College Basketball Bubble Watch
Glass looking half-full for Pac-10's tourney prospects
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Wednesday, Feb. 18.
The Pac-10 regular-season title is no closer to being decided -- though Washington and UCLA may provide some clarity after their meeting tonight -- but the NCAA tournament picture out West is becoming much clearer. Arizona State entered "lock" status this week on the heels of a four-game winning streak, while the Sun Devils' in-state counterparts, the Arizona Wildcats, inched closer with a seven-game win streak of their own, joining Cal to move within reaching distance of the Big Dance. The picture is less rosy for USC, which still has plenty of work to do, but the league is looking more likely to see at least 50 percent of its teams smiling on Selection Sunday.
Butler, meanwhile, received a rare demotion from its "lock" status after a head-scratching couple of losses to Loyola (Ill.) and Milwaukee, trimming the Bulldogs' once-dominating position in the Horizon to just a one-game lead.
Here is this week's Bubble Watch:
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Florida St|
Work left to do: Miami (FL), Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland
North Carolina once again looks like the ACC's dominant team, but Duke is suddenly faltering. Florida State took another step toward securing an at-large bid by beating Miami on Wednesday night, which put the Hurricanes' bubble chances on life support. Virginia Tech also took a big step back by losing at rival Virginia. Boston College looks to be in good shape after beating Duke for the first time in nearly a quarter-century on Sunday.
Florida St [20-6 (7-4), RPI: 18, SOS: 30] The Seminoles might have missed an opportunity to lock up an at-large bid by losing at Wake Forest 86-63 on Saturday. But by beating Miami 80-67 on Wednesday night, FSU earned its 20th victory and improved to 7-4 in ACC play. So it's hard to imagine FSU being left out of the NCAA's 65-team field. Its RPI ranking is more than 30 spots higher than that of any other ACC bubble team, and it will be helped tremendously by its 9-3 record away from home. But FSU faces a daunting five-game stretch to end the regular season, starting with Saturday's road game at Virginia Tech. The Seminoles also play road games at Boston College and Duke and home games against Clemson and Virginia Tech. Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, FSU seems well on its way to playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1998.
Miami (FL) [15-10 (4-8), RPI: 49, SOS: 11] The Hurricanes' 80-67 loss at Florida State might have been a crushing blow to their NCAA at-large hopes. Miami's seventh loss in its last nine games dropped its record to 4-8 in the ACC. The Hurricanes showed they're talented enough to play in the NCAA tournament, losing to Duke 78-75 in overtime Feb. 7 and losing to North Carolina 69-65 on Sunday night. But Miami doesn't have enough quality victories to feel remotely confident about its at-large chances. It blasted Wake Forest 79-52 at home Feb. 4 and has victories over fellow ACC bubble teams Boston College (road) and Florida State (home). But Miami might need at least a .500 finish in ACC play, making Saturday's home game against Boston College even more critical. After hosting the Eagles, the Hurricanes close the regular season with three winnable games: at Virginia, at Georgia Tech and home against NC State. It probably needs to win the rest of its regular-season games to have any chance.
Boston College [19-8 (7-5), RPI: 50, SOS: 46] The Eagles probably went a long way toward punching their NCAA ticket by beating Duke 80-74 at home Sunday, their first victory over the Blue Devils in 24 years. Coupled with its 85-78 victory at North Carolina on Jan. 4, Boston College now has a pretty good argument for securing an at-large bid. But because of its less-than-spectacular showing against nonconference opponents (so-so victories over UAB and Providence and losses against Saint Louis and Harvard), Boston College's work isn't quite done. The Eagles are 8-6 against RPI Top-100 foes and 5-3 on the road. They can improve their at-large chances by beating fellow ACC bubble teams Miami (road) and Florida State (home) in their next two games.
Virginia Tech [16-9 (6-5), RPI: 55, SOS: 64] The Hokies did what they couldn't afford to do this late in the season: They lost at rival Virginia 75-61 on Wednesday night. How the Hokies failed to show up for a rivalry game is perplexing, to say the least. Playing without suspended starting forward Jeff Allen, Virginia Tech squandered a chance to move into a second-place tie in the ACC standings. Instead, the Hokies lost for the fourth time in their last six games and are now 4-5 on the road. They still seem to be in better shape than fellow ACC bubble teams Miami and Maryland and can help themselves tremendously by beating Florida State in Blacksburg on Saturday. Virginia Tech then closes the regular season with four very difficult games: at Clemson, home against Duke and North Carolina, and at Florida State. Virginia Tech is 3-5 against RPI top-50 opponents, and its best nonconference victory came against RPI No. 94 Fairfield. Beating at least one of the ACC's top-level teams down the stretch might be necessary.
Maryland [16-9 (5-6), RPI: 63, SOS: 49] The Terrapins' 93-64 loss at Clemson on Tuesday night probably all but ended their chances of earning an NCAA at-large bid. During the last month, Maryland lost to Clemson by 29 points, Duke by 41 and North Carolina by 17. But Maryland can still revive its at-large chances by beating either North Carolina or Duke in one of its next two home games. The Terrapins' 80-62 victory over Michigan State on Nov. 27 will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA selection committee, along with wins over Miami and Virginia Tech. They also beat fellow bubble resident Michigan. Maryland still has a chance to finish .500 in ACC play, but it will probably have to win road games at NC State and Virginia and beat North Carolina, Duke or Wake Forest at home.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Oklahoma St, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas St|
The Big 12 continues to have three teams that have wrapped up at-large bids, including league leader Oklahoma, which is in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But none of the league's other teams have done much to move closer to an at-large bid. Texas is suddenly in bubble trouble, and Kansas State missed a golden opportunity to move to the right side of the bubble. Baylor and Texas A&M? Both have a pulse, but at 4-7 in the Big 12, they need to start piling up the wins.
Oklahoma St [16-9 (5-6), RPI: 33, SOS: 9] Despite their schedule-inflated computer numbers, the Cowboys are still probably a fringe bubble candidate at best. They had lost six of eight games before beating Big 12 bottom feeders Iowa State and Texas Tech. Oklahoma State doesn't really have a true quality victory, beating RPI top-50 opponents Siena and Texas A&M. The Cowboys lost games at Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas, three other Big 12 bubble teams, but defeated Nebraska on the road. The Cowboys are 3-5 on the road and 2-8 against RPI top-50 opponents. But because of their gaudy computer numbers, they still have to be included in the NCAA bubble discussion for now.
Texas [17-8 (6-5), RPI: 47, SOS: 51] The Longhorns are about as dependable as their point guards right now. Texas has dropped four of its last six games, including an 81-66 loss at Texas A&M on Tuesday night, to fall into somewhat serious bubble trouble. If its case were based solely on its nonconference performance, Texas would be a lock for an at-large bid. The Longhorns beat Villanova (neutral court), Wisconsin (road) and UCLA (home) during the first two months of the season. But with a 6-5 record in Big 12 play, they've fallen into a fourth-place tie with Kansas State and Nebraska in the league standings. Texas has victories over fellow Big 12 bubble teams Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor, but lost at Nebraska and fell to Kansas State at home. The Longhorns have a Texas-sized opportunity to reverse their recent slide when Oklahoma travels to Austin on Saturday.
Nebraska [16-8 (6-5), RPI: 64, SOS: 52] The Cornhuskers' 70-47 loss at Missouri on Saturday certainly didn't help their at-large chances. Much of their argument was based on victories over Missouri and Texas. The 23-point loss to the Tigers pretty much wipes out Nebraska's earlier victory, and beating the Longhorns isn't nearly as impressive as it once seemed. Nebraska has so-so victories over Creighton and Kansas State, but it also has three pretty ugly losses (at Oregon State, at Iowa State and against RPI No. 201 Maryland-Baltimore County at home). The Cornhuskers struggled to beat lowly Colorado 46-41 at home on Wednesday night, so unless they upset Kansas on the road Saturday, their at-large chances seem slim at best.
Kansas St [18-8 (6-5), RPI: 81, SOS: 114] The Wildcats really needed to beat Kansas at home Saturday to justify their at-large argument. But the Jayhawks beat their rivals for the second time this season, winning 85-74 in Manhattan. The Wildcats rebounded to rout North Carolina Central 95-49 on Tuesday night, but they might have been better off buying their way out of the game. The 46-point victory did more harm than good, as the Eagles are rated fifth-worst among 343 Division I teams with a 2-24 record. Kansas State has victories over Missouri (home), Texas (road) and Texas A&M (road), but its best nonconference win came against RPI No. 72 Cleveland State. The Wildcats might have to win at Missouri on Feb. 25 and do some damage in the Big 12 tournament to have a legitimate chance for an at-large bid.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: West Virginia, Syracuse|
Work left to do: Georgetown, Cincinnati, Providence
It was another wild week in the Big East, as Pittsburgh knocked off No. 1 Connecticut 76-68 on the road Monday night. The Big East's top four teams each have two losses in league play, leaving the league championship race wide open heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. Syracuse and West Virginia seem close to joining five other Big East teams as at-large locks, while three other teams might be fighting for one more bid. Notre Dame seemed ready to get back into the frenzy by routing Louisville and beating South Florida, but the Fighting Irish fell by double-digits at West Virginia on Wednesday night.
West Virginia [18-8 (7-6), RPI: 14, SOS: 5] The Mountaineers took a big step toward gaining an at-large bid by blowing out Villanova 93-72 at home Feb. 13. West Virginia followed that big win with a 79-68 victory over Notre Dame at home on Wednesday night. With its gaudy computer numbers, West Virginia seems to be in really good shape for an at-large bid. Along with the upset of Villanova, the Mountaineers have road victories against Ohio State and Georgetown. They also bring so-so victories over Miami (Ohio) and Providence to the table. The Mountaineers are 8-6 away from home, and six of their eight losses came against teams ranked in the RPI top 25. They should be favored in their next four games -- at Rutgers, at Cincinnati, at South Florida and at home against DePaul -- so locking up an at-large bid doesn't seem too far away.
Syracuse [19-7 (7-6), RPI: 17, SOS: 16] The Orange have dropped six of their last nine games, but they're probably only one or two victories away from locking up an at-large bid. Syracuse has five victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Memphis (road), Kansas (neutral court), Florida (neutral court), West Virginia (home) and Georgetown (home). Syracuse is 8-7 against RPI top-100 foes, and four of its seven losses came against teams ranked in the RPI top 15. The Orange beat Georgetown 98-94 in overtime Saturday and can probably wrap up an at-large spot by beating Villanova in the Carrier Dome on Sunday. With games left at St. John's and against Rutgers at home, the Orange should finish at least 9-9 in Big East play, which should be good enough for the NCAA selection committee.
Georgetown [14-10 (5-8), RPI: 39, SOS: 4] The Hoyas finally won another game Wednesday night, beating South Florida 65-40 in Tampa. It was Georgetown's second victory in its last nine games, and it really hasn't beaten an opponent of consequence since defeating Syracuse 88-74 on Jan. 14. With a 5-8 record against Big East foes, the Hoyas still have much work to do. They'll get a lot of credit for playing the country's fourth-toughest schedule and beating Memphis (neutral court), Connecticut (road) and Syracuse (home). But there really isn't much else on their résumé. The Hoyas are only 2-6 on the road and 3-8 against RPI top-50 opponents. Getting back to .500 in the Big East won't be easy; Georgetown's next three games are against Marquette and Louisville at home and at Villanova.
Cincinnati [17-9 (7-6), RPI: 48, SOS: 22] Other than its 7-6 record in the Big East, which includes a sweep of two games against slumping Georgetown, there isn't a lot that's impressive about Cincinnati's overall body of work. The Bearcats have decent victories over UAB (home) and UNLV (road), but they're 0-7 against RPI top-25 opponents (and only one of those defeats was decided by fewer than 10 points). Worse, 10 of their 16 victories came against opponents ranked outside the RPI top 100. Cincinnati also lost a pair of games to fellow Big East bubble team Providence. Still, the Bearcats will have some chances to improve their stock, starting with Saturday's home game against Louisville.
Providence [16-10 (8-6), RPI: 69, SOS: 42] The last eight days kind of summed up the Friars' season. They continue to feast on the Big East's lesser teams, beating South Florida (road) and Rutgers (home), but they've been unable to close the deal against the league's tougher opponents. After losing at Louisville 94-76 on Wednesday night, Providence has only one victory against the Big East's best teams. (It beat Syracuse 100-94 on Jan. 28.) The Friars swept two games against Cincinnati, which might help, but they probably need at least one more marquee victory to justify their case. They play Notre Dame at home Saturday, followed by a home game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 24 and road games at Rutgers and Villanova to finish the regular season. Providence might need to win at least two of its remaining four regular-season games -- and win at least once in the Big East Tournament -- to have a decent chance on Selection Sunday.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Minnesota, Ohio State|
Work left to do: Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State
Purdue and Illinois join Big Ten leader Michigan State as locks for at-large bids. The Boilermakers are playing good basketball again, now that star forward Robbie Hummel has returned from a back injury. Illinois scored only 33 points in a home loss to Penn State on Wednesday night, but the Illini have done more than enough to wrap up an at-large bid. Penn State and Wisconsin seem to be moving up, while Michigan's at-large chances are on life support at best.
Minnesota [19-6 (7-6), RPI: 35, SOS: 56] The Gophers might have moved to lock status if they'd won their last game, but they fell 68-63 at Penn State on Saturday. Still, Minnesota is 4-4 against RPI top-50 opponents, beating Illinois (home), Louisville (neutral court), Wisconsin (road) and Ohio State (home). The Gophers have won seven of their last 12 games and might be able to lock up an at-large bid by winning their next two games, at Michigan on Thursday night and home against Northwestern on Sunday. Minnesota still plays at Illinois and hosts fellow Big Ten bubble teams Wisconsin and Michigan in Minneapolis.
Ohio State [17-7 (7-6), RPI: 36, SOS: 41] The Buckeyes seem well on their way to wrapping up an at-large bid, but they suffered a big setback Wednesday night, losing at Northwestern, 72-69. Ohio State still seems to be in really good shape, with three impressive home victories (Purdue, Butler and Minnesota) and a road win at Miami (Fla.). The Buckeyes also swept two games against Michigan, another Big Ten bubble team. Ohio State is 4-6 against RPI top-50 opponents and 7-7 against top-100 foes. The Buckeyes are about to begin a difficult three-game stretch, starting with Sunday's home game against Illinois. They host Penn State on Feb. 24 and play at Purdue on Feb. 28. With a 7-6 record in the Big Ten standings, the Buckeyes might need at least two more victories to feel safe about getting an at-large bid.
Wisconsin [16-9 (7-6), RPI: 28, SOS: 3] Left for dead two weeks ago, the Badgers have resuscitated their NCAA at-large hopes by winning their last four games. Perhaps no victory was as important as Saturday's 55-50 win over Ohio State, which was Wisconsin's second triumph over an RPI top-50 opponent. The Badgers didn't do much during nonconference play, earning so-so victories over Virginia Tech (road) and Green Bay (home). But they'll get credit for playing the country's third-toughest schedule, which included losses to Connecticut (neutral court), Marquette (road) and Texas (home). The Badgers definitely need to win at Indiana on Thursday night, and they'd certainly get a big boost by winning at Michigan State on Sunday. A second victory over fellow Big Ten bubble team Michigan on March 1 wouldn't hurt their chances, either.
Michigan [16-10 (6-7), RPI: 53, SOS: 18] To put it bluntly, the Wolverines really need to beat Minnesota in Ann Arbor on Thursday night to keep their at-large hopes alive. Michigan has lost seven of its last 10 games (it defeated Northwestern 70-67 in overtime Sunday), and might be falling behind Wisconsin and Penn State in the Big Ten's pecking order. If the Wolverines can finish the season on a strong note, they might still have a decent chance because of their early-season victories over Duke and UCLA. Michigan also beat Illinois 74-64 on Jan. 4, its third win over an RPI top-50 opponent. But Michigan is only 3-8 against RPI top-50 opponents and 2-6 on the road. It plays three of its final five games away from home, and winning a couple of them would probably be wise.
Penn State [19-8 (8-6), RPI: 58, SOS: 92] The Nittany Lions' 38-33 victory at Illinois on Wednesday night might have been rather ugly -- it was the lowest-scoring Division I game in more than three years -- but it might do wonders for their NCAA at-large hopes. After nearly falling out of bubble discussion altogether because of a three-game losing streak, Penn State rallied to beat Minnesota 68-63 on Saturday. Then came the road upset of the Illini, which was Penn State's fourth victory over an RPI top-50 opponent. The Nittany Lions also won at Michigan State 72-68 on Feb. 1 and defeated Purdue and Minnesota at home. Penn State is 5-4 on the road and 4-6 against RPI top-50 opponents. The Nittany Lions might need at least one more marquee victory to feel really good about their at-large chances. They play at Ohio State on Feb. 24 and host Illinois on March 5.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Utah|
Work left to do: BYU, San Diego St, UNLV
Perhaps the most interesting debate that will arise when the selection committee meets will concern the MWC, which figures to have at least four teams angling to make the NCAA tournament. Utah, with its gaudy computer numbers and slim lead in the conference standings, has done the most to secure an at-large bid, while BYU, San Diego State and UNLV probably have some work to do from now until Selection Sunday.
Utah [19-7 (10-2), RPI: 11, SOS: 17] The Utes needed overtime to win their seventh game in a row Wednesday night, beating Colorado State 89-79 on the road. Utah maintained its slim lead over BYU and San Diego State for first place in the Mountain West. Utah takes a week off before playing UNLV at home Feb. 25. The Utes travel to BYU on Feb. 28 for a game that might decide the Mountain West regular-season championship. Utah has four victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Gonzaga, BYU, LSU and San Diego State at home. The Utes are 4-4 against RPI top-50 teams and 10-2 in their last 12 games. With a couple more victories, the Utes should feel safe about making the 65-team field.
BYU [20-5 (8-3), RPI: 31, SOS: 62] We'll find out whether the Cougars are legitimate at-large contenders over the next two weeks. BYU sits in a second-place tie in the Mountain West standings and plays three of the league's other contenders over the next nine days. BYU plays at UNLV on Saturday and then travels to San Diego State on Feb. 24. The Cougars host MWC leader Utah on Feb. 28. BYU could use a couple more signature victories. It is 2-3 against RPI top-50 opponents, beating Utah State (neutral court) and San Diego State (home). But that's about it in terms of quality victories.
San Diego St [18-6 (8-3), RPI: 43, SOS: 68] The Aztecs have been hot lately, winning nine of their last 12 games to move into a second-place tie in the Mountain West standings. But San Diego State doesn't have many victories that will impress the NCAA selection committee. The Aztecs split games with Utah (winning at home) and won at UNLV. The Aztecs are 1-4 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-4 on the road. San Diego State has the weakest nonconference résumé among the Mountain West contenders (its best non-MWC victory came against RPI No. 178 Cal State-Northridge), so it might need to finish in second place to feel confident about an at-large bid.
UNLV [19-7 (7-5), RPI: 57, SOS: 101] The Rebels suffered a huge blow to their at-large chances Wednesday night, losing at Wyoming, 77-68, their third loss in their last five games. The defeat dropped UNLV into fifth place in the Mountain West standings, behind fellow bubble teams Utah, BYU and San Diego State. UNLV has four quality victories over Utah (home), Louisville (road), BYU (road) and Arizona (home). But it also has three ugly road losses at TCU, Colorado State and Wyoming. If the Rebels want to feel good heading into Selection Sunday, they'll probably have to win their next two games, against BYU at home Saturday and at Utah on Feb. 25.
|Teams that should be in: California, Arizona|
Work left to do: USC
The Pac-10 is a five-team race, with four teams chasing league leader Washington. Arizona State joined Washington and UCLA as locks for NCAA at-large bids, while California and Arizona seem very close to doing the same. USC's bubble chances suffered a big blow last week with losses at Arizona and Arizona State.
California [19-6 (8-4), RPI: 26, SOS: 36] It didn't take Pac-10 basketball fans long to remember what Mike Montgomery can do for a program. The Bears have won three games in a row, including Saturday's 82-75 victory over Stanford. California beat its coach's former school by rallying from a 20-point deficit in the first half. Cal has five victories over RPI top-50 opponents, beating Utah (road), Washington (home and road), Arizona State (home) and Arizona (home). The Bears have won eight of their last 12 games and can probably lock up an at-large spot by sweeping upcoming games at Oregon and Oregon State. California closes the regular season with four difficult games -- home contests against USC and UCLA and road games at Arizona and Arizona State.
Arizona [18-8 (8-5), RPI: 42, SOS: 43] Is it time to seriously consider interim coach Russ Pennell for Arizona's full-time job? Lute Olson's former assistant has guided the Wildcats to a seven-game winning streak going into Sunday's game at rival Arizona State. The Wildcats suddenly appear to be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid after sweeping home games against USC and UCLA last week. Arizona has six victories over RPI top-50 teams, including Kansas (home), Washington (home), Gonzaga (neutral court) and San Diego State (home). With an 8-5 record against Pac-10 foes, the Wildcats probably can lock up an at-large bid by winning two of their next three games. After playing at Arizona State, they play at Washington State and Washington. Arizona closes the regular season with home games against California and Stanford.
USC [15-9 (6-6), RPI: 41, SOS: 15] After losing three games in a row, USC's bubble lifeline is about as short as Tim Floyd's temper. The Trojans slipped to 6-6 in the Pac-10 after losing road games at UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. Outside of Pac-10 home victories over California, Arizona and Arizona State, there really isn't too much that's impressive about USC's overall body of work. In fact, its best nonconference victory came against RPI No. 118 North Dakota State. The Trojans are 2-6 on the road and 3-7 against RPI top-50 opponents. USC can still get to 9-9 in Pac-10 play with victories in upcoming home games against struggling Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State. But a .500 finish might not be good enough. The Trojans might need to beat Washington at home Saturday or sweep road games at California and Stanford to feel safe.
|Work left to do: Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky|
LSU, which leads the SEC West with a 10-1 record against league foes, has probably secured an at-large bid. The Tigers' mediocre computer numbers would suggest otherwise, but they're the class of a pretty mediocre SEC. The other four SEC teams in bubble contention each suffered big setbacks over the last week. None more so than Kentucky, which lost star forward Patrick Patterson to a sprained ankle and lost a game at Vanderbilt.
Tennessee [16-9 (7-4), RPI: 22, SOS: 2] Because of the Volunteers' lofty computer numbers, it's hard to imagine they'll be left out of the NCAA's 65-team field. But after Tennessee lost at Ole Miss 81-65 on Wednesday night, it's also difficult to believe they'll do much damage once March Madness begins. The Vols remain one of college basketball's biggest mysteries. They beat Marquette, Siena and Georgetown on neutral courts during nonconference play and blasted Florida at home. But the Volunteers also found ways to lose at Auburn and Ole Miss. Tennessee is 5-6 against RPI top-50 teams and remains the most talented team in the SEC. Coach Bruce Pearl has to wonder if his team will ever play like it.
Florida [20-6 (7-4), RPI: 44, SOS: 112] After blasting his team last season for its lack of intestinal fortitude, Florida coach Billy Donovan's temper has to be boiling about right now. With so much at stake, the Gators lost at Georgia 88-86 on Saturday. The Bulldogs had lost 11 consecutive games and hadn't beaten an SEC team this season before upsetting Florida. The Gators responded by beating Alabama 83-74 at home Wednesday night, but they will have to do much more to overcome the loss at Georgia. The Gators are the classic example of a bubble team. Their 20-6 record has been padded with 14 victories over teams ranked outside the RPI top 100. Florida is 2-4 against RPI top-50 opponents (with wins over Washington and South Carolina) and only 2-5 on the road. The Gators still play road games at LSU and Mississippi State and host Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky. They'll have to finish pretty strong to feel confident on Selection Sunday.
South Carolina [18-6 (7-4), RPI: 46, SOS: 89] The Gamecocks suffered a sizable setback Wednesday night, losing at Mississippi State 75-70. But South Carolina still seems to be in better shape than most of the SEC's other bubble teams, with the exception of Tennessee. Even with a 7-4 record against SEC foes, the Gamecocks have little room for error in their final five regular-season games. They only have one victory against an RPI top-50 opponent: 70-69 over Florida at home Jan. 21. South Carolina also has so-so victories at Baylor and at Kentucky, and its 82-80 overtime loss to College of Charleston doesn't look as bad as it once did. The Gamecocks are 8-4 in their last 12 games but are only 1-4 against RPI top-50 foes.
Kentucky [18-8 (7-4), RPI: 65, SOS: 88] Star forward Patrick Patterson's ankle injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the Wildcats. The NCAA selection committee will consider Patterson's injury when evaluating the Cats, but they probably didn't do enough when Patterson was healthy. Kentucky needs him down the stretch to solidify its chances of earning an at-large bid. UK lost for the first time without him Tuesday night, falling at Vanderbilt 77-64. Kentucky sits in a very precarious situation with only five games to play. It has three victories over RPI top-50 teams: West Virginia (neutral court), Tennessee (road) and Florida (home). But the Wildcats have lost four of their last six games and are 3-4 against RPI top-50 teams. Worse, 12 of Kentucky's 18 victories came against teams ranked outside the RPI top 100, and they opened the season by losing 111-103 to RPI No. 149 Virginia Military Institute at storied Rupp Arena.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Butler|
Work left to do: Siena, Utah State, Temple, UAB, Creighton, Davidson, Saint Mary's
Memphis and Gonzaga remain locks for NCAA at-large bids, joined by the A-10's automatics, Xavier and Dayton. But Butler has been demoted from the top line after losing consecutive games to big underdogs. Davidson suddenly seems to be in bubble danger, too, after losing star guard Stephen Curry, the country's leading scorer, to a sprained ankle. Creighton, the best team from the Missouri Valley Conference, also joins the bubble race.
Butler [22-4 (13-3), RPI: 27, SOS: 103] We rarely like to remove teams from "lock" status, but the Bulldogs have put themselves back on the bubble by losing consecutive games to opponents ranked outside the RPI top 100. Loyola (Chicago) ended Butler's 16-game home winning streak by knocking off the Bulldogs 71-67 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Sunday. Then the Bulldogs lost at Milwaukee 63-60 on Wednesday night. Those losses prevented Butler from winning at least a share of its third consecutive Horizon League regular-season championship. Now Butler's lead over Green Bay has been reduced to only one game. Really, the Bulldogs have only one impressive victory -- 74-65 at Xavier on Dec. 23 -- to show the NCAA selection committee. It's hard to imagine Butler not making the NCAA tournament field, but winning at Davidson in Saturday's BracketBusters game would sure make the Bulldogs more comfortable.
Siena [21-6 (15-1), RPI: 29, SOS: 67] The Saints continue to blow out MAAC opponents, which surprisingly hasn't damaged their lofty computer numbers too badly. Siena has benefited greatly from playing one of the country's toughest schedules, losing to Pittsburgh (road), Kansas (road), Tennessee (neutral court) and Oklahoma State (neutral court). But the Saints don't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent and have a pair of unsightly losses (at RPI No. 141 Rider and against RPI No. 166 Wichita State on a neutral court). Siena can help its cause by winning a BracketBusters game against Northern Iowa at home Saturday.
Utah State [25-2 (12-1), RPI: 34, SOS: 184] Will two losses cost Utah State an at-large bid? It seems unlikely and even unfair, but the Aggies really couldn't afford to lose at Boise State 66-56 on Saturday. Playing the country's 172nd-toughest schedule, Utah State had very little room for error. Its only other loss came against BYU, 68-63, on a neutral court. The Aggies have only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Utah 66-64 at home Dec. 22. The Aggies can help themselves tremendously by winning a BracketBuster game at Saint Mary's on Saturday.
Temple [16-9 (8-3), RPI: 37, SOS: 37] The Owls have won four games in a row, including a 72-45 rout of Fordham, to at least move into bubble discussion. Temple played a whopping 15 games away from home, winning eight of them. It has one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, defeating Tennessee 88-72 at home on Dec. 13. The Owls also have a nice road win at Penn State, along with league victories over Rhode Island (home) and Saint Joseph's (road). But five of Temple's nine losses came against foes ranked outside the RPI top 50, including unsightly defeats against Long Beach and Massachusetts. Temple still has much work to do, but a victory over Dayton on Feb. 28 might make the A-10 a three-bid league.
UAB [18-8 (8-3), RPI: 40, SOS: 53] The Blazers keep doing just enough to stay in the bubble discussion, beating Tulane 76-70 in New Orleans on Wednesday night. The Blazers have won nine of their last 12 games, but their at-large chances will ultimately be decided during a Feb. 26 home game against Conference USA leader Memphis. If UAB upsets the Tigers, they'll have a great chance at landing an at-large bid. If the Blazers lose to Memphis, they might fall out of bubble discussion altogether. They have one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Arizona 72-71 on the road Nov. 18. UAB has plenty of quality defeats, losing to Oklahoma (neutral court), Memphis (road), Louisville (road), Butler (road), Cincinnati (road) and Boston College (neutral court). But UAB's quality victories are few and far between.
Creighton [22-6 (12-4), RPI: 51, SOS: 132] The Bluejays have won seven games in a row to move into a first-place tie with Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference. It's a down year for the MVC overall, but Creighton has done enough to deserve bubble consideration. The Bluejays are 9-4 in games played away from home, and have a pretty impressive 77-59 home victory over Dayton on Dec. 10. Creighton also carries so-so victories over New Mexico (home), Saint Joseph's (road) and Northern Iowa (road). But each of Creighton's six losses came against teams ranked outside the RPI top 50, so there isn't a lot of room for error down the stretch. Winning Saturday's BracketBusters game against George Mason would help.
Davidson [22-5 (15-2), RPI: 56, SOS: 145] The Wildcats needed to show they were more than a one-man show Wednesday night, but they couldn't beat Citadel without star guard Stephen Curry, the country's leading scorer. After falling to the Bulldogs 64-46 at home, Davidson coach Bob McKillop faces an interesting dilemma. How long does he allow Curry to rest his injured ankle? The Wildcats probably haven't done enough to secure an at-large bid at this point, having beaten only one RPI top-50 opponent. So they might need their star player to have any chance of winning the Southern Conference tournament, which begins March 6 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Or does Curry rush back to the court to play in Saturday's BracketBusters game against Butler? A victory over the Bulldogs might go a long way toward locking up an at-large bid for a team that was one victory away from reaching the Final Four in the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Saint Mary's [20-5 (7-4), RPI: 62, SOS: 185] The Gaels continue to keep their heads above water without injured point guard Patty Mills, beating Portland 77-65 at home on Saturday. Mills, who broke his right hand in a 69-62 loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 29, isn't expected back before next month's West Coast Conference tournament. Saint Mary's has gone 2-3 without him, falling into third place in the conference standings. The Gaels will have a golden opportunity to show they're still a quality basketball team when they host Utah State in a BracketBuster game Saturday. Saint Mary's still plays three opponents ranked No. 200 or worse in the RPI, so it should carry at least 23 victories into the conference tournament.