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Betting the bubble: Teams fighting for their tournament lives

The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ upset win over the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers Tuesday should quiet all doubters that didn’t have Tubby Smith’s squad making the NCAA tournament cut.

The Gophers’ 77-73 win is not only damaging to the Hoosiers’ bid for the top seed in the NCAA but is crushing to those programs balancing on the tournament bubble, hoping to slide in front of a struggling Minnesota team. 

Plenty of schools are still fighting to have their names announced on Selection Sunday, which can offer some added value when it comes to covering the spread. Here are four NCAA bubble team bettors should keep an eye on as the regular season winds down:

Tennessee Volunteers (17-10 SU, 15-10 ATS)


Key wins: Florida, Wichita State, UMass

The other big upset on Tuesday’s card was the Volunteers’ 64-58 home win over Florida. Tennessee is one of the hottest teams in the land, winning six in a row SU and ATS, and the victory over UF puts it in the bubble conversation.

The Vols don’t have the best overall resume but when it comes to the selection committee, it’s like Janet Jackson: What have you done for me lately? Tennessee runs the risk of a huge letdown spot at Georgia this weekend, then plays at Auburn and hosts Missouri in the finale.

Villanova Wildcats (18-11 SU, 16-9-1 ATS)


Key wins: Marquette, Syracuse, Louisville

A bad loss to Seton Hall all but erases a victory over Marquette last week, leaving the Wildcats bouncing on the bubble heading into their final two games. Jay Wright has had the entire week to prepare for Sunday’s clash at Pittsburgh, which thumped Villanova in their previous meeting.

That game against the Panthers could be the deciding factor on whether or not the Wildcats go dancing. Following that crucial matchup, Villanova wraps up the schedule versus Georgetown at home on March 6. Win or lose Sunday, the game with the Hoyas stinks of letdown.

Virginia Cavaliers (19-8 SU, 16-7-1 ATS)

Key wins: Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, N.C. State

The Cavs have been the best bet in the ACC in recent weeks, building a 5-1 ATS count in their last six games. However, when it comes to making the field of 68, success against the spread has nothing to do with it.

Virginia missed opportunities to boost its NCAA resume versus Miami and UNC, and now a win over Duke at home Thursday may be its only hope. The Cavaliers’ win over Tennessee gained some shine after the Vols’ upset over UF. The deciding game for Tony Bennett’s kids could be the season finale versus Maryland, another ACC bubble team.

Baylor Bears (16-11 SU, 10-12 ATS)


Key wins: Kentucky, St. John’s

Baylor is mired in a three-game losing skid and its tournament bubble is on the brink of bursting. The only things that can stop it are wins over Kansas and Kansas State in its final four games. Luckily for Baylor, both of those matchups come in Waco. The Bears haven’t been great bets at home but will be leaving it all on the court versus the Kansas schools.

Baylor does come with a warning, having dangerous lookahead/letdown spots against West Virginia and Texas on the road. The trip to Morgantown Wednesday takes them 1,300 miles from home – BU’s longest conference road trip ever.

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