Houston 66, Memphis 65
Memphis is the most talented team in Conference USA, but they showed their youth and inexperience yet again here. They struggled all season long in close games, including a 2-3 record in games decided by four points or less. And while this team was obviously greatly affected by the John Calipari loss, the real crossroads of the program begins now. Because despite the loss of that recruiting class, Memphis did still have a lot of key players left from last year's squad. And they fell into the Elliot Williams transfer, which was the biggest transfer in the nation other than Wesley Johnson. And they were able to keep together an outstanding recruiting class for 2010. But that said, most of the key players from this year's team will be gone, so next year's team will be young and inexperienced. And the aura of invincibility that they had in Conference USA is gone. So will how much will they struggle next year with the type of young, raw team that John Calipari has always thrived with. Josh Pastner is no John Calipari. And if the team struggles again, what will happen with the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes? It will be very interesting. For this season, at least, the Memphis at-large hopes are actually not gone. They still have a quality resume: 7-5 against the RPI Top 100 with quality wins over UAB (twice), but bad losses to SMU, UMass and Houston (twice). Their RPI is 55th and their ELO_CHESS will be right around 60th. There's no question they'd be out of the bracket if the season ended now, but I'll keep them around as a team that could fall backwards into the Tournament if the bubble really weakens between now and Selection Sunday.
Southern Miss 58, UAB 44
Making the NCAA Tournament as a bubble team is all about seizing your opportunities, and UAB was handed an opportunity on a silver platter as they took the court right after Memphis fell to Houston. Not only did the loss weaken the resume of another bubble contender, it also opened up an easy path to the Conference USA tournament finals, a result which probably would have been enough for an at-large bid. But unlike Memphis, which went down in a great tight game, UAB just laid a big egg here. Not only did they shoot 39% from the field, they hit a remarkable 4-for-15 at the free throw line. UAB has been a weak offensive team all season long, but this was an unbelievable amount of futility. And UAB's at-large chances are now even worse than those of Memphis. Despite what are actually slightly stronger computer numbers than Memphis, they finished the season with three straight losses, and their collection of quality wins is even worse. They have a win over Butler, but that's their only victory against the RPI Top 60. And the season sweep to Memphis won't help a head-to-head battle for an at-large bid. I'm not going to rule out UAB's chances, but it's hard to fathom any scenario that could get UAB into the NCAA Tournament now.
Notre Dame 50, #16 Pittsburgh 45
I can't recall another case in recent history where a team lost one of its greatest ever players, then went on a huge winning streak after completely changing their style of play, and then continued to improve when that star player came back. They have not been a high tempo team all season long, but they've taken things to another level the last few weeks. You have to wonder if they play Wisconsin or Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament (the two slowest tempo teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament) if they have a 40-38 final score in them. But whatever it is, they're playing much more efficient defense, and they've now won six straight to lock up their at-large bid. They're up to 12-7 against the RPI Top 100 with a bunch of nice wins (Georgetown, West Virginia and Pitt (twice) being the best), with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will move into the Top 35. If the season ended now they'd be in the 8-10 seed range, but they have a real chance to go even further in a wide open Big East tournament. They play West Virginia next, which is a team that could be weighed down by the expectations of a potential 1 seed, the emotional impact of their buzzer-beating win over Cincinnati, and the fact that they're going to be expected to win. I could see Notre Dame crawling up to a 6-7 seed if they can win the Big East tournament. As for Pitt, despite this loss they still finish with eight wins in their final ten games. They are an impressive 7-5 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI of 15th and an ELO_CHESS that will be right around 15th-16th as well. They're probably sitting at a 4 seed right now, although they could slip to a 5 seed if they have some bad luck over the weekend.