March Madness 2014: Examining Wednesday's Most Important Games for Bubble Teams

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March Madness 2014: Examining Wednesday's Most Important Games for Bubble Teams
DAVE WEAVER/Associated Press

It's now or never. 

That cute kitten calender in your office or bedroom has officially switched to the adorable little scoundrel looking pissed off in a leprechaun costume, and that can only mean one thing—it's March. 

The Madness is on the horizon—not to be confused with the Horizon Leaguebut before we start filling out and subsequently tearing up our brackets, we need to find 68 teams. 

About 40 have already essentially booked a ticket to the Big Dance, while another 20 or so—this math is precise—will go dancing via their conference tournaments. 

That leaves a lot of available spots for teams currently fighting on the bubble, which means it's going to be two wild and crazy weeks until Selection Sunday. 

Let's take a look at some of the most important upcoming games.

Note: All RPI and SOS numbers courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Nebraska at Indiana, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

R Brent Smith/Associated Press

Seeking their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998, the Cornhuskers have put themselves right in the thick of the conversation with an 8-2 stretch that includes a win over Michigan State (RPI: 21). 

With a 3-7 record against RPI top-50 teams and three losses against squads outside the top 100, though, there is still work to do. There is an opportunity for that work with a matchup in Bloomington and a home game against Wisconsin to close out the regular season.

To potentially make things a little easier, freshman stud Noah Vonleh could be out for the Hoosiers in this one:

That's not good news for Indiana, which must win this game if it isn't going to rely on winning the Big Ten tourney.

The Hoosiers seemed to be completely out of the picture after starting out a miserable 4-7 in conference, but wins over Iowa (RPI: 32) and Ohio State (RPI: 26) have given the Hoosiers new life.

CBS Sports' Seth Davis laid out simply for Tom Crean's squad:

 

Tennessee at Auburn, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Wade Payne/Associated Press

In this one, the Volunteers don't need a win as much as they can't afford the loss. 

Depending on where you look, Cuonzo Martin's team is probably one of the last four in or first four out. Inside the SEC, the Vols are 9-7 but boast only four victories against the RPI top 50 and have lost three games (two in February) against teams teams outside the top 100. Moreover, they went 0-for-3 in chances against Kentucky and Florida.

Before conference play, though, they beat Xavier by 15 and crushed ACC champs Virginia by 35, wins that are keeping their resume in the respectable territory. 

Either way, they are about as close to the edge of the bubble as possible and are approaching every remaining game as critical.

"All of our games are important from here on out," said senior guard Antonio Barton after Saturday's win over Vanderbilt, via UTSports.com. "The last four games we have to take it personal to the SEC tournament. We have to win out."

They must continue to play with that mindset on Wednesday, because a loss against Auburn (RPI: 170) would be crushing. 

 

Dayton at St. Louis, 9 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

Skip Peterson/Associated Press

Despite losing two in a row—one shocking (at home versus Duquesne) and one not so shocking (at VCU)—the Billikens are simply fighting for a better seed at this point. 

How will Dayton fare?

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But the Flyers have more work to do. 

A 1-5 start in the Atlantic 10 seemed to derail Archie Miller's team, but Dayton has bounced back with wins in seven of its last eight, including triumphs over George Washington (RPI: 28) and Massachusetts (RPI: 12). Throw in preseason victories against Gonzaga (RPI: 27) and Cal (RPI: 50) in Maui, and the Flyers have a solid resume despite that midseason swoon and three defeats outside the RPI top 100. 

If their dynamic offense can find a way through Jim Crews' physical, efficient defense—a tantalizing contrast of styles—on the road, they'll be back on the inside of the bubble. 

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