According to ESPN’s Bubble Watch, both USC and Notre Dame are now NCAA Tournament “locks,” as is Tennessee. Joe Lunardi — who, incidentally, is promising daily Bracketology updates from now until Selection Sunday — has the Irish as a #6 seed (with a first-round matchup against my mom’s and Dmytro’s alma mater, Illinois), the Trojans as a #5 seed (against VCU in round one), and the Vols as a #9 (against Texas Tech … Bruce Pearl vs. Bobby Knight!).
Gonzaga remains a bubble team, according to the Watch, but is one of Lunardi’s “next four out” and probably needs to win the WCC Tournament this coming Sunday and Monday. The Zags can build momentum for that effort with a win tonight at San Diego (10:00 PM EST) in both teams’ regular-season finales.
And speaking of building momentum for conference tournaments: Central Connecticut State, which saw its 12-game winning streak snapped nine days ago, only to start a new streak on Thursday, hosts Wagner at 7:00 PM tonight in (again) both teams’ regular-season finales.
If Gonzaga and CCSU win their conference tourneys — they’ll both be favored — and if the projections of USC, ND and UT as “locks” are accurate, that’d be five of my seven favorite teams in the NCAAs (and all of my Big Three). Now if UConn and Buffalo could just make miraculous runs in the Big East and MAC tournaments, respectively… :)
Back to USC and Notre Dame… both teams are once again ranked in both polls this week. The Trojans are #23 in the AP poll and #24 in the coaches’ poll; the Irish are #22 in the AP poll and #17 in the coaches’ poll.
Ohio State, fresh off its win over Wisconsin yesterday, is #1 in both polls. Georgetown cracks the Top 10 after beating Pitt; Southern Illinois is almost there, at #11 in both polls; Air Force falls to #25 and #20, respectively, after losing 5 out of 6 road games and two in a row last week; and Winthrop, mighty mighty Winthrop, is damn near ranked, effectively #27 in both polls. If they win the Big South Tournament — which will be over by the time the next polls come out — the Eagles will surely crack the Top 25 (for the first time in school history, I’m assuming).
Incidentally, here’s what the Bubble Watch has to say about the Eagles:
Part of me is dying to see High Point take out the Eagles in the Big South final just to see what the committee would do. I would hope they could look past the numbers and acknowledge that Winthrop is a legitimate team worthy of an at-large bid.
Also on the Winthrop-watching front, here’s a New York Times article from yesterday’s paper. The Times acknowledges the cold, hard truth: “one slip-up in the conference tournament, and Winthrop will probably end up in the National Invitation Tournament instead of the N.C.A.A. tournament.”
Speaking of conference tournaments: ESPN may claim that “Championship Week” is next week, but the conference tournaments actually begin tomorrow. The Big South, Ohio Valley and Horizon League are first out of the gate, and by the end of Saturday, the first two of those, and several others, will already have crowned champions and awarded automatic bids. (The tournament-less Ivy League may beat them all to the punch, though; Penn can clinch a bid Friday with a win over Yale. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, can extend the race and make it very interesting by winning Friday, which would give them a season sweep of the Quakers and pull within one game in the standings with two to go.)