Bubble looks soft; many still in mix

Originally Published: January 24, 2006
By Andy Glockner | ESPN.com

Three weeks ago, we took a first look at some of the most interesting bubble candidates from around the nation. Now that we're about a third of the way through conference play, it's time for another peek.

Remember, this is a look at how these candidates would be judged today; it's not a projection as to how they will do down the stretch in their respective conference seasons.

Teams that appear to be locks if today were Selection Sunday:
ACC: Duke, NC State
Big East: Connecticut, West Virginia, Pitt, Villanova
Big 12: Texas
Big Ten: Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa
Pac-10: Washington, UCLA, Arizona (watch injury/suspension issues)
SEC: Florida, Tennessee
Other: Memphis, UAB, Gonzaga, Northern Iowa, George Washington (with at-large teams rooting for these teams to win auto bids)

(Note: This is not an all-inclusive list of bubble candidates. The debut of Bubble Watch, with full conference-by-conference breakdowns, is coming in early February. RPIs are as of Monday. Records are D-I only.)

Inside the RPI top 50

Cincinnati (14-5, RPI: 17)
Helpful wins: at Vanderbilt, Ohio, LSU
Harmful losses: None
Bearcats continue to impress, but will be judged, in part, without Armein Kirkland. No RPI top 25 wins at this point, but all other metrics look very solid.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee (13-4, RPI: 20)
Helpful wins: Hawaii, at Wyoming
Harmful losses: at Memphis (by 27), at Wisconsin-Green Bay
Hanging in there in the RPI, but an 0-2 record against the RPI top 50 with a blowout loss to Memphis isn't helping the Panthers' cause. Would be a very sticky case if they stay in this general RPI vicinity but don't win the Horizon's auto bid.

Syracuse (15-5, RPI: 21)
Helpful wins: at Cincinnati
Harmful losses: None
Three straight losses (albeit all to teams ranked in the top 10) have to have Orange fans feeling a bit blue. Only 2-4 against the RPI top 50. Hard to imagine 'Cuse not making it if the selection show were today -- the Big East still looks pretty solid for eight bids -- but trending in the wrong direction, for sure.

Wichita State (15-4, RPI: 23)
Helpful wins: None
Harmful losses: None
With the bubble looking as soft as it does right now, it's extremely reasonable that the MVC would get four bids; but right now, the Shockers are No. 4 in the pecking order. WSU is 0-3 against the RPI top 25, and while they are tied for first in the Valley at 7-2, the Shockers have not beaten any of the other three at-large candidates (0-2 so far vs. Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Creighton). Final-second loss to Illinois is a shame for a team needing a marquee W.

Maryland (12-4, RPI: 24)
Helpful wins: Boston College
Harmful losses: None
Things may have changed significantly for the Terps on Monday with the announcement that leading scorer Chris McCray is ineligible for the rest of the season. Currently in solid-but-not-lock position for a bid (just 1-3 vs. RPI top 50, but good schedule strength), will need to pull an Iowa from last season and win a couple of games without their star to validate the overall record.

Boston College (13-4, RPI: 25)
Helpful wins: None
Harmful losses: at Georgia Tech
Won a huge road game at Miami to avoid falling to 1-4 in the ACC, but the Eagles are far from out of the woods. With an 0-3 record against the RPI top 50, BC doesn't have anything resembling a marquee win. At this point, schedule strength, overall record and soft bubble would get them in (5-0 mark against RPI 51-100 helps).

Southern Illinois (14-4, RPI: 26)
Helpful wins: Wichita State
Harmful losses: vs. Monmouth, at Alaska-Anchorage
Rallied back from gruesome 2-3 start in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year to hold co-leadership of the Valley at 7-2. Lost a heartbreaker at Northern Iowa in double-OT that really would have helped resume. Big home game against Creighton Tuesday night. Only 2-3 vs. the RPI top 100, but vital signs are OK. Likely ahead of Wichita State right now on basis of head-to-head win.

Creighton (13-4, RPI: 27)
Helpful wins: Xavier, at Northern Iowa
Harmful losses: at Chattanooga
Hey! Another Valley team! Bluejays are in very good shape by virtue of their 4-0 record against the RPI top 50 and good overall schedule strength. Obviously, the Valley will make or break a candidacy, but right now, Creighton would be in the Dance.

Marquette (13-5, RPI: 29)
Helpful wins: UConn
Harmful losses: Winthrop, at Nebraska
How far can one huge win carry a team? For Marquette, it could be enough to carry the Golden Eagles back to the NCAAs. While just 1-3 vs. RPI top 50, Marquette is winning the close Big East games (3-1 in games decided by four points or less) and has a softish final 10 in league play that should help it get close to the 20 wins that would make Marquette golden.

Oklahoma (11-4, RPI: 30)
Helpful wins: None
Harmful losses: at Nebraska
Getting two league Ws after the giveaway against Nebraska and the home loss to Missouri has helped right the Sooners' ship, for now. Overall profile still lacking much oomph (0-2 vs. RPI top 50 with double-digit losses at Villanova and vs. West Virginia), but given the dearth of solid bubble teams right now, the Sooners would be OK if today were Selection Sunday.

LSU (11-5, RPI: 31)
Helpful wins: at West Virginia, Tennessee
Harmful losses: None
This is a team heading in the right direction. After absorbing a number of tough losses against very strong competition (Houston by 1, No. Iowa by 4, at Cincy by 3, at Ohio St. by 2, at UConn by 1), the Tigers have ripped off four straight wins in the SEC, including a 14-point win over Tennessee. Much closer to a lock at this point than anywhere near the bubble cutoff.

Michigan (13-3, RPI: 32)
Helpful wins: Miami, at Notre Dame
Harmful losses: None
Wolverines currently own the epitome of a bubble profile: 0-3 vs. RPI top 50 and 13-0 against everyone else. Picked up a solid 14-point road win at Minnesota over the weekend, but upcoming homestand against Michigan State and Wisconsin will go a long way toward determining their fate. Final four games in league play are killer, so best pick up Ws now.

North Carolina (11-4, RPI: 33)
Helpful wins: Kentucky, NC State
Harmful losses: at Virginia
Tar Heels would be safely in the bracket today, but the importance of the one-point win at Florida State shouldn't be discounted. Avoiding what would have been a three-game skid entering a stiff part of the schedule was key. With Kentucky win starting to lose its luster, would be nice to see the Heels pick up another name W in league play.

Georgetown (12-4, RPI: 35)
Helpful wins: Duke
Harmful losses: None
Profile looks a lot stronger with that Duke W sitting at the top of it. Still, none of G'town's losses are questionable and they went out on the road and beat decent Oregon and UTEP squads -- much more than this program historically has undertaken in nonconference play. Next three (at ND, Cincy, at DePaul) will be very big for eventual at-large hopes.

Old Dominion (14-5, RPI: 37)
Helpful wins: vs. Georgia, DePaul (by 44), Virginia Tech
Harmful losses: at Richmond, at Drexel (by 19), at UAB (by 28)
One of the craziest at-large profiles around at this point. Just 1-2 vs. RPI top 50, but 5-3 overall vs. top 100. The Monarchs have wins over SEC, Big East and ACC schools, but have been routed twice and the home loss to Hofstra (a solid team in its own right) was punishing to the RPI of a team that needs every piece of evidence in its favor. Currently tied for first in the very underrated CAA at 7-2, Monarchs will be worth watching all the way down the stretch.

Bucknell (14-3, RPI: 38)
Helpful wins: at Syracuse, at DePaul, Saint Joseph's
Harmful losses: at Duke (by 34), at Santa Clara
Another team that would be biting its nails on Selection Sunday with this profile. Had two shots at the big boys and didn't really come close either time, but does have nonconference wins at Syracuse and DePaul and over Saint Joseph's. Loss at Santa Clara in the Cable Car Classic could be an issue if the Bison drop a game in the Patriot League. Committee doesn't officially recognize past performance, but with same cast back, hard to believe '05 Kansas W wouldn't somehow help in a tiebreaker situation.

Xavier (12-3, RPI: 40)
Helpful wins: at Charlotte, Cincinnati
Harmful losses: None
Home loss to Saint Louis was an RPI downer and moved Xavier from a lock to a near-lock at this point. Won't rehash my column from Thursday, but right now, X would be safely in the field and wearing white in Round 1.

Kansas State (9-2, RPI: 42)
Helpful wins: Colorado State
Harmful losses: Nebraska
Resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi says they're the last team in; profile isn't terribly good, but that's probably about right at this point. Lost at Northern Illinois, but Huskies are in the RPI top 100. Just 0-1 vs. RPI Top 50, but good W at Kansas and beat Missouri. Next four games (at Colorado, at Baylor, Oklahoma State, Iowa State) will provide ample evidence if Wildcats are for real.

Kentucky (12-6, RPI: 44)
Helpful wins: vs. West Virginia, Louisville
Harmful losses: at Kansas (how funny does that look?) by 27, vs. Indiana (by 26)
Right now, Cats are OK -- thanks to two Rajon Rondo jumpers that have saved their at-large profile. Huge 3 on Saturday prevented a third home loss in conference play. UK fans in weird position to actually root for Louisville to stop losing. Early West Virginia win starting to look like a golden goose. Softish next three (at Auburn, Arkansas, at Miss. State) precede very telling three-game stretch (at Florida, Tennessee, at Vandy) that could define Cats' season.

Vanderbilt (12-4, RPI: 46)
Helpful wins: at Georgetown, at Kentucky
Harmful losses: at Georgia Tech
Vandy has a couple nice road wins (along with stunning Oregon on a long buzzer-beating 3) and a couple of quasi-hiccups thus far. Not too much to get excited over either way for now, but that will change with the next two at Florida and at Tennessee. A split there would go a long way toward pushing the Commodores toward the Dance.

Iowa State (11-6, RPI: 47)
Helpful wins: Iowa, Northern Iowa, Colorado State
Harmful losses: Iona, Fresno State, at Texas Tech
Another odd profile. How far can Cyclones ride the home-state sweep of Iowa and Northern Iowa? Four true home losses are sinking the RPI of a club that started slow, got hot and now has lost three of its last four in Big 12 play, including games to Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Next five (at Mizzou, Kansas, Colorado, at K-State, at Kansas) will probably be telling one way or the other.

Air Force (14-3, RPI: 49)
Helpful wins: Miami
Harmful losses: Wyoming
Falcons are a fun story, but losses at Wyoming and New Mexico have thrown a bit of a wrench into the works. With no marquee win or any real good victory on the road yet, USAFA needs to keep its place in the upper echelon of the MWC to feel good about its at-large chances. In midst of six road games in eight (lost at New Mexico by three to start the stretch), so we'll see where the Falcons are in a couple of weeks.

Selected teams outside the RPI top 50

Temple: No top 50 wins and a couple of ghastly losses have Owls in bid trouble again.
Arkansas: Haven't seen enough yet, but plenty of time in the SEC West to make some more hay.
Nevada: Rapidly losing steam as the Pack is now .500 in the WAC.
Wake Forest: Fun team that can't stop anyone. Looking like an NIT bid at this point.
Colorado: I like the Buffs, who are showing (finally) they can win some games on the road. Richard Roby is a stud.
Utah State: Huge win at Nevada, but per usual, strength of schedule is modest and no top-50 wins.
Oklahoma State: Trouble brewing in Stillwater after 34-point thrashing at Texas. Is it better not to play any top-50 games, or to lose five out of six of them?
Louisville: Still ranked? No RPI top-50 wins (0-4) and a road/neutral record of 2-2. If the jerseys said "Hofstra" (one spot ahead of Cards in RPI), would this even be a discussion?
Missouri: So much for "back from the dead" after 15-point L at K-State?
Kansas: Another resume that looks better because of the name on the top than anything on it besides Kentucky romp. Jayhawks are currently two RPI spots ahead of MEAC leader Delaware State.

Andy Glockner is the college basketball editor at ESPN.com. E-mail him with comments.

ALSO SEE