Five biggest bubble winners from Wednesday night’s slate

Even though Northwestern's at-large hopes took a devastating hit Wednesday night when the Wildcats suffered a two-point loss to Ohio State, another lengthy NCAA tournament drought appears on the verge of coming to an end.

South Florida stunned host Louisville 58-51 to remain in a third-place tie in the Big East and move closer to securing its first NCAA tournament bid in 20 years.

Here's a look at the five biggest bubble winners from Wednesday night's slate leading off with the surprising Bulls.

1. South Florida: If the knock against South Florida for weeks has been a lack of quality wins, then the Bulls took a giant step toward answering that criticism in the past four days. They followed up a home win against Cincinnati by upsetting Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center, easily their most significant victory of the year. At 19-11 overall, 12-5 in the Big East and No. 32 in the RPI, South Florida belongs in the NCAA tournament by my estimation regardless of what happens the rest of the season. The Bulls could erase all doubt, however, by closing the regular season with a home win over West Virginia this weekend.

2. Colorado State: Thanks to a stirring comeback from a 16-point deficit against UNLV on Wednesday night, Colorado State is suddenly in ideal position to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. The Rams have a strong RPI, an 18-10 record and three wins in six tries against San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV -- the three teams ahead of them in the Mountain West standings. Others are ready to declare that Colorado State has punched its ticket, but here's why I still think the Rams still have work to do: They are 2-9 in true road games and their best win away from home came against UTEP.

3. Cincinnati: A horrible non-conference strength of schedule is an anchor dragging Cincinnati's profile down, but Wednesday night's 72-61 victory over previously surging Marquette suggests the Bearcats may yet overcome it. Cincinnati improves to 21-9 overall and 11-6 in the Big East, with wins over Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, UConn, Seton Hall and now the Golden Eagles. It would create a more stress-free Big East tournament for the Bearcats if they avoid a loss at Villanova on Saturday, but Cincinnati appears to be in pretty strong position regardless.

4. North Carolina State: Even after snapping a four-game losing streak on Wednesday night by completing a season sweep of Miami, NC State's NCAA tournament hopes remain very bleak. The Wolfpack still have only one other remotely relevant win besides the two against the Hurricanes: a neutral-court win over bubble team Texas back in November. For NC State to overcome its winless record against the ACC's top four teams this season, a deep ACC tournament run is a must. In fact, it's hard to see the Wolfpack (19-11, 8-7) having a shot unless they reach the ACC title game next week.

5. Mississippi State: Despite Arnett Moultrie's declaration earlier this week that his team probably wasn't capable of a turnaround, the Bulldogs did at least manage to end their five-game skid on Wednesday night. They won at SEC bottom feeder South Carolina, though it took a brilliant inbound play and a buzzer-beating shot in the lane from Brian Bryant to do it. Mississippi State (20-10, 7-8) can finish .500 in SEC play with a win over Arkansas on Saturday, but that alone won't lock up an NCAA tournament bid. The Bulldogs will likely need at least one SEC tournament win, probably two to feel safe.