With less than one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
BYU got the win it needed to breathe life into its at-large hopes.
The Cougars avoided a season sweep at the hands of Gonzaga and tallied a much-needed top 50 RPI win, out-playing the Zags from start to finish on Thursday night to secure a 73-65 victory in Provo. Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino, Eric Mika and Anson Winder each scored in double figures and BYU repeatedly hurt Gonzaga on the glass.
How the selection committee views BYU (19-10, 11-5) now will depend heavily on what criteria it values in an at-large candidate.
On one hand, BYU played a fearsome non-conference schedule and boasts an RPI of 42 and quality wins over Texas, Stanford and now Gonzaga. On the other hand, the Cougars already have 10 losses including bad ones against Pepperdine, Pacific, Loyola Marymount and Portland.
It would help BYU immensely if it could avoid taking another loss to a team outside the top 100 in the RPI in its final two regular season games. The Cougars close with a home game against Portland and a visit to dangerous guard-heavy San Diego.
BYU should win both those games if it defends the way it did Thursday night. A potent Gonzaga team shot only 40.7 percent from the field, sank only 4 of 18 3-pointers and got little production from anyone besides forward Sam Dower (14 points) and point guard Kevin Pangos (13 points).
Gonzaga was still within four in the final four minutes when Matt Carlino gave BYU the cushion it needed to breathe easier. He extended the lead to eight with a jump shot and a layup, then iced it by sinking 3 of 4 free throws.
Thus Gonzaga (23-5, 13-2) will have to wait a few more days for another chance to clinch the WCC title outright. And BYU can continue to dream of an at-large bid instead of having to shift its focus to winning the WCC tournament.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE THURSDAY
• Nebraska (15-10, 7-6): If ever there were a team that should have been susceptible to a letdown, it was Nebraska. The Huskers were coming off a season-changing win at Big Ten co-leader Michigan State and had spent the week being celebrated as an unlikely NCAA tournament contender. Credit Tim Miles for keeping his team focused enough to dispatch of a Penn State team just good enough to be dangerous. The Huskers won 80-67 to notch their sixth victory in seven games and to stay on track to challenge for an at-large bid. Nebraska needs at least three more regular season wins to have a realistic chance, but the remaining schedule is favorable with Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern next before a visit to Indiana and a home game against Wisconsin.
• Stanford (17-8, 8-5): Considering four of Stanford's final five Pac-12 games are against likely NCAA tournament teams, the Cardinal couldn't afford to stumble at home against a last-place USC team that was missing its leading scorer. To its credit, Stanford didn't mess around, opening a nine-point lead by halftime and breaking the game open midway through the second half en route to an 80-59 rout. With a road win at UConn and victories over Arizona State, Cal and Oregon in league play, Stanford would likely be in the field of 68 were the season ending today. A home game against Pac-12 contender UCLA on Saturday gives the Cardinal a chance to bolster its profile, but any combination of three wins in Stanford's final five games would probably be enough to provide peace of mind entering the Pac-12 tournament.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL TUESDAY
• Georgetown (15-11, 6-8): Thanks to victories over Michigan State, Kansas State and VCU, Georgetown's non-conference resumé is strong enough to suggest the Hoyas belong in the NCAA tournament. Problem is the Hoyas have been so mediocre in league play that they may not get there. An 82-67 loss at middling Seton Hall dropped Georgetown to 6-8 in the Big East, not a good place to be considering the challenging slate that awaits the Hoyas prior to the Big East tournament. They close with home games against Xavier and Creighton and road games at Marquette and Villanova. Considering Georgetown has only 15 wins and its RPI is hovering around 60, it needs at least two wins and perhaps as many as three to keep hope of an at-large bid alive entering the Big East tournament.
• Gonzaga (23-5, 13-2): Gonzaga's gaudy record and top 30 RPI suggest it's an NCAA tournament lock, but a closer look at its resumé tells otherwise. The best opponents the Zags have beaten are a West Virginia team unlikely to make the NCAA tournament and a BYU team that's squarely on the bubble. Their computer numbers are built on seven victories over teams somewhere between 60 and 90 in the RPI. If Gonzaga wins its final three regular season games at San Diego, Pacific and Saint Mary's, the Zags are almost certain to return to the NCAA tournament regardless of what they do in the WCC tournament. If they drop one or more of those games and take another loss in the league tournament to fail to secure the WCC's automatic bid, it could be a long, nervewracking wait until Selection Sunday for the Zags.
More from the bubble breakdown series:
• Saturday, Feb. 15: Disastrous week sends Indiana tumbling out of contention
• Sunday, Feb. 16: Out of nowhere, Nebraska enters picture with win at Michigan State
• Tuesday, Feb. 18: Providence lets opportunity slip away against Villanova