There's nothing to dislike about this Saturday.
We've already seen a few tremendous games between top teams. We've already had plenty of close finishes. We've already had some do-or-die bubble action to track. We've already got mid-majors playing single-elimination games with NCAA tourney berths on the line. And with Duke-UNC and Florida-Vanderbilt -- not to mention the rest of the night's action -- on tap, we're nowhere near done yet.
We're going to weigh in on the non-bubble action throughout the afternoon and evening, but for now, here's a look at some of the day's most important bubble games:
Clemson 69, Virginia Tech 60: A week ago, Virginia Tech basked in the afterglow of a court-storm-worthy win over No. 1 Duke in Blacksburg, Va. Caught up in the post-win excitement, many assumed the win over the Blue Devils would seal Tech's tournament status once and for all. Not so much, actually. Virginia Tech's résumé still needed work this week. Duke was the only really notable win on an otherwise very mediocre profile. Seven days later, after losses to Boston College and Clemson, the Hokies are right back where they started, and where they've been for a solid three years running: on the bubble. Clemson, meanwhile, still has to improve its own profile. This win was nice, but the validation it offered had more to do with the Hokies' shakiness than with the Tigers' improved chances. At the end of the day, both teams will probably need a win or more in the ACC tournament to feel better about their odds of sneaking into the 68-team field.
Michigan 70, Michigan State 63: This afternoon, as we were planning coverage and geeking on a variety of hoops-related nuggets, my editor Brett Edgerton and I had the following e-mail exchange:
Brett: "Michigan showing up big-time, Sparty playing like they know for sure they’re already in."
Me: "Michigan State's season is that of a lazy high school cross country runner. They lolly-gagged the whole race, started running just in time for them to make their time, and then coasted the rest of the way."
Brett: "Honestly, I’m not sure they’ve made their time. If they lose their first Big Ten tourney game ... a 17-14 team with zero significant nonconference wins and a 3-9 record vs the top 50 is getting in? Based on what?"
Unfortunately for the Spartans, I think Brett may be right. Michigan State picked up the pace down the stretch just in time to get wins over Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa, but it's not exactly like Sparty has gone on a Kansas State-ian sort of run. They've played ... better. Not great. Not even good, sometimes. But better. They certainly didn't look great in Ann Arbor Saturday, where Michigan added another notch to its at-large belt and probably, failing a breakdown in the Big Ten tournament and a seismic shift elsewhere on the bubble, got themselves into the tournament (although that's far from a certainty). That's a remarkable statement. This Michigan team was down and out in the offseason; some writers were broaching the subject of John Beilein's job security. Not anymore, they're not. These Wolverines have gone from a 1-6 Big Ten record to a possible NCAA tournament berth. Impressive.
Oh, and the Spartans? I still think they'll make their time. But there's no room for error now.
Alabama 65, Georgia 57: If you're an SEC partisan eager to see six of your league's teams get in the tournament, this was probably the best outcome you could have hoped for. Georgia isn't a sure thing to make the tourney, but a road loss at Bama won't damage the Bulldogs' résumé too much, and a win helps Alabama immensely. Here's a stat Crimson Tide fans will love: Since the SEC expanded to 12 schools and went to two divisions in 1992, no eligible team with a record of 11-5 or better has been left out of the NCAA tournament. Alabama is currently 12-4. Of course, that doesn't mean Anthony Grant's team is a lock to make the tournament. The Tide still have that awful RPI, and the committee typically doesn't look fondly on teams with bad computer marks regardless of conference record. (See 2009-10 Virginia Tech Hokies for reference here.) But the win Saturday does get Alabama to a place where, if it can win a couple of games in the SEC tournament, it can reasonably expect to get some benefit of the doubt.
Richmond 68, Duquesne 56: A win over Duquesne probably isn't going to boost Richmond's seed, but that's not really the point. The Spiders, very much in the bubble conversation the past few weeks, needed to keep tacking on wins down the stretch. They did that. Saturday's victory over the Dukes was Richmond's fourth straight, and it came over a team that began the A-10 season 8-0. (In other words, in case you missed it, the Dukes can play ... or at least used to be able to play.) Richmond is the only real non-Temple, non-Xavier at-large candidate in the Atlantic 10. By finishing the regular season 24-7 and 13-3 in conference, the Spiders (who, let's remember, own a win over Purdue) sure seem like a pretty good bet for an at-large bid.
Bonus non-bubble A-10 nugget of the day: Fordham snapped a 41-game conference losing streak with a 77-73 win over UMass in the Bronx. And on senior day, no less. Well done, Rams.
Missouri State 60, Creighton 50: With a comeback win in this game, Missouri State moved on to Sunday's Missouri Valley Conference tournament final. That raises an interesting proposition. If Missouri State, the regular season MVC champ, loses in the final of the tourney, can the Bears still get an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament? Probably not. Missouri State should still plan on winning Sunday's game, just to be safe. But that potential bid thievery is something to keep an eye on.