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Jeff Eisenberg

Bubble Watch: Minnesota among those making a late push

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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An already white-knuckle weekend for bubble teams got even more nerve-wracking on Saturday afternoon when underdog Houston stole an NCAA tournament berth by upsetting top-seeded UTEP in the Conference USA title game.

Since UTEP will now join Houston in the field as an at-large team instead of Conference USA's automatic qualifier, a bubble team that would have made the NCAA tournament on Saturday morning is now out.

As a result of San Diego State's victory over New Mexico and Georgia Tech's win over Maryland on Friday night, I've elevated both the Aztecs and Yellowjackets off the last-in list and into the field. Coupled with Houston's win, that leaves 11 teams with a realistic chance of nabbing one of the final four at-large bids in the field by my count.

Last Four in, First Seven Out

62. Washington (23-9, 11-7, RPI: 49): A Pac-10 title game appearance was a must for the Huskies, and they did it by dominating Stanford. It will still be a nervous 24-hour wait until the Selection Show if the Huskies don't beat Cal in the title game considering a win over Texas A&M was their only notable non-conference victory.

63. Virginia Tech (23-7, 10-6, RPI: 53): Virginia Tech's gaudy record belies a profile that has some holes. Yes, the Hokies went 10-6 in the ACC, but because their non-conference strength of schedule was among the nation's worst and they lost to Miami in the first round of the conference tournament, they'll have to sweat it out until Sunday.

64. Illinois (19-13, 10-8, RPI: 75): By avenging last week's loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Friday, the Illini moved closer to solidifiying their bid. Illinois boasts top-50 RPI victories over Clemson, Vanderbilt, Michigan State and Wisconsin (twice), but a bloated RPI and a poor regular season finish keep the Illini from being a lock at this point.

65. Minnesota (20-12, 9-9, RPI: 73): The Gophers were left for dead by many of us after a ugly loss to Michigan a few weeks ago, but they've made us look foolish for doing so. A Big Ten quarterfinal upset of Michigan State gives the Gophers wins over Butler, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois and the Spartans, perhaps enough to offset some bad conference losses and a sky-high RPI.

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66. Florida (21-12, 9-7, RPI: 52): That was a costly loss for Florida against fellow bubble hopeful Mississippi State on Friday. Can wins over Michigan State and Tennessee outweigh 12 losses, including four in the Gators' last five games? Maybe, but it's certainly no lock.

67. Seton Hall (19-12, 9-9, RPI: 54): Seton Hall's loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday night felt like a killer, but losses from other bubble teams have kept the Pirates in contention for an at-large. Although the Pirates haven't lost to a single team outside the top 75 in the RPI this season, outside of a win over Pittsburgh, their best wins are Louisville and Cornell.

68. Rhode Island (23-8, 9-7, RPI 41): Hard to believe Rhode Island is in this position after dropping five of seven to end the regular season, but the Rams have snuck up on the cut line thanks to the failures of their bubble peers. Friday's win over St. Louis helped, but the Rams almost certainly need to beat Temple in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday to bolster their case.

69. Mississippi (21-10, 9-7, RPI: 56):It doesn't look promising for Mississippi after Friday's quarterfinal loss to Tennessee. Non-conference wins over Kansas State and UTEP will help the Rebels' cause, but they didn't beat a single SEC team even in contention for the NCAA tournament.

70. Mississippi State (22-10, 9-7, RPI: 67): No bubble team endured a more damaging week last week than the Bulldogs, who lost at Auburn and then got torched at home by Tennessee. The Bulldogs undid some of that damage on Friday with a crucial win over Florida, but they probably need to take down Vanderbilt in the SEC semifinals on Saturday to have a realistic shot.

71. Arizona State (22-10, 12-6, RPI: 61): The Sun Devils probably blew their chance with an inexplicable loss to Stanford in the Pac-10 quarterfinals. A 12-6 conference record would make them a lock in previous years, but not in this Pac-10 and not with an early-season victory over San Diego State as their only marquee non-conference victory.

72. Memphis (23-9, 13-3, RPI: 51): The Tigers probably cost themselves an at-large bid earlier this week when they fell by one to Houston in the Conference USA quarterfinals. It's difficult to see the selection committee choosing Memphis over the other teams above it on this list when its two best victories came over an Alabama-Birmingham squad no longer in contention for an at-large berth.

Friday's Bubble Recap:

• Minnesota 72, Michigan State 67: The Gophers probably deserved more of a look than they were getting before this game, but this win made everyone take notice.

• Tennessee 76, Ole Miss 65: The Rebels' slim hopes depend on how much stock the committee puts in non-conference wins over Kansas State and UTEP.

• Illinois 58, Wisconsin 54: Credit the Illini for coming up big at the last possible moment.

• Rhode Island 63, St. Louis 47: The Billikens have been an Atlantic 10 spoiler the past month, but Rhode Island won in impressive fashion.

• Mississippi State 75, Florida 69: It's not unconceivable that neither of these teams make the NCAA tournament now.

• Washington 79, Stanford 64: It wasn't the Pac-10 semifinal opponent the Huskies expected, but they took care of business and leveled the Cardinal.

• Georgia Tech 69, Maryland 64: This win likely sends the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA tournament and eases the sting of a heartbreaker against the Terps two weeks ago.

• San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69: The Aztecs almost certainly won't be snubbed again this year after that win.

• Xavier 78, Dayton 73: The most painful collapse in a season full of them for Dayton.

Saturday's Bubble Look-Ahead:

• Minnesota vs. Purdue: Can the Gophers really be one win away from lock status? Sure looks that way.

• Illinois vs. Ohio State: The Illini might make it no matter what, but this win would make them a shoo-in.

• Rhode Island vs. Temple: The Rams need this one to give themselves a realistic at-large chance.

• Mississippi State vs. Vanderbilt: The win over Florida was a good start, but the Bulldogs probably have to win this one too.

• Washington vs. Cal: Either the Huskies secure the Pac-10's automatic bid, or they'll have a long 24-hour wait until Selection Sunday.

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