March Madness: The 5 games on Wednesday with the biggest NCAA tournament bubble impact
Midweek games in late February mean one thing: Bubbles are at stake. Here's what to watch for these five bubble teams playing Wednesday:
1. Syracuse: The Orange had their most significant road win of the season at Miami. Syracuse could potentially make the selection committee’s job much easier by knocking off North Carolina (7 p.m. ESPN).
The Tar Heels, though, are one of the hottest teams in the country and haven’t lost in the month of February. The Tar Heels won at NC State and Louisville. If the Orange knock off UNC, I can’t see how Syracuse isn’t in the field. UNC is peaking at the right time, erasing any questions of the three-game late January skid.
2. Penn State: Tony Carr told me Tuesday that the Nittany Lions are playing every game like a game seven. And they are clearly enjoying and thriving in this sense of urgency every game. The Nittany Lions have had opportunities over the final month to make a case for a bid. The home win over Ohio State gave them a sweep. Now Penn State has a chance this week to earn the bid by beating Michigan (7 p.m., Big Ten Network) and then at Nebraska this weekend.
3. Virginia Tech: The Hokies have the road win at Virginia that will be a difference maker if they can hold serve at home. They host Clemson Wednesday (7 p.m., ACC Network) and then Duke Monday before finishing the regular season at Miami next weekend. The Hokies’ profile includes home wins over North Carolina and NC State, as well. That should be enough, but a win over Clemson would really help clinch a bid for the NCAA tournament.
4. Boise State: The Broncos have zero room for error now after losing to Nevada at home and at Utah State. Boise State must beat Colorado State in Fort Collins (9 p.m., ESPN3). One more loss and the Broncos will have to win the Mountain West Conference tournament. These are the type of games late in the season that will show the kind of team the Broncos must/should be if they want to play in the tournament.
5. Kansas State: The Wildcats didn’t have the non-conference schedule to warrant a bid. So, they have to earn the invitation through the Big 12. Kansas State has four Big 12 road wins at Iowa State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State. They’ve got two more chances at Oklahoma and at TCU. To make those games matter, Kansas State cannot afford to lose at home, beginning with Texas (9 p.m., ESPNU). The season ends next weekend against Baylor at home. Go 3-1 in these four and the Wildcats should get a bid. Split the four and it will come down to the Big 12 tournament. Go anything less than that and this team could easily be on the outside.
A look back at the most significance of Tuesday’s results:
Michigan State: The Spartans beat Illinois and earned a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. And after all that has happened this season, Michigan State could be on the verge of earning a 1 seed in two weeks.
Rhode Island: The Rams escaped La Salle with an overtime win. The only loss for URI was at St. Bonaventure. If that holds as the lone blemish then the Rams will crack that top 16.
Texas A&M: The Aggies lost at home to Mississippi State. Texas A&M, a team with more suspensions than any other contending NCAA tournament team, will be the most challenging selection for the committee. There is talent. But the results are so inconsistent that the committee needs to see more from this team in the coming two weeks.
Butler: The Bulldogs are playing well at the right time and behind Kelan Martin’s 26 points in the win over Creighton should be considered a contender to challenge Villanova for the Big East tournament title.
East Tennessee State: The Buccaneers aren’t going to get an at-large berth. There might have been some hope at one point when they were steam rolling through the Southern. But ETSU has now lost two games in the league after falling to The Citadel at home.
Baylor: The Bears have highlight wins, like Kansas and Texas Tech, but their margin for error is still thin and dropping the home game to West Virginia puts more pressure on Baylor in the final 10 days.
Nebraska: The Huskers trailed Indiana at halftime but surged back ahead in the second half to win, a critical victory in its quest for a bid. Nebraska probably has to beat Penn State at home this weekend and win one game in the Big Ten tournament to get a bid. Losing to Indiana at home, after falling at Illinois, would have been devastating to the cause.
Get you a bench that can do both. pic.twitter.com/7yTGbNJeiH— ESPN (@espn) February 21, 2018
Kentucky: The Wildcats are going through a natural maturation for a team that is led by freshman. They are getting better. The problem is Kentucky isn’t allowed to have the normal highs and lows that a freshman-dominated team would go through. The win at Arkansas may be the most meaningful of the season. And it’s clear when Kevin Knox plays well (23 points), this team has a chance.