Want proof that all a bubble team needs is a four-game winning streak to morph into a middle-of-the-bracket team? Check out the Hurricanes, who dispatched Duke and Maryland last week to continue their surge up the ACC standings. Miami is deep and athletic, and Frank Haith is suddenly in great shape to take the Hurricanes to their first NCAA tournament since 2002.
In most years, a team with as limited a profile as the Buckeyes would be nowhere near the discussion for an at-large bid. Ohio State began the week with only three victories over potential tournament teams (Florida, Syracuse and UMBC) and has not won consecutive games this month. Without a decent finish, the Buckeyes will be vulnerable to conference tournament upsets that could tighten the Downy-soft bubble.
It’s no surprise the first team into the NCAA tournament probably will come from the Ivy League, the only conference without a tournament. That it is the Big Red, rather than typical powers Penn and Princeton, is a bit stunning. Cornell, which has won 12 straight, can punch its first postseason ticket since 1988 with a sweep of Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend.
THIS WEEK’S SIX-PACK
NO. 17 NOTRE DAME (21-5, 11-3 Big East) AT NO. 13 LOUISVILLE (22-6, 12-3)
7 p.m., Freedom Hall, Louisville, Ky., ESPN
Skinny: Things get favorable for the Fighting Irish in the next week and a half, but to remain in the Big East title chase they must knock off Rick Pitino’s Cardinals. Notre Dame is 8-1 since junior Zach Hillesland was inserted into the starting lineup last month. A victory would boost the Irish’s already sound profile, though with games against DePaul, St. John’s and South Florida remaining, they could still head into the Big East tournament on a roll.
NO. 19 MICHIGAN ST. (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten) AT NO. 10 WISCONSIN (23-4, 13-2)
9 p.m., Kohl Center, Madison, Wis., ESPN2
Skinny: With three teams beginning the week two games clear of Michigan State, it’s clear the Spartans won’t win the Big Ten regular season. Yet Tom Izzo’s team is a fixture in the top 20 and probably headed for a decent seed in next month’s tournament. Winning in Madison, where Wisconsin has been all but unbeatable against Big Ten opponents under Bo Ryan, would help immensely.
NO. 22 WASHINGTON ST. (21-6, 9-6 Pac-10) AT NO. 8 STANFORD (22-4, 11-3)
4 p.m., Maples Pavilion, Palo Alto, Calif.
Skinny: This is the second half of a vital Bay Area-swing for the Cougars, who also visit California tonight. Tony Bennett’s team lost to both of them in Pullman and would be well served not to go 0-4 against the Pac-10’s pair of true heavyweights this season (UCLA and Stanford). Washington State is in no danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but for seeding purposes this Bennett would rather not be like his namesake and leave his heart in San Francisco.
NO. 25 SAINT MARY’S (24-4, 11-1 West Coast) AT NO. 24 GONZAGA (22-6, 11-1)
8 p.m., McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, Wash.
Skinny: That is no misprint — there is a WCC showdown featuring ranked teams. The Gaels and Zags were ranked at the same time earlier this season, the first time the league had two teams in the AP poll since San Francisco and UNLV early in 1973 . This will essentially decide the regular-season title. Saint Mary’s won the first game, but Mark Few’s Bulldogs will look to burnish their 11th straight 20-win season with a victory at the Kennel.
KANSAS STATE (18-9, 8-5 Big 12) AT NO. 6 KANSAS (25-3, 10-3)
9 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan., ESPN
Skinny: Frank Martin’s Wildcats are in an unfortunate situation: They’ve lost four straight road games and need to reverse that streak on hallowed ground. K-State had every reason to feel good about itself when it dispatched Kansas last month, but its results since are less than impressive. Even though no one will want to see Michael Beasley on the other side of the court next month, the Wildcats need another big win to match their hype.
NO. 1 TENNESSEE (25-3, 11-2 SEC) AT FLORIDA (21-7, 8-5)
9 p.m., O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Skinny: The Gators won’t serve up a signature victory on the road, but beating the top-ranked Volunteers anywhere should make an impression on the selection committee. The two-time defending national champs entered the week with an unsightly nonconference strength of schedule of 290 and have done little other than beating Vanderbilt at home to suggest they are all too formidable.
— Patrick Stevens
64 PLUS ONE
1. North Carolina*
4. Notre Dame
5. Michigan State
7. Brigham Young*
9. South Alabama*
15. Cal State Northridge*
16. Morgan State*
7. Kansas State
8. Saint Mary’s*
9. Southern California
10. Saint Joseph’s
14. Boise State*
16. Alabama State*/ Robert Morris*
6. Washington State
9. Texas A&M
10. Kent State*
11. West Virginia
12. Rhode Island
13. Oral Roberts*
15. Austin Peay*
8. Mississippi State
12. Arizona State
15. Portland State*
* Automatic qualifier