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Bubble Watch: All the big bubble keys and storylines heading into the final week of the season

Credit: Memphis athletics

We have officially made it to the final week of the regular season. With so many games throughout the week means that there are big opportunities for bubble teams to continue to make their cases before the conference tournaments begin next week. Multiple programs on the bubble are going to need to come away with a win or two before the conference tournaments start to increase their odds of making the NCAA tournament.

Here is a look at the bubble field as most of these teams have two games left in the regular season. Once again, we used Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology to discuss these teams.

Colorado State (Last Four Byes)

Remaining games: Air Force

Colorado State was one of the darlings of college hoops, beating Creighton and Colorado in the out of conference, and reaching as high as No. 13 in the AP Poll.

Unfortunately, in the rugged Mountain West, the Rams are reeling right now. Over the two weeks, Colorado State went from a lock to a bubble team due to a recent three-game losing streak that was snapped in their 70-62 victory over Wyoming on Saturday. One of Colorado State’s losses during the losing streak was a heartbreaker as Nevada guard Jarod Lucas drilled a shot from halfcourt at the buzzer to lift the Wolfpack over the Rams 77-74.

Niko Medved’s team is currently a part of Lunardi’s “Last Four Byes” heading into the final days of the regular season, and fortunately they have what should be a win on Senior Day at home against Air Force this weekend.

Win that one, and the Rams should be fine - regardless of what happens in the Mountain West Tournament. Lose? And the heat will be ramped up during Champ Week.

Florida Atlantic (Last Four Byes)

Remaining games: At North Texas, Memphis

Florida Atlantic remains among the “last Four Byes” coming into its final two games of the regular season.

The Owls got just the win they needed by holding off Tulane 79-73 this past Saturday for their 22nd win of the season. Prior to Saturday’s contest, Florida Atlantic lost two out of three including to Memphis who is also on the bubble.

The next two are interesting, as they travel to North Texas this week, before facing a now-surging Memphis team that has won four in a row heading into their showdown Saturday.

For the Owls, consider the mid-week tilt against North Texas a must-win. And a home loss Sunday to Memphis wouldn’t necessarily be a bubble buster.

But if they sweep both, the Owls should feel confident that they will be in the field regardless of what happens at the AAC Tournament next week.

Villanova (Last Four Byes)

Remaining games: At Seton Hall, Creighton

Villanova has made a significant jump in the bubble these past days to from being a part of the “First Four Out” to now being among the “Last Four Byes.” And they did it by winning a crucial game at Providence on Saturday, which added a Quad 1 win to their resume.

The good news for Villanova is that they have two more big opportunities to help their tournament resume this week. They face fellow bubble team Seton Hall on the road Wednesday, before hosting Creighton Senior Day.

Both will be Quad 1 opportunities, and a sweep should have the Wildcats just about in the field. A split would leave Villanova with a bit of work to do headed to Madison Square Garden next week.

The one thing the Wildcats must avoid: Losing both games this week.

TCU (Last Four Byes)

Remaining games: At West Virginia, UCF

Just a week ago, TCU was considered a lock to be in the NCAA tournament. However, the Horned Frogs dropped both games last week, including blowing a 17-point halftime lead to BYU on Saturday.

TCU sits with a 19-10 overall record with some nice wins over Houston, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. And to their credit, they haven’t taken a bad loss all season - with all 10 losses coming in Quad 1. That should be a good sign as they enter a pair of Quad 2 games this week - at West Virginia and UCF at home.

For TCU, it’s really about avoiding those bad losses right now and winning the games they’re supposed to.

Virginia (Last Four In)

Remaining games: Georgia Tech

Virginia took a step back this week going from being a part of the “Last Four Byes” to being among the “Last Four In.” This move came after the Cavaliers’ blowout loss to Duke on Saturday 73-48. Although Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball, the fact that they weren’t able to even compete is not a good sign.

With the loss, the Cavaliers are now 2-4, and have failed to break 50 points in any of those losses.

The good news for Virginia is that it should win its last regular season game to remain among the “Last Four In” before the ACC tournament starts next week. The Cavaliers host Georgia Tech, who is one of the worst teams in the ACC, on Saturday night so it is important to avoid a bad loss there.

Even if they win that, the Cavaliers still probably have work to do at the ACC Tournament next week.

New Mexico (Last Four In)

Remaining games: Fresno State, at Utah State

Despite having a good season, it is fair to say that New Mexico’s NCAA tournament hopes are on thin ice. The Lobos have lost three of their last four games, including a Quad 4 loss to Air Force and a defeat to Boise State on the road on Saturday. Although Boise State is among the top of the Mountain West, New Mexico would have loved a victory over there to make up for the loss to Air Force.

The Lobos host Fresno State on Wednesday. New Mexico cannot lose to Fresno State at all or it will be devastating to their hopes of clinching a spot in March Madness. To be honest, New Mexico probably needs to win at Utah State on Saturday as well to feel good in their at-large chances.

If the Lobos lose one game this week, then they will probably have to rely on a run in the Mountain West tournament to have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.

Wake Forest (Last Four In)

Remaining games: Georgia Tech, Clemson

It has been a wild season for Wake Forest, and after upsetting Duke two Saturdays ago, it seemed like they were closing in on NCAA Tournament lock status. Then they took bad losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, and the fact that they are still part of the “Last Four In” is kind of surprising.

The good news for the Demon Deacons is that they conclude the regular season with two games at home. It is really important for Wake Forest to win both of these games or they will have some serious work to do in the ACC tournament. The Demon Deacons face Georgia Tech on Tuesday which is a game that they can’t afford to lose under any circumstance.

On Saturday, Wake Forest has a chance to pick up a solid victory over a good Clemson team, which as of right now would count as a Quad 1 win (that could change, as the Tigers are right on the cut-line of that status). If the Demon Deacons go 2-0 this week, then they should be in good shape entering the ACC Tournament. If not, then they could be in some trouble.

Seton Hall (Last Four In)

Remaining games: Villanova, DePaul

Seton Hall remains a part of the “Last Four In” coming into the final week before the Big East Tournament. The Pirates suffered an 81-51 loss to No. 3 Uconn in Storrs on Sunday. Obviously nobody expected them to win that game, especially after they won the previous matchup earlier in the season. However, at this point of the season, the committee looks at everything and a 30-point loss does not look good on a resume.

By looking at where they are on the bubble, it is safe to assume that both of their remaining games are a must-win. The Pirates have a key opportunity on Wednesday as they host Villanova who is also on the bubble among the “Last Four Byes.” That game will have heavy implications for the bubble field as well.

Seton Hall will finish the regular season against DePaul on Saturday. DePaul is probably the worst Power Six team in the nation. That is a game they simply cannot lose.

Even if Seton Hall wins out, they’ll likely have work to do at Madison Square Garden next week in the Big East Tournament. Still, a sweep this week would truly go a long way.

St. Johns (First Four Out)

Remaining games: At DePaul, Georgetown

Not much has changed for St. Johns since they didn’t play this past weekend. However, it is important to mention again that the Johnnies are 3-0 since Rick Pitino basically called his players fat and unathletic after their loss to Seton Hall. Pitino’s team has been on a roll ever since, with their most recent win being a commanding 82-59 victory over Butler last Wednesday.

Like we mentioned last week, if St. Johns doesn't go 2-0 this week then they don’t belong in the NCAA tournament. The Johnnies should pick up two wins over Depaul and Georgetown this week heading into the Big East Tournament.

So really, the Johnnies ticket probably won’t be punched one way or another until next week’s Big East Tournament. Remember, because the games will be played at Madison Square Garden, they will actually count as home games (as opposed to neutral site) something that could hurt St. John’s in the computers.

Providence (First Four Out)

Remaining games: At Georgetown, Uconn

Providence has played its way just outside the tourney field this past week as it took losses from Marquette and Villanova. Saturday’s loss to Villanova could turn out to be very consequential for the Friars since the Wildcats are also on the bubble and Providence lost to them at home. The Friars went from being in the “Last Four In” to the “First Four Out” these past few days in Lunardi’s Bracketology.

Now being on the outside looking in, it is fair to say that Providence is going to want to win both games this week. Tuesday’s matchup against Georgetown is one that Providence can’t afford to lose against former Friars coach Ed Cooley. And of course there is a matchup Saturday with UConn.

Admittedly, if Providence does pull off the home upset, that would go a long way for their resume (as long as they win at Georgetown). WIth that said, if they don’t pull off the UConn stunner, they’ll have work to do at Madison Square Garden next week.

Iowa (First Four Out)

Remaining Games: Illinois

After not even being considered for the bubble not long ago, Iowa has impressively played itself into the conversation by winning four out of its last five games. Just a few days ago, the Hawkeyes were among Lunardi’s “Next Four Out.” Iowa had an impressive victory over Northwestern in Evanston to make themselves a more serious threat to steal another team’s spot in the Big Dance.

Iowa has just one game left in the regular season and it is not until Sunday. The Hawkeyes have plenty of time to prepare for Illinois as the Fighting Illini come to Iowa City on Sunday night. If Iowa can come away with another Quad 1 victory, then we can have talks about them possibly deserving to be in the tournament field before the Big Ten Tournament.

Utah (First Four Out)

Remaining games: At Oregon State, Oregon

Nothing has changed for the Utes as they are still a part of the “First Four Out.” What’s good for Utah is that it did what it had to do as the Utes took care of business on Saturday with an 88-59 blowout victory over California. Utah is on a two-game winning streak with a commanding win over Stanford as well last Thursday.

Utah will stay in the state of Oregon for the week. The Utes have another matchup that they can’t afford to lose against Oregon State, and a key opportunity against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Saturday, which would count as a Quad 1 victory if they get it.

Even if they do, Utah might need to win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament anyways, but it will be in much better shape if they can close out the regular season with two road victories.

Pittsburgh (Next Four Out)

Remaining games: Florida State, NC State

Another team that has quietly had a good season and played its way into the bubble field is Pittsburgh. The Panthers have some key wins over Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia. Pittsburgh also has some losses on their resume that proved costly such as a loss to Mizzou and two losses to Syracuse.

Last Tuesday, Pittsburgh lost a hard fought road game to Clemson 79-72. Jeff Capel’s team responded with an impressive 90-65 win over Virginia Tech to get them back into the March Madness discussion. The last two games of the regular season for Pittsburgh will be in front of their home crowd in must-win situations.

Fortunately for the Panthers, this week is about avoiding bad losses. Pittsburgh hosts Florida State on Tuesday and NC State on Saturday. If the Panthers lose just one of those games, then their hopes for an at-large bid will be pretty much over. If they win them both, it will set up for an interesting week ahead at the ACC Tournament.

Memphis (Next Four Out)

Remaining games: at Florida Atlantic

Memphis has had a weird season. The Tigers were as high as No. 10 in the AP poll at one point but suffered bad losses to Tulane, UAB, Rice North Texas and SMU. Penny Hardaway’s team is currently on a four-game winning streak with victories over Charlotte and Florida Atlantic.

Coming off of a 106-87 win over UAB on Sunday, Memphis gets six days to prepare for its bubble showdown and rematch with Florida Atlantic on Saturday. The Tigers won the previous matchup between the two programs in a 78-74 thriller just a few weeks ago in their home stadium.

A win over the Owls in Boca Raton would count as a Quad 1 win and do wonders for a resume that includes two, really bad Quad 2 losses. Regardless of what happens Saturday, the Tigers are going to need to have a lot of success in the AAC tournament.

Drake (Next Four Out)

Remaining Games: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament

For some mid-major conferences, the week of the conference tournament is already here. Drake has been among the top of the Missouri Valley Conference for the past few years as it is seeking its third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. Last year, they were very close to knocking off Miami in the Round of 64 before the Hurricanes made it the Final Four.

The Bulldogs are a No. 2 seed in the MVC tournament and play the winner of Thursday’s matchup between Illinois State vs Edwardsville. Drake finished the regular season with a 25-6 record with just four losses coming in conference play. They also split the season series with Indiana State who is MVC regular season champs this season.

Drake’s path to the NCAA tournament is pretty simple. If they win the MVC Tournament then they obviously get an automatic bid. If the Bulldogs make it to the championship and lose to Indiana State in a close game, then there is a possibility of an at-large bid. There is no other path for Drake to make it to the Big Dance.

Colorado (Next Four Out)

Remaining games: at Oregon, at Oregon State

Despite currently being on a four-game winning streak, the Buffaloes still find themselves among Lunardi’s “Next Four Out.” Colorado is most recently coming off a convincing 81-71 victory over Stanford in their home stadium.

The Buffaloes can’t afford a loss against Oregon State. A victory over Oregon in Eugene would certainly help things a lot heading into the Pac-12 Tournament. If Colorado can ride into the conference tournament on a six-game winning streak, then it will be a serious contender to steal a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Follow Ethan on Twitter - @_EthanBurke_ 


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