Virginia Tech 80, #13 Clemson 77
Virginia Tech already had enough quality victories for a Tournament bid, and the question is just total victories. Can they get enough ACC wins, and can they get their computer numbers high enough? This win pushes them to 7-6, and they've just got to get to 8-8 to have a real shot at an at-large bid heading into the ACC tournament. They have had a tendency over the last few years to pull off big upsets, and they can certainly use one, either against UNC next week or in the ACC tournament (where they will have a high probability for an elite opponent in their quarterfinal game). As for Clemson, don't be deceived by that number in front of their name. They aren't struggling nearly as badly as they did to close the 2006-07 season, but this is still getting a bit worrisome. I'll talk more about this when I get to their loss to Florida State, but the reality is that Clemson still hasn't locked a spot in the Tournament. They've got to get one more win, and while they should get it on Tuesday night against Virginia, nothing is certain.
#7 Duke 78, Maryland 67
Duke is starting to get their act together as we close the month of February. They are playing far better defense, and they are more athletic and explosive on the offensive end. They are still firmly in the 1 seed discussion, if they can find a way to win at Chapel Hill next weekend. Of course, Duke did benefit here from the fact that Maryland is probably the only team in the ACC that is smaller than Duke. At least Duke has a legitimate big man that they can throw out there (Brian Zoubek) from time to time. Even Lance Thomas is bigger than any Maryland regulars. Duke actually outrebounded the Terps 37-25. I didn't view this as a must-win for Maryland, but they have now reduced their margin of error to near zero. They are 6-7 in the ACC, and will not earn at-large bid unless they get to at least 8-8. They play Wake Forest at home, and NC State and Virginia on the road. If they can get to 8-8 then I think that one ACC tournament win will be enough to get them into the Dance.
Cincinnati 65, West Virginia 61
Cincinnati is a young team that has had a lot of ups and a lot of downs this season, but this win assures that they're still firmly in the bubble discussion as we enter March. Yancy Gates showed why he might be a Big East Player of the Year if he sticks around long enough as he led the way with 22 points and 11 rebounds. This was such an important win for Cincinnati that you wonder if their fans even really cared about sticking it to ex-coach Bob Huggins. Cincinnati is now 8-7 in the Big East with a decent 7-10 record against the RPI Top 100. They now have wins over UNLV, West Virginia, Georgetown (twice) and Notre Dame. They have no bad losses. They have an RPI of 54th, a Sagarin of 47th and a Pomeroy of 57th. In other words, they're probably not in the Tournament if the season ends now, but they're very, very close. I think they've got to get to 10-8, because a 9-9 Cincy team will need at least a couple of wins in the Big East tournament to earn a bid. While West Virginia is also 8-7 in the Big East after this loss, their overall resume is still far better than that of Cincinnati. They are 9-9 against the RPI Top 100, and their 19-9 overall record comes against one of the ten toughest schedules in the nation (according to the RPI, Sagarin and Pomeroy). If they can get to 10 wins then they'll lock up a Tournament bid, but even a 9-9 West Virginia team will most likely be Tournament bound.