BracketBuster Saturday is here, but there's one made-for-TV showdown that will attract the eyes of the nation — and the NCAA tournament selection committee — more than any of the others.
Hopefully, you'll stay up late enough to watch it unfold.
Let's get to it …
The loser here will officially need to win its league tournament to secure an NCAA tourney bid. The winner might still have to, as well. Saint Mary's looked like it was going to have a sliver of wiggle room coming in, but that went away with Thursday's shocking 74-66 loss at San Diego. How bad was it? It was only the Toreros' fourth victory this season over a Division-I opponent, and they became the lowest-ranked RPI team (311) to notch a win against an RPI Top 50 opponent. It's a safe bet that this will be the most intense game played all day, and it's definitely worthy of your attention.
The Johnnies are playing with a bit of house money here, which makes them even more dangerous. After winning five of their last six, including victories at Madison Square Garden over Duke and UConn, they appear to be safely in the field of 68 barring a complete meltdown. Pitt, it appears, will have leading scorer Ashton Gibbs back from a knee injury for this one. The Panthers have won all three games they've played without him, and still have yet to fall on the road this season. Flip a coin here, folks.
Arizona is riding a 7-game win streak that began after an 85-68 blowout loss at Washington on Jan. 20. Since then, though, the Huskies are just 1-3 on the road, and if they want any shot at a Pac-10 regular season title still, this is a must-win. The Wildcats are a game ahead of surging UCLA, still, at 11-2 in the league, and can keep the pressure on the Bruins with a win here. They'll travel to Westwod to try and sweep that season series next Saturday. It's worth noting that while Washington is again having a tough time winning Pac-10 away games, Arizona is 6-0 at home in league play.
Who would have ever thought a few months ago that these two would be playing for their NCAA tournament lives on Feb. 19? Illinois, who already beat the Spartans once, is 17-9 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten, while Michigan State is 14-11 and 6-7, respectively. If Sparty doesn't protect the home floor here, it's conceivable that Tom Izzo's club could finish Big Ten play with a sub-.500 record. On the other side, since Jan. 6, Illinois has yet to win back-to-back conference games, and almost got stunned at the buzzer on a miracle heave at home on Wednesday night against Michigan. The 9 p.m. tip is intriguing and might favor the home team, and if you're on Michigan State's side, you'll take any help you can get right now.
Similar to Illinois and Michigan State, both of these teams are fighting to boost their at-large profiles. Georgia blew yet another second half lead at home on Wednesday, falling to Vanderbilt, 64-56, after the Commodores closed the game on a 24-3 run. Getting away from Athens might not be a bad thing here for the Bulldogs, who are 17-8 overall, 6-5 in the SEC and should be much better than that. Tennessee has the better non-conference résumé between the two, with victories over Villanova, Pitt, VCU and Memphis, but has to finish the regular season hot to remain on the radar.
This should be another dog-fight, with — surprise, surprise — both teams jockeying for position both on the bubble and in the Mountain West Standings. Colorado State is the league's biggest surprise this year, is 8-3 in the MWC and beating everyone it should be. The Rams have a chance for a rare season sweep of the Rebels here, which would all but cement them in third place in the league behind San Diego State and BYU. That's crucial, as they'd prefer to avoid the No. 4 vs. No. 5 match-up on the first day of the MWC tourney. As for UNLV, who is two games behind CSU in the loss column, it actually has a great shot at stealing third away with a win here, as CSU still has to travel to face both the Aztecs and Cougars. The loser of this one, though, is in serious danger of blowing a shot at the dance.
A few others worth keeping tabs on: George Mason at Northern Iowa (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2); Montana at Long Beach State (9:05 p.m. EST, ESPN); No. 8 Notre Dame at West Virginia (1 p.m. EST, CBS); Boston College at No. 19 North Carolina (4 p.m. EST, ESPN); No. 3 Texas at Nebraska (1:30 p.m. EST, ESPN3).