No. 8 seed Villanova plays ninth-seeded Syracuse at noon ET Thursday. The winner still has a shot at earning an NCAA Tournament bid. The loser is headed for the NIT. Talk about pressure.
"Both of us are in great position. I wouldn't want it any other way. You always have a chance to get yourself right because you're always playing other big teams and you don't have to hope about somebody else winning or losing. If we beat them I think we do have a great chance," says Villanova coach Jay Wright.
Who wins? Toss a coin. They split the regular-season series, with the road team winning both times. Villanova's offense was consistent in both games – logging 102.0 and 102.4 efficiency ratings – but its defense varied wildly. In its win, its defensive efficiency was 89.4; in the loss, 122.0 (Paul Harris' scoring output increased 22 points).
The other games – West Virginia vs. Providence, Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati, Marquette vs. Seton Hall – aren't quite as intriguing, but none of 'em should be blowouts. Keep an eye on the Mountaineers, too. They can't afford a loss and still get into the Big Dance.
The Atlantic 10 started out this season as the hot conference, but between Dayton's injuries, Rhode Island's last-season skid, Duquense's lack of defense and St. Joe's bad luck, the league will be lucky to get two bids, let alone three.
Along with Xavier and UMass, Dayton has the strongest NCAA tourney résumé among A-10 teams, but it also has what I'd consider the toughest first-round game, too. Rick Majerus' Saint Louis squad has its moments. Expect Brian Roberts to carry Dayton to a big win and a chance to bolster its argument by playing Xavier on Thursday.
Don't bother with any of the C-USA games -- Tulsa vs. East Carolina, UTEP vs. SMU, Marshall vs. Tulane, Southern Mississippi – on Wednesday. Unless you want to waste your time.
East Coast fans lucked out with the early Pac-10 game. Washington vs. Cal – who split the season series – is the only game you'll want to see, though neither are bound for the NCAA Tournament. Arizona will crush Oregon State, which didn't win a Pac-10 game this season.
In fact, the Beavers are the worst team in any BCS conference. And it's not even close. Don't worry about staying up for that one unless you haven't seen Jerryd Bayless play. Thursday is when the good stuff starts out West.