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Bubble Watch: A must-win for Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Very few bubble teams can secure a bid on Thursday, but early-round losses for any of them would likely extinguish their hopes.

Florida must beat Auburn. Georgia Tech must get by North Carolina. And Pac-10 contenders Washington and Arizona State must each avoid quarterfinal upsets to set up their crucial semifinal clash.

The number of open spots in the tournament shrunk from eight to seven on Wednesday with Notre Dame pretty much securing an at-large bid with a fifth straight win. On the other hand, South Florida removed itself from contention with a loss to Georgetown and Seton Hall damaged its hopes by falling to the Irish.

Last Five In, First Five Out

61. Illinois (18-12, 10-8, RPI: 75) Although it's hard to imagine a team with victories over Clemson, Vanderbilt, Michigan State and Wisconsin not making the field, Illinois is in jeopardy as a result of its bloated RPI and poor finish. The Illini have to avenge Sunday's loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten quarterfinals, or Selection Sunday will be very dicey.

62. Washington (21-9, 11-7, RPI: 50): The Huskies finished a game behind Arizona State in the Pac-10 standings, but victories over Cal and Texas A&M are more impressive than anything on the Sun Devils' resume. A Pac-10 title game appearance is a must for Washington, meaning the Huskies will probably have to defeat Arizona State in the semifinals to get there.

63. San Diego State (20-8, 11-5, RPI: 36): Unlike other bubble teams, San Diego State's NCAA tournament hopes can be summed up fairly simply. A win over likely Mountain West semifinal opponent New Mexico would put the Aztecs solidly in the field, while a quarterfinal or semifinal loss would likely knock them out.

64. Georgia Tech (18-11, 7-9, RPI: 44): Can a team that finished below .500 in the ACC and lost eight of nine road conference games make the NCAA tournament? This season, absolutely. The Yellowjackets' victory over Duke is keeping them afloat right now, but they need a first-round ACC tournament win over North Carolina at minimum and perhaps a quarterfinal victory over Maryland on top of that.

65. Arizona State (22-9, 12-6, RPI: 55): Eight wins in their final 10 games earned the Sun Devils second place in the Pac-10 and a spot on the bubble, but their most impressive victories are over bubble teams Washington and San Diego State. They must beat the Huskies again in the Pac-10 tournament semifinals to merit legit consideration.

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66. Seton Hall (19-12, 9-9, RPI: 54): Seton Hall lobbied hard for a bid after its loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday night, but that missed opportunity could be a killer. 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.

67. Mississippi (21-9, 9-7, RPI: 56): It took a late surge to get to 9-7 in the SEC for Mississippi to give itself a chance to make the NCAA tournament. Non-conference wins over Kansas State and UTEP will help the Rebels' cause, but without a quarterfinal victory over Tennessee this week, Ole Miss is probably NIT-bound.

68. Memphis (23-8, 13-3, RPI: 46): Memphis' RPI is solid because it played strong non-league competition, but the trouble is that the Tigers didn't win any of those games this season. They'll need to get to the Conference USA title game by perhaps beating Alabama-Birmingham for a third time and then hope that other bubble teams continue to falter.

69. Mississippi State (21-10, 9-7, RPI: 68): 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 face a must-win SEC quarterfinal against fellow bubble team Florida and then depending on how other bubble teams fare, they may still need one more win after that.

70. Alabama-Birmingham (23-7, 11-5, RPI: 41): UAB's victories over Butler and fellow fringe bubble team Cincinnati are helpful, but the Blazers' 11-5 conference record includes losses in all three meetings with UTEP and Memphis. Advancing to the Conference USA title game with a win over Memphis is a must for third-seeded UAB, but the Blazers may need to win the tournament to get a bid.

Thursday's Bubble Look-ahead

• Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina — There's no more intriguing matchup Thursday than this battle of underachievers. Tech can't lose here or its out.

• Cincinnati vs. West Virginia — Either Cincinnati makes things very interesting with a big upset, or Bob Huggins sends his former team to the NIT.

• Arizona State vs. Stanford — Sun Devils must get this one to set up their potential Pac-10 semifinal match-up with Washington.

• Washington vs. Oregon State — Ditto for the Huskies. A must-win.

• Florida vs. Auburn — The Gators may need two SEC tournament wins depending on how other bubble teams fare, but no doubt they need this one.

• Memphis vs. Houston — This is the first of two must-wins for the Tigers.

• San Diego State vs. Colorado State — Like Memphis in Conference USA, the Aztecs likely need two wins in the Mountain West tournament.

Wednesday's Bubble Recap

Georgetown 69, South Florida 49 — Nice season for the Bulls, but their NCAA hopes are now dead.

Notre Dame 68, Seton Hall 56 — The Irish lock up a bid, leaving the Pirates rooting hard for fellow bubble teams to flop.

Oklahoma State 81, Oklahoma 67 — Welcome to the dance, Cowboys. Welcome to the offseason, Sooners.

Cincinnati 69, Louisville 66 — The Bearcats are at least one win away from truly getting back on the bubble.

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