Bubble Watch - 3/3

Florida has put itself in extreme jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for a second straight year. After the Tennessee loss they head to Starkville with an RPI of 49. Two wins in the final week would put them comfortably back into the tournament field. Anything less and they'll head to Tampa for the SEC Tournament with work to do.

Tonight, all they can do is sit back and scoreboard watch as other teams try to make positive moves for the final few spots in the NCAA. Here are the most important games to keep an eye on.

WINTHROP AT UNC-ASHEVILLE (7 PM) - The Big South conference tournament begins, with Winthrop having played its best ball of the season down the stretch. UF defeated the typically NCAA caliber Eagles in a December neutral court game, but the win was devalued as a young squad staggered through their opening months of play. Winthrop's entering the conference tournament at 11-18, but have won five straight and get an opener against a team they've already beaten twice this year. Given the way they've owned the Big South this decade, no one's going to count Winthrop out until they see it happen. The value of Florida's non-conference schedule, currently rated at 304 out of of 344 by Ken Pomeroy, can use every bit of help it can get. A Big South tournament run by the Eagles would be an unexpected bonus.

CINCINNATI AT USF (7 PM) - Cincinnati missed their best chance at improving their stock a lot prior to the Big East tournament by getting throttled against Syracuse over the weekend. This is their final road game, and it comes against a USF squad which has lost nine of their past 10. That means a win won't upgrade Cincinnati's RPI from 53 very much, but a loss would be devastating to their chances. The Bulls have just eight wins all year, but that one win came when they surprised Marquette at the Sun Dome so it's not unthinkable that they could spring a shocker here.

GEORGETOWN AT ST. JOHN'S (7:30 PM) - It appears that the notion of Georgetown as a bubble team had finally been put to bed, but then the Hoyas beat Villanova over the weekend. Their record sits at 15-12 and 6-10 in the Big East, but with an RPI of 40 there's still a chance of them making the NCAA field despite the fact Georgetown has won only three games since January 14. Sweeping a closing week of St. John's and a home game with a DePaul team still winless in Big East play would get Georgetown the illusion of "being hot" going into conference tournament play. Since DePaul is a hopeless cause, Florida can keep their fingers crossed that St. John's plays hard enough to win in their final home game of the year.

WAKE FOREST AT MARYLAND (9 PM) - The Terrapins sit at 52 in the RPI, and Wake is the last team they'll play with a chance to make a major improvement in that mark prior to the ACC tournament. A loss would mean Maryland can finish no better than .500 in conference play. These two teams have not met this season, but Wake Forest has shown a curious tendency to play well against the top teams (wins over UNC, Duke, FSU and Clemson this season) and then lose against lesser opponents (road defeats by Georgia Tech, NC State and Miami). The Demon Deacons are still trying to secure a first round bye in the ACC tournament, so they should be motivated to deal with Maryland. Florida needs them to come through.

OHIO STATE AT IOWA (9:05 PM) - The Buckeyes would be in the field of 65 if it was selected today, but they've faded down the stretch. A 25-point pasting by Purdue over the weekend was Ohio State's fourth loss in five games. Their RPI is at 42 now, and a loss to an Iowa squad that's in tenth place in the conference would knock that down into the danger zone. The Buckeyes final game is at home against a Northwestern team which has already beaten them once, so being 18-10 heading into that matchup could make things very interesting. Iowa's only won four Big Ten games, but all of them have been at Carver-Hawkeye Arena where they're 12-3 on the year.


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