March Madness Bubble Watch: NCAA Tournament Field Last Four In Now Includes Clemson

On Tuesday night, Alabama, Baylor, and Virginia Tech's 2011 NCAA Tournament chances all took a hit, but just 24 hours later, those three all had fresh March Madness hope, as do teams like New Mexico and VCU, thanks to what was another evening full of bad bubble team losses. After a thrilling Wednesday night, we have a few more changes to the bubble compared to Tuesday's full bracket projection. Before we look at the updated Last Four In, First Four Out, here's a recap of Wednesday night's winners and losers.

Winners

Michigan State avoided getting swept by Iowa, taking care of the Hawkeyes in East Lansing, setting up a potential elimination game at Michigan on Saturday.

Georgia also avoided a bad late loss, as they handled SEC West struggler LSU in Athens.

Richmond grabbed a 15-point victory at St. Joseph's, continuing their run of success against bad teams.

Colorado State won their home finale, topping Utah by 13. The Rams remain out, but have a huge opportunity for a quality win Saturday when they visit San Diego State.

It may be time to bring New Mexico back into the picture, as they slammed No. 3 BYU in Provo, in the Cougars first game without Brandon Davies in the lineup. That loss means BYU wont be a one seed in my Friday bracket.

UAB got a three from Preston Purifoy with four seconds left to beat Southern Mississippi by a single point in Hattiesburg, clinching at least a share of the Conference USA regular season title.

Losers

Can you win by losing? Clemson possibly did, but putting up a decent fight in losing at Duke, 70-59.

Hilton Coliseum seems to be the place where Big 12 bubble hopes go to die, as Iowa State upset Colorado, 95-90, as the Buffaloes just couldn't get over the hump all night, particularly against the Cyclones' interior players.

Minnesota is all but finished, as they lost their 11th Big Ten game, falling by 11 at Northwestern.

Memphis will need to win the Conference USA Tournament to get a bid, as they lost by at East Carolina. That's the Tigers third loss to a team outside of the RPI Top 100.

Here's how Wednesday's wins and losses affected the bubble picture, starting with the four teams likely headed to Dayton.

Last Four In

Richmond Spiders (23-7, 12-3 A-10, RPI; 61, SOS: 139)
Richmond owns perhaps the best win of any bubble team, a thorough 11-point victory over Purdue, who sits on the two line in my current projection, at the Chicago Invitational Classic over Thanksgiving. However, the Spiders also own some confounding losses, with ones against Georgia Tech in the Bahamas and Patriot League regular season champion Bucknell at home the two that stand out the most. Still, since that loss to the Bison, Chris Mooney's team has taken care of the weaker teams on its slate. Another positive mark on the Spiders' profile is an impressive 12-4 record away from home. On the minus side, they weren't competitive in their losses to the top two teams in the league, Xavier and Temple.

On Wednesday night, the Spiders picked up yet another win over a team they should beat, handling St. Joseph's in Philadelphia. That sets up a visit from Duquesne on Saturday, when the Spiders will hope to knock the Dukes into a campus-site opening round game.

Michigan Wolverines (17-12, 8-9 Big Ten, RPI: 57, SOS: 24)
No team exemplifies how quickly bubble fortunes can change this season than Michigan. The Wolverines looked destined for the NIT when Josh Gasser banked in a three that allowed Wisconsin to escape Crisler Arena with a win on February 23rd, but three days later Michigan won at Minnesota by seven, effectively switching bubble spots with the fading Golden Gophers. 

Like so many teams in this group, Michigan has a profile that isn't great overall. but compares well against the others. Take their conference and bubble rivals Penn State, a team the Wolverines happened to sweep, for example. Michigan owns three more road wins than the Nittany Lions, and victories in East Lansing, Minneapolis, and State College are a bit more noteworthy either of the Nittany Lions' two road wins, at Indiana and Northwestern. On the other hand, Michigan did lose in both of those places, and they haven't been quite as dominant at home as Penn State. Outside of the Big Ten, Michigan was swept by Syracuse and UTEP in Atlantic City over Thanksgiving weekend, but did beat Clemson at Littlejohn, along with Harvard and Oakland at home. Plus, the Wolverines' profile doesn't include any embarrassing non-league losses, like Penn State's against Maine.

MIchigan has just one game left before the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. They'll look to sweep Michigan State in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

Boston College Eagles (18-11, 8-7 ACC, RPI: 37, SOS: 15)
The Eagles very much look like a team that peaked before Christmas, as they went 10-2 before the holiday (with a loss to Yale their worst of all) and 8-9 since. Plus, the shine of the Eagles' win over Texas A&M in Orlando, their only victory over a team in the RPI Top 50, has worn off slightly, thanks to the Aggies' up-and-down performance in the Big 12. In the ACC, the Eagles have been less "up-and-down" and more flat out mediocre. Sweeps of Maryland and Virginia Tech, are helpful, but losses at Clemson and Florida State, along with a sweep at the hands of Miami are problematic.

The Eagles final conference game, Sunday's home date with Wake Forest, will do little to improve their fortunes, which means Boston College has a lot of work to do at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Clemson Tigers (19-10, 8-7 ACC, RPI: 68, SOS: 94)
The Tigers' lack of quality wins could push them into the NIT (which honestly wouldn't be the worst fate, considering where this team was at the first of the year). Clemson has just two top 50 victories on the year, which came over Boston College and Florida State, both at Littlejohn. Otherwise, the Tigers' wins are rather middling. As for the losses, the worst came at Virginia (thanks to a woeful offensive performance), but defeats at the hands of South Carolina and Michigan aren't helpful either, particularly as the Wolverines are now on the bubble too. Brad Brownell's team's best road win came at Miami, though Clemson also won at the College of Charleston and topped Seton Hall at the Paradise Jam.

The Tigers were unable to pick up a ticket-punching win at Duke Wednesday night, but they sneak in because they hung with the Blue Devils for far longer than they should have. Clemson closes the regular season by hosting Virginia Tech Saturday in a potential elimination game.

Next Four In: Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, Butler

First Four Out

Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-4 SEC, RPI: 87, SOS: 129)
The Crimson Tide have a win against Kentucky,  another at Tennessee, and little else, particularly outside of the SEC. Alabama's non-conference results, which include seven wins against the bottom half of Division I and losses to Seton Hall, Iowa, and St. Peter's in the Virgin Islands and at Providence, are the main factor keeping them out. On the surface, 11 or 12 SEC wins should be more than enough, but you must consider that the Tide have already clinched the West crown solely because they've racked up an 8-2 mark against the weaker division. Tuesday night's emphatic loss at Florida leaves them lacking in the perception department as well.

Alabama has one last chance to grab a helpful win before the SEC Tournament, as they host Georgia on Saturday.

Colorado State Rams (18-10, 9-6 MWC, RPI: 47, SOS: 37)
The Rams biggest issues, besides their current three-game losing streak, are a 1-4 mark against the Mountain West's other NCAA contenders and a pair of bad losses, one at home to Sam Houston State Thanksgiving weekend, and another against Hampton in San Francisco over New Year's. A Cancun Governor's Cup crown provides a little bit of a boost, but not much, thanks to the relative weakness of that particular field.

After losing to BYU and UNLV recently, Colorado State may have to make a run through the Mountain West Tournament to earn a bid, unless they can stun San Diego State at the Viejas Arena in their regular season finale on Saturday. The Rams helped their cause by taking care of Utah in their final home game of the season on Wednesday night.

Colorado Buffaloes (17-12, 7-8 Big 12, RPI: 77, SOS: 75)
Colorado entered Tuesday's projection after their come from behind home win over Texas on Saturday, their fifth over a team ranked in the RPI Top 50 right now, and fourth over a team that's in good shape for a bid. However, Tad Boyle's team falls out after Wednesday night's loss at Iowa State, a defeat that joins damaging losses to Oklahoma and San Francisco on their profile. Plus, only one of the Buffs' key wins (Kansas State) came on the road, symptomatic of their 4-10 record away from Boulder.

The Buffaloes host Nebraska the final regular season Big 12 game for both teams on Saturday. Nebraska won the first meeting between the two in Lincoln on January 18th, a loss that was the first of four straight (and seven in nine) for Colorado. The Buffs' will need to avenge it to stay this in this position on the bubble.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (18-11, 6-9 Big 12, RPI: 59, SOS: 44)
The Cowboys are yet another team that's all but unstoppable at home, but the complete opposite on the road, as their last two wins away from Stillwater were a pair of December in-state neutral site contests against Tulsa and Alabama. Home victories over fellow bubble residents Kansas State, Baylor, and Missouri State, along with a safe Missouri squad help significantly, but the road struggles and fact this team is destined to finish below .500 in the Big 12 don't. Oklahoma State's only real chance is top Oklahoma Saturday to end on a three-game winning streak and pick up a couple of wins in Kansas City next week.

Next In Line: Baylor, VCU, Penn State, Washington State, New Mexico, USC, Memphis, Nebraska

Tonight's bubble action features several teams who are either just above or just below the eight teams detailed here.

It's a busy night in the Pac-10, as Washington State hosts USC (10 p.m. ET, no TV), a game where the winner will receive a nice late profile bump. Across the state, Washington takes on UCLA (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) with the Huskies looking to sweep the season series with the Bruins. The Evergreen State and Los Angeles schools swap partners for Saturday's regular season finales.

Earlier in the evening, inconsistent Tennessee can solidify their position by topping South Carolina in Columbia (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

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