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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Bubble Breakdown: Xavier all but locks up a bid with upset of Creighton

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Xavier took sole possession of third place in the Big East with its win (Getty Images)

With less than one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.

Only days before its matchup with Big East-leading Creighton on Saturday, Xavier made a decision that revealed the significance of the game.

The school announced it would sell standing-room-only tickets at the Cintas Center for the first time ever.

Fueled by the jam-packed crowd, stingy defense and a pair of strong performances from stars Semaj Christon and Justin Martin, Xavier defeated Creighton 75-69 to secure a win in the program's first home game against a top 10 opponent in a decade. Christon had 21 points but it was Martin who made the biggest impact, scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

Xavier's victory ensures the Musketeers (20-9, 10-6) would be solidly in the field of 68 if the season ended today. Though a loss to Pac-12 lightweight USC hurts their cause, they've now beaten top 15 teams Cincinnati and Creighton as well as fellow bubble teams Tennessee, Georgetown, Providence and St. John's.

An NCAA bid was in doubt for Xavier entering the week because of a stretch of five losses in eight games culminating with a 22-point bludgeoning at Georgetown last weekend. The Musketeers bounced back in impressive fashion this week, handling St. John's at Madison Square Garden before finishing the job Saturday with a convincing win over Creighton.

The biggest key to Xavier's upset on Saturday was its defense against Creighton's many weapons besides Doug McDermott. Though the national player of the year hopeful got 27 points, foul-plagued Ethan Wragge scored only nine points and nobody else had double digits either.

Xavier closes the season at Seton Hall and at home against Villanova. So long as the Musketeers don't lose both and fall in the first round of the Big East tournament, they're probably in good shape to hear their name on Selection Sunday.

BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE SATURDAY

• Oklahoma State (19-10, 7-9): Had the season ended 12 days ago with Oklahoma State 4-9 in the Big 12 and mired in a seven-game losing streak, the Cowboys likely would have missed the NCAA tournament. Two victories over TCU and Texas Tech gave them life, but it was Saturday's victory over first-place Kansas that will push Oklahoma State back into NCAA tournament contention. The Cowboys aren't safe yet. A home loss to Kansas State and a road loss at Iowa State would drop them to 7-11 in the Big 12 and leave them with ample work to do in the Big 12 tournament. But with victories over Memphis and Colorado in non-league play and Texas and Kansas in the Big 12, Oklahoma State would be in solid position if it can just earn a split next week.

• Dayton (20-9, 8-6): The possibility of Dayton hosting a First Four game at its own arena continues to become more realistic. The Flyers took another step toward slipping into the field of 68 on Saturday, earning a quality 86-79 home win over UMass. An 8-6 record against the RPI top 100 is strong evidence in Dayton's favor, especially since it includes victories over likely NCAA tournament teams George Washington, Cal and Gonzaga in addition to the Minutemen. What's holding the Flyers back and dragging their RPI into the mid-50s are ugly losses to USC, Illinois State and Rhode Island. Dayton has two games remaining, one at Saint Louis and the other at home against Richmond. A sweep might be enough to lock up a bid and a split would still leave the Flyers hope entering the Atlantic 10 tournament.

• Tennessee (18-11, 9-7): Days after calling fans who want Cuonzo Martin fired "idiots," Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings further helped the Tennessee coach's cause by failing to properly prepare his team to face the Vols. Tennessee routed the Commodores 76-38 to remain in position to earn one of the final at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Like most bubble teams, the Vols' profile is a mixed bag. A 35-point win at ACC leader Virginia is the most eye-popping achievement. Victories over fellow bubble teams Arkansas, LSU and Xavier also help. And two losses to Texas A&M and another to UTEP drag down the Vols' RPI and leave them vulnerable. For Tennessee to feel good about its chances going into the SEC tournament, wins at Auburn and at home against fellow bubble team Missouri next week are probably musts.

Others: Gonzaga (won at Saint Mary's), Oregon (won at USC), Arkansas (beat Georgia), Missouri (beat Mississippi State), Baylor (beat Texas Tech), St. Joseph's (beat St. Bonaventure), Nebraska (beat Northwestern).

BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL SATURDAY

Richmond (18-11, 8-6): If its loss at George Mason earlier in the week didn't already eliminate Richmond, then a 66-43 meltdown at Rhode Island ought to do the trick. Those two losses will suggest to the selection committee that the Spiders aren't the same team without injured star Cedrick Lindsay. Since Richmond's lone quality wins have come against UMass and St. Joseph's, the Spiders' at-large candidacy depended on solid computer numbers boosted by a lack of losses to teams outside the RPI top 100. Those numbers will surely take a hit now because George Mason and Rhode Island both have RPIs of about 150. Richmond still has two tough games left against VCU and Dayton. The Spiders need to win both and make a run in the Atlantic 10 tournament to have any chance whatsoever, and even then they're probably a long shot.

• Cal (18-11, 9-7): It was bad enough that Cal lost both games on its Arizona swing to tumble back to the bubble. It's even worse that the losses were by a combined 46 points. Unable to accomplish a whole lot in non-league play this season, Cal needed a strong performance in the Pac-12 to make the NCAA tournament. A 5-0 start and a win at first-place Arizona put the Bears in good shape, but they've now lost seven of their last 11 games and boast only three RPI top 50 victories this season. Cal may still be in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, but the Bears are not so safe that they wouldn't be in jeopardy with a home split against Colorado and Utah next week. A sweep is doable but not easy. Utah is playing well and Colorado may be desperate.

• Colorado (20-9, 9-7): And why would Colorado be desperate? Well, a loss at Utah lowered the Buffs' record without injured star Spencer Dinwiddie to 6-7 with two games remaining at Cal and Stanford. Whether Colorado makes the field likely depends on if it is judged on its full body of work or merely what it's done since Dinwiddie tore an ACL in January. With Dinwiddie, Colorado defeated Kansas, Harvard and Oregon, three wins that have helped the Buffs remain in the top 30 in the RPI. But aside from a home win over Arizona State, Colorado hasn't beaten a single team with realistic NCAA tournament hopes since Dinwiddie went down. It's difficult to project what Colorado needs to do in order to earn an NCAA bid because so much depends on how the committee views the Dinwiddie injury, but it's a safe bet the Buffs may need at least a split in the Bay Area.

Others: Minnesota (lost at Michigan), LSU (lost at Florida)

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