College Basketball Bubble Watch
Pac-10's struggles could result in unprecedented tourney haul
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Sunday, Jan. 31.The Pac-10, and its forebearer the Pac-8, has given us the UCLA dynasty of the 1960s and 1970s. It gave us Gary Payton and Jason Kidd and so many other greats. It gave us UCLA's Ed O'Bannon and Arizona's Miles Simon, two players who led the Pac-10 to its last two national championships. But as the 2009-10 college basketball season enters the final month of the regular season, the Pac-10 doesn't stand to give us much of anything. In the inaugural Bubble Watch, we had to stretch our standards to include more than one Pac-10 team. The NCAA selection committee doesn't figure to be as gracious in a month or so, when it begins to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates to fill 65 slots in the NCAA tournament bracket. Chances are there could be only one Pac-10 team included in the field when the dust settles. And it's a shame the NCAA probably won't have the guts to make the Pac-10 champion participate in the NCAA opening-round game in Dayton, Ohio. That's how lousy the league has been this season. Entering Monday, California was the only league team ranked in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index ratings, which are used to help determine seeding and at-large bids for the NCAA tournament. The Bears promptly lost at Arizona 76-72, falling into a first-place tie with the Wildcats in the Pac-10 standings. Every Pac-10 team has already lost at least seven games. Those losses have included defeats to schools such as Sacramento State, Seattle, San Diego, Illinois-Chicago, Loyola Marymount, Montana, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Cal State Fullerton. UCLA, which reached the Final Four in three straight seasons from 2006 to '08, carries a losing record into this week. The once-mighty Bruins have lost to Fullerton, Long Beach State and Portland (by 27 points). Since the NCAA expanded its tournament field to 64 teams in 1985 (and then 65 in 2001), every BCS football-playing conference has sent at least three teams to the Big Dance. But if things don't change on the West Coast, the Pac-10 tournament champion might be dancing alone in 2010.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Rhode Island, Xavier|
Work left to do: Richmond, Dayton, Charlotte
The Atlantic 10 has emerged as the country's best non-BCS conference this season, with three teams already close to locking up bids for the NCAA tournament. Temple, Xavier and Rhode Island are each ranked in the top 25 of the RPI ratings, and Dayton, Richmond and Charlotte are still battling to join them in the NCAA's 65-team field. It wouldn't be a surprise to see five A-10 teams in the NCAA bracket in March.
Rhode Island [17-3 (5-2), RPI: 11, SOS: 36] The Rams finally justified their gaudy computer profile by beating Dayton 65-64 on the road last Tuesday night and then defeating George Washington 72-66 at home on Saturday. Before beating the Flyers, Rhode Island had only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent (its 63-59 win over Oklahoma State is looking better every week). The Rams are 2-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-3 against the top 100. Beating Dayton was ultra-important because they'd already lost to A-10 heavyweights Temple and Xavier. Rhode Island also has so-so victories over Northeastern (home) and Boston College (road) and its 7-2 record in road games will help.
Xavier [15-6 (7-1), RPI: 22, SOS: 12] It's hard to imagine the Musketeers being left out of the NCAA field, after they improved their A-10 record to 7-1 with a 108-60 rout of Fordham on Sunday. But Xavier could use at least one more victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, which might come in upcoming road games at Dayton, Florida and Charlotte (which also might improve its 2-4 road record) or a home game against Richmond. Xavier is 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes and 4-5 against the top 50. The Musketeers have quality A-10 victories over Charlotte, Dayton and Rhode Island, but their lone top-50 nonconference win came against Cincinnati in double overtime.
Richmond [16-6 (5-2), RPI: 39, SOS: 63] The Spiders are quietly putting together a pretty strong case for inclusion in the 65-team field, but they'll have to finish strong in A-10 play to feel safe. They have four quality nonconference wins over Mississippi State (neutral court), Missouri (neutral), Old Dominion (home) and Florida (neutral). The Spiders are 2-2 against RPI top-50 opponents and 4-5 against the top 100. They'll have to overcome a bad RPI defeat, losing at No. 138 Saint Louis 63-58 on Jan. 9. Richmond still plays five games against the A-10's other bubble contenders, starting with Saturday's home contest against Temple.
Dayton [15-6 (4-3), RPI: 40, SOS: 45] The Flyers took a step back by losing to Rhode Island at home last Tuesday night. They have a couple of high quality nonconference victories -- beating Georgia Tech (neutral court) and Old Dominion (home) -- but they're 0-2 against other A-10 contenders. Dayton could really use a home victory over Xavier on Saturday. If the Flyers lose to the Musketeers, they might have to hope at least four A-10 teams get into the NCAA field. The Flyers were competitive in their five losses to RPI top-25 opponents, losing to Villanova by six points (neutral court), Kansas State by eight (neutral), New Mexico by two (road), Xavier by four (road) and Rhode Island by one (home). UD will have to overcome one eyesore on its resume: a 60-59 loss at RPI No. 172 Saint Joseph's on Jan. 23.
Charlotte [16-5 (6-1), RPI: 42, SOS: 121] The 49ers are tied with Temple and Xavier in the loss column in the A-10 standings, but they don't have the nonconference profiles of the other A-10 bubble teams. Charlotte has won five games in a row, including a road win at Richmond and home upset of Temple. Now, the bad news: Charlotte lost by 42 points at Duke on Nov. 17 and by 33 points at Old Dominion on Dec. 23. Charlotte is 1-4 against RPI top-25 opponents and 3-5 against the top 50. It seems it would have to at least split remaining road games at Dayton and Rhode Island and home games against Xavier and Richmond to have a real chance.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Georgia Tech|
Work left to do: Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson, Maryland, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia
The ACC looks to be at best the country's third-best league this season, behind the Big East and Big 12. Duke seems like the only surefire NCAA tournament lock at this point, but there are even questions about how far the Blue Devils can go in March after getting wiped out at Georgetown on Saturday. Georgia Tech, Maryland and Clemson have all showed signs, but are a bit inconsistent. And defending national champion North Carolina is struggling mightily.
Georgia Tech [16-5 (4-3), RPI: 25, SOS: 20] The Yellow Jackets might be the ACC's most athletically gifted team, and they're finally starting to play like perhaps the league's best team, too. Inconsistency had been a problem, but Tech has won four of its last five games. It has five victories over RPI top-50 opponents (Siena, Charlotte, Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest). Tech is 5-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-5 against the top 100. It was swept by fellow bubble team Florida State and lost at Virginia. Georgia Tech could really use another marquee road victory and it will have myriad chances: It plays at Duke Feb. 4, at Wake Forest Feb. 13, at Maryland Feb. 20 and at Clemson March 2.
Wake Forest [14-5 (4-3), RPI: 23, SOS: 28] Outside of Duke, the Demon Deacons probably have the ACC's best overall resume and probably could have locked up at at-large bid by winning at Georgia Tech last Thursday night. But the Demon Deacons were beaten badly, losing 79-58 to fall only one game above .500 in ACC play. Wake Forest plays three of its next four games at at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, where it's 9-1. Wake Forest is 4-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-5 against the top 100. It has two big feathers in its cap: a 77-75 victory at Gonzaga on Dec. 5 and 96-92 double-overtime win over Xavier on Jan. 3. Wake Forest's home wins over fellow ACC bubble teams Maryland and Virginia won't hurt its chances, either.
Florida State [16-5 (4-3), RPI: 30, SOS: 56] FSU picked up an important ACC road win on Saturday, beating Boston College 61-57. But other than sweeping two games against Georgia Tech, there isn't a lot of meat on FSU's overall body of work. The Seminoles haven't beaten another RPI top-50 opponent and are currently hanging their hats on that sweep of the Yellow Jackets as well as so-so victories over mediocre teams such as Alabama, Iona and Marquette. They're 2-3 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-4 against the top 100. FSU needs to make a few statements during ACC play and there will be ample opportunities with games left against Maryland (home), Clemson (home and away), Virginia (road), North Carolina (road) and Wake Forest (home).
Clemson [16-6 (4-4), RPI: 37, SOS: 47] After getting only one true quality nonconference victory -- a 70-69 win over Butler in the 76 Classic -- the Tigers can't afford another late-season slide during ACC play. Thankfully, they ended a three-game slump with a 62-53 win over Maryland on Sunday night. Still, to earn an at-large bid, the Tigers will need to do a lot more between now and Selection Sunday. Clemson is 2-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 7-6 against the top 100. The Tigers were swept by Duke and lost a heartbreaker at Georgia Tech. The Tigers face Maryland again and still play FSU twice, along with home games against Virginia and Georgia Tech and a road contest at Wake Forest.
Maryland [14-6 (4-2), RPI: 50, SOS: 31] To nearly everyone's surprise, the Terrapins are tied in the loss column atop the ACC standings. They had won nine of 11 games before falling to Clemson on Sunday night. The Terps' problem is they didn't do much of anything during their nonconference schedule. Maryland is 0-3 against RPI top-25 foes and 1-5 against the top 50. Worse, six of its 13 victories over Div. I foes came against RPI sub-200 opponents. In fact, the Terps' best non-ACC win came against RPI No. 128 Fairfield. Maryland beat FSU 77-68 on Jan. 10, but will probably have to beat more of the league's upper-echelon teams to strengthen its case.
Virginia Tech [16-4 (3-3), RPI: 70, SOS: 239] The Hokies will probably have to make some serious noise during their final 10 ACC games to have a chance on Selection Sunday. They helped themselves by beating rival Virginia 76-71 in overtime in Charlottesville on Thursday, but an 82-75 loss at Miami on Sunday night doesn't help. Virginia Tech's schedule is ranked (239th) among the softest among teams from major conferences, and the Hokies don't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent. Nine of their 16 victories came against teams which are ranked No. 200 or worse. The Hokies' best non-ACC wins came against mediocre teams such as Iowa, Georgia and Seton Hall, so they will probably have to beat some ACC heavyweights to have a realistic chance at receiving an NCAA at-large bid.
North Carolina [13-8 (2-4), RPI: 76, SOS: 25] The defending national champion Tar Heels were rocked at home by Virginia Sunday night 75-60 and it couldn't have come at a worse time for Roy Williams' young squad. UNC is 2-5 in the calendar year and is set to begin a difficult three-game stretch, starting with a Thursday road game against Virginia Tech, followed by a road game at Maryland on Feb. 7 and a Feb. 10 home game against Duke. UNC probably needs at least two wins during that stretch to stay in at-large contention. Carolina's 77-73 victory over Ohio State (neutral court) and 89-82 win over Michigan State (home) will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA selection committee, and its 82-79 overtime loss to College of Charleston really isn't as bad as it might look on paper.
Virginia [13-6 (4-2), RPI: 90, SOS: 125] Beating defending national champion North Carolina might not mean as much as it used to, but beating the Tar Heels the way the Cavaliers did on Sunday night will undoubtedly carry some weight with the NCAA selection committee. After dropping consecutive ACC games, Virginia walked into Dean E. Smith Center and crushed the Tar Heels. It was a badly needed victory for UVa, which stayed even with Duke and Maryland in the loss column in the ACC standings. The Cavs' poor computer profile is the result of bad losses and a dearth of signature wins more than anything else. At least Virginia now has wins over Georgia Tech, UAB and UNC and improved its record to 4-3 against RPI top-100 foes. The Cavs will have to overcome three losses to RPI sub-125 teams, after falling to No. 132 Auburn (road), No. 139 Stanford (neutral court) and No. 227 Penn State (home).
|Big 12 Conference|
|Work left to do: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Missouri, Texas Tech|
Kansas will probably regain the No. 1 ranking in the polls on Monday, and it might be argued the Big 12 is the country's No. 1 league this season. Three Big 12 teams are in contention for top seeds in the NCAA tournament, although Kansas State and Texas have dropped some games recently. As many as six (or even seven) Big 12 teams could go dancing.
Baylor [16-4 (3-3), RPI: 26, SOS: 38] The Bears just missed on enjoying a huge week, losing to Kansas State 76-74 at home on Tuesday night and then upsetting Texas 80-77 in overtime in Austin on Saturday. Baylor seems to be in pretty good shape as long as it finishes strong. The Bears beat Xavier 69-64 in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando and defeated Oklahoma State 83-70 at home on Jan. 16. Losses to a couple of middling teams (Alabama and Colorado) won't help, but Baylor will have ample opportunities to improve its profile down the stretch.
Oklahoma State [16-5 (4-3), RPI: 28, SOS: 53] The Cowboys followed up their big upset of Kansas State on Jan. 23 by splitting two Big 12 games this week. The Pokes beat Texas A&M 76-69 on Wednesday night, but lost at Missouri 95-80 on Saturday. OSU will get a lot of mileage out of beating the highly ranked Wildcats in Manhattan, Kan., and it's a good thing because there really isn't much else in its overall body of work. Oklahoma State blasted Texas Tech 81-52 at home on Jan. 9 and picked up so-so wins over Bradley and Utah in the Las Vegas Invitational in late November. The Pokes probably still have some work to do during Big 12 play to be absolutely certain of an at-large bid.
Texas A&M [15-6 (4-3), RPI: 31, SOS: 21] The Aggies split a pair of Big 12 games this week and remain in the middle of the pack among the league's bubble teams. Texas A&M lost at Oklahoma State on the road and then beat up Texas Tech at home. It's going to be a big week with a road game at Missouri Wednesday night and home game against Baylor on Saturday. The Aggies have two wins over RPI top-50 foes, but they're 0-4 against top-25 opponents. They desperately need a signature victory to impress the selection committee.
Missouri [16-5 (4-2), RPI: 32, SOS: 75] The Tigers defeated Oklahoma State by 15 points at home on Saturday, rebounding nicely after they were walloped at Kansas on Big Monday. The Tigers will get a lot of weight out of their 74-68 victory over Kansas State at home on Jan. 9. Missouri's 66-61 win over Old Dominion in the South Padre Island Invitational also will help its chances. The Tigers also defeated Texas Tech 94-89 in overtime on Jan. 13. They will have to overcome one ugly loss: 60-59 at RPI No. 134 Oral Roberts on Dec. 9.
Texas Tech [14-7 (2-5), RPI: 38, SOS: 15] The Red Raiders have a great computer profile, but they have to start winning some games that matter to justify their lofty ranking. Texas Tech whiffed on two big chances this week, losing at Texas 95-83 Wednesday night and 85-70 at Texas A&M on Saturday. Tech doesn't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 team and it's now 0-7 against such foes. A tough schedule will only carry a team so far on Selection Sunday. The Red Raiders' best wins came against RPI No. 64 Washington and No. 75 UTEP, along with so-so wins over Stanford and Oklahoma. Worse, the Red Raiders lost at Oklahoma State by 29 and at Kansas by 26.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, Seton Hall|
Syracuse and Villanova remain in line for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and three other Big East teams -- West Virginia, Georgetown and Pittsburgh -- have done more than enough to secure at-large bids. But the rest of the league remains in bubble purgatory. Connecticut and Louisville are fading fast, and for now at least Notre Dame is out of the bubble picture altogether after losing at Rutgers 74-73 on Saturday.
Connecticut [13-8 (3-5), RPI: 44, SOS: 3] The Huskies' 88-74 upset of Texas on Jan. 23 now seems like a distant memory after they lost to a pair of mediocre Big East teams last week. Playing without coach Jim Calhoun, who remains sidelined because of health problems, the Huskies lost at Providence 81-66 and to Marquette 70-68 at home on Saturday. Connecticut will probably get the benefit of the doubt because it has played the country's third-toughest schedule, but it has to reverse its recent slide. UConn has lost five of its last seven games and is only 1-5 against RPI top-50 opponents. Worse, the Huskies are 0-4 in road games and play six of their final 10 games away from home, starting with Monday night's contest at Louisville.
Louisville [13-8 (4-4), RPI: 47, SOS: 5] Louisville coach Rick Pitino's season has been about as much fun as his summer. After losing at West Virginia 77-74 on Saturday, the Cardinals are in serious danger of being left out of the NCAA at-large discussion. Frankly, Louisville hasn't done anything to this point to deserve an at-large bid. The Cardinals are 0-4 against RPI top-25 foes; 1-6 against the top 50 and 1-5 in road games. In fact, all but four of their 13 victories came against teams that are ranked outside the RPI top 100. Beating Cincinnati, St. John's and South Florida isn't enough to gain inclusion into the NCAA tournament field. Obviously, Louisville could really use a victory over Connecticut at home on Monday night.
Cincinnati [14-7 (5-4), RPI: 49, SOS: 40] The Bearcats beat Providence 92-88 at home on Saturday, giving them some confidence as they head into an important three-game stretch. Cincinnati plays at Notre Dame on Thursday, followed by Sunday's home game against Syracuse and a Feb. 13 road trip to Connecticut. Cincinnati is in better shape than a couple of other Big East bubble teams because it has a couple of quality nonconference wins (67-58 over Vanderbilt and 69-57 over Maryland in the Maui Invitational). UC also was very competitive in close losses to a trio of RPI top-35 teams, losing to Gonzaga by two in overtime, to Xavier by four in double overtime and to Pittsburgh by three. The bad news: The Bearcats have already lost to fellow Big East bubble teams Louisville, Seton Hall and St. John's.
Marquette [13-8 (4-5), RPI: 58, SOS: 27] The overall record (13-8) is mediocre, but the Golden Eagles cannot be ignored. After beating UConn on the road over the weekend, Marquette has three top-50 wins (beat Georgetown by three and Xavier by 10). But it's the close calls that lead us to believe this can be an NCAA tourney team if it can just close games out. The Eagles lost to Villanova twice by a combined four points, lost at Syracuse by five and lost by one point to both West Virginia (road) and Florida State (neutral). The losses to NC State (home) and DePaul (road), however, don't help the cause.
Seton Hall [12-7 (3-5), RPI: 59, SOS: 16] After losing 76-74 in overtime at South Florida on Thursday night, the Pirates are a fringe bubble team at best. Frankly, Seton Hall is still in the bubble discussion because Big East teams such as Notre Dame and St. John's aren't. Seton Hall's overall profile isn't bad, with four victories over RPI top-50 foes: Pitt (home), Cornell (road), Louisville (home) and Cincinnati (home). The Pirates are 1-4 against RPI top-25 foes and 4-5 against the top 50. They have only two losses against sub-RPI 50 opponents, losing to Virginia Tech and South Florida, both in overtime. If Seton Hall receives an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, it would have certainly earned it. Six of its last 10 games will be played on the road, starting Thursday night at Villanova and Saturday at Pittsburgh.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Ohio State|
Work left to do: Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois
The Big Ten is probably better than it was a year ago, with three teams -- Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin -- ranked in the top 13 of the RPI ratings. But the overall depth of the league isn't as good as it was in 2008-09, either. In fact, if the regular season were to end today, only four Big Ten teams (the aforementioned schools and Ohio State) would probably be invited to the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State [16-6 (6-3), RPI: 23, SOS: 64] The Buckeyes are in really good shape, now that star Evan Turner has returned from a back injury that caused him to miss six games. Ohio State was 3-3 without him, but the Buckeyes have won five of seven games since he returned on Jan. 6. Ohio State has four victories over RPI top-50 foes: Wisconsin (home), Purdue (road), California (neutral court) and Florida State (home). The Buckeyes are only 2-5 in road games, so it wouldn't hurt to pick up a couple of wins away from Columbus.
Minnesota [13-8 (4-5), RPI: 57, SOS: 18] The Gophers ended a three-game losing streak by beating Northwestern 65-61 at home on Tuesday night, but couldn't build on it, getting blown out Sunday at Ohio State. Minnesota's season seems to be on life support, after starting point guard Al Nolen was declared academically ineligible earlier this month. The Gophers play four of their next six games at home and have road trips to Penn State and Northwestern. Minnesota has a couple of high-quality wins, beating Butler 82-73 at the 76 Classic and Ohio State 73-62 at home (after Turner returned). But Minnesota will have to pick up some more marquee victories. It is 1-3 against RPI top-25 foes; 2-5 against the top 50 and 1-5 in road games. There also are bad losses to Portland (neutral court) and Indiana (road) on the resume.
Northwestern [14-7 (3-6), RPI: 63, SOS: 48] After losing at Minnesota and Michigan State this week, the Wildcats have to make up some serious ground if they're going to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Northwestern has only one victory over an RPI top-50 opponent, beating Purdue 72-64 at home. It is 3-7 against the RPI top 100, with so-so wins over Notre Dame (neutral), Illinois (home) and NC State (road). The Wildcats play four of their next five games at home, so they'll have a chance to pad their resume. But Northwestern can't afford any hiccups during the next two weeks.
Illinois [14-8 (6-3), RPI: 80, SOS: 79] The Illini finally got their once-promising season turned back around after losing three games in a row (after a 4-0 start in Big Ten play). Illinois won at Penn State 77-67 on Wednesday night and rallied to beat Indiana 72-70 at home on Saturday. Coach Bruce Weber still can't feel really good about how his team is playing as it is set to begin its toughest stretch of the season. After playing at Iowa on Wednesday night, Illinois plays a four-game gantlet against the Big Ten's best teams. The Illini play Michigan State at home Feb. 6, at Wisconsin on Feb. 9, home against Ohio State Feb. 14 and at Purdue Feb. 20. Ouch. Illinois has a couple of good nonconference wins (Vandy at home and Clemson on the road), but the NCAA selection committee probably won't like its 0-5 record on neutral courts (including losses to Utah, Georgia and Bradley).
|Mountain West Conference|
|Work left to do: San Diego State, UNLV|
BYU and New Mexico have both already reached the 20-win plateau this season and both have all but locked up at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. There might be one more NCAA spot left for a MWC team, and San Diego State and UNLV will probably battle for it until season's end. The Runnin' Rebels currently have the upper hand, having beaten the Aztecs by 10 at home on Jan. 13.
San Diego State [15-6 (4-3), RPI: 36, SOS: 61] The MWC might not get more than three teams into the NCAA tournament, and the Aztecs are probably No. 4 in the bubble pecking order right now. San Diego State lost at UNLV 76-66 on Jan. 13 and trails the Rebels by one game in the MWC standings. The Aztecs are 1-3 against RPI top-50 opponents, beating New Mexico 74-64 at home on Jan. 5. San Diego State has only one other top-100 victory, beating a then-struggling Arizona 63-46 at home on Dec. 12. There's a loss to Wyoming on the profile and an 80-58 whipping at the hands of Saint Mary's. The Aztecs play Air Force at home Tuesday and at New Mexico Saturday. They could really use another signature win to strengthen their case and really need to beat UNLV in the Feb. 13 rematch in San Diego.
UNLV [17-4 (5-2), RPI: 41, SOS: 111] The Runnnin' Rebels beat Air Force 60-50 on Tuesday night to stay within striking distance of BYU and New Mexico in the MWC standings. After playing at Wyoming on Wednesday, UNLV plays consecutive home games against BYU on Saturday and New Mexico on Feb. 10. Vegas has a better resume than San Diego State at this point, with a 74-62 win at New Mexico on Jan. 9 and home victories over Louisville and the Aztecs. The Rebels are 3-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 6-3 against the top 100.
|Work left to do: California, Arizona|
Who knew the Pac-10 would ever be this bad in men's basketball? California and Arizona, which have combined to lose 16 games this season, played for first place in the Pac-10 standings on Sunday. The Wildcats won the game and improved to 12-9 overall. USC easily has the league's best nonconference profile (wins over Tennessee, Saint Mary's and UNLV), but the Trojans aren't eligible for the Pac-10 or NCAA tournament because of self-imposed penalties for violations involving former star player O.J. Mayo.
California [14-7 (6-3), RPI: 24, SOS: 1] After losing at Arizona on Sunday, the Bears fell into a first-place tie with the Wildcats in the Pac-10 standings. Even though California has played the country's toughest schedule, its overall profile is pretty lacking. Cal doesn't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 opponent. In fact, its best wins came against RPI No. 87 Arizona State (road), No. 89 USC (home), No. 92 Murray State (home) and No. 95 Pacific (road). Cal is 0-4 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-6 against the top 100. The Bears desperately need some signature victories. Unfortunately, they'll be hard to find in the Pac-10 this season. They can start by sweeping games at USC and UCLA this week.
Arizona [12-9 (6-3), RPI: 52, SOS: 8] The Wildcats sneak into the bubble discussion after beating California 76-72 at home on Sunday to move into a first-place tie with the Bears in the Pac-10 standings. Obviously, with only 12 victories overall, the Wildcats have plenty of work to do between now and Selection Sunday. Arizona has played one of the toughest schedules in the country and had mixed results, to say the least. The Wildcats lost to Wisconsin by four points (neutral court), Vanderbilt by 12 (neutral), BYU by 30 (home), San Diego State by 17 (road) and UNLV by two in double overtime (home). The Cal win is their only victory over an RPI top-50 opponent and they're 4-8 against the top 100. Arizona plays at Washington and Washington State this week and can't afford a loss to either opponent.
|Teams that should be in: Vanderbilt, Tennessee|
Work left to do: Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State
The SEC was supposed to be one of the country's most improved leagues this season, and it's certainly better at the top. Kentucky is in position for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and Vanderbilt and Tennessee seem to be pretty close to locking up potential at-large bids. Four other teams are battling to stay in contention for the NCAA's 65-team field, but only Ole Miss seems to be in great shape right now -- and it was upset by Arkansas at home Sunday night.
Vanderbilt [16-4 (5-1), RPI: 14, SOS: 22] The Commodores' 10-game winning streak ended with an 85-72 loss at Kentucky on Saturday. But Vanderbilt still seems awfully close to locking up an NCAA at-large bid. The Dores have played the country's 22nd-toughest schedule and they're 3-2 against RPI top-50 teams (winning at St. Mary's and beating Missouri at home). They've also defeated fellow SEC bubble teams Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Vanderbilt plays Mississippi State at home Wednesday and at Georgia on Saturday, and with a couple of more SEC victories, it will be difficult to keep the Commodores out of the NCAA field.
Tennessee [16-4 (4-2), RPI: 21, SOS: 29] The Volunteers didn't miss a beat after star forward Tyler Smith was dismissed from the team in early January, until hitting a couple of speed bumps against Georgia and Vanderbilt. But Tennessee got back on track with a win at home over Florida on Sunday and still seems to be in very good shape for an NCAA at-large bid, with three victories over RPI top-50 foes, including a 76-68 upset of then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10. UT also beat Charlotte and Ole Miss at home and lost to Purdue by one point on a neutral court. The Vols still play most of their remaining difficult SEC games on the road, including trips to Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State.
Ole Miss [16-5 (4-2), RPI: 45, SOS: 76] After an injury-riddled season in 2008-09, the Rebels seem talented enough to beat anybody in the SEC. Ole Miss is only 1-3 against RPI top-50 foes, so it could really use a win at Kentucky on Tuesday night. That doesn't leave much rest for the Rebels, with a quick turnaround following their loss to Arkansas on Sunday, which was delayed one day because of bad weather. Ole Miss will get a lot of mileage out of its 86-74 win over Kansas State in the Puerto Rico Shootout in November. It lost to Villanova by 12 points in the same tournament and lost at West Virginia by 10 on Dec. 23. After playing at UK, the Rebels play five of their last eight regular-season games at home.
Florida [15-6 (4-3), RPI: 55, SOS: 73] The Gators had won four of five games heading into Sunday's road loss at Tennessee, but they still seem to be in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the third season in a row. Florida had two good nonconference victories, beating Florida State 68-52 at home on Nov. 24 and Michigan State 77-74 in the Legends Classic on Nov. 27. But the Gators lost at Vanderbilt and fell to Kentucky at home, and also needed miraculous buzzer-beaters to defeat NC State and South Carolina. The Gators are 2-5 against RPI top-50 foes and 4-5 against the top 100.
South Carolina [13-8 (4-3), RPI: 61, SOS: 26] How far can one player carry a college basketball team? We're about to find out. Senior guard Devan Downey has been forced to carry the Gamecocks on his back after senior forward Dominique Archie was lost to a season-ending injury in late November. Downey has scored 25 points or more in every SEC game, including 30 or more five times. Downey scored 30 points in South Carolina's 68-62 upset of No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday and had 33 in a 78-77 win over Georgia on Saturday. The Gamecocks still have plenty of work to do, but they'll bring a couple of big wins (Kentucky and Richmond) to the table. Carolina's 68-61 loss at RPI No. 99 Wofford on Dec. 19 won't help their cause, though.
Mississippi State [16-5 (4-2), RPI: 65, SOS: 174] The Bulldogs are tied with Ole Miss for first place in the SEC West standings, but they don't have a great computer profile in terms of the NCAA bubble. MSU hasn't played a single game against an RPI top-25 opponent and it's 3-2 against the top 100. State's best wins came against Old Dominion on a neutral court and at Ole Miss in the Jan. 9 SEC opener. The Bulldogs also have three losses against sub-100 opponents: 88-74 against No. 133 Rider in the Nov. 13 home opener, 55-52 at No. 157 Western Kentucky on Jan. 4 and 67-62 at No. 126 Arkansas. The Bulldogs play upcoming road games at Vanderbilt Wednesday and at Florida on Saturday. They really need to win at least one of those games to feel better about their NCAA at-large chances.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Teams that should be in: Northern Iowa, Butler|
Work left to do: UAB, Cornell, Saint Mary's, Siena, Old Dominion, William & Mary, Northeastern, VCU, Tulsa, UTEP, Memphis, George Mason
Recent NCAA tournament upstarts such as Davidson, Creighton and Western Kentucky aren't even in the bubble discussion this season. With a couple of more losses, Memphis will be as good as gone, too. But that doesn't mean college basketball's smaller conferences won't produce teams capable of winning some games in the NCAA tournament. By early March, inquiring minds might be looking toward a league like the Colonial Athletic Association for bracket-busters.
Northern Iowa [19-2 (10-1), RPI: 16, SOS: 106] Only the Panthers' soft nonconference schedule is preventing them from locking up an NCAA at-large bid at this point. Northern Iowa has lost two games: 60-52 to DePaul at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 20 and 60-51 at Wichita State on Jan. 19. The Panthers will have a chance to avenge the loss to the Shockers when they host them in a key Missouri Valley Conference game on Wednesday night. Northern Iowa has some so-so wins over teams such as Iowa State, Iowa and Boston College, but its overall profile precludes it from losing many more games. The Panthers are 1-1 against RPI top-50 teams and 6-1 against the top 100. They're 8-1 in road games, which will certainly help.
Butler [18-4 (11-0), RPI: 18, SOS: 46] The Bulldogs have won 10 in a row and they'll be heavy favorites the rest of the way in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs probably did enough to earn an at-large bid, even if they don't win the Horizon Tournament. They're 2-3 against RPI top-50 foes, with victories over Ohio State (without Evan Turner) and Xavier. Butler was more than competitive in other marquee games, losing to Clemson by one point, Georgetown by seven and at UAB by 10.
UAB [18-3 (6-1), RPI: 27, SOS: 96] The Blazers had their seven-game winning streak end with a double-overtime loss to UTEP at home on Saturday night. UAB thought it had the game won, but the winning basket was nullified by basket interference at the end of regulation. UAB is still in the best shape of the C-USA bubble teams, with key home victories over Butler and Cincinnati. The Blazers are 2-0 against RPI top-50 foes and 5-3 against the top 100. The Blazers still play Memphis twice and Marshall at home, but they're in the C-USA driver's seat with nine games to go.
Cornell [18-3 (4-0), RPI: 34, SOS: 148] Big Red made a big statement Saturday night by blasting Harvard 86-50 at home. Cornell isn't your traditional Ivy League team. The Big Red won 71-67 at Alabama and 71-66 at St. John's. It also lost at Syracuse by 15 points and at Kansas by five. Cornell is 0-2 against RPI top-50 foes and 3-3 against the top 100. Since the Ivy League awards its automatic NCAA tournament bid to its regular-season champion, Cornell needs to win at Harvard in the rematch on Feb. 19 to feel really confident about making the NCAA field.
Saint Mary's [19-3 (6-1), RPI: 35, SOS: 113] The Gaels have won nine of their past 10 games to stay right on Gonzaga's heels in the West Coast Conference race. Of course, the only Saint Mary's loss during that stretch was an 89-82 loss to the Bulldogs at home on Jan. 14. SMC plays home games against Santa Clara and San Francisco this week, before traveling to Gonzaga for the Feb. 11 rematch. Gonzaga has a much better computer profile than Saint Mary's, so there should be no doubt what the NCAA pecking order is in this league. The Gaels' only win over an RPI top-50 opponent was an 80-58 victory over San Diego State at home on Nov. 17. The Gaels also lost to Vanderbilt 72-70 at home on Nov. 20.
Siena [19-4 (12-0), RPI: 43, SOS: 158] The Saints have become regulars to the NCAA tournament, but they might have to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament to secure an automatic bid. Siena has won 13 games in a row, the longest winning streak in Division I, and it will be heavily favored in its final six regular-season games. Still, Siena's overall profile might not be enough to receive an at-large bid. The Saints don't have a single victory over an RPI top-50 foe and they're only 2-4 against the top 100. Siena missed out in four games against big-name schools, losing to Temple by four points (road), St. John's by nine (neutral), Georgia Tech by 10 (road) and Northern Iowa by 17 (road).
Old Dominion [17-6 (9-2), RPI: 46, SOS: 103] The Monarchs really missed out on a chance to move to the front of the line among CAA bubble teams, losing at Northeastern 74-64 on Saturday. ODU still seems to be in the best shape and can move closer to an at-large bid this coming week, with a home game against William & Mary on Wednesday and a road game at Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday. ODU got its marquee nonconference victory with a 61-57 upset at Georgetown on Dec. 19. ODU is 2-3 against RPI top-50 teams and 4-5 against the top 100. The Monarchs beat fellow bubble team Charlotte (home), but lost to Richmond (road), Dayton (road), Missouri (neutral court) and Mississippi State (neutral court).
William & Mary [15-6 (6-4), RPI: 51, SOS: 97] The Tribe really hurt themselves with a 65-63 loss at James Madison on Wednesday, which was their third defeat in a row. They recovered a bit by eking past Drexel on Sunday and they do have a better nonconference profile than rival Old Dominion, with wins at Wake Forest and Maryland and a home victory over Richmond. But the Monarchs beat the Tribe 58-55 on the road on Jan. 23, so Wednesday night's game at ODU is almost a must-win. The Tribe split games with fellow CAA bubble team Virginia Commonwealth and play Northeastern at home on Feb. 13.
Northeastern [14-8 (9-2), RPI: 56, SOS: 43] The Huskies don't have the nonconference profiles of the other CAA contenders, so they'll have to try to make up for it during conference play. They took a big step in doing just that by beating Old Dominion by 10 at home on Saturday. The Huskies had a five-game losing streak in December, in which they lost to Drexel and Western Michigan, and they also fell to rival Boston U. in November. Northeastern had so-so nonconference wins over Utah State and Kent State and swept games against VCU. The Huskies play a CAA contender only one more time -- at William & Mary on Feb. 13 -- so they probably can't afford any hiccups.
VCU [15-5 (6-4), RPI: 60, SOS: 157] The Rams probably have a softer profile than the other three CAA bubble teams, so they need to make up ground in a hurry. VCU has an RPI top-25 win over Rhode Island, along with a solid victory over Richmond and so-so wins over Nevada and Oklahoma. But the Rams were swept by CAA contender Northeastern and split with William & Mary. They still play Old Dominion twice and might have to sweep to stay in at-large contention. VCU has two bad RPI losses: 83-67 at Western Michigan on Nov. 18 and 75-72 at Drexel on Jan. 6.
Tulsa [17-4 (6-1), RPI: 62, SOS: 176] After losing at UAB 65-55 last Tuesday night, the Golden Hurricane might have to sweep their games against Memphis and avoid any speed bumps to stay in the NCAA at-large hunt. Or they can simply beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 25. Other than a 21-point trouncing of Oklahoma State at home on Dec. 2, there just isn't a lot of meat in Tulsa's profile. The Okie State win is the Golden Hurricane's only victory over an RPI top-100 opponent. In fact, nine of Tulsa's 16 victories came against teams that are ranked No. 200 or worse in the RPI ratings.
UTEP [15-5 (6-1), RPI: 75, SOS: 143] The Miners are making a late push for NCAA at-large consideration, winning their last five games, including road victories at Memphis and UAB. UTEP will have to do even more damage during C-USA play, though, because there aren't a lot of positives to consider during nonconference play. UTEP's best nonleague wins came against RPI No. 82 New Mexico State and No. 83 Oklahoma. It was competitive in three close losses against RPI top-50 opponents, losing to BYU by six points, Ole Miss by 10 in overtime and at Texas Tech by eight. The Miners play home games this week against Houston and Tulsa and probably can't afford to lose either one.
Memphis [15-6 (5-2), RPI: 79, SOS: 133] After falling at SMU 70-60 on Saturday, one can only assume the Tigers were looking ahead to this coming week's doubleheader of marquee games. With a middling computer profile, Memphis will probably have to sweep home games against UAB on Wednesday night and Gonzaga on Saturday to have a real shot at receiving an at-large bid. At this point, Memphis doesn't have a victory over an RPI top-50 opponent and its best wins came against Marshall, Oakland and IUPUI. That isn't good enough for at-large consideration. The Tigers were competitive against two RPI top-25 foes, losing to Kansas by two and Tennessee by seven, but being close won't count in the end.
George Mason [15-7 (10-1), RPI: 105, SOS: 204] The Patriots really shouldn't be in the NCAA bubble discussion, but we're compelled to include them because they lead the CAA standings with a 10-1 mark against league foes. Other than that, George Mason has accomplished nothing that would make a compelling case to the NCAA selection committee. Mason's only RPI top-100 win came against Old Dominion on Jan. 2. The Patriots also have three bad road losses, against RPI No. 115 George Washington, No. 179 Radford and No. 252 Tulane. George Mason will probably have to win the CAA tournament to make the NCAA field.