The Florida State Seminoles play their biggest basketball game of the year today, matching up with the ACC regular-season champion Virginia Cavaliers in a quarterfinal of the conference tournament. The ‘Noles advanced to play the Cavs after edging Maryland yesterday, 67-65. And although the win was far from surprising, FSU has seen its NCAA Tournament stock rise significantly since its triumph.
The Seminoles began yesterday as the eighth team out, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. But thanks to a bubble that continues to work in Florida State’s favor, Lunardi now lists FSU as the second team out. That’s because three teams in front of the ‘Noles lost, and are basically relegated to the NIT. Arkansas dropped its contest against South Carolina, Cal stumbled against Colorado, and St. John’s was downed by Providence. Lunardi’s latest bracketology lists a “Last Four In” of St. Joe’s, Dayton, BYU, and Providence. The “First Four Out” are Minnesota, FSU, Southern Miss, and Arkansas.
Let’s think of it as those eight teams playing for the final four spots and the chance to kick off the tournament in the play-in games next Tuesday (I’ll never, ever, refer to it as the “first round”). St. Joe’s and Dayton play today at 2:30, with the winner essentially playing its way into the tourney. What remains to be seen is how far the loser drops, which may depend on how close the game is. Also, BYU is in. Their season is done, and they’ve been on the right side of the bubble since advancing to the WCC finals. That leaves five or six teams for two spots. A win today probably seals a bid for any of those still playing. Providence has the easiest path, as they draw Seton Hall instead of Villanova (although it is the Big East Tournament, so be carful what you wish for). Minnesota and FSU face Wisconsin and Virginia, respectively, each of which are still in the running to be a 1 seed in the big dance. Southern Miss also meets the top seed in its conference tourney, Louisiana Tech. Behind them are a bunch of teams still listed but functionally dead in the water: Arkansas, Cal, St. John’s, and UW-Green Bay. Mizzou has a little life left, but they run into AP #1 Florida today.
What I’m getting at is this: all of these teams could lose today. Even if Providence wins, that’s only three of the last four spots accounted for. Who would get the final nod? Translation: margin of victory matters. It’s easy for teams to get bogged down playing a game every day– watch that mark about four minutes into the second half when tired teams tend to lose their legs. This is when blowouts occur. Although every team wants to win its way in, a hard-fought loss to a premier team could be a lasting image for the committee come Selection Sunday.