Sifting through who is on the spot in action just 38 days before Selection Sunday ...
* Indiana at Illinois (7): The Illini's backslide threatens to continue with the nation's top-ranked team coming to Champaign. Illinois (15-8) has dropped six of its last seven and still has visits to Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State still to come.
* Clemson at Virginia (7): The Cavaliers tend not to lose home games, and the truth is they really can't afford to lose any of their remaining home games with the exception of Duke's Feb. 28 visit.
* Belmont at Murray State (8): This year's Ohio Valley kingpin visits last year's Ohio Valley kingpin in what represents the Bruins' most likely opportunity to absorb a conference loss. Belmont (19-4) has a shiny RPI but would be well-served to confine any losses to the league tournament if it wants to seriously maintain at-large possibilities.
* N.C. State at Duke (9): When one is looking to burnish its lacking road resume, Cameron Indoor Stadium is not the place to go to with high hopes of fixing the problem. The Wolfpack is 1-4 in true road games, and that hole in their profile would disappear quickly with a victory in Durham.
* Maryland at Virginia Tech (9): The Terps have similar issues as N.C. State (1-4 road, 2-5 away from College Park) and also face a critical game tonight. Maryland can take a far harsher hit with a loss than they can benefit from a win, but triumphing in Blacksburg (where the Terps have not always played all that well) would denote progress.
* California at Arizona State (9:30): If you're following the Sun Devils' blueprint --- feast on a bad nonconference schedule, split two-game conference trips, pile up home wins --- it is important to follow every step. That's why Arizona State would be well-served to knock off middle-pack teams like California and Stanford in Tempe over the next couple days.
* Colorado at Oregon (10): The Buffaloes are RPI darlings, but could use something a little more recent to spruce up the resume. Winning in Eugene would do just that.
* Brigham Young at San Diego (10)
* Saint Mary's at Santa Clara (11)
As a general rule, the West Coast Conference bubblers can't really afford to fall to anyone other than (a) Gonzaga, (b) each other and (c) in the case of Saint Mary's Creighton. That doesn't mean it will be easy, especially with a much-improved Santa Clara team involved. BYU already swept the Broncos; tonight is the first half of the home-and-home between Saint Mary's and Santa Clara.
--- Patrick Stevens