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.
Oregon managed to somehow pick up a victory Thursday night that will both boost its computer ratings and hurt it in the eye test.
On one hand, the Ducks outlasted a UCLA team that hadn't lost at Pauley Pavilion to anyone besides Arizona prior to Thursday. On the other hand, the Ducks needed two overtimes to escape with an 87-83 win even though the Bruins were without suspended stars Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson.
That Oregon won is certainly better than the alternative because the Ducks' hopes of remaining in contention for the NCAA tournament depended on a victory. Oregon was 1-6 against the RPI top 50 entering Thursday's game with the lone victory coming against fellow bubble team BYU.
Beating UCLA extends Oregon's win streak to four and elevates the Ducks to 19-8 overall and 7-8 in the Pac-12. Decent non-league wins over Georgetown, BYU and Ole Miss help Oregon's case, but the Ducks probably need to win at USC on Saturday and at least split with Arizona State and Arizona in Eugene next week to feel good about their chances entering the Pac-12 tournament.
It didn't seem as though Oregon would need overtime to beat UCLA when it opened a 12-point halftime lead and still held a six-point lead with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation after a pair of Mike Moser free throws. Then Zach Lavine scored a quick layup. Then Jason Calliste missed a pair of free throws. Then Bryce Alford buried a 3-pointer. Then Johnathan Loyd stepped on the sideline when he caught the ensuing inbound pass. And suddenly, UCLA was within one with the ball and five seconds remaining.
Though Zach Lavine missed a 3-pointer, UCLA actually got one final chance after a pair of Joseph Young free throws. David Wear caught a three-quarters court pass, found himself all alone and buried a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime.
Young sank a tie-breaking 3-pointer in the second overtime and Oregon outlasted a UCLA team that got 31 points from Bryce Alford just to stay within striking distance. It wasn't a pretty win for the Ducks, but it certainly was an important one.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE THURSDAY
• Arkansas (19-9, 8-7): The SEC team most likely to join Florida and Kentucky in the NCAA tournament may actually be Arkansas. The Razorbacks distanced themselves from their reputation for road futility on Thursday, winning at Rupp Arena for the first time since 1994 to complete a season sweep of Kentucky. With two victories over the Wildcats and November wins over SMU and Minnesota, Arkansas has a respectable 4-5 record against the RPI top 50. Were the Razorbacks to win out against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, they'd finish 11-7 in the SEC after a 2-6 start. That would surely get Arkansas an NCAA bid even if it lost in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
• Marquette (17-11, 9-6): No way would I have guessed Marquette could play its way onto the fringes of the bubble picture, but here the Golden Eagles are threatening to sneak into the field of 68. Their 75-73 victory over Georgetown is their fifth in sixth games, giving them hope entering a final three-game stretch that begins at Villanova on Sunday and continues at Providence and at home against St. John's. Marquette's RPI of 73 is abysmal and its list of victories don't include any surefire NCAA tournament teams besides George Washington, which makes the Villanova game absolutely critical. Get that one on the road and earn at least a split in the remaining two games, and perhaps the Golden Eagles will have some hope entering the Big East tournament.
• Gonzaga (24-6, 14-3): Two good things happened to the Zags on Thursday night. First, Arkansas beat Kentucky, making Gonzaga's neutral-court win over the Razorbacks a bit more valuable. Second, the Zags pummeled Pacific in Stockton, bouncing back from two straight road losses last week and clinching the WCC title for the 13th time in 14 years. Those two developments are key for Gonzaga because it had been slipping toward the bubble of late. Though its record is impressive and its RPI continues to hover around 30, Gonzaga has beaten no surefire NCAA tournament teams and only BYU and Arkansas among bubble teams. Winning the WCC tournament would drain any drama out of Selection Sunday for Gonzaga, but as long as the Zags don't drop their regular season finale at Saint Mary's this weekend, they'll probably be OK.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL THURSDAY
• Georgetown (16-12, 7-9): Quality non-league wins against Michigan State, VCU and Kansas State have kept Georgetown in the conversation, but the Hoyas aren't making it easy on themselves with their performance in Big East play. Their 75-73 loss at Marquette on Thursday night ensures they can finish no better than .500 in league play and they'd need to beat both first-place Creighton and second-place Villanova in their final two games just to accomplish that. One win is probably an absolute must to keep Georgetown's at-large hopes alive. Two, and the Hoyas would be in good shape entering the Big East tournament.
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