BUBBLE WATCH: NC State locks it up; BYU's wait begins
North Carolina State should be in.
Pittsburgh is almost certainly out.
If there was a single game Wednesday night that produced solid conclusions for both teams involved, it was the Wolfpack's 81-70 victory over the Panthers in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
North Carolina State earned its 20th win of the season, further solidifying an already decent position as an at-large selection for the NCAA bracket. Pitt, meanwhile, was barely on the bubble with its 8-10 conference record and a three-game losing streak heading into the postseason. By extending that streak to four, the Panthers (19-14) have the looks of an NIT team.
Two more bubble teams, Miami and Texas, were in action later Wednesday night.
Several more take the court Thursday when the tournaments in the biggest conferences move into full swing.
A look at who has the most to gain and lose from Wednesday's light schedule and the fuller slate Thursday.
N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack have won 20 for the fourth straight year. Already considered one of six solid ACC teams in the tournament, the win over Pittsburgh eliminated any doubt. Next up: A quarterfinal game against No. 2 Duke, a team N.C. State has already beaten once this year. A win there and the Wolfpack could start getting greedy about seeding, not simply making it.
UCLA, TEMPLE: These are teams that can still help themselves a whole bunch, because they haven't played a game in their respective conference tournaments yet. But before they take the court (UCLA vs. Southern California on Thursday, Pac-12 and Temple vs. TBA on Friday, AAC), they could gain plenty if some other bubble teams falter. For instance, Texas, Miami and Illinois will all play at least once before either the Bruins or Owls hit the floor.
OLD DOMINION: Even though Old Dominion is ranked 37 in the RPI, it's the second seed heading into the Conference USA tournament, behind Louisiana Tech. If the Monarchs can't win the tournament and the automatic bid, they'd still have a chance thanks to a good RPI that results from quality wins over LSU and VCU. The selection committee likes programs that go out and play tough teams. It likes them more when they actually win the games.
IONA, MURRAY STATE: Iona and Murray State are the most obvious victims of the realities of modern-day college basketball. They pretty much dominated their conference regular seasons. (Iona won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference by two games and Murray State went undefeated in the Ohio Valley Conference.) Then, they got to their tournaments, where the automatic bid is awarded, and they flopped. Iona has an RPI of 54 but it's hard to find a true standout win among the 26 the Gaels racked up this year. As for Murray State, well, sometimes the committee likes to reward dominance in a decent conference. But there's a 27-point loss to Xavier and a 35-point loss to Valparaiso and no particularly strong wins to offset those.
BYU: The BYU Cougars have 25 wins, including a victory at Gonzaga last month. They have Kyle Collinsworth, who shares the career NCAA record with six triple-doubles. They have the No. 36 ranking in the RPI. But with a chance to beat Gonzaga in the WCC tournament Tuesday night and seal an automatic bid, the Cougars went flat. They fell 91-75. This is the dictionary's true definition of a bubble team, and all BYU can do for the rest of the week is sit back, watch the games and hope some things break right.
INDIANA, ILLINOIS: The Hoosiers and Illini have identical records (19-12, 9-9), are Nos. 60 and 61, respectively, in the RPI and both are gearing up for Big Ten games Thursday that they need to win, at least if they want to be considered serious tournament contenders. But there are no gimmes in that conference, and if Illinois falls to Michigan or Indiana loses to Northwestern, the bubble could burst.