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Insider

Penn State barely hanging on to last bid

3/12/2011

This edition of "Bracket Math" includes all games through Friday, March 12. Rankings reflect an up-to-date S-Curve from yours truly, posing as one hypothetical member of the NCAA men's basketball committee.

Here are a few things to look for on Saturday:

• It's going to take some good fortune for our last two at-large teams -- the USC Trojans and Penn State Nittany Lions -- to stay in the field. For one, the Alabama Crimson Tide and/or UTEP Miners (or even the Boston College Eagles, more on that later) could pass them. For another, the bubble could very easily squeeze them out, given pending events in the WAC and Atlantic 10 tournaments.

• The bubble could also get more crowded if certain teams lose on Saturday. By tonight, our conversation could expand to include the Memphis Tigers and Harvard Crimson, if either or both fall in their real and de facto conference title games. The Crimson would be an especially interesting topic, given that the Ivy League has never produced an at-large team.

• Keep an eye on the Virginia Tech Hokies. It's not so much for the Hokies' sake at this point, but for Boston College's. The Eagles have a season sweep of Virginia Tech, so what happens to their candidacy if and when the Hokies keep winning? What if they win the ACC tournament? You'd have to say Boston College's argument gets stronger with every Virginia Tech victory.

• At the top of the bracket, the door is still open for the Duke Blue Devils or North Carolina Tar Heels (or even the Brigham Young Cougars) to pass the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or Pittsburgh Panthers for the final No. 1 seed. Of course, we'll also need to be monitoring the most famous toes in college basketball -- those of Duke's Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving -- as part of this discussion.

The S-curve

*: Clinched regular-season title and NIT automatic bid if needed

Bold: Projected conference winners (highest remaining conference tournament seed)

CAPS and BOLD: Clinched automatic bid

GREEN: Teams with tourney odds of 90 percent or better through games of March 11.

YELLOW: "Last four in" (will play March 15-16 in Dayton, Ohio)

GOLD: Lowest four auto-bids (will play March 15-16 in Dayton, Ohio)

RED: "First four out" (teams 69-72 on the S-curve)

TODAY'S MATH

Take our "solid" at-large candidates (current Tournament Odds at 90 percent or better) and you have exactly 41 teams in the field. Add in the remaining automatic qualifiers and that's another 19 spots. All told we have 60 of the 68 spots accounted for, with only 10 up for grabs among current "Bubble" teams.

BUBBLE (14 teams for 8 spots)

IN (8, in S-curve order): 42-Richmond, 43-Illinois, 44-Saint Mary's, 45-Clemson, 46-Virginia Tech, 47-Colorado, 48-USC, 49-Penn St.

OUT (6, in S-curve order): 69-Alabama, 70-Boston College, 71-Georgia, 72-Memphis, 73-UAB, 74-Missouri St.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

Big East (11), Big Ten (7), Big 12 (6), ACC (5), SEC (4), Pac-10 (4), Atlantic 10 (3), Mountain West (3), Colonial (2), West Coast (2)

NIT QUALIFIERS (11)

• Bethune-Cookman (MEAC)

• Charleston (Southern)

• Coastal Carolina (Big South)

• Fairfield (MAAC)

• Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt)

• Milwaukee (Horizon)

• Missouri State (MVC)

• Murray State (OVC)

• Texas Southern (SWAC)

• UAB (Conference USA)

• Vermont (America East)

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