Bulls, fans return to watching, waiting
USF's overtime loss to Notre Dame on Thursday night casts a natural cloud of uncertainty over the next three days -- back when USF beat Louisville to get its 12th Big East win, many thought the Bulls needed only one more win to lock up a spot. Villanova could be that win, and a close, overtime loss to a widely accepted NCAA team shouldn't hurt USF but so much.
The Bulls' RPI dropped six spots to 47 -- it's unlikely to shift by more than a few spots the rest of the way. On the bubble, USF faces two kinds of threats: other bubble teams making a deep tournament run to move ahead, or a conference's top seed failing to win its league tournament as expected and taking an at-large instead. So there's plenty to keep an eye on.
Remember that teams that have been eliminated from their conference tournaments pose little threat to USF. By that, the four teams ESPN's Joe Lunardi has as his "last four in," who are all under USF, by his projections -- Washington, Mississippi State, Drexel and Seton Hall -- serve as insulation between USF and the bubble's cut line.
Here are seven games involving bubble teams today -- a win moves those teams up on the bubble, while a loss should end their threat to the Bulls:
N.C. State (RPI 55) vs. Virginia, 2: Is beating the Cavaliers enough to get the Wolfpack in? It might take knocking off North Carolina in the semifinals -- that would certainly pose a threat to USF.
St. Joseph's (RPI 60) vs. St. Bonaventure, 2:30: This win wouldn't be a big deal, so long as top-seeded Temple takes care of business in the semifinals.
Marshall (RPI 55) vs. Southern Miss, 4: As long as Memphis or Southern Miss wins the Conference USA tournament, it should be of no consequence for USF. Central Florida, facing Memphis, would be trouble if they pulled off two more wins.
Mississippi (RPI 53) vs. Tennessee (RPI 77), 7:30: Who do the Bulls pull for? Tennessee is perceived to be higher up on the bubble, as Lunardi's first team out, but Mississippi has the higher RPI. Regardless of who wins this, what's important is that Vanderbilt takes care of them in the semifinals.
Miami (RPI 52) vs. Florida State, 9: The perception is that Miami can play their way in by beating the Seminoles a second time -- that might not be at USF's direct expense yet, but Miami could be more trouble if they can beat Duke in the semifinals.
Dayton (RPI 74) vs. Xavier (RPI 54), 9: Interesting call here -- if Dayton can win, it should move Xavier lower than USF on the bubble. Either way, you want to see Saint Louis win in the semifinals.
Texas (RPI 44) vs. Missouri, 10: Texas arguably played their way in by beating Iowa State on Thursday, but they're battling USF for seeding -- perhaps this could be the difference between one playing in Dayton and one getting to avoid the First Four.
In addition to these games, you want the established NCAA teams to win the conference tournaments. That means Cal (RPI 34) needs to win the Pac-12, Long Beach State (RPI 38) needs to win the Big West, and Nevada (RPI 48) needs to win the WAC.
The leagues still in quarterfinals have lots of threats -- Iowa or Minnesota would be trouble in the Big Ten, as would LSU, Georgia or the Tennessee-Mississippi winner in the SEC. As long as the top four win in the ACC, or the top three in the A-10, shouldn't be a problem.