Bubble teams from coast to coast were in action Saturday, either hoping to boost their NCAA tournament hopes with a quality win or avoid damaging their profiles with a bad loss. Here's a look at those who helped and hurt their stock the most.
Five who helped their stock the most:
1. Saint Mary's (24-5, 12-2)
Had Saint Mary's dropped either of its home games this week against BYU or Creighton, the Gaels probably would have needed to win the WCC tournament to have realistic hope of an NCAA tournament bid. Instead Saint Mary's won both, meaning that victories in their final two regular season games against Santa Clara and LMU and a run to the WCC title game could be enough to land a bid. The Gaels looked the part of an NCAA tourney team Saturday in dispatching Creighton 74-66 to earn their first RPI top 50 win of the season. Matthew Dellavedova scored 19 points, Brad Waldow had a double-double and Saint Mary's limited Creighton's vaunted 3-point shooting to earn a win.
2. Villanova (18-10, 9-6)
Back-to-back victories over Louisville and Syracuse in January no longer look like such a fluke any longer. Villanova toppled UConn 70-61 last Saturday and upset league title contender Marquette 60-56 seven days later, putting itself firmly into NCAA tournament contention with three games remaining in Big East play. Few bubble teams can match the Wildcats' list of quality wins, but they're still far from a shoo-in because of early losses to Columbia, Alabama and Temple, among others. Two wins in their final three regular season games would all but seal a bid for Villanova, while one might leave work to do in the Big East tournament. The Wildcats finish with road tests at Seton Hall and Pittsburgh before a home game against first-place Georgetown.
3. Kentucky (19-8, 10-4)
Even though Missouri is 1-7 in true road games and has lost to the likes of LSU and Texas A&M away from home, beating the Tigers 90-83 in overtime on Saturday night qualifies as a huge win for Kentucky. Prior to Saturday, Kentucky's best win was over an Ole Miss team that is outside the RPI Top 50 and has faded to the bubble. Now the Wildcats might be able to sneak into the NCAA tournament without beating Florida on March 9 if they can avoid upsets against Mississippi State, Arkansas and Georgia prior to that game. Kentucky will have a chance to accomplish that if Archie Goodwin can build on his strong second half and Julius Mays can continue to be a leader. Goodwin emerged from a two-month shooting slump to score all 18 of his points after halftime, while Mays tallied eight of his 24 in overtime.
[Related: Wildcats survive in overtime]
4. North Carolina (19-8, 9-5)
The odds of North Carolina missing the NCAA tournament have diminished the past eight days thanks to a timely three-game win streak. The Tar Heels followed wins over Virginia and Georgia Tech by beating rival NC State 76-65, avenging a prior loss to the Wolfpack. It's premature to call North Carolina a lock with four games left, but the Tar Heels are heading in that direction. Ever since Roy Williams went to a smaller lineup with wing P.J. Hairston at power forward and forward James Michael McAdoo at center, North Carolina has looked far more dangerous offensively. NC State actually held a brief second-half lead Saturday, but an 18-2 North Carolina blitz put the game away. Reggie Bullock had 22 points including a pair of threes during the decisive spurt, while Marcus Paige had 14 points and eight assists.
5. Tennessee (16-10, 8-6)
It took four overtimes, but Tennessee won a game it could not afford to lose to keep hope alive of an at-large bid. The Vols went on the road and eked out a win over Texas A&M thanks to 32 points from Trae Golden, 23 from Jordan McRae and 20 from Jarnell Stokes, all three of whom played 50-plus minutes. Tennessee is still a long shot to make the field of 68, but victories over Wichita State, Kentucky, Xavier and UMass give the Vols hope of riding a late surge to an at-large bid. They finish with home games against Florida and Missouri sandwiched around road games against Georgia and Auburn. Sweep the two road games and split against the Gators and Tigers, and the Vols would probably be in at-large contention entering the SEC tournament.
Other bubble teams who won Saturday: Maryland (72-59 over Clemson); Indiana State (65-64 over Iona); Iowa State (86-66 over Texas Tech); Cal (60-59 over Oregon State); Middle Tennessee (87-46 over Louisiana-Monroe); Ole Miss (88-55 over Auburn)
Five who hurt their stock the most:
1. Iowa (17-10, 6-8)
After clawing their way to the fringes of the bubble picture with a three-game winning streak that included a victory over Minnesota last Sunday, Iowa fell right back out of contention with a horrible loss at Nebraska Saturday. Dylan Talley sank a tie-breaking 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer with 9.2 seconds left to propel the Huskers to a 64-60 victory that leaves the Hawkeyes' NCAA tournament hopes on life support. Despite wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa State, Iowa may have to win at top-ranked Indiana next Saturday to revive its at-large hopes. At the very least, three wins in its final four games and a Big Ten tournament run are a requirement.
2. Alabama (18-9, 10-4)
Speaking of bad losses fringe bubble teams could not afford, Alabama delivered a doozie in Baton Rouge on Saturday. The Crimson Tide snapped a four-game win streak with 97-94 triple-overtime loss to an LSU team that isn't especially good despite creeping back to .500 in SEC play. Alabama's entire resume was basically wins over fellow bubble teams Villanova and Kentucky and a gaudy SEC record, so throwing in losses to LSU certainly won't help. The Tide already have four other sub-100 RPI losses at the hands of Tulane, Mercer, Dayton and Auburn. Bottom line, Alabama may need to win at Florida on March 2 and not suffer any other bad losses to avoid a similar fate to 2011 when the Tide went 12-4 in the SEC but missed the NCAA tournament.
3. Southern Miss (21-7, 10-3)
To contend for an at-large NCAA tournament bid, Southern Mississippi probably had to either win at least a share of Conference USA or defeat favorite Memphis at least once. The Golden Eagles accomplished neither, which is why they'll almost certainly have to win Conference USA's tournament to secure a spot in the field of 68. Saturday's 89-73 rout at Memphis clinched the league title and a season sweep for the Tigers. Dwayne Davis scored 28 points for Southern Miss, but he didn't have enough help and the Golden Eagles couldn't stop Memphis. Five Tigers scored 12 or more points in the game and the team shot 50 percent from the field.
4. Creighton (22-7, 11-5)
It was once preposterous to suggest Creighton could miss the NCAA tournament, but the Bluejays continue to slip toward the bubble. A 74-66 loss at Saint Mary's was Creighton's fourth in its last six games and its sixth in its past 11. Creighton has quality wins against Wisconsin, Arizona State, Cal and Akron on its resume, but the Bluejays have fallen a game behind Wichita State in the Valley standings as a result of losses to the likes of Drake, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. If Creighton doesn't win its final two regular season games at Bradley and at home against Wichita State, the Bluejays may have work to do in their conference tournament to wrap up an NCAA tournament bid.
5. Arizona State (20-8, 9-6)
A 68-59 home loss to Washington was damaging for Arizona State not only because the Huskies aren't especially good this season but also because of what comes next on the Sun Devils' schedule. Arizona State closes the regular season with three road games against UCLA, USC and Arizona – and realistically now it needs to win at least two of them keep hope of an at-large bid alive entering the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils have a pair of wins over Colorado and victories over Cal and UCLA in their favor, but a tissue-soft non-conference schedule and bad losses to DePaul and Utah, plus a sweep at the hands of Washington, may be their undoing. Saturday's Washington loss had to be especially galling for Arizona State because it played so poorly. Stars Carrick Felix (eight points, 2 of 6 shooting) and Jahii Carson (10 points, 3 of 14 shooting) both had quiet nights and the Sun Devils surrendered 13 offensive rebounds.
Other bubble teams who lost Saturday: Baylor (lost 90-76 to Oklahoma); Arkansas (lost 71-54 to Florida); Xavier (lost 75-71 to VCU)
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