College Basketball Bubble Watch
Looking for a structure with this year's Big Ten
Editor's note: This file has been updated to include all games through Monday, Feb. 17.
On Sunday, Wisconsin closed out an impressive road win at Michigan -- five days after Michigan closed out an impressive road win at Ohio State. Seven days earlier, on Feb. 4, Ohio State won at Iowa. On Feb. 8, Iowa destroyed Michigan in its own building, which was important, because the Hawkeyes had lost at Michigan and let a home game against a half-strength Michigan State get away from them on Jan. 28, and they really needed a big win.
On Jan. 23, Nebraska lost at Penn State. On Jan. 29, Penn State won at Ohio State. That same night, Northwestern held Wisconsin to 56 points in 68 possessions in Madison, Wis. On Sunday, Nebraska beat Michigan State 60-51 in East Lansing, Mich.
Welcome to the 2013-14 Big Ten.
To say there is no structure to this year's edition of the Big Ten would be wrong. Michigan State, when healthy, is the best team in the league, followed closely by Michigan and Wisconsin and Iowa, followed closely by Ohio State. But the bottom of the league -- Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern -- is better than it has ever been. This is one place both the RPI and efficiency ratings agree: Northwestern, No. 115, is the only Big Ten team to rank outside Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency top 100. And so the RPI breakdown goes like this: Wisconsin (6), Ohio State (16), Michigan (17), Michigan State (19), Iowa (30), Minnesota (33), Nebraska (52), Illinois (86), Indiana (100), Northwestern (104), Purdue (106), Penn State (107).
To step in Thomas Friedman's corner for a moment, the league is flatter than at any point in recent history. Which means:
1. Teams like Iowa don't have to worry quite so much about so-so nonconference schedules, because they aren't spending half their time in league play racking up sub-150 wins against the bottom-feeders of their league.
2. Teams with previously established résumés can kind of breathe easy.
Other bubble teams don't have this luxury. Fully half of the American ranks below 169 and below in the RPI. Four A-10 teams are below 150. The ACC has Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia Tech (RPI: 226!) lying in wait. The Pac-12 has USC and Wazzu. The Mountain West has Fresno, CSU, Air Force and San Jose State. The SEC is a mess. Even the Big 12, the consensus best league in the country, has poor TCU.
Not so in the Big Ten. Somewhere along the line, good basketball met with a weird alchemy of wins, and that brew produced an RPI powerhouse. Does that mean more teams in the tournament? No. Does it make for the best league in the country? Not necessarily.
But it does make for a collectively simplified, straightforward situation, fewer mathematical worries about playing bad teams, less agony for bad losses.
Because in the Big Ten, there's no such thing.
Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through Feb. 18.
|American Athletic Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Connecticut, Memphis, Louisville|
Work left to do: SMU
No real movement in The American just yet: Louisville beat up on two bad teams, while UConn and Memphis beat up on each other. All three are on track for single-digit seeds, but none are locks just yet. Meanwhile, SMU's road woes continued, jeopardizing the narrative of Larry Brown's impressive second season.
Connecticut [20-5 (8-4), RPI: 25, SOS: 67] Saturday's 86-81 win was a thrilling display from Ryan Boatright and especially Shabazz Napier, arguably the most entertaining game of a day that included a handful of tight finishes and a near-upset of Syracuse at home. For tournament purposes, though, it merely solidified UConn's CV -- it was a solid home win over a team with pretty similar tournament specs at this point. UConn is somewhere around a No. 6 seed. So is Memphis.
Memphis [19-6 (8-4), RPI: 34, SOS: 52] Are we so sure the Tigers shouldn't renew that series against Gonzaga indefinitely? Now that Oklahoma State is in shambles, that Feb. 8 nonconference victory over the Bulldogs is the one feature that distinguishes the Tigers from their bunched-up, should-be-in brethren. Anyway, that loss to UConn doesn't change much. If the Tigers had won on the road, maybe that'd be different, but as of right now, they're absolutely going to get in the tournament without deserving 100 percent lock status just yet.
Louisville [21-4 (10-2), RPI: 36, SOS: 112] No issues for Louisville in its Friday-Sunday turnaround at Temple and at home versus Rutgers: The Cardinals won by a combined 184-112. Of course, the committee doesn't factor margin of victory, and, as such, those wins are just two more sub-150 victories added to Louisville's rather sizable 15-0 pile. That's one of two remaining issues with the Cardinals keeping us from locking them in just yet: Their strength of schedule ranks just outside the top 100, and their nonconference SOS is just outside the top 150. Their three best wins are Southern Miss, SMU and at UConn. Their fourth-best win? Missouri State. They'll get in, but it won't be because of their schedule.
SMU [20-6 (9-4), RPI: 49, SOS: 160] Let's acknowledge up front just how weird it is to write the following sentence: On Saturday, SMU was upset at Temple. The Owls are surprisingly that bad, and SMU is that good, as to make that sentence possible; the world has been tipped on its axis. Once you get past that essential weirdness, the takeaway is that SMU once again suffered a bad loss on the road, which only solidifies the fact that, other than a win at Wyoming in December, the Mustangs haven't done anything of note away from their own building. Holding serve against Houston at home Wednesday should be straightforward, but on Sunday it's off to Connecticut, which is a huge opportunity to put up an impressive road result.
|Atlantic 10 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Massachusetts|
Work left to do: VCU, George Washington, Richmond, Saint Joseph's, Dayton
Want to know why so many people don't respect Wichita State? It has something to do with how many people are hilariously out of touch with Saint Louis. The Billikens are probably the best defensive team in the country and winners of their past 17 games. Their only losses this season came to Wisconsin (neutral) and Wichita State (at home). Too few people find that win to be impressive for the Shockers because too few people find Saint Louis impressive in the first place. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Massachusetts [20-5 (7-4), RPI: 18, SOS: 54] Really nice win for the Minutemen on Saturday at George Washington. Derek Kellogg's team lost to George Mason last week, and while Mason has played well, and been pretty unlucky in its A-10 struggles, the fact is its 152 RPI gave UMass its first bad loss of the season. So bouncing back on the road at GW was crucial and impressive. UMass has VCU at home on Friday and closes the season with Saint Louis in its own gym on March 8. It may not win the conference, but it should lock up a tournament spot somewhere between those two dates.
VCU [20-6 (8-3), RPI: 22, SOS: 59] The Rams very nearly came away with a huge win Saturday at Saint Louis; they came back from a 12-point deficit late at Chaifetz Arena before the Billikens closed ranks and did what they've done four times before in their current 17-game winning streak: win a one-possession game. For VCU, it's an especially disappointing loss given that the margin of victory doesn't really matter. It'll show up on the nitty-gritty sheet, sure, but in the realm of the RPI, a win is a win and a loss is a loss and no gray area is allowed in between. The good news? VCU has a top-25 RPI and a win at UVa to its name, and is in vastly better shape than 20 or more teams on the bubble line. The Rams will be all right.
George Washington [19-6 (7-4), RPI: 37, SOS: 91] Is there any non-McDermott coach in the country rooting harder for Creighton than GW's Mike Lonergan? The Colonials upset Greg McDermott's team all the way back on Dec. 1, and since then, it has been the gift that keeps on giving. After the Bluejays pummeled Villanova for the second straight time Sunday, their RPI rose all the way to No. 7 overall. A neutral-court win over a team that good is the centerpiece of a good-but-not-great resume with so-so schedule figures but a solid collection of top-100 opponents. That's all more than we can say for a bunch of teams sitting much closer to the cut line. GW is in OK shape for now.
Richmond [17-8 (7-3), RPI: 39, SOS: 45] The Spiders' RPI is similar and their schedule figures are actually better than George Washington's, so why are they smack on the cut line while GW hangs tight to a No. 8-10 seed(-ish)? Well, again: Creighton. But by contrast, Richmond's top six wins -- its only top-100 victories, by the way -- have all come on its home floor. Only one (over UMass) screams tourney-team, but you have to do a lot more than beat one or two good teams on your own floor to deserve a tourney spot.
Saint Joseph's [17-7 (7-3), RPI: 41, SOS: 53] Much like Richmond, the Hawks' notable accomplishments are limited to a couple of home wins against good but hardly mind-blowing conference foes -- in this case UMass and VCU. Other than that, it's a mix of OK RPI and SOS numbers (including a No. 144 nonconference schedule), a 2-5 record against the top 50, a 5-6 record against the top 100, and not much else. They're right next to the Spiders on the proverbial bubble with very little to distinguish between the two.
Dayton [17-8 (5-5), RPI: 56, SOS: 57] The Flyers are probably even further behind their bubble-populating conference cohort, and it doesn't help that Rhode Island (where Dayton lost Jan. 25) seems to keep plummeting in the computer rankings (Saturday's home loss to Duquesne will do that). It would be all too easy for the committee to look at Dayton's CV and say they were either bad or mediocre every week of the season except one -- in Maui. Archie Miller's team has one month to change that perception.
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|Work left to do: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, NC State, Florida State, Clemson|
Denizens of Bubble Land, please gather at the edge of town for the Virginia Cavaliers as they pass us on their old-timey parade float toward glorious lockdom. Wave at Tony Bennett's team as we call out their various distinctions: 21-5 overall, 12-1 in the ACC, pristine computer numbers, the whole deal. Even if Virginia somehow lost at Virginia Tech on Tuesday night, and lost every regular season game the rest of the way (not likely), it would still get in the tournament. So cheer along as we congratulate a team that was probably tourney-good a season ago but doomed itself with bad losses and a worse schedule. There will be no such dissonance this season.
North Carolina [18-7 (8-4), RPI: 23, SOS: 13] Did you know ... cue music ... that after Monday night's 81-75 win at Florida State, the Tar Heels are 7-0 in their last seven games? Before Saturday, that stat wouldn't have meant much, but holding on to a win over Pittsburgh two days before handling FSU on the road is an accomplishment worth noticing. UNC's recent run of success pairs quite nicely with those early-season wins over Louisville (neutral), Michigan State (on the road) and Kentucky (at home). A win over Duke Thursday night might just seal the deal. Who saw that coming?
Pittsburgh [20-6 (8-5), RPI: 31, SOS: 43] Even with the ugly nonconference schedule, the Panthers' trajectory could have resembled Virginia's. On Feb. 2, Pitt lost 48-45 to UVa at home on a Malcolm Brogdon game winner. Ten days later, after narrowly avoiding losses at Miami and vs. Virginia Tech, Pitt had Syracuse's first loss of the season in hand until nonexistent full-court defense and Tyler Ennis' robotic brilliance robbed them of it at the buzzer. (Reminder: Pitt nearly beat the Orange in the Carrier Dome back on Jan. 18.) Three days later, the Panthers were faced with the best performance of James Michael McAdoo's career and were still just one half-foot of Lamar Patterson jumper away from overtime at UNC. Save Jan. 27's 15-point home loss to Duke, the combined margin of Pitt's five other losses is just 15 points. Fifteen! This is a very good basketball team that keeps missing its opportunities late, and as such is much closer to the bubble than it has any right to be.
NC State [16-9 (6-6), RPI: 51, SOS: 19] The Wolfpack, on the other hand, are moving in the right direction -- they weren't on the page in either edition last week, and hey, here they are. The question is: How far can they move in a month's time? It goes without saying how large beating Syracuse in the Carrier Dome would have been Saturday, and the Wolfpack were one possession away, which maybe kind of counts for something? Either way, they're playing pretty good basketball. T.J. Warren is a stud, the numbers are OK, and now they need to win a bunch of games in the next month to make any of that mean anything. For starters, they can't possibly lose at Clemson or (especially) Virginia Tech this week. And they probably have to get wins vs. UNC on Feb. 26 and at Pitt March 3, too. But the bubble is soft. All are welcome.
Florida State [15-11 (6-8), RPI: 65, SOS: 46] The Seminoles began Monday on the tail end of Lunardi's bubble (third among his next four out, to be precise), and other than nonconference wins over VCU and UMass in November and December, there's just not a whole lot here. The Seminoles aren't back in action until Feb. 23, when they travel to Pitt. That should be interesting.
Clemson [15-9 (6-6), RPI: 75, SOS: 97] The Tigers had their chance Saturday at home against UVa and couldn't come through, and when you combine that with Feb. 11's loss at Notre Dame -- not to mention some really marginal RPI and schedule stats, including a 271 noncon SOS -- you get a team moving to the very fringes of the discussion.
|Big 12 Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State|
Work left to do: Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia
Iowa State almost did it. With 3:08 left in their 70-64 home win over Texas Tech on Saturday, the Cyclones trailed 62-61. Save Iowa State die-hards, no one was more riveted than the Watch: After locking in Iowa State slightly early, a home loss to Texas Tech would have forced us to seriously consider removing Fred Hoiberg's team from locks, which is like our equivalent to Batman's whole "don't kill dudes" thing. It's our one rule. And the Cyclones were going to make us semi-seriously think about breaking our one rule. Fortunately, Melvin Ejim made a go-ahead bucket at 3:01, Jaye Crockett turned it over, the Red Raiders scored just one field goal in the final three minutes, and all was once again safe in Gotham City. That was too close.
Texas [20-5 (9-3), RPI: 21, SOS: 56] The Longhorns pummeled Oklahoma State and West Virginia in back-to-back games in Austin, Texas, further solidifying an already-solid resume. We're not in lock territory yet, mostly because the Longhorns' No. 178 nonconference schedule forbids it. But with just five losses, all to top-50 teams, and a top-25 RPI, we're not far off.
Oklahoma [19-7 (8-5), RPI: 27, SOS: 26] The Sooners' 77-74 win at Oklahoma State is hard to judge. This will be a theme where OSU is involved in the coming weeks: How will the committee judge the Cowboys' performance without Marcus Smart? What residual effect will that have on their opponents? Either way, Oklahoma's solid prospects are mostly unchanged heading into this weekend's gauntlet: home vs. K-State, at Kansas.
Kansas State [17-8 (7-5), RPI: 35, SOS: 27] The Wildcats' loss at Baylor on Saturday helped Baylor more than it hurt K-State. The Wildcats could maybe use a road win at Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, or maybe just a big home win against Iowa State on March 1, but there's no real cause for concern here.
Baylor [17-9 (5-8), RPI: 45, SOS: 8] That was a huge three-day stretch for Baylor. First was an 87-73 home win against Kansas State on Saturday. Monday brought a 70-64 win over Oklahoma State. That brings the Bears and their top-10 SOS (and top-30 nonconference schedule) up to five top-50 wins. What's more, seven of their nine losses have come against top-30 RPI teams. These are all good things. Road games at West Virginia and Texas await in the week ahead. Those may not be must-wins, but losses will make two season-closers against Iowa State and Kansas State nervy situations.
Oklahoma State [16-10 (4-9), RPI: 47, SOS: 15] Well, that was fast. OSU's three-game purgatory sans their suspended point guard came and went in nine days, and it ended mostly as expected -- with three straight losses. The Cowboys fought hard at Baylor on Monday night but couldn't come up with the late shot they needed. So again: How does the committee factor these losses? Do they treat it like an injury? Does the four-game losing streak OSU completed before Smart's suspension weigh more heavily? Are they wary of either (A) punishing Oklahoma State too seriously or (B) indirectly rewarding them for Smart's decision? As is, Oklahoma State is officially on the bubble, down in the 10-11-12 seed range. And none of these questions will be settled until we see Oklahoma State back at full strength. First up: Saturday at home against Texas Tech. After that it's at TCU, vs. Kansas and Kansas State, and at Iowa State. Opportunities to salvage this mess abound, but will Oklahoma State take them? Add that question to the list, too.
West Virginia [15-11 (7-6), RPI: 67, SOS: 42] Last week's losses at Kansas and Texas sandwiched a 102-77 home win vs. Iowa State, which is what put them on the Bubble Watch board in the first place. For a team with 13 top-50 games on its ledger, the Mountaineers' computer numbers are still pretty ugly. It is a gift of the soft bubble that a team that lost to Purdue at home and Virginia Tech on the road in nonconference play is within striking distance of a tournament bid. A home date with Baylor and a trip to Iowa State are up next.
|Big East Conference|
|Work left to do: Xavier, St John's, Providence, Georgetown|
This has almost nothing to do with Bubble Watch, but it concerns the two locked-in Big East teams, so in it goes: In two games, Creighton scored 1.50 points per possession against Villanova. In every other Big East game, the Wildcats have allowed just .97 points per trip. Creighton is Villanova's defensive kryptonite. Creightonite? Let's move on.
Xavier [17-8 (7-5), RPI: 50, SOS: 72] Tennessee's ongoing struggles are no help to Xavier. On Nov. 12, that looked like a great win. A couple of months later, it still looked like it might help the Musketeers lock down a tournament bid. Now, its ceiling is "win over another bubble team," which, gee, thanks, UT. The Musketeers have a lot of potential help on the way: Road wins at Georgetown and St. John's Feb. 22 and 25 would be nice, and then home games against Creighton (March 1) and Villanova (March 6) sandwich a road trip to Seton Hall.
St John's [17-9 (7-6), RPI: 53, SOS: 41] What do we make of the Johnnies? Two weeks ago, we would have scoffed at the idea of Steve Lavin's team getting to the NCAA tournament, but in February, they're 5-0 in the following sequence: versus Marquette, at Providence, versus Creighton, at Seton Hall and versus Georgetown. As such, they have become a totally realistic bubble team. They're far from a guarantee, of course, but they've played themselves into serious discussion with one month to go.
Providence [17-9 (7-6), RPI: 58, SOS: 80] Providence beat DePaul at basketball Saturday, and, instead of making another mean joke about how terrible DePaul is at basketball, let's note that the Friars also own a win over Creighton (albeit at home) and could really use a home win over Villanova on Tuesday night to distinguish their otherwise "meh" profile.
Georgetown [15-10 (6-7), RPI: 59, SOS: 30] Remember that whole John Thompson III Gladiator quote from Friday's edition? And how the Hoyas were suddenly playing well, and embarking on a revenge tour? All of that? Nevermind. Georgetown got drilled at St. John's Sunday night 82-60, and, while the bubble is more than soft enough to keep them around, a team with neutral-court wins over K-State, VCU and Michigan State shouldn't be reduced to this.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Teams that should be in: Ohio State, Iowa|
Work left to do: Minnesota, Nebraska
Wisconsin's inevitable move to lockdom has arrived. How much did Saturday's win at Michigan have to do with it? Some. Road wins against fellow locks are not exactly easy to come by, and adding "at Michigan" to a top-50 wins list that includes Florida (home), Saint Louis (neutral), Virginia (away), Iowa (home) and Michigan State (home) is truly eye-popping. But win or lose Saturday, Wisconsin was going to get in eventually. Their top-10 RPI and top-five overall and nonconference schedule rankings all but guaranteed it. Basically, Bo Ryan's team needed to avoid losing every game the rest of the season. Phew! And then there were -- wait, four? Nebraska?! What are you doing here?
Ohio State [20-6 (7-6), RPI: 16, SOS: 6] The Buckeyes don't have Wisconsin's insane plethora of impressive victories, but they do have a couple (at Iowa, at Wisconsin) of good ones. They also have a total lack of cupcakes weighing down their pristine computer numbers: Just five of their of 26 games have been played against denizens of the sub-150. That Big Ten is something.
Iowa [19-6 (8-4), RPI: 30, SOS: 71] Thanks to a nonconference schedule ranked No. 244, the Hawkeyes overall numbers have suffered. The RPI says they're the 30th or so best team in the country, while per-possession performance stats routinely place them among the top 10. Iowa should have no problem getting to the tournament. But if it doesn't, it will be because of scheduling and missed opportunities against Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin earlier in the year.
Minnesota [17-9 (6-7), RPI: 33, SOS: 4] The RPI utterly loves Minnesota's schedule, and it's not just because of the Big Ten. The computer also grades the Gophers' nonconference slate as among the 25 best in the country. Like Ohio State, the Gophers have a good deal of bubble wiggle room at their respective level: Compare Minnesota's profile to any of the teams along the bubble, note the distinct differences, move along. Minnesota is nowhere near a lock, or even SBI. But they're in better shape than some.
Nebraska [14-10 (6-6), RPI: 52, SOS: 17] No, the Cornhuskers' profile isn't great. Yes, they still have a neutral-court loss to UAB. No, they can't afford too many more losses before the Big Ten tournament, especially considering their record going away goes like so: vs. Penn State, vs. Purdue, at Illinois, vs. Northwestern, at Indiana, vs. Wisconsin. But either way, the fact that this Nebraska team is in even old-timey-map range of the bubble is a testament to the rather remarkable job coach Tim Miles has done in Lincoln, Neb., to date. No one wants to hear about a moral victory, but still: Well done, Huskers.
|Mountain West Conference|
|Work left to do: New Mexico|
San Diego State lost its first game in three months at Wyoming last week, but the Aztecs managed to avoid a seed-crushing disaster loss in Saturday's slightly too-close-for-comfort home win over Air Force. Nothing to see here.
New Mexico [19-5 (10-2), RPI: 32, SOS: 66] As we've written in the past, New Mexico's win over Cincinnati is one of those that looks good at the time and absolutely fantastic as the season goes along; it helps make up for the fact that Marquette (RPI: 73) hasn't had the season everyone expected, or that the Mountain West is stunningly down over a year ago. San Diego State's loss kept the Lobos just one back of the Aztecs with six left to play, and two -- at home Feb. 22, and at Viejas on March 8 -- against SDSU itself. The good news is that New Mexico doesn't really need to win either game. It merely needs to hold the line against UNLV, Utah State, Nevada and Air Force, and it should stay out ahead of the rest of an ugly bubble.
|Teams that should be in: UCLA|
Work left to do: Colorado, Arizona State, Oregon, California, Stanford
In Joe Lunardi's Monday Bracketology update, the Pac-12 tied with the Big 12, Big Ten and A-10 for most teams -- six -- in his current field. But not all six-team leagues are projected equally. In the Big Ten, five teams are sitting in solid shape. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State is the only team already in that looks like it might fall out in the next month. The Pac-12 is more like the A-10: one lock, one should be in and a bunch of work-to-dos climbing over each other to stay in the sun.
UCLA [20-5 (9-3), RPI: 13, SOS: 16] UCLA has top-16 RPI and SOS numbers and a pretty solid nonconference-schedule figure to go with them, not to mention six top-50 wins. Look closer, and maybe a few of those wins -- like the two over post-injury Colorado or the one at Oregon -- aren't quite as good as top 50 might insinuate. But whatever. This is all just prelude to us saying that UCLA will probably get locked in sooner rather than later, depending on how they play this weekend on the Wednesday-Saturday NorCal tour.
Colorado [19-7 (8-5), RPI: 26, SOS: 35] Considering how important Spencer Dinwiddie was to this team, it's downright incredible how well the Buffaloes have managed to hold the line in the wake of his season-ending injury. By and large, they've lost the games they were supposed to lose and won the games they were supposed the win, with the lone exception being the injury game itself (Jan. 12 at Washington). That was the case last week, too, when they lost at UCLA and won at USC to avoid the kind of loss that might lend to the impression that a post-Dinwiddie Colorado isn't good enough to play to its seed line in the tournament. Not true thus far. Arizona State and Arizona come to Boulder, Colo., in the next five days. Stay tuned.
Arizona State [19-6 (8-4), RPI: 28, SOS: 49] So, Jahii Carson didn't get a technical when he hung on the rim with 0.5 seconds left of Arizona State's 69-66 overtime win over Arizona this weekend, and even the Pac-12 admitted he should have. Will the committee care? Probably not. For starters, 0.5 seconds isn't much time, even with free throws and the ball on your own end of the floor; Arizona's odds of winning would have been pretty low. Secondly, it was one play in a long, hard-fought and undeniably massive resume win for the Sun Devils, which is how that game should be remembered. And thirdly: Come on, really? Hanging on the rim too long? In overtime? That's the call you want to make? Have fun with that.
Oregon [16-8 (4-8), RPI: 40, SOS: 28] The Ducks might be the trickiest bubble team in the country. On the one hand, they have solid-enough RPI and schedule numbers and no truly bad losses. They also have a schedule that, if committee chair Ron Wellman's whole thing about schedule intent last week is to be believed, qualifies. (Georgetown, BYU, Ole Miss and Illinois were all expected to be better, some by a wide margin.) But if conference record and recent play still exist in committee members' minds -- they are not official criteria, but let's be real -- how could Oregon get in? The Ducks are 4-8 in conference play and haven't beaten a Pac-12 team better than Oregon State or Utah. Many brackets have the Ducks as one of the last teams in or out of the field. We trust Lunardi, and he doesn't even have Oregon on his board.
California [17-8 (8-4), RPI: 43, SOS: 62] Same goes for Cal. Save the win at Arizona, the Bears' overall profile wasn't quite as good heading into the Washington swing, but Cal managed to get two wins out of the bargain. Both teams were No. 9 seeds in Lunardi's latest Bracketology on Monday.
Stanford [16-8 (7-5), RPI: 48, SOS: 50] The Cardinal managed to get out of Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash., with a 69-56 win Saturday. If you're going to split the Washington road trip, it's better to lose to the Huskies and their mid-80s RPI than it is the dreadful Cougars. This week, the Bay Area schools host USC and UCLA. Johnny Dawkins' team could use a sweep.
|Work left to do: Missouri, Tennessee, LSU|
Was Kentucky locked in too soon? After Saturday's disappointing home loss to Florida, the Wildcats are a No. 5 seed in most mock brackets, and that might give a seasoned Bubble Watcher pause if he or she didn't have the rest of the SEC to serve as a handy contextual reference. Folks, the bubble is bad. Ole Miss is off it after back-to-back road losses to Alabama and Georgia; Arkansas is long gone. That leaves us with three mediocre SEC teams sitting squarely atop the last-four-in-first-four-out carousel. Kentucky might have been a slightly hasty lock -- in a vacuum. But compared to this flotsam? Please.
Missouri [18-7 (6-6), RPI: 38, SOS: 65] Missouri's profile isn't terrible all around. Frank Haith didn't load up on sub-150 games, for instance. On the court, the prospect of facing Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson in a tournament game sounds like a coach's nightmare. But the best win here is Dec. 7's home victory against UCLA. The best road win is Dec. 28 at NC State. The Dec. 21 loss to Illinois hurts; and thus far Mizzou has somehow managed to play six sub-150 opponents and just three top-50 teams. Depending on what Tennessee's number does in the weeks to come, that figure won't change. Blame down seasons from West Virginia, NC State, and Illinois, but right now, this resume is a whole lot of blah with few marquee opportunities to change that fact in the next four weeks.
Tennessee [15-10 (6-6), RPI: 54, SOS: 10] The Volunteers seem determined not to make the tournament. How else do you explain a team with one of the best perimeter scorers in the country (Jordan McRae) and that rebounds 41.4 percent of its own misses (third-most nationally) being 15-10 overall? You could say schedule, and UT has played a top-10 overall slate, but still: There are losses to Texas A&M, UTEP and Vanderbilt in the mix with exactly one quality win to show for it. That Dec. 30 home drubbing of Virginia seemed to offer a glimpse of a real-deal version of the Volunteers: a mix of skill and brute force on offense with just enough defense to get the job done. We haven't seen those guys since.
LSU [15-9 (6-6), RPI: 70, SOS: 86] The Tigers beat Kentucky on Jan. 28. They beat Saint Joseph's on a neutral floor on Nov. 28. They ... actually, that's it! That's the most you can say for LSU. Last week, the Tigers lost at Texas A&M and Arkansas in the span of four days, which added two sub-100 losses to that ugly Rhode Island blemish on the right side of their nitty-gritty. Chances are slim and getting slimmer.
|Other at-large contenders|
|Work left to do: Gonzaga, Toledo, Southern Mississippi, BYU, Indiana State, Green Bay, Louisiana Tech|
Gonzaga [23-4 (13-1), RPI: 24, SOS: 106] Gonzaga would probably be about a No. 7 seed if the field was finished today, which means it's closer in spirit to the should-be-ins of the world than the work-to-dos. But its last four regular-season games are just brutal: at BYU, at San Diego, at Pacific, at Saint Mary's. A couple of poorly timed losses could at least put the Zags in some jeopardy, so let's play it safe and see how things go.
Toledo [21-4 (9-3), RPI: 29, SOS: 133] Does Saturday's loss at Eastern Michigan disqualify the Rockets from at-large consideration? Probably. There's simply no way Toledo can get back that kind of loss against the rest of the MAC. This is how soft bubbles are born.
Southern Mississippi [21-5 (8-3), RPI: 42, SOS: 143] The fringiest of fringe bubble teams still has a fighting shot at this thing, but on one condition: It has to win out. Maybe a loss to UTEP is acceptable, but that's a big maybe. The rest of USM's regular season goes like this: UTSA, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Tulane. All of those teams have RPIs of 200 or worse.
BYU [18-10 (10-5), RPI: 44, SOS: 29] The Cougars have a huge opportunity on their hands Thursday night when Gonzaga comes to town -- their last such opportunity until the WCC tournament, where there are no opponent guarantees. After Thursday, it's home against Portland and at San Diego. For a capable team so close to the bubble, home against Gonzaga is a do-or-die sort of deal.
Indiana State [20-6 (11-3), RPI: 55, SOS: 159] Last week's Big Ten blurb noted that this might be the first tournament since 2005 to not feature a team from Indiana -- because Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler are all so bad -- and it implored the long-shot Sycamores to save basketball's greatest state from ignominy. As a commenter pointed out, "there is another": IPFW, if it wins the Summit League tourney. That's good news for the state of Indiana, because unless the Sycamores can find a way to knock off a laser-focused Wichita State in Arch Madness, they're likely out.
Green Bay [21-5 (11-2), RPI: 63, SOS: 167] The Phoenix own a home win over Virginia, a three-point home loss to Wisconsin and computer numbers that honestly could be worse given how tough things are in the Horizon League this season. The best bet is still to make it academic in the HL tourney, but Green Bay isn't as long a shot as, say, Toledo.
Louisiana Tech [21-5 (9-2), RPI: 78, SOS: 247] Nothing much to report on the La. Tech front. The Bulldogs still have that win at Oklahoma to anchor their bid, and only one truly bad loss (home to Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 4) is weighing it down. But the biggest issue is simply schedule strength: Conference USA has filled Tech's resume with 16 sub-150 wins, and the Bulldogs' ugly schedule figure shows it.