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Bracketology 2020: Bubble teams experience mixed Wednesday fortunes

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Teams on the right side of the cut line heading into Wednesday did better than those on the outside looking in. However, the one exception set up a potentially wild chase for an at-large bid at the SEC tournament in one week’s time.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Arkansas
Arkansas is not yet back in the field of 68, but Wednesday’s home win over struggling LSU gives the Razorbacks some real hope heading into the SEC Tournament.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night saw Cincinnati, Purdue, Richmond, Rutgers, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all pick up huge wins for their bubble hopes, even though only the Longhorns jumped into the field of 68 and the Scarlet Knights put some distance between themselves and the cut line.

Then March’s first Wednesday rolled around and it turned out to be less promising for those hoping to secure one of the 2020 NCAA tournament’s at-large bids.

Sure, a quartet of teams residing on the bubble’s upper level picked up victories that all but assured their places in March Madness. But for those on the wrong side of the cut line, Wednesday night was largely a struggle.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Indiana
Indiana completed a season sweep of Minnesota on Wednesday night, a result that cemented the Hoosiers’ NCAA chances.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

First, the good news.

  • Indiana snapped a two-game skid with a 72-67 home win over Minnesota. While the Hoosiers’ NET ranking of 54 is still a bit low, their 19-11 overall record and other advanced metric rankings (27th in Strength of Record (SOR) and 36th in KenPom) are all worthy of selection. Plus, they’ll have a shot at recording a sixth Quadrant 1 win when Wisconsin visits Assembly Hall on Saturday. As for Minnesota, its record now stands at 13-16, which means the Golden Gophers will need a Big Ten tournament title to dance.
  • While Providence endured a miserable November and December, the Friars have been one of the Big East’s best in conference play. Their overall record stands at 18-12 after they recorded their fifth straight win, 80-74 over Xavier. Ed Cooley’s team will have to be careful on Saturday, when last-place DePaul visits, but Providence should hear its name called on Selection Sunday. On the flip side, the loss moved the Musketeers closer to the cut line.
  • Would it surprise you to hear that the 2019-20 version of the Virginia Cavaliers had to grind out a win? Well, they did, edging Miami by a 46-44 score in Coral Gables. Still, 2019’s national champion owns a 22-7 record and NET ranking of 48 heading into Saturday’s season finale against Louisville in Charlottesville — a game that will be significant for the Cavaliers’ ACC and NCAA seeding.
NCAA Basketball: Florida at Georgia
Florida followed Saturday’s road loss at Tennessee with a gutsy win at Georgia.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
  • Florida overcame a questionable second-half flagrant one foul call on Keyontae Johnson to beat Georgia, 68-54, a result that moves the Gators closer to lock status. With a home victory over Kentucky on Saturday, Florida will secure the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament, which is shaping up to be a significant event for the at-large race, as alluded to at the top of this post.
  • That’s because Arkansas knocked off LSU in Fayetteville, 99-90 — the Razorbacks’ third win in their last four outings. Notably, that span that coincides with NBA hopeful Isaiah Joe‘s return from knee surgery. Heading into Thursday’s play, Arkansas is one of three SEC squads among the first eight teams out of the field, and Mississippi State is just outside of that group after Tuesday’s loss at South Carolina. And with those four teams gathering in Nashville for the SEC tournament at this time next week, the hopes for a fifth or sixth NCAA entry from the conference are far from dead.

Before I cover Wednesday’s bubble losers, here’s what the bracketology cut line looks like on the morning of March 5.

Last Four Byes: Arizona State, USC, Oklahoma, Xavier
Last Four IN: Rutgers, Texas, Stanford, Utah State,
First Four OUT: Cincinnati, Wichita State, Purdue, Tennessee
Next Four OUT: NC State, Arkansas, Richmond, South Carolina

There’s one new entrant in today’s field, possibly on a temporary basis. Tulsa recorded a 61-51 road victory over Temple to jump a half-game ahead of Houston in the American Athletic race. That gives the Golden Hurricane the conference lead — and auto bid for today — with the Cougars visiting UConn tonight. However, this change in the conference standings knocked Cincinnati, Wednesday’s last at-large, out of the field. A Houston win tonight would reverse matters.

While Arkansas helped its case, four other teams on the outside looking in recorded loss that will left their at-large hopes in tatters.

  • Rhode Island fell out of the field after Sunday’s home loss to Saint Louis, but Wednesday’s visit from Atlantic 10 regular-season champion Dayton offered the Rams a chance at re-entry. But Obi Toppin and company would have none of that, as the Flyers embarrassed the hosts, 84-57.
  • Clemson crawled back into the picture by defeating Florida State on Saturday, the Tigers’ third home win over a NET top 15 opponent. But Brad Brownell’s team couldn’t build on that result, dropping to 15-14 overall after a 70-57 road loss to Virginia Tech.
NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Notre Dame
Notre Dame couldn’t record a first marquee win of the season on Wednesday night.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
  • Notre Dame hoped to hand the Seminoles a second straight defeat, and for most of Wednesday night’s proceedings in South Bend, the Fighting Irish looked to be on their way. However, Trent Forrest gave Florida State the lead with 19 seconds to play, depriving Mike Brey’s club of its first win over an NCAA-level team for this season.
  • Finally, Georgetown played without both Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven for the fifth time in six games on Wednesday night. While the Hoyas were able to beat Butler without them on Feb. 15, they haven’t tasted victory since, with last night’s loss to Creighton being their fifth straight. That dropped Patrick Ewing’s squad to 15-15 and out of the bubble picture.

Thursday is yet another huge bubble night, as Wichita State visit Memphis, Arizona State hosts Washington, Stanford heads to Oregon State and Utah State takes on the New Mexico squad it just lost to on Saturday in a Mountain West tournament quarterfinal. Tomorrow’s full update of the lock and bubble picture will take stock in all of these results.