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March 10, 2008

Cinderella runs put bubble teams on thin ice

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Play Yahoo! Sports Tourney Pick'em

The dozen or so teams teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble are growing more nervous or at least they should be and nobody is causing more uneasiness than a pair of small schools who reached the finals of their conference tournaments.

One of those finalists William & Mary - opened up the possibility of the Colonial Athletic Association sending two teams to the NCAA Tournament. Laimis Kisielius nailed a short jumper with 1.5 seconds left to lift the fifth-seeded Tribe past top seed Virginia Commonwealth 56-54 in the semifinals of the Colonial tournament in Richmond, Va., on Sunday afternoon.

VCU will warrant serious consideration for an at-large bid. The Rams have a resume that includes 24 overall wins (including a pair of double-digit wins over the Tribe in the regular season) and an RPI of 52.

The Colonial's automatic bid will go to either William & Mary or George Mason, who meet tonight in the final.

The Cinderella Tribe, which began the tournament with a record of 12-15, has won three games in three days - each with shots in the final seconds. The Tribe beat Georgia State on a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left and knocked off Old Dominion on a 3-pointer with 7.5 seconds to go. A different player hit each game-winning shot.

San Diego opened up the possibility that the West Coast Conference could send three teams to the NCAA Tournament which has never happened before by engineering a double-digit comeback and pulling off a 75-69 upset of Saint Mary's in double overtime in the semifinals of the league tournament. The Toreros erased a 17-point first-half deficit and didn't grab their first lead until the first overtime.

Saint Mary's appears to have locked up an at-large bid. Like VCU, the Gaels have 24 wins and an RPI of 39. However, their resume features wins over three top-50 RPI teams: Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake, Gonzaga and Oregon.

The same goes for Gonzaga, which earned a spot in the final by surviving a scare from Santa Clara and pulling away for a 52-48 win. The Bulldogs won the WCC regular-season title with a 13-1 mark in league play and sit at 30 in the RPI.

San Diego, which is 97th in the RPI, will have to upset Gonzaga to land in the Big Dance. The Toreros lost both their regular-season meetings with the 'Zags, falling 80-70 in Spokane and 59-55 at home.

Before all the drama unfolded, No. 1-ranked North Carolina put itself in the driver's seat for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament by beating No. 5 Duke 76-68 in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. The Blue Devils failed to score over the final 5:47.

The Tar Heels could now play their next seven games in the state of North Carolina. The ACC Tournament is held in Charlotte. If the Tar Heels win three in a row there they will be placed in the East Region, where the first two rounds are in nearby Raleigh and next two are in Charlotte.

What you might have missed
Missouri State fired coach Barry Hinson after the Bears' 63-58 loss to Illinois State in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Hinson led the Bears to back-to-back 22-win seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07, but fell just short of an NCAA Tournament bid each year. The Bears slid to a 17-16 mark this season.
Xavier point guard Drew Lavender did not play due to a sprained ankle in the Musketeers' 86-61 win over Richmond, and his status for the A-10 Tournament is uncertain. Lavender has been battling the ankle injury since mid-February.
Cornell, which became the first school to lock up an NCAA Tournament bid, finished with a 14-0 record in the Ivy League after a 71-64 win over Princeton. The Ivy League is the only conference not to hold a postseason tournament.

Team of the Weekend: Drake

No team has been more impressive so far in the postseason than Drake, who rolled to a 79-49 thrashing of a 24-win Illinois State team in the final of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Sunday in St. Louis. The Bulldogs dominated from the start, opening up a 40-19 lead at the half.

Drake was led the entire tourney by guard Adam Emmenecker, who scored 16 points and added six assists against the Redbirds. Emmenecker played his best game of the season in the semifinals, scoring 20 points and dishing out a career-high 11 assists in a win over Creighton. In the quarterfinals, he scored 13 points and had five assists in a win over Indiana State.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: Kudos to the officials in the North Carolina-Duke game. A lot of contact was allowed UNC junior Tyler Hansbrough didn't attempt a free throw for only the second time in his career (the other time coming during his freshman year in a loss to George Mason in the second round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament) from start to finish, and that made for a very entertaining and hard-fought game that was decided by the players. If more games were called in this fashion it would be a lot better for college basketball.

Breakout: Ohio State's supporting cast. Ohio State point guard Jamar Butler finally got the kind of help he'd been seeking all season, and the result was a pivotal 63-54 win over Michigan State that probably launched the Buckeyes into the NCAA Tournament field. Butler carried the offense as usual, scoring a team-high 20 points. But, three other Buckeyes finished in double figures as well (Othello Hunter had 13 points, David Lighty had 12 and Kosta Koufos chipped in 11). The Buckeyes are now 10-8 in the Big Ten with wins over three top 50 RPI teams, Syracuse, Purdue and Michigan State.

Breakout: Kentucky appears to have found a solid replacement for sidelined big man Patrick Patterson. Lanky sophomore Perry Stevenson, who was averaging less than five points a game before Patterson injured his ankle two weeks ago, hit all six of his field goal attempts, scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Wildcats' 75-70 win over Florida. If Stevenson, who scored 13 points and had 14 boards in Kentucky's 63-60 loss at Tennessee, continues to play at that level the Wildcats will be a serious threat to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

Breakout: Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley put together his best offensive game of the season when his team needed it most. Beverley made all six attempts from 3-point range and scored a season-high 27 points in the Razorbacks' 77-64 win over Auburn. A loss would have been a crippling blow for Arkansas' hopes of landing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hogs are now 9-7 in the SEC and rank 43rd in the RPI.

Breakdown: Indiana suffered a surprising 68-64 loss to Penn State, but perhaps the bigger concern in Bloomington should be the shooting woes of Eric Gordon. The star freshman, who went 4-for-16 from 3-point range against the Nittany Lions, has made just 10 of his last 50 3-pointers (20 percent) over his last eight games. If Gordon can't shake his shooting slump soon, the Hoosiers could be an upset victim in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Breakout: Dayton put itself back on the bubble with a well-rounded effort in its 79-67 win over St. Joseph's that put the Flyers at 8-8 in the Atlantic 10. The Flyers, who are still playing without second-leading scorer Chris Wright (injured leg), had five players score in double figures. The Flyers are the No. 8 seed heading into the A-10 tournament and will face No. 9 seed St. Louis in the first round.

Breakout: Limited by foul trouble, Baylor's best player Curtis Jerrells scored just six points at Texas Tech. However, his sidekick was simply too good for that to matter. Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn scored a career-high 38 points while carrying the Bears to an 86-73 win over the Red Raiders. Dunn made six of nine 3-pointers and 12 of 13 free-throw attempts.

Breakdown: Pac-10 officiating. UCLA has won two consecutive games thanks to some questionable calls, and that is putting it lightly. On Saturday, with California leading UCLA 80-79, the Bears threw an inbounds pass to Ryan Anderson, who appeared to get fouled. There was no call and the ball then appeared to hit the foot of a UCLA player and then touch another UCLA player before going out of bounds. The Bruins were rewarded the ball and Josh Shipp proceeded to shoot a short jumper over the backboard which is illegal with 1.5 seconds left to give the Bruins an 81-80 win. The Bruins, aided by a foul call on what appeared to be a clean block in the final seconds of regulation, beat Stanford 77-67 in overtime two days earlier.

Top Performers
Michael Jenkins, Winthrop 33 points in Winthrop's 66-48 win over UNC-Asheville in Big South title game. The senior knocked down six of nine 3-point attempts and made all five of his free-throw attempts.
Lester Hudson, UT-Martin
31 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Austin Peay's 78-77 win over UT-Martin.
Hudson hit all 10 of his free throw attempts and finished the season averaging 25.7 ppg.
Marcus Thornton, LSU
38 points in LSU's 84-75 loss to Mississippi State.
Thornton was 13 of 27 (48.1 percent) from the field and matched his career high in scoring.
John Bryant, Santa Clara
25 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks in Santa Clara's 51-50 win over San Francisco
Bryant hit two free throws with three seconds left to lift the Broncos into the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament.

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Play Yahoo! Sports Tourney Pick'em

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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