College Basketball Bubble Watch
So much is changing, we had to double up
As you also may have noticed, since you're reading this and it's not Wednesday, we have moved to a twice-weekly schedule here at the Drive to 65. That's not a coincidence.
What's more, when biweekly becomes plainly insufficient later this month as we close in on Championship Week, we'll be coming at you daily until Selection Sunday.
Anything for you guys.
Twice the bubble buzz doesn't mean there's half as much going on, though. It's much the opposite, really, as the big picture gets clearer and we start to be able to better parse individual teams against one another. Each game played from this point forward could be the difference between "in" and "on thin ice."
Getting to our regularly scheduled reader request, this edition also marks the return of "the box" -- the nifty little table below that shows exactly how many at-large spots still look to be up for grabs. Again, anything for you guys.
|The Bubble Breakdown|
|CONFERENCE||LOCKS||SHOULD BE INS||AT-LARGES TAKEN
(assuming no auto bid outlier)
As you can tell, a lot of the spots already look spoken for -- 26 of the 34 available at-larges, to be exact. The good news for you high-major fans out there? The crop of viable mid-majors looks particularly weak this season. It's actually possible that all of the WCC, C-USA, CAA, MAC and A-10 will only get one bid each (as in a total of zero at-larges). Stranger things have happened, so get ready to shine up those .500 league finishes and win that first-round conference tourney game, baby! You never know what a couple of late wins can do ...
As always, I've tried to be as inclusive as possible while only including teams that would have a reasonable chance of at least being discussed if this were Selection Sunday. If your team's not on here, there's probably a good reason (or three) -- start with the RPI and SOS numbers and work your way down.
If you have a legitimate grievance, or just like talking bubble, send an e-mail. Polite ones with fact-based arguments have a much better chance of receiving a response. I apologize in advance if I can't get back to all of you.
(Please remember, per selection committee criteria, that records displayed are Division I only. Next update: Feb. 14)
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Duke, Virginia, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Clemson|
Work left to do: Maryland, Florida State, Georgia Tech
The big news is the weakening position of Duke, which would still get in as of today, but is starting to find increasing amounts of trouble. Overall, the league looks like it has a pretty solid shot at seven bids.
Should be in:
Duke [27-5 (14-4), RPI: 1, SOS: 1] Given the 18-3 start, the thought of Duke missing the NCAAs seems outrageous on the surface, but a quick look at the remaining schedule shows it's not impossible. Having lost four straight, the Devils still have road games left at BC, Clemson and UNC. If they don't get any of those, they are 7-9 (at best) in ACC play. What happens if they then fall in the ACC quarters? Could the committee possibly leave out a 21-win Duke team? A lot would have to go wrong down the stretch, but this team is no longer an absolute lock to get in. Do remember, though, that Duke has beaten Air Force, Georgetown, Indiana and Gonzaga in nonconference play. That's better than a lot of high-majors.
Virginia [21-11 (11-7), RPI: 74, SOS: 130] Ouch. After the ESPN.com love on Friday, the Cavaliers waltzed into Blacksburg and got blasted by the Hokies. This is still one of the nation's most impressive in-season turnarounds, though. Left for dead after the Puerto Rico disaster and (competitive) losses to Stanford, UNC and BC, the Cavaliers ripped off seven wins in a row and have an very manageable schedule the rest of the way. The computer numbers are OK for now (but won't be helped by the game against Longwood) but that probably won't matter because UVA looks a good bet for 11 ACC wins. They also have beaten Arizona and Gonzaga.
Boston College [16-17 (7-11), RPI: 112, SOS: 40] The Eagles are basically a lock at this point after the huge one-point win at Florida State on Sunday. I just don't like moving teams in and out of that category, so I'll wait until they get one more ACC win. Wednesday against Duke looks nice. The only hangups are the tough next five games and the couple of really bad nonconference losses. BC's now 5-2 since losing Sean Williams.
Virginia Tech [13-19 (4-14), RPI: 174, SOS: 78] We gave the Hokies a mulligan for their 21-point L at BC, and they paid it off in spades by thrashing Virginia. That was a very important win with road games at NC State and UNC up next. Will those two earlier one-point L's come back to bite? Wins over Duke and North Carolina, along with a handful of other decent W's, support an at-large cause. Computer numbers are OK for now.
Clemson [13-18 (5-13), RPI: 181, SOS: 123] A big home win over Florida State stops the bleeding for now. The Tigers still have dropped five of seven since a 17-0 start, but the remaining schedule is favorable. Clemson definitely wants to get to at least 8-8 in ACC play, so the next one (at Wake) is critical. If the Tigers fall there, they could be courting trouble.
Work left to do:
Maryland [22-12 (8-10), RPI: 72, SOS: 104] The Terps pretty much had to beat Duke on Sunday to save their season and they got it done in fine fashion. Maryland still needs to go 4-2 just to get to .500 in ACC play (which still will be precarious) and still have road games at NC State, Clemson and Duke, and also face UNC at home, too. The CvC title seems like ages ago for a team that's lost five of its last eight.
Florida State [18-15 (9-9), RPI: 84, SOS: 41] Tough, tough one-point home loss to BC Sunday may loom very large in about four weeks. Yes, I know the 'Noles won at Duke, but I still think the Devils' overall profile is better at this point. Now back under .500 in ACC play, FSU is behind Clemson after the Tigers just finished off a head-to-head sweep. These two losses puts immense pressure on the 'Noles at home against Ga Tech. Three of the final four after that are on the road (at Virginia, Maryland and Miami), where the 'Noles struggle. FSU does have the win over Florida, but not too much else in nonconference play. Excellent computer numbers, even though part of it a product of playing (and getting pounded by) Pitt, Wisconsin and UNC.
Georgia Tech [16-15 (6-12), RPI: 148, SOS: 128] The Jackets beat UConn on Sunday to keep the momentum going and back up important wins over Clemson and NC State at home. They still are in a lot of trouble, though. GT only will be strongly favored in one of its final six (home to Wake Forest) and the Jackets still have road games at Florida State, Duke and Virginia. Wins over Memphis and Duke help, but not enough at this point with the middling RPI and SOS.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Georgetown, Villanova, West Virginia|
Work left to do: Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Providence
Pitt and Marquette are good to go. Georgetown is a virtual lock at this point. West Virginia got a huge home win over UCLA to overset getting routed by Pitt. Notre Dame is courting disaster. Villanova's improved its lot.
Should be in:
Georgetown [25-6 (14-4), RPI: 10, SOS: 20] Pounded Marquette at home after winning at Louisville to cap a big week with a seven-game winning streak. Computer numbers are so-so, but double-digit Big East wins will remedy that problem. The Hoyas look all but set to be dancing.
Villanova [19-13 (10-8), RPI: 51, SOS: 22] Winning at Seton Hall was big to get back to .500 in conference. The 'Cats look reasonably solid to get to 9-7, which should be enough. Computer numbers remain excellent, but there's still no real marquee win to shop around. Beating G'town (for the sweep) or Marquette would be nice.
West Virginia [13-19 (6-12), RPI: 145, SOS: 50] Disappointing home pounding by rival Pitt was (mostly) washed away by the huge nonconference win over UCLA. The 'Eers still have roadies at G'town, Providence and Pitt in the next four, but with home games against Seton Hall and Cincy left, too, WVU can very easily get to 9-7, which could be enough along with the UCLA win. The computer numbers will be helped by the opposition. 10-6 would be golden now.
Work left to do:
Louisville [29-5 (14-4), RPI: 3, SOS: 6] The home loss to G'town could be very costly. The next two (at Pitt, at Marquette) provide oppotunity, but are both very tough spots. If they don't get one of those, the Cards likely will have to win their final three to be in any position for an at-large. 10 wins in league play (and 20 overall) still remains possible, but there's no room for error now. Now 0-5 vs. RPI Top 50 with a weak NonConf SOS (163), neither of which help.
Syracuse [26-9 (11-7), RPI: 13, SOS: 5] The Orange had almost a week to stew over the loss at UConn, but it didn't seem to do all that much good. They did scrape past St. John's at home by a deuce, though, to get back over .500 in conference play. The next two games (at South Florida, UConn) are absolutely crucial, as the final three (at Provy, G'town, at 'Nova) are not easy. The win at Marquette definitely helps on the marquee ledger, but it's likely not enough right now with home losses to Wichita State and Drexel on the tab, too.
Notre Dame [25-9 (11-7), RPI: 36, SOS: 62] Will the Irish look back at the one- point L at DePaul with huge regrets? Three of the final five are at home, but ND's rapidly slipping toward bubbledom. The "big" nonconference wins over Maryland and Alabama are getting weaker and weaker, which helps explain the middling RPI. 9-7 is probably a must in Big East play and 10 would be an even better idea with their relatively manageable schedule.
Providence [17-14 (9-9), RPI: 89, SOS: 61] Good effort at Marquette almost was wiped out by a near collapse against Cincy, but the Friars held on. They could very well lose the next two (at Pitt, at ND) to drop under .500, and while the last five are all winnable, having the pressure of getting at least four to get to 9-7 means an upset in the next two would be huge.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Indiana|
Work left to do: Michigan State, Michigan, Illinois, Purdue
Wisconsin and Ohio State are beyond locks. Indiana's practically there. After that, is there anyone else? For all the calls for Iowa before today, I can't rationalize adding a 14-11 team with an RPI north of 80 and a 2-8 record in Top 50 games. What looked like a possible five bids recently could be crumbling toward three.
Should be in:
Indiana [27-6 (14-4), RPI: 7, SOS: 11] Got past a gritty Illinois squad Saturday to help ease the disappointment from the Iowa loss. The Hoosiers still look very solid to get to 10 Big Ten wins and make their way into the dance. IU also has beaten MVC co-leader Southern Illinois and none of its nonconference losses -- Butler (N), at Duke, at Kentucky -- is bad at all.
Work left to do:
Michigan State [24-8 (13-5), RPI: 8, SOS: 4] Losing by 24 at Purdue may be the loss the cripples the Spartans. The computer numbers are fading quickly. MSU plays a quasi-knockout game at home against Michigan on Tuesday. Beating Texas early will hold up well, as will the rout of Bradley, but they likely need to be above .500 in a modest Big Ten.
Michigan [25-7 (12-6), RPI: 17, SOS: 68] Barely squeaking by Minnesota at home is not the boost Michigan needed, although any win helps. The remaining schedule is very difficult. There is no marquee win in the profile and the Wolverines were splattered in several name games. Only 2-6 against the RPI Top 100 and a nonconference SOS of 150 aren't helping, either.
Illinois [21-12 (8-10), RPI: 39, SOS: 9] Game effort at Indiana, but the Illini missed out on what could have been a really big road win. Illinois will have its chances to get to 9-7 in the conference. The SOS is good. The RPI is questionable for an at-large. Despite all that, Illinois might be fourth in the conference pecking order right now.
Purdue [15-17 (8-10), RPI: 132, SOS: 80] Gave it up late at Ohio State and missed a chance for a huge upset. Routing Michigan State was a big boost, but the Boilers will need more. The last three are home-and-home with Northwestern wrapped around a home game with Minnesota, so a split of the next two (Indiana, at Iowa) would put 9-7 (and a 20-win season) within reach. Would that be enough?
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Kansas State, Texas|
Work left to do: Oklahoma, Texas Tech
Texas A&M and Kansas are golden. Oklahoma State still is a lock after holding off Texas Tech. Texas still should be in good shape despite a very modest RPI. K-State is looking solid, too. Texas Tech's in a lot of trouble.
Should be in:
Kansas State [26-7 (14-4), RPI: 21, SOS: 58] Rolled past Colorado to help salve the sting of the flop in Lawrence. The net result is fine for the 'Cats, though. Cartier Martin & Co. still have some very winnable games (at Colorado, home to Iowa State) left to improve their position. The win over USC looks good. The 30-point loss to Cal doesn't.
Texas [16-16 (7-11), RPI: 115, SOS: 79] Interesting debate mid-week at the USBWA mock selection meeting, where the concept of Texas "feeling like an NCAA team" was discussed. I happen to agree, as there's no way anyone wants to play this team in the first round. In this case, try to ignore the weakish computer numbers. FWIW, the Horns have beaten LSU and Arkansas and six of the losses are on the road or at neutral sites.
Work left to do:
Oklahoma [20-11 (11-7), RPI: 42, SOS: 26] The Sooners bounce into the watch on the strength of four straight conference wins and a 6-4 league mark. OU better get a win at Iowa State on Tuesday, because the last five are very rough. That said, OU will have chances to add marquee wins to its OK State victory. Only 2-7 vs. RPI Top 50 doesn't help.
Texas Tech [11-20 (3-15), RPI: 213, SOS: 91] Tough, tough two-point loss at OK State on Saturday puts the Red Raiders in very rough shape. That's five straight losses for a team that still has roadies at A&M and Texas in the next three. The brutal home loss to Nebraska may ultimately be the killer. The RPI is slipping rapidly and this is starting to smell like an NIT team.
|Teams that should be in: USC|
Work left to do: Stanford, Washington
Six bids looks extremely possible at this point, even with Stanford taking a step back. Seven's still not impossible, but it probably will have to come from a Washington surge. Arizona moves to lock status after beating Oregon in Eugene. This is probably the clearest major-conference picture in the land right now.
Should be in:
USC [14-18 (9-9), RPI: 119, SOS: 36] Tough loss again to in-town rival UCLA, but it shouldn't impact the Trojans' status that much. Only the softish computer numbers are holding USC back right now. The Trojans will have had more than a week to prepare for a game at Arizona on Thursday. The Trojans have swept Oregon and already beaten 'Zona, and also have beaten GW and Wichita State (neutral).
Work left to do:
Stanford [18-14 (9-9), RPI: 75, SOS: 45] More worrisome than the weekend sweep at the hands of the Washington schools were the offensive brownouts in both games. Wazzu tends to do that to people, but nine points in the first 17 minutes of the second half at UW?? With home games against Oregon State and Arizona State left, Stanford still is in fairly strong position to get to 10 league wins (and an NCAA berth). There are several other marquee shots down the stretch which should help stabilize the computer profile. A couple of bad nonconference losses could come into play.
Washington [18-15 (9-9), RPI: 87, SOS: 35] The Huskies did what they had to do, sweeping the Bay Area. Now Wazzu comes in ahead of a trip to Pitt. Five of the Huskies' last six opponents are ranked, so they will have plenty of RPI help and chances for big wins. The Huskies, at this point, are far from dead.
|Teams that should be in: Tennessee|
Work left to do: Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Georgia
Should be in:
Tennessee [20-12 (11-7), RPI: 58, SOS: 51] The Vols bludgeoned Vandy at home to continue to move toward a bid. Still only 5-5 and with a daunting schedule ahead, the Vols will need to be careful, but Chris Lofton's continued return to health is a big plus. Tennessee needs to bank some home wins in the next three before a tough final three games. Computer numbers remain very strong.
Work left to do:
Ole Miss [26-8 (12-6), RPI: 48, SOS: 136] Big win over Alabama at home moved the Rebels into a tie for first in the West. Now they have to handle LSU at home. They avoid Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in their last six, so why couldn't the Rebels get to 10-6? Someone has to win these games.
Alabama [20-12 (12-6), RPI: 60, SOS: 84] As hinted at on Wednesday, Ole Miss wasn't easy and the Tide ate a loss they really couldn't afford -- not with at Florida, Kentucky and at Tennessee up next. If they can't get at least one of those, the heat will be extremely high entering the last three.
Arkansas [19-13 (10-8), RPI: 88, SOS: 88] Arkansas picked a bad time to be the team that LSU finally beat. 8-8 very well could win the SEC West, but can the Hogs get there? They have beaten Southern Illinois on a neutral court in nonconference play, but this profile looks dicey right now, as does the entire rest of their division.
Vanderbilt [16-17 (8-10), RPI: 110, SOS: 49] The 'Dores got slammed at Tennessee but still remain in decent position. The home game against South Carolina is pivotal before the home game with Florida. Vandy still can smell 10 conference wins, even playing in the much tougher East.
Georgia [15-17 (9-9), RPI: 141, SOS: 69] Important win at South Carolina after losing to Florida at home. The Bulldogs have a favorable next three in league play (Auburn, at Ole Miss, Miss. State) with which to compile some currency before the last two at UK and vs. Tennessee.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Brigham Young|
Work left to do: Gonzaga, Virginia Commonwealth, San Diego State, Massachusetts, New Mexico State, Davidson, Xavier, Drexel, Appalachian State, Winthrop, Old Dominion, Hofstra
Memphis, Air Force, Butler, UNLV and Nevada remain locks. BYU is all but there, too. GW exits stage left, and probably should be followed by New Mexico State, but we'll be nice, for now.
Beyond that, here's the best approximation of the teams that have a reasonable chance at this point of an at-large bid.
Worth noting -- there's still probably no reasonable at-large candidate in the MAC (despite Akron's progress, the Zips are only 1-2 against the Top 100), WCC (outside of Gonzaga, although Santa Clara's playing well) or C-USA (outside of Memphis). The CAA champ might have a fairly legit case, but that's no lock, either. Beyond that? It could be a big year for the middling high-majors, as this field is not terribly inspiring.
Should be in:
Brigham Young [20-11 (10-6), RPI: 65, SOS: 92] Got the road win it needed at TCU to get back to its impenetrable Marriott Center home, where the Cougars have won 28 straight games, with its position looking really good. The lack of any nonconference heft is the only thing holding the Cougars back from lock status, but that might not matter. The Mountain West looks very good to get three bids this season.
Work left to do:
Gonzaga [30-2 (16-0), RPI: 6, SOS: 96] Got past St. Mary's on Saturday without the suspended Josh Heytvelt but the Zags' problems could, er, mushroom on Monday if they fall at home to Santa Clara and relinquish the WCC lead. Memphis coming to Spokane Arena for a high-profile nonconference game has become bigger. The Zags have beaten UNC, Texas and Washington and not really done anything egregious on the downside, other than the total number of losses. The computer numbers are very questionable, though. Even if they don't win the WCC's auto bid, I'd have a hard time not taking the Zags, but what if they finish second in the regular season, too??
Virginia Commonwealth [26-8 (12-4), RPI: 24, SOS: 33] Got beaten by ODU and lost any wiggle room in the CAA. Now being chased by two teams a game back, the good news is the last three CAA games are against teams that are 4-11 or worse in league play. 16-2 and a CAA championship should be worth an at-large, in my book. There's no real heft anywhere in the nonconference win column and the overall SOS is bad for an at-large candidate, but how could the committee neg the winner of this league, especially if it's by multiple games and/or with a gaudy record?
San Diego State [20-10 (9-7), RPI: 29, SOS: 25] The Aztecs jump into the fray after pounding Air Force and then taking down Colorado State in Fort Collins. Tuesday night at home to UNLV is a huge game. If the Aztecs get that one, they could be set up for a late-season dash for an at-large. Cal and St. Mary's are the most notable wins on a subpar nonconference ledger.
Massachusetts [21-11 (9-7), RPI: 55, SOS: 73] The Minutemen pounded Rhode Island to take over first place in the A-10 ... and then lost at Temple. At-large chances are almost nil at this point. They are 0-4 against the RPI Top 50 and only 2-4 against the Top 100.
New Mexico State [23-10 (14-4), RPI: 57, SOS: 126] Back-to-back losses at Utah State and Fresno State probably ended any at-large hopes. This team is better than its computer numbers indicate, but this is too many losses, especially as the host of the conference tournament, where a loss there would be a killer.
Davidson [25-7 (17-1), RPI: 62, SOS: 203] If the Wildcats can get past CofC on the road, they'll probably win their last five to close SoCon play and win the league at 17-1. Not being in BracketBusters might really hurt, and they don't get another shot at App State, the only SoCon loss, until the conference tournament.
Xavier [17-14 (9-7), RPI: 90, SOS: 60] An impressive pounding of GW probably makes the Muskies the most likely at-large candidate in the A-10, not that that is a great place to be right now. X beat VCU, Villanova, Illinois and K-State in nonconference play, so there's some solid heft there.
Drexel [13-18 (9-9), RPI: 206, SOS: 172] It might be too late, but the Dragons won at Hofstra and handled Delaware. With a final three in the CAA including home-and-home with W&M and at Towson, 14-4 is very possible. The Dragons probably need to win at Creighton in BB, though, as 14 wins probably won't win the CAA. The Dragons have a number of very good wins (including at Syracuse, at Villanova, vs. Saint Joe's) and several curious losses (at Penn by 19, at Rider) in nonconference play.
Appalachian State [13-16 (10-8), RPI: 267, SOS: 325] Back on the winning track against Wofford, but the four-point loss at Furman may prove too much to overcome. This is a good team, though, that could trouble someone in the NCAAs if it gets there. The Puerto Rico tournament title that included wins over Virginia and Vandy, and a subsequent win over VCU, all look great right now. If the SoCon final is Davidson/App State, that's must-watch TV for any good basketball fan.
Winthrop [11-17 (6-10), RPI: 269, SOS: 243] The Eagles didn't get a lot of love at the USBWA mock selection meeting on Wednesday and their four non-DI wins may be a killer come at-large time, if one is needed. The Eagles probably need to stay perfect and win at MO State in BracketBusters to have a legitimate at-large chance. Missing on all four marquee nonconference chances won't help at all, which is a shame, because this team can really play.
Old Dominion [5-25 (3-15), RPI: 318, SOS: 157] Everything tightened up in the CAA after ODU smacked league leader VCU on Saturday for its seventh straight win. Now both the Monarchs and Hofstra are a game back -- and the two teams meet in a de facto at-large elimination game on Tuesday at ODU. Hofstra won the meeting on LI by 12. None of the losses is bad and the win at Georgetown was very nice, but the Monarchs very well might need to get a piece of the CAA regular-season crown to have a legit claim for an at-large.
Hofstra [6-25 (4-14), RPI: 325, SOS: 195] Losing at home to Drexel might be the killer, as even with VCU's loss to ODU, the Pride still are a game out of first. Game at ODU on Tuesday is an elimination game in all likelihood. Holy Cross in BracketBusters is a classic "no help" game for the Pride, one that is no gimme at all in the W column.