Even though ESPN likes to hype up its Bracketbuster day, the fact is that the last few weeks of the season act like an elimination tournament with teams moving in and out of the NCAA Tournament, while other teams move up and down on a daily basis. While each and every game could theoretically have an impact on the Bubble and NCAA seeding, there are a few games that matter more than the others which we will feature over the next two weeks leading up to the conference tournaments. We will feature these in two posts per week. The first will be a post released on Sunday night for games from Monday through Thursday, and the second will be a post released on Thursday night for games from Friday through Sunday.
Georgia Tech at Clemson on Raycom/ESPN Full Court at 8 PM on Tuesday – This game is important not just for NCAA seeding, but also for ACC seeding. Both teams are currently occupying a position in the ACC standings where they could easily rank anywhere from 3rd in the conference all the way down to 7th in the conference. That conference rank could be the difference between having to play Duke or having to play UNC (ok, I’ll admit that was a cheap shot Tar Heel fans) early in the ACC Tournament. As you would expect from fairly similar teams, they both sit in the middle of most brackets. I could see either one going as high as a 6-seed or as low as a 9-seed when Selection Sunday roles around and these head-to-head match-ups will play a huge role in where they fit in the bracket.
Memphis at UAB on Comcast Sports South at 9 PM on Wednesday – It still seems incredible after all these years of John Calipari‘s teams dominating Conference USA that the Tigers are no longer dominating CUSA any more. In fact, these two Conference USA teams will be playing for more than the #2 seed in the CUSA Tournament (UTEP is in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed) when they meet in Birmingham. They might be playing for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament as well. Most bracketologists have the Blazers as one of their last teams in while the Tigers are one of the last teams out. A win by Josh Pastner‘s squad could cause the teams to flip positions into and out of the bracket overnight. Normally I might make this game even higher, but I’m not buying the UTEP Kool-Aid and the loser could still get in with either a win in the conference tournament over the other or could potentially win the CUSA Tournament outright.
Oklahoma State at #24 Texas A&M on ESPN at 9 PM on Wednesday – Both teams are coming off huge home wins. Now the question is whether they can sustain the momentum. The Cowboys will need to show they can win away from the land of perpetual T. Boone Pickens money and the Aggies will need to show they can win against a team that isn’t collapsing. Both teams are currently in a group of five Big 12 teams with in-conference records of either 8-6 or 9-5. A win here or there could mean the difference between finishing 3rd in the conference or finishing 7th in the conference and even though OSU has a win over KU everybody in the Big 12 (and the country) wants to avoid the Jayhawks for as long as possible in any tournament (Big 12 or NCAA). Right now both teams are in the 6-8 seed range, but a hot or cold streak to finish the season could mean anywhere from a 5-seed to a 10-seed for these two teams.
#19 Vanderbilt at Florida on ESPN at 7 PM on Tuesday – The Gators are coming off a tough two-point loss at Georgia, but their prior three-game winning streak has assured them a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now they are entering a two-game stretch (home versus Vanderbilt then at Kentucky) where it might appear that they can only help their NCAA seed and a win could boost them 2-3 spots, but if they lose these two and their opener in the SEC Tournament a four-game losing streak might be enough to take them to the NIT for the third straight year. As for the Commodores, they have a treacherous two-game finish in Gainesville then at home against Devan Downey and company. They are currently chasing a #3 or #4 seed, but a loss in either of those games could cripple their chances at getting a top-4 seed (barring an upset victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament). Technically they still have a chance of winning the SEC regular season title (if they win out and the Wildcats finish on a 3-game losing streak), but we don’t see that happening.
#9 Villanova at Cincinnati on ESPN2 at 7 PM on Tuesday – The question here is how these teams respond to difficult loses on Saturday. Villanova’s loss was more visible and watched (by just about everyone in upstate New York–aka everything outside of NYC), but the Bearcats suffered a difficult loss in Morgantown where they blew a 2nd half lead before falling just short. The Wildcats loss likely will keep them out of a #1 seed, but the Bearcats loss might be enough to keep them out the NCAA Tournament altogether. A win here for Villanova would be big to ensure that they stay on the 2-seed line while Cincinnati needs a win here and probably at Georgetown along with 1 or 2 wins in the Big East Tournament to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.