College Basketball Bubble Watch
In the case of BYU, RPI gets it right
It's hard to get us to defend the RPI. Somehow, BYU has pulled it off.
The topic of today's Bubble Watch video arose from a discussion we had on Wednesday, during our Bracket Builder tweet storm, when ESPN Insider's Peter Keating brought up Brigham Young University. The Cougars are a fascinating team. Tyler Haws is arguably the nation's best and most efficient pure scorer. Kyle Collinsworth holds the record for most triple-doubles in a single season -- a record he set this season. BYU plays top-10-level offense and often nonexistent defense. They play fast. They're fun to watch. In a vacuum, they totally belong in the NCAA tournament.
Smart analytic systems back this up. The Basketball Power Index rates BYU out as a top-30 team overall. So do Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings. The Cougars' whole season is basically the opposite of Maryland in February prior to this week's win over Wisconsin: When they've lost, they've lost by narrow margins. When they've won, they've won big.
And yet, despite all that, BYU ranks 60th in the RPI.
The horror! This discrepancy should offer us a chance to get up on our proverbial stallion: Here's why the RPI is dumb. Burn it down! Burn it all down!
Except we can't really get there. In this case, the RPI's blind spot -- its ignorance of the final score -- is actually kind of a strength. Yes, the Cougars' eight losses have all come by eight points or fewer. Yes, two of their notable nonconference defeats went to overtime. But BYU still lost those games. They lost to San Diego and Pepperdine (twice). While most teams in this position could counteract the argument with at least one example of a quality win, the Cougars' best three victories have all come at home -- over Stanford, UMass and Saint Mary's. There is maybe one tournament team in that mix, and that team (Stanford) is very much on the bubble.
The RPI is outdated, imprecise, too quietly impactful on the selection process, you name it. We tolerate it as a function of the Bubble Watch's purpose; we rarely see its value. But in extreme situations, its inherent logic can hold true. At some point, you've got to beat somebody. BYU hasn't.
Maybe that will change at Gonzaga on Saturday. Maybe it won't. The point is, sometimes, things really are this simple.
Did we miss a team? Include the unworthy? Want to stump for your favored mid-major? Send your feedback, suggestions and hilarious jokes to me on Twitter @eamonnbrennan
Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through Feb. 26.
|American Athletic Conference|
|Work left to do: Temple, Tulsa, Cincinnati|
Most years, you can't track bubble shifts on a league-wide basis; things just don't work like that. Teams are evaluated on their merits alone, both in this space and in Indianapolis. But this bubble season has offered a couple of collective changes along the cut line, and if any league has found itself on the wrong side of those changes, it's the American. In early February, Cincinnati, Temple and Tulsa were all in the bracket, with the former at least a seed line or two away from trouble. Now, Cincinnati and Temple are closer to the First Four than at any point this month, and Tulsa is in need of serious help just to get in the field. These teams haven't fallen apart; other teams have made moves, but one team's gain is always another team's loss.
Temple [20-9 (11-5), RPI: 33, SOS: 60] The eye test is almost always a mess of subjectivity. Almost. Every now and then, a performance is so bad it creates an objective critical consensus. Temple offered exactly that kind of performance in a 55-39 loss at Tulsa on Feb. 22. The Owls, who had played so well during a seven-game winning streak from late January to mid-February, somehow held their opponents to 55 points in 65 possessions on the road -- and lost by 16. Hopefully, the committee wasn't paying attention, because while the loss wasn't particularly bad on paper (Tulsa is a good defensive team fighting for a bubble spot of its own) it looked far worse in three dimensions. Temple's S-Curve status is hardly secure enough for it to squander the impressive showings of the past month in the final two weeks of the season. It took care of Houston at home Thursday night, and now, the Owls have a week's worth of rest before they play the dodge-the-awful-loss game at East Carolina.
Tulsa [20-7 (13-2), RPI: 41, SOS: 122] Temple's .60 points-per-possession performance might have been ugly for the Owls, but it was exactly what Tulsa needed. After a 10-0 start to league play, the Golden Hurricane looked more like a tropical sto-- actually, no. We were going to make a weather joke there, but no. The point is, Tulsa was on the wrong side of the bubble before Sunday's win, and that's probably still the case -- the 55-39 final surely hurt Temple more than it helped Frank Haith's team. But it gave Tulsa a win (which was followed by Thursday night's cruise against Tulane) in the first of what might end up being a decisive finish against tourney-worthy teams in the American. The last two, against Cincy and SMU, come next week. On Saturday, a visit to Memphis awaits.
Cincinnati [19-9 (10-5), RPI: 54, SOS: 61] Since three straight losses to Temple, Tulane and Xavier, the Bearcats haven't done any further damage. Instead, they've managed would-be bad losses against Houston and UCF with minimal fuss. But that Tulane loss remains a real killer. It was Cincinnati's second sub-150 RPI loss of February (dating to their Feb. 1 road defeat at East Carolina), and its impact is increased by the fact that it came on Cincinnati's floor. The Bearcats still have five top-50 wins, and nonconference wins over NC State and San Diego State look more important by the day. But the Bearcats can't afford another loss to Tulane on Saturday, and this time, they have to go on the road.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Work left to do: Dayton, Davidson, Rhode Island|
We continue to keep an eye on UMass, whose strong schedule numbers have kept it floating on the fringe despite a lack of wins to back those numbers up. Elsewhere, everybody but VCU is on the bubble. It's still possible, if VCU wins the A-10 tourney, that this league could send just one team to the tournament. Not very likely, of course, but possible.
Dayton [21-6 (11-4), RPI: 38, SOS: 158] If the A-10 isn't going to be a one-bid league, Dayton is still the most likely reason. On a per-possession basis relative to the rest of the conference, the Flyers have been just as good as VCU this season and -- despite having no player taller than 6-foot-6 in the rotation -- shoot a league-high 56 percent from 2-point range. Unfortunately, that work hasn't translated into a bunch of quality wins, and last Saturday's loss to Duquesne is an RPI ding that will continue to show up over the next few weeks. But they have a chance to make up for it in Saturday's trip to VCU. The Rams are like North Carolina: great rÃ©sumÃ©, beatable team. There is a huge opportunity in that disconnect.
Davidson [20-6 (11-4), RPI: 40, SOS: 141] Like Dayton, Bob McKillop's team has been better than its resume during Atlantic 10 play and nearly as good as the locked-in Rams. Unlike Dayton, the Wildcats are as bubbly as can be. That status marks an improvement over recent weeks, though, thanks to a six-game winning streak that culminated in Wednesday's 60-59 win at fellow bubbler Rhode Island. The schedule is favorable down the stretch. This weekend, Davidson hosts NIT-bound George Washington, followed by a home game against VCU and a closing road trip at Duquesne. If the Wildcats keep hitting shots at the rate they have during this winning streak, a 3-0 finish is hardly out of the question.
Rhode Island [19-7 (11-4), RPI: 73, SOS: 183] Before we banish Rhody from the Watch -- and it's not totally dead quite yet -- let's take a moment to appreciate the job third-year coach Dan Hurley has done. In 2012-13, Hurley inherited a mess and won just eight games. Last season, the Rams were much more competitive, albeit occasionally, in a 14-18 season. This season, Rhode Island ranks in the top 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Rams can be an ugly watch on the offensive end but, boy, do they grind it out defensively. That this program is in the bubble picture at all right now is a testament to Hurley's textbook rebuild.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: NC State|
Work left to do: Pittsburgh, Miami (FL)
Louisville's dismissal of Chris Jones remains the big story in the ACC. We don't have anything to add, save this: It will be interesting to see how the loss affects Louisville's seed, if it does at all. The Cardinals looked plenty vulnerable in Monday's 52-51 win at Georgia Tech. If they struggle at Florida State Saturday, or at home against Notre Dame and Virginia next week, how much will the committee dock them on Selection Sunday? Is their collective defense good enough to hide the loss? Will Rick Pitino conjure something from his matchup zone book of tricks? Stay tuned.
NC State [17-11 (8-7), RPI: 36, SOS: 3] Now that's how you get off the bubble. A few weeks ago, a close loss against Virginia on Feb. 11 was the Wolfpack's fifth in six games, with little, beyond that Jan. 11 win over Duke, to recommend them. Now? They're safely in the field. That's what happens when you beat Louisville and North Carolina on the road in late February. Suddenly, NC State's No. 2-ranked schedule, top-40 RPI, and top-25 noncon schedule are backed up by three real-deal wins. The Wolfpack have moved up into the No. 8/9 seed range for now. It would take a downturn inversely proportional to the past two weeks for the Wolfpack to have to worry much the rest of the way. Merely avoiding a bad loss at Boston College Saturday may do the trick.
Pittsburgh [19-10 (8-7), RPI: 37, SOS: 32] Kansas State's win over Kansas Monday didn't just lead to an overly exuberant court storm and some film study for the campus police. It also got the Wildcats back inside the RPI top 100. That's especially good news for Pittsburgh. Despite the Panthers' decent RPI and schedule numbers, they are in desperate need of more top-100 victories, and with a schedule that includes just one in their last three games (March 4 versus Miami), it's handy that a team Pitt beat in late November could lend a hand three months later. The ACC tournament looks like the best chance for the Panthers. They may not have to win the thing, but they'll probably have to knock at least one good team off before they go home.
Miami (FL) [18-10 (8-7), RPI: 65, SOS: 80] Some teams jump onto the bubble briefly and then go away for good. Some teams begin on the bubble and move up into safety. Some teams slowly plow their way forward over the final month of the season. And some teams spend the entire month of February, and the first two weeks of March, hopelessly stuck in Bubbleville. Miami is the latter. The Hurricanes have been in the mix since early February, and they haven't done anything since then to change their circumstances. They've won games they should win (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Clemson), lost some questionable matchups (Florida State, Wake Forest) and missed at least one massive opportunity (at Louisville) to change their trajectory. On Wednesday, they held on against FSU at home, but didn't look great in the process. (Miami won despite Xavier Rathan-Mayes pouring in 30 points in the final 4:39, which is just crazy. Seriously, Canes, play some defense.) Now North Carolina comes to town, fresh off a home loss to NC State, and the Hurricanes have yet another chance to boost their resume in a significant way. They can't afford to pass it up.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Oklahoma St|
Work left to do: Texas
Another Bubble Watch, another Big 12 lock. On Tuesday, we rolled out the red carpet for Baylor. Today, it's West Virginia's turn. On Feb. 14, WVU took a 20-point thrashing at Iowa State that showcased just how little pressing teams should want to see the turnover-allergic Cyclones in March. Since then, West Virginia beat Kansas at home, went to Oklahoma State and won by 10, and handled Texas in Morgantown. That three-game surge easily put them over the lock threshold. And with just three very tough games (at Baylor, at KU, vs. OSU) left on the schedule, there's no going back now. To the 'Eers fans who tweeted us after Tuesday's win to "put the logo in" this edition of the Watch, well, there it is. You're welcome?
Oklahoma St [17-10 (7-8), RPI: 29, SOS: 11] Three straight losses is a less-than-ideal way to spend any portion of your February; a road loss to TCU and back-to-back missed chances against Iowa State and West Virginia at home is especially disappointing. We figured the Pokes would handle at least one of those Stillwater opportunities, and that we'd be thinking about locking them up, too. Instead, we're forced to hold off, at least until Saturday, when OSU heads to Texas Tech. But there's little reason to worry: These great RPI and schedule numbers and wins over Kansas and Baylor (twice) will see Travis Ford's team through.
Texas [17-11 (6-9), RPI: 43, SOS: 14] And then there is Texas. Tuesday's introduction spent more than a few words detailing the incredibly disappointing downfall of this clearly talented outfit -- though, given UT's extended run of middling output, maybe it just wasn't that good in the first place? Whatever your conclusion (close losses, bad coaching, outsized expectations), a team once regarded as one of a few bona fide Final Four contenders now finds itself among Joe Lunardi's last four in. One spot ahead of Davidson, and one spot behind Purdue. Texas already has nine Big 12 losses. On Saturday, when it travels to Kansas, it is immensely likely to pick up No. 10. That turns the Longhorns' final two home games against Baylor and Kansas State into must-wins, and even then they'd be 8-10. It's not looking good.
|Big East Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Xavier|
Work left to do: St. John's
We're used to getting tweets from fans of major conference No. 1-seed candidates complaining that Gonzaga "hasn't played anybody." That's silly enough. You know what's even worse? This week, we heard this argument applied to Villanova. Seriously? Have you people not seen the 2014-15 Big East? Case in point -- and speaking of putting that logo in -- today brings not one but two fresh Big East locks. Butler and Providence have been on the verge for weeks. Now we make it official. Of the two, Providence has the better resume at the high end -- a top-25 RPI, top-10 schedule, with wins over Notre Dame (neutral court), Butler (away) and Georgetown (twice). The Bulldogs' numbers aren't quite that pristine, and they don't have as many impressive wins, but they did beat North Carolina on a neutral floor, and their lack of bad losses -- Providence lost to Boston College and (somehow) Brown in the same week in early December -- balances things out. In any case, both teams are currently in the No. 6-seed area with two games to play before they meet in Providence for the regular-season finale. Neither team is missing the tournament. And, with Xavier close and St. John's getting closer, the Big East looks like a six-bid league. If Seton Hall hadn't imploded, that would have been seven. That's the league Villanova is dominating. Come on, people. Keep up.
Xavier [18-11 (8-8), RPI: 30, SOS: 25] All of our "Xavier is so wacky!" jokes tend to fall flat (as if they didn't already) when the Musketeers are playing one-possession games, like Monday's 58-57 loss at St. John's or last weeks' 59-57 win at Cincinnati, because, duh, right? One-possession games tend to produce coin-flip results. We preferred the wackier days of late January, when the Musketeers followed up a road win at Georgetown with back-to-back losses to Seton Hall and Creighton. These days, Chris Mack's team looks much more solid, both on the court and with respect to their NCAA tournament seed. And yes, we said "seed." This is no longer a real bubble team, at least for the moment.
St. John's [19-9 (8-7), RPI: 31, SOS: 39] On Feb. 3, Butler manhandled St. John's in Hinkle Fieldhouse, dropping the Red Storm to 3-6 in Big East play. The end of the Red Storm's once-promising season -- and possibly Steve Lavin's tenure -- felt all but copy edited. The early hype. The mysterious conference decline. The long, slow, agonizing limp to the finish. Less than a month later, the script has officially been flipped. After Monday's win over Xavier, St. John's has won five of its past six, including two wins over Xavier. With a home game against Georgetown on Saturday, D'Angelo Harrison & Co. have a chance to really firm this thing up -- if not seal it all together -- at the best possible moment. It might not be "Hoosiers," but it's been a great little turnaround.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Work left to do: Michigan St, Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois|
Thursday night was a pretty straightforward one for the Big Ten -- Ohio State rolled a checked-out Nebraska team, Purdue handled Rutgers, no big deal -- everywhere except East Lansing, Michigan. That's where Michigan State fell 96-90 in overtime to Minnesota. It's hardly a bid-killer, but it does halt what appeared to be some serious late-season momentum for a Spartans team that came in a winner of its past four. In the meantime, Indiana's loss at Northwestern moves the Hoosiers out of should-be-in territory for the time being.
Michigan St [19-9 (10-5), RPI: 32, SOS: 43] Is a home loss to Minnesota the worst thing ever? No. The Gophers are sporadically competent, and their RPI was just barely inside the top 100 even before whatever adjustment it received for a win in East Lansing. But still. For as good as the Spartans have been in recent weeks, winning four in a row (three of which came on the road, with the fourth at home over Ohio State) and playing their best basketball of the season, they're not guaranteed just yet. They still have just two top-50 wins, both on their own floor, and they're still carrying losses to Texas Southern and Nebraska, which looks far worse now than it did back on Jan. 24. Fortunately, there are no bad teams left on the Spartans' schedule. They have a home game versus Purdue and a road trip to Indiana -- and, up first, Sunday's massive trip to Wisconsin.
Indiana [19-10 (9-7), RPI: 35, SOS: 31] Suddenly, perhaps, the Hoosiers aren't quite so secure. After spending a precious few days with the should-be-in distinction next to their name -- and after beginning the month as a No. 6 seed in Lunardi's bracket -- IU took its first notably bad loss of the season at Northwestern this week. With an RPI in the low 100s, Chris Collins' team doesn't look terrible on the nitty-gritty page, and Indiana isn't at real risk of falling out of the bracket right now. But if things go wrong in their final two games (both at home, against Iowa and Michigan State), you never know. For as fun as the Hoosiers are to watch, part of that fun still entails their lack of defense, and when you don't defend, weird things happen.
Ohio State [20-8 (9-6), RPI: 39, SOS: 91] Despite having one of the nation's best, most entertaining offensive players (D'Angelo Russell) and a top-three per-possession defense in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes just can't quite get over the hump where their rÃ©sumÃ© is concerned. Sunday's loss at Michigan was just the latest example. It's not really a bad loss (though Michigan's struggles go far beyond their 80s-ish RPI). Ohio State is clearly a good, if not great, team, but its profile is pocked by a distinct lack of marquee wins, the only two of which (Maryland, Indiana) have come at home. Throw in the bad nonconference work and it would hardly be a surprise for OSU to grade out as No. 8/9 seed, the kind of No. 8/9 that no one would want to play on the first weekend of the tournament.
Iowa [18-10 (9-6), RPI: 53, SOS: 27] Beating Illinois at home this week probably counts as less of a boost to Iowa than a missed chance for the Illini. The former has escaped from the shakier portions of the bubble; the latter is still very much in the muck. But another victory did help shore up Iowa's flank, putting it at 9-6 in Big Ten play and thus guaranteeing at least a 9-9 record, even if things go south in the next eight days. It's a tricky path ahead -- at Penn State, at Indiana, and versus Northwestern -- that mixes distance and bad-loss potential in equal measure. Iowa's four top-50 wins (including at UNC, Maryland and two against Ohio State) should keep it a notch above the bubble in the event of a stumble (or two).
Purdue [19-9 (11-4), RPI: 58, SOS: 90] After Thursday night's mostly (if not entirely) businesslike win over Rutgers, the Boilermakers are winners of their past four and hold an 11-4 Big Ten record. Their RPI has lagged behind that conference success, thanks mostly to a 238th-ranked nonconference schedule and those albatross losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida. As we said after Purdue's huge win at Indiana: That stuff doesn't just go away. This team is in vastly better condition than it ever looked capable of a few months ago, and you know the committee will take that into account when it debates the Boilermakers on Selection Sunday. But the next three games -- at OSU, at MSU, versus Illinois -- still matter a great deal. Nothing's guaranteed, at least not yet.
Illinois [17-11 (7-8), RPI: 61, SOS: 52] When you're this bubbly, three straight losses is obviously bad, no matter who they come against. That said, losing to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa is hardly enough to kick the Illini out of the picture. It did drop them to 7-8 in Big Ten play, and the opportunity cost is substantial -- a home win against the Spartans would have been a big boost, and a road win at Iowa arguably just as good. Perhaps the biggest short-term problem is that those chances are in the past. Now, Illinois has home games against Northwestern and Nebraska, which won't do them much good, and it's likely they'll find themselves in their current position on March 7, in desperate need of a win at Purdue. Not ideal.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Teams that should be in: San Diego St|
Work left to do: Colorado St, Boise State
There are few new developments to report in the Mountain West, where the Aztecs are still closing in on a lock, Colorado State is still keeping its head above water, and Boise State is still trying to break through to the surface -- with a chance to do exactly that at SDSU on Saturday.
San Diego St [22-6 (12-3), RPI: 24, SOS: 84] A loss at San Jose State and its mid-330s RPI would have been one of the very few things that could imperil the Aztecs' bid at this point. Instead, SDSU rolled 74-56, thanks to its typically suffocating defense. Last week, the Watch was critical of the Aztecs' work on the offensive end, and several Twitter folks mentioned that SDSU has actually shot the ball pretty well lately, which is true. The result has been a boost -- to 1.05 points per trip, fifth-best in the Mountain West -- in offensive output. Considering this is already one of the best defensive teams in the country, the addition of even mediocre offense to the mix makes Steve Fisher's team one to be feared no matter where they eventually end up in the bracket. A lock feels is just around the corner.
Colorado St [24-5 (11-5), RPI: 26, SOS: 120] There's still not much to update. Colorado State's resume remains basically unchanged following three straight games against Fresno State, Air Force, and putrid San Jose State. Movement elsewhere on the bubble may have put the Rams in slightly safer shape than before, but all it would take is one loss -- against the regular-season-closing bad-loss duo of Nevada and Utah State, both on the road -- to imperil the whole thing once more.
Boise State [21-7 (11-4), RPI: 44, SOS: 112] If this week's Mountain West theme is "avoiding bad losses," the Broncos certainly played along. They've won three in a row over UNLV, Nevada and New Mexico, which keeps Boise on the bubble after a loss at Fresno State on Feb. 14. This is a team very much on the bubble, with two bad opponents (San Jose State, and Fresno again) and one massive road chance (Saturday at San Diego State) between now and the Mountain West tourney.
|Work left to do: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA|
The Pac-12 doesn't have as many teams in play as some other leagues, but the teams it does have are all very much affixed to the bubble. Stanford has suffered the indirect impact of Texas' collapse; UCLA has a chance to pad out its record with two more ostensibly easy home wins; and Oregon is coming off back-to-back wins over Utah and at Cal. The Ducks began the month of February in the bubble hinterlands. Now they look en route to the tournament. In the meantime, Saturday is Utah-Arizona day, a matchup of two of the West Coast's three best teams in a building (the Huntsman Center) where Utah had outscored teams by .35 points per possession before Thursday night's 83-41 demolition of Arizona State. As a colleague of mine might say, prepare thy popcorn.
Oregon [21-8 (11-5), RPI: 42, SOS: 68] If you're a team pretty much everyone forgot about by mid-January, a team that failed to pick an eye-catching nonconference win, started 4-4 in the Pac-12, and lost a bunch of players from last year's team thanks to a string of issues and scandals that plagued Dana Altman for months -- well, if you're that team, and you've somehow clawed your way into a potential NCAA tournament bid by late February, and you find yourself with a chance to beat Utah in your building, you've got to take it. Oregon did. Sunday's 69-58 victory over the Utes gave the Ducks their first bona fide marquee win of the season. It also pushed them above .500 against the top 100, which helps. And while one win does not a resume make, this particular win -- plus Wednesday's impressive little road win at Cal -- pushed Oregon into vastly improved territory in advance of two more challenging road games (at Stanford, at Oregon State) down the stretch. The Ducks have been a fascinating story. All we need now is an ending.
Stanford [18-9 (9-6), RPI: 49, SOS: 79] There's good news and bad news. The good news is Stanford followed up a solid home win over Cal with an absolute mauling of a recently impressive Oregon State team to the tune of a 75-48 final. Chasson Randle shot just 3-of-10 from the field but made all eight of his free throw attempts, and the Cardinal held the Beavers to just 35.4 percent shooting on the night. The bad news? While wins are nice, the most impressive top-50 win on this resume -- a win on which Johnny Dawkins' team could hang its hat -- came Dec. 23 at Texas. Back then, that was a road win over a top-10 team. It was a bid-sealer. Now, after two months of disappointing play and the occasional narrow loss, Texas is as much on the bubble as its Christmas Eve-Eve conquerors. Stanford's status has fallen right along with the Longhorns. And now back to the good news: Sunday offers a home game against fellow Pac-12 bubble team Oregon, which will give the committee a nice head-to-head result to meld into its evaluations. And while road trips to Arizona State and Arizona are hardly the ideal way to close out your campaign, there is at least some big-win opportunity there.
UCLA [17-12 (9-7), RPI: 50, SOS: 17] At this point, it's easy to forget that Washington was once a Top 25 team, one that beat San Diego State and Oklahoma in a matter of two weeks. By now, the Huskies are an afterthought, and UCLA treated them accordingly in Wednesday's 88-66 home win. That doesn't really affect UCLA's chances in the aggregate, but it's nice to put another Pac-12 win on the board (and avoid a less-than-complimentary loss) to get to 9-7 in league play. Steve Alford's team is out of regular-season marquee win chances. It closes with two more home dates against Washington State and USC; it will have to wait until the Pac-12 tournament to get another shot at Utah or Arizona (or both). Still, two wins of any kind would pad out a profile whose strength lies in its schedule numbers more than its tally of wins (17) and losses (12).
|Teams that should be in: Georgia, Ole Miss|
Work left to do: Texas A&M, LSU
The SEC remains in strong shape as it pertains to the bubble. Ole Miss and Georgia might not be in lock territory just yet, but they're not at much risk of bubble drama, either. Even Texas A&M and LSU, the bubblier of the SEC's bubble squads, have moved up out of the last-four-in/last-four-byes fray and into the field in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology. Whether that will last remains to be seen, but for now, the SEC as a whole looks much stronger than it did even a week ago.
Georgia [18-9 (9-6), RPI: 28, SOS: 35] After escaping an impressively resilient Alabama team last week, the Bulldogs were tasked with yet another road test, one more challenging than the last: at Ole Miss. They passed. A 76-72 win in Oxford, Mississippi, wasn't just a road win over one of the SEC's stronger clubs. It was also the second leg of a regular-season sweep over Ole Miss. Georgia looked shaky a week ago after home losses to Auburn and South Carolina. It has since returned to the solid space it occupied early in the bubble season, when a top-30 RPI and top-35 strength of schedule made a strong first impression.
Ole Miss [19-9 (10-5), RPI: 46, SOS: 46] There's little reason to worry about the Rebels, even after this week's home loss to Georgia -- that's the kind of defeat you can manage when you've built this kind of good-if-not-great at-large case. That said, it doesn't get easier for Ole Miss in the next week. Saturday brings a trip to LSU and Tuesday involves a trip to Alabama. Ole Miss is in good shape right now, but two straight losses would introduce some measure of suspense in the last weeks before Selection Sunday.
Texas A&M [19-8 (10-5), RPI: 34, SOS: 70] After this week's six-point loss at Arkansas, the Aggies still don't have much in the way of impressive victories. Their only two top-50 wins have come against LSU, and they're just 6-8 against the top 100. But when you glance around the actual bubble, you see a lot of teams with less on their profile than even that, and with the kind of bad losses that A&M has deftly avoided thus far. Assuming the Aggies don't succumb to Auburn on Saturday, they should remain safe for the time being.
LSU [20-8 (9-6), RPI: 51, SOS: 100] The Tigers' past two weeks have been a success. Since narrowly falling to Kentucky in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Feb. 10, Johnny Jones' team is 3-1 with wins over Tennessee, Florida and Auburn. That may not get your blood pumping, but it's a more successful run than many fellow bubble teams have made in the same span, hence LSU's slight move off the cut line and into the bracket. With Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, the Tigers have NBA talent at two front-line positions, and they're playing top-20 efficiency defense nationally. They finish with Ole Miss and Tennessee at home before a trip to Arkansas next Saturday. They're trending in the right direction.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Work left to do: BYU|
Gonzaga's first game after its great escape from McKeon Pavilion came Thursday night, and the going was a bit rough: The Zags scored just 22 points, and led by just five, at halftime of a home game against San Diego. They figured it out eventually, winning 59-39, but if you're BYU -- and your entire non-WCC tournament-related hopes rest on finding a way to upset this insanely good Zags team on its own floor -- well, hey, encouraging signs. In the meantime, we wave farewell to Old Dominion. It's hardly the Monarchs' fault. After all, they were on the page Tuesday, and they won at Rice this week. But the rest of the bubble is making moves. Old Dominion is stuck playing C-USA bottom-feeders the rest of the way. If the Monarchs were better than 10-5 in that league, we'd feel a lot worse about leaving them behind. There may be a move left in them yet. But for now, earning the automatic bid seems like the likeliest path of egress.
BYU [22-8 (12-5), RPI: 56, SOS: 96] If you're reading this blurb, you're either (A) a BYU fan who scrolled all the way to the bottom or (B) one of the maniacs who reads this entire file every Tuesday and Friday. Either way, hey, thanks! If you fall into the first category, you might want to scroll back up to today's introduction and video, where we discuss in detail the unusual divide between the Cougars' efficiency metrics (which are good) and their position on the RPI-inflected bubble (which is dire). Usually, we'd take up that divide as an example of the RPI's foggy logic. In BYU's case, though, you've got to beat somebody. Saturday at Gonzaga is the best, most impactful place to start. (Oh, and if you fall into the second category? Seriously: Thank you. Now go outside and get some fresh air.)