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Jeff Eisenberg

Six bubble winners and losers from a busy Saturday slate

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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The bubble picture remains murky three weeks before Selection Sunday. Here's a look at six teams who helped themselves and six who hurt themselves during a busy day of games on Saturday:

BUBBLE WINNERS

1. Utah State (Won 75-65 at Saint Mary's)

Comment: Even with a sparkling 24-3 record entering this game, Utah State needed to beat Saint Mary's to feel confident about its at-large chances. The only other top 100 RPI teams on the Aggies' schedule were road games at BYU and Georgetown, both of whom defeated Utah State.

2. UNLV (Won 68-61 at Colorado State)

Had the Rebels lost at Colorado State, they would have been a combined 0-6 against San Diego State, BYU and the Rams. Instead UNLV moved to within a half game of third place in the Mountain West and can all but lock up an NCAA tournament berth if it dispatch New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah in its final three games.

3. Georgia (Won 69-63 at Tennessee)

Comment: The Bulldogs (18-8, 7-5) haven't lost to anyone outside the RPI top 40, but this victory provided a much-needed quality win. It eased some of the sting from squandering a lead against Vanderbilt earlier in the week and marked the Bulldogs' first victory over a likely NCAA tournament team since a win over Kentucky to start SEC play more than a month ago.

4. Michigan State (Won 61-57 vs. Illinois)

Comment: For all the Spartans' struggles the past month, their schedule strength and the mediocrity of the middle of the league leaves them in remarkably good position to sneak back into the NCAA tournament. Now tied for fourth place in the Big Ten at 7-7, Michigan State likely needs three wins in its final four regular season games to feel confident about its position entering the conference tournament.

5. Nebraska (Won 70-67 vs. Texas)

Comment: If it seems over-the-top to suggest this upset catapults the Huskers (18-8, 6-6) onto the fringes of the bubble picture, consider their profile for a moment. Yes, they accomplished nothing of note in non-league play, but they boast wins over Texas and Texas A&M with opportunities to defeat Kansas State and Missouri at home in the next two weeks.

6. Alabama (Won 69-56 vs. Arkansas)

Comment: Believe it or not, the Tide (18-8, 10-2) wrapped up the SEC West title with this win, though that means little to their NCAA tournament hopes. Alabama must keep winning to atone for a dismal non-conference season that includes no good wins and several bad losses, meaning that the final two regular season games against Georgia and Florida look particularly important.

BUBBLE LOSERS

1. Virginia Tech (Lost 61-54 at Virginia)

Comment: If the Hokies fall a victory or two shy of an NCAA tournament berth again this March, they can point to their inability to defeat their woeful in-state rivals. A season sweep at the hands of Virginia drops Virginia Tech to 17-8 overall and 7-5 in conference play, a precarious spot for a team that still has Duke, Clemson and Boston College remaining on its schedule.

2. Washington State (Lost 71-69 at Arizona State)

Comment: All the good work Washington State did in beating Baylor and Gonzaga in non-league play will apparently go for naught as a result of a flurry of lackluster losses in Pac-10 play. The Cougars fell to 7-8 in the Pac-10 with the loss to the last-place Sun Devils, an especially inexcusable result considering Arizona State was without Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks. (Washington State's Faisal Aden also was sidelined with a knee injury).

3. Colorado State (Lost 68-61 to UNLV)

Comment: While a 68-61 home loss doesn't eliminate the Rams from NCAA tourney contention, it does make their path to an at-large bid much tougher. Colorado State (18-8, 8-4) probably needs a win at BYU on Wednesday or at San Diego State in the regular season finale to complement victories over UNLV, Southern Miss and Ole Miss earlier this season.

4. Duquesne (Lost 64-63 at Dayton)

Comment: For Duquesne to go from nice story to legit NCAA tournament contender, the Dukes couldn't afford to lose to teams behind them in the Atlantic 10 standings. Saturday's one-point loss dims Duquesne's already slim hopes of an at-large berth and leaves Richmond as the only team with a realistic chance to join Xavier and Temple in the NCAA tournament.

5. Illinois (Lost 61-57 at Michigan State)

Comment: The Illini have lost 7 of 11 in conference play, a disastrous stretch for a team that began the season with Big Ten title aspirations. With games at Ohio State and Purdue still remaining on the schedule, Illinois (17-10, 7-7) will need an upset to finish above .500 in the conference.

6. Memphis (Lost 67-52 at Rice)

Comment: So many of the Tigers' victories came by a point or two in the final minute that they were probably overdue for a clunker like this. Nonetheless, this knocks Memphis out of first place, torpedoes its RPI and increases the pressure to win four straight to end the regular season to bolster the Tigers' hopes of earning an at-large.

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