by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Bubbles definitely were bursting over the weekend in college hoops action, as a handful of teams played their ways off of the NCAA at-large bubble while other strengthened their positions considerably. More figure to follow as the first conference tournaments commence this week (Horizon, West Coast, and Missouri Valley writeups included in this issue). Following is a look at the weekend winners and losers...

LOSER: Iowa...Recent wins over Indiana and Wisconsin, along with previous claimed scalps of Michigan and Wisconsin another time, had the Hawkeyes talking about making a late run to the big Dance similar to the one made by Minnesota a couple of years ago when the Gophers closed fast and advanced all of he way to the title game of the Big Ten Tourney before receiving what appeared to be the last at-large slot in the Big Dance field. But forget about all of that now after Sunday’s 65-54 loss at previouly-struggling Iowa. Unless Iowa pulls a massive upset in the conference tourney at Indianapolis, the Hawkeyes are likely bound for a second-tier postseason event, which could even be the NIT if Iowa (currently 15-14 SU) can finish its season above .500. Nonetheless, still keep an eye on G Matt Gatens (27 ppg last four outings) one oft he country’s hottest scorers the past couple of weeks.

WINNER: Oregon...Never mind talk about the Pac-12 becoming a one-bid league in March. We’re thinking it’s more likely to get three entries into the Big Dance with the Ducks continuing their late-season ascent and avenging an earlier loss at Eruge against rival Oregon State by nosing out the rival Beavers by a 74-73 count on Sunday night at Gill Coliseum. Different UO performers have risen to the occasion in recent weeks, and on Sunday it was sr. G Garrett Sim, producing his best-ever “Civil War” performance vs. the Beavers with 25 points. Oregon has now hit the 20-win mark and can pad the credit side of its ledger at home later this week vs. Utah and Colorado before heading to the Pac-12 Tourney at Staples Center in L.A., where the Ducks can secure a first-round bye with wins over the Utes and Buffs. Along with Cal (looking solid into the field of 68 despite its Sunday loss at Boulder) and surging Washington (appearing on the safe side of the cut line with wins in 8 of its last 9 games and now a game up in the loss column over the Golden Bears at the top of the league table), the “Pac” isn’t quite as far back as many had projected this season.

LOSER: Mississippi State...It’s official; MSU fans can begin to panic about their Big Dance at-large credentials after the Maroon went down meekly at surging Alabama, 67-50, on Saturday, MSU’s fifth loss on the trot. Suddenly, what looked to be a fairly safe NCAA bid a few weeks ago is now appearing to be rather shaky. SEC sources report lack of on-court leadership (sr. PG Dee Bost perhaps not exerting enough influence) has hampered the Bulldogs, who need to get well in a hurry time to revive their Big Dance hopes. Failure to sweep beatable South Carolina and Arkansas this week would put MSU in further jeopardy, and the Bulldogs are probably going to have to avoid an early exit in the SEC Tourney regardless.

WINNER: Miami-Florida...With NCAA Tourney prospects looking extremely bleak with the announcement of the suspension of 6-10 C Reggie Johnson due to questions about illegal benefits to family members (a matter that could be resolved soon and led to Johnson’s quick reinstatement), Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes circled the wagons on Sunday at Coral Gables vs. menacing Florida State and exited a resounding 78-62 winner. It was the latest example of the shrewdness of Larranaga, who normally doesn’t like to use zone defenses but employed one nonetheless to good effect vs. the Seminoles. Stepping up on the attack end for the Canes in recent weeks has been jr. G Durand Scott, who led Miami with 17 points vs. FSU and has scored in double digits in five straight games.

LOSER: Ohio State...The Buckeyes aren’t going to miss the NCAA Tourney but their hopes of securing a spot on the top line in one of the regionals took a likely fatal blow in Sunday’s 63-60 home upset loss vs. pesky Wisconsin. That marked three losses in six games for the former top-ranked team which regional sources suggest is suffering from some chemistry issues that seem beyond HC Thad Matta’s ability to control. Specifically, insiders indicate that several Buckeyes are becoming distractions as they concern themselves with their status in June’s NBA Draft. OSU’s offense still works best when going inside-out, but 6-9 soph Jared Sullinger’s touches have been somewhat limited in recent weeks, and he was held to only 8 points in the loss to the Badgers. OSU’s slide is also reducing the chances it can perform in hometown Columbus during sub-regional action (the Bucks would be eligible for that assignment since the games are being played at the NHL Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena and not OSU’s on-campus Value City Arena).

WINNER: South Florida...The Bulls are not getting as much love from Bracketologists as their 11-5 Big East record would suggest; critics have pointed out a favorable league schedule and lack of marquee non-conference wins. But Stan heath’s team is closing fast with wins in five of its last six games, and grinded out a crucial 46-45 win over Cincinnati on Sunday in Tampa to reach 18 wins. There are no stars on this Bulls team with only 6-10 sr. Augustus Gilchrist scoring in double digits (and even he is at a mere 10 ppg), but the Bulls control the pace and play nasty defense, holding their last six opponents to a measly 49.6 ppg. Wins later this week over Louisville and West Virginia would get the Bulls to 20 wins and 13-5 in Big East play, which the Selection Committee would find hard to ignore.

LOSER: West Virginia...The Mountaineers are also officially in bubble trouble after losing their 7th game in 9 outings when succumbing to Marquette last Friday night. That loss was all the more grating for Bob Huggins because not only did the Golden Eagles bench three starters (Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue, and Junior Cadougan) for disciplinary reasons in the first half, but WVU also had what looked like a safe 15-point lead in the second half. The Mounties, using several frosh in key roles, are well-advised to beat DePaul and South Florida this week and win a game or two in Big East Tourney to keep alive their NCAA Tourney streak (currently now at four years running).

WINNER: Northwestern...It’s well-documented that the Cats have never made it into the Big Dance. Strong RPI and strength-of-schedule numbers have the Wildcats poised to break their drought this season, although the Cats needed a bit of luck on Saturday at Penn State when an iffy shooting foul on the Nittanyt Lions in the final three seconds sent deadeye John Shurna to the line for a pair of free throws, which he converted in NU’s 67-66 win that also (and importantly) avoided a dreaded “bad loss” for the Cats. Coach Bill “Conan O’Brien” Carmody likely gets a lifetime contract in Evanston if NU really hears its name called on Selection Sunday.

LOSER: Harvard...By losing 55-54 at home vs. Penn on Saturday, Harvard might now be looking at another Ivy playoff (this time vs. the Quakers) after losing in the last second in the elimination game a year ago when Princeton G Doug Davis hit a buzzer-beater. Which raises the questions about the Crimson’s at-large worthiness should it again stumble in a league playoff. At 24-4 SU, with good wins over Florida State, Loyola-Marymount, and St. Joseph’s, Tommy Amaker’s side is probably still on the safe side of the cut line should it need to go the at-large route, nut a pair of Ivy defeats and a setback at A-10 bottom-feeder Fordham aren’t going to score any points with the Selection Committee. And battle-tested Penn, with veteran Gs Zack Rosen & Tyler Bernardini, might be up to a repeat if a playoff game is necessary. Regardless, no Ivy followers thought it might come down to this again for Harvard.

Later this week, we’ll have an updated “Bracketology” on the eve of conference tourney action. After the weekend, here’s how our projected seeds (1 thru 16) for the Big Dance set up as of February 27...

No. 1 seeds...Kentucky, Syracuse, Michigan State, Duke.

No. 2 seeds...Missouri, Marquette, Kansas, North Carolina.

No. 3 seeds...Baylor, Ohio State, Indiana, Florida.

No. 4 seeds...Michigan, Georgetown, Louisville, Wichita State.

No. 5 seeds...Florida State, UNLV, Creighton, Wisconsin.

No. 6 seeds...Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Virginia, Vanderbilt.

No. 7 seeds...Saint Mary’s, Kansas State, Murray State, Temple.

No. 8 seeds...New Mexico, San Diego State, Purdue, Memphis.

No. 9 seeds...Saint Louis, Washington, Iowa State, Alabama.

No. 10 seeds...Seton Hall, Long Beach State, Cincinnati, California.

No. 11 seeds...Southern Miss, BYU, UConn, Oregon.

No. 12 seeds...Xavier, Drexel, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas, Miami-Florida.

No. 13 seeds...Ohio, Belmont, Harvard, South Florida, Northwestern.

No. 14 seeds...Iona, Valparaiso, Middle Tennessee, Nevada.

No. 15 seeds...Bucknell, Davidson, Oral Roberts, Weber State.

No. 16 seeds...UT-Arlington, Long Island, Norfolk State, Stony Brook, Mississippi Valley State, UNC-Asheville.

Last four in...Texas, Miami-Florida, South Florida, Northwestern.

First four out...Mississippi State, Arizona, George Mason, Colorado State.

Next four out...Dayton, LSU, Illinois, NC State.

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