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/Friday night for games from Friday through Sunday.
#21 Texas at #23 Texas A&M at 2 PM on ESPN on Saturday – These two teams are on edge of being anywhere from a #4 to a #8 seed so this is obviously a big game for both teams because when the Selection Committee is placing teams in the bracket they will look at how they did head-to-head. Texas has been disappointing this year, but they have a chance to salvage their season with a late rally. The big question is how they respond to the loss of Dogus Balbay. Texas A&M is in essentially the same situation that the Longhorns are just with much less fanfare and volatility. The winner here has a shot at a 4 seed while the loser is going to be looking at a #7 seed at best barring a run in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, but perhaps the biggest prize for the winner will be moving up to try and avoid Kansas in the Conference Tournament for as long as possible.
Illinois State at #22 Northern Iowa at 8:05 PM on ESPN2 on Saturday – I know after the media’s lovefest for the Panthers this year it might be shocking to hear that they might need to win this game to guarantee a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but after their shocking loss at Evansville they might need this one for an at-large bid if they slip up in Arch Madness. Jordan Eglseder is scheduled to return from his suspension today and the Panthers will need him against Illinois State. The Redbirds have no illusions of an at-large bid, but this game is significant for their automatic bid chances as it would give them a shot at the #2 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and help them avoid the Panthers until the finals, which is particularly important since there are only 3 solid teams in the MVC.
#8 Villanova at #4 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPN on Saturday – Yes. The biggest game ever (!) slides in as the #3 game of the weekend in our rankings. Obviously this is the marquee game of the weekend in terms of big names, but it holds a little less significance for the NCAA Tournament then some would think. A win here for Syracuse would give them clinch the Big East regular season title for the Orange, but they already have the coveted double-bye (an absolute joke) in the Big East Tournament. The bigger issue for Jim Boeheim‘s squad is their quest for a #1 seed. With Purdue basically being eliminated in the talk about the final two #1 seeds (see below), a Syracuse win would give them the inside track for one of those seeds. As for Villanova, they have an outside shot at a #1 seed, but they will need a lot of help thanks to their #50 SOS (yes, I double checked and yes I was shocked too). Their main concern should be trying to avoid slipping for a #3 or possibly even #4 seed with a difficult three-game stretch to end the season (at Syracuse, at Cincinnati, and home versus West Virginia).