College Basketball Bubble Watch
Pass or fail time for teams still on the bubble
Thank you, Kent State. Glad to see some team finally gets that you are supposed to win your way into the field of 65, not just lose fewer games than the rest of the bubble brethren. The Golden Flashes clearly were the big winners of the BracketBusters event. They had the most at stake entering Saturday and now have every right to expect strong at-large consideration, if needed.
In general, it was a weird week. A slew of teams that were in good position really slipped, while a comparable number of teams that were dicey now look much stronger. What that leaves, especially in leagues like the ACC, Big 12, SEC and A-10, is a complete morass in the middle. It's hard to recall a season in which there was this much potential variance for this many major conferences this late in the season. It should make the major-conference portion of championship week much more interesting than usual.
Outside the seven conferences broken out below, there's an increasingly large number of teams positioning themselves for at-large bids, if they need them. For fans of bubblers, here's a handy list of teams you are rooting for to win their conference tournaments (and, more than likely, save an at-large for someone else): Memphis (C-USA), Drake (Missouri Valley), Butler (Horizon), South Alabama (Sun Belt), BYU (Mountain West), Kent State (MAC), Gonzaga/Saint Mary's (WCC). How those leagues go will have a big effect on how many borderline teams will make it on March 16.
One more piece of good news: We're amping things up to twice a week now, so check out the next update on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
As always, the records listed are Division I only, per NCAA Tournament selection guidelines. If you have a legitimate grievance or just like talking bubble, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Next update: Feb. 27.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Dayton, Temple, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph's|
Things are breaking the wrong way for the A-10, with Xavier creating tons of clearance at the top and everyone else mushing together in an indistinguishable middle. Some huge games Sunday will help determine what this landscape will look like in the next update Wednesday. Right now, the league is on the brink of ending up with just two bids, which was unthinkable for most of the season.
Work left to do:
Dayton [25-8 (13-5), RPI: 32, SOS: 113] Losing at La Salle on Thursday was a crushing blow. Now the Flyers have a huge shot at Xavier on Sunday at home. If they can't handle the X-men, they will be 5-8 in league play and in rough shape. Yes, the Flyers should get a lot of consideration for Chris Wright's absence, but they have a lot of league losses, and there is no guarantee they will look as formidable as they did when he returns. Dayton had two outstanding nonconference wins -- at Louisville and versus Pitt -- and several other solid nonleague wins, which should help bolster the Flyers' case if Wright can make it back.
Temple [23-10 (13-5), RPI: 34, SOS: 61] The loss to Fordham on Saturday at home more or less eliminated the Owls, who now probably need to win their last four to have any reasonable chance. Their nonconference schedule is littered with seven losses, which could be too many to make up, barring a huge push down the stretch and a strong A-10 tournament.
Rhode Island [21-9 (13-5), RPI: 65, SOS: 145] The Rams lost this past week at home to Xavier and UMass (getting swept by the Minutemen) and now are in very precarious position. Sunday's home game against Saint Joe's is a virtual must-win. A nonconference win over Syracuse is the best the Rams have to offer in that category, and their RPI rapidly decayed with these home losses. Right now, this is a profile that is screaming to be omitted come Selection Sunday, which is shocking, given where the Rams were just a couple of weeks ago.
Massachusetts [17-15 (10-8), RPI: 80, SOS: 36] How quickly things can change in this league. Left for virtual dead a week ago, the Minutemen clearly were the big winners in the A-10 this week. Handling Saint Louis at home, then getting a win (and a season sweep) at Rhode Island put UMass in fairly strong shape. The Minutemen are a robust 5-2 against the RPI Top 50. Their last four (St. Bona, at Richmond, La Salle, at GW) are about as soft as you can get in this conference, even though several of those teams are playing much better. Their RPI is hanging in there. UMass was swept by Saint Joseph's and lost to Xavier, but beat Dayton and Charlotte in its only meetings with those teams. Like Rhode Island, it beat Syracuse. But unlike the Rams, the Minutemen also beat BC and Houston in nonconference play, so they have more on which to lean.
Saint Joseph's [13-18 (7-11), RPI: 182, SOS: 103] The Hawks dropped three of their past four league games, but with the way the entire league is backsliding, they still find themselves in second place heading into Sunday's big game at Rhode Island. The season sweep of UMass could be a huge chip come Selection Sunday, especially as the Minutemen have surged into bubble contention. Saint Joe's also has one of the toughest collections of nonleague losses in the land. Two were in overtime (Gonzaga, at Creighton), and two were close defeats (at Syracuse, Holy Cross). Still, its RPI is pretty suspect, and with a bunch of home games to close, 10-6 might be the target.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Clemson|
Work left to do: Maryland, Miami (FL), Wake Forest, Virginia Tech
What Maryland giveth away, Miami taketh, and each team's fortune looks vastly different this week. A lot of the pecking order will be established in the last three or four games before the ACC tourney. Beyond Duke, UNC and Clemson, there is no other team that looks likely to make it at this point.
Should be in:
Clemson [16-15 (8-10), RPI: 103, SOS: 64] Not being able to take care of business in Tallahassee put a bit more pressure on the Tigers. But they could get two more regular-season wins in their last four games, and that should be enough. Clemson still looks like ACC team No. 3, especially with Maryland's fade. Wins over Purdue and Mississippi State in nonconference play look very solid.
Work left to do:
Maryland [27-6 (14-4), RPI: 12, SOS: 55] The Terps are officially back in trouble after dropping games to Virginia Tech (finishing a season sweep) and at Miami (in the teams' only meeting). Their RPI is extremely questionable for an at-large bid, due in part to a number of home and neutral losses in nonconference play. One of those, to VCU, could hurt if the Rams don't win the CAA auto bid. Maryland needs to find three more wins (including the ACC tourney) to have a truly legit claim.
Miami (FL) [21-12 (10-8), RPI: 62, SOS: 77] The Canes were huge movers this week, running their winning streak to four after beating Georgia Tech, Duke and Maryland. Suddenly, the Canes' computer profile doesn't seem as out of line with what they have done on the court. Miami had a few credible wins in nonconference play, including victories over Mississippi State and VCU.
Wake Forest [13-19 (5-13), RPI: 147, SOS: 27] The Deacons greatly improved their lot by upsetting Duke last Sunday. Now they head to Chapel Hill for another shot at a big win. Their best work in nonconference play was their home win over BYU. None of the losses were bad.
Virginia Tech [11-22 (2-16), RPI: 227, SOS: 81] It's time to take another look at the Hokies now that they are over .500 in the league. Their next two games are at home (Boston College and Wake Forest), so a 9-7 finish isn't at all unreasonable. If they can win a couple of ACC tourney games, they could make a late run to the Dance. The problem is, their nonconference schedule has next to nothing, other than losses to very good (and a couple of OK) teams.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Kansas State|
This wasn't a great week for the Big 12, as the two teams in best position -- Kansas State and Texas A&M -- both backslid with a pair of losses. Now there is a bit more of a muddle in the middle, and with the schedules breaking the way they do, it could be even more bunched up next week. Right now, there might be anywhere from four to six bids in this conference, depending on the stretch run.
Work left to do:
Baylor [23-9 (11-7), RPI: 10, SOS: 3] The Bears rebounded from the crushing last-second loss to Oklahoma by taking out Kansas State on Saturday, which is a huge win at this stage. Now back to .500 in the league and with a manageable last four (at Colorado, Mizzou, A&M, at Texas Tech), the Bears are in position to overcome the skid that saw them drop six of seven league games after their five-overtime win at Texas A&M on Jan. 23. Baylor beat Notre Dame and Winthrop on its way to the Paradise Jam title in the Virgin Islands, and it won at South Carolina. The Bears' nonconference losses were by three to Washington State at home and to Arkansas in Dallas.
Oklahoma [22-10 (12-6), RPI: 18, SOS: 17] Stealing the overtime win against Baylor on Tuesday might look huge in three weeks. That finished off a sweep of the bubble-rival Bears and, with the loss that followed at Texas on Saturday, allowed the Sooners to stay at .500 in the league. Their three-game skid in league play earlier this month came when Longar Longar was out, so they should get some consideration there. As far as nonconference play, early losses to Memphis and USC were understandable. The home loss to Stephen F. Austin was less so, even with the excellent season SFA is having. The Sooners did beat Gonzaga and West Virginia on neutral floors for some heft and some good tiebreaking chips if things fall a certain way.
Texas A&M [20-11 (11-7), RPI: 68, SOS: 98] What seemed like a blip (losing to Oklahoma State on Feb. 16 at home) now has become a full-fledged problem, after the Aggies got destroyed at Texas last Monday and lost at home to Nebraska on Saturday. The Aggies have themselves in a bit of a mess. The Wednesday home game against Texas Tech is huge, as are the last three (at Oklahoma, at Baylor, Kansas). It's not certain that their nonconference profile can help them enough to overcome a 7-9 league mark. The Aggies did rout Ohio State early in the season, which could help in a comparison with the equally bubbly Buckeyes. The other wins -- over UTEP, Washington, Alabama and LSU -- were decent but not great. Having blown a big lead and lost at Arizona might prove costly, as well.
Kansas State [15-17 (8-10), RPI: 96, SOS: 20] K-State dropped games at Nebraska and Baylor this week, making it four straight losses away from Bramlage, and the Wildcats now have played themselves into a bit of bubble concern. Their next two games are at home against Texas and at Kansas, so barring an upset in one of those, this profile won't look that great next week. They close with Colorado and at Iowa State, so they still can get to the 10-6 mark, and that should see them through. But room for error is dwindling. Having a win over Kansas never hurts, but a win over Cal is the best thing on a nonconference résumé that includes losses to George Mason, Notre Dame, Oregon and Xavier.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Pittsburgh|
Work left to do: Villanova, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Seton Hall
There's no longer any reason to be stingy in this league. Notre Dame and Marquette have done enough to join the land of the locked. With five good to go, who's next? Pitt looks primed, Syracuse and West Virginia are positioned OK, and who's this ... Villanova??? The Cats are back in the hunt.
Should be in:
Pittsburgh [18-14 (8-10), RPI: 74, SOS: 43] Pitt let one get away Thursday at Notre Dame and now has a big two-game homestand, starting with Louisville on Sunday. The Panthers probably only need to get to 9-9 to get in, but it is no lock that they will do so, given that road trips to Syracuse and West Virginia remain. Their nonconference win over Duke obviously looks great. A victory at Washington probably is the next-best thing on their out-of-conference resume.
Work left to do:
Villanova [32-2 (16-2), RPI: 4, SOS: 52] Now how much are we going to hear about the foul calls against NC State and Georgetown? By beating West Virginia and UConn, the Wildcats thrust themselves right back into the at-large fight, and those two games that were affected by questionable foul calls could be really important. What's now important is finding a way to get Casiem Drummond healthy again. His foot acted up, and he missed the UConn win. Nova's best nonconference win was over George Mason.
West Virginia [23-9 (11-7), RPI: 24, SOS: 39] A 2-1 week kept the Mountaineers on track for the NCAAs. Three of their last four are on the road, where they have struggled, so nothing is set in stone. WVU's two nonconference losses were to Tennessee and Oklahoma on neutral courts (although the loss to the Sooners was in Charleston, W.Va.).
Cincinnati [22-10 (13-5), RPI: 41, SOS: 56] The Bearcats' case remains extremely slim, but there are a couple of big wins available down the stretch, and they still could finish 12-6 in the league. Would that be enough with a decent conference tournament run? It's not impossible, even though it is hard to recall the last at-large team that had a five-game nonconference losing streak. They also lost to Belmont and Bowling Green.
Syracuse [18-13 (9-9), RPI: 67, SOS: 35] The Orange have a big game on tap at Notre Dame on Sunday after losing at Louisville on Monday. They probably need to win two of their last four (at ND, Pitt, at Seton Hall, Marquette) to feel decent about their chances, and none will be easy. In nonconference play, their win at Virginia is the best on an OK slate, and the Cavaliers aren't helping matters by sinking in the ACC. Home losses to UMass and Rhode Island are no disgrace, but certainly don't help.
Seton Hall [16-15 (6-12), RPI: 94, SOS: 72] It looks bad for the Pirates, even though their last four games all are very winnable. As with Syracuse, their best nonconference win was over Virginia, although the Pirates won that one on a neutral court at the Palestra in Philly.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Ohio State|
Michigan State gets locked up again, which makes it four for the league. There appears to be only one more viable contender: Ohio State. The Buckeyes need to start winning some games against comparable opponents.
Work left to do:
Ohio State [23-10 (11-7), RPI: 39, SOS: 74] The Buckeyes have a dangerously empty profile (1-7 vs. RPI Top 50) and a tough stretch run (Wisconsin, at Indiana, at Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State), so don't be surprised if this team finds itself in bubble trouble if it finishes at 9-9 in the Big Ten -- or maybe even 10-8. Wins over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and over Florida in Columbus were the nonconference bright spots. OSU also lost to Tennessee, Texas A&M, North Carolina and Butler.
|Teams that should be in: Arizona, Washington State|
Work left to do: Oregon, California, Arizona State, USC
Five Pac-10 teams seem on their way now that Arizona, Wazzu and USC have consolidated their positions. What will happen after them is anyone's guess. Arizona State might have the best chance of the remaining three, but none are in great shape. Can a league with nine very competitive teams end up with only five bids?
Should be in:
Arizona [31-3 (16-2), RPI: 6, SOS: 38] While it's hard to believe the No. 1 SOS team would be left out, Wildcats fans have to feel a bit better after the win at Washington State on Saturday. If the Cats finish at .500 in the league, which they have a good shot of doing, they should be fine. Even 8-10 might be good enough, given some of the injury issues, but why risk it? The Cats were swept by Arizona State, but it doesn't look likely that those two teams will be on the same evaluation tier come Selection Sunday. Their best nonconference win was over Texas A&M, which is looking dicier by the day. They also won at UNLV and Houston, which are solid road victories.
Washington State [13-18 (7-11), RPI: 163, SOS: 82] Despite yet another home loss (the latest was on Saturday to Arizona), the Cougars still look to be in solid shape. Weirdly, they are 5-2 on the road in league play and just 4-4 at home. Still, they swept both Oregon and USC, which is a nice comparison boost. Nonconference wins at Baylor and Gonzaga also should be helpful, if needed.
Work left to do:
Oregon [24-9 (13-5), RPI: 26, SOS: 48] There is no way to sugarcoat this: The Ducks probably need to win five straight games to make the NCAAs. That would get them to 9-9 and into the Pac-10 semis (including a first-round game as one of the four lowest seeds). The Ducks now are 1-7 against the top four teams in the league, which isn't a great indicator of upside. Kansas State and Utah were their best nonconference wins, but the Ducks also lost at Saint Mary's, Nebraska and Oakland.
California [18-15 (7-11), RPI: 92, SOS: 62] Nothing has changed, as the Golden Bears haven't played since last Saturday. Their final surge starts Sunday at Stanford. Cal probably needs to win four of its last five to have a legit at-large chance, and with road games at the Cardinal and the L.A. schools left, it won't be easy. Cal beat Missouri and San Diego State in an uninspired nonconference slate, and its RPI is extremely weak for an at-large candidate.
Arizona State [17-15 (9-9), RPI: 102, SOS: 66] The Sun Devils got a really, really big win at Washington on Saturday. They still very well might need to get three of their last four, given the weakness of their nonconference profile, but it's possible. They host the L.A. schools, then travel to the Oregon schools to wrap up things. That March 6 game at Oregon has all the makings of a huge bubble game. Their rout of Xavier is a very good chip, but it's the only game from their nonconference run that will help.
USC [12-20 (3-15), RPI: 201, SOS: 88] The Trojans took care of business against the Oregon schools this past week at home and now are in very solid shape. With a road trip to the Arizona schools and then home games against the Bay Area duo, two wins in the last four seems very reasonable. That should be more than enough to get the Trojans dancing. They also swept Oregon, which can't hurt for comparisons with the Ducks. In addition, USC beat Oklahoma, Miami (Ohio) and Southern Illinois for its best nonconference wins. The season-opening loss to Mercer at home hurt, and the Trojans just missed on big-name chances against Kansas and Memphis with two four-point losses.
|Teams that should be in: Mississippi State|
Work left to do: Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida
Mississippi State looks to be closing in on a bid, which would give the SEC three. After that? Arkansas probably is in the best shape, and then the three other teams all have work to do. There still is a pretty wide range of possibilities here. Four bids seems pretty likely. Six seems possible, too.
Should be in:
Mississippi State [12-19 (6-12), RPI: 217, SOS: 125] The Bulldogs split their road trip at Ole Miss and South Carolina this past week, and with the help of Arkansas, remain strongly positioned to win the SEC West. Even if they take out only Auburn and LSU at home, that will be 11 SEC wins, which should be plenty to overcome a so-so nonconference performance and get to the NCAAs. For whatever it's worth, Missouri is the only decent nonconference win, and it's up against losses to Clemson, Southern Illinois, Miami (Ohio), Miami and South Alabama.
Work left to do:
Kentucky [34-0 (18-0), RPI: 1, SOS: 45] Make it eight wins in their past nine games for the Wildcats, who remain on track to get maybe 11 or 12 SEC wins and become a legitimate bubble discussion. If they can handle Ole Miss and Florida at home and a trip to South Carolina, they won't even need to win in Knoxville to get to the dozen mark. Who would have thought this was possible after a bad nonconference slate that included crippling home losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego? Is there any way the ultimate Billy Gillispie irony happens, in which UK makes it and A&M somehow doesn't?
Arkansas [26-8 (13-5), RPI: 19, SOS: 41] The rout of LSU on Wednesday at home takes a bit of the sting off three straight road losses, the latest on Saturday at Kentucky. But the Razorbacks don't have the most favorable schedule for the stretch run. Wednesday's game at struggling Alabama now is pretty important, with Vandy on tap Saturday. The Hogs' nonconference win over Baylor still looks pretty good. Victories over VCU and Missouri are decent, too. Losses to Providence and Appalachian State (the latter in Little Rock) are less so.
Ole Miss [20-12 (11-7), RPI: 57, SOS: 49] Losing by 20 at last-place LSU on Saturday (even with the Tigers playing better lately) could be the blow that ultimately slays the Rebels. That's seven losses in their past 10 games, and their RPI is slipping badly. They very well might need to win their last four league games to have a chance, and that starts Wednesday at Kentucky. A win over Clemson in Puerto Rico was the out-of-league highlight, but their victory over South Alabama was quality, too.
Florida [16-17 (8-10), RPI: 71, SOS: 4] Their only game this week was a three-point home squeaker over South Carolina, so the Gators are more or less in the same position as last week. Their last four (at Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Kentucky) aren't easy, and that trip to Athens looks like a very critical game. Florida's best nonconference win was over Temple, which tells you all you need to know about that part of its schedule. It still could take 10 SEC wins for this club, so there is work left to do, for sure.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: BYU, Saint Mary's, Kent State, South Alabama|
Work left to do: VCU, Davidson, Stephen F Austin, Illinois State, UNLV, Western Kentucky, UAB, Creighton, Oral Roberts, New Mexico, George Mason, Houston, Southern Illinois
Kent State gets the gold(en) medal for its win Sunday at Saint Mary's. Kudos to the Flashes, who now are very serious at-large candidates. Beyond that, there's not too much more to see here. Despite a loss, BYU gets a proper adjustment up. South Alabama has a pretty good claim, and the WCC duo still looks pretty solid. And beyond that? There might not be a beyond that ...
Should be in:
BYU [23-9 (13-5), RPI: 38, SOS: 75] The Cougars were misslotted last week and take their rightful place at the next level in this edition, despite their loss Saturday at San Diego State. That removed a bit of the Cougars' margin for error, but if they can win Tuesday at New Mexico (not a given), they will be in very good shape to win the Mountain West, which basically is a golden ticket. Their RPI remains good. The Cougars also have a very good nonconference win over Louisville, although they lost to North Carolina and Michigan State in competitive efforts. Their loss at Wake Forest doesn't look nearly as bad now as it did at the time.
Saint Mary's [20-9 (13-5), RPI: 69, SOS: 104] The Gaels couldn't handle the Golden Flashes, so we will keep them here for now. They still look ready to dance, although they best not overlook San Diego on Monday night. A loss there, and they will be in third place on tiebreaker, and they still need to travel to Gonzaga next weekend. Of bigger concern is big man Omar Samhan's shoulder, which popped out against Kent and kept him to eight minutes. They will need him at Gonzaga and for the WCC tournament. Their solid nonconference slate includes victims like Drake, Oregon, Seton Hall, San Diego State and Ohio.
Kent State [20-11 (12-6), RPI: 90, SOS: 153] Thank you. Finally, we found a team that decided to make a positive statement about its at-large candidacy. The Golden Flashes cashed in their BracketBusters chance at Saint Mary's, handing the Gaels their first home loss of the season. That was the kind of high-profile win the Flashes needed out of conference. Wins over Illinois State and George Mason could come in handy, too. Their stretch run isn't easy by MAC standards, and the finale at Akron could be pretty important for the overall profile, but this smells like an at-large team right now and deserves a bump up.
South Alabama [10-21 (9-11), RPI: 276, SOS: 206] The Jags won at Western Kentucky to sweep the season series and bolster their at-large hopes. If they can take care of business and win out, clinching at least a share of the league crown, a finals appearance in the Sun Belt tourney might be enough. South Alabama's three nonconference losses were at Ole Miss by three, at Vandy by three in double overtime and by five to Miami (Ohio) in Anaheim. Its best nonleague win was at home over Mississippi State.
Work left to do:
VCU [26-9 (12-6), RPI: 14, SOS: 9] The Rams probably are the only at-large hopeful left in the CAA after winning at Akron in BracketBusters. They have two upper-division games left in league play, which will help their RPI some if they can take both. Either way, they look ready to win the league title, which should be worth something. They also beat Houston and Maryland in nonconference play, but a loss to MEAC member Hampton won't help.
Davidson [23-7 (14-4), RPI: 33, SOS: 122] The Wildcats got past local rival Winthrop on the road to keep their at-large dream modestly alive. If they end up 20-0 in the SoCon -- and that's no lock, with games remaining against App State and at Georgia Southern -- then lose in the league final, they should be a very hotly debated team on Selection Sunday. Would they be one of the 34 "best" teams available? Probably. Would they have one of the 34 best profiles? Probably not. The Wildcats showed in close early losses to North Carolina, Duke, NC State and UCLA how good they are, but can a SoCon team really overcome a 2-6 record in D-I nonconference games?
Stephen F Austin [26-4 (17-1), RPI: 35, SOS: 193] The Jacks are back for a look with their spiffy new top-50 RPI. That said, there are several issues: They have four non-DI wins as part of their profile, and they are not even in first place in the Southland. They beat Lamar in the teams' only meeting, but the Cardinals, at 11-1, still are a game ahead. Their last four league games are against teams that are .500 or worse in league play, so SFA could be 24-4 in D-I games should it lose in the Southland final. Would that be enough? Probably not, but a win at Oklahoma showed that this team is pretty decent.
Illinois State [20-12 (11-7), RPI: 66, SOS: 63] The Redbirds probably don't have enough juice to get an at-large bid, but the schedule breaks well for them to have a chance. They need to handle Wright State in a Sunday BrackBusters game, and then they get cracks at Creighton and at Southern Illinois. If they can win out, they will finish second in the Valley by a multiple-game margin, which would look solid. Illinois State's best nonconference win was over Cincinnati. Shame it didn't handle Kent State in early December. That really would have helped.
UNLV [17-15 (8-10), RPI: 104, SOS: 70] BYU's loss at San Diego State opened the door a bit for the Rebels to get a piece of the MWC crown, which could be significant. They also get the conference tourney on their home court, which is an advantage (for getting the auto bid) and a disadvantage (a loss there will be really harmful for at-large purposes). Their three-point loss to Arizona at home was a big missed opportunity in nonconference play. They also lost to Louisville by 20 and don't have a really good nonconference win, despite a profile that is decent overall.
Western Kentucky [18-12 (12-6), RPI: 117, SOS: 160] It's hard to see how the Toppers could get an at-large bid, now that they were swept by South Alabama. Their overall profile is weak and lacks a marquee win. Their best nonconference win was over Nebraska. The Toppers did come close against Gonzaga and Tennessee, but no cigar.
UAB [18-15 (12-6), RPI: 132, SOS: 109] The Blazers got a huge two-point home win over Houston to take the teams' only meeting and pull into a tie for second in the conference with the Cougars. The Blazers' last four aren't easy, starting with a tricky trip to UTEP and ending at Memphis, so there's plenty of work to do, but they still have hope. They beat Cincinnati and Kentucky for their best nonconference wins. It could break that the Blazers will meet Houston in the C-USA semis, which would be a knockout game. They probably need to beat Memphis (once) to have a real chance, though. That would either get them the auto bid or give them the marquee win they lack.
Creighton [14-19 (4-14), RPI: 146, SOS: 60] The Bluejays' current standing in the Valley, tied for fourth at 9-7, probably isn't enough to get them to at-large land. They have an OK nonconference slate, in which they beat Nebraska and (more importantly, for bubble purposes) Saint Joseph's. They escaped Saturday at Oral Roberts in BracketBusters. Would four wins in a row to end the regular season (88-67 over Missouri State, 65-64 over Oral Roberts, at Illinois State, against Bradley) make things interesting? It's worth keeping half an eye on.
Oral Roberts [16-14 (10-6), RPI: 164, SOS: 225] The home last-second BracketBusters loss to Creighton probably ended this debate. The Golden Eagles still don't have a top-50 win and they're not unbeaten in league play, either. They'd have a very gaudy record if they run the table from here and lose to, say, IUPUI, in a tough final, but there are other teams like Houston and UAB with similar profiles from a better conference. ORU beat Oklahoma State, but whiffed on every big chance in nonconference play (losses to Texas A&M, Arkansas and Texas).
New Mexico [15-16 (7-11), RPI: 172, SOS: 115] Hey, look at the Lobos, winners of six straight and now in the RPI Top 50. After getting through the Air Force/Utah road trip (never easy), New Mexico now has an enormous week in which it hosts BYU and UNLV. If the Lobos can leapfrog the Rebels and finish in second place, that will help their cause. There is not much in their nonconference profile that will help. You can see that just by looking at the SOS.
George Mason [8-22 (4-14), RPI: 223, SOS: 54] The Patriots almost certainly will need the CAA auto bid after coughing up a 13-point halftime lead and losing at Ohio in BracketBusters. They would need two VCU losses to even have a chance at a piece of the CAA regular-season title. GMU did beat Dayton, Kansas State and South Carolina in nonleague play, so it does have something to work with, but its RPI is very weak for an at-large from any conference.
Houston [13-19 (4-14), RPI: 239, SOS: 164] A tough two-point loss at UAB was a missed chance for the Cougars to create some separation and close in on a second-place finish. Those two teams now look to be on their way to a C-USA semifinal showdown that would be an elimination game. After two competitive losses to Memphis, what would the committee do with a Houston team that might not have an RPI top 50 win and could be 26-7 if it loses to Memphis again in the C-USA final? Its nonconference losses were to VCU, UMass and Arizona, so there's no shame in any of those. Houston could be one of the biggest debates come Selection Sunday.
Southern Illinois [11-21 (4-14), RPI: 278, SOS: 232] Could it happen if the Salukis win out until the Valley final? Maybe. It would be much better if they could catch Illinois State for second place, but they get the Redbirds at home in the season finale. And first they must handle Bradley in Peoria, which won't be easy. Beating Nevada by 25 in BracketBusters was a nice way to get their fourth straight win. In nonconference play, they beat Miss. State, Saint Mary's and Western Kentucky, so there is some good stuff in their profile, which also includes losses to USC, Indiana, Charlotte, Saint Louis, Western Michigan and Butler. How big does A.J. Graves' 30-foot buzzer-beater look now?