JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — With college basketball’s regular season winding down, the bubble for the NCAA tournament has become pliable, teams moving in and out almost on a nightly basis.
One team that’s moved its way out of the bubble’s reach, at least for now, is Arizona State.
The Sun Devils had made themselves a viable NCAA candidate over the past few weeks, winning five of six games since being blown out by then-top-ranked Arizona.
Arizona State gave its bracket bid a boost by beating the Wildcats in a rematch last Friday, pulling out a that’ll-get-some-attention, double-overtime win over the No. 2 team in the country.
“That is huge for our resume, for our goals of (playing in a) postseason tournament,” said Sun Devils center Jordan Bachynski, who sealed the victory by blocking T.J. McConnell’s runner with 6 seconds left.
The victory gave Arizona State 19 wins, eight Pac-12 wins and bumped its RPI rating up to No. 29.
Of course, that only helps the Sun Devils at the moment.
Should they stumble down the stretch, they could easily end up back on the bubble, maybe even watch it pop.
And there are plenty of opportunities for a letdown; Arizona State has one of the toughest closing schedules in college basketball, its final six games against teams with an RPI of 94th or better.
“I don’t know if relief is the right word, because if we don’t take care of business over the next couple weeks, we won’t get to the tournament,” Bachynski said. “We can’t let this win get to our head.”
Should the Sun Devils take care of business, they’ll be in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
A few other teams helped their causes over the weekend and some made it harder on themselves.
We run down a few teams on the rise and a few that have fallen in the first installment of what will be a weekly look at teams on the bubble as the season winds down to the NCAA tournament:
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were well off the radar after opening the Big Ten with four straight losses. Nebraska (14-10, 6-6 Big 12) has put itself into the NCAA tournament conversation over the past month, winning six of eight, including Sunday’s road victory over then-No. 9 Michigan State. The Cornhuskers still have some work to do, but have at least made their way into the bubble.
Baylor. The Bears (17-9, 5-8 Big 12) faced a potential bubble-busting game against Oklahoma State on Monday night and won. They certainly needed it after freefalling from the top 10 to 4-8 in the Big 12. There’s still work to do, but the overtime win over the Cowboys should give them a big boost.
Minnesota: Three straight Big Ten losses hurt the Gophers’ chances, but they are still in decent shape after beating Indiana and getting back to their defensive ways in Sunday’s 54-48 win over Northwestern. The Gophers also have victories over Ohio State and Wisconsin, along with a solid RPI of 33. Minnesota (17-9) is under .500 the Big Ten so far (6-7), but a strong finish in one of the nation’s tougher conferences could get them into the bracket.
St. John’s. An 0-5 start in the Big East should have been it for the Red Storm. A recent surge, one punctuated by Sunday’s win over Georgetown, has them back in the NCAA picture. St. John’s (17-9, 7-6) has won five straight and eight of nine, but may need to avoid any late-season letdowns without any marquee preseason victories to speak of.
Southern Methodist. The Mustangs were ranked in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 1985 when they debuted at No. 23 on Feb. 10. SMU (20-6, 9-4 AAC) fell right out of the poll with a loss to last-place Temple and already has a shaky road loss to South Florida. The Mustangs are still in decent shape with wins over UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati, but could find themselves on the outside looking in with another tough-on-the-eyes loss.
Georgetown. The Hoyas have some good wins in their pocket, including Michigan State, Kansas State and VCU. Still, Georgetown is hovering around .500 in the Big East (6-7) and already has 10 losses, including Sunday’s ugly 22-point setback to St. John’s, a team it beat by 17 earlier this season. The Hoyas are No. 58 in the RPI and have a tough closing schedule.
LSU. Another team having a roller coaster season, the Tigers (15-9, 6-6 SEC) have fallen back to the edge of the NCAA bubble. When LSU knocked off Kentucky on Jan. 28 and followed with a victory over Arkansas, its bracket chances looked decent. Since then, the Tigers have lost three of four, including a not-so-great loss at Texas A&M. LSU is No. 72 in the RPI and still has to face Kentucky, Florida and Georgia.
Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were on the wrong end of the game against Baylor, but it goes deeper than one game. Oklahoma State (16-10, 4-9) has lost seven straight — four with Marcus Smart and all three he was suspended for after an altercation with a Texas Tech fan. Smart returns this weekend and the Cowboys need their winning ways to come with him.
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