Bubble Watch: How Things Stand Heading Into A Busy Saturday

Our Chris Dobbertean recaps the NCAA Tournament bubble picture and highlights the key games of impact on full Saturday of action, including Virginia Tech's trip to Clemson.

As Friday's action dominated by conference tournaments and free of major conference games, Friday's bracket projection is mostly valid. The only necessary change is the removal of Murray State as the Ohio Valley auto bid holder, as the top seeded Racers fell in the conference semifinals Friday night. No. 2 Morehead State would replace them.

To prepare you for today's action, here's a recap of how the Last Four In to the field of 68 and First Four Out stand heading into the weekend and pertinent bubble game information.

Last Four In

Richmond Spiders (23-7, 12-3 A-10, RPI; 60, SOS: 151)
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 weekend. 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.

Richmond closes its regular season by hosting Duquesne (CBS College Sports, 12 p.m. ET), 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: 58, 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, for example. For starters, the Wolverines swept the Nittany Lions. Plus, they own three more road wins than Penn State, 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 lost to both 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.

This afternoon, MIchigan will look to sweep Michigan State (CBS Regional/CBSSports.com, 2 p.m. ET). The two may very well meet again in Indianapolis next week, depending on what happens in the final weekend of Big Ten play.

Boston College Eagles (18-11, 8-7 ACC, RPI: 40, SOS: 18)
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 have gone 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 Hokies, 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 (ACC Network/TheACC.com or ESPN3/Full Court, 12 p.m. ET), will do little to improve their fortunes, which means Boston College has a lot of work to do at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro to ensure they make the field

Clemson Tigers (19-10, 8-7 ACC, RPI: 64, SOS: 84)
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), but they still have a decent shot at the NCAA field. Clemson has just two top 50 victories on the year, which came over Boston College and Florida State, both athome . Otherwise, the Tigers' wins are rather middling. 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. 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. 

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 in a potential elimination game early this afternoon (ESPN2, 12 p.m. ET)

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

First Four Out

Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-4 SEC, RPI: 87, SOS: 130)
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.

This afternoon, Alabama has one last chance to grab a helpful win before the SEC Tournament, as they host Georgia Bulldogs (SEC Network/ESPN3/Full Court, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Colorado State Rams (18-10, 9-6 MWC, RPI: 46, SOS: 38)
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 tonight (The Mtn., 10 p.m. ET).

Colorado Buffaloes (17-12, 7-8 Big 12, RPI: 80, SOS: 70)
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 (no TV, 9 p.m. ET). 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: 54, SOS: 39)
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 (Big 12 Network/ESPN3/Full Court, 4 p.m. ET) 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, Memphis, Nebraska, USC

There are several other bubble games of note not involving these eight on Saturday.

Baylor can put themselves in decent position if they hand Texas their third straight Saturday road loss (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). The Bears played the Longhorns tough in Austin back on February 12th.

The Colonial Athletic Association Quarterfinals take place today in Richmond, Virginia, and while top seed George Mason and No. 2 seed Old Dominion look like NCAA locks, three seed VCU and No. 4 Hofstra need to make a run through the event to make the CAA a three-bid league. The Rams face Drexel in their tournament opener (Comcast Network/CSS, approx. 2:30 p.m. ET), while the Pride play William & Mary in the final quarterfinal of the day (Comcast Network/CSS, approx. 8:30 p.m. ET).

Washington State picked up a key win over USC Thursday, and they can close the regular season with a three-game winning streak if they beat UCLA in Pullman (FSN/Comcast SportsNet, 5:30 p.m. ET). However, the Cougars will need to do so without suspended star Klay Thompson. The Trojans, on the other hand, need to beat Washington (FSN/Comcast SportsNet, 10:30 p.m. ET) to have any hope heading into the Pac-10 Tournament, where they're a solid darkhorse. The Huskies are looking to complete a 4-0 season sweep of the Los Angeles schools.

Memphis closes their regular season with a winnable home game against Tulane (CBS College Sports, 4 p.m. ET), while New Mexico needs to be careful not to slip up at home against Air Force (The Mtn., 6 p.m. ET).

I'll have a full bracket update, which will include the first three auto bid winners of the season, at some point on Sunday morning. In the meantime, enjoy the games and be sure to visit Blogging the Bracket for more on today's TV games and conference tournament action and follow me on Twitter for my reactions throughout the day.

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