Bubble Watch: Vandy rising, Gators falling

Vanderbilt is finally living up to expectations after a sluggish start to the season, peaking at just the right time to boosts its NCAA Tournament hopes.

Another SEC team is headed the wrong direction.

Once in solid position to make the bracket, Florida finds itself on the outside of the bubble after a disappointing loss to No. 22 Kentucky on Tuesday, the Gators' fourth straight.

''We let a lot of cheap games go by that we could've had, but this is where we're at and we just got to continue to fight and continue to battle,'' sophomore John Egbunu said after the 88-79 home loss to the Wildcats. ''We still have a few games in the SEC tournament coming up.''

The Gators may need to win it at this point.

Florida enters its regular-season finale against Missouri with a losing conference record (8-9) and is 17-13 overall. Even if the Gators beat the Tigers, it won't help their chances all that much, leaving them in likely need of winning or at least reaching the championship of the conference tournament.

The Commodores, on the other hand, picked the right time to get rolling, knocking off Kentucky and Florida during a four-game winning streak that puts them at 19-11 overall and 11-6 in the SEC heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against No. 20 Texas A&M.

Find a way to beat the Aggies on the road and it might be hard to keep the Commodores out of the NCAA bracket.

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ON THE RISE

Butler. Once in danger of their bubble bursting, the Bulldogs (20-9, 9-8 Big East) took a huge step in the resume-building process by knocking off Seton Hall. Beating a team that's headed to the NCAA Tournament is a boost, but there's still work to be done, starting with Saturday's game against Marquette. Win that and a couple of games in the Big East tournament, the Bulldogs might feel a little safer next Sunday.

Providence. The Friars (21-9, 9-8 Big East) and do-everything guard Kris Dunn appeared to be in trouble after a stretch of six losses in eight games. Providence boosted its chances with wins over DePaul and Creighton and could enter the Big East tournament on a three-game winning streak if it beats St. John's. Get to the tournament semifinals and the Friars should be in. Lose to St. John's and bow out of the Big East tournament early and Selection Sunday might not be much fun.

Ohio State. The Buckeyes (19-11, 10-6 Big Ten) still have a long way to go, but knocking off No. 16 Iowa last weekend at least puts them back in the bracket conversation.

Southern California. Seemingly careening away from the NCAA Tournament with five losses in six games, the Trojans (20-10, 9-8 Pac-12) gained a little momentum by knocking off fellow bubble team Oregon State on Wednesday. Beating No. 9 Oregon on Saturday would certainly get them back on the right track heading into next week's Pac-12 tournament.

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FADING HOPES

Syracuse. The Orange 19-11, 9-8 ACC) missed out on huge opportunity Monday night, when they lost a potential resume-boosting game to No. 8 North Carolina. A win in Chapel Hill would have assured Syracuse of a winning record in one of the nation's toughest conferences and all but locked up an NCAA Tournament bid. Now the Orange probably need a win over Florida State and a couple of wins in the ACC tournament to feel safe.

Cincinnati. The Bearcats (21-9, 11-6 AAC) have a solid record at first glance, but it's a bit deceiving. Cincinnati is 0-3 against teams in the RPI top 25 and is 2-4 against the top 50. Adding to that is a loss to Houston on Thursday. Knocking off No. 24 SMU on Sunday would certainly boost their chances as would a deep run in the ACC tournament.

Virginia Commonwealth. Despite a win over Davidson last Friday, the Rams (22-8, 14-3 A10) are not on the most solid ground for an NCAA bid. VCU's record looks good, but among its losses were a disheartening setback to struggling George Mason, its second this season to a team with an RPI over 150. Beating Dayton on Saturday would give the Rams at least a share of the Atlantic-10 title, but they still may need a good run in the conference tournament to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga. Another record-can-be-deceiving team. The Bulldogs enter this weekend's West Coast Conference tournament at 23-7 and 15-3, yet don't have many marquee wins and have struggled in potential resume-building games. Gonzaga also has lost to St. Mary's twice and may need to at least reach the WCC tournament title game to extend its NCAA Tournament streak to 18 straight seasons.

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