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Top of the Arc - March 10, 2009

March 10, 9 p.m.: Forget about teams playing their way into at-large berths this week and giving the NCAA tournament selection committee reasons to include them. It’s gotten to the point where the teams that will earn the final at-large berths will be the ones that damage their resumes the least this week.

One day after Saint Mary’s lost by 25 points in the West Coast Conference final, two Big East teams with slim tournament hopes, Cincinnati and Georgetown, eliminated themselves from contention by losing in the conference tournament to teams with losing overall records.

Georgetown’s loss to St. John’s – its second defeat to the Red Storm this month – was eclipsed only by Cincinnati’s loss to a DePaul team that had been 0-for-2009. Notre Dame theoretically stayed on the selection committee’s at-large board by accomplishing a monumental feat, beating a Rutgers team that had won two conference games all season.

All of the sudden, Maryland’s setback against lowly Virginia does not look like the deal-breaker it did this past weekend. Why? Because almost every so-called bubble team is suffering a black eye (or worse) these days, and some middling teams are bound to earn the final at-large berths regardless of how mediocre their profile.

In addition to asking one another “Who’d they play? Who’d they beat?”, selection committee members may ask another relevant question this week: “Does anyone want these bids?”

The field of bubble teams is so weak this season that two teams --- Saint Mary’s and Creighton – that lost in non-BCS conference tournaments by more than 20 points apiece are still very much in contention.

The bubble is so soft that a Virginia Tech team that finished the regular season 1-6 is very much alive, assuming of course it can beat another bubble team, Miami, which gave the ACC’s worst team its second ACC win earlier this month. And a South Carolina team with a non-conference strength of schedule of 282 remains in contention, assuming it can get a win in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Next on deck is Oklahoma State, a team with a solid resume that will be NCAA tournament-bound as long as it can beat Iowa State (15-16) in the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday.

On Thursday, much of the focus will be on the Big Ten tournament. Penn State should be headed to the NCAAs, as long as the Nittany Lions don’t find a way to lose to Indiana. The same goes for Michigan, which will play Iowa.

With only a few days remaining to leave an impression on committee members, the message to at-large candidates is clear: Stop giving the committee so many reasons to leave you out.

By Eric Prisbell  |  March 10, 2009; 8:55 PM ET
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