Most bracket prognosticators currently have the Miami Hurricanes in the 2012 NCAA Tournament field, but just barely. If Miami wins out and doesn’t bomb out of the ACC Tournament, they will almost assuredly get a bid, but there’s still a lot of movement that can happen between now and then. Namely, it would be good for the Canes if teams just ahead of them in the pecking order would lose so that Miami could avoid playing in this year’s "First Four," which is essentially a play-in round in Dayton, Ohio in order to get to the actual Big Dance.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has Miami in that First Four (subscription required), but as the team next line to be bumped into the field of 64 (as opposed to 68) if a team ahead of that stumbles. Lunardi has his seeds on an S-curve, with numbers 48 through 51 representing the "last four teams in," and numbers 69 and up representing the pecking order for teams currently out of the field. (Numbers 52 through 68 are reserved mid-major auto-bids.) Lunardi currently has UM at No. 48, and four teams within three spots of the Canes will be in action tonight (plus another team a bit further out). Let’s take a look at which games you should be keeping an eye on, and which teams you should be rooting against (all times Eastern).
Mississippi State (46 on the S-curve) at South Carolina (8:00 p.m.)
As of early February, the Bulldogs seemed comfortably in the tournament thanks to a solid non-conference resume and a pretty decent performance in-conference. But they’ve gone into a complete tailspin of late, losing five in a row, three of which were to some of the worst teams in the SEC, and the latest of which was to fellow bubble team Alabama, who blew them out in Tuscaloosa. South Carolina is not very good at all, but Mississippi State is falling apart right now, and the Bulldogs are either going to rally together and pull out a close road win, or they’re going to collapse once and for all and lose by double-digits, which I think would drop them from the field. I really don’t see an outcome in between those two, and obviously it would be best for the Canes if it was the latter.
Oklahoma at Texas (No. 49 on the S-curve) (9:00 p.m.)
Texas is right with Miami in hanging onto the bubble for dear life, and they haven’t been playing well as of late. They’ve won six of their last ten, but of those four losses, two were to unranked teams and of the six wins, only one was over a team (Kansas State) that is projected to make the field. In their last game they needed overtime to defeat Texas Tech, who is in last place in the Big 12, but it would still be a real shock if they dropped a game of this importance at home to a team as bad as Oklahoma. But if they do, they’re probably out, and Miami would get a bit of breathing room.
Ohio State at Northwestern (No. 50 on the S-curve) (8:30 p.m.)
The Wildcats are right on the bubble as well, and a victory here would most likely secure their spot in the field barring a total subsequent collapse. Ohio State demolished Northwestern by 23 when these two met up in Columbus earlier this season, but this one will take place under much different circumstances, with the Wildcats playing on Senior Night and needing a marquee win in the worst way.
South Florida (No. 51 on the S-curve) at Louisville (7:00 p.m.)
USF is fifth in the Big East standings right now, but they haven’t beaten a ranked team this year and thus are teetering on the edge of being left out of the Tournament. So, this game is pretty important to them, as a road win over the Cardinals would make it hard to justify denying the Bulls a bid considering their conference record. USF hasn’t played Louisville yet this year and haven’t really fared well in conference road games vs. ranked teams either, losing by an average of 19 points per game.
UNLV at Colorado State (No. 72 on the S-curve) (10:00 p.m.)
This is more or less an elimination game for Colorado State. They’ve beaten both New Mexico and San Diego State at home this year, but those two wins alone won’t be enough to get them into the Dance. Adding a win over UNLV (again, at home) still might not be enough, but it puts them in the conversation, whereas a loss would likely keep them on the outside looking in. UNLV wiped them out in Vegas earlier this season, but, again, this game is taking place under different circumstances.