Bubble Watch: Nebraska, Colorado keep hopes alive; GW get quality win vs. St. Joe's
Nebraska hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998. That makes Sunday's game with No. 9 Wisconsin the biggest game in Lincoln in a generation.
The Cornhuskers kept their bubble hopes alive by going into Indiana and leaving with a 70-60 win over the Hoosiers. Three Cornhuskers scored in double figures, led by Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford, who each had 17. They're now fourth in the Big Ten, which would give them a first-round bye in the conference tournament. They're guaranteed to finish no worse than fifth, which would mean a matchup with the last place team in the first round, likely to be either Penn State, Northwestern or Purdue, a game in which the Cornhuskers would be heavily favored.
More importantly, the Huskers picked up their seventh top-100 win of the season to move to 7-8 against such teams. In what was a de facto elimination game, Nebraska jumped out to a quick lead that grew to eight at halftime. Despite being on the road, the Cornhuskers never trailed, and fought a second-half surge by an Indiana team equally desperate for a win. The loss likely eliminated whatever slim chance the Hoosiers had for an at-large bid.
Nebraska had to beat Indiana to continue stoking its at-large fire. However, it could all be moot if the Cornhuskers come up short against Wisconsin on Sunday. The Badgers have been road warriors this year, winning at Virginia, Michigan, Iowa and UW-Green Bay. The Cornhuskers have lost just one game at home, and that was to the Big Ten regular season champion Wolverines. If they can knock off the second-place team in the Big Ten in Lincoln, they could very well be dancing for the first time in 15 years.
Colorado 59, Stanford 56: Projecting the bubble is an inexact science, but it felt like the Buffaloes were one quality win away from being tourney-bound. No team in this area of the potential tournament field can rest easy this time of year, but it appears the Buffs will have something to celebrate on Selection Sunday.
By virtue of beating Stanford on Wednesday, the Buffaloes moved to 4-7 against the RPI top 50 and 8-9 against the top 100. What's more, the win over the Cardinal was Colorado's first against on the road against a quality team. Given previous wins over Kansas, Oregon and Arizona State, an RPI of 32 and a strength of schedule of 12, both numbers that will impress the committee, the Buffs look like a solid bet to make the field. A win in Saturday's season finale at California would likely eliminate any doubt.
Stanford, meanwhile, finds itself on shaky footing. The Cardinal have an impressive resume with four top-50 wins, two of which were on the road at Connecticut and Oregon. They're 4-9 against the top 50 and 6-10 against the top 100, with one loss coming to a team with an RPI worse than 100. They have to beat Utah in their season finale over the weekend, but they'll likely have to play in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. Should they win that game, they'd likely get a rematch with the Buffaloes or a matchup with Arizona State in the second round. That second round game could make or break their tourney hopes.
George Washington 76, Saint Joseph's 71: The Colonials already looked like a tournament team, but after losing their last three games to teams that will make the tournament, they needed a quality win to reassure the committee. They got that on Wendesday night, knocking off a surging Saint Joseph's team to move to 10-5 in the Atlantic 10.
Maurice Creek had 20 points for George Washington, Joe McDonald had 18, Patricio Garino had 17, and Isaiah Armwood had 15 and 11 rebounds. The win was the Colonials' third against a top-50 team, and moved them to an impressive 9-7 against the top 100. For all intents and purposes, this is a team that has already stamped its ticket to the tournament.
Saint Joseph's could have done the same with a win in D.C. on Wednesday night, but the Hawks made just 8-of-26 attempts from behind the arc and 12-of-22 from the free throw line in the loss. They still look good, but they could have used what would have been their third win against a team in the top 50. As it stands, they're 2-5 against the top 50 and 7-7 against the top 100 with an RPI of 32. It's certainly not a bad résumé, but it's one that could use a little touching up in advance of Selection Sunday. They won't get that chance until the A-10 tourney, as they finish the regular season with a home game against LaSalle.
Arkansas 110, Ole Miss 80: After sweeping Kentucky last week, the Razorbacks have something on their resume that differentiates them from the rest of the bubble floatsam. All they have to do now is avoid any bad losses, and they should hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Step one in that process is now complete.
Anthion Bell drilled seven of his 10 three-point attempts, and the Razorbacks were 17-of-30 behind the arc as a team and 19-of-20 from the free throw line, scoring more than 50 points in both halves in a 110-80 drubbing of Ole Miss. The Razorbacks are now 10-7 in the SEC and sit in fourth place in the conference. Their final game of the regular season is at lowly Alabama, a game they should be able to win with ease. That's an important game because it would keep them in the top four in the conference and give them a double bye in the SEC tournament. That would be huge for a team that may just need to avoid a bad loss to get an invitation to the dance.
Tennessee 82, Auburn 54: Tennessee was not in the field of 68 in SI.com's most recent bracket watch, and a win over Auburn wouldn't change that. A loss could have removed the chance of an at-large bid altogether, though, so it was important for the Volunteers to take care of business as they did on Wednesday.
Five Volunteers scored in double figures, with Jarnell Stokes' 20 pacing them to an easy win over the Tigers. The efficiency of the guards left a bit to be desired, as Josh Richardson, Jordan McRae and Antonio Barton combined to shoot 11-of-31 from the floor, but the Volunteers still came away with the win they needed. They wrap up the regular season at home against Missouri on Saturday in a game neither team can afford to lose.
Missouri 57, Texas A&M 56: The Tigers nearly saw their at-large hopes take a huge hit on Wednesday night against Texas A&M. But then, as bad teams always do, the Aggies found a way to lose.
Trailing by one point with eight seconds left, Missouri was forced into a fouling situation. Jamal Jones missed the front end and Jordan Green inexplicably fouled Earnest Ross about 90 feet from the basket. He made both free throws, and the Aggies failed to get a shot off, allowing the Tigers to escape with a one-point victory and their at-large hopes intact.
The Tigers came out sluggish, scored just 20 points in the first half, and went into the locker room trailing by 10. After falling behind 41-30 in the second half, they went on a 12-2 run to get into striking distance, but still never had the lead until those two Ross free throws. Even with the win, the Tigers do not resemble a tournament team at the moment. Saturday's game at Tennessee looks like a must-win for both teams.
The game was played within an eight-point window most of the way and was tied at 50 with more than two minutes left. Utah went on a 7-0 run over the next 90 seconds, and knocked down enough free throws down the stretch to keep Cal at arm's length. Justin Cobbs, who averages nearly 16 points per game, was just 2-of-6 for six points.