March 7, 9 p.m.: As Maryland's players trudged to the John Paul Jones visitors' locker room yesterday afternoon, they knew they were out of chances to distinguish themselves during the regular season. A disappointing setback at Virginia dropped the Terrapins' conference record to 7-9 and shifted the focus to the upcoming ACC tournament.
The early rounds of several high-profile conference tournaments across the country will have added importance this season because of the high number of teams still in contention for at-large berths. Because of the small separation among bubble teams, the NCAA tournament selection committee is likely to examine results in the early rounds of conference tournaments more closely.
For teams such as Maryland, nothing short of a deep run in the conference tournament - two or three wins - will suffice. But other teams have more promising outlooks.
Michigan improved to 9-9 in the Big Ten after a much-needed victory at Minnesota. The Wolverines can now brag about victories over six RPI top 50 teams, an accomplishment that helps offset their poor 3-8 record on the road.
Penn State looked in good shape for a tournament berth until it dropped a double-overtime game yesterday at Iowa. Minnesota has been inconsistent and Wisconsin, despite a strong RPI, can ill afford to lose today's regular season finale against Indiana.
Out of Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin, none has a berth locked up. These teams need to avoid a bad loss in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament, which would give the selection committee one more reason to exclude them.
A trio of Southeastern Conference teams will be looking for a final opportunity to impress committee members. Just two SEC teams - Louisiana State and Tennessee - appear in strong position for berths.
South Carolina earned a victory yesterday against Georgia, but that did little to make up for the missed opportunity Thursday against Tennessee. The Gamecocks have not beaten a top 50 team and will likely need to do so before committee members take them seriously.
Florida earned a must-have victory over Kentucky, but the Gators need to win at least a game in the conference tournament. Kentucky needs a deep run in the SEC tournament to avoid missing the NCAA tournament.
As for the ACC tournament, Miami likely needs to win two games because of a 7-9 league record. If Virginia Tech wins at Florida State today - big if - and wins one in the ACC tournament, that should be enough.
March 7, 2009; 9:43 PM ET
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