Weekend Preview: The five storylines you need to track
1. Missouri Valley Conference tournament: Without question, this is the mid-major tournament that has the most on the line. Everyone probably knows the details by now: Wichita State and Illinois State, two teams with a combined nine losses between them, are sitting squarely on the bubble. Neither of them can afford a loss to anyone other than each other in this event and still have a real shot at getting themselves into the NCAA tournament.
And even if they both make it to the finals of the event, there is going to be a sweat on Selection Sunday as they wait to hear from the Selection Committee on whether or not they made the cut. The Shockers are probably in a better spot because of their lack of bad losses, but no matter who ends up missing out on the automatic bid, it’s going to be a long, long, LONG week of waiting, watching the bubble teams in the power conferences start stacking up wins.
By Sunday afternoon at 4 pm ET, we’ll know which of those two teams is going to be stressing.
2. The MVC is one of four tickets that will be punched this weekend: On Saturday night, the Ohio Valley Conference, home of the heavily-favored Belmont Bruins, will play their conference tournament and give us our first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Sunday features three league tournament title games: The Missouri Valley (2 p.m., CBS), the Big South (1 p.m., ESPN) and the Atlantic Sun, which is already set (North Florida vs. Florida-Gulf Coast, 3 p.m., ESPN).
3. Last gasp bubble games: This is the final weekend of the regular season for the teams at the top of the sport, meaning that this will be the final chance for those bubble teams to be able to land a win that could keep them from having to make a run in their league tournament in order to secure a bid. Perhaps the most notable game this weekend for a bubble team will be Seton Hall, who right now appears to be right on the cut line. They play at No. 13 Butler on Saturday, a win that would almost assuredly get the Pirates back to the NCAA tournament. Vanderbilt missed out on their big win on Tuesday night, blowing a 19-point lead at Kentucky, but they turn around this weekend and host Florida. That win won’t carry quite as much weight, but it will put them in a much better position than they are in right now.
Georgia will have a chance to get on the right side of the bubble with a win at Arkansas, who still probably needs to win one more game to really feel safe about their chances. Cal cannot afford to lose at Colorado, not after getting worked over by Utah on Thursday night. Xavier has lost six straight games and is somehow on the bubble on March 3rd after being ranked midway through February. Losing at DePaul would likely put them out of the tournament. And then there is Georgia Tech at Syracuse, a game that both programs really cannot afford to lose.
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4. The ACC showdowns: There are three really awesome games at the top of the ACC this weekend. No. 25 Miami heads out on the road to take on in-state rival No. 15 Florida State and No. 19 Notre Dame looks to keep their place all alone in second place in the ACC by winning at No. 8 Louisville, but easily the most exciting game of the weekend is the best rivalry in the sport: No. 17 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina. We take a good, long look at this game right here.
5. This weekend is when the coaching carousel really gets started: This is the week when seasons start coming to an end, which means this is the week when programs that have coaches sitting on the hot seat will start to make changes. At the upper levels of the sport, there is the chance that this could end up being a pretty wild carousel. With the potential for quality jobs opening up and the chance that those jobs could be filled by some big names, reporters are buckling in for what should be a wild ride.
But there will also be changes made at the lower levels of the sport, and those are just as wild to try and track. Over the course of the next two weeks, don’t be surprised to hear about roughly 40 head coaches losing their jobs, and have fun tracking the movement that creates amongst the coaching ranks.