There are only two ranked teams in action Thursday night but both schools were featured in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee’s top-16 seed reveal. Gonzaga and Houston headline the night’s slate of games but there are also several notable games involving mid-major teams like Wofford and Murray State.
Here’s a preview of Thursday’s games through the lens of teams’ NCAA Tournament resumes and how the results could positively or negatively affect them.
The NCAA Tournament projections listed below come from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee’s projected seeds during Bracket Preview Show, which revealed the committee’s top 16 seeds. For the rest of the schools that weren’t featured, we used Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.
No. 9 Houston at UConn, 7 p.m. ET
Houston (23-1): No. 5 NET; 4-1 Quadrant 1, 8-0 Quadrant 2, 3-0 Quadrant 3, 8-0 Quadrant 4
NCAA Tournament Seed Projection: No. 3 seed
Houston’s record is almost perfect, save for a road loss at Temple in January, and the Cougars have remaining regular season games in all four quadrants. A trip to UConn is one of three remaining Quadrant 2 games and Houston’s second-toughest remaining road game behind a trip to Cincinnati in its regular season finale.
This will be the first and only regular season meeting between Houston and UConn this season. With the Huskies’ No. 79 NET ranking, this game has the potential to move to a Quadrant 1 game if UConn can crack the top 75 before Selection Sunday.
A No. 2 seed feels like it’s very much on the table for Houston, especially if it avoids losing to any non-Cincinnati opponents.
[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]
No. 3 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount, 11 p.m. ET
Gonzaga (23-2): No. 2 NET; 3-2 Quadrant 1, 6-0 Quadrant 2, 4-0 Quadrant 3, 10-0 Quadrant 4
NCAA Tournament Seed Projection: No. 1 seed
Gonzaga is arguably a more extreme version of Houston – a better team, at least on paper, with a slightly worse record in Quadrant 1 and likely less room for error against weaker conference opponents.
This will be a Quadrant 3 game for Gonzaga, which means it would be the Bulldogs’ first bad loss of the season if they were to lose and just another win should they complete the season sweep of the Lions.
Gonzaga won 73-55 at home in January. Despite a 17-8 record, Loyola Marymount’s only win that would resonate nationally was a 13-point, neutral-court win over Georgetown in November.
Road games at Saint Mary’s and San Diego provide the Zags’ final regular season Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 games, respectively.
Given Gonzaga’s status as the No. 4 overall team in the Bracket Preview Show, plus the Bulldogs’ conference affiliation, they probably have the least room for error among the four projected No. 1 seeds if they want to maintain their seed projection through Selection Sunday.
Illinois at Ohio State, 7 p.m. ET
Ohio State (16-7): No. 36 NET; 4-5 Quadrant 1, 3-2 Quadrant 2, 4-0 Quadrant 3, 5-0 Quadrant 4
Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projection: No. 9 seed
Ohio State picked up an important road win Sunday at Indiana in a game between two of the Big Ten’s more disappointing teams, based on non-conference performance. It brought the Buckeyes within one game of .500 in Quadrant 1 and put them on a trajectory to finish in the top half of the conference.
It all but ended Indiana’s at-large hopes.
Ohio State can extend its winning streak to four games Thursday when Illinois comes to town. The Fighting Illini will have the same opportunity after consecutive home wins over Nebraska, Michigan State and Rutgers, showing life after an 0-5 start in conference play.
It’s Ohio State’s last remaining Quadrant 3 game in the regular season and a loss would cancel out some of the goodwill the Buckeyes have accrued this month with what would be their worst defeat to date.
If Ohio State can split its eight remaining games, as kenpom.com projects, the Buckeyes should be safely in the NCAA Tournament field.
VMI at Wofford, 7 p.m. ET
Wofford (21-4): No. 28 NET; 2-4 Quadrant 1, 3-0 Quadrant 2, 4-0 Quadrant 3, 9-0 Quadrant 4
Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projection: No. 10 seed
Let’s take a moment to appreciate that Wofford’s NET ranking is No. 28, which means that regardless of where the Terriers play, they guarantee a Quadrant 1 game for their opponent. Not a single Pac-12 team can make that claim as of Wednesday.
There’s a real chance the Southern Conference could send two teams to the NCAA Tournament but that possibility likely hinges on Wofford continuing its rampant success in conference play. The Terriers are 13-0 entering Thursday’s game and UNC-Greensboro is 22-3 with a No. 46 NET ranking and Furman is 20-5 with a No. 56 NET ranking. UNC-Greensboro plays at Furman Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET, by the way.
Wofford owns the best resume of the three so if UNC-Greensboro or Furman (or any other team in the conference, for that matter) wins the auto-bid without the Terriers’ resume imploding, a two-bid Southern Conference is on the table.
A loss Thursday would be more damaging than any other remaining game on its schedule, given VMI’s No. 328 NET ranking. A loss to VMI or Chattanooga (No. 279 NET) is non-negotiable.
Murray State at Austin Peay, 9 p.m. ET
Murray State (19-4): No. 65 NET; 0-2 Quadrant 1, 0-2 Quadrant 2, 3-0 Quadrant 3, 14-0 Quadrant 4
If you haven’t watched Murray State guard Ja Morant this season, you’re running out of time. Morant is a potential top-five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft thanks to a breakout sophomore season in which he’s averaging 23.9 points, 10.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.
The only way that we get to see Morant play in the NCAA Tournament is if Murray State wins the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. Murray State’s NET ranking isn’t bad for a mid-major team but the Racers don’t have any Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 wins so an at-large bid is off the table.
Murray State is in a three-way tie for first with Belmont and Austin Peay, so this game could have a real impact on how the OVC Tournament is seeded and subsequently, whether one of college basketball’s best talents plays in the NCAA Tournament.