Today's Specials: Virginia has chance for big win vs. Duke

Joe Harris and Virginia can really boost its at-large resume with a marquee win over Duke. (USATSI)
Joe Harris and Virginia can boost its at-large resume with a win over Duke. (USATSI)

Wednesday featured a monster slate of bubble games, but it also had Michigan and Arizona blow its chances at No. 1 seeds. On the slate for Thursday are plenty of key conference clashes, as well as a couple of chances for bubble teams to make statements.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.

Best game: No. 3 Duke at Virginia (9 p.m., ESPN). This is a chance for Virginia to state its case for an at-large bid in a major way. The Cavaliers are squarely on the bubble, but their six sub-100 losses means they need to keep winning. They have three top-25 victories, but beating the Blue Devils would certainly be a huge boost to the resume. Meanwhile, Duke can’t be caught looking ahead to its showdown on Saturday against Miami (Fl.). The key in this one will be Virginia’s ability to guard the perimeter, and limit Duke’s open 3-pointers. Moreover, can Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell handle Mason Plumlee? 

Second-best game: No. 2 Gonzaga at BYU (11 p.m., ESPN2). Gonzaga has steamrolled through the West Coast Conference this season, winning 11 of its 14 games by double-digits. Moreover, the Bulldogs have the inside track to be ranked No. 1 in the country next week -- if they can get by BYU on the road on Thursday night. The first time these two teams faced off, Gonzaga dominated by 20. BYU has been struggling lately, losing three of its last four WCC games, which has essentially put the Cougars out of the at-large hunt. Can Brandon Davies hold his own against Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris?

Another one to watch: There are four No. 1 vs. No. 2 conference battles taking place on Thursday. In the America East, Stony Brook can clinch the outright regular-season title when it heads to Boston University (7 p.m.). Over in the Northeast Conference, Robert Morris’ late charge has put itself atop the standings -- leading second-place Bryant by one game. The two face off on Thursday (7 p.m.). Mercer has a two-game lead on Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun, but FGCU could make it a race if it knocks off the Bears (7:30 p.m.). In the SWAC, Southern and Texas Southern are tied for first place -- and Thursday’s winner will have the edge (9 p.m.). 

Guaranteed win: Western Illinois sits a half-game behind South Dakota State in the Summit League standings heading into its final two games of the season. SDSU heads on the road for its final game of the season, meaning Western Illinois could have a shot at winning the outright title. First, the Leathernecks need to handle UMKC at home (8:30 p.m.). That shouldn’t be much of an issue. 

Potential upset: North Carolina’s win over NC State last weekend put the Tar Heels in good position for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but it’s not a done deal just yet. Moreover, North Carolina is heading to Clemson (7 p.m., ESPN) on Thursday. The Tigers have lost five of six, but their two home losses were by a combined three points and they are above .500 at home in the ACC. Meanwhile, South Dakota State can clinch a share of the Summit title, but a trip to suddenly-hot Nebraska-Omaha (8 p.m.) won’t be easy. 

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. A couple of bubble teams are at home on Thursday, and winning would be a good idea. Temple hosts Detroit (7 p.m., ESPN3), while California welcomes Utah (9 p.m., ESPNU).
  2. Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee would be interesting at-large cases if either loses in its respective conference tournament. No. 25 Louisiana Tech hosts Utah State (8 p.m., ESPN3), and Middle Tennessee visits Troy (8:30 p.m.).
  3. Dominic Artis will suit up for Oregon on Thursday, as the Ducks host Oregon State (11 p.m., ESPNU). Artis has missed the last month with an injured foot. 
  4. BONUS: Time is running out for Grambling to get its first win of the season. The Tigers host Alabama A&M on Thursday (8:30 p.m.) in its next-to-last game.

Other games to watch:

-- Ranked teams

-- At-large implications

-- Conference races

For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and subscribe to our College Basketball Newsletter. You can follow Jeff Borzello on Twitter here: @jeffborzello

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