The madness of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament doesn’t officially begin until Tuesday, March 14, but the final weekend of the regular season is full of chaos, including four matchups between ranked teams. Conference tournaments should also provide some entertainment (or heartbreak, depending on who you root for).
But as usual this time of year, most of the talk is about who barely made it and who narrowly misses the NCAA Tournament. Bubble teams are always worth talking about, and this weekend many of them get a chance to let their game do some serious talking.
As you watch the games over the next few days, also keep an eye on the teams’ NET standings and how they move up or down. At this point in the season, every little part of a team’s resume will be scrutinized by the committee, and moving up or down the NET, even just a few spots, could make the difference.
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the state of Arizona
A second-half setback late Thursday at UCLA doesn’t look great on the surface — the Sun Devils (20-10, 11-8 Pac-12) trailed by four at halftime but were outscored 43-29 in the second period. But on the other hand, it confirms that the Bruins are the class of the Pac-12, so it’s not such a bad loss. Arizona State’s upset of Arizona is still the game that will make the biggest impression (and likely help the board overlook a sub-60s NET ranking). That said, a win at Southern California on Saturday will also help — as will a win in the Pac-12 tournament next week in Las Vegas. Status: last four in.
A narrow 90-85 loss to No. 2 Alabama, the likely No. 1 overall seed, could be considered a positive for the Tigers, but a win Saturday against visiting Tennessee would be even better. Auburn has a NET rank in the upper 30s, but again, a win over No. The 14 Volunteers — who are No. 3 in the NET — will greatly help a team that is 3-8 in its last 11 games. A win over the Vols, plus a little run in the SEC Tournament, would help Auburn make a solid case. But if he can’t take care of Tennessee, a decent showing in the SEC Tournament is a must. Status: last four in.
The Tigers held SMU 81-62 on Thursday night (not that that’s saying much, considering SMU is on a 10-game winning streak), but the real test comes Sunday, when Memphis (23-7, 13-4 AAC) hosts Houston No. 1. A close loss with multiple lead changes, an overtime thriller or a win would be much more important for Memphis. (The last time they played, Houston won 72-64 in a game that went wire-to-wire.) An appearance in the American Athletic Conference Tournament would be nice, but given the Tigers’ high 30th place in the NET rankings, pretty are safe. Status: Last four greetings.
The Big Ten is good this year — three teams are ranked in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll this week, but nine teams are projected to make the tournament — but that fact hurts the Wolverines (17-13, 11-8 Big Ten). Thursday night’s narrow, doubleheader loss to Illinois wasn’t great, but at least the Illini will get to the tournament. Michigan is just 3-11 in Quad 1 games, which is impressive — but their mid-50s NET ranking could be even worse. A win at No. 13 Indiana is a must on Sunday, but the Wolverines will also need a strong Big Ten tournament. Status: First four out.
How have the Tar Heels (19-11, 11-8 ACC) fared so far? Just a year ago, they were going to the Final Four. Part of the problem is the weakness of the traditionally stout ACC this season. A net ranking in the mid-40s doesn’t help their case — but a win over their biggest rival certainly would. Last week’s win at No. 12 Virginia also bolstered the Tar Heels’ case. But the best way to get off the bubble would be to beat Duke, who is a lock for the postseason, and head into the ACC tournament next week with momentum. North Carolina has a lot of talent, it’s just a matter of putting it together at the right time. Status: First four out.
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The Cowboys (16-14, 7-10 Big 12) probably can’t wait to be done with the Big 12 — and who can blame them? That conference is brutally tough and the teams that are going to do damage in the NCAA Tournament spend most of their conference season scratching and clawing, just trying to survive. OSU’s 47 NET rank is far from great, but the committee will likely give them a pass for the best in the conference. Playing No. 8 Baylor so close on Monday — the Cowboys lost 74-68 — will also help them pass the eye test. A win Saturday at Texas Tech and a couple wins in the conference tournament will help solidify their case. Status: First four out.
Hang out with team no. 5 in the country is great, but a loss is a loss and Wisconsin’s 63-61 loss to Purdue on Thursday moved the Badgers (6-13, 8-11 Big Ten) to 11th in the Big Ten. That’s far from great, as is their NET rank in the mid-70s. What’s even worse is the regular season finale at Minnesota, which is currently in last place in the conference standings. At this point, Wisconsin will need to string together some wins in the Big Ten Tournament to feel comfortable about its tournament status. It’s a tall order, but this is March and stranger things have happened. Status: last four in.
What’s the best way to get rid of blisters for good? Defeat the other bubble team. The Trojans will have an opportunity for that on Saturday when they host Arizona State in the regular season finale. USC lost to Arizona 87-81 on Thursday, but the score is a little deceiving because the Wildcats led the ENTIRE GAME. USC has a NET ranking in the mid-40s, but is a respectable third in the Pac-12 standings. Beating a few teams in the conference tournament — likely to get another shot at second-place Arizona — will also make a statement. Status: last four in.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bubble Watch: Eight teams fighting for their lives in the NCAA Tournament