Heading into the final weekend before March begins, we saw a bit of a college hoops shakeup based on Thursday night’s results. Conference tournaments will begin on Monday with the Atlantic Sun getting things started, so teams are running out of time to improve their stock as we inch toward Selection Sunday.
We’ll use Joe Lunardi’s latest ESPN Bracketology update, which was released Friday morning.
Key games for bracketology
UCLA 78, Utah 71
The UCLA Bruins are still in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they’re slotted as a No. 2 seed heading into the weekend. A win over the Utah Utes won’t change all that much, but a loss certainly would’ve made it tougher. On the other side, Utah is barely hanging on to bubble status, and the Utes probably needed a win to have much of a chance at an NCAA Tournament bid.
Illinois 66, Northwestern 62
Both programs are highly likely to be tournament teams and more importantly for the Illinois Fighting Illini, leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. returned after missing a couple games with a concussion. The Northwestern Wildcats ended a five-game wining streak after building an 18-point lead, but they probably need just one more win to lock up a tourney bid. Illinois actually dropped to a No. 9 seed in Friday’s update, and Northwestern is slotted as a No. 6 seed.
Penn State 75, Ohio State 71
The Ohio State Buckeyes are out of it, so this is all about the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State entered the day with “next four out” status, so it couldn’t afford a loss in this spot especially with the collapse Ohio State is going through. The Nittany Lions moved to the “first four out” category, and they need to keep winning. That starts with a home game with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Sunday night.