Saturday Bubble Watch

Sometimes a team's NCAA chances can get a boost without anyone even playing a game. Kentucky's recent successful run in SEC play had some observers pointing to next Sunday's Florida-Kentucky game as a potential "win and you're in" NCAA bid showdown.

Now, with Wildcats star freshman big man Patrick Patterson out for the year with an ankle injury, UK's been weakened considerably. While Florida tries to take care of its own business with a win against Mississippi State Saturday, there's plenty of other places the Gators NCAA tournament hopes can get help ON the court. Here's another half dozen games to watch March 1 that could affect Florida's postseason possibilities.

Virginia at Miami, 2 p.m. - Miami suffered an emotional loss to Clemson Wednesday night. For a team to fight its way back from 21 down on the road in a critical ACC road game, actually take the lead and then lose the game has got to be a deflating moment. The loss snapped a four game winning streak that most observers felt had gotten the Canes into the NCAA field. Now Miami's challenge will be avoiding a misstep against weaker teams and falling back out. At 122 in the RPI, Virginia is a perfect example of the type of team it would be easy to overlook. After a strong season last year the Cavaliers are only 3-9 in ACC play, but have won their last two. UVA also had a week to rest their legs and get ready for this game. If Miami comes out flat, this has trouble written all over it for them. Gator fans are hoping they do.

Ohio State at Minnesota, 4 p.m. - Florida's December 23 loss to the Buckeyes was the only out of state non conference game the Gators played this season. At the time, it seemed both of last year's finalists would likely play in the NCAA again. Now both have work to do, and the Buckeyes appear to be more at risk of missing out than UF. OSU has dropped five of their last seven, and while they've played more quality teams than UF they keep losing, with a record of 2-9 against the current RPI top 50 (UF at 50 being one of those wins). Because UF did lose to them head to head, it's clearly in their best interests for the Buckeyes to continue to struggle. A Minnesota win would give the Buckeyes a third loss to teams between 100 and 200 in the RPI. UF fans should be rooting for Tubby Smith's guys in a big way today.

Missouri at Baylor, 4 p.m. - Baylor has pulled out of their recent Big 12 nosedive which saw them lose six of seven, scoring wins over Kansas State and Colorado. With a 33 ranking in the current RPI, the Bears are likely in the NCAA right now but some bad losses could still shake them out. Missouri isn't a very good team, but their style can create turnovers and lead to a surprising outcome sometimes. The Tigers aren't likely to pull off this upset, but it's in Florida's interest for them to do so.

USC at Arizona State, 6 p.m. - The Sun Devils lost to UCLA Thursday night and now get the second half of the Los Angeles Pac 10 pair. ASU has gone 3-8 since January 17, and another loss here would ensure they can't finish with a winning record in regular season conference play. They're at 74 in the RPI, and USC is their last shot to notch a win which would significantly improve that prior to the conference tournament. The Trojans handled ASU by 14 at home this year. Florida would benefit from a familiar result this time around.

Ohio at Miami (OH), 7:30 p.m. - Assuming regular season leader Kent State wins the MAC tournament, if another conference team could get an at large bid it's likely Ohio. The Bobcats are at 58 in the RPI, one spot behind Kentucky. They've got a win against the top 50 and are 5-5 against teams in the top 100. Ohio's weakness has been playing away from home. They're undefeated in their building, but 6-7 away from it with losses in their last three on the road. Miami is their last road game of the season and had a full week to prepare for this game. A win by the Red Hawks would finish off Ohio's chances.

Tulane at UAB, 8 p.m. - Beyond Memphis, Conference USA's NCAA merits are a perpetual source of debate. UAB is one of the teams from the conference considered right on the fringe of the tournament at the moment. They're 55 in the RPI and have zero wins and only one game played against the top 50. The Blazers are 10-3 in conference play and have twenty wins, though. Their recent extremely close loss to Memphis might also help their rep a bit as well. Tulane is like most of Conference USA's teams - hovering just above break even for the regular season and just below it in conference. Beating them won't do much for UAB, but if the Green Wave could spring a surprise it would be quite helpful for UF. Losing to a team that's 164 in the RPI would seriously damage UAB's chances of an at large bid.

The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM


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