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What February 23 results mean for UCLA, Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State, others in 2023 bracketology

Here’s a look at how Thursday night’s college basketball slate may impact the NCAA Tournament.

llinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. reacts after scoring during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats at State Farm Center. Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Bubble Watch

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.