For teams on the bubble, this is the most stressful time of the year. Keep winning, and you will be dancing, but a costly loss could be the nail in the NIT coffin.
With the expansion to a 68-team field, the teams on the bubble are not as strong as they once were. That being said, Virginia Commonwealth was on the bubble at the end of the 2010-2011 season and they managed to make a run to the Final Four.
Once a team gets in the tournament, anything can happen.
Here are three important games in the last few days of the regular season that could make or break a team’s tournament chances.
Villanova vs. Georgetown, March 6
Villanova has been on the bubble for most of the season. Not much was expected from the Wildcats entering the year, but wins over Louisville and Syracuse in a one-week span catapulted them into the tournament discussion.
The Wildcats also beat Marquette at home, but other than a few big victories, their résumé is weak.
Villanova lost to Columbia, currently in seventh place in the Ivy League, at home by 18 points. No other bubble team has that bad of a loss, and that game alone should be enough to keep them out of the tournament.
Another weakness for the Wildcats is that they do not have a marquee road victory.
The Wildcats have lost two games in a row to Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, both on the road, which makes this game against Georgetown a must-win.
Even at home, beating the No. 5 team in the country is no easy task, but it is something Villanova must do to solidify their tournament chances.
With a loss, the Wildcats will need to get to at least the Big East tournament semifinals to earn a tournament bid.
Even with a win, the Wildcats cannot bow out of the Big East tournament. If they do, Villanova will be sweating out Selection Sunday.
Tennessee vs. Missouri, March 9
The Volunteers play Auburn Wednesday and—assuming they can get past the lowly Tigers, who are 3-13 in conference—Tennessee will find a great opportunity waiting for them Saturday at home against Missouri.
One month ago, the Volunteers were not even in the discussion for a tournament bid. They then reeled off six straight wins before losing to Georgia last Saturday.
Tennessee has wins over fellow bubble teams like Alabama, Kentucky and Wichita State, and they also have a marquee win over Florida.
A win over Missouri would add another impressive win to the Volunteers’ résumé and take them that much closer to earning a tournament bid.
Barring a run to the SEC tournament championship game, a loss to Missouri would end Tennessee’s tournament hopes.
Virginia vs. Maryland, March 10
Both teams have important games before this matchup. Maryland hosts North Carolina Wednesday night and Virginia goes on the road to face Florida State on Thursday.
Neither game will be easy, but no matter the outcome, this game will be a play-out game. The loser of this game will most likely play their way out of the tournament.
Both teams have big home wins over Duke, but both backed up those wins with losses to Boston College—an ACC bottom dweller.
The Terrapins do not have a marquee road win this season. If they were to beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, that would give them an impressive road win over potential tournament team and would solidify their tournament résumé.
The Cavaliers tournament prospects are less precarious. They have four wins over teams in the RPI top 100. Although they have losses to Delaware, Georgia Tech and Boston College, a win over Maryland would all but punch their ticket to the tournament.