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If you watched UConn hold off West Virginia on Monday night, and if you saw Florida blitz Tennessee Tuesday night in Gainesville, you probably thought the same thing I did: Those guys just punched their ticket.
That, my fellow Hoopheads, is what the bubble boys need to do these next two weeks. Yes, they have to avoid bad losses (especially at home), but if you really want to differentiate yourself from the pack, you have to pull out a game that no one expected you to win. And the opportunities are there, because for teams like West Virginia and Tennessee, this part of the season is a grind. They know they are going to the NCAA tournament, so they are just trying to slog their way through these last few games. They are ripe to be plucked, and it's up to bubble teams to reap that fruit.
If you scan through the schedules of other bubble boys, you find a large sample of other opportunities for them to pull off bid-clinching wins (barring an ensuing collapse). So before I get to your e-mails, here are several ticket-punching possibilities to watch out for in the coming days:
Dayton at Temple, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET: The Flyers (18-8) looked like a safe at-large team for most of the season, but they have lost two of their last three to fall into bubble territory. They have a neutral-court win over Georgia Tech, but like a lot of teams they have been terrible on the road. Should they miss out on this opportunity, their final chance to acquire some breathing room comes March 4 at Richmond.
San Diego State at BYU, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports: This is the Aztecs' final game against a team ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. The Cougars are ranked 22nd in the RPI and are notoriously difficult to beat in Provo. Plus, San Diego State (20-7) only has one road win against a team ranked in the top 100, so this would really stand out on its resume.
Clemson at Maryland, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET: On the surface, Clemson (19-7) should be in pretty good shape with a 7-5 ACC record and a No. 35 ranking in the RPI. But look a little closer and you'll see that the Tigers' best true road win was at N.C. State. Not only will that give the committee some pause, but three of Clemson's remaining four games are on the road (Maryland, Florida State and Wake Forest). Should the Tigers lose all three and beat Georgia Tech at home (which is far from automatic), that would leave them 8-8 in the ACC and gasping down the stretch.
Cincinnati at West Virginia, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET: I've been trying to make the case that the Bearcats (15-11), who own neutral court victories over Vanderbilt and Maryland and swept UConn, deserve a bid, but it's hard to include a team with 11 losses. This game against the Mountaineers begins a brutal three-game stretch for Cincinnati to close the regular season. It is followed by a home game against Villanova and a road date at Georgetown. Realistically, Cincinnati will probably have to win two of these three to be in a decent position entering the Big East tournament. One win among those three will at least keep them in the conversation.
Maryland at Virginia Tech, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET: Maybe the Terps could help two teams punch their tickets this week (which could put Maryland back in a precarious position). The Hokies (21-5) could really use a road win tonight at Boston College, but failing that this would be another chance to bolster their resume the way they did by beating Wake Forest at home last week. If Virginia Tech loses at BC and then at home to the Terps, the Hokies will probably have to win their regular season finale at Georgia Tech to feel good about their at-large chances heading into the ACC tournament.
Purdue at Minnesota, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: The Gophers (16-10) put themselves back on the bubble by beating Wisconsin at home last week. A win over the surging Boilermakers would really help their cause, especially if they can follow it up with a road victory at Illinois. Minnesota has lost 10 games this season, and a few of them (Portland, at Miami, home vs. Michigan) look even worse in retrospect. But if they win out they would finish the regular season 11-7 in the Big Ten. I'd have to believe that would be enough to get them into the field.
Louisville at Marquette, Tuesday, March 2, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU. This could actually be considered a ticket-puncher for whoever wins, but Marquette (17-9) needs it a little bit more. The Golden Eagles have two losses outside the top 100, so they need as much house money as they can get. Since their other three remaining games are against St. John's, Seton Hall and Notre Dame, this is the Eagles' last chance to raise some eyebrows before the Big East tournament.
Richmond at Charlotte, Saturday, March 6, 2 p.m. ET: The 49ers (18-8) have also been going the wrong way lately by losing three straight games, including at home to Duquesne. They could obviously strengthen their hand by winning at Rhode Island on March 3, but a win here would give them a season sweep over the Spiders. Also, keep in mind that Louisville was missing several players when Charlotte beat the Cards in Freedom Hall on Dec. 5.
Tennessee at Mississippi State, Saturday, March 6, 6 p.m. ET ESPN: Realistically, the Bulldogs (19-8) have to win their last four games to get an at-large, but this one in the regular season finale would make a great impression on the committee heading into selection weekend. Mississippi State has a season sweep over Ole Miss in its favor, but its best RPI win came against Old Dominion on a neutral court, and the Bulldogs also have four losses outside the top 100. No margin for error here.