? I’ve thought most of the winter that they could, although recent shaky losses by CSU, Wyoming and TCU have all but quelled that momentum. Like I said yesterday, however, dont give up on the Rams just yet. The Bubble is so Charmin Soft right now that any string of quality wins might be enough to take you from the outside of the field to the inside of the field. The Rams have three of those chances down the stretch and with two of those games coming at home, I’d take whatever odds you’re giving me that CSU manages to sneak out a bid in the end. The Rams have been building to this moment throughout the rebuilding process that 5-year head coach Tim Miles inherited. They still travel to San Diego St, but if they can pull in home wins against New Mexico tonight and next week against UNLV, its hard to believe given the state of the current bubble that the Rams wont find themselves on a majority of brackets going into the final regular season weekend. If they pull that off, they would be a road win at Air Force and avoiding a one-and-done outcome in the MWV Tournament from getting a real bid. If you have the Mountain channel, brew up some coffee and stay up for this game. New Mexico is a fun team to watch, and CSU has a lot of different weapons. I expect this to be a fun game. And I cant lie. I am leaning on pulling the trigger on CSU +6 right now. I love home dogs in need of a resume win and, unlike in the MSU/UK game, I dont feel the home dog is all that overmatched in this one.