March Madness: Bubble Games of Utmost Importance Lead Weekend Preview
Big East Bubble Matchups
(1) Syracuse at Louisville, 2PM Saturday on ESPN
The storylines for this bubble game are endless. Can Syracuse get revenge? How will Louisville cope with the emotions of Senior Day? Will the fans rip Freedom Hall apart in its final game? Can the Cardinals get a much needed win and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament?
The first time around, Louisville used a fast 2-3 zone to keep the Orange from getting many high percentage opportunities from the field. Rick Pitino's deadly pressure was rarely used, and when it was, it generally wasn't that effective during the first meeting.
With Wes Johnson's hand still affecting his shooting, the zone should once again be effective because the 'Cuse loses a capable shooter. With only Andy Rautins on the floor as an efficient long-range threat, the 'Cuse could once again be zoned out against Louisville.
Connecticut at South Florida, 2PM Saturday
This game is essentially an elimination game for both schools. The team that loses this game is practically out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.
If Connecticut loses, the Huskies will have 11 conference losses, a number almost impossible to overcome to make the NCAA Tournament. South Florida doesn't have the quality wins that Connecticut does, so a loss for the Bulls means their 10 league defeats would be nearly impossible to overcome as well.
Expect to see more two point baskets between these two than you'll ever want to see in a basketball game. UConn is dead last in the country in points off three-pointers, and South Florida is only a few spots better.
Notre Dame at Marquette, 2PM Saturday
Marquette is assumed to be in the tournament at this point. It would take two terrible losses and a pretty ridiculous snub for the Golden Eagles not to go dancing.
On the other hand, Notre Dame is far from having secured a bid. The Irish's ugly victory over UConn helps quite a bit, but Notre Dame probably needs two more wins between the regular season and conference tournament to lock up a bid.
Statistically, the improvements Notre Dame has made on both ends of the floor without Luke Harangody are startling. The offense is now the second most efficient unit in the country, and the defensive efficiency improved from 1.06 points per possession allowed to 1.02 in the handful of games Harangody has missed.
Seton Hall at Providence, 7PM Saturday
Seton Hall has played its way back onto the bubble. A win against the Friars is absolutely necessary.
With the way Providence plays defense and Jeremy Hazell's penchant for shooting, it would be surprising if he didn't drop 35 and Seton Hall doesn't score at least 100 against Providence.
ACC Bubble Battles
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 4PM Saturday
This game is a must-win for both squads, as the team that loses this game will likely be out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The theme of this matchup will be defense, defense, defense. The Hokies rank 11th in defensive efficiency, while the Yellow Jackets are 19th. The two teams struggle in the half-court set, which means their disruptive defenses could keep this game in the 50s. If that's the case, Malcolm Delaney is the best go-to guy on the court for either squad and could be the difference.
Clemson at Wake Forest, 6:00PM Sunday on FSN
Both of these schools are pretty safe in terms of making the dance, but a collapse in this game and the first round of the ACC Tournament could be enough to knock one of them out of the dance.
Like many ACC schools this year, the defense has carried both of these schools. Wake has had trouble holding onto the ball and finding good shots without a stud point guard like Jeff Teague. With Clemson's pressure defense, Ish Smith will be relied upon heavily to operate Wake's offense.
SEC Bubbles Bursting
It's been well documented that the SEC West has been nothing short of awful this season. It's essentially what the NBDL is to the NBA in relation of strength compared to the SEC East.
The two teams from that half of the league that still have tournament aspirations could put themselves in position to go dancing this week. Mississippi State hosts Tennessee in a chance to get a marquee win, while Mississippi goes on the road to Arkansas. A few wins in the SEC Tournament in addition to wins on Saturday, and suddenly the West could have two bids.
Florida is also in a precarious position because of its loss at home to Vanderbilt. The Gators are now in a near must-win situation against Kentucky.
The Atlantic 10 can play its way back up to four, maybe five bids this weekend. Rhode Island has a very winnable road game against Massachusetts. A victory Saturday and the Rams are a 10-win Atlantic 10 team with the conference tournament still to come.
Dayton also has a critical home game against Saint Louis. The Billikens are suddenly a quality win after their strong play on their home court this season. The Flyers blew their latest shot to get a quality victory by losing against Richmond this week.
Speaking of the Spiders, they are squarely in the field, but Charlotte is not. The 49ers could play their way back into bubble contention with a win against Richmond and a strong A-10 Tournament showing.
The Mountain West should have three teams hear their names called on Selection Sunday, but San Diego State could give the MWC a fourth team in the dance. SDSU has a gimme game against Air Force this weekend, and with a victory against New Mexico or Brigham Young in the Mountain West Tournament, the Aztecs would be a lock to make the tournament.
Illinois has faded down the stretch after looking like a near lock about two weeks ago. The Illini can play its way back into the tournament on Sunday by protecting its home court against Wisconsin.
Game to Watch
(8) West Virginia vs. (9) Villanova, Noon Saturday on CBS
In addition to all the bubble games of importance, there are some high-quality battles between ranked teams. The best of the best is West Virginia heading east to Philadelphia to take on a struggling Villanova team.
The first time around, the Mountaineers were not able to fully exploit the Wildcats' love for fouling, and 'Nova left Morgantown with a great victory. While Villanova has struggled with giving too many teams free passes at the line, that is not the reason the defense has really failed Jay Wright's team lately.
Villanova has suddenly lost its ability to rebound its opponent's missed shots. This wasn't really a weakness until the last three weeks during 'Nova's sudden struggles. In their last three losses, the Wildcats have allowed opponents to rebound at least 40 percent of their misses.
That spells disaster against a West Virginia team that is first in the country in offensive rebounding at 42 percent. If this Mountaineers team controls the glass, then the Wildcats could further slip down the seed lines onto that third line or maybe even the fourth.
Don't Be Surprised About This Upset
(2) Kansas at Missouri, 2:00 Saturday on CBS
For the second consecutive weekend, the top three teams in the poll could all lose. Kentucky going down to Florida isn't likely, but it's possible. Both Syracuse and Kansas have tough road games that could catapult the Wildcats up to the top spot.
As mentioned above, Syracuse has a lot of things going against it this week in Louisville.
Kansas is in a similar situation, as Missouri is nearly unbeatable at home and will be saying goodbye to beloved big-shot senior Zaire Taylor. Also, the Border War is as intense a rivalry as you are going to get in college sports. Anything can happen in rivalry games when emotions bubble over.
So when one, two, or even all three of the teams at the top of the rankings go down this weekend, don't really be surprised.
For more updates on college basketball, follow @JamesonFleming on Twitter.
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