College Basketball Bubble Watch
Tar Heels in danger of earning inglorious distinction
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Sunday, Feb. 7.Only twice in the past 21 years has a defending national champion failed to play in the NCAA tournament the following season. Kansas, the 1988 national champion, was ineligible to play in the '89 tournament because of NCAA probation. Florida, which won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and '07, failed to make the tournament in '08 and hasn't been back to college basketball's biggest stage since. Barring a complete turnaround, North Carolina is about to become the third defending national champ to accomplish the dubious feat this season.
North Carolina isn't the only school with big-time bubble trouble. Insider gives you a closer look at the fringes of the field, explaining why the Pac-10 shouldn't expect a second bid to the Big Dance this season.
Bubble Insider: Cal dancing by itself?
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Rhode Island, Xavier|
Work left to do: Richmond, Dayton, Charlotte
The best conference race in the country might be the A-10. After Xavier and Temple lost on Saturday, six teams are in contention for the regular-season championship. As many as four or even five A-10 teams could end up with NCAA at-large bids, depending on how the rest of the season shakes out.
Rhode Island [19-3 (7-2), RPI: 12, SOS: 63] The Rams have won seven of their past eight games after beating A-10 also-rans LaSalle and Massachusetts last week. Rhode Island can probably wrap up an at-large bid by winning one of its two games this week: home against Richmond on Wednesday and at Temple on Saturday. The Rams have a surprisingly great computer profile, but really only have two victories to support it. They defeated Dayton 65-64 on the road on Jan. 26 and beat Oklahoma State 63-59 in Uncasville, Conn., on Jan. 2. Rhode Island is 8-2 in road games and 5-3 against RPI top-100 opponents.
Xavier [16-7 (8-2), RPI: 27, SOS: 20] The Musketeers will step out of conference and try to improve their national reputation by playing at Florida on Saturday. Even after losing at Dayton 90-65 last week, Xavier seems more than worthy of an NCAA at-large bid. The Musketeers beat Rhode Island, Dayton and Charlotte at home, and won so-so nonconference games against Cincinnati and Kent State. Xavier is 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes, 3-6 against the top 50 and 6-7 against the top 100. Xavier plays only two of the A-10 contenders in its last six league games: at Charlotte on Feb. 20 and home against Richmond on Feb. 28.
Richmond [18-6 (7-2), RPI: 31, SOS: 64] The Spiders picked up the signature victory they desperately needed on Saturday, blasting Temple 71-54 at home. Coupled with their RPI top-50 wins over Old Dominion (home), Missouri (neutral court) and Florida (neutral court), the Spiders seem to be in OK shape heading into the last three weeks of the regular season. Richmond is 4-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-5 against the top 100. But it probably plays the toughest remaining schedule among the A-10 contenders. The Spiders play at Rhode Island on Wednesday and at Xavier on Feb. 28. Richmond plays Dayton at home on March 4 and closes the regular season at Charlotte on March 6.
Dayton [16-6 (5-3), RPI: 33, SOS: 41] There aren't many better ways to prepare for the season's stretch run than blasting your A-10 rival by 25 points at home. Dayton got just what needed with its 90-65 rout of Xavier on Saturday. The Flyers had lost three of their previous five games and seemed to be sputtering at the worst time. But the convincing win over the Musketeers gives Dayton three victories over RPI top-50 opponents, after it also beat Georgia Tech (neutral court) and Old Dominion (home). Dayton hosts Charlotte on Wednesday and still faces road games at Temple on Feb. 24 and Richmond on March 4. The Flyers were competitive in their five losses to RPI top-50 opponents, losing to Villanova by six points (neutral court), Kansas State by eight (neutral), New Mexico by two (road), Xavier by four (road) and Rhode Island by one (home). UD will have to overcome one eyesore on its resume: a 60-59 loss at RPI No. 177 Saint Joseph's on Jan. 23.
Charlotte [18-5 (8-1), RPI: 46, SOS: 153] The 49ers have a one-game lead in the loss column in the A-10 standings, but they might have the most work to do among the league's at-large contenders before Selection Sunday. Charlotte doesn't have the nonconference profile of some of the other A-10 teams, with only one victory over an RPI top-100 opponent (87-65 at Louisville on Dec. 5) outside of league play. The 49ers beat Richmond on the road and defeated Temple at home. They're 3-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 15 of their 18 wins came against RPI sub-100 opponents. The 49ers can make up some ground in four games against A-10 contenders. Charlotte plays at Dayton on Wednesday and hosts Xavier on Feb. 20. It plays at Rhode Island on March 3 and hosts Richmond on March 6.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Maryland|
Work left to do: Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia
The ACC isn't as good as it used to be, but it's shaping up to be one heck of a conference race come early March. Duke and Maryland have only two losses in ACC play, and five other teams are within two games of the leaders. Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Maryland all moved closer to an NCAA at-large bid last week, while Clemson continues to take several steps back.
Wake Forest [16-5 (6-3), RPI: 16, SOS: 23] The Demon Deacons battled tough travel conditions to steal a 64-61 overtime victory at Virginia on Saturday. That victory came on the heels of their 62-53 win over Miami at home on Tuesday night. With the victory over the Cavs, Wake Forest improved to 6-3 in ACC play, one game behind Duke in the ACC standings. The Demon Deacons play their next two games at home: against Boston College on Tuesday and Georgia Tech on Saturday. If they sweep those games, the Demon Deacons would have probably done enough to lock up an NCAA at-large bid. Wake Forest is 4-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-5 against the top 100. It has two big nonconference feathers in its cap: a 77-75 victory at Gonzaga on Dec. 5 and 96-92 double-overtime win over Xavier on Jan. 3.
Georgia Tech [17-6 (5-4), RPI: 25, SOS: 14] At times, the Yellow Jackets look talented enough to play in the Final Four. At other times, they're undisciplined enough to nearly blow big leads against teams like NC State. The Yellow Jackets nearly self-destructed in the final five minutes of Saturday's game against the Wolfpack, before surviving with a 73-71 victory at home. Georgia Tech was routed at Duke 86-67 on Thursday night, dropping its record to 5-5 in road games. The Yellow Jackets play their next two contests on the road: at Miami on Wednesday and at Wake Forest on Saturday. Tech has five wins over RPI top-50 teams (Duke, Wake Forest, Siena, Clemson and Charlotte) and is 7-6 against RPI top-100 foes.
Maryland [16-6 (6-2), RPI: 44, SOS: 31] Everyone expects the Terrapins to start fading in the ACC, but they keep winning. On Thursday night, the Terrapins picked up a road victory they've lacked in recent seasons, beating Florida State 71-67 in Tallahassee. Three days later, the Terps routed North Carolina 92-71 at home. With a 6-2 mark against league foes, Maryland is tied with Duke in the loss column for first place in the ACC standings. The Terps will have two more chances this week to boost their profile: at home against Virginia on Wednesday and at Duke on Saturday. Maryland's nonconference work was hardly impressive and its overall resume is somewhat lacking (0-3 against RPI top-25 opponents and 4-6 against the top 100), but if it keeps winning ACC games, it should be in pretty good shape.
Clemson [16-7 (4-5), RPI: 40, SOS: 33] Raise your hand if you've read this storyline before. After a sizzling start, Clemson is fading down the stretch. The Tigers fell at Virginia Tech 70-59 on Saturday, their fourth loss in five games. The Tigers have fallen to 4-5 in ACC play and probably won't get better until guard Demontez Stitt gets healthy. The good news: Clemson plays its next three games at home, where it's 10-2 at Littlejohn Coliseum. It hosts Florida State on Wednesday and Miami on Saturday, and then gets a week to prepare for a Feb. 20 game against Virginia. Frankly, Clemson has only two quality victories on its resume (70-69 over Butler in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 29 and 62-53 over Maryland at home on Jan. 31) and doesn't have a single quality road win. The Tigers are 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes and 6-6 against the top 100.
Florida State [17-6 (5-4), RPI: 43, SOS: 55] After splitting a pair of ACC games last week -- losing to Maryland at home and beating Miami 71-65 on Saturday, the Seminoles need to turn their efforts into overdrive. They're hanging their hats on a sweep of Georgia Tech (their only wins over an RPI top-50 opponent), along with a few so-so nonconference victories (over Alabama, Iona and Marquette). FSU needs to start beating ACC teams that matter and it can't afford to slip up in upcoming games at Clemson on Wednesday and at home against Boston College on Sunday. The Seminoles might need to split games against Clemson (they play the Tigers at home on Feb. 28) and beat Wake Forest at home on March 3 to have a chance. FSU is 2-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-5 against the top 100.
Virginia Tech [18-4 (5-3), RPI: 64, SOS: 237] With its less-than-stellar performance during nonconference play, the Hokies are trying to make up for lost time in the ACC. Virginia Tech has won five of its last six games, including a 74-70 victory over North Carolina at home on Thursday night and 70-59 win over Clemson in Blacksburg, Va., on Saturday. The Hokies are 5-3 against league foes, and might have to finish with at least 10 ACC wins to have a chance at an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. Virginia Tech's schedule is ranked among the softest in the country (No. 189) among teams from BCS conferences, and its best nonconference wins came against Georgia, Iowa and Seton Hall. The Hokies will try to continue their impressive ACC run when they play at NC State on Wednesday and host rival Virginia on Saturday.
Virginia [14-7 (5-3), RPI: 94, SOS: 118] With a middling computer profile, the Cavaliers can't afford many more losses before Selection Sunday. Frankly, Virginia's 5-3 record in ACC play is the only thing keeping it in the NCAA at-large debate. The Cavaliers will have to overcome three unsightly losses, dropping games to RPI sub-125 opponents Stanford (neutral court), Penn State (home) and Auburn (road). The Cavs have only one victory over one of the ACC's upper echelon teams, beating Georgia Tech 82-75 at home on Jan. 13. But Virginia will have a chance to prove its mettle over the next two weeks, when it plays four straight games against fellow ACC bubble teams. The Cavs play at Maryland on Wednesday and at Virginia Tech on Saturday, followed by home games against FSU on Feb. 17 and road game at Clemson on Feb. 20.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Texas A&M|
Work left to do: Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri
With Texas losing four of its last six games, No. 1 Kansas is threatening to run away with the Big 12 race. The Jayhawks have opened up a three-game lead over the Longhorns. UT will stay in "lock" status for now, but another lousy week could cost it a guaranteed spot in the 65-team field. Texas A&M is working hard to earn an invitation, while Missouri and Oklahoma State suddenly seem headed in the wrong direction.
Texas A&M [17-6 (6-3), RPI: 20, SOS: 11] The Aggies are right back in the thick of the Big 12 race, after winning three straight games on the heels of a 2-3 slide. In fact, few bubble teams had as good of a week as Texas A&M, which beat Missouri on the road 77-74 on Wednesday, ending the Tigers' 32-game winning streak at Mizzou Arena. On Saturday, the Aggies beat fellow Big 12 bubble team Baylor 78-71 at home. With a 6-3 mark against Big 12 foes, the Aggies are tied with Kansas State, Texas and Missouri in the loss column for second place in the league standings. Texas A&M goes for a sweep of Texas Tech on Saturday, and then plays No. 1 Kansas on Big Monday on Feb. 15. The Aggies have four victories over RPI top-50 foes, beating Baylor (home), Texas Tech (home), Clemson (neutral court) and Missouri (road).
Baylor [17-5 (4-4), RPI: 28, SOS: 26] The Bears have fallen into a habit of winning a game and then dropping one. Baylor is only 4-4 over its last eight games, after losing at Texas A&M on Saturday. With a 3-3 mark against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-3 record against the top 100, the Bears should still be in pretty good shape, barring a collapse down the stretch. The Bears have three high-quality victories, beating Texas (road), Xavier (neutral court) and Oklahoma State (home). Nonconference wins over South Carolina and Arizona State also look better than they did a few weeks ago. The Bears can't afford any hiccups down the stretch, so they need to win at Nebraska on Wednesday before hosting Missouri on Saturday. If Oklahoma keeps winning, Baylor might face a fellow Big 12 bubble team in six consecutive regular-season games, before ending with Texas.
Texas Tech [15-7 (3-5), RPI: 32, SOS: 15] The Red Raiders keep doing just enough to hang on the fringe of the bubble discussion. After losing three of its last five games, the Red Raiders beat Oklahoma State 81-74 at home on Saturday. Texas Tech is only 1-7 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-7 against the top 100. But it might get more help from victories over UTEP and Washington than originally believed. The Red Raiders lost at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M and fell to Missouri at home. Two of Texas Tech's next three games are against fellow Big 12 bubble teams and it might need to win both of them. The Red Raiders play at Oklahoma on Tuesday, host Texas A&M on Saturday and play at Baylor on Feb. 16. The Red Raiders really need a signature victory, too, and home games against Texas on Feb. 20 and Kansas State on Feb. 23 would prime opportunities to get one.
Oklahoma State [16-7 (4-5), RPI: 39, SOS: 30] The Cowboys have taken a big step back among Big 12 bubble teams, losing three games in a row. They lost 72-60 at Texas on Big Monday and then fell 81-74 at Texas Tech on Saturday. The Pokes don't have as good of a nonconference profile as most of the other Big 12 bubble teams. In fact, Oklahoma State's best nonconference victories came against RPI No. 111 Bradley and No. 112 Pacific. The Cowboys split games with Texas Tech and beat Texas A&M at home, but lost at Missouri and at Baylor. Oklahoma State upset Kansas State 73-69 on the road on Jan. 23, but it might need at least one more marquee victory to pair with it. The Pokes host surging Oklahoma on Saturday.
Missouri [17-6 (5-3), RPI: 47, SOS: 77] Stuck in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, the Tigers seem to be stuck in neutral. After losing to Texas A&M at home on Wednesday night, Missouri routed Colorado 84-66 on the road on Saturday. The Tigers are only 3-3 in their last six games and 2-4 in road games. They have beaten four RPI top-50 opponents: Kansas State (home), Texas Tech (road), Old Dominion (neutral court) and Oklahoma State (home). Missouri certainly can't afford a slip-up against Iowa State at home on Wednesday and could really use a win at Baylor on Saturday. The Tigers could use another marquee victory to go with their 74-68 upset of Kansas State on Jan. 9. They play Texas at home on Feb. 17, at Kansas State on Feb. 27 and Kansas at home on March 6.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Pittsburgh|
Work left to do: Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette
Say hello to Notre Dame and South Florida, which are back in the NCAA at-large mix after putting together an impressive string of victories. Say good-bye to Seton Hall, which seems to be sinking fast. If Cincinnati and Connecticut aren't careful, they could be joining the Pirates on the plank.
Pittsburgh [17-6 (7-4), RPI: 23, SOS: 17] With a 7-4 record in Big East play and 9-5 mark against RPI top-100 opponents, it would be hard to imagine the Panthers being left out of the NCAA field. But Pitt's recent 2-4 slide leaves some concerns about its current direction. The Panthers ended their recent drought by blasting Seton Hall 83-58 on Saturday. Pitt gets a warmup against Robert Morris at home on Monday night, before it prepares to play four straight difficult Big East games. The Panthers host rival West Virginia on Friday night and then play at Marquette on Feb. 18. After hosting Villanova on Feb. 21, Pitt plays at Notre Dame on Feb. 24. With road victories at Syracuse, Cincinnati and Connecticut, along with a neutral-court win over Wichita State and home win over Louisville, the Panthers still seem to be in very good shape.
Louisville [15-8 (6-4), RPI: 42, SOS: 4] The Cardinals picked up a much-needed 82-69 win over Connecticut at home on Big Monday, and then beat up Big East bottom feeder Rutgers 76-60 at home on Saturday. Those wins helped Louisville improve to 6-4 in Big East play, but it still has plenty of work to do before Selection Sunday. The Cardinals are 0-4 against RPI top-25 foes and 4-8 against the top 100. Worse, Louisville is only 1-5 in road games. Louisville needs a signature victory and will have a chance to earn one at Syracuse on Sunday. First, the Cardinals will have to win on the road at St. John's on Thursday.
South Florida [15-8 (5-6), RPI: 49, SOS: 37] The Bulls were the Big East's hottest team before losing at Notre Dame 65-62 on Sunday. Before that, South Florida did more than enough to at least bring a decent argument to the NCAA tournament selection committee. In the span of four days, the Bulls upset Pitt 70-61 at home and defeated Georgetown 72-64 on the road. Behind Dominique Jones, the Bulls won four games in a row before losing to the Fighting Irish. South Florida could really use a sweep of its next two games: at Marquette on Saturday and home against Cincinnati on Feb. 16. The Bulls don't have much of anything to show from their nonconference schedule (wins over Virginia and Kent State), so they'll have to do a lot more during Big East play.
Cincinnati [14-9 (5-6), RPI: 56, SOS: 18] After losing at Notre Dame 83-65 on Thursday night, and then falling 71-54 at home to Syracuse on Sunday, the Bearcats are falling fast in the Big East's pecking order. Cincinnati has lost three of its last four games and its schedule won't get any easier. The Bearcats play consecutive road games at Connecticut on Saturday and at South Florida on Feb. 16, before returning home to play Marquette on Feb. 21. Cincinnati's victories over Vanderbilt and Maryland in the EA Sports Maui Invitational will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA selection committee, but it has to start winning some Big East games that matter. Cincinnati split games against Notre Dame and beat Connecticut and South Florida at home. It could really use a victory over one of the Big East's heavyweights to bolster its profile.
Connecticut [14-9 (4-6), RPI: 57, SOS: 8] The Huskies ended their late-season collapse by beating DePaul 64-57 at home on Saturday, but a seven-point win over the Blue Demons won't mean much on Selection Sunday. The Huskies had lost six of their last eight games, after losing at Louisville 82-69 on Big Monday. Coach Jim Calhoun can't come back soon enough from a self-imposed leave of absence. Connecticut plays three difficult games next: at Syracuse on Wednesday, home against Cincinnati on Saturday and at Villanova on Feb. 15. The Huskies are 1-5 against RPI top-50 opponents (and their 88-74 upset of Texas on Jan. 23 doesn't look as good as it once did) and 0-5 in road games.
Notre Dame [17-7 (6-5), RPI: 59, SOS: 62] If Cincinnati and South Florida are going to stay in the NCAA at-large hunt, then the Fighting Irish have to be right there with them. The Fighting Irish revived their collapsing season with a pair of home victories last week, beating Cincinnati 83-65 on Thursday night and South Florida 65-62 on Sunday. The Irish should be favorites in a pair of Big East games this week: at Seton Hall on Thursday night and home against St. John's on Sunday. Notre Dame has plenty of work to do, after doing basically nothing during nonconference play and limping through the early part of its Big East slate. The Irish have an RPI top-5 win over West Virginia, swept South Florida and split games with Cincinnati. But that's really about it. Notre Dame's best nonconference wins came against RPI No. 102 IUPUI and No. 110 Saint Louis, and it will have to overcome a 74-73 loss at RPI No. 123 Rutgers on Jan. 30.
Marquette [15-8 (6-5), RPI: 60, SOS: 56] After taking care of business against a couple of the Big East's struggling programs -- beating DePaul 80-69 at home on Wednesday and winning 82-79 at Providence on Saturday -- the Golden Eagles are preparing for a tough three-game stretch. They play consecutive home games against South Florida on Saturday and against Pittsburgh on Feb. 18, and then play at Cincinnati on Feb. 21. The Golden Eagles have one of the softer profiles among the Big East bubble teams, with a 1-5 record against RPI top-25 foes, 2-6 against the top 50 and 3-7 against the top 100. It does boast three impressive victories: 71-61 over Xavier in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.; 62-59 over Georgetown at home on Jan. 6 and 70-68 at Connecticut on Jan. 30.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Ohio State|
Work left to do: Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois
Playing without injured guard Kalin Lucas for much of the week, Michigan State suffered its first two losses in Big Ten play, losing at Wisconsin 67-49 and at Illinois, 78-73. Now, four other teams are right on the Spartans' heels. Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue are only one game back in the loss column in the Big Ten standings. Minnesota and Northwestern keep hanging around the bubble watch, but both teams need to find an extra gear.
Ohio State [18-6 (8-3), RPI: 38, SOS: 91] Only the Buckeyes' RPI rating (No. 38) is keeping them from moving to the top line and "lock" status. Most of the damage to Ohio State's profile was done when star Evan Turner was sidelined with a back injury. Since he returned on Jan. 6, the Buckeyes have won eight of 10 games. They won their fourth in a row on Sunday, beating Iowa 68-58 at home. Ohio State beat Penn State and Iowa last week to move to 8-3 in Big Ten play, one game behind leader Michigan State. The Buckeyes play consecutive road games this week, traveling to Indiana on Wednesday and Illinois on Sunday. Then Ohio State will prepare for two games that will go a long way in determining the Big Ten regular-season championship: home against Purdue on Feb. 17 and at Michigan State on Feb. 20. The Buckeyes have four wins over RPI top-50 foes: Wisconsin (home), Purdue (road), California (neutral court) and Florida State (home).
Minnesota [14-8 (5-5), RPI: 61, SOS: 32] Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook's jumper that beat Penn State 66-64 on the road on Saturday might have salvaged whatever is left of Minnesota's NCAA at-large hopes. The Gophers couldn't have afforded a fifth loss in six games, especially against an RPI sub-200 opponent such as the Nittany Lions. Minnesota's back still seems to be against the wall, after losing four of its last six games. The Gophers are 5-5 in Big Ten play, but three of those wins came against league bottom feeders Penn State and Iowa. Minnesota did beat Ohio State 73-62 at home on Jan. 9 (after Buckeyes star Evan Turner returned from injury). The Gophers have one nice nonconference win, beating Butler 82-73 in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 26. Minnesota plays four of its next five games at home, starting with Thursday's game against Michigan. The Gophers are 11-1 at Williams Arena this season, but only 2-5 in road games.
Northwestern [16-7 (5-6), RPI: 66, SOS: 71] The Wildcats, who are trying to earn a trip to their first NCAA tournament, ended a 1-3 slide last week by beating up a couple of struggling Big Ten teams. After defeating Michigan 67-52 at home on Tuesday night, the Wildcats routed Indiana 78-61 on Sunday. Northwestern should have a chance to improve its 5-6 record in Big Ten play the rest of the way. It plays only one more game against one of the Big Ten's top four teams: at Wisconsin on Feb. 21. The Wildcats are only 2-4 in road games and it might be wise to improve that mark before Selection Sunday. Northwestern's wins over Notre Dame (neutral court) and Illinois (home) are looking better than they did a couple of weeks ago.
Illinois [16-8 (8-3), RPI: 72, SOS: 92] After a three-game slump at the end of January, the Illini are headed back in the right direction. They've won four games in a row, including a 78-73 upset of Michigan State on Saturday night (the Spartans played without injured guard Kalin Lucas). The Illini certainly need the momentum as they prepare for a three-game stretch that might make or break their postseason chances. Illinois plays at Wisconsin on Tuesday and hosts Ohio State on Sunday. The Illini play at Purdue on Feb. 20. After upsetting the Spartans, the Illini have three wins over RPI top-50 foes (they also beat Vanderbilt at home and Clemson on the road). Illinois will have to overcome two losses to RPI sub-100 opponents, after falling to No. 111 Bradley and No. 178 Utah on neutral courts.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Teams that should be in: UNLV|
Work left to do: San Diego State
Few teams made a bigger statement last week than UNLV, which clobbered MWC leader BYU 88-74 in Las Vegas on Saturday. The Runnin' Rebels' convincing win created a logjam at the top of the MWC standings. BYU, New Mexico and UNLV are tied for first place with 7-2 records in league play. San Diego State, which is two games back, is fighting for its at-large life.
UNLV [19-4 (7-2), RPI: 30, SOS: 98] What's not to like about the Runnin' Rebels' NCAA at-large chances? They have a five-game winning streak after blasting BYU 88-74 on Saturday (they led by 22 points at the half). UNLV is 8-1 in road games, 4-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 8-3 against the top 100. UNLV beat traditional powers such as Louisville (home) and Arizona (road) and won in tough environments like The Pit at New Mexico. The Rebels play the Lobos in the rematch on Wednesday night and play at San Diego State on Saturday. If they beat the Lobos again and sweep both games, it might be time to move them up a line.
San Diego State [16-7 (5-4), RPI: 41, SOS: 54] The Aztecs put up a great fight at New Mexico on Saturday, losing 88-86 in overtime. But time might be running out on San Diego State's NCAA at-large chances. The Aztecs have fallen two games behind the other MWC contenders in the league standings and they appear to be way back in the bubble hunt, too. San Diego State just doesn't have as strong of a profile as teams like BYU, New Mexico and UNLV. The Aztecs have one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating the Lobos 74-64 on Jan. 5. Their only other victory that might carry some weight is a 63-46 win over Arizona at home on Dec. 12. To have any chance at an at-large bid, San Diego State might have to beat UNLV on Saturday and win at BYU on Feb. 24.
|Work left to do: California, Washington|
The much-maligned conference from the West Coast still looks like a one-bid league this season. California still has the best computer profile among Pac-10 members, but Washington is playing the best basketball right now. The Bears and Huskies will square off at Cal on Thursday night. Arizona and Arizona State suffered forgettable trips to the Apple State, knocking them out of at-large contention for now (and until maybe next season).
California [15-8 (7-4), RPI: 26, SOS: 2] Cal's trip to Los Angeles last week wasn't a complete meltdown, as the Bears salvaged a 72-58 victory at UCLA on Saturday. But the Bears' 66-63 loss at Southern Cal on Thursday night will be difficult to forget anytime soon and might be a win they wish they had on Selection Sunday. The Trojans scored 25 consecutive points to wipe out Cal's 13-point lead after halftime. Somehow, the Bears remain in first place in the Pac-10 standings with a 7-4 record against league opponents. At least Cal's four-game road trip is in its rear-view mirror. It plays Washington at home on Thursday night in a game that could go a long way in determining the Pac-10 regular-season championship. Cal's overall profile is still pretty weak. It's 0-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 3-7 against the top 100. The Bears' best wins came against RPI No. 77 Arizona State, No. 80 USC and No. 90 Murray State. Here's the biggest hazard of playing in the Pac-10 this season: none of Cal's remaining seven opponents are ranked in the RPI top 50.
Washington [16-7 (6-5), RPI: 55, SOS: 47] The Huskies have won four games in a row and might be the Pac-10's last hope for an at-large bid. Washington swept home games against the Arizona schools last week, beating the Wildcats 81-75 on Thursday night and the Sun Devils 79-56 on Saturday. The Huskies didn't play as tough of a schedule as Cal, but at least they have a couple of RPI top-50 wins. Washington beat Texas A&M 73-64 at home on Dec. 22 and defeated Cal 84-69 at home on Jan. 16. That's what makes Thursday's trip to Berkeley, Calif., so important for the Huskies. A sweep of the Bears would give them the head-to-head advantage and also would improve their dreadful 0-6 record in road games. Washington is 2-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-5 against the top 100.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee, Vanderbilt|
Work left to do: Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina
Good balance or more mediocrity? What does it say about the SEC that its next-best teams behind Kentucky have both lost to Georgia? The Bulldogs are only 2-6 in SEC play, but their victories came against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, which seem pretty close to locking up at-large bids. Mississippi State has played its way out of bubble talk for now after losing for the fourth time in five games on Saturday.
Tennessee [18-4 (6-2), RPI: 18, SOS: 44] The Volunteers recovered from their mini-slump at the end of January to win three games in a row, including a 79-53 rout of South Carolina at home on Saturday. Tennessee also survived a 59-54 win at LSU on Thursday night. Thanks mostly to their 76-68 upset of No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10, the Vols seem to be in really good shape. They also defeated RPI top-50 opponents Ole Miss, Charlotte and Florida at home. Tennessee could go a long way in locking up an at-large bid this week, when it plays at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night and at Kentucky on Saturday. A win over either the Commodores or Wildcats would probably be enough to secure Tennessee a spot in the NCAA's 65-team field.
Vanderbilt [17-5 (6-2), RPI: 19, SOS: 24] If not for its stunning 72-58 loss at Georgia on Saturday night, Vanderbilt might have locked up an NCAA at-large bid last week. The Commodores are still in very good shape after beating four RPI top-50 opponents. They defeated Tennessee and Saint Mary's on the road and beat Missouri and Florida at home. If the Commodores can win upcoming home games against Tennessee on Tuesday night and LSU on Saturday, which would improve their SEC record to 8-2, it's hard to imagine them being left out of the NCAA field. The Commodores are 4-1 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-4 against the top 100. They have one unsightly loss, falling 76-69 to RPI No. 171 Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Classic in Nashville in December.
Ole Miss [17-6 (5-4), RPI: 36, SOS: 51] The Rebels somehow rallied from a 20-point deficit at the half to defeat Alabama 74-67 on Saturday. That victory came on the heels of Ole Miss' 85-75 loss at Kentucky on Tuesday night. The Rebels could really use a spark as they head into their last seven regular-season games. They have only one victory over an RPI top-50 foe, beating Kansas State 86-74 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Nov. 20. But Ole Miss hasn't beaten any of the SEC's better teams, losing to Kentucky and Tennessee on the road. The Rebels can't afford a second loss to rival Mississippi State on Thursday night and need to take advantage of consecutive home games against Vanderbilt on Feb. 18 and Florida on Feb. 20.
Florida [17-6 (6-3), RPI: 53, SOS: 82] The Gators have won six of their past seven games to garner some NCAA bubble attention, but their overall profile is still lacking. They haven't beaten an RPI top-50 opponent in more than two months. Florida has two quality nonconference victories, defeating Florida State 68-52 at home on Nov. 24 and beating Michigan State 77-74 at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., on Nov. 27. Florida is 2-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-5 against the top 100. Of some consolation, five of the Gators' six losses came against RPI top-50 opponents (the sixth came against RPI No. 226 South Alabama). Florida plays at South Carolina on Wednesday and then has a chance for a marquee nonconference win when Xavier visits Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday.
South Carolina [13-9 (4-4), RPI: 69, SOS: 28] After losing at Tennessee by 26 points on Saturday, the Gamecocks have absolutely no margin for error down the stretch. The only reason they're still in the bubble discussion is their trio of high-quality wins. South Carolina upset then-No. 1 Kentucky 68-62 on Jan. 26 and defeated Richmond 76-58 at home on Dec. 16. The Gamecocks also defeated South Florida 69-66 in the Charleston Classic on Nov. 20. The Gamecocks probably need to win their next two games: home against Florida on Wednesday and at Georgia on Saturday. They also might need another marquee victory, which could come in a Feb. 20 home game against Tennessee or road games at Kentucky on Feb. 25 and at Vanderbilt on March 6.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Northern Iowa|
Work left to do: UAB, Siena, Old Dominion, Saint Mary's, Cornell, William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth, Northeastern, UTEP, Tulsa
Butler and Gonzaga are in. Northern Iowa is pretty close. But the Colonial Athletic Association and Conference-USA races remain wide open with less than a month to go in the regular season. George Mason and Memphis, two of the more famous underdogs in recent history, have been eliminated from at-large consideration for now. Of course, both teams can still get to the Big Dance by winning their respective conference tournaments.
Northern Iowa [21-2 (12-1), RPI: 13, SOS: 103] The Panthers survived a couple of three-point victories over Wichita State and Southern Illinois to take a commanding three-game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. Northern Iowa has won 20 of its past 21 games and should be heavy favorites in its last five MVC games. The Panthers will host fellow bubble team Old Dominion in a BracketBuster game on Feb. 19. The Panthers are 2-1 against RPI top-50 foes, beating Siena 82-65 on Dec. 12 and Wichita State 59-56 last week. It split games with the Shockers, losing 60-51 on the road on Jan. 19, and also lost to RPI No. 153 DePaul 60-52 in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 20.
UAB [19-4 (7-2), RPI: 29, SOS: 106] The Blazers ended a two-game losing streak by beating Rice 76-65 on the road on Saturday, staying within one game of UTEP in the Conference USA standings. UAB is riding one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, defeating Butler 67-57 at home on Dec. 22. It also has so-so victories over Cincinnati (home), Tulsa (home), Marshall (road) and Georgia (home). The Blazers are 5-4 against RPI top-100 opponents and 14 of their 19 victories came against sub-100 foes. They host Marshall on Saturday and will need to beat UTEP on the road on March 6 to earn a split with the Miners.
Siena [20-4 (13-0), RPI: 34, SOS: 138] The Saints keep plugging away, winning 14 games in a row, the longest such streak in the country. Siena beat Iona 88-68 on Friday night to extend its home winning streak to 33 straight games at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. The Saints will be heavy favorites in their final five Metro Atlantic Conference games. They'll be tested, though, in a Feb. 20 BracketBuster game at Butler. Siena is 0-3 against RPI top-50 foes, losing at Northern Iowa by 17 points, at Temple by four and at Georgia Tech by 10. Of Siena's 20 victories, 17 came against teams ranked outside the RPI top 100.
Old Dominion [18-7 (10-3), RPI: 35, SOS: 73] The Monarchs stayed within one game of Colonial Athletic Association leader Northeastern by splitting a pair of games last week. ODU beat William & Mary 61-42 on Wednesday and then lost at Virginia Commonwealth 70-58 on Saturday. ODU has two high-quality wins, upsetting Georgetown 61-57 on the road on Dec. 19 and blasting Charlotte 81-48 on Dec. 23. It swept games against fellow CAA bubble contender William & Mary, but lost at Northeastern and VCU. ODU will have one more chance to impress the NCAA selection committee when it plays in a BracketBuster game at Northern Iowa on Feb. 19.
Saint Mary's [21-3 (8-1), RPI: 45, SOS: 146] The Gaels' at-large chances might come down to Thursday night's game at Gonzaga. The Gaels and Bulldogs are tied in the loss column in the West Coast Conference standings, but Gonzaga won the first meeting at Saint Mary's 89-82 on Jan. 14. The Gaels have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent (defeated San Diego State 80-58 on Nov. 16), so they desperately need a signature victory. Saint Mary's has so-so wins over Utah State (road) and Northeastern (neutral court). The Gaels were very competitive in losses to Vanderbilt (home) and Southern California (neutral court). What's going to hurt Saint Mary's the most is the fact that 12 of its 20 wins came against teams ranked outside the top 200 of the RPI ratings.
Cornell [20-3 (6-0), RPI: 48, SOS: 196] The Big Red won two games last week after earning a national ranking for the first time since the 1950-51 season. Cornell beat Yale 90-71 on Friday and then defeated Brown 74-60 the next day. The Big Red plays at Penn on Friday and then plays at Princeton on Saturday. The Tigers are 4-0 in Ivy League play and might present Cornell with its toughest remaining challenges. The Big Red won 71-67 at Alabama and 71-66 at St. John's. It also lost at Syracuse by 15 points and at Kansas by five. Cornell is 0-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 3-3 against the top 100. Since the Ivy League awards its automatic NCAA tournament bid to its regular-season champion, Cornell needs to win at Harvard in the rematch on Feb. 19 to feel really confident about making the NCAA field.
William & Mary [16-7 (8-5), RPI: 51, SOS: 81] The Tribe's NCAA at-large hopes are probably on life support after they lost four of their past six games. William & Mary split two games last week, but lost the game that really mattered. The Tribe fell at Old Dominion 61-42 on Wednesday, and then wasn't very impressive in a 59-56 victory at Georgia State on Saturday. William & Mary has three victories that will outweigh most of the other at-large contenders. The Tribe won road games at Wake Forest and Maryland and defeated Richmond at home. But the Tribe also have two really bad losses, falling in road games at RPI No. 215 North Carolina-Wilmington and at No. 245 James Madison. William & Mary hosts Delaware on Wednesday and Northeastern on Saturday, and can't afford to drop either contest.
Virginia Commonwealth [17-5 (9-4), RPI: 52, SOS: 142] The Rams handled Old Dominion 70-58 on Saturday, winning their fourth game in a row to stay in the Colonial Athletic Association race. VCU's victory over the Monarchs was its third win over an RPI top-50 opponent. It also beat Rhode Island 82-80 at home on Dec. 2 and Richmond 65-57 at home on Dec. 12. The Rams also have victories over William & Mary (home), Nevada (home) and Oklahoma (home). VCU is 3-0 against RPI top-25 foes and 6-4 against the top 100. It plays at George Mason on Tuesday and at James Madison on Saturday. The Rams were swept by Northeastern and split games with William & Mary. The Rams have one big blemish on their resume, losing at RPI No. 118 Western Michigan 83-67 on Nov. 18.
Northeastern [16-8 (11-2), RPI: 54, SOS: 57] The Huskies won a pair of road games last week, defeating Delaware 67-51 on Tuesday and Hofstra 75-55 on Saturday, to stay in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings. Northeastern has one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Old Dominion 74-64 on Jan. 30. It also has so-so victories over Utah State (home), Virginia Commonwealth (home and road) and Kent State (neutral court). The Huskies also were competitive in three losses to RPI top-50 teams, losing at Siena by six points, at Rhode Island by three and against Saint Mary's by four on a neutral court. But the Huskies also were swept by Drexel and have three sub-100 losses, falling to No. 104 Providence (home), No. 118 Western Michigan (neutral court) and No. 161 Boston U. (road). Northeastern hosts Georgia State on Wednesday and plays at William & Mary on Saturday. It will host Louisiana Tech in a Feb. 20 Bracket Buster game.
UTEP [17-5 (8-1), RPI: 58, SOS: 111] The Miners have taken control of the Conference USA race by beating UAB and Tulsa in the last nine days. UTEP won 74-65 in double overtime at UAB on Jan. 30 and then defeated Tulsa 73-59 at home on Saturday night. But with a 1-3 record against RPI top-50 opponents, the Miners will probably have to do more to garner serious at-large consideration. Along with the victories over UAB and Tulsa, UTEP has so-so victories over Memphis and Oklahoma. It has one unsightly loss, losing 75-65 at RPI No. 158 Houston on Jan. 13. The Miners were pretty competitive in three top-50 losses, losing to BYU by six points, at Texas Tech by eight and to Ole Miss by 10 in overtime. UTEP plays at SMU on Wednesday and hosts East Carolina on Saturday. The C-USA race probably won't be decided until after the Miners play at Tulsa on Feb. 20 and host UAB on March 6.
Tulsa [18-5 (7-2), RPI: 62, SOS: 155] The Golden Hurricane might have whiffed on their chance at an at-large bid by losing at UTEP on Saturday night. There just isn't much meat on their overall profile. Tulsa has one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, defeating Oklahoma State 86-65 at home on Dec. 2. The Golden Hurricane also beat Marshall 73-69 at home on Feb. 3. Tulsa is 2-4 against RPI top-100 opponents and 15 of its 17 victories came against sub-100 opponents. In fact, eight of its wins came against sub-200 opponents. Tulsa suffered a four-point loss to Nebraska and 31-point loss to Nevada. Still, Tulsa is only one game behind UTEP in the C-USA standings and hosts the Miners on Feb. 20.