The most intriguing aspect of Thursday's slate of conference tournament games will be watching how a lengthy list of bubble teams fares in early-round games that many of them cannot afford to lose.
Mississippi State won't lock up a bid by beating Georgia, nor will Miami against Georgia Tech, Northwestern against Minnesota or Washington against Oregon State. However a loss in those games would very likely relegate any of those four to the NIT.
Here's a look at my take on the bubble picture as it stands entering Thursday's action. Remember that the margin between some of these teams is so thin that the picture could change considerably as a result of conference tournament results the next four days.
60. Cal (23-8, 13-5, RPI: 36): Even though Cal finished one game behind Washington in the Pac-12 regular season race, the Bears have the Pac-12's best resume entering the conference tournament. They went 3-0 against Washington and Oregon head-to-head and they have respectable computer numbers. Cal had reason to be confident before it lost its final two regular season games at Colorado and Stanford, but now the Bears need to at least avenge that loss to the Cardinal in Thursday's quarterfinals and perhaps win a semifinal game too.
61. South Florida (20-12, 12-6, RPI: 43): South Florida won a can't-lose Big East tourney game against Villanova on Wednesday night to set up a crucial quarterfinal matchup with third-seeded Notre Dame. Win what's sure to be a methodical, low-scoring game, and the Bulls are likely in. Lose, and they'll have to hope a gaudy conference record outweighs a profile light on marquee wins. They lost to Old Dominion, Penn State and Auburn in non-league play, though Anthony Collins and Jawanza Poland missed a total of 17 games in November and December.
62. Colorado State (18-10, 8-6, RPI: 22): While Colorado State boasts a top 25 RPI and marquee wins over UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico, the black mark against the Rams is a lack of success away from home. Their only road win in conference play came over Air Force and their best non-league win away from home was UTEP. Colorado State is probably in the field in spite of that as of today, but the Rams would be wise to at least win their Mountain West quarterfinal against TCU.
63. Xavier (19-11, 10-6, RPI: 59): Xavier's at-large case remains heavily dependent on three pre-brawl wins over Purdue, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati. Since then, the Musketeers' only notable wins came at home over fellow bubble teams Saint Joseph's and Dayton. The question now facing Xavier is whether an A-10 quarterfinal win over Dayton would be enough to get a spot in the field of 68? It's possible, but a potential semifinal win over Saint Louis would be the clincher.
64. Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8, RPI: 64): It took a narrow win over South Carolina and a victory over road-inept Arkansas to get the Bulldogs to .500 in the SEC. That helped, but Mississippi State still has plenty of work left to do. Wins over Vanderbilt, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona bolster the Bulldogs' case, but they also took a couple of terrible losses to Auburn and Georgia. They certainly need to beat Georgia on Thursday and they may need a second victory against Vanderbilt in the SEC quarterfinals as well.
65. Drexel (27-6, 16-2, RPI: 70): Drexel's CAA title game loss to VCU makes the Dragons perhaps the most polarizing bubble team this season. On the one hand, they won 19 games in a row before that loss to capture the outright CAA title. On the other hand, they have a weak RPI, a miserable strength of schedule and a dearth of marquee non-league wins. Drexel certainly has looked like an NCAA tournament team the past two months, but will the committee feel the same about their resume?
66. Seton Hall (20-12, 8-10, RPI: 54): By losing its final two regular season games against DePaul and Rutgers and falling in a second-round Big East tournament game to Louisville, Seton Hall has put itself in a tenuous spot. Have the Pirates done enough to overcome an 8-10 Big East record and a resume that features just one decent road win (at Dayton)? Marquee wins over Georgetown, UConn and VCU and victories over fellow bubble teams Dayton, West Virginia and Saint Joseph's will help, but the Pirates have to root against their bubble peers the next few days.
67. Texas (19-12, 9-9, RPI: 52): Since Texas couldn't topple Big 12 champion Kansas in its regular season finale, the Longhorns now have ample work to do starting Thursday in the conference tournament. They must at minimum beat Iowa State in the quarterfinals to have any shot and may also need a semifinal win against either Missouri or Oklahoma State to feel confident. Otherwise a 4-10 record against the RPI top 50 may doom Texas to the NIT.
68. BYU (23-8, 12-4, RPI: 46): BYU may rue going 1-4 against Saint Mary's and Gonzaga including a one-sided WCC semifinal loss to the Zags. Non-conference wins over Nevada and fellow bubble team Oregon help a bit, but this is still a mighty thin profile for an at-large hopeful. All the Cougars can do now is root against bubble teams and bid thieves and hope they've done enough.
-------- CUT LINE --------
69. Miami (18-11, 9-7, RPI: 56): Miami's signature wins over Duke and Florida State will help, but the Hurricanes' resume has major flaws. Not only did they get swept by bubble hopeful NC State, they only have three top 100 RPI victories all season. The bubble is weak enough that there's still hope, but Miami probably has to avoid a first-round ACC tournament upset against Georgia Tech and then topple third-seeded Florida State again in the quarterfinals to have a good chance to hear its name on Sunday.
70. Northwestern (18-12, 8-10, RPI: 48): Here's Northwestern's profile in a nutshell: It beat Michigan State and Seton Hall, and while it finished below .500 in the rugged Big Ten, it didn't lose to anyone bad and it played a lot of the best teams close. Does that inspire confidence in you? Me neither. Unless the Wildcats beat Minnesota on Thursday and Michigan on Friday to reach the Big Ten tournament semifinals, they're going to be very anxious on Selection Sunday.
71. Oral Roberts (27-5, 17-1; RPI: 50): A stunning Summit League semis loss to Western Illinois may keep Oral Roberts out of the NCAA tournament despite the Golden Eagles dominance in that traditional one-bid league this season. Will Oral Roberts' gaudy record and non-league wins over Akron and a shorthanded Xavier team be enough to earn favor with the selection committee? It's possible given the state of the bubble, but it's going to be a stomach-turning few days for the Golden Eagles.
72. Oregon (22-8, 13-5, RPI: 45): The problem for Oregon like every other Pac-12 team this season is a lack of quality wins. The Ducks have a road win at Arizona and a split with Washington in conference, but they got swept by Cal, they lost to the three best teams they faced out of conference by double figures and the best non-league win they have is either Nebraska or UTEP. While the midseason addition of leading scorer Devoe Joseph certainly bolsters Oregon's argument, the Ducks will need a Pac-12 title game appearance to have a realistic NCAA tournament shot.
73. Dayton (20-11, 9-7, RPI: 73): Few bubble teams have a more odd profile than Dayton. The Flyers boast quality wins over Temple, Alabama, Saint Louis, Xavier and Minnesota with Trevor Mbakwe but also have losses to Rhode Island, Miami (Ohio), Duquesne and Buffalo (by 29 points). Exactly where that leaves the Flyers is tough to determine, but the best guess is with more work to do in the Atlantic 10 tournament. A win over Xavier in the quarterfinals is a must and a semifinal win would help a lot too.
Others who still have a case: Tennessee, NC State, Saint Joseph's, Iona, Middle Tennessee State
On the bubble if they don't win projected automatic bids: Washington and Long Beach State
Wednesday's bubble recap:
• Connecticut 71, West Virginia 67 — The Huskies are now safely in the field. West Virginia's spot is a little more tenuous after eight losses in their final 12 games, but they're still safer than the above bubble teams.
• Louisville 61, Seton Hall 55 — Seton Hall may have needed this one to make the NCAA tournament.
• South Florida 56, Villanova 47 — It wasn't pretty, but South Florida did what it needed to do to advance to face Notre Dame on Thursday.
Thursday's bubble look-ahead:
• Washington vs. Oregon State — Despite their outright regular season Pac-12 title, the Huskies at minimum need to avoid a loss here.
• TCU vs. Colorado State — Considering the Rams' suspect resume away from home, they need to win and set up a semifinal matchup likely against San Diego State.
• Minnesota vs. Northwestern — The dream of a first-ever NCAA bid dies for the Wildcats if they don't beat the Gophers.
• Boston College vs. NC State — The first of several must-win ACC tournament games for a Wolfpack team lacking marquee wins.
• Georgia Tech vs. Miami — If the Hurricanes win here, they'll get a badly needed chance to beat Florida State a second time.
• South Florida vs. Notre Dame — This is a win-and-in game for the Bulls. They may not need it, but it will make the next few days far less stressful.
• Stanford vs. Cal — The Cardinal beat Cal in the Pac-12 regular season finale in Palo Alto. A repeat here, and the Bears are in trouble.
• Texas vs. Iowa State — With their tenuous hold on an at-large bid, the Longhorns cannot survive a loss here.
• Georgia vs. Mississippi State — One loss to Georgia last month was bad enough. The Bulldogs are probably done if they suffer another.
• Oregon vs. Colorado — The Ducks have won six of seven, but they likely need a Pac-12 title game appearance to have realistic hope.
More NCAA basketball on Yahoo! Sports: