NCAA Tournament 2018 Bubble Watch: What to Watch for on Thursday

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2018

NCAA Tournament 2018 Bubble Watch: What to Watch for on Thursday

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Thursday of championship week in college basketball tends to be a miserable time for fans of bubble teams. But it's also primed to stand out as one of the season's most exciting days.

    While a couple dozen programs have effectively secured a place in the eventual field of 68 for the NCAA tournament regardless of results, teams such as Alabama, Baylor, Louisville, Providence and UCLA are fighting for their March Madness lives.

    There's a lot to monitor; we'll help you do exactly that.

    Bleacher Report has detailed when and how to watch matchups involving bubble teams and explained what's at stake. And for up-to-the-minute projections throughout the busy Thursday of action, check out B/R's live updating bracket.

Louisville vs. Virginia

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Time: Noon ET (ESPN)

    How about some redemption to start the day?

    On March 1, Louisville had a chance to solidify its tournament resume. Instead, the Cardinals had a stunning four-point collapse in the closing seconds of the game. Virginia freshman De'Andre Hunter banked in a three at the buzzer to crush its ACC foe.

    Louisville put together an impressive victory over Florida State to reach the semifinals, and an Arizona State loss probably pushed David Padgett's team one step closer to being in the field of 68.

    But if the Cardinals topple Virginiawhich is 2-0 in the season seriesthat will no longer be a question.

TCU vs. Kansas State

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    Barry Brown (5) and Dean Wade (32)
    Barry Brown (5) and Dean Wade (32)Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Time: 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

    Kansas State is probably a victory over TCU away from earning a comfortable spot in bracket projections.

    The Wildcats are 21-10 on the season and 10-8 in the Big 12. Although they didn't beat Kansas, Texas Tech or West Virginia in six tries, there's no glaring loss, either.

    Yes, the premier Big 12 teams won't be ignored, but K-State is otherwise 9-4 against Quadrant I or II opponents. Knocking off TCU and recording a 10th Q-I/Q-II win should seal an at-large bid.

    Both the Wildcats and Horned Frogs defended home court during the regular-season contests.

Alabama vs. Texas A&M

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    Collin Sexton and Avery Johnson
    Collin Sexton and Avery JohnsonAssociated Press

    Time: 1 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

    Alabama desperately needs to shake this losing streak. Entering the SEC tournament, Bama has dropped five straight games.

    The only consensus on the Crimson Tide is that they're teetering on the bubble along with Baylor. One bracketologist has Alabama in, another has 'em out. And it basically alternates.

    What happens Thursday against Texas A&M, a team soundly in the NCAA bracket, will shape Alabama's outlook. The SEC programs split two regular-season matchups, with the Tide winning 79-57 in December and losing 68-66 two on the road last Saturday.

    Alabama must earn a victory to solidify an at-large berth. Otherwise, it's reasonable to expect an NIT bid.

Oklahoma State vs. Kansas

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    Jeffrey Carroll
    Jeffrey CarrollChris Covatta/Getty Images

    Time: 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

    Fresh off another triumph of rival Oklahoma, Oklahoma State has an opportunity to eliminate any questions about its resume.

    The Cowboys already boast two victories over Kansas, and the Big 12 powerhouse awaits in the quarterfinals. Oklahoma State won 84-79 on the road in February and 82-64 at home last Saturday.

    In fairness to the Pokes, it's possible the result doesn't matter. They have zero bad losses and played a total of 21 gameswinning eightagainst potential tournament teams. You can make the argument that should be enough for OSU to make the field.

    But a third win against Kansas ought to remove any lingering doubt.

Providence vs. Creighton

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    Kyron Cartwright
    Kyron CartwrightMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Time: 2:30 p.m. ET (FS1)

    Providence has the most confusing resume of the bubble.

    Holding a 19-12 record with a 10-8 mark in the Big East that includes victories over No. 2 Villanova and No. 3 Xavier, the Friars have everything you'd expect to see from a tournament team. They're also a combined 8-9 against Quadrant I and II opponents.

    But falling to 13-19 UMass and 11-20 DePaul have created head-shaking faults on the resume. While Providence at least have an excuse for losing to Minnesota, it's not a great one. Those missteps are a major reason the Friars are in dangerous position.

    Creighton is a tournament lock, so Providence can add another quality win Thursday afternoon. Although that might not be enough, it's a necessary step to make the committee think hard.

Stanford vs. UCLA

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    Aaron Holiday
    Aaron HolidayLeon Bennett/Getty Images

    Time: 5:30 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)

    Unlike several teams on the bubble, Thursday doesn't provide UCLA with a notable opportunity for a statement win.

    No, the Bruins will be focused on surviving.

    Seeded fourth in the conference, the big prize would be a semifinal clash with top dog Arizona. UCLA knocked off the Pac-12 power in the only regular-season tilt and would benefit greatly from adding a fourth Quadrant I victory to join wins over Kentucky and USC.

    But Stanford is up first. The Bruins cannot afford to look ahead because a loss could move them to the wrong side of the cut line.

Marquette vs. Villanova

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    Markus Howard
    Markus HowardMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Time: 7 p.m. ET (FS1)

    The Golden Eagles lack a win of the highest quality, but Wednesday's win over DePaul gives them one final chance.

    It's make-or-break time against Villanova.

    Marquette twice pushed the Wildcats to the wire, falling 100-90 in early January and 85-82 the second time around. Those losses combined with shortcomings against Xavier (twice), Purdue and Wichita State have kept the Golden Eagles from leaving the bubble.

    But if they're celebrating Thursday night, you can pencil in Marquette as an NCAA qualifier.

Notre Dame vs. Duke

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    Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson
    Matt Farrell and Bonzie ColsonAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    Time: 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Notre Dame has survived a late charge from Pitt and overcame a 21-point deficit against Virginia Tech to keep the NCAA dream alive.

    Now, Bonzie Colson and Co. must navigate one of the country's hottest teams in fifth-ranked Duke. No pressure, right?

    The Blue Devils cruised to an 88-66 victory in the late-January tilt, but neither Colson nor Matt Farrell played for the Irish. The senior duo has accounted for 71 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and three steals in two ACC tournament games.

    With a victory, it's likely Notre Dame would transition from the "first teams out" category to the "last teams in" section.

Baylor vs. West Virginia

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    Esa Ahmad (23) and Manu Lecomte (20)
    Esa Ahmad (23) and Manu Lecomte (20)Associated Press

    Time: 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

    Since Baylor is riding the cut line, the team's outlook is simple.

    Knock off 18th-ranked West Virginia, and the Bears are probably on the right side of the bubble. Lose, and they're probably going to find themselves headed to the NIT.

    Baylor narrowly lost (57-54) when the programs met in January, but the Mountaineers stretched out a 28-point lead on the road late in February and eventually won 71-60. Two of Baylor's four worst shooting nights in 2017-18 have happened opposite WVU.

    That trend needs to change for head coach Scott Drew to continue a four-year postseason streak.

Oregon State vs. USC

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    Chimezie Metu
    Chimezie MetuLeon Bennett/Getty Images

    Time: 9 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)

    How much stress can USC handle?

    If the Trojans lose Thursday, the college basketball world will find out. They'll take on Oregon State, which edged Washington 69-66 in overtime to begin the Pac-12 tournament.

    USC holds a 21-10 record, but its best victories are opposite Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State and Utah. That's not an impressive grouping of wins, and a short-handed loss to Princeton isn't helpful.

    Yes, the selection committee conceivably could pick the Trojans regardless of what happens against Oregon State. USC probably would feel much better about Sunday if it advances to Friday.


    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.