Saturday isn’t the final chance for many teams around the edge of the field to make a push for an NCAA tournament bid. It is, though, one of the last opportunities.
As Selection Sunday draws closer, the number of chances to make an impression and collect defining victories dwindles. After Sunday, the Big Ten will be done, and the vast majority of teams in multi-bid leagues will be assured one more loss thanks to the realities of conference tournament play. Unless the setbacks are dreadful, it’s the victories that tend to define the final week of the season.
It’s why Louisville could wind up wondering how things went haywire in the final second of its 67-66 loss to Virginia on Thursday. The Cardinals led 66-62 before fouling a three-point shooter with nine-tenths of a second to go, setting off a sequence that included two made free throws, a lane violation, a travel by the inbound passer and De’Andre Hunter’s banked-in three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Cardinals (19-11) are short on standout victories, but their lack of missteps and favorable performance in advanced metrics could nudge them into the field. But a victory over Virginia would have made a substantial difference, and now Louisville has to regroup against N.C. State on Saturday, then in next week’s ACC tournament.
Louisville’s regular season finale is one of several games worth keeping an eye on for bracket purposes over the next three days.
PLENTY TO PLAY FOR
St. John’s at Providence (18-12), Saturday, noon, MASN2 (in D.C. area): The host Friars have some warts, but they’ll probably be all right for selection purposes if they can hold serve at home against the mercurial Red Storm.
West Virginia at Texas (17-13), Saturday, noon, ESPN: The Longhorns are 3-6 since Jan. 31. They also lost by 35 points to the Mountaineers in the teams’ first meeting. Shaka Smart’s bunch is in a precarious spot entering March.
Mississippi State (21-9) at LSU (16-13), Saturday, 1, SEC Network: Neither is a likely at-large team, with the visiting Bulldogs facing nonconference strength of schedule issues and questions about road performance, while the Tigers linger in the conversation only because of some standout victories. Consider this an at-large eliminator.
Clemson at Syracuse (18-12), Saturday, 2, ACC Network: The Orange has dropped three in a row and is stuck playing on the opening day of the ACC tournament, so things are trending in the wrong direction. A victory over Clemson (22-7) would help, but Syracuse will still have to take care of some things in Brooklyn next week.
Baylor (18-12) at Kansas State (20-10), Saturday, 2, ESPN: Both teams have plenty riding on this. The Bears would have a compelling case if they continued their late-season surge. Kansas State, already beset by an abysmal nonconference strength of schedule, has dropped two in a row.
Boston College at Florida State (19-10), Saturday, 2, NBCSW: The Seminoles seemed like they would skate into the postseason a couple weeks ago. Then they dropped four of six (with one of the victories coming against woeful Pittsburgh) to land in a more tenuous situation. A victory at least keeps them out of the first day of the ACC tournament.
Alabama (17-13) at Texas A&M, Saturday, 2, ESPN2: The visiting Crimson Tide picked a crummy time for its first protracted slide. Alabama has dropped four in a row and could find itself in an increasingly precarious spot with another setback.
Creighton at Marquette (17-12), Saturday, 2:30, Fox: The Golden Eagles would have a bit less work to do in New York next week if they can complete the late-season sweep of the visiting Bluejays (21-9).
Notre Dame (18-12) at Virginia, Saturday, 4, ACC Network: The Fighting Irish might be the biggest wild card as March begins. Bonzie Colson is back from injury, and Mike Brey’s team held things together just well enough to still harbor at-large hopes. Winning in Charlottesville would be a major boost.
Kansas at Oklahoma State (17-13), Saturday, 4, ESPN: A lot would have to go right for Oklahoma State to earn an at-large bid, but this is a team that’s a combined 3-2 against Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. It’s also 4-8 against the rest of the Big 12. In any case, the Cowboys will try to remain relevant as they go for the sweep of the Jayhawks (24-6).
Oregon at Washington (20-10), Saturday, 4:30, Pac-12 Networks: Oregon (19-11), a fringy candidate to start with, shot itself in the foot with a loss to Washington State on Thursday. Washington, which has won consecutive games after a two-week swoon, can’t let this one get away on its home floor.
Louisville (19-11) at N.C. State (20-10), Saturday, 6, ESPN: How does Louisville recover from its crushing loss to Virginia? And will N.C. State shrug off its setback against Georgia Tech and avoid creating pressure for itself next week at the ACC tournament? This, not North Carolina-Duke, might be the most interesting game in the Triangle on Saturday.
Colorado at Utah (18-10), Saturday, 7, Pac-12 Network: Utah isn’t the best of at-large candidates as it stands, and the Utes basically wouldn’t be one with a home loss to wrap up the regular season.
St. Bonaventure (23-6) at Saint Louis, Saturday, 8: The Bonnies have won 11 in a row, including Tuesday’s wild triple-overtime defeat of Davidson. A road victory over the Billikens — who are still in the hunt for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 — probably alleviates any pressure on Bonaventure heading into the conference tournament.
UCLA (19-10) at Southern California, Saturday, 10:15, ESPN: While the host Trojans (21-9) are in solid shape, the Bruins could stand to do a little more work. A victory across town would alleviate some pressure heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
Iowa State at Oklahoma (17-12), Friday, 9, ESPN2: The Sooners’ February swoon never seriously imperiled their postseason chances, and a victory over Kansas State last weekend came close to putting an end to much of the saber-rattling over whether Oklahoma belongs in the field. Beating the worst team in the Big 12 at home will keep that at bay through Selection Sunday.
Virginia Tech (21-9) at Miami, Saturday, noon, ESPN2: On Monday, Virginia Tech topped Duke and created some needed separation from the edge of the field. This trip to Miami (21-8) — which removed all doubt of whether it would get in when it won Tuesday at North Carolina on Ja’Quan Newton’s buzzer-beater — gives the Hokies a chance to eliminate any questions before the ACC tournament.
BEWARE THE BID THIEF
Big Ten semifinals and final, Saturday, 2 and 4:30; Sunday, 4:30, CBS: After Michigan State knocked out Wisconsin in Friday’s first quarterfinal, the only remaining bid thieves in the field are Rutgers and Penn State. It’s possible all of them are swept away before the Big Ten’s Big Apple visit reaches the weekend.
West Coast quarterfinals, Saturday, 7 and 9:30, ESPN2: Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are going to find their way into the tournament. No one else in the WCC has a chance, barring a run to the league title. Both the Bulldogs and Gaels will face a second-division team playing for the second time in as many nights. In other words, check back for Monday’s semifinals to see whether anyone can derail Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s, Round Three.
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