March 11, 7 p.m.: Maryland senior Dave Neal has paid close attention to results across the country in recent days – watching Saint Mary’s stumble against Gonzaga and Cleveland State upset Butler --- because one upset or victory by a bubble team can affect everyone else’s chances.
For that reason, it’s important today that fans of Maryland and Virginia Tech not only keep a close eye on action at the ACC tournament in Atlanta on Thursday but also monitor scores from various other conference tournaments during a busy day of hoops.
Begin your scoreboard watching at noon, when the Hokies tip off against Miami at the Georgia Dome. Minnesota squares off against Northwestern in what could be a Big Ten elimination game. The Wildcats have an 8-10 conference record, but they have beaten six top 50 teams. The Golden Gophers could get an at-large bid even with a loss, but a win would put them on better footing.
Providence’s victory over DePaul on Wednesday did little to bolster its resume, which means the Friars need to upset Louisville to enhance their postseason hopes. Fans of the Hokies and Terrapins need to become Rick Pitino supporters for a few hours.
One conference to watch is the Atlantic 10, where tournament upsets seem commonplace. That should worry Maryland and Virginia Tech fans. It’s important that either Xavier, which plays St. Louis at noon, or Dayton earns the automatic berth, or else it could mean three bids out of the A-10 and one fewer berth for a bubble team.
At 2:30 p.m., keep an eye on Michigan-Iowa in Indianapolis. The Wolverines win, and they are likely in. Lose, and they give the selection committee reason for exclusion.
At 3 p.m., Arizona clashes with Arizona State in the Pac-10 tournament. A win would greatly enhance Arizona’s at-large hopes. But a loss may not crush the Wildcats because, while they have a very poor road record, they own victories over Washington, Kansas and Gonzaga.
It is back to the Big Ten at 5 for Indiana-Penn State. If you like the Terps and Hokies, root for Indiana to give the Nittany Lions their second consecutive questionable loss. A win and Penn State probably grabs an at-large berth.
A particularly intriguing game will tip-off at 5:30 from Las Vegas, where San Diego State meets Nevada-Las Vegas in the Mountain West tournament. UNLV probably has a slightly stronger overall resume, highlighted by a win against Louisville. But San Diego State could make a strong statement to the committee by beating UNLV for the third time this season. The Mountain West could see three teams wind up in the field, but five of its teams are still alive for at-large berths.
As difficult as it may be to watch Southeastern Conference basketball this season, the late-night game between Arkansas and Florida is worth monitoring after the finish of Maryland-North Carolina State. The Gators can take another step toward a berth by beating the struggling Razorbacks. Florida can’t win on the road, can’t beat top competition, but it remains in contention because of 22 overall wins. It won’t get a signature victory Thursday, but they can’t afford a loss.
Even if all the results Thursday wind up helping Maryland and Virginia Tech, Neal, who studies the national landscape as much as any player, said he knows it won’t matter unless his team wins.
“It’s all about us,” Neal said. “We’ve got to take care of business. If we lose, it’s all over.”
March 11, 2009; 6:56 PM ET
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