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While you're waiting: What to watch for on bubble



It'll be another late night here at Madison Square Garden, with USF advancing to another 9:30ish tipoff against Notre Dame after Wednesday night's win against Villanova. The Bulls were able to bump their RPI up three spots to No. 41, and they've outlasted fellow Big East bubble teams such as Seton Hall (RPI 62) and West Virginia (RPI 51).

Are the Bulls in? ESPN's bracket has the Bulls safely ahead of the "last four in," with Seton Hall now the first team out; CBS's Jerry Palm has moved the Bulls out of Dayton to a full-fledged No. 12 seed, facing San Diego State in Albuquerque. Then again,'s Dana O'Neil, here at the tournament, wrote that USF's NCAA weather is "cloudy with a chance of murky."

So, given that you have another 11 hours before the Bulls face third-seeded Notre Dame -- remember that a single game separated them in the final Big East standings -- here's a rundown of 10 games you should be keeping an eye on in the rest of college basketball. ESPN's Joe Lunardi lists 16 bubble teams (last four in, first 12 out) that are all behind USF in his perception. USF can't do much to hurt itself at this point, as any loss would be against team already projected in the tournament. And four of the 16 teams listed on the bubble are done, so they're fairly harmless to USF at this point.

So it'll take a strong run by any of these teams to drop the Bulls down closer to the bubble. Most of today's games have bubble teams favored against lesser teams in their conference, so it's more about surviving and advancing, about avoiding a bad loss, with bigger opportunities awaiting in coming days.

N.C. State (RPI 53) vs. Boston College, 2: The Wolfpack have zero top-50 wins, but they've beaten Miami twice, which keeps them ahead among the ACC bubble options. Four of their losses are to Syracuse, UNC and Duke - it might take a win against Carolina in the ACC semis to get them in, but first they have to get past BC and Virginia.

Marshall (RPI 64) vs. Tulsa, 3:30: Lunardi has Marshall on the "also considering" bubble fringe; the Herd have two top 50 wins against Southern Miss and Iona, but even another win against Southern Miss to reach the Conference USA final might not be enough.

Colorado State (RPI 21) vs. TCU, 5:30: ESPN has the Rams in as a 12-seed, but Palm has them in the "last four in," so a second loss here to TCU (RPI 101) could put them in jeopardy, or potentially below USF at least. Colorado State has three top-50 wins against UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico but also lost to all three; its best nonconference win is Montana (RPI 72).

Arizona (RPI 81) vs. UCLA, 5:30: The Wildcats arguably ended their hopes with a bad loss to Arizona State (RPI 250!) last week, but nobody's sure how the Pac-12 will fare with the committee. Arizona would have to win here and knock off top seed Washington to be seriously back in the conversation.

Northwestern (RPI 47) vs. Minnesota, 5:30: Northwestern is on the friendly side of the bubble for now and has the public sympathy of having never been to the NCAAs; six of their 12 losses are to teams in the RPI top 12. There's a real danger of them losing here -- the Gophers won at home by 23 against the Wildcats, and a second loss against the league's No. 10 team would likely doom their bubble chances.

Ole Miss (RPI 59) vs. Auburn, 7:30: The Rebels are the very last team Lunardi is acknowledging on the bubble, and they're facing an Auburn team that handed them their most damaging loss. Even if they win here, they'll have to get past another SEC team higher up on the bubble in Tennessee on Friday, and only then can they really get back into serious bubble talk.

Miami (RPI 55) vs. Georgia Tech, 9: The Hurricanes have two strong top-25 wins against Duke and Florida State and only one loss outside the RPI top 60, but their path in the ACC Tournament takes them back through those two teams, facing FSU on Friday and likely Duke on Saturday. Another win against FSU might be enough to get them in, but they have to beat Georgia Tech first -- they won in Atlanta by 15 earlier this season.

Texas (RPI 52) vs. Iowa State, 9:30: Are the Longhorns in? Seven of their losses are to RPI top 20s UNC, Kansas, Baylor and Missouri. They split with Iowa State in the regular season, but a second win would give Texas four against the top 50. Missouri's likely waiting in the next round, but a win here could put Texas in good shape.

California (RPI 37) vs. Stanford, 9:30: ESPN has Cal in the field as a 10 seed (and Washington as an 11), but Palm has them among the "last four in," so they might need to get past the Cardinal  (RPI 94) here. The two teams split their regular-season meetings, and losing in their first game in Los Angeles could put them in jeopardy.

Oregon (RPI 49) vs. Colorado, 11:30: The Ducks have 22 wins, but none are against the RPI top 50. Win here, and Oregon gets a third shot at California -- hard to know how many teams the Pac-12 will get in, but Oregon may need to reach the title game to know they're in.

There you have it -- 10 games to root (against) today that could eliminate some of the potential problems for USF. Xavier and Dayton play Friday in a key bubble-on-bubble matchup, and Tennessee and St. Joseph's are among other bubble teams going on Friday. Again, if USF can knock off Notre Dame tonight, there wouldn't be much for Bulls fans to worry about at all ...

[Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:31am]


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