by Jerry Palm
There are great opportunities ahead for some teams on the bubble to make a strong statement that they belong in the NCAA.
Virginia Tech will try to play their way off the Seth Greenberg Memorial Bubble when they host Duke on Saturday. The Hokies could really use a quality win, but unfortunately, the ACC doesn't provide a lot of chances for those. You have to take advantage of the ones that present themselves.
Baylor's hopes are fading fast, but they can resurrect them with a win over Texas A&M, which would complete the season sweep of the Aggies. The Bears are coming off a home loss to Texas Tech, so perhaps that is asking too much.
Kansas State hopes to continue its run of good play when it hosts Missouri. The Wildcats have breathed some life into their tournament hopes by winning five of six, including that blowout of Kansas. A win over the Tigers would be its second over a top 50 RPI opponent.
Michigan visits Minnesota in a crucial game for both teams. Michigan needs to beat quality teams, or at least other contenders, to pump up its tournament profile. The Gophers just need to stop the bleeding. They have lost six of eight since the injury to star Al Nolen.
UCLA not only has a chance to pick up a quality win when it hosts Arizona on Saturday, but the Bruins can also pull within a game of first place in the Pac 10. UCLA's tournament resume is missing quality wins away from home. That can't be fixed on Saturday, but every good win helps.
Alabama travels to Ole Miss, the only other top 100 RPI team in the SEC West. The Tide cannot afford to be caught looking ahead to Tuesday night's battle at Florida. The Rebels tournament at-large hopes appear to be dashed, but they can still play spoiler here.
Also on Saturday, St. Mary's hosts Portland. The last time they met was also right after the Gaels played Gonzaga, and St. Mary's had a let down after a big win and got beat. Now, they have to keep from hanging their heads after a tough loss and letting Gonzaga beat them twice. If St. Mary's is going to hold out hope for an at-large bid, they cannot afford to lose to Portland.
Dayton has a chance to add a little zip to an otherwise bland tournament profile when they host rival Xavier in the A-10. So far, the Flyers biggest win is over George Mason at home, and if that's all they have on selection weekend, that probably won't be enough.
And finally, Michigan State can all but punch its ticket when it hosts Purdue on Sunday. They can also make a statement that they are back to being the Spartans we are used to seeing.